Tag Archives: prophecy

What do the Expressions “Kingdom of Heaven” and “Kingdom of God” Mean?

It’s important to understand that whenever the expressions “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven” occur, they must be taken within the context of the passages in which they are found. These expressions can possess several meanings. They can mean the entire creation ultimately under God’s control or the kingdom of Jesus Christ that will come into being when Jesus physically returns to reign. They also can refer to the kingdom of God already present in the hearts and actions of believers who acknowledge Jesus Christ as King.

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel (Hebrews 12:22-24 NKJV).

For all practical purposes, the terms “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven” have the same meaning. The New Bible Dictionary describes the use of these two terms in the Gospels:

The kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God is the central theme of Jesus’ preaching, according to the Synoptic Gospels. While Matthew, who addresses himself to the Jews, speaks for the most part of the “kingdom of God,” which has the same meaning as the “kingdom of heaven,” but was more intelligible to non-Jews. The use of “kingdom of heaven” in Matthew is certainly due to the tendency in Judaism to avoid the direct use of the name of God. In any case, no distinction in sense is to be assumed between the two expressions (ct., e.g., Matthew 5:3 with Luke 6:20) (p. 656).

Although some Bible students in earlier generations expended a great deal of time and energy seeking to establish a difference between these two terms, most authorities today believe that when all of the evidence is examined the two expressions are used in a completely interchangeable way.

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How Often Have People Misapplied Prophecy?

There has been a long history of people misunderstanding and misapplying biblical prophecy. The Jews preceded the church in misapplying prophecy. Convinced that a God-anointed King (Messiah) would lead them to military victory over the Romans and establish a dynasty that would bring Israel’s story to fulfillment, they ignored the warnings of both John the Baptist and Jesus that national repentance and purification would have to precede national restoration. Consequently they supported numerous military leaders and false messiahs

1 during the first and early second centuries, leading to the disastrous wars of AD 70 and 135.

In the second century, a Christian sect believed itself gifted with new revelation from the Holy Spirit. Montanism claimed that the end of the world was at hand and that the heavenly Jerusalem would be established in Phrygia (the base of the movement). Believing that the end of the world had almost arrived, this sect practiced extreme asceticism and became a serious threat to the life of the church.

As time continued, Christians repeatedly mistook the conditions of their day as the fulfillment of endtime prophecy and this continues to this day. Every generation of Christians rightfully thinks of itself as significant to God’s plan, and when unusual conditions arrive—especially periods of warfare, calamity, or any major cultural change or social upheaval—they usually see circumstances and individuals of their day fitting remarkably well with the symbols and images of biblical prophecy.

In the late Roman period, Attila’s Huns and the Germanic Goths were viewed by terrified Christians as “Gog and Magog,” and after the great defeat of the Roman Army at Adrianople, Bishop Ambrose of Milan declared: “The end of the world is coming upon us.”

The Crusades were a period of great eschatological expectation. The Encyclopedia Britannica states:

The eschatological strain of the Crusades can be noted in the Crusade sermons of Bernard of Clairvaux in 1147, who kindled enthusiasm to liberate Jerusalem with reference to the pressing terminal dates of the endtime.

During the Crusade period, many believed that Frederick II (who conquered Jerusalem in 1229) would usher in the millennium. Even after his death, people continued to believe he would return from the dead to establish the kingdom of righteousness (Frederick redivivus). Historian Paul S. Boyer writes that during this time period:

Manuscripts . . . complete with illustrations and elaborate charts (a staple of later prophecy writers as well), circulated through Europe and England, stimulating apocalyptic speculation. Further, . . . the material . . . linking the Jews explicitly to Antichrist helped to fuel an upsurge of anti-Semitism in late-medieval Europe (When Time Shall Be No More, p. 53).

During the early Reformation, large groups of Taborites in Bohemia and Anabaptists in Germany and the Low Countries held fanatical views of the imminence of the endtimes that resulted in armed rebellion against the religious and secular authorities, and some of the most horrible episodes of violence in Western history.

The major reformers too perceived themselves as standing on the verge of the apocalypse. They viewed the pope as an “internal antichrist” established in the temple at the holy place and the marauding Turkish Muslims as the “external antichrist.” During the 17th century, England was awash with prophetic speculation.2The English colonies in North America were also preoccupied with the endtime:

Puritans who traveled to America in the 17th century and Quakers, Baptists, and Methodists in the 18th century believed that America was the “wilderness” promised in the Revelation to John. William Penn gave the name Philadelphia to the capital of the woodland areas ceded to him (1681) because he took up the idea of establishing the true church of the end time, represented by the Philadelphia community of the Revelation to John. A great number of the attempts undertaken to found radical Christian communities in North America may be viewed as anticipations of the coming Jerusalem (Britannica, vol. 16, p. 301).

