Dominion in Genesis, Part 8/8: The Three Freedoms

We learned in part 7 that, while the Egyptians lost their land and became servants of the pharaoh, the children of Israel became free and prosperous. In this post, we’ll study what the Bible teaches about freedom.

When Jacob and his descendants moved from Canaan to Egypt, they were in an ideal situation, apart from what we know to have been an imminent risk of enslavement. The Egyptians wanted to honor Joseph’s family, so they had given land to the Hebrews. Since the Egyptians despised shepherds, there was little danger of intermarriage, as there had been in Canaan.

Even though this time of freedom and prosperity was short-lived, it is significant that Genesis ends on this positive note. As was stated at the end of part 2, Genesis presents an overview of the Bible in microcosm. Genesis ends with victory because the kingdom of Jesus Christ will endure forever (Ps. 45:6, Dan. 2:44). There will be no more death, sorrow, crying, or pain (Rev. 21:4). Joseph died and was buried, with his body later being transported to the “heavenly” land of promise. On the other hand, Jesus died to rise from the dead and ascend to heaven, where He now reigns.

Turning to Exodus 1, we find that after Joseph died, a new pharaoh enslaved the Hebrew people. Since the Bible doesn’t say this was a punishment for sin, we shouldn’t assume this to be the case, though there’s no doubt that they were sinners. If God always enacted retribution on people in this life instead of patiently working to bring salvation, most of us would surely be dead already.

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Slaves pulling a statue on a cart, Ebers George (Wikimedia Commons)

If you’re going through trials in your life, and we all do, God intends for them to be a blessing to you. Like Adam and Eve after the Fall, we weren’t meant to live lives of leisure, without any work or suffering. God uses trials for many reasons: to humble us, get our attention, help us sympathize with others, and lead us to find our purpose and fulfillment in Him. The Bible promises, however, that God won’t send trials beyond what we can endure (1 Cor. 10:13).

God allowed the Hebrews to be enslaved for several reasons. He wanted them to remember this chapter in their history so they wouldn’t become prideful (Dt. 5:15, 15:15, 16:12, 24:18), and so they would be kind to foreigners in their midst (Lev. 19:34). Ordinarily, however, God wants His children to enjoy freedom (Jn. 8:32, 2 Cor. 3:17, Gal. 5:1, 13).

 

Biblical Freedom

Virtually everyone claims not only to highly value freedom, but also to know precisely what it is. It’s not uncommon to hear that the Bible supports slavery, and thus has little to say about political freedom, which is a modern concept, or so we’re told.

It’s true that the Bible doesn’t give us delineated rights such as the ones we find in the Bill of Rights. In fact, nobody can deny that it gives us a lot of commands. To most people, that doesn’t look at all like freedom. Far from supporting popular ideas about freedom, the Bible is directly opposed to false freedom that ultimately leads to bondage. There’s probably a fake version of every good thing, and there’s definitely such a thing as false freedom

I believe the Bible hints at three kinds of freedom. They correspond to the trinity of man, consisting of body (physical), soul (moral), and spirit (1 Th. 5:23). Let’s consider what both our popular culture and the Bible say about each.

 

1. Physical freedom

If we are honest, none of us recognizes an absolute right to physical freedom. We all believe some actions should rightly be prohibited as criminal activity. In addition, most of us take it for granted that able-bodied people ought to work for a living instead of permanently relying on government assistance.

As was explained in part 7, the Bible allows for servitude, but not for harsh slavery of the type that the ancient Egyptians imposed on the Hebrews. Otherwise, we shouldn’t be shocked to find that some people were other people’s bosses in the Bible. Almost inevitably, servants (or “slaves” if you prefer) were repaying a debt or receiving payment in some form.

Physical bondage remains a problem today for homeless people, and for anyone who must cut expenses and work more than one full-time job simply to pay the bills. In addition, considering the repressive laws that are routinely debated and passed by the U.S. Congress (not to mention the parliaments and assemblies of other nations), nobody can rule out the threat of tyranny. A third form of physical bondage is the threat of legalism in many churches, under which Christians mistakenly view God as a tyrant.

The symbolism behind Israel’s sojourn in Egypt strongly attests to the value that God places on physical freedom. When Israel first settled in the land of Goshen, it was a type of heaven (cf. Gen. 13:10). After the Hebrews became enslaved, it became symbolic of hell. Since work was a curse (Gen. 3:17-19), slave labor from morning to night may be described as hellish. Slaves in the American South knew this reality; they also knew from the Book of Exodus that God wanted to set them free.

This and many other freedoms spring from the great truth of Genesis 1:27 that we have a Creator Who put His image in each of us. Understandably, much has been written about this verse. Along with many other people, I see it as being foundational to human freedom. That said, we can’t afford to neglect other important theological truths. For example, if we also respect God as our Father and Provider, we’ll try to guide people to where they can receive His provision instead of becoming dependent on others. If we respect God as the perfect Judge of all men, we’ll value law and order while realizing that we have neither the obligation, nor the ability to right every wrong.

All of this can amount to mere preaching if unbelievers fail to see the mercy and grace of God in the lives of Christians. In that case, Jesus could little more than a historical figure to them. However, God gave the Church to the world as a witness, not the Bible alone. This brings us to the topic of moral freedom.

 

2. Moral freedom

As explained above, physical freedom is limited by the moral requirement to not break laws and, for most of us, to work for a living. As we further explore the moral limits to freedom, we find major differences between biblical freedom and popular ideas about freedom.

The Bible doesn’t describe physical freedom as an end in itself. In fact, even the Israelites’ slavery in Egypt was symbolic of a more important type of freedom. The New Testament speaks primarily about freedom to abstain from sin and serve others (Gal. 5:1, 13). The end goal of Christian freedom is to glorify God. We can do so by loving and serving God and our neighbors, as Jesus commanded (Mt. 22:36-40). We should live responsibly as God’s holy people, not use our freedom as an opportunity to sin.

America’s founding fathers understood that freedom was dependent on other human virtues. They didn’t trust in their wisdom, in the Constitution, or in any human authority to guarantee freedom. Instead, they knew that freedom could only spring from the hearts of the citizens themselves. As George Washington put it, “Human rights can only be assured among a virtuous people.”

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The Declaration of Independence by John Trumbull

Unfortunately, such words tend to fall on deaf ears in our society today. Many people seem to think that freedom is unrelated to either personal or community responsibility. The furthest thing from their minds would likely be the idea that freedom could have something to do with breaking free from barriers of self-centeredness that hinder their ability to serve others. No, they think freedom is about shattering constraints and taboos of the past to seek happiness through self-fulfillment which, as we are told, is not to be confused with selfishness.

The focus today is on individual rights, entitlements and temporary pleasures that often come at the expense of community interests and the future. One example would be the presumed “right” to see sex and violence on nationally broadcast television without having to stay up late. Another would be the “right” to pursue sexual relationships with no restraints, regardless of consequences such as an increased numbers of abortions, out-of-wedlock births, sexually transmitted diseases, and divorces; along with the accompanying breakdown of civil society.

