The Kingdom Will Come As the Prophets Predicted: A Critique of Waltke’s Case for Amillennialism
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A Critique of Waltke’s Case for Amillennialism
John Hepp, Jr., www.kingdominbible.com
OT means Old Testament. NT means New Testament. Except as noted, Bible quotations are from the New International Version 1984. Sometimes I change the royal title Christ to its equivalent Messiah (John 1:41). Page numbers in notes are from Waltke’s OT Theology. Kingdom does not refer to God’s universal and unchanging rule but the promised one that came near.
The coming kingdom of the Lord Jesus is a treasure worth infinitely more than all we have. An unbelievably perfect pearl that we can nevertheless own (Matt. 13:44-45). God’s Word gives glimpses of it as the goal to which He is moving His people and all creation. Its coming to earth is the Bible’s main theme. In his OT Theology Bruce K. Waltke rightly calls this “irruption of the holy God’s merciful kingship” “a universal that embraces all the biblical text.…” Later he acclaims some of its attributes:
The whole creation waits in eager expectation for the true nature of the people of God to be revealed in their resurrection, which is the redemption of their bodies—not redemption from their bodies. Saints will enjoy their freedom from sin and its effects in this regenerated earth that is liberated from its present state of imperfec-tion and decay (Matt. 19:28; Acts 3:21; Rom. 8:22-25; Rev. 21:1), not in a spiritual, disembodied heaven “up there.”
The creation’s present condition is akin to a woman’s labor pains in childbirth in order that it might bring forth its eschatological destiny (Rom. 8:18-25). At that time the meek (i.e., the people of glory) will inherit the earth (Matt. 5:5). This is the ultimate fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, whom Paul in Romans 4:13 calls “heir of the world” (cf. Heb. 11:16).
A delightful trove of OT exegesis and bibliography, the book just quoted is only one of Waltke’s many helpful writings. Another is a solid source for Hebrew word studies, the Theological Wordbook, for which he was an Associate Editor. He has been a personal blessing, both as my classmate at Dallas Theological Seminary and later as a teacher there. That school is a bastion of the dispensational version of premillennialism.
• Premillennialism insists that biblical prophecies, such as, those of Messiah’s kingdom, will be fulfilled according to normal (“literal”) criteria. For example, “the Holy Land” is and will remain a material territory; “Israel” is and will remain the nation descended from Abraham.
• Dispensationalism maintains that the church was unforeseen in the OT and will always be separate from Israel. Most dispensationalists (not all) have always assumed that Jesus started a spiritual kingdom at His first coming—but not the one predicted by earlier prophets.
Waltke and I have both changed the ways we understand the church. But he has also forsaken premillennialism and adopted amillennialism, which asserts (a) that the church has replaced eth¬nic Israel and (b) that Messiah’s predicted kingdom has begun. If Jesus already rules from the throne of David, many prophecies must be spiritualized, which Waltke does. I agree there is “realized eschatology”: some eternal things have begun. Not, however, the kingdom itself.
I will address Waltke’s case for amillennialism, as I see it in his OT Theology. I sent him an early draft of this study, and he graciously commented on several details. However, I may still misunderstand his case or be unfair. Part A will propose his main points, his general rationale. I will introduce each point with my own summary but document with selected statements from his book. Part B will critique in more detail three of his main reasons for reinterpreting prophecies. Part C will respond to his crucial argument from Acts 2 that the Messiah has begun to rule. My most important goal is to help redirect our attention to Jesus as “coming soon” (Rev. 22:12, 20) —just as Paul did in his last chapter (2 Tim. 4:1):
In the presence of God and of Messiah Jesus,
who will judge the living and the dead,
and in view of his appearing and his kingdom…
A. Waltke’s Main Points Leading Him to Amillennialism
1. OT Consensus (I agree.) 4
OT prophets predicted a perfected kingdom of God over all the earth, including a repentant and glorified nation of Israel.
2. Early NT Consensus (I agree.) 5
Until Pentecost godly Jews believed that in the ultimate kingdom ethnic Israel will inherit the Promised (Holy) Land forever.
3. Pentecostal Changes (I disagree.) 6
The Holy Spirit imparted at Pentecost showed that previous prophecies about the kingdom give the wrong impression and must be reinterpreted spiritually.
B. Waltke’s Evidence that Key Definitions Must Be Changed 9
Kingdom prophecies not fulfilled. Messiah’s glory.
In each of the three following cases (a) he argues that the NT changes the definition, but (b) he also admits that there will be a final literal fulfillment (“consummation”).
1. The Promised Land 11
Relative apostolic silence. Is the Land a type of “life in Christ”? (Waltke’s new definition). NT prophecies about Jerusalem? “Renewed earth.” “Converted Jerualem.” Last-times Jerusalem/temple in Epistles (three passages). Not the present Jerusalem. Church fathers expected to inherit the Promised Land.
2. The Elect Nation Israel 25
Israel Disowned? Israel Replaced? “Israel” still means ethnic Israel (Gal. 6:16+). Other NT passages. Ethnic Israel is still God’s elected nation.
3. Messiah’s Covenanted Kingdom 32
Kingdom elements redefined? (review). Alleged evidence that the kingdom began (a. “The kingdom…has drawn near.” b. Messiah’s signs. c. “The age to come.” d. “Secrets of the kingdom” parables. e. Indications in the Book of Hebrews…)
C. Did the Kingdom Begin in Acts 2?
1. Amillennial View 39
2. Overview 39
Peter’s sermon at Pentecost
3. Has God moved David’s throne to heaven? 40
Why it cannot be in heaven
4. Is Jesus’ present activity in heaven His promised rule? 41
Scriptures that allegedly teach a present kingdom. Special problem passages for amillennialism. Unfulfilled promises. Contingency. “Certainty rules.” The kingdom will finally come.
Appendix: Peter’s Sermon in Acts 2 53
Chart A: Coming of the Kingdom 42
Chart B: Three Steps in the Defeat of God’s Enemies 50
Chart C: Often-Predicted Elements of the Kingdom 51
Chart D: “All Israel Will Be Saved” 52
A. Waltke’s Main Points Leading Him to Amillennialism
1. OT Consensus. OT prophets predicted a perfected kingdom of God over all the earth, including a repentant and glorified nation of Israel. (I agree.)
(Look up the context of each of the Scriptures referred to here. Like many others, they all contrast Israel’s continual failure to its final glory.)
• “Moses anticipated Israel’s failure under the conditional Sinaitic covenant (Deut. 31:14—32:43).…But beyond Israel’s cataclysmic failure, Moses prophesied that God would give Israel a new covenant and an ideal king guaranteeing Israel I AM’s blessings, not curses (Deut. 30:1-10).”
• “[B]ecause of the merciful God’s unconditional covenant to bless Abraham…the prophets prophesy Israel’s golden age under the Messiah that outlasts God’s judg-ments. Micah 7:18-20 illustrates a typical salvation oracle.” (Waltke then quotes those three verses. They praise God who “will not stay angry forever…will again have compassion on [Israel]…will tread our sins underfoot and…will be true to Jacob, and show mercy to Abraham as you pledged on oath to our fathers.”)
• Next in chapter 6 Waltke also quotes from another passage that “clearly illustrates the thesis of this chapter”: Isaiah 2:2-4. (God considered this prophecy so important that He also gave it in Micah 4:1-4.) The passage describes a worldwide kingdom in which “all nations” will live in peace and justice. They will learn God’s “ways” and His “law” that will emanate from “the LORD’s temple” on His “mountain” of “Zion.” (Like most kingdom prophecies in the OT, this one promises ultimate blessing to eth-nic Israel. Isaiah 2:1 introduces it as “concerning Judah and Jerusalem.”)
Waltke concludes that in the OT prophets’ “timeline of salvation history there are two stages in the breaking in of the kingdom of God: a failed form in the present [that is, the prophets’] age and a triumphant form in the age to come.” In that coming age “His mediatorial kingdom will become a universal kingdom involving all nations.” Waltke’s observation is correct; I will reit-erate it: OT prophets gave witness that God’s kingdom centered on Israel would not continue as it was but would be perfect and universal in the age to come. Won’t that be delightful!
2. Early NT Consensus. Until Pentecost godly Jews believed that in the ultimate kingdom ethnic Israel will inherit the Promised (Holy) Land forever. (I agree.)
The literature of the Second Temple era shares in common the belief that I AM’s promise to give the descendants of the patriarchs the Land gives Israel an eternal right to the Land; it assumes an indissoluble connection between Israel and the Land. Moreover, the literature shares the common vision of Israel’s restoration to a renewed Holy Land.
Notice that by Israel Waltke usually means the nation composed of “descendants of the patri-archs.” This is the term’s normal (or universal) meaning in the Bible, which I will discuss under Part B. Waltke closes chapter 19 referring once more to that nation in the words of Leslie Hoppe:
Jewish hopes for the future centered around something concrete and tangible: the constitu-tion of Israel in its land, the return of the exiles, the reestablishment of the Jewish ruler over the land, and peace and prosperity in that land. Of course, Jerusalem as the site of the Temple and the capital of the former Judahite kingdom was an essential component of Jew-ish hopes for the future.
To sum up, in Points 1 and 2 Waltke has admitted that the early church understood the kingdom according to the OT prophecies. I agree—and praise God that we non-Jews can take part with Israel in that glorious future. In Point 3, however, Waltke will claim that starting at Pentecost, God showed that the church was mistaken and God corrected it. I disagree. Part B will discuss the supposed biblical revelations that would require his different (revised) view.
3. Pentecostal Changes. The Holy Spirit imparted at Pentecost showed that previous proph-ecies about the kingdom give the wrong impression and must be reinterpreted spiritually. (I disagree.)
Waltke on the basis of his interpretation of Christ and His apostles does not hesitate to correct the early church’s “Jewish expectations” about the kingdom. That includes the “common vision of Israel’s restoration to a renewed Holy Land.” He lists some other “Jewish Misunderstandings of the Primitive Church,” starting in Luke 1. In those chapters, he says, “the pious characters of Luke’s infancy narratives—Zechariah and Elizabeth, Joseph and Mary and Simeon” were wrong (he would prefer “unenlightened”). He gives examples:
Not yet having heard the teachings of Jesus and not yet having experienced the gift of the Holy Spirit, they express their praise in terms they inherited from the Jewish context. Mary probably understood Gabriel’s announcement that Jesus would reign over the House of Jacob from David’s throne in an everlasting kingdom as referring to David’s throne in Jeru-salem (vv. 32-33). The priest Zechariah, on the birth of his son, John the Baptist, praises God that he “raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David” to save Israel from her enemies (v. 69), probably meaning that Messiah would deliver Jerusalem from Rome’s yoke.
I appreciate Waltke’s honest acknowledgment of what the “primitive church” (as he calls it) understood—and that its knowledge came from God’s revelation up to that date. He could have added that John the Baptist later had the same understanding. For example, John expected Jesus to quickly “clear his threshing floor” and “burn up the chaff” (Luke 3:17).
Why did they persist in beliefs “inherited from the Jewish context”? Because of two limitations, alleges Waltke: (1) “Not yet having heard the teachings of Jesus” and (2) “not yet having experi-enced the gift of the Holy Spirit,” they were uninformed. Neither of those reasons seems valid.
“Not yet having experienced the gift of the Holy Spirit.” On the contrary, the first chapters of Luke are dominated by God’s Spirit. For example, “Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied” (Luke 1:67). And his son John was “filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth” (1:15). See also 1:35, 41; 2:25, 26, 27. This was the same Holy Spirit whose permanent coming was foreseen by John the Baptist (e.g., John 1:33). Jesus later added that “when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.…he will tell you what is yet to come” (John 16:13). We will consider Waltke’s allegation that the Spirit later taught things that in effect canceled His earlier teaching.
