Endless must be the systems of theology and schemes of prophecy without the laying down of valid principles of interpretation. It is noteworthy that in all the books produced by “dispensationalist” writers (that is, they who more or less follow the theories of Dr. C. I. Scofield) no attempt is made to establish any such valid principle. The case for Dispensationalism rests entirely on assumptions which writers and preachers take entirely for granted.
These unproved assumptions are usually copied from writer to writer with a monotony only occasionally broken by some contemporary event in Russia or the Middle East (which induces a fresh enthusiasm for authorship).
[Note: This article was published circa 1970.]
Hence it is accepted without question that the restoration of Jewry to all its forfeited privileges--with temple, priesthood, and earthly monarch and establishment--is something beyond challenge and scarcely requiring the burden of a proven principle of interpretation. The fact that nowhere in the New Testament is there a line to suggest that there will ever be a Palestinian restoration is something which seems to weigh not one featherweight with the theorists. Even our post-millennialists, who are usually more cautious and restrained than their pre-millennial brethren (as why should they not be,- seeing the realization of their theories lies so far away in the remote and shadowy future?), fail to perceive that not even in Romans 11 (on the interpretation of which all their hopes lie) is there a hint of a Jewish restoration in Palestine.
A popular theory founded upon plausible assumptions is usually found more acceptable to the impressionable masses of Christian people than an interpretation which moves forward stage by stage upon a carefully demonstrated ground of proof.
To define our terms, pre-millennialism is that system which holds that the Second Advent of Christ will take place prior to the anticipated thousand years of universal peace and truth; post-millennialism believes the thousand years will first run their course, and then Christ will appear. There is a third belief which holds that the only millennium is the Christian era, beginning with the Day of Pentecost and ending with the Day of Judgment. It is this third view that we who issue these writings hold to be the true teaching of Holy Scripture. For what it is worth, this third view was the generally accepted view of the Christian Church until the Puritan era.
But who is to judge between the three systems of belief? The answer is that the New Testament must be the only judge and interpreter of prophecy.
We invite all men of goodwill, who desire only to know what is true, to note the solemn fact that the advocates of the pre-millennial view never make any serious attempt to prove their position from the New Testament. Their books are filled with quotations from Old Testament prophecies and seldom any New Testament texts, except in subordination to the Old Testament.
Readers who attend to this fact will certainly be gravely disturbed by it.
The post-millennialist does no better than his pre-millennial brother. Be repudiates the fallacies of the pre-millennial scheme (which requires the invention of THREE separate “Comings” of Christ in order to fit in with the constitution of their millennial earth), but builds his entire structure upon one key text which he thinks he finds in Romans 11:26, where certainly no millennium is mentioned at all. It is a dangerous thing to stand a pyramid on its apex. To subordinate the interpretation of all prophecy to one text is a dubious proceeding.
Our principle of interpretation has been stated again and again: OLD TESTAMENT PROPHECIES OF THE KINGDOM OF CHRIST ARE TO BE UNDERSTOOD ONLY ACCORDING TO NEW TESTAMENT USE OF SAME.
In this paper we shall proceed to show from two notable chapters in Matthew’s Gospel that the Jewish expectation of an earthly kingdom in which their national privileges and prerogatives will be restored is repudiated by the Savior Himself, who shows that on the contrary His kingdom was to be one which could only be entered by repentance and faith on an individual basis and that the only instrument of its establishment and propagation was to be the preaching of the Word.
Moreover, in the Seven Parables of Matthew 13, He clearly shows there is no room for any millennium, for the Kingdom of Grace established by His Apostles after His resurrection and ascension to heaven was to continue unchanged till the end of the world, for only then would the tares be separated from the wheat and the bad fish from the good.
LITERALISM LED TO THE CRUCIFIXION
Literalism (the method of interpreting prophecy by the letter, without recognizing the symbolic and parabolic nature of most of the prophecies) has its heaviest indictment in the fact that it was this method which led directly to the crucifixion of Christ.
There can, of course, be no doubt whatever of the truth of this grave assertion. To this day the official view of the Jewish theologians is precisely that of their ancestors 2,000 years ago, that the claim of Jesus of Nazareth to be the Messiah must be resolutely repudiated because “He did not fulfil the prophecies.”
We are not alone in our protest against the prevalence of this same literalism in Christian theology today.