As you may have noticed, biblical freedom and secular freedom have directly opposite effects in the world. Whereas biblical freedom blesses the world by promoting responsible, constructive activity; secular freedom promotes selfish behavior that imposes heavy costs on innocent victims, especially children and parents who only want the best for them.

People who demand freedom or “rights” that impose enormous costs and limitations on society are not giving us true freedom. Every society has an obligation to protect its most vulnerable members, even when it means refusing to cater to the demands of the loudest, most powerful, and most self-righteous.

We must know the character of God in order to accurately reflect His image. This is the role of the Church. God invites people to do what is right and good, but sometimes He intervenes to prevent injustice, as He did through Moses in the Book of Exodus. The state’s role is to legislate on the basis of sound moral principles in order to to establish justice.

 

3. Spiritual Freedom

People may take our physical freedom and corrupt our moral environment, but nobody can steal another person’s spiritual freedom. If Christians are faithful, even in adverse circumstances, we can overcome evil. Even if we fall into sin, God is faithful to forgive us because He keeps His promises. For this reason, Satan plots not only to lead Christians into sin but also, if possible, to kill us bodily.

Moral and spiritual freedom are closely related. The Bible tells us we were born in a state of spiritual bondage, as slaves to sin (Ps. 51:5, Rom. 6:20). Through the spiritual rebirth or “born again” experience, God has removed the power of sin from the lives of believers. He then set us on a process of moral development known as “sanctification.”

Sometimes, when God called the children of Israel to moral maturity, He gave them a real-life example. Joseph set the example for his brethren by his patient endurance and faithfulness in the midst of severe trials. Before he died, Joseph reminded his brothers of God’s promise that He would visit them and lead them to the promised land (Gen. 50:24-25). The Egyptians forgot about Joseph. However, the real tragedy was that the Hebrews forgot not only Joseph’s example, but also God’s promises.

Nothing can stand in the way of Christians who pray, believe in God’s promises, and do His will. Even though precious few Hebrews did this, God was faithful to keep His promise. Thus, He raised up Moses to deliver them.

The easiest people to enslave or oppress include not only people who are homeless, welfare-dependent, or morally decadent, but also those who are spiritually dead. Such people may appear to live decent lives as employees, consumers, and even as Christians. However, though they may not realize it, they’re mostly going through the motions. On the other hand, it’s nearly impossible for any tyrant to enslave people who are independent by virtue of being spiritually free, morally upright, and physically self-sufficient.

People who are easily manipulated and controlled are often referred to as “sheeple.” Authorities and spokespeople in the government and media can essentially tell them what to think. Sheeple are capable of thinking for themselves, but find it much easier to listen to recognized “leaders.” Although they seek to avoid personal responsibility in this way, God will hold them accountable.

We reverse the divine order when we neglect our spiritual needs and duties to focus on soulish and physical needs. Jesus made it clear that each of us serves either God or mammon (Mt. 6:24). In a real or perceived crisis, mammon-worshippers will always put more faith in human authorities (e.g., the government) who they feel comfortable with, than in our mysterious God, Whom they neither know, nor trust.

Spiritually dead people are faithless, fearful, and mindless. Their only hope of gaining wisdom and understanding is to humble themselves and seek the Lord.

Any would-be tyrant needs only to scare these dull conformists with a false flag terrorist attack, just as Hitler used the Reichstag fire to justify his seizure of power. Zombie-like people readily surrender essential freedoms because they never knew inner freedom to begin with. They’re often quick to support war because they’ve never known peace within themselves. Their hearts and minds are already in bondage because long ago, they refused to think and feel for themselves.

These have been some harsh words, but that’s what it takes for some people to realize the seriousness of their situation. I hope this hasn’t described you. Since you’ve read to this point, and perhaps read the previous posts in this series, it tells me you’re seeking truth, and aren’t in complete darkness.

Spiritual freedom is the most important of all our freedoms, but it only comes from God. Whatever your present condition, I suggest you pray that God would open the eyes of your understanding and grant you greater spiritual freedom. You can’t go wrong by praying in this way.

 

The Path to Freedom

Freedom was a Christian value long before modernists claimed the concept as their own. The natural, or non-Christian order of things is to emphasize physical freedom, including the freedom to engage in nearly any selfish pursuit. By this perverse reasoning, Adam and Eve gained freedom by breaking God’s rules and going their own way.

The secular world gives us only a few rules. First, we shouldn’t break laws lest we get into trouble. Of course, we can want to commit crimes, as long as we don’t actually do them. Second, anyone is free to victimize the entire society, but not any one person, unless that person happens to be a child in the womb. It’s also permissible to victimize any adult who “consents.”

Based on the popular understanding of freedom, most of us are quite free. Most of us have ready access to food, automobiles, public transportation, smart phones, the Internet, computers, and a multitude of consumer products.

The popular view is that technology brings freedom. Advertisements promote this idea, and there’s some truth to it. However, technology can just as easily facilitate the loss of freedom. As we surf the Internet, we’re under ubiquitous surveillance as businesses monitor our every move. Countries such as China bring to light the disturbing truth that Internet freedom is entirely dependent on the good (or bad) will of the state.

Even though the Internet offers a treasure trove of useful information, most people prefer to read the latest sports, jokes, and entertainment news, or to check on the status of friends and strangers. The news we get, whether it’s on television or the Internet, often contains more opinion and misinformation than fact. If we’re not told outright what to think, we’re typically given only one or two opinions. One of the two opinions will be conservative, the other liberal, and both frequently out of touch. In addition, nearly everything we see is tainted by advertising and the need for ratings.

This need for “eyeballs” brings it all back to us, the audience. This, in turn, brings us back to the founding fathers’ expectation that freedom would depend on the people’s virtue. It also brings us back to the Bible which, as explained above, associates freedom with abstinence from sin and morally upright behavior.

Imagine Jesus, Who warned that we can’t serve both God and mammon, saying something like this:

Even though you chose to serve mammon instead of Me, it turns out you got control of the beast and created a veritable paradise for yourselves. Uh… Well done, bad and unfaithful servants!

You might want to file that in the “Never Gonna Happen” folder.

It should be clear by now that Satan lures people with false promises of freedom that lead to bondage. This includes spiritual bondage, moral failure and addictions, welfare dependence and, ultimately, slavery or death at the hands of tyrants.

Ironically, the path to true freedom, as presented in the Bible, begins with respect for God’s authority and obedience to His laws. If we start there, we can expect God to give us honest and informed authorities who, despite inevitable flaws, will at least make a sincere effort to look out for our best interests. As we see in the example of men like Joseph and David, God also desires, and is able to raise up truly outstanding leaders. God wants to reveal His goodness by blessing both Christians and unbelievers alike (Mt. 5:45, Rom. 2:4).

How can we best reach people who aren’t spiritually free, yet don’t even know it? They may be interested only in light news and entertainment that doesn’t disturb their shallow sense of tranquility. Please share any thoughts you may have on that or anything else in this post.