“Not yet having heard the teachings of Jesus.” On the contrary, even after years of hearing those teachings, Jesus’ apostles still had their “Jewish” views. Waltke acknowledges as much when he comments on their final question before Jesus ascended to the Father’s throne (Acts 1:6). Like all amillennialists, he considers them misguided, and says,
the disciples still think like the primitive church: “Are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” they ask.…
Really? Did they “still think” wrongly about the kingdom after being the Lord’s disciples (= learners) for years? And after the risen Lord had trained them? He “appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). During that training “He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45). Not just a few pas-sages. Instead, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). So they had indeed heard Jesus’ teach-ings, during their years of following Him and after His resurrection. During His last forty days on earth, He had taught specifically about “the kingdom” and enlightened them about “all the Scriptures.” Yet, Acts 1:6 shows that in regard to the kingdom “the disciples still think like the primitive church.” Amillennialists allege that Acts 2 and following will change that thinking. In Waltke’s words: “But as Luke continues his two-part drama, the primitive church’s Jewish expectations for the kingdom are reshaped.” He elaborates:
In [Acts] we can trace by this extension of church history Luke’s redefinition of the king-dom of God from a reference to life in territorial space to a reference to life in Christ. The primitive church expected Jesus Messiah to rule from David’s throne in Jerusalem and reestablish Israel’s glory and in that way to be a light to the nations. However, the Spirit-enlightened and Spirit-empowered church came to understand that Messiah Jesus rules the world from David’s throne in heaven in a universal kingdom without national bounda-ries.
Don’t miss this point. Amillennialists admit they believe and teach differently from what the prophets and Jesus taught before Pentecost—at least, what they managed to communicate. That means the Spirit-filled prophets of the OT and Luke 1-3. It also means the Lord Himself, both before and after His death and resurrection. Amillennialists do not blame Him, of course. Here are two arguments to justify His seeming failures: (a) When He told His disciples something, they were often slow to learn or they misunderstood. (b) Some things were only revealed pro-gressively, when the time became ripe for each. For example, God waited for centuries before He revealed that Messiah would come twice instead of once (Matt. 13). And He waited well past Pentecost to reveal that uncircumcised Gentiles can be fully acceptable in the church (Acts 10-11; Eph. 2-3).
In regard to argument (a), we must not exaggerate the apparent “failures.” On nearly every occa-sion of confusion, Jesus proceeded to clarify to believers what was unclear. Furthermore, there is no record of His trying (much less, failing) to correct their definition of the expected kingdom. Instead, His succeeding prophecies confirmed it (e.g., Matt. 13:36-43; 19:28-29). In regard to (b), progressive revelation modifies or adds but does not basically change what God solemnly promised. Amillennialism would have us think that post-Pentecost revelations changed the king-dom in ways no one could have guessed.
So starting at Pentecost, says amillennialism, there is a “redefinition of the kingdom of God.” No longer is the kingdom what the church “expected” but what it “came to understand.” A huge change for them—and us—regarding basics! We should expect strong evidence for such a change, and Waltke proposes it. He proposes that the meanings of the Promised Land, the elect nation Israel, and Messiah’s covenanted kingdom all changed. In Part B we will consider those three elements.
B. Waltke’s Evidence that Key Definitions Must Be Changed
Remember that “the primitive church expected Jesus Messiah to rule from David’s throne in Jerusalem and reestablish Israel’s glory and in that way to be a light to the nations.” From OT prophecies such as Isaiah 2:2-4, they expected worldwide peace and justice, with Israel restored and dominant.
We looked at two of the Spirit-filled prophets in the Gospels: Zechariah and his son, John the Baptist. Each of them announced as “near” exactly what many prophets had seen at a distance. “Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied” that Jerusalem was about to triumph (Luke 1:67-75). Later John, “filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth” (1:15), proclaimed that the kingdom had drawn near and judgment was imminent (Matt. 3:10, 12; 11:2-3). For those who know the OT, there was nothing obscure about their messages. God had often revealed the kingdom’s character. So we know how Zechariah and John and their hearers understood their own prophecies.
Kingdom prophecies not fulfilled. They did not get fulfilled as they were understood. There was no liberation for Jerusalem, no converted nation, none of the glories as predicted, no severe judgment. So those who are convinced that the kingdom came must reinterpret much that the OT and NT prophets said. Waltke assures us, however, that we should not reinterpret all of them. There are two kinds, he says. The “prophecies regarding Christ’s earthly passion find an earthly fulfillment.” Those we can leave as they are. But the “prophecies that pertain to his glory (i.e., his spiritual reign from heaven) will find a spiritual fulfillment.” Those we must reinterpret. Waltke’s argument here is based on two assumptions that he will try to prove: (1) that Messiah’s kingdom has begun as an alleged “spiritual reign,” and (2) that the alleged “spiritual reign” is Messiah’s glory. If He indeed began His prophesied glorious reign, then the prophecies did not mean what they said. But the NT does not support those assumptions. Con-sider, first, what it says about His glory.
Messiah’s glory. We will look at what is revealed in regard to three epochs: (a) His life on earth until His death, (b) His resurrection and ascension, (c) His Second Coming.
• First, in His life on earth, most references to Jesus’ glory looked forward to His Second Coming to rule. For example, Matthew 16:27 and parallel passages promised that He “is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels” to judge (which usually means to rule). Days later, some disciples saw Him transformed “in glorious splendor” on a mountain (Luke 9:32 and parallels). Peter explained that event as a preview of the coming
eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.…We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father…on the sacred mountain. (2 Peter 1:11-18)
About a dozen passages in the Synoptics refer to Jesus’ glory in that coming kingdom. An-other example: “They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:30 and parallel passages).
In this matter the Gospel of John, as usual, is supplementary. It emphasizes a revelation seen only by those who believed, a revelation of the eternal God in Jesus: “We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father.…No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only…has made him known” (John 1:14, 18; cf. 11:4, 40). But even in John “he revealed his glory” in “signs” that pointed to His future kingdom (2:11). Hebrews 6:5, using a Greek word often translated “miracles,” calls them “powers of the coming age.” If the “coming age” had arrived, the miracles would have continued until everything would have been restored (Acts 3:21).
• Second, Jesus was glorified in and after His resurrection. “God…glorified his servant Jesus [when He] raised him from the dead” (Acts 3:13-15). Jesus’ prayer was answered: “Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began” (John 17:5). He “was taken up in glory” (1 Tim. 3:16; cf. Acts 3:13; 1 Pet. 1:21), “crowned with glory and honor” (Heb. 2:9)—with glory the world still cannot see. The glory restored to Him is what He had before, but He is now a man (Heb. 2:9). As man He has received “the glory of becoming a high priest” and ministers as such (Heb. 5:5; 9:15). As man He will also rule, though now He must wait “for his enemies to be made his footstool” (Heb. 10:13).
• Third, He will rule when He “comes in his glory” and sits “on his throne in heavenly glory” (Matt. 25:31). That is every Christian’s “blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). Furthermore, “When Christ…appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:4; cf. Rom. 8:18; 2 Thess. 2:14; Heb. 2:10; 1 John 3:2, 3). The apostle Peter emphasized the same thing: “Rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Messiah, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13). Peter himself was a “witness of Messiah’s sufferings…who also will share in the glory to be revealed” (5:1; cf. 5:10). He said it another way earlier: We “through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed at the last time” (1:3-5). Nowhere in his sermons or writings does Peter (or any other NT writer) reflect Waltke’s view that Jesus’ glory is a “spiritual reign” now.
So, instead of referring to Jesus now reigning in glory, the NT overwhelmingly looks for His glory when He returns. Every believer should keep alive that same hope, at least by memorizing some of the promises. Meanwhile, we will proceed to consider Waltke’s reinterpretations of the Land and of Israel.
1. The Promised Land
As noted previously, the OT very often refers to the Promised Land by name—over a period of hundreds of years. There can hardly be any doubt about where it was located—or to whom God promised it (to Abraham and the nation descended from him through Isaac and Jacob). Here are a few samples:
“All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever.” (Gen. 13:15; the LORD to Abraham)
“I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.…To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates.…” (Gen. 15:7, 18; the LORD to Abraham)
“May he give you and your descendants the blessing given to Abraham, so that you may take possession of the land where you now live as an alien, the land God gave to Abra-ham.” (Gen. 28:4, Isaac to Jacob)
“I will gather you…and bring you back into your own land…the land I gave your fore-fathers.…I will bring you back to the land of Israel…settle you in your own land.…I will gather them and bring them back into their own land…make them one nation in the land. …They will live in the land I gave to my servant Jacob, the land where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children’s children will live there forever, and David my servant will be their prince forever.” (Ezek. 36:24, 28; 37:12, 14, 21, 22, 25; the LORD to Ezekiel for the “house of Israel”)
Waltke rightly considers the meaning of the Land a key to correct kingdom theology. Of three chapters he dedicates to that subject (chs. 18-20, pp. 512-587), one of them (ch. 19) analyzes it in the OT. At the end of that chapter he includes this summary, which I quoted more fully earlier: “Jewish hopes for the future centered around something concrete and tangible: the constitution of Israel in its land, the return of the exiles, the reestablishment of the Jewish ruler over the land, and peace and prosperity in that land.”
So Waltke recognizes that OT prophets spoke with one voice about the Promised Land. Yet, he assures us that it must be redefined. Not an easy task! “The trajectory of the Land motif into the New Testament,” he admits,
is the most difficult biblical motif to track.…Since the New Testament does not use the term “Land,” we have to work with equivalent terms that imply Land, such as “Jerusa-lem,” “throne of David,” “temple,” and “Zion.”
It seems more than strange that “the New Testament does not use the term” and yet changes its meaning! Pause to consider why Waltke feels justified in trying to prove this.
Relative apostolic silence. There are many OT prophecies about the Land and Israel (and related matters) which NT Epistles do not clearly repeat or reflect. When that happens, Waltke proposes what I will here call an “assumption from silence,” namely, that their silence on some aspect negated it. To him that shows that the Holy Spirit was teaching a different kind of king¬dom than the one pictured earlier. Notice how he applies that supposed rule:
If the Spirit will guide the apostles into all truth about Christ’s kingdom, and if the inspired apostles do not teach a future Jewish kingdom that is centered in Jerusalem, then the popular, evangelical eschatology that the Land will play a role in an intermediate Jew-ish kingdom between two comings of Christ is not true.
Here Waltke uses his “assumption from silence” to deny “a future Jewish kingdom that is cen-tered in Jerusalem.” Thus, he also denies that “the Land will play a role” as it constantly did in OT promises. By supposedly finding better meanings, this “assumption from silence” in effect cancels earlier promises, making them seem inferior and misleading. If the assumption is right, only NT prophecies can be trusted implicitly. Premillennialists object, finding substantial har-mony between NT revelations/allusions and the super-abundant OT evidence. They mesh so well that further repetition might be redundant. Furthermore, the extent of “silence” is exagger¬ated, as you will see when I discuss Jerusalem. And there were good reasons not to repeat some of the prophecies, such as, to avoid misunderstanding by the Roman Empire.
We do not see in NT writings this amillennial distrust of OT prophecies. On the contrary, they are recommended without warnings! In “the Law or the Prophets,” our Lord said, “not the smallest letter…will by any means disappear…until everything is accomplished” (Matt. 5:17-19). In his last epistle Peter exalted “the word of the prophets…you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place” (2 Pet. 1:19). Until the end Paul still exhorted Timothy to “continue in what you have learned.…from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation.…All Scripture…is useful for teaching…” (2 Tim. 3:14-17). How could these apostles recommend the OT as a light that makes one wise if much of it does not mean what it says?