A cluster of radical apocalyptic movements appeared in the United States and England in the early to mid-19th century, leading to the rise of the Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Mormons, along with other cultic groups that are still large and growing today. Also in the mid-19th century, a heretical Christian cult took root in China, resulting in the Taiping Rebellion (1845­–1864). The prophet/leader of this movement, Hong Xiuquan, combined social reforms with authoritarian, visionary leadership to create the largest uprising in human history, creating an army of over a million and directly bringing about the deaths of approximately 20 million people.

A large number of political, religious, and military circumstances in the early to mid-20th century made it appear almost certain to many premillennial observers that all the circumstances were in place for the imminent rise of the Antichrist, the false prophet, the rapture, and the beginning of the 7-year tribulation period. However, from the vantage point of the beginning of the 21st century, it is obvious that many of the boldly projected prophetic scenarios didn’t occur.

Evangelicals who have lived through these changes have learned through several generations of experience how misleading it can be to reach sweeping conclusions through prophetic interpretation of current events and how important it is to avoid dogmatism and undue speculation while remaining open to the possibilities. Today, the astonishing power of international bankers and corporations, the unprecedented rapidity of technological development, and the international tendency towards a world government offer many opportunities to speculate about the relationship of current events to biblical prophecy. Yet, given the mistakes made by Christians in the past, we would be wise to dedicate our time and energy to Christian witness rather than eschatological speculation.

(See the ATQ article, Can We Know If Current Events Are the Fulfillment of Prophecy?)

  1. “In my name (epi toe onomati mou). They will arrogate to themselves false claims of Messiahship in (on the basis of) the name of Christ himself. Josephus (Wars of the Jews VI, 54) gives their false Christs as one of the reasons for the explosion against Rome that led to the city’s destruction. Each new hero was welcomed by the masses including Barcochba. ‘I am the Messiah,’ each would say.” (Robertson’s Word Pictures, Matthew 24:4-5) Back to Article
  2. From 1642 to 1660, as England experienced civil war, regicide, a commonwealth, and military dictatorship, end-time anticipation ran rife. John Milton, the poet of Puritanism, was but one of many who invested these events with high eschatological significance, viewing them as the prelude to the moment when “the Eternall and shortly-expected King shall open the Clouds to judge the severall Kingdomes of the World.” The urgent apocalyptism of these years can scarcely be overstated. One William Sedgwick, drunk on the Millennium, predicted the end in two weeks, a rash venture in date setting that earned him the lifelong nickname “Doomsday Sedgwick.” The coming “day of doom,” reported an observer in 1647, was “the common talk about London.”

    The career of Milton’s teacher Joseph Mede (1586–1638), a prophecy scholar and fellow of Christ College, Cambridge, illustrates the ubiquity of prophetic interest in these years. While he sometimes indulged in the prevailing tendency to interpret current events apocalyptically, Mede’s larger objective was to integrate the Bible’s various prophetic and apocalyptic sections into a single, synchronous end-time narrative. So impressive did English Puritans find his 1627 work, Clavis Apocalyptica (Key to the Revelation), that the House of Commons ordered it translated and reprinted posthumously in 1643. This and Mede’s other prophecy writings, collected in Works of the Pious and Profoundly Learned Joseph Mede (1672), circulated widely in England and America. Influenced by Alsted’s eschatology, Mede embedded a future Millennium firmly in his prophetic scheme, stimulating a revival of this doctrine in the English-speaking world.

    With the defeat of Charles I in 1646 and his beheading in 1649, apocalyptic speculation surged among English radicals, largely drawn from society’s lower ranks, who saw an egalitarian new order on the horizon. Like the Taborites and early Anabaptists, they invoked Bible prophecy to validate their expectations. (Paul S. Boyer, When Time Shall Be No More, pp. 64-65) Back to Article
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Can Dreams Have Symbolic Meaning or Messages from God?

It’s easy to expect either too little or too much of dreams.

An excellent book by a scientist who has researched the physiology of dreams (The Dreaming Brain by J. Allan Hobson) sets forth the hypothesis that because the brain is never completely inactive during sleep, it is constantly triggering the images of memories and experiences into our sleeping consciousness. Because we human beings are continually in search of meaning (and meaningful patterns), the process of trying to make sense of our world doesn’t stop when we are sleeping. Therefore, even when we are sleeping we try to create order and meaning out of random memories and images projected by our dreaming brain. He concludes that dreams are the result of this process.