Dominion in Genesis, Part 7/8: Did Israel Prosper at Egypt’s Expense?

I began this series with the idea that even most Christians have been overly judgmental toward Bible heroes. It’s always easier to judge people than to spend whatever time it may take to understand them. While there’s no need to whitewash anyone’s character, we  can often defend the Scriptures and glorify God by explaining their actions within the cultural and historic context.

I’ve been guilty of wrongfully judging Bible characters on countless occasions. For example, even though I’ve always appreciated Joseph’s virtues, and how he saved many people from starvation, I had some doubts about how he dealt with the Egyptians in Genesis 47…

  • Joseph sold grain at what must have been very high prices to starving people.
  • He mercilessly took all their property and land for the pharaoh, as we read here: “So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh, for all the Egyptians sold their fields, because the famine was severe on them… As for the people, he made servants of them from one end of Egypt to the other” (Gen: 47:20-21).
  • It appears that Joseph didn’t enact religious reforms. Instead, the pharaoh showed favoritism to Egypt’s priests by letting them keep their land.
  • In an apparent double standard, the Hebrews received free land, but the Egyptians (excluding their priests) lost all their property and became the pharaoh’s slaves. Apart from Joseph, the Hebrews had done nothing to deserve this generous gift.
    As so often happens when reading the Old Testament, I couldn’t help but wonder about God’s role and purposes in all of this. Perhaps you share some similar concerns.

I’m pleased to say that, as a result of having studied these issues in more detail, I can fully respond to them in this post. After reading this, I hope you’ll realize how easy, yet how very wrong it is to judge a biblical figure, not to mention the Lord Himself, based on circumstantial evidence that, as cultural outsiders, we often misinterpret.

 

Was Joseph a
…Slave Driver?

The Bible makes much of the fact that the Egyptians enslaved the Hebrews. However, prior to that, Joseph had enslaved the Egyptians. At least, some Bible translations describe the Egyptians as having become “slaves” (Gen. 47:19, 25 NASB, NRSV). Most of the others use the word “servants.”

Americans tend to associate the word “slave” with black slavery in the South. This was a system in which slaves were treated as mere property or “chattel.” However, the context shows that the Egyptians didn’t become chattel slaves. Joseph and the pharaoh may not have conceived of forcing anyone into chattel slavery, even though the people had offered themselves along with the land. Instead, they established a sharecropping system. That is, they let the people farm the land in exchange for a percentage of the produce—20 percent annually. This is much less than the property and income taxes that we pay today. In addition to paying for palaces and temples, taxes or equivalent labor went toward the military, roads, and irrigation canals.

 

…Communist?

I used to wonder whether Joseph was some kind of early communist. Communism was a 19th century invention, so I know that makes this question somewhat rhetorical. Even so, since the pharaoh came to own nearly everything and everyone, the situation reminded me of communism.

If we bring modern economic theories into this, Joseph was arguably more of a capitalist than a communist. Capitalism is very much about recognizing opportunities and risking capital by investing it in projects that can bring a substantial return in the future. Joseph and the pharaoh both took a risk by taxing the people to store enormous quantities of grain. It would be easy for us to say they had no doubts, and therefore didn’t take any risk. The point is that both men could likely have been dethroned if there had been no famine.

Any Egyptian farmer could have chosen to set aside some of the enormous crop yields from the seven years of plenty, simply by burying it under the sand. However, it seems that almost nobody had believed in Joseph’s prophecy.

Today, most of us find it unthinkable that any government should be allowed to own everything. However, in ancient times, a benevolent tyranny could be a good form of government. A well-managed government could promote the public welfare by using tax money to provide security, and to fund beneficial, large-scale projects. This could include warfare, and the collection of tribute from other nations. Joseph’s story gives us an example of how the pharaoh prospered, not through war, but by providing food for people throughout the region.

We would be equally mistaken if we were to associate this situation with totalitarianism. A totalitarian state requires modern technology, especially surveillance technology. In ancient times, nobody would have dreamed of controlling every facet of a society.

Obviously, this story had nothing to do with either communism or totalitarianism. If anything, it should serve as a warning that there’s more than one route to tyranny. Again, however , I don’t think this was a tyrannical regime, though the situation could conceivably have gone in that direction.

Incidentally, modern-day capitalists have no reason to be dissatisfied with the biblical narrative. God allowed the pharaoh to acquire all the land, but favored private land ownership for His children. Centuries later, in accordance with the Law of Moses, the Israelites parceled out the land of Canaan by families instead of letting a central government own it. In fact, Israel had no central government during the time of the judges.

 

…Profiteer?

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Joseph Selling Wheat to the People by Bartholomeus Breenbergh, 1598-1657 (Wikimedia Commons)

Obviously, grain prices must have risen to very high levels since Joseph was able to buy all the livestock, the land, and even the people themselves. Again, the people weren’t treated as mere property, even though in a legal sense, they had been purchased.

A price rise would have been unavoidable. After all, free market principles dictate that the price of any scarce item in high demand must rise in order to avoid shortages. Moreover, these weren’t merely the latest high tech gadgets, but food that those people needed to survive. Since Joseph didn’t let people starve, he must have distributed the grain not only to wealthy people (who would likely have bought it all if given the chance), but also on the basis of need.

We can learn more about Joseph’s character by examining the Bible text, which we Christians should accept at face value. There, we find that the Egyptians themselves came up with the idea of selling their land for food and becoming the pharaoh’s servants:

Why should we die before your eyes, both we and our land? Buy us and our land for food, and we with our land will be servants to Pharaoh. And give us seed that we may live and not die, and that the land may not be desolate.” (Gen. 47:19 ESV)

After Joseph had done this, the Egyptians said to him, “You have saved our lives; may it please my lord, we will be servants to Pharaoh.” (47:25 ESV)

Joseph continued to enjoy a good reputation among the Egyptians. They didn’t enslave the Hebrew people until after they had forgotten Joseph (Ex. 1:8-11).

 

Did God Apply a Double Standard?

This question comes up because, whereas the Egyptians lost their land under Joseph and the pharaoh, the Hebrews happily gained land for the taking in Egypt. This story has been taken out of context to misrepresent Joseph as a schemer. Hatemongers have even tried to justify negative stereotypes about Jews by describing this as a typical Jewish takeover of a government. Critics have further denounced the Israelites’ (and the Old Testament God’s) lack of respect for Canaanite lives and property rights when they invaded Canaan.

The primary answer to this question is that the God Who permitted and/or commanded these things has the right to deal with people as He chooses. If only we could always satisfied with this answer, right? But it’s also good to ask questions and seek answers…

Briefly stated, the Canaanites’ problem was sin. God respected their property rights so much that He waited several centuries before calling His people to invade Canaan. Their sins had to reach what God had described as their “full measure” (Gen. 15:16).

As for the Egyptians, again, though we’re appalled at the idea of a government owning all the land, this ended up costing the Egyptians a tax of only 20 percent of their produce. No doubt, most farmers today would readily accept a similar offer from a landowner. I’d jump at the opportunity, if only to avoid other taxes!