Furthermore, the NT implies its agreement with much more of the OT than it quotes. As Waltke acknowledges, a few words often code for a much longer prophecy (or several). Consider, for example, “the times of the restoration of all things, of which [times] God spoke long ago through the mouth of the holy ones” (Acts 3:21, literal). This refers to many prophecies of the new world God will create, labeled “new heavens and a new earth” in Isaiah 65:17 and elsewhere.
Nevertheless, we will continue to look at Waltke’s evidence. He thinks that the changes he sup-poses for “equivalent terms” certainly change “Land” also. As he says later,
The contrast between the Old Testament prophecies and the New Testament teachings of the apostles regarding the Land is so striking that it becomes a tour de force [an amazing performance] that the New Testament redefines the concept. “Land” no longer refers to territorial space but to spiritual space that encompasses both universal space…and univer-sal time (i.e., “forever more”).
“No longer…territorial…but…spiritual.…” Sometimes he is even more specific, as in the Con-clusion to Chapter 20:
The Old Testament promises regarding the Land must be interpreted in the light of the canon’s own redefinition of the correlative terms pertaining to the Land.… Accordingly, the promise that Israel will inherit a land flowing with milk and honey becomes a meta¬phor for the milk and honey of life in Christ, a participation in heaven itself.…
Is the Land a type of “Life in Christ”? This is Waltke’s favorite revised meaning for the Land as promised. How does he try to validate it? Partly, it seems, from the constant use in the Epistles of the expression “in Christ.” Since that concept has some similarities to inheriting the Land, he calls the Land a “type” and life in Christ its “antitype.” I assume Waltke refers pri-marily to the future Land (see his word “promise”), not the historical Land, which they never inherited. God indeed promised Abraham “that he and his descendants after him would possess the land” but “gave him no inheritance…not even a foot of ground” (Acts 7:5-6). Not to Abra-ham nor to his “descendants as numerous as the stars.” “All these people…died [and] did not receive the things promised” (Heb. 11:13, 39). So there was no historical inheritance to serve as a type! There was only God’s promise, which Waltke thinks got replaced by an antitype! That seems a strange extension of typology, in which types are normally real things, not unfulfilled promises. Nevertheless, it is an argument often used by amillennialists.
Let us consider why Waltke thinks the promise of the future Land is a “type” of something bet-ter. He discusses “Typology” on pages 136-142 (also 455-456). We agree there are types wher-ever “God intended earlier persons, acts, and institutions to present a type or shadow or pattern of future greater fulfillment.” But Waltke greatly enlarges that scope, implying that similarities between events indicate a divinely planned evolution of meaning. Notice the five stages (see my added numbers) he includes in the “Exodus” series: “ Abraham’s exodus from Egypt fore-shadowed  Israel’s exodus from Egypt four centuries later.” Then,
the exodus of Moses and of the first generation [from Egypt] became a type of  Josh-ua’s and the second generation’s conquest of the land.…It also became a type of  Isra-el’s deliverance from Israel’s exile from Assyria and especially from Babylon.…Four cen-turies later, [the Gospel of Mark] sees  our salvation through Jesus as a spiritual exodus and a conquest of the Sworn Land.
Notice that by this means Waltke arrives at a redefinition of “the Sworn Land.” Apparently he thinks that repeating patterns are sufficient proof that God intended to change meanings. He agrees with Leonhard Goppelt that “typology is the dominant and characteristic method of interpretation for the New Testament use of the Old Testament.” Accordingly, he claims that
the New Testament redefines most Old Testament motifs or themes. In the new dispensa-tion the covenant people of God are not marked by circumcision as in the old, but by their doing God’s will.…Jesus does away with Sabbath-keeping as a religious obligation and “redefines” it according to its true intent: a time to heal, to do good, and to enjoy spiritual rest.
Indeed, there are OT types that get transformed in fulfillment. But in each such case Scriptures clearly say so. Take the two just mentioned.
• Physical circumcision. This had always had a metaphorical meaning (Deut. 10:16; 30:6)—but now “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything” (Gal. 6:15).
• The Sabbath. Believers should no longer be judged “with regard to…a Sabbath day…a shadow of the things that were to come” (Col. 2:16-17).
There is also strong Scriptural support for
• The “change of the priesthood” (Heb. 7:12; see vv. 11-28). “For the law appoints as high priest men who are weak; but the oath…appointed the Son, who has been made perfect for-ever” (Heb. 7:28).
• The discontinuance of animal sacrifices. “And where [sins] have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin” (Heb. 10:18).
But it is arbitrary to claim that just any NT illustration may cancel the original it is like. For example, Jesus’ body is called a temple (John 2:19-22). So is the church (Eph. 2:21). So are individual believers (1 Cor. 6:19). But none of these cancels OT predictions about the temple (to be discussed). Much less does the promise of the Land change meaning. Yet, Waltke thinks it does change (even though the NT “does not use the term”) because of what he calls typology.
George Peters strongly disagrees—and argues that calling promises types is an amillennial ploy in order to redefine those promises. Here is a small sample of his discussion (emphasis his).
The promises in the covenants are not typical, as many argue (impelled to it by not seeing a present fulfillment, and by a disbelief in a future fulfillment), for a typical character is opposed to the very nature of a covenant. It would in a great measure make the real truth unrecognizable until the appearance of the anti-type, and the result would be to enshroud the covenants themselves in conjecture and mystery, which is opposed to the simple fact that God appeals to the covenants as to promises well comprehended. The partial fulfil-ment of them clearly shows that they are not to be regarded as typical.
…Many excellent writers…make e.g. the inheritance promised to the Patriarchs a typical one, and the proof texts assigned for this are the passages which speak of the saints inher-iting the earth, of Abraham being “heir of the world,” etc. But this is a begging of the question, for these passages in no shape or form intimate a typical nature of the inheri¬tance but, on the contrary, the reality of the promise.…[The] Theocratic King inherits not only David’s throne and kingdom, but also the territory.…His dominion…is to extend over the whole earth.…Here comes in the fatal mistake that [Fairbairn] and others make in supposing that covenant promises are typical, impelling them, as an illustration of the same, to infer the typical nature of “the seed.” We may well ask, in reply, Was not Christ Abraham’s natural seed, and if so, did “seed” stand for a type? Certainly not, for there is a literal fulfillment of promise. Precisely so, with the inheritance; it is better to wait and see what God yet intends to do, before we explain away His own words by a typical pro-cess. For if we adopt this modernized principle, so prevailing, where is then a promise in the covenants to which can be ascribed certainty of meaning? Rejecting the plain one that the letter contains, or more conveniently converting it into a type, the promise may then represent what the ingenuity of man ascribes to it, and conjectures follow.
Can anyone blame us for calling the “type/antitype” argument subjective and doubtful? But that would be a moot question if Waltke could prove that the NT clearly changes the literal land promises to spiritual. So let us consider his other proofs for changing “Land.” They are based on the supposed change of meaning for “equivalent terms,” such as, Jerusalem.
NT prophecies about Jerusalem? Here are two claims by which Waltke thinks earthly Jerusa-lem is canceled:
• The “destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 terminates its role in salvation history.” Waltke opines that in His prophetic discourse (Matt. 24-25) Jesus predicted “that Jerusalem [would] be annihilated without any prospect of its being rebuilt.” This annihilation and no rebuilding, Waltke continues, “would make a literal interpretation of Old Testament prophecies regard¬ing Messiah’s glory impossible.”
• In succeeding prophecies there was no promise of its reinstatement. If there will be a future “kingdom…centered in Jerusalem,” Waltke says, the Spirit-guided apostles would have to say so. In other words, if the apostles did not repeat former predictions about Jerusalem, they will not come true.
Not rebuilt? Since Waltke knows it was rebuilt (and exists today), he must refer to its function. No reinstatement? Remember that Waltke is basing his argument on “apostolic teachings.” He considers them silent about significant roles for Jerusalem and the Promised Land in the future kingdom. See my earlier comments on “Relative apostolic silence.” We will look at further evidence under “Last-times Jerusalem/temple in Epistles.” But he should not so lightly dismiss the many OT prophecies about restored Jerusalem. Isaiah 40-66, for example, repeatedly prom-ises sinful and punished “Zion” a glorious future. One example, with the LORD speaking to Zion:
“Though you were ruined and made desolate and your land laid waste, now you will be too small for your people.…Kings…and their queens…will bow down before you with their faces to the ground.…” (Isa. 49:19, 23)
Waltke admits that OT prophecies about Messiah’s first advent, suffering, and death were ful-filled literally. But it is impossible, he asserts, that prophecies of His ruling can also be fulfilled literally. So impossible that for us to believe such prophecies, the apostles would have to reit-erate them. Read again Waltke’s claim discussed near the beginning of this Part B: Those “prophecies regarding Christ’s earthly passion find an earthly fulfillment,” but “those prophecies that pertain to his glory (i.e., his spiritual reign from heaven) will find a spiritual fulfillment.” We saw that key passages about Messiah’s glory do not support Waltke’s language but point forward to His coming in splendor to rule.
“Renewed earth.” Remember that Waltke is arguing that his alleged redefinition of Jerusalem requires redefinition of the Promised Land. But he is far from consistent in his own conclusion. He foresees, after all, a “renewed earth” to inherit; and “earth” in NT Greek (gen) is the same word as “land.” Keep that in mind and reread his comments I quoted at the beginning of the Introduction. Here are two additional examples:
• Commenting on Matthew 5:5, he admits that “ten gen [the earth] has an obstinately territorial connotation and the beatitudes have an unmistakable eschatological dimension.…[T]hose who humbly acknowledge their dependence on God’s power and justice…will inherit the earth.” I heartily agree.
• Concluding his chapter on “The Bible’s Center: An Overview…,” he proposes both spiritual and literal fulfillments.
There has always been an already-and-not-yet aspect of the kingdom.…The prophets and the psalm writers proclaim the hope of this new kingdom.… Waiting in the wings [i.e., not fully accomplished in the OT] is a greater seed—not the physical people of Abraham, but a spiritual people, true inheritors of his faith. There is a greater law, a new covenant.…There is a greater land, which is both present and not-yet. On the one hand, the land is presently “Christified,” for in Jesus Christ his people find the place of life and rest that is not bounded by geography. On the other hand, the land promises will be consummated in the future new heaven and new earth.
So in spite of claiming that the Land has been redefined, Waltke acknowledges that it will still mean Land at the end. “The land promises will be consummated.” “The meek” really “will inherit the earth.” That is precisely what the Bible’s final prophecies describe: “the future new heaven and new earth.” And those chapters repeatedly mention “the nations” (Rev. 21:24, 26; 22:2). What would prevent the Ruler from assigning each nation (even Israel) its particular share?
“Converted Jerusalem.” The same ambivalence Waltke shows about the land, he shows about Jerusalem. Remember, for example, his claim “that Jerusalem [would] be annihilated without any prospect of its being rebuilt”? That is what he thinks Jesus taught in His prophetic dis¬course in Matthew 24-25. Yet, he acknowledges a far different outcome in Jesus’ last words just before that discourse (Matt. 23:37-39). In them Jesus lamented for “Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets…,” and He did predict its destruction. But at the end of its darkness He foresaw light: “you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’” (23:39). Waltke correctly notices that light from Matthew 23, and comments, “At his second coming, however, a converted Jerusalem will greet him appropriately.” So Jerusalem will not only exist at His coming but will be redeemed. That contradicts Waltke’s conclusion in Matthew 24-25. And since King Jesus will come to that redeemed city, He will doubtless rule from there. Many prophecies picture it as the capital (e.g., Isa. 2:2-4; Zech. 14:8-9, 16-17).
Even within His prophetic discourse, Jesus anticipated a better day for the city. “Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:24). This implied its subsequent restoration, as many former prophecies had predicted. Jesus had agreed with those prophecies, calling “Jerusalem…the city of the Great King” (Matt. 5:35). Even rejecting the Messiah (as predicted) would not make it lose that status.
