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Fighting for Real Estate: Part #3 - “Why do the Scribes say Elijah must come first?”

Jesus says Elijah did come. It all comes down to your Hermeneutics (Matthew 17:12)!

By Richard Allen – March 4, 2024

As we’ve considered in the first two Blogs in this series entitled, “Fighting for Real Estate, God’s people are often confused about the meaning of Old Testament passages, and their importance to Believers in Christ now living under the New Covenant. This problem has arisen over the past several hundred years, as ”new light on the Bible” took the Protestant Evangelical Church in America and Britain by storm. In less than one generation, those who had professed evangelical faith in Christ – that is those who actively witness and proclaim the good news of Jesus – forgot all the Confessions and Sound Doctrine that 1,800 years of previous Church History had laid down. Contrary to what Jesus taught the Early Church through the ”inspired writer to the Hebrews,” some teachers today appear to be teaching that First Century Jews (who rejected Jesus), were justified in "seeking an earthly City” (Hebrews 11:16). This teaching spawned a movement, sometimes referred to as “Christian Zionism.” Prior to the ministry of John Nelson Darby, W.E. Blackstone and others, no one in the Church – not even physical Jewish descendants – sought once again to make the land of Palestine, or the City of Jerusalem, an “earthly homeland” for the Jewish people! This is a relatively modern phenomenon. None of the great champions of the faith – including the Reformers – believed anything remotely similar to these quaint notions.


For me the irony is: “If Jesus and His Apostles had preached these erroneous ideas, the Jews would Never Have Rejected Him!”  These twisted views proclaim that the Kingdom of God was meant to be a “carnal Jewish state” where the whole world of Gentiles would come and worship - as Jewish priests would offer thousands of sacrifices in the Temple. This was the message they longed to hear!  And because Jesus was preaching a Gospel of peace and forgiveness instead, they totally rejected Him! So, it has to be asked: “Why would modern-day Believers in Jesus Christ once again seek to teach the erroneous views that mirrored First Century Jewry, who had rejected Jesus’ and His Apostles’ New Covenant interpretation of the Old Covenant? This is literally trading our “Birthright as Children of Abraham by Faith” (Galatians 3:7), for Jewish myths and fables (Titus 1:14). To answer my question as to “Why Believers in the Gospel of Jesus would be teaching doctrine contrary to the sound teaching of the New Covenant,” the answer comes down to your Hermeneutics.  Here’s a brief definition of Hermeneutics:


“Hermeneutics, the study of the general principles of biblical interpretation. For both Jews and Christians throughout their histories, the primary purpose of hermeneutics, and of the exegetical methods employed in interpretation, has been to discover the truths and values expressed in the Bible” [Britanica Online https://www.britannica.com/topic/hermeneutics-principles-of-biblical-interpretation]


After 50 years of reading and studying Biblical Theology, I can say without a doubt that “everyone has a System of Hermeneutics for the Bible,” that is, a method of interpreting Scripture.  But some systems are definitely better than others. The System that I am critiquing is called “Dispensationalism.” From a Historical Church perspective, it’s a new approach created in the mid 19th century.  Here’s how Wikipedia describes this Hermeneutical approach to the Bible:


“Dispensationalism was systematized and promoted by John Nelson Darby and the Plymouth Brethren in the mid-19th century. It began its spread in the United States during the late 19th century through the efforts of evangelists such as James Inglis, James Hall Brookes, Dwight L. Moody, the efforts of the Niagara Bible Conference, and the establishment of Bible Institutes. With the dawn of the 20th century, C. I. Scofield introduced the Scofield Reference Bible, which solidified dispensationalism in the United States” (Cited from Wikipedia).


Many Believers are not aware that this Hermeneutical approach to Biblical Interpretation is so recent. Some think that this is what Jesus and His Apostles taught. One of the tenets of this System is a belief that they alone interpret Scripture “literally,” taking every Old and New Testament passage exactly at its face value. But I can tell you they are not “strict literalists,” no, they are very selective regarding the passages they take “literally” – and those they nuance with a more “figurative” interpretation.  So how do we know which is right - the more Traditional Interpretations of “Historic Christianity” or this “new system of interpreting Scripture?” This is actually an easy question to answer: Just look at how Jesus

and His Apostles interpreted the Old Testament, and hold fast to their understanding!  If we do this, we can’t go wrong!


Over the years, in conversations with many believers who “accept this system wholesale," upon hearing my New Covenant views – based solely on the teachings of Jesus and His Apostles in the New Testament – I’ve been accused of “spiritualizing the Old Testament away, making its prophecy and teaching null and void.”  Over time, I’ve learned to respond to them in a very pointed way, by telling them: “No, I don’t spiritualize the Old Testament away, nor do I try to make it fit into any system of interpretation. I allow the Apostles of Our Lord Jesus to interpret the Old Covenant through the New!”  It’s the Apostles of our Lord who “speak with the full understanding and authority given by God the Holy Spirit!”  My dear brother, it is you who has “spiritualized away the doctrinal teaching of the New Testament!”


