Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Baptist Covenant Theology

In the comments of the last post, Ryan asked for a positive and basic biblical argument for Baptist covenant theology. Here are the basics, and we can get more thorough as necessary. Ryan, please comment!

Though there are different versions of covenant theology, all covenant theologians emphasize the unity of three strands of biblical revelation. They say, (1) there is one moral law summarized in the decalogue; (2) there is one gospel way of salvation for all men; and (3) there is one people of God (and the one people are saved by the one gospel). There is obviously more to it than this, but this is a good place to start.

1. Prove there is one moral law. A good place to start is the book of Hebrews, specifically the new covenant revealed in Hebrews. Hebrews 8:10 records that in the new covenant, God says, "I will put my laws into their minds and write them on their hearts." The only law written immediately by the finger of God was the decalogue. This is the same law that is written on the hearts of new covenant believers. 2 Corinthians 3 shows that in the "new covenant" (1 Cor 3:6), the law of God is not written on "tablets of stone," (1 Cor 3:3), but that it is written "on tablets of human hearts" (1 Cor 3:3). The reference to "tablets" indicates the decalogue. Therefore, the one moral law of the Old Testament, summarily revealed in the decalogue, is the moral law of the new covenant. The difference between the two covenants is not a change in moral law, but the fact that in the new covenant, the law is written on the heart. This one law is what covenant theologians see as the moral precept under all the covenant administrations of the Bible.

2. Prove there is one gospel. Hebrews 9:15 says, "Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant." The death of Christ is the way men were saved under the old covenant and under the new covenant. Hebrews 9:26 says, "But as it is, he has appeared once for all [time!], at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." Hebrews 10:4 says, "It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins." So, men under both testaments were saved by grace through faith in Christ (cf. Gal. 3:7-9). There is no other way of salvation. This one gospel is what covenant theologians call the covenant of redemption and/or grace.

3. Prove there is one people. This is where Baptist covenant theology is distinct from both paedobaptist covenant theology and dispensationalism. The "one people of God" have always been the believing elect and have never included unbelieving infants. Dispensationalists and paedobaptists agree that the true Israel of the Old Testament to whom the promises were made included all physical/generational Israelites. But, Romans 9:6 says, "Not all Israel is Israel." That is, the whole nation of Israel is not actually Israel. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament teach that those who inherit the promises of the Old Testament are believers and that only believers in all ages are God's people. Isaiah 45:25 says that "in the Lord all the offspring of Israel shall be justified and shall glory." The book of Deuteronomy makes it clear that only those who repent of their sins and believe to the end will inherit the promises of the old covenant (Deut chs. 27, 28, 29, 30). Philippians 3:3 says, "For we are the real circumcision who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus." The new covenant is made with Israel and only with Israel, "For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel" (Heb 8:10). We who are in the new covenant are "Israel" along with the believing Israelites.

But, you may say, "God chose the nation of Israel." Yes, and he chose Assyria and Babylon to perform certain functions as well. National Israel was chosen as a nation, but not to inherit all of the promises God made to it. Those promises were conditioned upon the faith of individual Israelites and on the faith of the nation as a whole. Those national Israelites who failed to believe forfeited their right to the promises, and we Gentiles who believe will one day inherit all the land, health, and wealth God promised to Israel when our King comes to deliver us out of exile (we are strangers and aliens in a foreign land) and to restore us to the full blessing God promises to all who believe. We will enjoy the land of Canaan on the new earth with all its prosperity for all eternity! So, why did God choose to deal with the physical nation? Israel was chosen for a specific service and now that her service is complete, God isn't dealing with that nation as a unit any longer. God dealt with the nation of Israel as a nation to perserve the physical offspring of Abraham until Christ would come from them (Gal 3:23-27). Christ was the only reason God ever dealt with the whole physical nation. His coming was the reason for Israel's election.

Now that Christ has come, there is no need to preserve the physical nation. In fact, Israel no longer exists as a nation. The 10 tribes of Israel (north Canaan) were taken off to Assyria and have never been heard from since. Those who inhabit Canaan today are Jews, or Judeans, from the tribe of Judah who dwelt in southern Canaan. The rest of the Israelites are forever lost. But, Judah was preserved because Christ, the lion of Judah, had to come from that tribe. God allowed the rest the tribes to die off, but he preserved Judah to keep his promise to bring the messiah through that tribe. The result is that since national Israel no longer exists, the promises God made to the 12 tribes of Israel cannot be given to the group as a whole.