Several OT prophecies about future Jerusalem/Zion also refer to a glorified temple there. Here are some examples:
• “Then suddenly the LORD…will come to his temple.…He will sit as a refiner and purifier…” (Mal. 3:1-3).
• “I will shake all nations…and I will fill this house with glory…greater than the glory of the former house” (Hag. 2:7-9).
• “In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains” (Isa. 2:2; Micah 4:1).
Last-times Jerusalem/temple in Epistles. In spite of Waltke’s denials, the Epistles do refer to eschatological Jerusalem and a temple there. Waltke discusses three passages. Decide for your-self.
• 2 Thessalonians 2:4. The Man of Lawlessness “takes his seat in the temple…of God, pro-claiming himself to be God.” Waltke admits, “I am not saying that a third temple will not be built in Jerusalem, but…Old Testament prophecy does not require such a temple” (on the contrary, see above). He concedes that Paul does not suggest a spiritual meaning in this pas-sage; that is, the temple does not mean the church here. So he prefers the interpretation that “the reference is to God’s heavenly abode.…so this lawless ruler will boast that he has dis-possesed God.…” In other words, the ruler cannot really “take his seat in the temple” because it will not be on earth; the words do not represent an action but merely a claim.
In response, it makes much better sense to interpret 2 Thessalonians 2:4 as an actual deed in an actual temple on earth. That corresponds to other passages regarding the same time and circumstances. Revelation 11:7-13, for example, shows how the final lawless ruler will be active in the future temple and Jerusalem on earth. In Revelation 13:7-8 he is pictured as a “beast” who is worshiped by all the unconverted people of the world. He embodies the power and character of the “fourth beast” on earth in Daniel 7:7-8, 19-26. There Daniel saw him begin as a “little horn” who soon “spoke boastfully.…He will speak against the Most High and oppress his saints…for a time, times, and half a time.” But even as Daniel heard “the boastful words the horn was speaking,” a court in heaven awarded “everlasting domin-ion” on earth to the “son of man” (Dan. 7:9-14). “The beast [including that horn] was slain and its body destroyed…” (Dan. 7:11). That is exactly what 2 Thessalonians 2:8 describes: “the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will…destroy by the splendor of his coming.” The same penalty for the same beast at Jesus’ same coming in glory is pictured in Revelation 19:11-20. This all implies a literal temple of God in literal Jerusalem at that time. Thus, “taking his seat in the temple” in 2 Thessalonians 2:4 describes a visible action (not just words) on earth that will dramatize the lawless ruler’s boast.
• Romans 11:26. “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.…” Waltke agrees that this looks forward to “Israel’s spiritual salvation.” He also agrees that it refers to an “earthly Jerusalem” as source. Not a future redeemed Jerusalem, however. Instead, the city where the Redeemer died and rose but which became “the place of annihilation.” In other words, future Israel will be saved because of the Gospel that started at Jerusalem before it was destroyed. Waltke believes that the apostle favors his view by changing Isaiah 59:20a (“The Redeemer will come to Zion”) to read “from Zion.” Isaiah’s “to” had indicated God’s blessing on the future city, but Paul’s “from” could simply indicate source.
In response, Waltke is right to recognize (a) that ethnic Israel will finally have salvation (b) that will come from an “earthly Jerusalem.” But only his theology forces him to deny the original meaning of Zion in Isaiah 59:20 and Romans 11:26. Godly Israelites had often prayed for God’s blessing “from/out of Zion” (Pss. 14:7; 20:2) or “from/out of His holy hill” (Ps. 3:4). God’s earthly throne had been established over Israel during the Exodus (Exod. 25:22; 40:34-35) and had moved to Zion during David’s reign (cf. Amos 1:2). Isaiah 59 sim-ply looks to the day when it will return there. The Redeemer coming “to Zion” will again make it possible for Him to come “from Zion.”
• Revelation 11:1-13. Revelation chapters 6-18 describe “the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world” (Rev. 3:10). During those visions John continues to see a “temple” of God in heaven (e.g., Rev. 7:15; 11:19). In 11:1-2 he also sees a “temple of God” in “the holy city” on which the Gentiles “trample…for 42 months.” After God’s “two wit-nesses…prophesy” there (11:3), “the beast…will…kill them. Their bodies will lie in the street of the great city, which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified” (11:7-8). So the passage has a tribulation temple in “the holy/great city” identified as Jerusalem. The “two witnesses” minister and die there.
Waltke holds puzzling if not contradictory interpretations of features in this passage. The first interpretation seems to acknowledge that this refers to a last-days Jerusalem: “It is pos-sible that in 11:8 he may have libeled [sic, for labeled?] Jerusalem as the ‘great’—not ‘holy’ —city, ‘where also their…Lord was crucified.…’” Later Waltke gives a different interpre-tation more in accord with amillennialism: “The temple of God in Revelation 11:1 is a sym-bol of the true church, which is protected and kept secure from attacks in and by God’s very presence in it.…”
In response, see again 2 Thessalonians 2:4 and my arguments about it. That passage and its parallels in Daniel all join Revelation 11 and 13 in picturing an eschatological temple and/or Jerusalem. It is true that sometimes the church is obviously compared to a temple, but not in Revelation 11. That temple will be in “the city where their Lord was crucified.”
In short, these three passages all see a significant Jerusalem in the last days. Two (2 Thess. 2:4 and Rev. 11:1-13) refer to a tribulation temple there. The other (Rom. 11:26) pictures the Re-deemer coming from there to save Israel at the beginning of the millennium. These harmonize with OT predictions of a temple at least to begin the kingdom (e.g., Isa. 2:1, 3). The Book of Revelation also has sufficient evidence of Jerusalem in the kingdom. In the millennium it is called “the city he loves” (Rev. 20:9). In the perfected state it is “the Holy City, the new Jeru-salem, coming down out of heaven” (21:2). And “the names of the twelve tribes of Israel” are written “on the gates” (21:12-13).
Not the present Jerusalem. We should recognize, however, that the ultimate future does not lie with “the present city of Jerusalem…in slavery with her children” (Gal. 4:25). Not as she is. Instead, “the Jerusalem that is above” (Gal. 4:26) must descend and replace/transform what is merely earthly. But the final city will nonetheless be literal, material, and territorial, as well as spiritual. This hope did not begin in the NT; the “father of all who believe” clearly showed it. Notice what I emphasize in the following passage from Hebrews 11. Abraham together with his heirs will inherit the “promised land” but only when “the city with foundations” is there.
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking for-ward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (Heb. 11:8-10; cf. 13:14)
Can you see any point in the passage at which to spiritualize this hope? The eternal city Abra¬ham and his heirs looked for will have to be in the “promised land.” God is truthful and faithful and will give Abraham just what He promised. Here it is unmistakably defined as the “place he would later receive” and to which he “went.” It was “the promised land” where “like a stranger …he lived in tents,” as did Isaac his son and Jacob his grandson. Obviously “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance” (11:13). In order to give them what He prom-ised, God will raise them from the dead. That is the point of Jesus’ argument for resurrection in Luke 20:37-38. For the same reason He will raise every believer. As Waltke acknowledges, our inheritance will not be merely spiritual but material, “in the regeneration of all things,” in “the heavenly Jerusalem” that will come to earth at “Christ’s second…appearing.” Why not admit that we will receive our inheritance at the same time that the Promised Land gets glorified?
Church fathers expected to inherit the Promised Land. Many historians agree that for the first three centuries the only opponents to premillennial doctrine were the Gnostics. George Peters in Theocratic Kingdom quotes “Bh. Russell (Discourse on the Mill., p. 236)…: ‘down to the beginning of the fourth century the belief (in Christ’s return and personal reign on earth) was universal and undisputed’” (I:450). Later he quotes Dr. Daniel Whitby, founder of post-millen-nialism, strongly opposed to premillennialism, in his Treatise on Tradition:
“The doctrine of the Millennium, or the reign of saints on earth for a thousand years, is now rejected by all Roman Catholics, and by the greatest part of Protestants; and yet it passed among the best Christians, for two hundred and fifty years, for a tradition apos-tolical; and, as such, is delivered by many Fathers of the second and third century, who speak of it as the tradition of our Lord and His apostles, and of all the ancients who lived before them.” (I:482)
Here are two of many samples quoted by George Peters from the church fathers (Theocratic Kingdom, I:304):
[A]long with Abraham we shall inherit the holy land, when we shall receive the inheri¬tance for an endless eternity, being the children of Abraham through the like faith. (Justin Martyr, Dial. Trypho., ch. 19)
It is fitting that the just, rising at the appearing of God, should in the renewed state receive the promise of inheritance which God covenanted to the Fathers, and should reign in it.… Thus, therefore, as God promised to [Abraham] the inheritance of the earth, and he received it not during the whole time he lived in it, it is necessary that he should receive it, together with his seed, that is, with such of them as fear God and believe in Him—in the resurrection of the just. (Irenaeus, Ag. Her., ch. 32)
In summary, we have just looked at Waltke’s evidence that the NT redefines “Land” by redefin¬ing eschatological Jerusalem and its temple. Here are his three main arguments and my respon¬ses:
• He alleges that the NT treats such OT promises as types and gives them “spiritual” meanings. On the contrary, it shows spiritual aspects of the same promises.
• He alleges that Jesus predicted the annihilation of Jerusalem with no prospect of its being restored to importance. On the contrary, in verses like Matthew 23:39 and Luke 21:24 Jesus implied its final restoration.
• He alleges that the apostles never clearly described a “restored Jewish kingdom” including Jerusalem or the temple. Granted in part, but relevant passages (such as, 2 Thess. 2:4; Rom. 11:26; Rev. 11:1-13) perfectly harmonize with OT prophecies as given.
2. The Elect Nation Israel
Amillennialists take on another monumental task trying to change the meaning of the term Israel in the Bible. For centuries it referred to the nation descended physically from Abraham, some-times to ten of its tribes as a political unit. Amillennialists try to prove (a) that God has dis¬owned historic Israel but (b) has created a new Israel. Thus, ethnic Israel will never receive the many solemn promises God made to it as a nation. We premillennialists usually call that view “Replacement Theology.” Some amillennialists complain that our term is inaccurate or unjust (because it can imply that God changed His mind) but do not provide a better one.
Israel disowned? God has had abundant reasons to “reject” that nation (Rom. 11:2). But the same verse reminds us that He never abandons those He elects: “God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew.” Accordingly, the many OT Scriptures that documented or foresaw Isra-el’s rebellions and divine disciplines also promised its final restoration. “They will pay for their sins,” God would say, but “in spite of this…I will not reject them or…destroy them complete-ly…” (Lev. 26:43-44; see also Deut. 30:1-10 and Jer. 31:28). In fact, He often promised to fin-ally and forever “fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah [under the] righteous Branch…from David’s line,” the Messiah (Jer. 33:14-16).
Amillennialists would have us believe that Israel forfeited God’s “gracious promise” when they rejected King Jesus. The key parable from which they draw this conclusion is found in Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12; and Luke 20:9-19. According to this parable, Waltke says, “national Israel beats and kills God’s prophets,” then crucifies God’s Son. “With that rejection,” Waltke continues, “there is no one else to send. In other words, the end has come for national Israel.…I AM forsakes them as a nation and chooses instead to form a new Israel.” Matthew records Jesus’ own interpretation as “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit” (Matt. 21:43).
Indeed, Israel’s wickedness was great. Acts does not gloss it over. At Pentecost Peter spoke to that very nation about
“Jesus…a man accredited by God to you by miracles.…This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death.…[But] God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” (Acts 2:22-23, 36)
The apostles kept reminding Israel, “You killed the author of life” (Acts 3:15; cf. 13:27). In fact, Israel’s hatred of Jesus made it the chief persecutor of the church, as the Book of Acts chronicles (see 1 Thess. 2:14-16). But even the murder of God’s Son—and the murderers’ subsequent repentance (which is still future)—had been foreseen by the prophets! For example, Isaiah 53:
• Who else but future redeemed Israel will look back and speak of “our message” that was not believed (Isa. 53:1)?