After each Israelite family received land in Canaan, they were expected to pay tithes and offerings according to the Law. It’s been estimated that this came to about 23 percent of total household income. Thus, in modern economic terms, the “capitalist” Israelites may have paid a greater portion of their income than the “communist” Egyptians!

The Egyptians became the pharaoh’s servants, but they obviously had some freedom or they couldn’t have enslaved the Hebrews. Later, the Israelites were also allowed to make servants or become servants of their own people (Ex. 21). Even Jacob had served his uncle Laban for twenty years. For that matter, anyone who works for an employer today is comparable to a servant.

The Egyptians’ tax would have gone mainly to the ruling class, the priests, and the military. The pharaoh arguably deserved considerable wealth since he had risked his job and reputation, if not his own grain, to save his people.

Whereas the bulk of Egypt’s wealth went to the pharaoh, much of Israel’s wealth went to God through the offerings. Israel’s tithes also supported the priests, the poor, and the family itself—for a vacation (Deut. 14:24-27). The tithes and offerings weren’t compulsory, or at least not in the same manner as the Egyptians’ tax collection.

These different ways in which the Egyptians and Israelites collected and spent their extra income were a reflection of their differing belief systems and values. Of the two, God supported the system that He instituted from Mount Sinai.

Without question, the overall “balance sheet” comes out in favor of the Hebrews. Joseph saved the Egyptians and the neighboring people from starvation. The Egyptians returned this favor by enslaving the Hebrews for centuries, until God forcibly freed them.

 

Was the Pharaoh an Idolater?

Pharaoh_in_a_Chariot-JeanFrancoisChampollion

Pharaoh in a Chariot by Jean Francois Champollion (1790-1832)

Even though Joseph’s friend the pharaoh chose to exempt the Egyptian priests’ land from being confiscated in exchange for grain, it doesn’t necessarily mean he worshipped the Egyptian gods. It may be that he didn’t want to get into a power struggle with the priests and their followers, which he could easily have lost.

What’s most important is that this pharaoh honored Joseph and Jacob, and that he gave land to the Hebrews. He believed in Joseph’s interpretation of his dreams, which Joseph told him had come from God. This is more evidence of faith than what most Christians can show today.

 

The Art of Compromise

If any of us still have a problem with Joseph, perhaps it’s because we see him and the pharaoh as having been overly tolerant or compliant. They let the Egyptians have the economic system they volunteered for. As bad as that looks, they didn’t violate anyone’s human rights by treating them as property. They didn’t force Joseph’s religion on anyone, but permitted religious freedom for both the Egyptians and the Hebrews. Clearly, any Egyptians who might have feared a theocracy of Yahweh would have been mistaken.

Incidentally, this wasn’t an isolated circumstance in which God respected human free will. We can find a more explicit example of divine tolerance in Moses’ allowance of divorce (Mt. 19:8, cf. Mal. 2:16).

Those were times of ignorance, but God expects more from people today, based on the knowledge we have (Acts 17:30-31). Even so, I think Joseph’s example of tolerant rule in a mostly secular state has relevance for Christians today.

We’ve just learned about some important differences between the ancient Hebrew and Egyptian economies and governments. In part 8, we’ll find out what are, or at least should be some important differences between Christians and non-Christians today. Before moving on, please post any questions or comments below.

Dominion in Genesis, Part 6/8: The “Missing Link” Between Adam and Jesus

The more you learn about the Bible, the more it can transform your life, so be warned::

Only read this post if you’re willing to to take the risk of becoming happier and more optimistic!

I know that pessimism and ingrained teachings “from the Bible” can be hard to shake. I know because I wasted most of my life under the bondage of false teachings. So, if you’re into gloom and bondage, don’t read any further!

As the title of this post indicates, I’m about to use an analogy from evolution. This post isn’t about evolution. However, for the record, I reject Darwin’s theory in favor of the belief that God had a part in designing every living creature over time.

The term “missing link” probably brings to your mind some kind of ape-man, the fossil of which could provide a link between modern humans and ancient apes. A missing link provides evidence and information about a connection between two different species.

The Bible describes Jesus as the last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45). However, Adam and Jesus were far apart in time, geography, culture, and in what they did. What if there were a “missing link” that helped us to better understand both men? Wouldn’t such a person be the greatest missing link ever? I’m not comparing anyone with an ape-man, but I think this term describes Joseph because his life tells us so much about both Adam and Jesus. While other types of Christ in the Old Testament can also provide insights, this series is primarily focused on the life of Joseph.

 

The Earthly Man and the Heavenly Man

You may suppose that, even if Joseph bore some resemblances to Adam, it can’t matter much. After all, Adam committed one sin, and went into obscurity for the remainder of his life.

I would differ with anyone who might dismiss Adam in this way. In fact, I believe Satan accomplished the greatest “bomb defusal” (of the worst kind) in human history when he successfully tempted both Eve and Adam to sin.

As you will recall from Genesis 1 and 2, Adam and Eve were special creations, born of God, not of any human lineage. In theory, Adam could have brought glory to God by reigning as a noble, wise, and even immortal priest-king. He and Eve were God’s representatives on the earth. Adam was the “son of God” (Lk. 3:38), and Eve was God’s daughter. Imagine the impact that this couple could have had on human history if they had continued to live as sinless, Christ-like beings!

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Adam and Eve Expelled from Paradise by Paul Gustave Doré (Wikimedia)

Paul referred to Adam as an “earthly man,” and to Jesus as a “heavenly man” (1 Cor. 15:48). All Christians would agree that Jesus won heavenly or spiritual victories. He obtained mercy and grace for all who had trusted the words of God’s prophets, or who would ever come to trust in Him.

Unfortunately, due to the prevalence of bad theology, many questions remain. These questions shouldn’t be treated a matter of idle curiosity because the answers are of the utmost importance to Christians:

  • If Jesus defeated Satan, why does he seem to be alive and well (Col. 2:15)?
  • If Jesus reversed Adam’s curse, why is the world still cursed (Rom. 5:18)?
  • Why does the Bible describe Jesus as a King Who reigns over all the the nations (Isa. 2:4, Rev. 19:16)? Doesn’t He reign only in the hearts of Christians?
  • What’s the extent of Christ’s dominion, or is “dominion” a bad word (Eph. 1:20-22)?

To begin with, considering the sinful state of the world, you may be wondering how it can be that Jesus “defeated Satan,” “reversed the curse,” and “reigns.” Based on a postmillennial understanding of Bible prophecy, these terms have different meanings for the past, present, and future, as follows:

  1. Jesus conclusively gained the victory in the past when He conquered evil by His life, death, and resurrection. He didn’t conquer evil as the political ruler that the Jews had hoped for, or that premillennialists still expect Him to become. All that any sinner ever needed is what Jesus already gave us—the grace to believe in Him; to receive forgiveness; to draw near to God through the Holy Spirit; and to do the will of God.
  2. In the present, Christians are (or at least we should be) working to establish God’s kingdom on this earth. We are somewhere between the cross and the end of the millennial age.
  3. Christ will become widely acknowledged as the Lord and Savior of mankind in the future. Human free will and evil shall continue to exist, but the moral and spiritual influence of Christianity will prevail. This will surely come to pass because it has been prophesied, and is the will of God (Hab. 2:14, Jn. 12:32).

