BY: JOHN R. GAVAZZONI
DECEMBER 26, 2008
We students of scripture are susceptible to a syndrome which, by analogy, might be described as the Biblical interpretation-equivalent of a young woman’s infatuation with a young man, a young man who strikes her fancy as the one who will finally fulfill all her romantic dreams.
To take the analogy further, she might have just recently ended a relationship which had seemed to her to promise unending bliss. But in her immaturity, needing to prove to mom and dad and friends that her basic approach to finding her dreamboat is sound, she’s even more prone now to making the same mistake again.
The new object of her infatuation-fixation might appear to be so different than the former one that the perceived difference will only tend to make her blind to the new one’s serious faults. They appear to be vastly different, but underneath the appearance the same dysfunctional elements abound.
This syndrome is especially prevalent in attempts to interpret the eschatological element of scripture. Our previous “boyfriend” had some really charming facets to his personality, until less pleasing ones began to finally confront us. So charming were those facets… that we unconsciously ignored what did not fit our presumption that our search for true love had finally ended satisfactorily.
Against the backdrop of that hopefully helpful analogy, may I dare to suggest that if we take a fresh look at Jesus’ predictions as recorded in Matt. 24, we’ll find, not only all our former “boyfriends” to be really woefully flawed, but the most recent more fashionable one, though having much to be admired – and I mean that sincerely – also falls short of being an exegetical dreamboat.
Please take note, as we seek at least a somewhat more accurate direction of interpreting our Lord’s predictions… that a key factor in His discourse was that He, as was His custom, was using things in the physical world to open hearts and minds to spiritual realities. More than anything else, His primary subject, in this instance, was: what is the true temple of God. That fact should color our interpretation of His entire discourse. Please keep referring back to this paragraph as a contextual reference point.
If we examine the chapter in that light, we’ll realize, I believe, that all prophecy has a continuing proper application, and cannot be made to fit completely into any single, limiting time frame. For example, in the same gospel, chapter 8, verses 16 and 17, Matthew declares that Jesus, on the occasion of certain evening, had cast out the spirits of many demon-possessed who had been brought to Him, healing them all, “in order that what was spoken through Isaiah, the prophet, might be fulfilled, saying, He Himself took our infirmities, and carried away our diseases.”
Now a truly reflective student of scripture, you would think, would find reason to pause upon reading that account, thinking, “wasn’t the time yet to come when the Lord would bear our illnesses by the stripes laid on him by a Roman scourger?” So why then did Matthew write that Isaiah’s prophecy had been fulfilled by the works of Jesus that evening?”
And even if Matthew was writing about the healing application being provided before hand from the grace-ground of the yet-to-occur scourging of the Lord, were there not many more later who were healed by the Lord, and even now after His death and resurrection, do not millions continue to be so healed, so how could he say that Isaiah’s prophecy had been fulfilled by the events of that single evening?
Upon due reflection, being instructed by the Spirit of Truth, what becomes obvious is that Isaiah’s prophecy had been fulfilled in respect to that occasion, but not, as it were, as a closed-end fulfillment. I have written before about the law of particularity in scripture: that the Bible speaks of particular application and reception of the benefits of the Christ event, but the benefits are not limited to that particularity.
That which is particular in the economy of God, in our present context, is representative of the larger universal benefit, as in “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for our sins only, but for the sins of the whole world.” So it is with all prophecy. Do not reduce the absolute fulfillment of any prophecy down to a limited time frame, and to the experience of a very relatively few beneficiaries; nor ought we to limit scripture’s prophetic warnings to those only within a limited time frame.
Beware of how your temperamental preferences, the way your brain processes information, as opposed to other brain-types, your life experiences, and especially your unique fear-propensities influence your interpretation of scripture. From that combination of influences, one person might prefer to think of Jesus’ predictions having only to do with the future; while another wants to believe that it’s all in the past.
Take another very obvious example: Peter declared that the out-pouring of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was that which was spoken of by the prophet Joel. But was all that Joel prophesied absolutely, close-endedly fulfilled by that singular event? Most certainly not. The Spirit of the Lord continues to be poured out upon all flesh, and will continue to be until all flesh, without qualification, has been thoroughly poured upon, thank God. If not, then I am, with many others, terribly deceived about the whole of my subjective spiritual experience.