In an appendix to his famous, but too much neglected, Interpretation of Prophecy (Edition 1875), Patrick Fairbairn (1805-1874), one-time Principal of the Free Church of Scotland College, Glasgow, wrote:
PROPHETICAL LITERALISM ESSENTIALLY JEWISH
“The essential coincidence between the Jewish mode of interpreting prophecy, and that of the extreme literalists among Christians, will force itself on anyone who compares for a moment what has been written by the respective parties on the prophetical future. For the most part, he will find the same passages quoted by both, and the same principle of the historical sense applied to them--only, with this difference, that while both apply it to establish the necessity of a future restoration of the Jews to Palestine, and the re-institution of the Mosaic polity and worship, the Jew also applies it, and with perfect consistence, to the rejection of Jesus Christ as the Messiah. We say with perfect consistence, for the principle is as fairly applicable to the one point as to the other, and by that principle, the evidence of prophecy in favor of the Messiahship of Jesus is not impaired merely, but annihilated. The argument from prophecy as between Christians and Jews is gone; that only remains which may serve the Jew against infidels and heathens. If, for example, the literalist school of interpreters among Christians are right in maintaining, as they do, that Christ has not yet appeared as King of Zion, or as the possessor of David’s throne and kingdom, why should not Rabbi Crool (in his ‘Restoration of Israel,’ a work replied to by Thomas Scott), and other Jewish writers, be equally right in contending, that Jesus of Nazareth cannot be the Messiah? The passages which both parties appeal to--such as Zechariah, ix. 9; Isaiah, ix. 6,7; Micah, v. 2--though they are expressly declared by the evangelists to have been fulfilled in Christ, yet speak of the Messiah under the very character and relations, which, it is alleged, have not yet been assumed by him: they represent him as going to appear among men, to be born at Bethlehem, to ride on an ass into Jerusalem, etc., in the character of the king of the Jews, and to the great joy of his subjects. Therefore, says Crool, and with manifest right on this principle, your Jesus cannot be the Messiah; for He did not sit upon David’s throne, He set up no Jewish kingdom, and instead of finding joy and peace and union from His presence, the Jewish people only then began to experience their greatest troubles and their widest dispersions. In a word, the apologetic value of prophecy as regards the truth of Christianity is gone, and instead of a means of defence we find a weapon of assault. So much is this felt to be the natural tendency of the line of interpretation referred to, that those who adopt it have, of late years, been withdrawing prophecy after prophecy from the number of those which the inspired penmen and all truly Christian writers hitherto have understood of Christ. As in regard to the first great promise to fallen man, so also here, the principle of a prophetical literalism has led to the same result as its apparent opposite--a subtilizing rationalism; the one needs as much the doctrine of accommodation as the other, in explaining the New Testament applications of prophecy to Jesus.”
It is therefore justly said by Hengstenberg (Christology, 2nd Edition, App. vi), that the strictly literal style of prophetical interpretation is essentially the very same as that which the Jewish commentators adopt; that its value may also be understood from the countenance given to it by many Rationalists on the continent; but that its strongest condemnation consists in its being the very method of interpretation which led to the crucifixion of Christ.
100 YEARS ON FROM FAIRBAIRN
We are now 100 years on from Fairbairn and much has happened to give increasing disquiet to those who plead for a return to the right understanding of Holy Scripture.
Those who are familiar with the “Scofield Reference Bible,” which for all the years of our own century has framed much of Christian thought and belief on prophetical questions, will know (as Fairbairn never lived long enough to know) that the passing years have only worsened the situation. Nowadays almost every reference in the Old Testament to the Kingdom of Messiah is wrenched from the Christian Church and handed over to the Jew. Gentile enthusiasm for Jewish prerogative exceeds that of the Jews themselves and amounts (if we may be pardoned for the simile) to an act of suicide for the Christian Church on the doorstep of the synagogue.
But we must let the New Testament be the arbiter of the Old. What says the New Testament of the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies of Israel? Nay, what says the Lord Christ concerning Himself and the work He came to do? Surely, in “the words of the Word” we shall find the key to the understanding of all things which were written concerning Himself. Nothing is more fascinating in the pursuit of Bible knowledge than the discoveries made in the four Gospels of the Savior’s testimony to Himself in terms of the writing of the Old Testament prophets.