I could quote many more scriptures to support my points, but others could do the same, right? In fact, biblical literalism is characterized by Christians quoting scripture texts at one another, yet seldom agreeing on anything. The Bible sometimes appears to contradict itself, but only if we try to take everything literally.

Often, the best method of learning and persuading is through stories. A story or poem humanizes the text and gives us a rich context. This is precisely what the Bible does for us by providing a “missing link” in the person of Joseph.

 

Adam, Joseph, and Their Legacies

We learned in part 2 about some of the ways in which Joseph was like Jesus. Let’s now consider how Joseph was like Adam. In the table below, I’ve compared the two, while including Adam’s descendants from Cain to the antediluvian (pre-flood) society. The reasons for this inclusion will be explained below.

  Adam Joseph
Background Created by God.
Walked with God.
Hung out with his father
as the favorite son.
Clothing Clothed in glory. Received coat of many colors.
Assignment Have dominion over animals
and tend the garden.
Report on your
brothers and the flocks.
Success Named the animals.
(A means of taking dominion).
Reported honestly on his brothers’ behavior.
Trial Experienced loneliness.
No animal was like Adam.
Joseph’s brothers hated him.
He wasn’t like them.
Blessed Sleep Adam sleeps and
awakens to meet his bride.
Joseph sleeps, dreams
that his brothers serve him.

Prohibition
Don’t eat forbidden fruit.
Don’t try to be like God.
Don’t exalt yourself
over older brothers
(cultural & moral taboo).
Sin Eats forbidden fruit. Boasts.
Spiritual Death Nakedness.
Fall from grace.
Separation from God.
Stripped of robe.
Thrown into pit.
Separation from family.
Shedding of Blood God sacrifices animals to
to clothe Adam & Eve.
Brothers slaughter
a goat to hide their sin.
Punishment Banished by God to
toil on accursed land.
Sold by brothers into
slavery in worldly Egypt.
Temptation The serpent tempts
Cain to commit murder.
Potiphar’s wife
tempts Joseph sexually.
Response Cain kills Abel. Joseph flees.
Accusation Abel’s blood calls to God. Ms. Potiphar steals
robe as “evidence.”
Punishment Cursed to wander. Imprisonment.
Reaction
/Journey
 
(contrast)
Cain founds a city,
resisting God’s curse.
Materialistic culture.
Joseph goes inward
and seeks God.
He is able to interpret dreams.
Societal Consequences (contrast) The Cainite society becomes
more corrupt until God
destroys it with a flood.
Josephs grows in faithfulness
until God frees him to
deliver the region from famine.

 

I need to clarify two parts of this: “Blessed Sleep” and “Prohibition”…

The first may appear to denigrate wives, and women in general, by putting them in a subordinate position to husbands, or to men in general. Of course, by no means is this the only time the concept of male headship appears in the Bible. I believe God intentionally designed men and women to be different in such a way that we complement one another.

In relation to this study, two points may be made. First, I find it necessary to recognize gender distinctions simply to understand the Bible, especially the symbolism. I hope your main purpose for reading this is to better understand the Bible, no matter what it says. Second, the symbolism helps bring out the fact that Joseph was in the wrong here. God had to get him away from this situation to teach him how to be a humble servant.

Godly leadership begins with servanthood. From a complementarian perspective, every husband should be a servant to his wife, though not in a servile manner. If interested, you can learn more about complementarianism here.

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Joseph Dreams of Wheat by Owen Jones, 1809-74 (Wikimedia)

Although an explicit prohibition against the boasting doesn’t appear in the text, Joseph had to have known it was wrong in that culture, which recognized the rights of the firstborn (known as primogeniture) and respect for elders. Moreover, it was unnecessary since Joseph was already his father’s favorite son. Even Jacob ended up having to rebuke Joseph for having boasted about his dreams (Gen. 37:10).

We may contrast Joseph’s words with the silence of Mary, the mother of Jesus. After God revealed precious information to her through a dream, she was wise and humble enough to keep quiet about it (Luke 2:19, 51).

You will have noticed that there are many contrasts in the above table. A set of contrasts is as legitimate as a set of comparisons in Hebrew poetry. Anyway, these contrasts show that Joseph succeeded where Adam and nearly all his descendants had failed. Since God allowed even Joseph to rescue the Egyptians from starvation, imagine how much greater is the salvation that we’ve inherited through Jesus Christ!

Again, I compared Joseph not only with Adam, but also with his descendants. Adam and Eve’s fall set a sequence of horrific events in motion. During their lifetime, their son Cain founded a town. That town grew into a city, which became a civilization. That society eventually became so wicked that God had to destroy it with a flood.

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Gustave Doré, The Great Flood (Wikimedia)

As for why I grouped Adam with his descendants, the poetry of Genesis 2:2-4:17 gives us the same association (pp. 450-51 of Return to Genesis). In those verses, the fall of Adam and Eve is linked with Cain’s sins, including his founding of the city that God later had to destroy in the flood.

It would transform our perspective on the world if more Christians came to understand that the Fall was about much more than Adam and Eve’s sin. Through Adam and Eve’s association with the patriarchs and other types of Christ, we can be certain that God didn’t call them only to teach people how to tend a garden or tend animals. As the son of God, Adam could have taken on the priestly role of helping people come into in a proper relationship with God; the prophetic role of proclaiming His words and teachings; and the kingly role of building a godly society, even starting in a wilderness.

Adam didn’t obey God or found a city for Him, but his son Cain did so. Cain did it for his master, Satan, who was a murderer from the beginning (Jn. 8:44).

Joseph, who bore similarities to both Adam and Cain, was also a civilization-builder. Doesn’t this imply that God’s Messiah was to found a kingdom on the earth instead of reigning only in heaven? In fact, the Jewish people had hoped that the Messiah would come, restore the throne of David, and reign over many nations.

Since Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of the suffering Messiah, we can be certain that He also became the reigning King whom the prophets had foretold. Not only did Jesus win the spiritual victories that we already celebrate, He also won the right to reign on the earth, as God had planned for the first Adam to do. This is implied in the words that Jesus proclaimed, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Mt. 28:18).

Even though you weren’t created by God in the same way as Adam and Eve, God has a special calling on your life, if you’re a born again Christian. If not, please know that Christ died for your salvation. Either way, you can’t walk away from God’s call and expect there to be no consequences. If sin is separating you from God, He is ready and willing to forgive if you repent and seek Him, even at this moment (Ps. 86:5-7). As the Bible declares, today is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:2, Heb. 3:15).