Furthermore, the difference between the Baptists and the paedobaptists is that unlike the old covenants, the new covenant does not include a "purely legal aspect," which can be broken. The old covenants were breakable because God did not write his law on the hearts of all covenant members. But the new covenant is different! Hebrews 8:9 says that the new covenant is "not like the covenant that I made with their fathers . . . for they did not continue in my covenant." The word "for" is critical. The new covenant is not like the old covenant for, or because, the old covenant was breakable. Everyone in the new covenant has God's laws written on his heart (Heb 8:10), knows God savingly (Heb 8:11) and has his sins forgiven (Heb 8:12). Thus, there is no room for unbelievers or reprobates in the new covenant. God unilaterally provides faith to all who are in it. Therefore, the paedobaptists are wrong to insist that infants are included. Infants were only included in the OC because there was a need to demonstrate that God was keeping his promise to bless the nations through Abraham's seed, and his seed was Christ.

Thoughts?

26 comments:

  1. Whew...ok man, some thoughts...

    how do new testament believers relate to the 10 comms now that Christ has fulfilled the law?

    What, though, did the OT believers know that saved them? Did they know just enough about a coming messiah to have SOMETHING to grasp onto but not enough to know what it was they were grasping?

    In reference to Hebrews 9:26, he has appeared (meaning it has already happened, right?) at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself -- how does this relate to the two-age model (this age and the age to come)??

    In the later section of Ezekiel, round about ch. 39, there's an enormous chunk about the restoration of Israel. Ezekiel is measuring things in his vision and he's all over the place talking about dimensions and such. I talked about these things with David Hardgrave one time and he expressed that this passage was one that made him think that there was a future for physical, national Israel. Or that it was a stretch to say that It was fulfilled in Christ when he gave measurements about the temple that was to come. Or something like that.

    Interesting thought about the reason why Israel as a nation existed. I'd never heard about it like that. It sounds very Christocentric in that it means that this thing that was in the past existed solely so that Christ would come through the bloodline of Abraham. Hmmm....

    Also, I'd kinda like for you to flesh out some practical implications for covenant theology in the life of a believer and for the Church. Presbos (or at least those in the know these days) speak at length about "covenant dynamic" and covenant as community. Is there some sort of upper-echelon of covenant understanding that baptist have and are missing out on? GREAT post tom...one on the NT being the way we HAVE TO understand the OT would be helpful i think. A normative principle perhaps? eh? But again, THANK YOU so much for engaging these questions and the topic, you're truly a blessing to the saints my friend.

    SDG!

    -Ryan

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  2. Good stuff Tom. Jeremiah 31:31-34 was a big help to me when I started looking at dispensationalism and paedobaptism. I look forward to you answers to some of Ryan's questions.

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  3. I am loving this. This was timely because we will be in Genesis 12 in Sunday School and we will have to interpret the OT with what the NT reveals to us in Christ.

    I have some questions of my own amd also look forward to your answers to Ryan's.

    1. Re: O.T. believers (i.e., Seth, Noah, Rahab, Abraham, Sarah, David, etc.) who put their faith in God's redemption promised in Gen 3:15-16. Would you call them saints? Or "the church"? I know people that do, and I am totally comfortable with it because, as you wrote, they were saved by grace through faith in Christ. But since they weren't partakers of the New Covenant (i.e., no law on their hearts) should they just be called believers or what? I see the church and spiritual Israel as being synonymous. Should I not? I know people at MBC who would say I shouldn't. =)

    2. I feel dumb asking this one. There probably isn't an answer to this one. Why did God wait so long in history to give his promise to Abraham? I mean... there was Seth... Enoch... Methuselah... Noah. They were Abraham's ancestors as well. Why not make the covenant earlier? Does it have to do with Babel -- the creation of many families and nations -- which is what Abraham's lineage will unify? I bet I didn't make sense there.

    3. I have heard Greg Graham talk about God melting the elements of the earth to construct a new land that God's spiritual people will inhabit -- which sounds to me like what you wrote about concerning our future inheritance of Canaan. If God did that, he'd make good on his promise but we would never have any reason to hope that we'd live on the turf that political Israel currently occupies. Your thoughts -- both on the melting and refining and recreating of the new from the substance of the old, and what our opinion ought to be about the current peace of real estate in the Middle East?

