The Agora
Bible Articles and Lessons: W

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What and the how, the

When propounding questions concerning the future, we must be careful to distinguish between the "What" and the "How". "What hath the Lord spoken?" is always a legitimate question, and it will find in the Bible's pages a complete answer. But Nicodemus' question, "How can these things be?", is quite another matter. God does not always choose to spell out the details of His plan in advance. Consequently, a revelation of the future often involves difficulties; sometimes the whole matter seems impossible, inconceivable. But a man is never so foolish as when he sets himself to "explain away" the simplest sense of a Bible passage only because he cannot see how it could mean just what it says. Many so-called "spiritual interpretations" represent such efforts to bring the word of prophecy within the scope of our little notions and dim comprehensions of things.

This was the point of the Sadducees' argument against the resurrection. The Lord swept aside their small objections with his great answer: "Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God" (Mat 22:29; Mark 12:24). This is still the perfect answer to all human objections against the plain meaning of God's word. Men tend to feel so wise in their preconceptions, so sure they know how everything must be, that they often reject instantly anything that does not harmonize with their own ideas and traditions. Unfortunately, Christadelphians are not immune to the follies of ordinary men; we invite friends to "come to the Bible with an open mind", but often our own minds were made up years ago, and are now locked into a rigid system of knowledge, even on such non-fundamentals as the details of prophecy. A couple of examples come quickly to mind here:

Without arguing at length the relative merits of either view, what strikes our attention here is this: The justifications for Sinai as the seat of judgment run heavily to just such an "explaining away" as we mentioned above. The justifications become in actuality objections: "How can this be -- that Jerusalem will be the site of judgment? We can easily contemplate the gathering of resurrected millions to Sinai. It is the appropriate place, physically and geographically. But we cannot easily imagine this happening in the present Jerusalem. It is in too public a place for such a purpose. In the first place, where would everybody stand?" Such objections are really quite frivolous. Indeed, they are very much reminiscent of the Sadducees' "seven husbands" argument; and they are readily answerable in the same way -- by an appeal to "the power of God". Such questions can always be raised -- more questions than a dozen wise men working overtime could ever answer! But after all the "difficulties" have been raised, and answered, or gone unanswered, as the case may be, the Word of God still stands. God will fulfill all He has promised, to the last letter. Our "practical objections" are meaningless to Him. [Just as one thought, by no means dogmatic: If Elisha could lead an unfriendly army into Samaria, their eyes blinded to their surroundings (2Ki 6), then could not Christ just as easily hold the eyes of the mortal inhabitants of Jerusalem from observing the great spectacle of judgment going on in their midst?]

And yet our Faith is built on the bed-rock of literality. If there is a single message that the Christadelphian body has sought to put across to the world more than any other, it is this: "The Bible means what it says. It is always preferable to take the most literal view of a passage unless there is a clear indication to the contrary in the context itself."

What are we to make then of such a passage as Luke 21:25? Almost by reflex we begin to recite, "The sun, moon, stars, and heavenly bodies denote kings, queens, rulers, and persons in greater power: their increase of splendor denotes increase of prosperity; their declining, setting, or falling, denotes a reverse of fortune... " (from the earliest "Declaration"). Is it inconceivable that there might, in the last days, be literal signs and wonders in the literal heavens? The first advent of Jesus was heralded by a literal star, or at least a literal light in the heavens; why not his second advent? True, we may not be able to say exactly what the sign will consist of, or how it will appear, or when. But prophecy was not given to us that we might be prophets, Scriptural "fortune-tellers" like Jeanne Dixon. The prophecy is God's; we may properly ask, "What hath God said?" and the answer is in Luke 21:25,27: "There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars... And then shall they see the Son of Man coming... "

But the follow-up question, "How can this be?", would seem to border on arrogance. It is as though we are saying, "This is too much for me to comprehend. I will bring God's message down to my level. I will grapple with it until it fits as smoothly as possible into my limited notion of the fitness of things." Let it be suggested that this is hardly the most reverential way to treat God's word, to "spiritualize" literal words just because the alternative seems too extraordinary!

An example of such symbolic interpretation that pales before the wondrous literal fulfillment is 2Pe 3:7,10-12. In this passage the "heavens" have been long considered as political, for how else could the literal heavens "pass away", or the literal elements melt with fervent heat, or the literal earth be burned up? But since those awesome days at the end of World War II, the literal character of this prophecy has become appallingly obvious. In a terrifyingly real way twentieth-century man now has in hand the potential to split the foundation blocks of his material world, to explode the atmospheric elements, and to incinerate the very earth (or a portion thereof) on which he walks. Who dare say in these days that 2Pe 3 cannot be fulfilled literally? And if this passage, why not many others that we have been so cautious about?


We might imagine a similar controversy during the days before the birth of Jesus. Perhaps an elderly rabbi, Samuel by name, unspoiled by the "colleges" in Jerusalem, knows nothing better than to read the Scriptures literally. He has never heard, in the relative isolation of Galilee, the Sanhedrin's "authoritative" interpretations of the passages we know as Psa 22; 1110; Isa 7; 53; and such like. Thus he believes and teaches that the Messiah will be literally the Son of God, born of a virgin of David's lineage; that he will be not only a king but also a man of sorrow and grief, rejected and despised; that he will literally die, but his life will be the ransom for many; that he will be literally raised from the dead to sit at God's right hand in the literal heavens. What a wave of protest, of opposition and even scorn, this teaching would have raised in the courts of learning! What "unanswerable" questions his antagonists would ask; what "unassailable" difficulties they would solemnly raise! How absurd, how heretical, they would say, was Rabbi Samuel's doctrine! Does he really believe that God could actually have a son? What a wild literalism, when we can all see that Isa 7:14 is "highly figurative"! And how could the King of Israel be hated and killed, by his own people no less? It is the most farcical speculation. Why, we can think off-hand of at least fifty good reasons why God would never allow such a thing! To all of which simple old Rabbi Samuel could only answer that the Scriptures say so.

If there is any lesson here for us as a community, may we have the grace and humility to take it to heart. Almighty God, who has created the heavens and given us the written word, will scarcely be limited in His actions by our own imagined "difficulties".

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