I had warned you not to read this post unless you’re prepared to accept greater joy and optimism in your life! Smile

 

The Extent of Christ’s Salvation

Hopefully, each person reading this now has assurance that God has saved you by His grace. It’s also vital that we understand what’s included in our salvation. Please excuse this analogy, but if we think our salvation is like a Model T when it’s actually more like a Porsche, we’ll unnecessarily be operating under a handicap as we try to serve God in this life.

The doctrine of the Fall is of the utmost importance, partly because it is directly related to the doctrine of redemption. That is, since the Fall resulted in judgment upon an entire society (actually more than one, with Noah’s generation having been only the archetypal example), Christ’s redemption must be effective in saving not only individuals, but entire societies. This must be true if, in fact, Jesus reversed the effects of the Fall.

This isn’t a “gospel according to Genesis,” though Genesis can’t be ignored. The New Testament tells us that Adam’s sin led to further sin through his physical and, most importantly, his spiritual descendants. In an opposing manner, Christ’s righteousness is progressively leading to further righteousness through all who are in Christ (Rom. 5:12-21).

The resemblances among Adam, Joseph, and Jesus don’t appear to be coincidental, and they are significant. Satan must have trembled when he saw the resemblances between Joseph and Adam in his pre-fallen state. He had to retreat when Joseph and all of Israel achieved a bloodless victory over Egypt, which he surely had regarded as his space. Satan must have wondered how God could be so gracious to sinners such as the patriarchs. He didn’t anticipate that the true Son of God, Jesus Christ, would descend from heaven to earth, become a man, and die for sinners.

Since Joseph was, unquestionably, a type of Christ. he prefigured Jesus in his suffering and exaltation; in having delivered people from death; and in having ruled over both Israel (a type of the Church) and Egypt (a type of the unbelieving world).

I will close this post by citing some Bible passages that describe how Jesus Christ took Adam’s place:

For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Cor. 15:21-22 ESV)

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Rom. 6:4 ESV)

For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:17-19 ESV)

Has the information in this post helped you to better understand what God wants to accomplish in the world through His people? What Adam failed to do, and what ancient Israel failed to do can be done by Christians through faith in Jesus. Do you agree? If so, what does it mean? Please leave a comment below. Click here to read part 7.

Dominion in Genesis, Part 5/8: Joseph’s Rise to Power

In part 4, I explained how pietism led evangelical Christians to retreat from the world with the thought that they only needed God in their hearts, not in the public sector. As the world situation seemed to deteriorate from the Civil War to World War I, Christians became increasingly despondent about the future. They adapted their end times theology to match the mood. Even though the times have greatly changed, that pessimistic theology remains pervasive in churches today.

 

How Christians Can Overcome Our State of Depression

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Puppy Belle courtesy of Tostie14 on Flickr

Did it please God when Christians withdrew from the world and lost hope? Was this a positive, healthy development in any sense? Think of it this way… Would you consider it healthy if your pet dog or cat withdrew from everyone and looked sad?

The answer to all these questions is, “Of course not!”

We all need a certain amount of optimism just to get out of bed every morning and go to work. On balance, Christians should be the most optimistic people of all. After all, God has revealed His love and faithfulness to us, and lavished His grace upon us. It’s never God’s will for Christians to disbelieve His Word and become discouraged!

For centuries, optimistic Christians settled, civilized, and ruled America. When they protested against British tyranny, King George declared them to be “rebels” and “traitors.” We know the rest of the story.

We know equally well that America is no longer predominantly Christian. Increasingly, it’s being secularized. The current circumstances raise many challenges and questions, but they shouldn’t change our core beliefs about who God is or what the Bible teaches.

The prerequisites for regaining Christian optimism are the same as those for returning to biblical Christianity:

  • Believe that God reigns in this world, not only in places with angels, harps, clouds, and resurrected saints.
  • Know that God has granted us the ability to joyfully serve Him and glorify His name on the earth.
  • Accept responsibility for making this world more heavenly, as is commanded or expected in the dominion mandate (Gen. 1:26-28, cf. 9:1-5), the Lord’s prayer (Mt. 6:10), the Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20, cf. Acts 1:6-8), and elsewhere.
Dominion in the Life of Joseph
    This brings us to the topic of dominion, which is a primary theme of Genesis. Nowhere is that theme more apparent than in the story of Joseph. After many peaks and valleys, Genesis crescendos with Joseph’s rise to power. We tend to miss the dominion-related aspect of this story for reasons such as the following:
  • Joseph’s story is so entertaining and motivational that we may be satisfied to view it merely as a kind of “chicken soup for the soul.”
  • Anticipating the enslavement in Exodus 1, we know in advance that the Hebrews’ time of prosperity and freedom wasn’t going to last long.
  • We don’t think much about the historical significance of this event.
  • We fail either to recognize or think much about the underlying symbolism.

This story practically leaps off the pages, not only because of Egypt’s prominent role in ancient history, but also with regard to the symbolic meaning. Even biblical literalists find it hard to deny the existence of allegorical or typological meanings in this story. Some of the more important ones are as follows:

Symbol Representing
Egypt The world
Pharaoh God the Father
Joseph Christ
The Hebrews (Israel)* The Church
Joseph freed from the dungeon Resurrection
Joseph raised to the Pharaoh’s throne Ascension

*Some people mistakenly refer to Jacob and the twelve tribes of Israel as “Jews,” and associate them with modern Israel. However, the Jewish people are descended almost exclusively from the tribe of Judah. The Hebrews were physical Israel, which was symbolic of spiritual Israel, the Church. Paul explained this in Galatians 3-4 and 6:16. The topic is further discussed in chapter 5 of Return to Genesis, and by Michael Marlowe here.

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Joseph Presents His Father and Brothers to Pharaoh by Francesco Granacci (1477-1543)

Before proceeding further, let’s briefly review Joseph’s life story…

Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt because they envied and hated him. Joseph served his master Potiphar faithfully, only to find himself imprisoned on a false accusation. While in prison, Joseph became known for his ability to interpret dreams.

God caused the Pharaoh to have dreams that troubled him. Upon hearing about Joseph, the pharaoh summoned him. Joseph interpreted the dreams as meaning there would be seven years of abundance, followed by seven years of famine. The Pharaoh was so impressed that he made Joseph responsible for the storage and distribution of grain in Egypt.

Joseph stored grain during the years of abundance, then fed Egypt’s citizens and neighbors during the seven years of famine. He even provided for his family members when they came from Canaan to seek food. Thanks to Joseph and his connections with the Pharaoh, the Hebrews were allowed to settle in Egypt’s land of Goshen.

Unquestionably, God wants believers to learn from and follow Joseph’s example. He served God faithfully while suffering unjustly, and blessed many people through his wise leadership. Joseph demonstrated great faith and commitment to refrain from sin and compromise, not only as a slave and a prisoner, but also as a powerful ruler.

In case there is any question, the story upholds political service as a commendable career path to which God may call a believer. Christians should seek to enjoy harmonious relationships with government authorities instead of despising them (2 Pet. 2:10). We are commanded to pray for leaders so that we may lead peaceful, quiet, and godly lives (1 Tim. 2:1-4).