    4. This one is connected to the last question. I had dispy preachers in the church I grew up in that looked at Israel's reformation in 1948 -- I think that was the year -- as somewhat of a miraculous event, considering their small size. And they said that this was evidence that God is still for the Jews and America ought to be too. Kind of Zionist-Hagey sounding. Your thoughts?

    Ryan and I should keep you busy for a while.

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  4. hey... I meant to type "piece" rather than "peace" in question 3.

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  5. Ryan, the answers to each of your questions could get very long. So, I'm going to start with the short answer and let you ask follow up questions if needed. First, let me say that good Christians disagree on these things and that covenant theology vs. dispensationalism shouldn't divide our churches or our fellowship. These issues are just not that critical, not in the least. However, thinking about these things, whether you finally fall down with the covenant guys or the dispensationalists is a healthy exercise of Bible study because it trains us to consider the whole Bible as a whole book and to understand how the whole book hangs together. That said, here are my initial responses to your questions.

    How do NT believers relate to the 10 commandments? NT believers should follow the 10 commandments as a summary of God’s moral law (Rom 13:8-10), but only as they come to us through the hands of Christ. That is, Jesus Christ shows us what it looks like to keep the 10 commandments. He perfectly kept them and as He kept them, so also are we to keep them. The thing that NT believers have that OT believers did not have is the person of Christ and a record of his life. It is in this sense that Christ is the fulfillment (pleroo) of the law (Matt 5:17). In Christ, the moral law is fulfilled. My understanding of the word “fulfill” is not that it was abolished (Matt 5:18-19), but that it is “brought to redemptive historical maturity in Christ.” Does that help or do you want more?

    What did the OT believers know that saved them? They knew whatever revelation they had. OT believers didn’t know the name “Jesus” or the doctrine of the Trinity. Rather, OT believers simply trusted Yahweh to forgive their sins and depended upon Him to save them, though they may have had little knowledge or understanding of how he was going to do that. Careful students of OT Scripture would have been able to see the promise of a Messiah and a very careful student would have been able to deduce that the Messiah is God himself. But, I don’t believe that clear understanding of the future Messiah and His nature was necessary for salvation. Very few even had access to the Scriptures during OT times. Today we are so blessed to have God’s Word. The knowledge that fills our faith today is much more specific than was the knowledge of the OT saints because we have more revelation than they had. However, the structure/form of our faith is exactly the same as theirs. Same kind of faith, more content. (As an aside, I think that our faith today is the same kind of faith that we will have in heaven, though our faith in heaven will be greater in the sense that it will be much better informed.) Does this make sense?

    What about the last section of Ezekiel? I haven’t studied those chapters deeply in awhile and I would need to do that in order to give you a definitive answer, but based on what I remember, I can give you a tentative answer. The restoration of Israel has happened in part (during the period of restoration), but has yet to happen in full. The full restoration of Israel and of Israel’s temple will only come to pass in heaven, where God Himself is the temple. Read those last chapters of Ezekiel and then read John’s vision of heaven in Revelation 21-22. There is remarkable overlap.

    What are the practical implications of covenant theology in the life of the believer and in the life of the church? Wow, this is huge. It’s too huge to handle adequately in a format like this. I’ll just give a few important implications. First, covenant theology is radically Christocentric. He is the covenant head. Christianity is not only a doctrine; rather, it is intensely personal and relational! Our faith is fundamentally about Christ and the covenant people He has redeemed. It’s about calling men out of the Adamic covenant and into the Christ covenant to enjoy sweet worshipful fellowship with Him and His people. Second, the whole Old Testament is for us. This one is really important. Israel’s history is our history. We are Israelites and the Old Testament as it comes to us through the hands of Jesus belongs to us. The Bible isn’t two stories: one for Israel and one for us; rather the Bible is one single and seamless story from beginning to end! Third, a covenantal understanding of Scripture equally emphasizes both conversion and nurture. Baptists have sometimes emphasized only conversion, and Presbyterians only nurture. The truth is that the new covenant has a point of entry (at conversion) and that the covenant nurtures, preserves, strengthens, and encourages the faith of all covenant participants both by covenant revelation (Scripture) and by the powerful influence of the new covenant community (the church). A sound understanding of covenant theology undergirds the Reformed (biblical) doctrine of sanctification, that we grow over time, that we are in process of becoming like Christ and that sometimes we fail severely and commit awful sins, but that we who are in the covenant persevere in covenant faithfulness (not perfection, not even near perfection) to the end of our lives. A covenantal understanding of the Christian life has made me more patient, both with myself and with other people. I think that covenant theology alone has achieve the full and rightful balance of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. I could actually go on for quite some time about implications of covenant theology, but I’ll stop there for now.