There are many instances of what we might call classic, local, representative fulfillments of prophecy, but “representative” is the operative word here. Certainly, the events of A.D. 70 were quite singularly representative of the closing out of one age, and the ushering in of another, but we make a mistake to understand such a closing out, and ushering in as having, as it were, been wrapped up in that limited time frame.
There is that sense in which the dispensation of the law ended with the (nearly) absolute destruction of the physical temple, and the cessation of the liturgical elements that depended upon such a structure. But there is another sense in which elements of the old covenant experience continue on in the subjective arena as existentially adversarial to the new covenant experience.
In the experience probably of most of those who profess to embrace the new covenant as the context of their relationship with God, very essential elements of the law continue to cloud their understanding of God. The physical temple lives on in the hearts of many Jews and Christians as integral to their eschatological expectations, and Matt. 24 is applicable to that subjective actuality.
The temple, the law, the sacrifices, etc., all must be understood to have both historical and subjective dimensions. Who can deny how still prevalent is the sentiment and devotion to meeting God in a particularly hallowed way in some physical building, and doing so while accepting, and co-propogating the necessity for all kinds of essentially legalistic protocol.
I have observed over the last 55 plus years of ministering to, and working with all kinds of Christian groups, that – by and large – such groups possess a commonality of mental and emotional temperament. Every such temperament has its strong and weak points.
Two very contrasting temperaments that are quite common have to do with how we process and structure info-input. One type is prone to erecting rigid thought-structures, creating mental files into which all info-input is neatly assigned. The other contrasting type has its mental paper work scattered helter-skelter all over their mental desk and office.
Not to pick on anyone, but it’s just such a handy observation to note how Dispensationalists, for instance, love to compartmentalize. Assigning passages of scripture to a certain people, time, event, and so forth is a work of delight to them. Their study of the scriptures is hedged about by that brain-type temperament.
Both Dispensationalists AND Preterists (sorry dear brethren), tend to fall mostly into the above category, and neither would find it intellectually comfortable to accept the sense in which “the abomination of desolation,” for instance, is a continuing presence in the corporate spiritual temple of God. Strange bedfellows, eh?
Now I hasten to say that I have over-generalized, and that there are elements of both temperaments in us all. And besides that, sometimes those less given to being highly structured will tire of their unique frustrations, and seek refuge from the storms of their mental chaos on the other side of the fence, and vice-versa.
Back to “the abomination of desolation.” If our Lord was mainly concerned with preparing his disciples to understand the centrality of the spiritual temple of God – His body, both singular and corporate, constructed of living stones with Him as the Chief Cornerstone – then it would fit that we ought to consider that the abomination is to be understood as a continuing spiritual presence as pre-figured by a physical violating presence in the physical temple.
Oh! Hmmm! That sure does make Jesus’ discourse more open-ended, doesn’t it? And calls for us to be open to a continuing, always present concern and application. On this point, the scholar and the mystic need to join heads and hearts. The holy place of the physical temple, as most of my readers are aware, provided a picture of the soul of man, as the Holy of Holies did man’s spirit, and the outer court, man’s body. This has both individual and collective application.
Watchmen Nee warned of “the Latent Power of the Soul.” J. Preston Eby has an excellent treatment re: “Soul Power,” and Jan Antonsson has written prolifically and passionately on the subject. There continues to be – and so with increasing, blatant aggressiveness and subtlty – an unclean presence in our souls and the collective soul of believers. It’s not a presence of what the religious mind would think of, of what is conventionally considered to be in opposition to the purity of God’s temple.
It’s a presence that in its spiritual ambition, dares to claim that the Presence that rightfully works in and out from the spirit of man (the real Holy of Holies) is dependent upon and limited by the claimed independence of the soul. It is a presence of whoredom.
That alien presence has abandoned her Husband, and goes whoring with those ego-inflating claims of self-determination. She goes to bed with every spirit that claims to know what she must do to get her Husband to do what she thinks He ought to do, when and how she thinks He ought to do it.
Jesus once said, “The day is coming and now is…” It also follows that the day that was, continues to be. The Day of the Lord is always breaking into history. Do not get so exegetically-infatuated with just one (granted) graphic instance of that penetration, so that you miss history always repeating itself.
EXEGETICAL INFATUATION [John R. Gavazzoni] 12-26-08 1