In unexpected places to which justice has never been fully done by the expositors and preachers, there flashes out the hidden meaning of common acts by the Savior, as for instance in His contention with the Jews over the observance of the Sabbath in Matthew 12. The disciples grind the ears of corn in the palms of their hands (Luke 6:1). The Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8) approves, for He is the Bread of Life; and what better day than the Sabbath to feed upon Him who takes the symbol of the corn to prefigure His own redemptive sacrifice (“Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die...”) and the far-spreading cornfields to symbolize the harvest of the souls of men (“Lift up your eyes and look on the fields: they are white already to harvest”)?
Did not David the King eat of the holy temple bread when he fled from Saul? Here is one greater than the temple and greater than David, in whom all become kings and priests who are redeemed by His blood. The Kingdom of Grace was coming in fast, and there would be some mighty scene-shifting as all Israel’s earthly administration passes into the inward and spiritual reality which the externalism of the law only prefigures (see verses 3-8). Are our “literal interpreters” listening? See how the Savior was all the time preparing to abolish the outward signs to make way for the things signified thereby.
THE WITHERED HAND
A man’s withered hand is healed in “their synagogue” (verses 9-13). That man is Israel. “Their synagogue” could do naught for him. The human hand is the greatest instrument on earth. It can stroke the keys, and if it is the hand of Handel even the angels will stoop to listen. A withered hand is the symbol of man’s lost dignity and inheritance. The withered hand is here the token of Israel’s impotence under the law. The healing of the man shows the nature of Messiah’s kingdom. Its subject are those who are restored to the true dignity and function for which God created man—that he should be the regent of God in creation--as it were, God’s right hand. This is Christ’s Kingdom--not the setting up on an earthly throne at Jerusalem and the raising of flocks and herds on the mountains of Palestine. The empire of Christ is not bounded by oceans and mountain crests. His throne is the right hand of God. His Kingdom exists neither in time nor space but in His own eternal rest; the walls of His city are called “salvation” and her gates “praise” (Isaiah 60:18); Zion exists only in a state of eternal day, of which He is Himself the light (“The sun shall be no more thy light by day, neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee”--Isaiah 60:19).
Still listening? Still cleaving to a false literalism? Still expecting Jerusalem to be the earth’s capital city? Behold Jerusalem! Behold the city of God, the mount Zion to which believers have already come, though they may never see the earthly city in Palestine. “We are come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God...”
The Pharisees are incensed as the sacred precinct of their earthliness and senseless literalism is invaded. They hold a council to destroy Him, and “Jesus withdraws Himself” from them (verses 14-15), as He would in fact abandon them to their fate ere that generation should pass.
Matthew, the inspired writer of the first gospel comes in at this point with an all-important prophetic quotation from Isaiah 42. Modified in the Greek language (in which he wrote) the quotation begins, “Behold my servant whom I have chosen; my beloved in whom my soul is well pleased.” This brings it nearer to the baptismal voice of God from heaven recorded 11 Matthew 3:17, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” The Greek word for servant here is a special word, elsewhere translated “child” (see Acts 4:27-30). It means Sonship in the highest degree, fulfilling the Father’s nature and will. Matthew’s quotation of the crucial, prophecy of Isaiah 42 fixes the nature of Christ’s Kingdom as that which in fact He established 2,000 years ago.
Our interest lies at the moment in that part of the quotation which declares that in bringing in His kingdom Christ would not use the style and language of regal proclamation and majesty as though introducing Himself as an earthly potentate—“He shall not strive nor cry, neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets....” This is the manner of the coming in of His kingdom--in quietness and secrecy, like the seed in the ground which germinate in the dark and then comes forth, first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear.
What a contrast with the millennialist’s dream of a sudden appearance of Christ at Jerusalem to set up an earthly monarchy.
THE UNPARDONABLE SIN
One possessed with a devil, blind and dumb, is brought to Christ (verse 22). The devil is cast out and the man sees and speaks. Just another work of healing and mercy? Not at all. This man, like him with the withered hand, is a picture of the state of the Jewish people, and he is a part of the prophecy just quoted by Matthew. Isaiah 42 describes the onset and the course of Christ’s reign. There is no hint of earthly glory and exaltation for the Jewish nation. The kingdom exists in the opening of blind eyes and the deliverance of captives from prison and from darkness (verse 7). The times are changed (verse 8)—“Behold the former things are come to pass” (i.e., the Old Testament order has run its course); “new things do I declare” (i.e., the new covenant kingdom of grace is announced).
