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Thursday, February 26, 2009

My End-Times Views: Weighed and Found Wanting!

While most of the posts on this blog recount how particular people have challenged and changed my thinking, I will seek to show in this post or series of posts how a ministry which encourages Bible Study was used to radically challenge and change my views about end-time events.

But first, some background…. I was raised in a home and church background where I was taught a “dispensational” view of the scriptures and of end-times events. Dispensationalists believe that the Bible should be understood literally, plainly, or normally and that things which differ should be clearly distinguished and not confused, i.e. Israel, the nations and the church should be distinguished because they comprise different groups of people. They believe that prophesies of scripture are fulfilled literally.

Regarding end-times events, dispensationalists believe in:
(1) the imminent return of Christ, i.e. that no prophecy of scripture must yet be fulfilled before Christ returns.
(2) a 7 year time of tribulation before Christ comes to earth to reign in righteousness for 1000 years,
(3) a pre-tribulation rapture of the church, i.e. that before the tribulation begins, the Lord will come from heaven to the clouds and that believers in the Lord Jesus (those who have already died and those who are yet alive) will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air and then go to heaven and will remain there until after the 7 years of tribulation.

I had been taught these things as long as I could remember, I was trained at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, a school which held these views, served with Berean Mission which was dispensational in its’ theology, and for many years we enjoyed fellowship with believers in brethren assemblies which also embraced the dispensational view of the scriptures. Then, in the late 1990’s, Judy and I were privileged to be part of a Bible study group with a number of other couples. We enjoyed doing quite a number of book studies (Philemon, Philippians, II Timothy, II Peter and Jude) using studies prepared by “Precept Ministries” of Chattanooga. “Precept” is also a ministry which is soundly dispensational in its’ theology.

All of those Precept studies had taught us the inductive method of Bible study, i.e. we were taught to observe the text of scripture by asking the basic questions, “Who?”, “What?”, “Where?’, “Why?”, “When?” and “How?” and to find our answers to each of those questions in the very words of the text we were studying. Thus we were taught to find out exactly what scripture SAID. We were also encouraged NOT to go to commentaries until after we had observed the text, answered the basic questions from the text and thus knew what scripture said for itself. Then, when we at last consulted commentaries, it was not to evaluate the scriptures by the commentaries, but rather the reverse! We were taught to evaluate what various commentators had written by what scripture (the authoritative standard) had said! Thus the consistent practice we were taught in each chapter of every book study published by “Precept” was to observe the text, find out what it SAYS and don’t let any commentary tell you, “The text says this, but it really means that!”

At this point in my life, I was confident that I could clearly explain from the Bible all of my end-times views except for the “7 year tribulation”. I was a little “fuzzy” in my thinking on this and was not sure I could explain it clearly to someone else from the Bible. So when it was suggested that our next Precept study be on the Book of Daniel, I was very enthusiastic! I knew that our teaching on “the tribulation” came from Daniel 9 and Daniel’s prophecy of “Seventy Weeks”. So I was sure that, by the end of this study, I would be crystal clear in my understanding of the 7 year tribulation. But I was just about to experience one of the greatest surprises of my life!

For the first eight and a half chapters of the Book of Daniel, the “Precept” approach was the same as that to which we had grown accustomed in all our other “Precept” studies: -observe the text, -find answers to your basic questions in the words of the text, and –don’t let commentators tell you what the text means UNTIL you know what the text says.

BUT….when we got to the last portion of Daniel 9 which deals with Daniel’s 70 weeks, the writer of the “Precept” study notes was already telling us (before we had been encouraged to actually look up the word "weeks" for ourselves) why Daniel could not have really meant what he said when he wrote “weeks”! Then followed a commentary on the text explaining why Daniel really meant something other than what he’d said! I immediately “smelled a rat” so to speak! I wondered, "Why are the principles of inductive Bible study which we have been learning and applying consistently, in many other books of the Bible and in the first 8 chapters of Daniel,….why cannot these same principles be applied in the latter portion of Daniel 9?? Why could we not continue to apply the principles of literal, normal, plain interpretation of scripture to this one chapter of the Bible as we’d been taught with all the rest??"

The “Precept” commentary on Daniel 9:24-27 taught us that Daniel’s word “weeks” did not really mean normal weeks of seven days, but really meant “sevens” and that it could mean “sevens of days”, “sevens of months” or “sevens of years”!!! So I checked out the Hebrew word, “SHEBUAH” which was translated “weeks” in Daniel 9 and found that in all twenty places where it was found in scripture it was used consistently of a week, a period of seven normal days! Nowhere in scripture is it ever used as the numeral “seven” in connection with any other unit of time but “days”, i.e. “seven days”! Not only had the writers of the Precept course deviated from the standard “Precept” practice, but they had actually lied to us about the usage of this particular Hebrew word!!

So I was even more determined to find out for myself what the scriptures taught about the “seven year tribulation”. So I did a simple word study searching for the words “seven years” and “tribulation”. To say that I was ASTOUNDED at what I found would be an understatement! I could not believe my eyes when I learned that scripture NEVER ONCE refers to such an expression or such an event!!!

You can imagine my consternation at this discovery after having been taught the doctrine of the “seven year tribulation” all my life by many men whom I had looked up to, respected, admired and followed. Those men included my own grandfather and many other well known Bible teachers, pastors professors and writers. For a while, my mind and heart were filled with anger, bitterness and resentment towards these men whom I had trusted, respected and followed. Rather than teaching me the truth they had actually taught me falsehood when they taught regarding the “seven year tribulation”! But the Lord soon “brought me up short” with a gentle but very firm reproof, “Bruce, you have no one to blame but yourself! You did not follow the example of the Bereans in Acts 17:11!…You “received with all readiness of mind” what these men taught you , BUT you did NOT “search the scriptures daily whether these things were so”!

So I had to acknowledge to the Lord that I could not blame anyone else, that I had no right to be angry and bitter towards anyone in this matter and that I must accept responsibility for my own deception as I, personally, had failed to test this teaching by the standard of scripture!

I am fully convinced that the vast majority of men who teach the "seven year tribulation" do so for the same reasons I believed it for many years....they believed the writers and teachers who taught them but failed to search the scriptures carefully for themselves!

This was the beginning of the shaking up of my convictions relative to the events of end-times prophesy. But it was by no means the end! In a few short weeks the “applecart” of my thinking on end-times events was to be upset forever! (I must continue in another post!)

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