• Of God’s “tender shoot, and…root out of dry ground” with “no beauty or majesty to attract us” (v. 2)?
• Who else will be able to confess, “we esteemed him not” (v. 3)?
• But will realize that it was the king Himself who was “crushed for our iniquities” (v. 5)?
• Who else but Israel, not disowned but finally restored?!
In other words, this marvelous prophecy about Messiah’s suffering is spoken by the same nation that caused His suffering. Spoken after that nation has repented and been reinstated.
So how should we understand “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you”? Well, “the chief priests and the Pharisees…knew he was talking about them” (Matt. 21:45). God’s kingdom program had been in the hands of those leaders of Israel. But now it would be “taken away from [them] and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” That “people” is either (a) a future generation of Israel that will be converted or (b) the largely non-Jewish church. Either way, the disciples correctly understood that some day He will “restore the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6).
Israel replaced? Amillennialists want to “believe the prophets” (Acts 26:27). Therefore, when they have made Israel vanish from the promises, they must fill the void. Often they start by showing some flexibility in that and related terms: “not all who are descended from Israel are Israel” (Rom. 9:6). And “A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly” (Rom. 2:28). Such verses show that not all Israel deserved their honorable title. But does denying it to some of them imply that outsiders qualify? The amillennial hypothesis assumes that it does: “True Christians, be they Jews or Gentiles,” says Waltke, “are designated by the New Testament authors as…the ‘Israel of God’ (Gal. 6:16).” Probably all amillennialists cite Galatians 6:16 as using Israel in that supposedly new sense. The NIV compliantly translates, “Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God.” I will deal with that verse soon. But first consider some other NT Scriptures that seem to merge Gentiles with Israel or give them the same inheritance.
• Ephesians 2:12-13 says that Gentiles who were once “foreigners to [Israel’s] covenants of the promise…have been brought near through the blood of Messiah.” The church enjoys the same “covenants of the promise” as Israel. But will every share be identical?
• Galatians 3:28-29 was written to Gentiles in the church, which has “neither Jew nor Greek.” “If you belong to Messiah,” it says, “then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” The ultimate heir of what God promised to Abraham is Messiah. Even Gentiles who are incorporated into Messiah will inherit with Him. But will every group or individual get the same portions?
Waltke gives Ephesians 2:11-22 and Galatians 3:29 as evidence that Israel is replaced. He is showing “continuities between the old and new covenants.…Both are given to the ‘house of Israel’ and the ‘house of Judah’ (Exod. 19:3…Jer. 31:31).” So far so good, but then look at Waltke’s amillennial twist: “While the prophet had in mind Abraham’s ethnic descendants, the apostles reinterpreted Israel as the church, which includes Jews and Gentiles, by their baptism into Christ, the true seed of Abraham (Eph. 2:11-22; Gal. 3:29…).” But when Gentiles are included, must they quite displace the original heirs?
• Romans 4:9-17 says that Abraham is “father” to all who believe, whether circumcised or uncircumcised. As “Abraham’s offspring,” it continues, we participate in “the promise that he would be heir of the world.” Since the church inherits the world, then, does it do so along with Israel or in place of Israel?
• Romans 11:13-24 says that we Gentiles, “a wild olive shoot, have been…grafted into [Isra-el’s] cultivated olive tree.” So we “now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root.” It seems obvious that this tree of blessing began with Abraham (the main root). Through him God promised eternal blessings to “all peoples on earth” (Gen. 12:3). From that root grew a tree, receiving Abraham’s blessings and passing them on. At first the tree consisted of ethnic Israelites (of the nation God promised to make of Abraham). Later, some branches were bro-ken out and believing Gentiles were grafted in. So the tree is no longer just ethnic Israel. Does this mean Israel has lost its identity and been forever replaced by the church? The amillennial hypothesis says yes, that “True Christians…are designated by the New Testament authors as…the ‘Israel of God.’” But you will see that the amillennial conclusion is wrong. “Israel” still means ethnic Israel, and ethnic Israel is still God’s elected nation.
“Israel” still means ethnic Israel. If the term had really changed its meaning, apostolic writ¬ings would use it in the new sense and rarely if ever in the old ethnic sense (at least without explaining it). That is not the case! The NT has the term Israel sixty-seven times. Nearly every passage has to refer to that nation; all of them most likely do refer to it. Amillennial students must realize that any other meaning is exceptional. In a moment we will consider the verse they cite the most as exceptional, Galatians 6:16. First we will look at three other passages some of them use to prove that “Israel” includes or is replaced by Gentiles.
• Romans 11:26: “so all Israel will be saved.” But, as Waltke and other amillennialists now show (and I will discuss shortly), the replacement interpretation misses the point of Romans 11.
• Romans 2:28-29: “A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly.…a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly.” But denying that all Jews are real Jews does not suggest that believing Gen-tiles are now Jews. Moreover, this passage does not use the term Israel.
• Hebrews 8:8-12: “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.” Thus begins God’s promise to Israel in Jeremiah 31, to make a better covenant with them than He made at Sinai. It is quoted in Hebrews to show that our high priest mediates a “better covenant” than “the old one” (Heb. 7:22; 8:6). But why should extending His cove¬nant to us make us take their place or prevent His giving them what He promised?
• Galatians 6:16. This is the only verse some cite to prove that “Israel” supposedly means the church. In the NIV it says, “Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even [Greek kai] to the Israel of God.” By translating kai as “even” (appositional), it equates “the Israel of God” with “all who follow this rule,” seeing them as one group. But that translation is doubtful. The apostle Paul always uses kai as a connective (“and”), not in apposition. Here he shows he is talking about distinct groups by using “upon” (epi) with each one. The NASB has it right: “And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.” Who are these two groups? The first (“those who will walk by this rule”) is or includes believing Gentiles. The second (“the Israel of God”) is the converted Jewish remnant, including Paul. (The first group may refer to all believers and the second group be a subset of the first.) This meaning meshes with the preceding verse (15), which also men¬tions two groups: the “circumcision” and the “uncircumcision,” both now in the “new crea¬tion.”
Other NT passages even more clearly distinguish Israel from Gentiles.
• Revelation 7:4-8 and 9-17. Consider the two groups of believers side by side in these ver-ses. The first group is “144,000 from all the tribes of Israel.” It seems unreasonable to deny that they are representatives of ethnic Israel: (a) Each tribe is listed individually and (b) the whole group is distinguished from the second group, composed of Gentiles. The latter are “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language” (7:9), “coming out of the great tribulation” (7:14, Greek).
• Matthew 19:28. “[A]t the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you…will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” This clearly points to the Lord’s kingdom after His Second Coming. Why would anyone assume that “Israel” here included Gentiles or that the apostles might have understood it that way?
• Revelation 21:12. “On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel.” Obviously, this indicates that Israel will have access to the New Jerusalem. Also obvious is their distinction from “the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” on the foundations of the walls (21:14).
Ethnic Israel is still God’s elected nation. As already noted, the apostles showed by their ques-tion in Acts 1:6 that Jesus had not taught them that Israel was rejected. God would “restore the kingdom to Israel.” But let us consider what the apostle Paul taught about this same matter in Romans 9-11. There, as Waltke recognizes, “Paul reflects theologically on the role of ethnic Israel in salvation history.” Those chapters are probably the best place to study the apostolic use of the term Israel. They are the only chapters in Romans where Paul uses it (eleven times). Every time (as elsewhere) it refers to the nation. Waltke knows better than to claim his amil-lennial meaning for Israel anywhere in those chapters. On the contrary, he carefully shows that Paul’s main point in Romans 11 is the reinstatement of that nation! He analyzes a “symmetri¬cal pattern” in 11:11-32 (study Chart D on p. 52), which
strongly argues that…“until the fullness of the Gentiles” refers to the end point of God’s program for Gentile salvation, after which he will again return to his program for Israel.… “All Israel” refers to ethnic Israel at their future time of acceptance.…
In other words, Waltke understands there will be a converted nation of Israel in the coming king-dom. He rightly sees the same thing implied in Acts 3:19-21: “As in Romans 11, the final end occurs in connection with Israel as a nation repenting, turning to God and having their sins wiped away.”
In summary, Waltke’s evidence that God has disowned historic Israel and created a new Israel is unconvincing. Instead, God had predicted Israel’s worst sins but promised ultimate restora-tion, as reaffirmed in Romans 11. The nation is presently under judgment, and Gentiles being grafted into her tree of blessings. But the nation as a whole will be grafted back in and reinstat-ed. Accordingly, the term “Israel” in the NT, even in Galatians 6:16, always refers to ethnic Israel.
3. Messiah’s Covenanted Kingdom
Remember that we are not talking about God’s universal kingdom, in which He has always ruled over everything (Ps. 103:19; Dan. 4:25-26). Nor God’s control over the hearts of people who love Him, which has always been valid. Instead, it is a kingdom that had been distant but came near in the Gospels. God’s covenant with David had defined it. He promised David, “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever…your throne will be established forever” (2 Sam. 7:16). David’s kingdom was suspended at the fall of Jerusalem. But the same prophets that foretold its suspension also predicted its restoration. That is the kingdom that came near. Did it begin?
In answering, I will recall various relevant facts already discussed. Start with Waltke’s yes answer. He alleges
Luke’s redefinition of the kingdom of God from a reference to life in territorial space to a reference to life in Christ.…However, the Spirit-enlightened and Spirit-empowered church came to understand that Messiah Jesus rules the world from David’s throne in heaven in a universal kingdom without national boundaries.
In short, Waltke thinks Messiah’s kingdom has begun as spiritual, not material or political. It lacks the characteristics “the primitive church expected.” Where did it get its supposedly faulty understanding? Waltke admits that it was from the OT and NT prophets up to Jesus’ ministry. Early NT prophets echoed the OT. But they were mistaken, alleges Waltke, (1) “not yet having heard the teachings of Jesus” and (2) “not yet having experienced the gift of the Holy Spirit.” I have argued that neither of those reasons is valid. (1) The apostles were taught and enlightened by Jesus for years, yet held to those same views, as seen in Acts 1:6. And (2) “the Spirit of Christ was in” all true OT and NT prophets (1 Peter 1:11; Luke 1-2), not just after Pentecost as Waltke intimates.
Kingdom elements redefined? As proof that the kingdom has begun in a spiritual form, he tries to show that its elements have been redefined spiritually. Let us quickly review some of his con-tentions along with his concessions that contradict them.
• Prophets spoke many times of the Land promised to Israel. Waltke claims that without using the term land, the NT changes it. “The promise that Israel will inherit a land flow-ing with milk and honey becomes a metaphor for the milk and honey of life in Christ.”
Yet, he admits that “the land promises will be consummated in the future new heaven and new earth.” If so, why not conclude that the kingdom will begin then?
• Prophets exalted Zion/Jerusalem as the final world capital. Waltke denies any future spiritual importance for Jerusalem. “The destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 terminates its role in salvation history.”
Yet, he concedes from Matthew 23:39, “At his second coming, however, a converted Jerusalem will greet him appropriately.” If so, why should it not resume its promised role?
• Prophets constantly pictured the wicked nation Israel as finally redeemed and liber¬ated. Waltke argues that Israel no longer means Israel: “True Christians, be they Jews or Gentiles, are designated by the New Testament authors as…the ‘Israel of God’ (Gal. 6:16).”