A “new song” is heard in the earth, never before sung (verse 10). It is the new song of eternal salvation through the blood of Christ. Revelation 5:9—“and they sung a new song, saying, ‘Thou art worthy...for thou vast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred and tongue and people and nation.’ ”
Isaiah’s oratorio on The Messiah rolls along, describing the long anticipated Kingdom of Christ, composed of Jew and gentile and having no center but in heaven and no ruler but the One who reigns in the invisibility of the Godhead. The triumphant march of the Son of God to His predestined glory is shown by the manner of true conversion: “I will bring the blind by a way which they knew not. I will lead them in paths that they have not known. I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight.” Let none say that this is descriptive of a Jewish kingdom on earth.
The Lord does indeed refer to the Jewish people as a people in this chapter, but it is only to rebuke them as those who would not walk in His ways. This is now the point of Matthew’s quotation of Isaiah 42. The deaf and dumb man is (as we have said) Israel. His presence before Christ is a dramatization of the prophecy which declares, “Hear, ye deaf, and look, ye blind, that ye may see” (verse 18). It is a call to the unconverted. No Jew will ever be saved or exalted except on the precise terms of individual conversion available equally to gentiles.
Israel, as the servant of the Lord, should have guided the nations to the true God. They boasted (and still do) that as a people they are the only agency by which God reveals Himself to the world. They are (or should have been) the people who, seeing, give sight to the blind gentiles. Hearing the Word of God, they should have opened the ears of the deaf heathen: “Who is blind but my servant? or deaf as my messenger that I sent?” (verse 19, etc.). Instead of fulfilling their divine function, they were blind, deaf and dumb themselves, therefore the kingdom would be taken from them. Worse, their infirmity was sinister. It was the fruit of Satanic activity, for their representative man was “possessed with a devil, blind and dumb”
The prophetic drama ends. The devil is cast out of the poor sufferer. He sees and speaks. Israel watches and notes, and commits the unpardonable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, for which there is no forgiveness either in this world or in the world to come: “This fellow cloth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils” (Matthew 12:24).
Readers must, for themselves, note the remainder of the Savior’s words, which have a special application to the nation of Israel, from Christ’s day onward devoid of light and truth, a people from whom the Spirit of God has departed, never to return. This does not, of course, mean that individual Jews may not have hope. Jews are converted in considerable numbers. But the nation as such has been given over to judgment and has no light to give the world. Yet it is to this people and its teachers that Dr. Scofield and his fellow dispensationalists go for “light” upon the future of the world and learn from the Jewish Pharisees to say that no kingdom of Messiah has yet been set up, for if it had (say they) the Jewish nation would be restored to its ancient status and privileges.
“The tree is known by its fruits,” says Christ to unbelieving Israel. “O generation of vipers,” He cries, “how can ye, being evil, speak good things?” (verses 33-34).
The Lord concludes His invective against Israel with an ominous warning: “When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return to my house from whence I came out; and when he is come he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation” (verses 43-45).
This word can only be understood in terms of Israel’s fate, for Christ shows this in His final sentence—“Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.”
The interpretation is clear. The house is Israel’s house. The expulsion of the first demon denotes the temporary respite which Israel received when the gospel was being preached for forty years after Pentecost, “to the Jews first.’ The return of the demon denotes how the unbelief and final impenitence of the nation presents the powers of darkness with ready and prepared access. The seven devils more wicked than the first show the complete extent to which the nation after its probation gave itself up to final impenitence with the appalling consequences of greatly magnified unbelief and irremediable darkness and blindness.
“The last state is worse than the first.” These terrible words of Christ show the “last state” of Israel (as a nation)--a people blind and dumb, without guidance or hope. Their state is worse now than ever before in history, because most of the nation is openly atheistic, or at best sceptical, and without any assurance of immortality.
Their repudiation by the Lord is complete. The chapter closes on a solemn note. The virgin mother and the “brethren” of the Lord stand outside the house. They wish to speak with Him. A messenger intimates to the Lord their desire. But He answers “Who is my mother? And who are my brethren?” He waves His hand toward His disciples and says, “Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.”