Again, the symbolism is highly significant. The Church is the body of Christ, and Christians are to represent our Lord in the world. God gave Joseph wisdom and a servant’s heart so that he could become a blessing. Similarly, God wants every believer to be a blessing in this world (Jn. 17:14-18). Yes, we should preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, but “ministry” can include any good work.

 

The Kingdom of Christ

Since God fulfilled Joseph’s dreams and blessed the known world through him, we can be sure that He wants to do much more through Christians as we serve Jesus Christ, Who is infinitely greater than Joseph. The Bible repeatedly describes Jesus as the “King of kings” and “Lord of lords,” and assures us that He reigns over the nations (Ps. 103:19, Rev. 1:5, 19:6).

Most “Bible prophecy experts” mistakenly project Christ’s kingdom reign to a future time, on a re-created Earth. They teach that God won’t bind Satan until after Jesus returns, meaning the devil is still reigning in Christ’s stead. Presumably, Jesus is incapable of ruling until, following the example set by many third world dictators, He forcibly removes all opposition. These teachings are entirely unscriptural!

The term “new earth” appears in the Bible, but it wasn’t meant to be taken literally (Return to Genesis, pp. 263-65). In the same manner, while it’s true that every believer is a “new creation,” it doesn’t imply that God remade our physical bodies after we believed in Christ.

Oddly enough, many Christians oppose the biblical teaching that we’re responsible for helping to establish Christ’s reign in this world. This attitude seems reminiscent of Joseph’s brothers when they derisively asked him, “Shall you indeed reign over us?” (Gen. 37:8). We find the same spirit of envy and hatred in Cain, Ishmael, and Esau, and that’s only in Genesis. I’m not accusing anyone of hating and envying Jesus, but for practical purposes, I don’t see much difference.

Even as Christians, we all struggle with the “fleshly” or sin nature (Gal. 5:17). This can definitely interfere with our attempts to understand the Bible (1 Cor. 2:14). One way the sin nature manifests itself is in the desire for a kind of self-rule that mostly confines God to Sunday worship, and puts ourselves in charge of every other aspect of life.

The Bible tells us in Joel 2:28 that when God poured His Spirit out, old men would dream dreams and young men see visions. The oldest man in the Bible was Methuselah. However, when he passed away at age 969, the Flood came and destroyed that society. Jesus has a better future for us than that which Adam left for his descendants. God wants old men to dream of a glorious future, not only in the clouds (or wherever), but on this earth.

The cherishing of hopes and dreams is a commendable trait in people of any age. Joseph was at fault for having boasted, but not for having believed in his dreams. God purified him through suffering, and helped him become a faithful steward and a humble prisoner. The Lord further taught Joseph that ultimately, He controlled every circumstance in life.

In part 2, I explained that Christians shouldn’t only ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?” We should also seek to follow the examples of Old Testament heroes who prefigured Christ, as well as the New Testament apostles who knew Jesus. The Lord Himself learned from the heroes and heroines of the Old Testament, beginning with Adam in his pre-fallen state. Jesus was like Adam, only without sin. In part 6, we’ll learn how Joseph was also like Adam, and what it means for us in this age. Please feel free to leave a comment or question below.

Dominion in Genesis, Part 4/8: Three Perspectives on End Times Prophecy

One of the central themes of Genesis is dominion. Nowhere is that theme more apparent than in the life of Joseph. After many peaks and valleys, Genesis crescendos with his rise to power in Egypt. A central theme of this series is that Joseph’s reign with the pharaoh foreshadowed Christ’s reign with God the Father during the millennium.

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Christ in Glory c. 1660 by Mattia Preti

Below, I will review the three main positions on end times prophecy. They are premillennialism, amillennialism, and postmillennialism. These may be further broken down into “pessimillennialism” and postmillennialism.

Christians who hold any of the three main eschatological views are in broad agreement that Jesus will physically return to the earth. However, they argue over when this will occur in relation to the millennial reign of Christ. It’s widely understood that the millennium will occur over a limited time, on the earth, in the presence of unbelievers. This is taught in Revelation 20 and other places, such as in the symbolic meaning of Joseph’s reign. Beyond this, Christians don’t agree on much when it comes to the “end times.”

 

Premillennialism

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Judgment Day Billboard (Wikimedia)

Premillennialism is the predominant eschatological view among Christians today, but this wasn’t always the case. Prior to the publication of the Scofield Reference Bible in 1909, the dominant view was postmillennialism.

Premillennialists believe Jesus will return before the millennium, which they expect to last for a literal one thousand years. I describe them as pessimists because they view the Church as mostly being apostate. Presumably, this excludes the premillennialists’ own denominations. Naturally, this perspective fosters judgmentalism toward outsiders.

Since they don’t think God wants them to suffer trials, most premillennialists expect Jesus to return invisibly to rapture them before the Great Tribulation. They believe the Lord is literally scheduled to return again seven years later, at the end of the tribulation. At that time, He will return in bodily form with His saints and angels to defeat His enemies at Armageddon. Jesus will then reign over the world from a throne in Jerusalem.

Zionist Christians anticipate that animal sacrifices will be reinstituted in a new temple. They know there’s no longer any need for sacrifices (Heb. 10:4-18), but think the bloody slaughter of innocent animals will be a lovely memorial to ancient Israel.

It’s uncertain whether Jesus will travel around the world doing evangelism and working miracles, or whether He will mostly act as an Administrator. It’s also unknown whether His angels will serve as a heavenly Gestapo, intervene to prevent traffic accidents, or simply continue to whisper in people’s ears.

While it’s true that a complex theological position can’t be expected to answer every question, neither should it be so irrational. These are but a few examples of the many absurdities that are bound up in premillennialist teachings.

If the premillennialists are correct, we Christians will have proven ourselves to be perpetual screw-ups. There’s no persuasive reason for supposing that this would change if Jesus were physically present on the earth. In any case, premillennialists admit that even Jesus will be seen as an incompetent ruler. Upon being released, Satan will be able to quickly gather and lead an enormous army against Him. These doctrines seem to originate from a judgmental view of the Church, and even of Christ Himself.

Christians don’t need Jesus to be physically present on the earth. The Lord didn’t leave us alone, but sent the Holy Spirit to live in and among us (Jn. 14:16-17). Jesus even said His followers would do “greater things” than what He had done (Jn. 14:12). Collectively, Christians represent Jesus as the body of Christ and the Bride of Christ. We ought to believe these truths and take these responsibilities seriously, as weighty as they are.

Even if you don’t believe that God can grant Christians the ability to perform miracles today, we’re able to take advantage of scientific and medical advances. The world currently produces enough food to feed everyone. This means problems such as hunger and starvation are our fault, not a problem of Jesus not being here in the flesh. Mankind, Christians in particular, must “take dominion” by being good managers of our technology and the earth’s resources.