Let me remind us all of what I learned many years ago about the relationship between the Old and New Testaments: “The Old is the New Concealed, and the New is the Old Revealed!" So, in order to prove my point, I’d like to provide an Example of New Covenant interpre-tation of the Old Testament Scriptures from Jesus and His Apostles – that these modern-day teachers completely ignore – then proceed to teach erroneous doctrines based on “man-made systems” to interpret the Old Testament. Then I’ll let you decide “who has the authority to authoritatively interpret the Old Testament Scriptures, feeble men within the Church or Jesus and His Apostles?”


Example #1: How did Jesus interpret a prophecy in Malachi 4:5 compared to these modern-day teachers? The passage states: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.”


Matthew records Jesus being “transfigured” before Peter, James and John on a “High Mountain,” while both Moses and Elijah appear, talking with Jesus. Afterward there is an amazing dialogue between Jesus and His Apostles, who like other Jews of their day, had very specific interpretations of the Old Testament Scriptures. The passage is found in Matthew Chapter 17:


“And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, ‘Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.’ And the disciples asked him, ‘Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?’ He answered, ‘Elijah does come, and he will restore all things.  But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also, the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.’ Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist” (Matthew 17:9-13).


Seeing Jesus transfigured as Moses and Elijah appeared with Him, prompted them to ask: “Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” I’m sure that Jesus shocked them when He said, not only does Elijah come first, but the Jewish people did not recognize him, and treated him poorly. Matthew, like all writers of Scripture, was under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit when he added: “Then the disciples understood that He was speaking to them of John the Baptist!”  It shouldn’t be lost on any of us that the standard interpretation of the Jewish religious hierarchy in Jesus’ day was just like that of our “so-called modern-day learned men.” They teach that this event is still in the future. So sure are they of their system of interpretation, that these modern teachers contradict Jesus, saying that this prophecy from Malachi 4:5 is yet to be fulfilled. Their “literal interpretation” is completely opposite of what Jesus, the Son of God, authoritatively proclaimed: “That Elijah has come and it was John the Baptist” (Matthew 17:13). In Luke’s Gospel, when the Angel Gabriel had foretold Zechariah (John the Baptist’s father), who and what his son was to be, the Angel said: “And he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Luke 1:17). So here we have the authoritative proclamation of Jesus saying that John the Baptist “was Elijah who was to come,” and yet these modern teachers say something quite different.  How can this be?  What do they say when confronted with Jesus’ interpretation?


Their answer reveals what is wrong with their “hermeneutical system” – they have a “preconceived framework,” that is, an interpretive structure which they lay over the Scripture – to make it say what they have already decided. Their doctrine is based solely on their own faulty interpretation of the Old Covenant.  Dispensational websites such as “NeverThirsty,” discount Jesus’ words to teach their own doctrine by saying things like:

“John the Baptist came in the spirit and power of Elijah preparing the way for the Messiah (Mal. 3:1-2). He was not Elijah in the flesh because the real Elijah comes before the kingdom – the millennial kingdom. John the Baptist’s ministry was carried out in the spirit of Elijah's. https://www.neverthirsty.org/bible-qa/qa-archives/question/what-did-jesus-mean-when-he-said-that-elijah-had-already-returned-4/


If you notice, they don’t explain to you from the Bible what the Millennial Kingdom is, because the millennial kingdom they teach is a construct of their system, not taught in Scripture. They’re like the false teachers Jesus rebuked, saying:


“He answered them, ‘And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?’  For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, what you would have gained from me is given to God, he need not honor his father.’ So, for the sake of your tradition, you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me, in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’ ” (Matthew 15:3-9).  


We could look at multiple examples of this erroneous thinking, but we’ll look at two other Example in “Fighting for Real Estate: Part #4.” What those men were doing is the same as many of our so-called prophecy teachers today, who take their own tradition, their system of Interpretation as inspired and “negating the very words of Christ!” This is wrong!


Soli Deo Gloria!

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1 Comment


Amen!


I believe the primary error of dispensationslism is that which is pointed out by a little known theologian named Phillip Mauro in his book “The Hope of Israel: What Is It?”


Mauro points out that the dispensationalists claim that others interpret scripture “spiritually,” while dispensationalists interpret the Bible “literally.”

But, as Mauro states, the biblical dichotomy is earthly/natural as fulfilled in the Old Testament, vs Heavenly/Spiritual, both literal.


We find this principle taught by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 where Paul states “The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, then after that, the spiritual.”


Earthly/Natural Israel received an earthly/Natural covenant, which included earthly/natural circumcision and earthly/natural fulfillments of “land, seed, blessing,” which dispensationslists claim were not fulfillled.


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