Be no longer stands in blood relationship with the nation of Israel. Even the virgin mother must stand aside (good woman though she be) because she has fulfilled her task in bringing the Firstbegotten into the world. Henceforth she stands towards Him not as mother but as creature in the presence of her Creator. She stands also for that true and spiritual Israel which can be related to Him only insofar as its children do the will of God in believing on Him whom the Father has sent.
There could not be clearer or more conclusive and solemn asseveration that Israel’s special relationship with Jehovah had come to an end.
WHAT IS A PARABLE?
Chapter 13 of Matthew settles beyond question, on the authority of the Lord’s own words, the issue of prophetical interpretation. What is the Kingdom of God and where? When and how is it set up? In the seven great parables of Matthew 13, the Lord purposefully gives the key to the understanding of all prophetic mysteries.
Let it be remembered that He was contending with Jewish literalism--the same infatuation which Dr. Scofield has standardized and which has dominated the Christian world for more than a century. It is more than time that this issue was settled.
It will be observed that nowhere does the Lord breathe the slightest hint of a Jewish kingdom. Nowhere does He give any ground for the millenary illusion. His words leave no room either for a Jewish restoration or for an earthly millennium. He describes the history of His messianic kingdom and reign with consummate skill, showing that it is so secret and mysterious that none know of it save those to whom the knowledge is imparted by the Divine Spirit.
The chapter begins with the historic words: “The same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the seaside.” These opening words connect chapter 13 with chapter 12, which we have already been discussing—“the same day.” The theme of the two chapters is the same--the coming of the Kingdom and its mysterious nature. The discourse is delivered from an unusual pulpit--a vessel afloat a few yards from the shore. The Sea of Galilee is a prophetic sea, and all the Lord’s actions are “word and doctrine.” The sea is the world and the vessel is the Church, as in Matthew 14, Mark 6, Luke 9 and John 6--when the storm on the same sea and the apprehension of the disciples when the Lord is seen walking on the waves have clear reference to the voyage of the Church through all the perils of history.
The Savior develops the theme of His own coming into the world. Strange indeed that instead of enlightening the people and telling them plainly of His purpose and mission, He “speaks to them in parables.” A parable is a “dark saying”--truth deliberately shrouded in mystery so that its message should be understood only to faith and not to carnal understanding.
The first of the seven parables is the familiar one of the sower who went forth to saw. All too familiar, alas! The ignorant tell us that our preachers should study the simplicity of the Lord’s methods in making truth so very plain by the use of familiar figures and simple illustrations. On the contrary this is the very thing the Lord studiously avoids. “Why speakest thou unto them in parables?”
“Because,” replies the Savior to the disciples, “it is given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given” (verse 10-11).
He is saying that in His parables truth is deliberately withheld from the hearers because, through their impenitence and unbelief, it is not given to them to know the truth.
“For whosoever hath” (i.e., possesses faith and repentance) “to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not” (i.e., does not have faith, as these Jews had it not) “from him shall be taken even that which he hath” (verse 12). From him (the Jewish nation) shall be taken that which hitherto was their boast, namely, their prerogative as children of Abraham, their knowledge of the Law, and their expectation of Messianic deliverance. The present state of Jewry is manifestly a judgment of God, hardening the heart and binding the understanding.
Nothing can be more fearfully plain than the Savior’s words of judgment upon this abandoned people: “Therefore speak I to them in parables because they seeing see not and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah which saith, By hearing ye shall hear and not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing and their eyes they have closed, lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and should understand with their heart and should be converted and I should heal them.”
The predetermined judgment having been so solemnly pronounced, the Lord turns to His “little flock,” representing His true Church and Kingdom throughout history, and pronounces them blessed: “But blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.”
The Lord makes it plain that what the apostles saw and understood--what was made plain to them in the gospel--was in fact the expectation of the true Israel (Israel within Israel), represented by the prophets and righteous men from of old, who prophesied and spoke of Christ’s kingdom and longed to see it for themselves, but died before the time.