    These are excellent questions Ryan! I sure don’t have all the answers, but I do enjoy thinking about the Scriptures and hammering out biblical theology with God’s people. Feel free to follow up on any of this with another question.

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  6. Hey Ben,
    I’m going to take a stab at your questions!

    1. The NT actually calls the nation of Israel the “ecclesia,” or “church.” Most translations translate the word “congregation,” due to bias I suppose, but the term used in the original is the same Greek word “ecclesia,” which is what we translate “church” throughout the NT. It’s Acts 7:38. So, no, I don’t have any problem calling Israel the “church,” since the Bible does it. I also see spiritual Israel and the spiritual church as synonymous. I further see national Israel and the institutional church as analogous. I would also argue that spiritual Israel DID have God’s law written on their hearts, just that not all national Israelites did. Though spiritual Israelites enjoyed many of the blessings of the new covenant, I would not say that those spiritual Israelites were in the new covenant (proleptically) because the new covenant requires baptism and the Lord’s supper and it requires the establishment of local churches, which were not requirements of spiritual Israelites.

    2. This is actually a very good question. I think you’re proposed answer is probably right. The Abrahamic covenant is God’s gracious response to what happened at Babel. Babel scattered in judgment, but the Abrahamic covenant will be one of the means by which God gathers men from all nations into one people of God.

    3. Regardless of how the melting and remaking of the heavens and the earth happens, I think there will be a future new land of Israel. John Gill said that we have two classes of biblical texts to handle. The Bible says that the earth abides forever. But it also says that it will be destroyed and remade. His solution was to say that the surface and atmosphere of the earth will be burned and that it will be reformed from the surface up. If Gill is right (and I don’t know how we would know), then we believers will actually inherit and walk around on the land of Canaan when we are brought out of exile and into our inheritance by our King on the last day. The meek shall inherit the earth. I think we’re supposed to think in terms of whole earth, including Canaan, will be ours.

    4. I would point to all of the other ancient nations that still exist in that region. Egypt still exists. Persia (now called Iran; they changed their name from Persia to Iran during WW2) still exists. Babylon (Iraq) still exists. Then, I would ask, does the fact that Israel recently gave up the Gaza strip to the Palestinians (the ancient pre-Israel inhabitants of Canaan) mean that God is also on the side of the Palestinians, who are slowing regaining territory that Israel has forfeited because of her unbelief and rebellion (all non Christian Jews are unbelievers)? Israel isn’t faithful to the covenant. She doesn’t believe in Yahweh and therefore doesn’t have a right to the land. One could actually argue (though I’m not) that God’s face is turned against the Israelites more than any other nation. And, as I said in my initial post, national Israel doesn’t even exist in its historical form. Israel, Jacob, was twelve tribes. There are no twelve tribes anymore. The only remaining Israelite tribe is Judah, which is why we call them “Jews,” as in “Judeans.” I don’t believe national Israel is a special nation, except insofar as it has the heritage of the Old Testament. They must not be despised though! They must be cherished as a people because of their history and because they have most of the Bible. We have a common heritage with Israel. Politically, there may be good reasons to remain staunch allies with Israel, but the notion that it is God’s most favored nation isn’t one of them. At least I don't think it is.

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  7. Ryan, I just realized I forgot to deal with your Hebrews question. I don't have time right now, but I'll get back to it!

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  8. Take your time man, i know you're CRAZY busy. Which makes me thankful, by the way, that you're taking the time to hammer such things out. So...here are some more thoughts.

    I need a little more on the NT use of OT, man.

    I'm trying to hard to read Ezekiel through a NT filter but it's hard to get. Is there some Christ tie-in to the fact that the speaker is calling Ezekiel the "son of man?"

    Your practical App stuff is GREAT. VERY neccessary, i think, in understanding something kind of abstract like this is to see it fleshed out in our lives. Rubber meets the road kind-of-a situation.