Yet, he does not justify this interpretation of Galatians 6:16 and does not (cannot) point to any other possible usage of Israel in that alleged sense. On the contrary, he recognizes, especially from Romans 11, that God “will again return to his program for Israel.” And commenting on Acts 3:19-21, he adds, “As in Romans 11, the final end occurs in connec-tion with Israel as a nation repenting, turning to God and having their sins wiped away.” If so, will He not then “restore the kingdom to Israel”?
So we see the same pattern regarding each of these essential elements (and others) of the pre-dicted kingdom. In each case (a) Waltke asserts that the element has been spiritually redefined and spiritually fulfilled. But (b) he also acknowledges a final literal meaning which has not been fulfilled but will be. As Waltke acknowledges, the prophets intended those literal meanings. When those elements take place as intended, the kingdom will be constituted as they predicted it. But amillennialists insist that the alleged spiritual elements, which many of us do not see in Scripture, already constitute the kingdom. Why do they insist on this unforeseen (and to some, unconvincing) form of the kingdom? I suppose that their main reason is to honor the Lord. Hav-ing tasted His goodness, they consider it greater honor if He is actually ruling rather than waiting to rule.
Alleged evidence that the kingdom began. I will now list, in his own words, some of Waltke’s supposed positive evidence. In his quotations I will add emphasis. After each item I will com-ment after the word BUT.
a. “The kingdom…has drawn near.” Waltke claims that “God’s kingdom of eternal life and salvation… broke into the world in such a radical away [sic] in the coming of Jesus Christ that it could be said with his appearing that ‘the Kingdom of God has come.’”
BUT it is wrong to translate Greek engiken as “has come”; it always means “has drawn near” (as in James 5:8 and 1 Peter 4:7). Throughout most of Jesus’ ministry the king-dom was near. But it was no longer near when He “went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return” (Luke 19:11-12). We are still waiting for His return to rule.
b. Messiah’s signs. Waltke says, “Christ breaks into [Satan’s] world/kingdom…to…estab-lish his universal rule by doing signs and wonders and by his disciples bearing witness to him.…”
BUT Jesus’ signs and wonders were not intended to “establish his universal rule.” Instead, they showed His credentials, assuring Israel that He had the power and wisdom to bring the kind of kingdom as predicted. Take examples from Isaiah 35:
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. (35:5-6).
As God’s Anointed One, Jesus showed that He could make those changes. Israel had to repent and accept Him. On the contrary, if His works had established the kingdom, they would have continued until now.
c. “The age to come.” Waltke says,
Jesus Christ’s appearing brought “this age” to its close, and his resurrection from the dead inaugurated “the age to come.” Jesus Christ embodies the kingdom of God, which is also called in Matthew “the kingdom of heaven”…his presence is the king-dom of God… (Luke 17:21 TNIV).
BUT it is a mistake to think that the “age to come” has come. Ephesians 1:20-21, long after the church began, says that Messiah is “seated…far above all rule and authority… not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” It is still “to come.” Hebrews 2:5-10 looks forward to man’s rule in “the world to come” and says that he does not rule yet, though one Man has been “crowned with glory and honor” (Heb. 2:9). Indeed, Messiah embodied that kingdom when He was here; in Him it had “come upon them” (Matt. 12:28). But it is not here while He has gone “to a distant country to have himself appointed king” (Luke 19:12).
d. “Secrets of the kingdom” parables. This one has many considerations. Waltke (quot¬ing George Ladd) says, “‘The mystery of the Kingdom is the coming of the Kingdom into history in advance of its apocalyptic manifestation.’” “In other words,” comments Waltke, “through parables Jesus taught his disciples about a realized kingdom and an eschatological kingdom.” Most (but not all) dispensationalists have also agreed that these parables depict a present kingdom, though they deny that it is the promised one.
BUT we must be careful not to read modern theology into these parables.
• They did not reveal a “secret” (KJV “mystery”) kingdom but “secrets” about the same kingdom that was being announced as near. Those to whom Jesus explained the parables would all interpret “kingdom” from that framework.
• They did not teach that the kingdom had started or was about to start but that it would be postponed.
They revealed a previously unforeseen extension of the present age leading to the glori¬ous kingdom as predicted. Let us test that in the Lord’s sample interpretation of the Par¬able of the Weeds/Tares (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43). He introduced this parable saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field” (13:24). “His enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat” (13:25). In order not to root up wheat along with weeds, the man let “both grow together until the harvest.” At the har¬vest the weeds were gathered to be burned and the wheat was put in his barn (13:30). Jesus explained in detail:
The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one.…The harvest is the end of the age.…his angels… will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin.…Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their father. (13:38-43)
So the kingdom will begin at the harvest. Nothing earlier in the parable represents the kingdom. Not the field in which wheat and weeds grow together—“the field is the world,” not the kingdom. Not the wheat either, who are “the sons of the kingdom.”
Waltke, in contrast, sees both weeds and wheat as two kingdoms already. “In this age,” he asserts, “the kingdom of Satan and the kingdom of God grow together as tares and wheat.…” But here are reasons that interpretation is unlikely:
• “Sons of the kingdom” did not imply a present kingdom in its other use (Matt. 8:12, using the same Greek words). There it referred to Jews who thought they would have sure tickets to the kingdom when it came.
• The weeds were not pictured as an independent group but as an addition to the wheat. They cannot be safely separated before the harvest.
• The kingdom as a reality (not just a goal) was not mentioned until “the harvest (which) is the end of the age” (13:39).
• In His Parable of the Net the Lord again pictured the angels separating men in judg-ment when setting up the kingdom at the same “end of the age” (13:47-50).
So to reiterate, the kingdom will begin at “the harvest,” which is “the end of the age.” At that time “the Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom …all who do evil” (Matt. 13:39-43). The context justifies this understanding: “out of His kingdom then being established.” Accordingly, after the harvest “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom” (13:43). Jesus thus explained the secrets to His disciples who had spiritual ears to hear Him. The kingdom would still be the grand con¬summation they expected, but only after a relatively unimpressive seed-sowing and a period of waiting. This interpretation fits all of Jesus’ teachings about the kingdom in succeeding chapters.
This all meant, of course, that from their point of view the kingdom would be postponed. It also meant that the Messiah would come twice, not just once. There were excellent reasons for God’s not revealing these things earlier, then revealing them only to believ-ers.
And now Waltke’s fifth supposed evidence that the kingdom began:
e. Indications in the Book of Hebrews that OT shadows have been replaced. Waltke draws attention to
the earthly tabernacle, its Aaronic priests and animal sacrifices and the heavenly reality to which Christ entered as king-priest after the order of Melchizedek after he offered himself as the real sacrifice for sin (Heb. 8-10).
Without discussing these marvelous contrasts, I must simply emphasize that Hebrews does not picture a present kingdom or present salvation. Instead, just like the Gospels, it constantly points us to the future. Here are some sample indications: “will inherit salva-tion” (1:14); “the world to come, about which we are speaking” (2:5); “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens…so that what cannot be shaken may remain.…we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken” (12:26-28); “Here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come” (13:14).
In summary, we have considered five of Waltke’s arguments that the kingdom began. Instead, they all point forward to the Second Coming.
a. The constant message up to the last Passover, “The kingdom…has drawn near,” guaran-tees it did not actually begin.
b. “Messiah’s signs” did not establish His rule but showed He could fulfill kingdom prophe-cies.
c. “The age to come” was not inaugurated but is still to come.
d. “‘Secrets of the kingdom’ parables” did not reveal a present form of the kingdom but an unexpected lengthening of preparation for it, including an additional coming for Messiah.
e. Indications in Hebrews that the shadows have been replaced do not point to a present king-dom. The book constantly sees the kingdom and salvation in it as future.
Next we will consider Acts 2, where amillennialists deduce their most cogent argument. I will show that their assumptions are mistaken. Actually, Acts 2 requires us to look to the future more than the present.
C. Did the Kingdom Begin in Acts 2?
1. Amillennial view
Of all amillennial arguments, this one from Acts 2 seems the most crucial for them. I will quote one of Waltke’s many summaries of their view:
With Christ’s ascension and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Luke explicitly redefines crucial terms regarding the kingdom of God. Spirit-enlightened Peter locates David’s throne in heaven. He explains the gift of the Spirit…as evidence that he now sits on David’s heavenly throne.…
Acts 2 records evidence that Jesus was acting from heaven as Master and Messiah. It narrates what happened when He poured out God’s Spirit as promised in Scripture and recent prophecies. In this way He began to build His kingdom assembly (the ekklesia), who will take part when He returns in glory. Therefore, let me sketch the context and contents of the apostle Peter’s sermon to the Jews on that occasion. For more detail, see the Appendix on page 53.
• Context. “Over a period of forty days” after His resurrection, Jesus instructed His disciples “about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). He also told them to wait in Jerusalem until He would baptize them in the Holy Spirit as promised (1:4-5). He ascended to heaven and from there poured out the gift of the Spirit (1:9—2:13), as evidenced by supernatural signs, includ-ing speaking in tongues.
• Contents. Peter explained that God was imparting His Holy Spirit, as Joel had predicted He would do in the last days (Acts 2:14-21). Second, it all had to do with Jesus, whom God had accredited by His miracles but they had put to death (2:22-23). Third, God had raised Him from the dead, as predicted by King David. David knew His Descendant would have to be physically alive to reign from David’s throne (2:24-32, quoting Ps. 16:10). Fourth, He had ascended to God’s right hand, also predicted by David (2:33-35, quoting Ps. 110:1). Fifth, on God’s throne He had received the Holy Spirit, whom He “poured out” on believers (2:33). Sixth, this meant that God had “made this Jesus, whom [they] crucified, both Lord and Mes-siah,” in whose name they should be baptized (2:36-40).
From these facts amillennialists (and some premillennialists) conclude (a) that by imparting the Spirit Messiah had begun to rule, which (b) implies that His Davidic throne is now moved to heaven. These are unwarranted assumptions, which I will adddress in reverse order.
3. Has God moved David’s throne to heaven?
First, we must ascertain what David’s throne means. In His covenant with King David the LORD had promised him, “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever” (2 Sam. 7:16). Those three are inseparably linked: David’s royal house, kingdom, and throne. When that kingdom was suspended and Jerusalem fell, Israel began centuries “without [a] king” (Hos. 3:4) or his throne. The royal house of David became “David’s fallen tent.” The LORD would have to “restore…repair…rebuild it as it used to be” (Amos 9:11). When restored “as it used to be,” what would its Davidic throne be like? What defines it?
• First, the throne of David is for an embodied human being. It requires a descendant of David to reign from it as God’s agent. A living human being, since the throne is neither divine nor angelic. Because David saw this, he predicted that his royal Descendant would have to be raised from the dead first.
• Second, it is mediatorial and earthly. Historically that throne was made of precious stones and/or metal. But God’s promise to make it eternal did not refer to its components but to the authority and activity it signified. It represented authority over and exercise of God’s media-torial rule on earth. Accordingly, every unambiguous passage had the throne of David on earth. For example, its four occurrences in Psalm 89 (vv. 4, 14, 36, 44) are in contrast to God’s throne in heaven in verse 29. Likewise, Jesus contrasted the same two thrones in Rev-elation 3:21. The overcomer will “sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.”
• Third, it is over Israel. That was always true (e.g., 1 Kings 8:25; 10:9). The angel Gabriel announced its coming reinstatement: “The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever” (Luke 1:32-33). It seems obvious that the throne of David requires the restoration of Israel/Jacob.
In sum, the throne of David is designed for a human being to rule over Israel and all of God’s kingdom on earth. By definition, that throne is not yet available for Messiah to occupy. There is no converted Israel and no earthly capital as promised. But Waltke comes to a different conclu-sion. He assures us that in Acts 2 “Spirit-enlightened Peter locates David’s throne in heaven.” Well, Jesus is indeed on a throne, God’s throne, and is ministering from there. But has David’s throne changed its character and moved there? No Scripture says so. Is His ministry His prom-ised kingdom? That is the final crucial question.