What was it the prophets of Israel desired to see? A millennial kingdom for Israel? “Yes,” declares Dr. Scofield and the whole dispensational family. “No!” declares the Lord in this passage. That which they desired to see was that which the Lord was now revealing to the apostles and which the apostles in turn declared to the whole world and wrote down for a record in the New Testament. This which was being revealed was the Messianic kingdom for which the world had waited 4,000 years since mankind was cast out from the presence of God. What the righteous men of old time longed to see was the coming of the promised “Seed of the Woman” who by His cross and passion bruised the Serpent’s head and overcame death and sin and the grave.
In short, the kingdom of Christ, the Messianic deliverance, was not to be a Jewish restoration to privilege and to Palestine, for there is not a mention of this in Christ’s discourse here or anywhere else. The promised kingdom was to come by the preaching of the gospel, and the right of entrance thereto was not by a Jewish birth certificate but by individual repentance and faith.
THE MYSTERY OF THE SOWER
We take the parable of the sower and ask, “What is mysterious about this parable that its meaning should be shrouded from the unbelieving?” The answer lies in the false expectation which Israel had of a kingdom of the Jews which would come with automatic suddenness at the advent of Messiah. Now here was the Messiah, yet He was setting up no visible kingdom; He comes without “shout or cry.” He does not fall in judgment upon Israel’s foes and put them to rout. He holds no weapon, wields no scepter, appears in deep humility and tells the people in this parable (which they did not and could not understand) that His kingdom was not what they supposed and could only come by the earnest, believing, penitent reception of the Word preached--the Word of the Cross, of free grace and mercy, and justifying faith.
The kingdom comes, therefore, secretly, silently, imperceptibly, as here and there the seed falls into the receptive hearts of the repentant who look for mercy and forgiveness. Silently it works (as other of the parables in this chapter show), as leaven works in the dough, as fish are caught in the gospel net, or as a grain of mustard seed produces from the smallest of beginnings, the greatest of results.
All this was foreign to the Jews of Christ’s day, as it is foreign to their descendants of our day, and as it is foreign also to multitudes of evangelical dispensationalists who follow Dr. Scofield into Jewish territory to find a kingdom of this world which Christ repudiated from the beginning and continued to repudiate until the very day of His crucifixion, when He declared to Pontius Pilate,
“My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36)
The Lord is very careful to warn His hearers in the first of the parables that even the ready acceptance of His Word would not necessarily be a real acceptance of His kingdom. Some would remain indifferent or hostile (the wayside hearers); some would hear with apparent joy, but without the root of faith and repentance in themselves (the stony ground hearers); some would receive the Word only for its growth to be subsequently choked by the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches (the seed among thorns). They only would inherit the Messianic kingdom who brought forth the fruit of it in holy living and faithful endurance of the cross and trial.
A strange kingdom of the Jews this! A strange millenarian kingdom in truth! Not a converted world after all! Not a restored Hebrew race with temple, king, and priest and worldwide dominion! Only a harassed flock of sheep, exposed to the trials and tribulations and furious hostility of a sinful world!
The only “kingdom of heaven” which Christ announces is that of Matthew 13. There is no room for another while the earth stands, for the parables carry us on, not to the end of an age, but to the consummation of all things, and the Last Judgment when there shall be no more earth, sky or sea stars or universe. These are the words of Christ in explanation of His second parable (that of the tares and the wheat which were to grow together UNTIL THE HARVEST)—“The harvest is the end of the world” (verse 39). “Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (verse 43). “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”
The last of the seven parables is of the gospel net let down into the sea, gathering fish “of every kind,” good and bad, not to be sorted out till the net is full and brought to the shore: “So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (verses 49-50).
No room for a millennium here. The gospel net drags on in the sea of this world, without change and without rest, till the day of judgment. Never a converted world. Never a golden age. Never a “latter-day glory.” Never a “Puritan Hope” of a Jewish solution to the problem of this world.
Christ reigns now by His Word and Spirit in the preaching of the gospel. The kingdom of heaven is the gospel kingdom. The only millennium is the preaching of the gospel, and the only “binding of Satan” is that effected by the downfall of his power through the light of truth and the preaching of the Word of God.
Christ had previously said on that “same day”— “If I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you. Or else how can one enter into a strong man’s house and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house” (Matthew 12:28-29).
The token of the kingdom of God is the binding of Satan. This was done at the cross, where Satan was cast down and “bound,” being limited henceforth in his domain till all the elect people of God, the new creation of regenerated men and women, should be called out and completed as to their number and testimony.