After nearly 60 years of reflecting on my dreams, I think Dr. Hobson’s hypothesis fits the content of most of them. Still, I’m not sure that all dreams have a completely random neurological source. Sometimes the images are so unusual that it is hard to remember (or even imagine having had) any memories or experiences that might be their source. In fact, sometimes dreams have such duration and continuity that their content seems created by the interpreting mind rather than rising independently of it. Clearly, Dr. Hobson’s hypothesis leaves open the possibility that some dreams and nightmares expose the conflicts and fears we repress during waking hours as well as the fact that the process of working through problems and issues continues even when we are asleep.

In addition to dreams that might have symbolic significance are supernatural/preternatural dreams. Most of us have heard a trustworthy person tell of a dream that depicted a future event or alerted them to the fact that a loved one was in danger. The Bible also describes dreams that involve clairvoyance or precognition (Genesis 20:3; 31:10, 24; 37:5; 40:5; Numbers 12:6; Judges 7:13; 1 Kings 3:5; Daniel 2:3; 4:5; 7:1; Joel 2:28; Matthew 1:20; 2:12; 27:19).

When we think about our dreams, it’s important to try to understand them on the basis of Scripture. God warned the Israelites about false prophets who told lies based on dreams:

“I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in My name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’ How long will this be in the hearts of the prophets who prophesy lies? Indeed they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart, who try to make My people forget My name by their dreams which everyone tells his neighbor, as their fathers forgot My name for Baal” (Jeremiah 23:25-27).

In 2 Corinthians 11:14, the apostle Paul warned us that Satan “transforms himself into an angel of light” and could conceivably use dreams to deceive us. Obsession with dreams and their interpretation might lead a person into occult interests and estrangement from reality.

Remember, our heavenly Father is the “Father of lights” (James 1:17) who reveals the truth openly and clearly. He will never give us a message in our sleep that is contrary to reason or Scripture.

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What Is the Rapture?

From the earliest days of the church, Christians have anticipated a day in which Jesus will return for all those who believe in Him. This hope is rooted in many Scripture passages, all of which make it clear that the issue is not whether Jesus will return but when.

The term rapture is derived from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 . Like other texts referring to Christ’s return, this passage speaks of Jesus returning in power and glory to resurrect the dead. But more clearly than any other passage, it tells of His “catching up” of believers.

The Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18).

The term rapture itself is taken from Jerome’s 4th century Latin translation, the Vulgate. He translated the Greek term for “caught up” with the Latin term that had the same meaning — rapiemur. Rapiemur is from rapto, the word from which rapture has been derived.

Not all Christians use the term rapture, but for many Christians this term aptly represents the glorious moment when Jesus will appear in the sky to “catch up” His church before returning to rescue a remnant of Israel and set up His kingdom on earth.

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When Will the Rapture Occur?

The early church wasn’t dogmatic about the time sequence of endtime events. This fact should keep us from being so dogmatic in our interpretation of biblical endtime prophecy that we either become contemptuous of Christians who don’t share our viewpoint, or we make their view of the rapture a test for fellowship. Keeping in mind the need for constraint and tolerance on this issue, we’ll explain why we believe the rapture will take place before the tribulation.

The main support for a pretribulational rapture is the clear biblical evidence for the imminence of Christ’s return — the evidence that the Lord’s return will be without warning ( Matthew 24:36-39,43,45-51;25:13 ) — along with the most reasonable interpretation of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 .

Belief in the imminence of the Lord’s return involves the implication that the rapture will occur before the time of great tribulation mentioned in Matthew 24:2 , 2 Thessalonians 2:3 , and Revelation 17:14 . If the Lord’s return is to be truly imminent (without warning), it will occur before this tribulation time. Consider that if the events described in these passages began taking place — bringing about, among other things, the first 3 1/2 years of the Antichrist’s reign — believers would realize that they were in the last days and there would be no element of surprise. If surprise were ruled out, we would say that the Lord’s return will be soon, but not imminent.

2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 , which speaks of the revealing of the Antichrist, must be understood in the light of the statement, “He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming” ( 2 Thessalonians 2:7-8 ).

It is our view that the “restrainer” is the Holy Spirit working through the church of Jesus Christ. Therefore, we believe that the Antichrist will not be openly revealed until the church is taken away in the rapture and its influence of being “salt” and “light” is removed. (It is important to realize that the Holy Spirit will continue to work among the people on earth even after the removal of the church. However, the Holy Spirit will not work through the body of Christ as He is doing today)

We respect anyone who has a strong view of scriptural authority, including our friends whose study has led them to a midtribulational or a posttribulational viewpoint. Our main problem with their viewpoints is the elimination of the possibility of a truly imminent, any-moment rapture.

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