4. Is Jesus’ present activity in heaven His promised rule?
He certainly is active. He builds His church by sending and baptizing in the Holy Spirit and enabling disciples to bear witness. He continually intercedes as their priest. Referring to Acts 2, Waltke repeatedly pronounces this activity “evidence that he now sits on David’s heavenly throne.…” “Seated now at God’s right hand, Christ rules from heaven [references listed] and believers participate with him in his heavenly reign [more references listed].” These Scripture references are just what I was looking for: evidence that convinces Waltke that Jesus rules. Though he does not quote from any of them here, I will quote what seems relevant and make brief comments. None of them teaches that the kingdom has begun.
Scriptures that allegedly teach a present kingdom
• Matthew 28:18. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Don’t all believers acknowledge that Jesus has far more authority than He is using? When He does use it (in His kingdom), the whole world will know.
• Ephesians 1:20-22. He is “far above all rule and authority…not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” This is similar to Matthew 28:18. We Christians already acknowl-edge that Jesus is the Messiah. In “the age to come,” however, the age of the kingdom, His actions will prove it to all.
• 1 Corinthians 15:27. “For he [God the Father] ‘has put everything under his [the Son’s] feet.’” Here the apostle quotes a prophecy from Psalm 8. Though written as though past, it was a prediction when first written, a prediction when quoted, and is still unfulfilled! How do we know? One simple way is to turn to Hebrews 2:8, which quotes the same words and says they have not yet been fulfilled. In fact, that is just why He is waiting in heaven: “Sit at my right hand,” says His Father, “until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet” (Acts 2:34-35, quoting Psalm 110:1). “Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool” (Heb. 10:13). He is still waiting for the Father to do that. At the right time He will ask for His royal inheritance, and the Father will give it (Ps. 2:8-9; Rev. 5:6-7). He will then come and “rule them with an iron scepter,” which perfectly fits what He Himself prom-ised to do (Matt. 16:27-28; 19:28; 25:31).
That introductory, iron-scepter, stage of His rule will only last a thousand years. In it He will rule as Mediator representing both mankind and the Father, and will complete the process of subduing enemies. “When he comes,” says 1 Corinthians 15:23-26, “he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” What the Father will begin (subduing enemies), the Son will conclude (finally destroying them). By the end of the millennium He can present the kingdom perfect to the Father. However we understand this, His enemies are certainly not subdued yet—nor is He reigning yet. Study the small Chart A (here) and the more detailed Chart B (p. 50).
CHART A COMING OF THE KINGDOM
PRESENT AGE (extended)
The Son waiting to rule MILLENNIUM
The Son ruling as mediator PERFECTED KINGDOM
The Father & the Son ruling
At the end the Father subdues the Son’s ene-mies. By the end the Son destroys all enemies.
• 1 Peter 3:22. ‘who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.” This is the same picture as in Ephesians 1:20-22. He has all authority legally but is not yet exercising it in reality.
I will not comment separately on Scriptures that picture believers as “raised with Christ” and “seated with him” (e.g., Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1). These simply mean that our life is now joined to His and will appear when He does (1 John 3:2). But the apostle Paul expressly denies that we are ruling yet (1 Cor. 4:8)!
Here are additional references Waltke lists on page 823 (without comments) to prove that Christ’s kingdom has started.
• Matthew 19:16-30. I am truly puzzled why Waltke thinks this passage shows “a present aspect” of the kingdom. In it to “enter the kingdom” (vv. 23, 24) has several equivalents, such as, “be saved” (v. 25), “enter life” (v. 17), “get eternal life” (v. 16), and “will inherit eternal life” (v. 29). As the last expression clearly shows, this does not refer to the present! It will happen “at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne [and apostles] will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (vv. 28-29). None of that has happened yet.
• Luke 17:20-21. “The kingdom of God is within you [Greek, in your midst].” As explained before, the kingdom was constantly announced as near during this long journey to Jerusalem. Furthermore, in the person of Jesus it was even in their midst (but gone after He left).
• John 3:3, 5. “No one can see [or enter] the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” Jesus made no attempt to change Nicodemus’s understanding of the kingdom itself but of the requirement for seeing/entering it. He chided him as “Israel’s teacher” for not knowing these things from Scripture (3:9-10). Ezekiel 36:24-26, for example, had informed Israel about them. There is nothing in John 3 about being born “into the kingdom”—but being born again in order to enter when it comes.
• Colossians 1:13. God “has brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” Whereas most references in the Epistles are to the kingdom as clearly future, this one seems excep¬tional. However, the unusual verb for “has brought” and the previous verse (1:12) about our inheritance in the future kingdom of light favor a legal, not factual, meaning. It is not a question of the future already starting but of our belonging to the future. We are the embry-onic—not yet born—kingdom.
• Matthew 12:32. “will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” See my earlier discussion of this expression under B.3. The kingdom belongs to the age to come, which has not come.
• Hebrews 6:4-6. Speaks of those “who have tasted…the powers of the coming age.” The word “powers” refers to Jesus’ miracles, which belong to that “coming age,” not this one.
• Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43. “The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one.…The harvest is the end of the age.… his angels…will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin.…Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their father.” Waltke claims that the first part of this parable pictures “a present aspect” of the kingdom. But the wheat and the weeds are growing together in “the world,” not in the kingdom, which is first present at “the harvest.” These parables do not reveal a new version of the kingdom but an unexpected stage in preparing for it. See my discussion of “Secrets of the kingdom” parables under B.3.
On pages 892-893 Waltke again alleges that in His “realized eschatology” Jesus “fulfilled Isra¬el’s expectations and exceeded them as much as the heavens are higher than the earth.” For a proof text he again refers to Matthew 28:18-20. He adds John 17:2, which likewise speaks of Jesus’ “authority over all people,” even to “give eternal life.” Well, Jesus has begun exercising that authority in part. He already gives believers His Spirit as the “firstfruits” of eternal life (Rom. 8:23a). But “firstfruits” always implies a much bigger harvest. For our salvation harvest we “wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (8:23b). That refers to the resurrection, in which He “will give eternal life” to us fully (Rom. 2:7). And that is only one aspect of salvation; there are many other promises yet to be fulfilled. The partial exercise of Jesus’ authority now guarantees the other promises at the right time. These partial fulfillments are not His kingdom, as He and the apostles clearly taught in the following passages.
Special problem passages for amillennialism
• Luke 19:11-27. He “went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. He said, ‘A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return.’” Though the kingdom was near throughout most of Jesus’ ministry, it was no longer near when He went to the “distant country.” It had to wait until “he was made king…and returned home” (19:15). We are still awaiting His return.
• Matthew 19:27-29. “[A]t the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” Waltke considers verses 27-28 “the most difficult” passage to fit into his amillen-nial hypothesis. He does not try to make it refer to the supposed present kingdom. Instead, “In the eschaton [final condition] Jesus will be enthroned as king over all things.” The word translated “renewal of all things” is Greek palingenesia (literally “new birth”). This word, Waltke admits, “entails the final judgment and the renewal of individuals and of the earth in a definitive final end.” That is when the Lord will sit “on his glorious throne” and the apostles from their thrones will rule “the twelve tribes of Israel.”
So how does Waltke interpret this reference to the tribes at the end? As ambiguous symbolic speech such as he sees in Revelation. “The highly symbolic Apocalypse also represents nations [so not really?] as having distinct roles when God lowers the heavenly Jerusalem to the new earth.…” Then he boldly reverses the meaning of Daniel 7, in which prophecy he admits that future “Israel rules the nations.” Matthew 19, he claims, teaches the opposite: “a remarkable transfer of imagery…[in which] the followers of Jesus…take the place of the unbelieving nation…” That kind of exegesis is so flexible as to be lawless.
• Matthew 24:26-35. In Matthew 24:3 one of the questions Jesus’ disciples asked Him was “what will be the sign of your coming [Gr. parousia] and of the end of the age?” Their meaning was “How will we know when You are coming back to rule?” This is the first NT use of the Greek term parousia, which often meant—as here—the public “coming” of a king or other high official. “Parousia connotes the arrival of someone after a period of absence and is used especially of royalty and officials,” says Waltke. Here it is Jesus’ “second and final coming” in glory. The parallel verb erchomai (“come”) had been used in that same sense previously in Matthew and was so used throughout this discourse. How did Jesus answer their question about His coming to rule? After describing a future “great distress” (the “great tribulation”) in verses 15-26, He finally got to the parousia they asked about.
27 “For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming [Gr. parousia] of the Son of Man.… 29 Immediately after the distress of those days ‘the sun will be darkened.…’ 30 At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming (Gr. erchomenon) on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. 31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect…from one end of the heavens to the other.… 33 …when you see all these things, you know that it [Luke, “the kingdom of God”] is near.…” (24:27-33)
So Jesus’ answer gave no hint that the kingdom would begin only days later at Pentecost (as amillennialists imagine). Instead, it will come “after the distress” He had just described. He will bring the kingdom in a “coming” (parousia) as visible from east to west as lightning. His “sign” (Himself?) will appear in the sky; all the nations will see Him coming gloriously on clouds. And it would be strange if they were oblivious to the “loud trumpet call” and the worldwide mission of the angels.
Waltke’s theology does not fit the Lord’s answer. So he changes several obvious meanings in these verses, including the normal meaning of parousia only in verse 27. He transfers this coming to the Lord’s ascension, long before the predicted distress: “‘The coming of the Son of Man on the clouds’ refers to his ascending to God to receive vindication and universal authority over all the earth (Dan. 7:13-14), not of his coming to earth.…” The reference to the angels in 24:31, Waltke continues, “is not…as in 13:41, to the final judgment, but to the worldwide growth of the church.…” So the Lord already came on clouds and sent angels to “gather his elect”! I wonder how Waltke interprets Revelation 1:7, which, years after Acts, keeps us looking for the very same events he interprets as past.
Although all Bible interpreters are sometimes inconsistent, we should welcome correction. In this case Waltke changes a clear and well-attested meaning in order to justify his theo¬logy. Instead, Matthew 24, just like Luke 19 and Matthew 19, gives powerful evidence that the Lord’s kingdom will begin when He returns in glory to earth. For several other important issues in interpreting Matthew 24-25, see my “Keys to Our Lord’s Prophetic Dis¬course, Matthew 24-25.”
• Several passages in Acts are problematic for amillennialism because they contradict the present kingdom theory. Certainly Acts proclaims that Jesus is Messiah/King (e.g., 2:36; 5:42; 17:2-3, 7). But His title and current position do not imply that His kingdom began. Acts constantly points to that as future. For example:
Acts 1:6—The Lord is “going to restore the kingdom to Israel.”
3:19-21—“The Messiah…must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.”
14:21-22—“We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”
15:16—“‘After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent.’”
26:7-8—“This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled…that God raises the dead.”
Unfulfilled promises. It should be abundantly evident by now that Jesus’ present activity in heaven is not His promised rule. Amillennial arguments for a present kingdom all fall flat. Review what had happened. The kingdom had drawn near. Messiah, the predicted Ruler, had shown up, whose person had embodied the kingdom. He had done the works of the kingdom. The Father had raised Him from death and said, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” He had granted Him “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18). From heaven the Son now forgives—and grants the Spirit to—all who turn to Him. But He does not yet rule in the ways God promised through the prophets. See some of them on page 51 in Chart C: “Often-Predicted Elements of the Kingdom.”
Jesus has not ascended David’s throne over the House of Jacob, as Gabriel promised Mary. Nor raised up salvation for Israel from her enemies, as the Spirit assured Zechariah. Nor used His winnowing fork to judge, as He thundered through John. He has not yet raised the dead, nor lifted the curse, nor restored all things, nor proclaimed peace and brought justice to the nations. Nor purified God’s elect people Israel, nor alloted their inheritance. Amillennialists disagree. Since the kingdom drew near, they think it surely had to begin. If it did, most of God’s promises meant something different from what everyone thought.