It remains for us to look at the subsidiary parables in this constellation of the mystic Seven.
Nowhere is the bankruptcy of exposition and understanding more in evidence than in Dr. Scofield’s treatment of the parables of the mustard seed and the leaven: “The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof” (Matthew 13:31-32).
Says Dr. Scofield, this parable “prefigures the rapid but unsubstantial growth of the mystery form of the kingdom from an insignificant beginning to a great place in the earth. The figure of the fowls finding shelter in the branches is drawn from Daniel 4:20-22. How insecure was such a refuge, the context in Daniel shows.”
Now Dr. Scofield ought to have known better. The figure of the tree whose branches provide shelter for the birds of the air is not taken from Daniel but from Ezekiel 17:22-24. “Thus saith the Lord God I will also take of the highest branch of the high cedar, and will set it; I will crop off from the top of his young twigs a tender one, and will plant it upon an high mountain and eminent: In the mountain of the height of Israel will I plant it: and it shall bring forth boughs, and bear fruit, and be a goodly cedar: and under it shall dwell all fowl of every wing; in the shadow of the branches thereof shall they dwell. All the trees of the field shall know that I the Lord have brought down the high trees, have exalted the low tree, have dried up the green tree, and have made the dry tree to flourish: I the Lord have spoken and have done it.”
Ezekiel’s tree is the tree of the New Covenant of Grace. The tender young twig cropped off from the old cedar is Christ, springing (as touching His humanity) from the old stock of Israel’s tree--the Covenant of the Law. From this new tree (Christ), the kingdom of grace springs up till its branches spread throughout all the world (as they do today) so that “birds of every wing,” that is, all kindreds of men, Jew and gentile, find shelter in this covenant of divine grace.
THE FATE OF THE JEWISH NATION
It is the more inexcusable that Dr. Scofield should make this elementary mistake, because he must have known that the last verse of Ezekiel 17 (the high tree brought low, and the low tree exalted; the green tree dried up, and the dry tree made to flourish) is actually quoted by Christ on the way to the Cross: “If they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?” (Luke 23:27-31).
This was a foretelling of the fate of the Jewish nation. At that time, the sap of divine grace was still in the old cedar. Life was still rising to Israel’s green tree. But as according to Ezekiel’s prophecy, divine grace would be withdrawn from the Israelitish cedar so that it would become dry and its place be taken by the dry gentile tree, now by the covenant of grace in Christ made living and fruitful; so the fall of Israel's tree was imminent. Forty years on from Calvary, and the awful tragedy of Israel’s rejection of the Messiah would be recompensed by the tragic end of the forlorn nation in the Roman destruction of city, temple, priesthood and people: “If they do these things when the tree is yet green, what will be done when the tree is dry and ready to fall?”
Dr. Scofield is wrong, and not for the first time. It grieves us to write this of a good man who has long since gone to be with his Lord, but the welfare of Christ’s flock must ever be the chief solicitude, and we can only say mournfully of Dr. Scofield, as Robert McCheyne said of Edward Irving when he learned of his death: “A good man, but one who did his Lord much harm.”
The harmfulness of that Dispensationalism and literalism which was standardized by Dr. Scofield, who inherited it by direct succession from poor Edward Irving, is manifest in the present state of Bible knowledge in Britain and America. The devastating effects of Dispensationalism on Bible exposition and preaching are too lamentable for words. Where now will one go for adequate exposition of the Word of God? Jewish interpretations prevail so widely that the true Word of God is often made of none effect, as is the case of the interpretations of these parables.
The meaning of the parable is clear. The mustard seed is the word of faith--the word of the kingdom of heaven. Did Dr. Scofield also forget that a few chapters later in Matthew’s Gospel the Lord uses the mustard seed as a symbol of faith? (Matthew 17:20). Faith brings in the kingdom of heaven, because by faith alone the promise of salvation, cherished by the people of God from the foundation of the world, is brought to fruition, and the kingdom realized. The sheltering birds are the souls of men.
THE LEAVEN IN THE MEAL
Dr. Scofield is equally wrong in his exposition of the next parable: “Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal till the whole was leavened.”
