REVELATION: THE ACHILLES HEEL OF THE GRACE MOVEMENT
[This week I am sharing a rough draft of a chapter I am contributing to my friend's book. Although you don't have a full context, I think you will still enjoy what I share here. Bless you!]
- Jonathan Welton
REVELATION: THE ACHILLES HEEL OF GRACE TEACHERS
Over the last decade an untainted teaching of the Gospel of grace has been revived in many streams of the church. As with any restoration of truth there is always a measure of resistance from the old guard. In this restoration there are several main arguments used to resist the truth. The stories of Job, Annanias and Sapphira, Paul’s thorn in the flesh and King Herod being eaten up by worms; each of these have presented a challenge for the Grace Movement to overcome.
As this book has already addressed each of these challenging passages, I will be dealing with what is considered the Achilles heel of Grace teachers; the book of Revelation.
If an individual is able to accept an understanding of grace regarding Job, Ananias and Sapphira, Paul’s thorn in the flesh and King Herod; the book of Revelation still presents a major challenge. For example, many have arrived at an understanding, which says that God poured out His entire wrath at the cross and the church is currently living in a period of unprecedented grace. The church being suddenly raptured away will supposedly follow this and then God will pour out His wrath again upon the earth as recorded in the book of Revelation.
This understanding seems to leave the grace teacher with an impending doom hanging overhead. With each newsworthy disaster that occurs, people wonder if we are entering into the end of time judgments, which Revelation seemingly points toward.
I will be presenting another perspective.
God has no more wrath to pour out in the future. He finished pouring out His entire wrath in the first century and is not storing wrath for our future.
#1: God’s wrath was connected to the Old Covenant
#2: The Old Covenant coexisted with the New Covenant during the New Testament (Heb 8:13)
#3: The Old Covenant was removed by the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD, as described in Revelation and Matthew 24 (For a full treatment of Matthew 24 see Raptureless.com)
#4: Revelation 15:1 indicates the complete removal of God’s wrath and the law passing away.
What I am about to explain will likely be foreign to 99% of my readers. Allow me to say that what I will be explaining is not foreign to orthodox teaching and church history. The Western belief that the book of Revelation is about future events and the end of the world is relatively new and has only been in circulation since the 1830s (and not even popular until the publication of the Scofield Reference Bible in 1909).
GOD’S WRATH AND THE OLD COVENANT
The first thing we must recognize is that the crucifixion of Christ did nothing to assuage the wrath of God. Jesus was not the Father’s “wrath sponge” soaking up His anger toward sin on the cross. Although a popular notion, we have absolutely no indication of this in Scripture.* The reality of what Christ did on the cross was that He operated as a perfect lamb sacrifice thus creating a brand New Covenant through which the Father could forgive sin, once for all. The cross is not the punishment of sin, the cross enabled a way for the Father to forgive sin. God did not punish our debt of sin, He forgave our debt of sin through the perfect sacrifice. No lamb sacrifice was ever punished for sin, their death simply enacted covenantal forgiveness. The perfect lamb released perfect forgiveness.
Considering that there is no Scripture pointing to God’s wrath being poured out at the cross, what do we understand from the New Testament regarding the wrath of God?
By studying every passage on wrath in the New Testament, one will find that wrath is connected to law. This is seen clearly for example in: “For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.” Romans 4:15
THE OLD AND NEW COVENANTS CO-EXISTED
Most Christians do not have clarity regarding the Old Covenant and the Old Testament, the New Covenant and the New Testament. The lines between these terms are blurred for many. The general tendency is to draw the dividing line between the end of Malachi and the beginning of Matthew and declare the Old Testament as the Old Covenant and the New Testament as the New Covenant, yet that is a very inaccurate formula, which leads to major interpretive problems.
A good starting point is to understand that not all of the New Testament is New Covenant, and not all of the Old Testament is Old Covenant. For example, the New Covenant did not start in Matthew 1:1. It wasn’t until Jesus inaugurated the New Covenant by His death, that a New Covenant was formed. Also from Genesis 1:1 until Mt Sinai in Exodus 32, there was no Law given (also known as the Old Covenant). Therefore understanding the covenant interactions with human timelines is of great importance. This is foundation shaking for most Christians that only recognize the division between the Old and New Testaments.
When many first grasp that not all of the New Testament is New Covenant, the first response is to try to draw a new line between the Old and New Testament. Perhaps after John the Baptist (representative of the Old Covenant) is beheaded, after the mount of Transfiguration (Glory of a New Covenant?), at the Last Supper, or at Jesus’ death, resurrection, Pentecost, etc. Ultimately the truth sets in, there is no simple line to be drawn between the Old and the New. The reason is because they coexisted side by side until the shadow, the Old Covenant, was terminated and completely removed. That is why Hebrews 8:13 says “By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.”
The book of Hebrews was written decades after Jesus’ death and resurrection. In 8:13 we learn that the Old Covenant had been made obsolete and outdated (because of the perfect lamb sacrifice on the cross), but was still in existence, still clinging on for a little longer.
I would venture that the second most significant event in Christian History (the cross being foremost) was the Destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD.
From Christ’s prophecy of the destruction of Temple in Matthew 24 until its fulfillment there was a forty-year period of transition (30AD-70AD). Theologians refer to this time as a transition generation, a time where the Old Covenant was fading out and the New Covenant was rising. This was exemplified in the Old Testament by Israel’s wilderness journey, which allowed time (also forty-years) for the older slave-minded generation to die away and for the next generation to take their place.