Contingency. A better explanation is that God meant what He said—and will surely fulfill it in totality. But the time of the kingdom’s coming is contingent (dependent on other events). When it first drew near, “the wedding banquet [was] ready, but those [He] invited did not deserve to come” (Matt. 22:8). “Those invited” were not a band of tramps but the most blessed and pre-pared of all nations, God’s chosen people. On purpose the king waited until they saw His works but would “not repent” (11:20). Only then did He begin revealing some “secrets of the king-dom” to believers (13:11). Those secrets involved an ostensible “postponement” of the kingdom and a second coming for the King. By not being allowed to learn those secrets, Israel could respond to God’s offer without complications. In doing so, they fully showed their depravity as mankind’s best representatives—and unknowingly offered the one sufficient sacrifice for sins, Messiah Himself!
Let me repeat. The apparent “failure” of kingdom prophecies should not prompt us to reinterpret them. God offered (through prophets such as Zechariah and John his son) to fulfill them—but chose not to do so yet! That is because the coming of the kingdom is contingent (depends) on other factors that He had determined. Above all, Messiah had to die for sins and Israel will have to repent. To secure such results, God kept some secrets even from Zechariah and John. Until Israel had rejected and determined to kill Him, He revealed to no one that Messiah would come twice. And then He revealed it only to believers.
“Certainty rules.” I do not presume to resolve all the questions that divide godly believers about Messiah’s kingdom. Premillennialists sometimes insist on literal interpretations that dis-regard figures of speech or discord with NT revelation. Some of them, overeager to keep Israel separate, distance the church from God’s covenants and from “earthly” promises. In contrast, amillennialists often cancel Israel’s future and spiritualize prophecies to the vanishing point. If only both sides would struggle to agree on criteria for literal fulfillment! Here I propose some and beg for help in improving them.
These are “certainty rules” to help determine which prophecies, in God’s good time, must be ful-filled literally or not. They assume that God’s unconditional covenants (a) give an essential framework for all other revelation, (b) mean what God said and was understood to mean, and (c) will be fulfilled in that sense, plus additions God makes.
• The following must be fulfilled literally: (a) Essential elements of such covenants (e.g., the physical descendants of Abraham and the Promised Land); (b) Other elements often pre-dicted in either OT or NT (e.g., Messiah on the throne of David).
• The following will be fulfilled non-literally: (a) Elements stated only in figurative terms (e.g., the unquenchable fire for Edom); (b) Elements now irretrievably gone (e.g., the ancient enemies of Israel); (c) Elements now clearly canceled, not just by inference (e.g., the Leviti¬cal priesthood, animal sacrifices).
The kingdom will finally come. Psalm 2:7-9 tells how it will happen. When the time is ripe, the “Son” will “ask” His “Father” for “the nations” as His “inheritance” and “the ends of the earth” as His “possession.” Then He will come back in glory to sit on His throne of David “on Zion” and “will rule [the nations] with an iron scepter.” Thus will begin Jesus’ kingdom in which He will fully exercise His authority. And every believer will share in His eternal glory and inheritance.
Be sure you belong to that coming kingdom
by acknowledging His authority now!
CHART B Three Steps in the Defeat of God’s Enemies
1 Corinthians 15:20-26
John Hepp, Jr.
“THE PRESENT AGE” (EXTENDED)
“The present heavens & earth” (2 Peter 3:7) “THE AGE TO COME”
“The new heavens & new earth” (2 Peter 3:11)
Jesus Waiting to Rule The Mediatorial Kingdom
The Perfected Kingdom
“raised…seated…far above all rule and authority…in the present age…also in the one to come” (Eph. 1:20-22). “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet” (25*)+
“a thousand years” (Rev. 20:4) “after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power” (24c*)
“he will reign…forever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:33)
“Messiah, the first-fruits” (23a*) Step 2
“those who belong to him” (23c*) Step 3
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (26*)
“God has raised this Jesus to life” (Acts 2:32)
“Sit at my right hand until…”
(Acts 2:34c) “then [epeita#], when he comes,” (23b*)
“…I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”+ (Acts 2:35) “Then [eita#] the end will come,” (24a*)
“when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father” (24b*)
* Scripture references are to verses in 1 Corinthians 15 unless otherwise indicated.
# Greek epeita (then) and eita (then) designate successive stages.
+ Making “enemies a footstool” applies to two occasions: (a) At Step 2 the Father will do this for the Son (Acts 2:35), who can then begin His kingdom. (b) During the first thousand years of the kingdom, the Son as mediator will destroy every enemy, even death (1 Cor. 15:25-26).
CHART C Often-Predicted Elements of the Kingdom
Predicted Element Present Fulfillment Progress
Involving the whole world
Son of David ruling from David’s throne Son of David still waiting on the Father’s throne
Jerusalem on earth the capital of God’s worldwide kingdom New Jerusalem being readied to replace old Jerusalem
The curse on nature lifted Jesus showed power over nature
Sins forgiven Sins being forgiven
The Holy Spirit in each believer The Holy Spirit is granted to each believer
Men judged according to works Martyrs still asking, “How long?” (Rev. 6:10)
Nations living in peace Many nations at war
Nations learning God’s ways Nations rebellious & wicked
Especially involving the nation of Israel
Israel cleansed from sin Israel still transgressing
Israel living under a new covenant New covenant ratified; church under it but not Israel
Israel inheriting the Promised Land Israel back in the Promised Land but not safe or secure
CHART D “All Israel Will Be Saved”#
Cycles in Romans 11:11-26
John Hepp, Jr.*
Verses Ethnic Israel
Partly Rejected Results for Gentiles Ethnic Israel
To Be Accepted Results for World
11-12 Their transgression (and being hardened) Salvation has come to Gentiles (riches) Their fullness Greater riches
13-16 Their rejection Reconciliation of the world Their acceptance Life from the dead
17-24 Natural branches broken off Wild shoots grafted in Natural branches grafted back in
25-26 A hardening in part (moving to) the full number of the (saved?) Gentiles All Israel will be saved, turned from godlessness.
# Romans 9-11 is addressed to “brothers” (e.g, 10:1; 11:25), explaining to them the status of Israel in salvation history. Israel occurs eleven times in these chapters, always for ethnic Israel and contrasted to Gentiles. After the cycles in chapter 11 there is a conclusion (28-32): “they are enemies on your account…[but] will receive mercy.…”
* This chart reflects observations by Douglas Moo & Bruce Waltke, amillennialists who admit that the nation of Israel will be converted just before Christ returns. God “will again return to his program for Israel.…‘All Israel’ (i.e., the people seen as a corporate solidarity, not as each and every individual…) refers to ethnic Israel at their future time of acceptance…” (Waltke, OT Theology, 331).
Appendix: Peter’s Sermon in Acts 2
The Beginning of the Church
The occasion for the sermon. Jesus had risen from the dead and given His disciples “many convincing proofs that he was alive” (Acts 1:3a). He had “appeared to them over a period of forty days,” instructing them “about the kingdom of God” (1:3b). He had told them to wait in Jerusalem until He would baptize them in the Holy Spirit (1:4-5). (Peter later equated that with “the Holy Spirit…had come on us” and “the gift [God] gave us” [11:15-17].) That promise, made through John the Baptist, was recorded in all four Gospels (Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33). With the stage set, Jesus had ascended to heaven (Acts 1:9-11). He will stay there “until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago” (Acts 3:21).
So the apostles and other disciples were in Jerusalem on the morning of the feast of Pentecost. They were mostly Galileans. With the sound of a “violent wind” and the appearance of “tongues of fire,” the Spirit of God came on them from heaven (2:1-3). Then they began “declaring the wonders of God” in languages they had not learned (2:4-11), often called “speaking in tongues.” Jews from every nation gathered, wondering what “this” supernatural evidence, especially the tongues-speaking, all meant (2:5-13). Then the apostle Peter explained.
Peter’s procedure. He first explained the meaning of “this” that they saw and heard. It was God’s giving His Spirit, as promised in Joel 2 (Acts 2:14-21) and leading to the Day of the Lord. Then he gave witness that Jesus’ works (2:22), His resurrection (2:23-32), and His ascension (2:33-35) all fulfilled divine prophecies. They are evidence that God has constituted Jesus as the promised Messiah (King) and Lord (Master) (2:36). Peter concluded with an invitation and warning, to which many responded (2:38-41).
Peter’s use of Joel 2:28-32. Peter explained what was happening: “This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel” (Acts 2:16). It was the same gift though not the same occasion. In Joel God promised to give His Spirit to His people Israel “afterward” (Joel 2:28). After what? After He sees them threatened with extinction and “will be jealous for his land and take pity on his peo-ple” (Joel 2:18). After He destroys “the northern army” that will have attacked them (2:26). After He thus marvelously rescues, restores, and exalts His people (2:28-32). All that in “the day of the Lord” (2:31). So He will fulfill Joel’s prophecy as a whole—and grant His Spirit to con-verted Israel—when the time comes to inaugurate His kingdom. But that which He will later do for them, He has already begun for us. Pentecost gave an earlier fulfillment of which Joel was not informed. Like all OT prophets, he saw Messiah’s two advents as one (1 Peter 1:10-12).
There are other reasons the Joel passage was appropriate. (1) It reminded Israel that the gift of the Spirit precedes the often-predicted Day of the Lord. During that period God will establish His kingdom but not before great darkness and distress (Amos 5:18-20; Zeph. 1:14-18). (2) It tells how to be saved from God’s judgment, by calling on His name.
To repeat, Peter quoted Joel to explain that Jesus the Messiah has begun baptizing in the Spirit. What does Messiah achieve by that? He thus imparts God’s life to each believer, making him a member of Messiah’s “body.” In this way He builds His kingdom community (the ekklesia), as He promised when His apostles confessed Him to be Messiah (Matt. 16:16-18).
The Sermon Itself
Peter explained how they were enabled to speak in tongues (2:14-21). This was not drunken-ness, as some thought who didn’t understand the disciples’ words (2:15). Instead, it resulted from the gift of the Holy Spirit as predicted by the prophet Joel (2:16). In Acts 2:17-21 Peter quoted Joel 2:28-32 (with one change) about what was happening.
“[I]n the last days” (Joel, “afterward”) God would
(a) pour out the Holy Spirit on all…
who would prophesy, see visions, dream dreams (2:17)
even on slaves (2:18)
(b) also give celestial wonders and signs (2:19-20a)
before the Day of the Lord (2:20b)
Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (2:21).
Peter summarized Jesus’ ministry (2:22) as God’s accrediting Jesus to Israel by signs. (This was the same message the Gospels were written to convey.)
Peter showed from Scriptures that Jesus is the Messiah (2:23-36). As a prophet, King David predicted the death, resurrection, and ascension of his descendant the Messiah.
• Messiah’s death and resurrection (2:23-32). It was God’s purpose for Israel to put Jesus to death in shame (2:23). In Psalm 16 David foresaw that his descendant, the future ruler, would be resurrected before His body could be corrupted (2:24-31). Jesus’ disciples are witnesses to His resurrection (2:32).
• Messiah’s ascension and honor (2:33-35). David also predicted, in Psalm 110, his descen-dant’s exaltation to God’s throne until God subjects His enemies to Him. From there Mes-siah has poured out the Holy Spirit, as Israel has seen and heard.
• The conclusion (2:36): God has made Jesus Lord (master) and Messiah (anointed ruler).
Peter issued an invitation (2:38-40): Repent and be baptized in Jesus’ name to be forgiven, receive the Holy Spirit, and be saved from coming judgment. About 3000 responded by being baptized (2:41).