Notably, some of the premillennialists’ predictions have been self-fulfilling. For example, after insisting that evil will increase, many are content to passively watch that happen, except for the occasional, futile rant against a particularly offensive sin. Premillennialists are conditioned to expect evil to increase, and to wait for a rapture that always seems to be just around the corner.

 

Amillennialism

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Sacred Heart of Jesus by José María Ibarrarán y Ponce, 1854-1910 (Wikimedia)

Amillennialists and postmillennialists share many common beliefs because they weren’t distinguished from one another until after World War I. This was such a pessimistic time in modern history that some Christians parted ways with historic postmillennialism and became known as amillennialists.

Amillennial means “no millennium.” However, amillennialists only refuse to believe in a literal, one thousand year millennium. They believe the Church Age is the millennium, and see God’s kingdom as a spiritual kingdom that does not include social or political transformation.

Historically, the forerunners of today’s amillennialists and postmillennialists have agreed that the Church is the continuation or fulfillment of the Old Testament nation of Israel (Gal. 6:16). It was understood that Christ reigns now over His holy nation. This Christian belief is now widely denounced as “replacement theology” because some Jews want to claim ownership of everything associated with ancient Israel.

Amillennialists weaken the doctrine of the Church as Christ’s body by depicting Jesus as a personal Savior who reigns spiritually in the hearts of Christians. Postmillennialists also see Christ as the King of kings Who reigns over the nations, largely through the Church’s influence.

The pessimillennialists (i.e., both amillennialists and premillennialists) agree that, even though it can’t be denied that the Church experiences occasional victories, evil continues to spread and increase over time. Supposedly, Satan will be released at the end of this age, and there will be a time of great apostasy and tribulation. Fortunately, Jesus is prepared to forcibly suppress any insurrection.

Here, there’s a divergence. Amillennialists expect the Final Judgment to follow, but premillennialists believe the one thousand year millennium will then commence. Amillennialists, together with postmillennialists, deny that Jesus will physically reign on the earth.

A primary weakness of amillennialism is that it spiritualizes the kingdom of Christ as being strictly heavenly. However, even the Old Testament tells us that God reigns over the nations on the earth (Ps. 47:7-9). Not only does Christ reign now, He’ll continue to reign until all His enemies—dominions, authorities, and powers—have been put under His feet (1 Cor. 15:24-26).

Lamentably, all Christian pessimists commit the sin of denying the power of God on this earth (2 Tim. 3:5).

 
Postmillennialism

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Peaceable Kingdom by Edward Hicks

Most Christians today know little about the postmillennial view, even though it has a prominent place in Christian history.

Postmillennialists believe Christ will not return to the earth until after the millennium which, as amillennialists agree, is not to be taken literally as lasting one thousand years. Some postmillennialists, however, do take this word literally.

The Lord’s return will be followed immediately by the General Resurrection and the Final Judgment. Meanwhile, God is preparing for Christ’s glorious return by extending His kingdom in the world through the preaching of the gospel and the saving work of the Holy Spirit.

Postmillennialists can be distinguished from other Christians by our belief in the comprehensiveness of Christ’s kingdom. I will use the metaphor of body cells to explain this…

God loves every cell in your body, knowing that each one helps make up the person you are. The Lord knows that each cell must live in a sanitary environment and be supplied with the nutrients it needs to be healthy and do its job. Similarly, yet more intensely, God loves every Christian while knowing that each of us is part of Christ’s body.

Instead of living in a literal body, each of us is a member of a nation or society. You may live anywhere from a large city to a rural community. Most likely, your environment is worldly and corrupt. Christian children often get the worst of it. They typically spend six hours a day, nine months a year, for thirteen years sitting in public schools, only to come home and see filth on the television.

When an entire body is diseased, we can’t necessarily expect individual cells to remain healthy. The best way to heal any one cell is by creating a healthy environment for all the cells.

Since our world is spiritually sick and diseased, what can we do about it?

Pessimistic Christians have no real answer to this because they think God only saves individuals, families, and may bring revival to a church. The salvation of institutions and entire societies doesn’t figure prominently into their theology, even though God has done this in the past. The pessimists have a defensive outlook which hopes for the strength to endure trials, not for faith to storm the gates of Hell (Mt. 16:18).

I know pessimillennialists may insist that a nation can’t be “Christian.” However, we all know what it means when a country such as America is described as “post-Christian.” In fact, anyone who says God of Jesus Christ can’t transform a society or institution is displaying both irreverence and a profound ignorance of history.

Christians who, out of either fear or respect for Satan’s presumed lordship, do little to change our societal environment, bear some guilt for the condition of the world (Mt. 18:7, Jas. 4:17).

Postmillennialists don’t claim that every person in any given institution or society will be saved. We only claim that God can and will work through Christians to bring about massive, positive change through non-forceful means.

As we’ve been learning, God not only sought to, but at times did reign in a very real way over the nation of Israel. By raising up faithful saints such as Joseph and David, the Lord extended Israel’s influence to the surrounding nations.

God is able to effectively reign over and bless nations that seek him. Unfortunately, Christian pessimism, pietism, and a narrow emphasis on individual salvation has displaced nearly all expectation among Christians of corporate blessings such as mass conversions or massive structural change affecting society, culture, education, government, the economy, or politics.

Postmillennialists don’t focus exclusively on structural transformation. We understand that God begins with individuals. At the same time, we know that we can’t raise healthy fish in a dirty fish tank. I’ll explain this metaphor using a practical example.

Rousas John Rushdoony

R. J. Rushdoony

After a postmillennialist named Rousas John Rushdoony saw that public schools were corrupting Christian children, he didn’t bemoan the evil world, wring his hands in frustration, and write a bestseller on the “end times.” Instead, he became instrumental in establishing the Christian home school movement.

The point is not that postmillennialists care more about their children than other Christians. Rather, it’s that postmillennialists don’t accept or fatalistically resign ourselves to the theological error that Satan is growing stronger every day. Concerned postmillennialists seek to change this world for the better while being confident that God is on our side to help and strengthen us. On behalf of all postmillennialists, I invite you to join us in our belief that Christ genuinely defeated Satan on the cross.

 

Now that I’ve summarized the three main eschatological views, you have the information you need in order to know which interpretations discourage us from having hope and faith in this life, and which inspires us with the assurance that He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world (1 Jn. 4:4). Even though I couldn’t provide an in-depth study of Bible prophecy, I have curated some related articles on Scoop.it. In addition, I studied the prophecies in Daniel 9:24-27 and Matthew 24 in Chapter 8 of Return to Genesis. Anyone who is seriously interested in Christian dominion can benefit from reading the entire book.

Pessimillennialists may point out that if they’ve interpreted the Bible correctly, they can’t be faulted for being pessimistic. In theory, I agree. However. if the Bible truly presents God’s wisdom, we should expect it to be in conformity with reason and basic psychology. If God gave us good news, then by definition it should give us cause to be optimistic, not pessimistic. What do you think? Please leave any comments below.

This series is continued in part 5.