We can also see this picture through Saul being the king for forty years, although God had rejected him. During the same forty-years God had anointed David and was preparing him to take Saul’s place.
Lastly, Paul writes in Galatians regarding Ishmael and Isaac (Gal. 4:21-31). He clearly shows that Ishmael represents the Old Covenant and Isaac represents the New Covenant. Notice that the Ishmael and Isaac have an overlapping time of coexistence. The same is true in the New Testament of the New and Old Covenants.
Because of forty years of coexistence (30-70AD), we lose any chance of drawing a simple and clean line between the Old and New Covenants.
Now as we approach the New Testament we must review each passage with new lenses because not everything is New Covenant. For example, Jesus says that we must forgive or else the Father will not forgive us (Mt. 6:15), yet Paul writes that we forgive because we are forgiven (Eph. 4:32). In this case, when someone quotes Jesus’ statement they are quoting an Old Covenant verse, which no longer has personal application, whereas Paul’s verse is the New Covenant in which we dwell. It is important to keep in view that at times Jesus was showing His listeners the futility of trying to hold up the law.
We must also recognize that the church from 30AD-70AD was looking toward and anticipating the coming destruction of Jerusalem as the removal of the Old Covenant. As Ishmael persecuted Isaac, so the Old Covenant persecuted the New Covenant (Gal. 4:21-31).
THE DESTRUCTION OF JERUSALEM REMOVED THE OLD COVENANT
Throughout the New Testament the early church is looking forward to the destruction of Jerusalem to free them from the persecution by the Old Covenant guard. Since most Christians have not been taught the significance of the 70AD destruction, they are not able to recognize that this is in the backdrop of all that happens in the New Testament. Here are a few examples.
- Stephen is martyred for preaching about the coming destruction (Acts 6:13-14)
- They sold their property because Jerusalem is about to be burned to the ground (Acts 4:32-35)
- The elements of Judaism are reserved for destruction (Col. 2:20-23)
- Josephus, the first century Jewish Historian records that not one Christian died in the destruction of Jerusalem, specifically because they remembered and obeyed the prophecy of Jesus to flee (Luke 21:20-22).
Throughout the New Testament, the “Last days” is not about the end of planet earth, but a reference to the end of the age of Moses and the Old Covenant. Those were the last days of Jerusalem, the Temple and the priesthood. We are not currently living in the last days, but they were!
Once we can see that God’s wrath is connected to the Old Covenant, that the Old Covenant coexisted with the New Covenant for forty years and that the early church was looking forward to Jesus’ prophecy coming true about the destruction of Jerusalem (Matthew 24); our whole framework for approaching Revelation is different.
The majority of theologians understand that Matthew 24 and the book of Revelation are both pointing at the same events. The difference is the interpretation of what event that might be!
Was Jesus prophesying about the end of planet earth? Did John see in his vision on Patmos, the destruction of planet earth? This author does not believe so.
The other option that the church has historically believed is that Matthew 24 was about the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman armies in 70AD. This point of view was taught by great historical figures such as: Eusebius, Charles Spurgeon, John Wesley, John Lightfoot, Matthew Henry, Adam Clarke,
I have written a very detailed case for how Matthew 24 was fulfilled in 70AD in my free online book, Raptureless.com (the Great Tribulation chapter).
Time does not allow for me to expound on how the book of Revelation was fulfilled by the events of 70AD. Yet if we take the word of theologians that Matthew 24 and Revelation are about the same event, then let’s suppose for a moment that perhaps the majority of the book of Revelation is prophesying of events that have already occurred.
If that is the case, then Revelation 15:1 becomes an absolutely-remarkable-keystone to the Grace Movement. Rather than Revelation being a stumbling block, here in one paragraph is my understanding of how Revelation actually reinforces the Grace Movement.
Jesus died not under the wrath of God, but as the perfect Lamb to provide a New Covenant. The New and Old Covenants coexisted during the New Testament. The Old Covenant persecuted the New Covenant for forty years from 30-70AD until Jesus’ words in Matthew 24 came to pass and Jerusalem was destroyed. As God poured out vials of wrath on Jerusalem in 70AD He put an end to the Old Covenant once and for all. Jesus made war against the Apostate Old Covenant system and completely annihilated all semblance of the Old Covenant. Revelation 15:1 shows us that once He had poured out His wrath on the Old Covenant system, there is no more wrath to ever be poured out on earth. *
Although much more could be written and will be written about understanding the book of Revelation (I am currently working on my Doctoral Dissertation regarding Revelation), I hope that this small work has helped to move the reader toward an answer that is consistent with understanding Grace.
*(Many have pointed to Isaiah 53 to support a doctrine of the Father beating the Son to death, which violates every Old Testament shadow of lamb sacrifice leading to Jesus’ death. Also Isaiah 53:4b is quite revealing, “We saw his suffering and thought God was punishing him.” Isaiah is clearly prophesying about how we would misunderstand what was happening to Jesus at the cross. Those that try to hold up their argument with Isaiah 53 literally prove Isaiah’s prophecy about not understanding the cross.)
*(There will be a final judgment, a dividing of individuals before God’s throne, yet that is not taking place on earth.)