    Also, if you get the chance could you help me to understand the difference between covenant theology and NEW covenant theology. The gents at FIDE-O have a chart but i seem to remember it not being entirely helpful.

    GRACIAS!

    -Ryan

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  9. Oh, and P.S. After we (attempt to) hammer all this out, I think, as i'm sure Ben does as well, You should write a book on the subject.

    thoughts? haha

    I'm sure the great Publishers of the Christian Empire like Zondervan, Thomas Nelson, Founders, and Soild Ground Christian Books are chomping at the bit for some literature on the subject.

    :-)

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  10. Not to ruin a good train of thought in this comments sections here...

    but after our talk about social networks, facebook, and myspace a while ago at the picnic Tom, I decided to slightly modify and re-post my old blog I wrote about myspace.

    Check it out if you would like.

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  11. So i've been thinking about how jesus said that he WILL build his church...NCT seems to account for this is an attractive way...your thoughts?

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  12. The fact that Christ will build his church doesn't mean that he hasn't already been building it. If I say I will study for comps, it doesn't mean I haven't been studying for comps. Is that the question you were asking?

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  13. Tom, could you give a comprehensive definition for the title "dispensationalist," as you use it in your post? What are the hallmarks of classic dispensationalism? Are there varying degrees of dispensationalism? If so, do you believe all are errant? If yes, in what ways?

    Thanks for all you have posted so far! Very insightful!

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  14. I'm trying to resist answering the question for ya tom. I just finished Understanding Dispensationalists" by Vern Poythress, so now i feel as though i have a pretty good working definition of the system...but please...by all means...it's your blog.

    ...and scott and i have had this conversation on more than one occasion :-)

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  15. I have posed the question to Ryan in a different forum - his Facebook account. I anxiously await your responses...

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  16. One additional question: Who are the 144,000 in Revelation? Are they national Israelites?

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  17. scott, the 144,000 question is gonna take us into understanding the book of revelation...i'm not sure there's a short answer for that one. From what i've gathered, we begin to understand general, guiding principles from the scriptures, and then we understand those we don't understand in light of the ones we do. A leap from "define dispensationalism" to "who are the 144,000 is kind of a HUGE jump, ya dig?

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  18. I fully intended to ask a "small" question and a more sweeping one. I understand there is a bit of a leap here, and I like the juxtaposition of a system (Dispensationalism) against a detail (the 144,000) that is understood in light of a differing system(Reformed theology). I hope that Tom's answers will give us a more thorough concept of exactly what system he is addressing when he uses the term "dispensationalism," and that his answer to the latter question will provide insight into how his concept of Israel translates to very minute details of Scripture. Of course my question concerning the 144,000 will take us into understanding the book of Revelation, but Tom is a succinct and skillful writer and I am sure he will be able to give us at least a cursory explanation of his views. How 'bout it, Tom? No pressure...

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  19. Gentlemen, I'm madly studying for comps right now, but I'll take up your questions sometime next week!

    Blessings!
    Tom

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  20. Sounds like fun! Hope they go well, Tom.

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  21. Scott, here's an effort to take a stab at your question. Please feel free to follow up with more questions!

    Dispensationalism – Divides the Bible into two separate and distinct peoples: Israel and the Church, and the two do not mix or overlap.

    Classic Dispensationalism – Sees the OT as applying only to Israel and promising a Messiah to rule over them only. Had Israel agreed to submit to Christ’s rule at his first coming, Christ would have set up his earthly kingdom among them at that time, but Israel refused. Therefore, God formed the church as an “intercalation” or “parenthesis” (an interruption) which stands between God’s 1st dealings with Israel and his 2nd dealing with Israel in the millennial period. None of the Old Testament promises of law or gospel apply to us Gentiles in the church at all. We are under the New Testament only and the OT promises are for the nation of Israel, not for us. This position was held by most old school dispensationalists.

    Hyper Dispensationalism – Holds that not only the OT but also the Gospels and possibly other books of the NT are for Israel only. The Gospels with all of their laws and commands do not apply to us. Paul’s writings, primarily (sometimes exclusively) are for the Church. Hyper-Dispensationalism denies Lordship-Salvation because while Israel had to work for its salvation under the law dispensation, the Church does not work for its salvation under the gospel dispensation. This view is pretty rare today.

    Progressive Dispensationalism – Affirms the “already – not yet” method of interpreting OT prophecy. The “Progressive Dispensationalists” say that the promises God made to Israel in the OT are “already” being fulfilled in the church (this is a move toward covenant theology), but are “yet” to be fulfilled for national Israel in the future millennial reign (this is like classic Dispensationalism). This view would only differ from my own in terms of eschatology. It would see a future for national Israel in the millennium, and I would see a future for true Israel in the final state. While I don’t agree with any form of Dispensationalism, this is the mildest form of it. I struggle with how this position can be viewed as logically consistent, since it claims that God can genuinely fulfill promises to national Israel in the church, but that God must fulfill those promises to national Israel in the future.

    The way in which I believe all of these views err is that they think the OT promises of land and prosperity to national Israel were for that nation without respect to the faith or faithfulness of the Israelites. Thus, on that basis, they make a hard distinction between Israel (David) and the Church (Paul). They say that David and Paul are part of two totally distinct peoples with totally different promises. I believe that the promises God made to Israel are ours in Christ.

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  22. radness abounds...

    Tom, in my recent understanding of the OT/NT relationship, it seems to me that one HAS TO interpret the OT in the way that the NT writers understood it. So when Paul uses "Israeli" language from the OT to talk about the conversion of the gentiles (acts, when he's speaking to the Jerusalem council), I should interpret it that way too. But it can't be that simple. Or maybe it can. I dunno...i could see a "simplistic" charge being leveled...hmmm...

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  23. Hey Ryan, man... I couldn't agree with you more that the NT governs our interpretation of the OT. Augustine rightly said, "The New is in the Old concealed; the Old is in the New revealed."

    Why do you think that's potentially chargeable with being a simplistic way of interpreting Scripture?

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  24. Scott, here is my understanding of the 144,000 in the book of Revelation. Let me preface what I'm about to say with a caveat or two. Revelation is not an easy book to interpret. It has a long history of extremely diverse interpretations by very good Bible-loving pastors, scholars, and exegetes. Also, one does not have to be a covenant theologian to be an amillennialist nor does one have to be an amillennialist to be a covenant theologian. There are plenty of premillennialists (and postmillennialists) in our ranks. :) However, I am a "soft" amillennialist, meaning that I'm by no means militant about it, nor am I absolutely certain I am right. I'm just less uncertain about amillennialism than I am about any of the other views. So, what of the 144,000?

    The number occurs in Revelation 7 and 14. I believe the number is symbolic as are all the numbers of Revelation. The number 12 squared is 144 and that multiplied by 1000 (10x10x10) is 144,000. The number 12 symbolizes the 12 tribes of Israel. The number 1000 is a symbol of perfection (ten, a perfect number, raised to the third power, a perfect number).

    So, who are the 12 tribes? The names of each of the 12 tribes is written on the 12 gates of heaven in Revelation 21. These twelve gates rest on the 12 foundation stones of the 12 apostles. Why would the GATES of heaven have the 12 tribes of Israel written on them? Because the only ones who are allowed to enter through those gates are (true) Israelites. Why do the 12 gates rest on the 12 foundation stones of the 12 apostles? Because the ministry and writings of the 12 apostles (of the NT!) and the Christ they reveal are the foundation of the salvation of true Israel. Revelation teaches that heaven is for Israel and that Israel is saved unto eternal life in heaven by Christ.

    I would argue that the sealed multitude of Revelation 7 are the entire church militant of the old and new covenants. We at Morningview are among that group, right now.

    If John wanted us to think about national Israel in this passage, then why would Ephraim and Dan be omitted (v. 5-8)? Certainly they should be listed among the other tribes of national Israel, but they aren't. They're just left out, and that makes no sense, unless this isn't talking about national Israel. And, if national Israel were intended, then why wouldn't the list in 7:5 start with Reuben who was the first born of national Israel? Instead, the list begins with JUDAH, the tribe from which Jesus Christ, the head of the church (true Israel), came (v. 5). Furthermore, we're told in Revelation 14 that this 144,000 are those whom Christ had redeemed (v. 3), which includes the entire church militant, not just national Jews, since those who have his name written on their foreheads (Rev 14:1; 22:4) include all the nations (Rev 22:1-5). The 144,000 is the number of the elect, symbolizing the number who are chosen out of the world to wage war with Christ against Satan and his minions.

    See William Hendricksen, More than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1940).

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