Says Dr. Scofield: “Leaven is the principle of corruption...it is invariably used in a bad sense.” This we heartily dispute, and cite Leviticus 7:13 and Leviticus 23:17 to show that leaven was commanded by the Lord to be used in two notable acts of worship.
That in Leviticus 7 was part of an act of thanksgiving, while that in Leviticus 23 was part of the worship which prefigured the day of Pentecost and the new dispensation of grace. Dr. Scofield makes an unwarranted attempt to prove that the presence of leaven on these occasions was to memorialize man’s sinfulness. But all offerings and sacrifices in the Levitical code were designed to exhibit Christ and salvation, not to memorialize sin.
Dr. Scofield should have looked further, however, than the Levitical code. He is not the only expositor who has stopped short at the mention of leaven and failed to perceive an underlying wonder. Long before the Levitical code was established and leaven received its theological significance, an event occurred which became the ground of this wonderful parable. There can be no room for doubt that the peculiar (and otherwise irrelevant) emphasis in the parable that it was “a woman” who took the leaven and “hid” it in the three measures of meal points to a historic precedent; and we have no difficulty in finding it in Sarah, the wife of Abraham.
When Abraham received the visit of a heavenly delegation in the form of “three men” who came to announce to the patriarch the coming birth of Isaac, the promised seed (Genesis 18), Abraham--ignorant as yet of the heavenly character of his guests--sends his wife Sarah to prepare a meal, saying to her: “Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes upon the hearth.”
The action was prophetic. Sarah is a scriptural type of the Church of the New Testament (see Isaiah 54:1 and compare Galatians 4:22-27). In Galatians the allegory of Abraham’s two sons, corresponding to the Old Covenant (Ishmael) and the New Covenant (Isaac), shows clearly that the New Testament Church was being prepared in the mission of the angelic visitors to Abraham. The three measures of meal (corresponding to the three sons of Noah, by whom the families of the world were divided) are the gentile world, to be “leavened” by the preaching of the Word after Israel’s fall from grace. As leaven works secretly in the dough in which it is “hidden,” so the “Kingdom of Heaven” comes secretly, and its operation is “hidden” from the eyes of men. The parable endorses therefore the Savior’s teaching in this chapter, that the Jewish view of the Messianic kingdom was altogether false and carnal. The only kingdom Christ came to establish enters into the world invisibly in hidden form, yet its power through the preaching of the Word penetrates all the world.
The poverty of Dr. Scofield’s thought is matched by that of most of the present day expositors and preachers. How could it be otherwise, when literalism has done its fell work and turned the Eden of God’s Word into a desert?
THE TREASURE AND THE PEARL
The remaining two parables (of the treasure hid in the field, and of the finding of the “pearl of great price”) are explained by the dispensationalist (after Dr. Scofield) as being (1) the salvation of the “lost” tribes of Israel and (2) the salvation of the Church--as being the “pearl of great price.” These conclusions are open to grave objection. The first gives natural Israel a special national interest in Christ, contrary to all the teaching of our Lord concerning “the kingdom of heaven.”
Dr. Scofield and his friends might have done better if they had followed the invaluable references given by our translators in the incomparable Authorized Version. It has always astonished us that Christians make so little use of these helps (which are abandoned in the much vaunted modern versions). The margin of the Authorized Version contains the answers to many Bible difficulties and well repays constant use. In the case of the parable of the hidden treasure, we are referred to Proverbs 2:4. “If thou seekest her (i.e., divine knowledge and wisdom) as silver and searchest for her as for HID TREASURES....”
Dr. Scofield says, “The seeking sinner does not buy, but forsakes, the world to win Christ. The sinner has nothing to sell, nor is Christ for sale....” Very plausible indeed, but again our Authorized Version references correct the plausibility by reminding us of Isaiah 55:1, “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money, and without price.” And Paul in Philippians 3:7-8, “What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea, I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, far whom I have suffered the loss of all things and do count them but dung that I may win Christ.” And Christ, in Revelation 3:18, “I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire that thou mayest be rich....” In short, to buy, in the evangelical sense, is to repent and believe; and Scofield really had no excuse for so neglecting his Authorized Version.
The pearl of great price is unquestionably Christ, not the Church, as our Authorized Version references again testify, for in Proverbs 3 the text fits the parable even to the extent of turning the seeking soul into the “merchantman” seeking gems. Thus Proverbs 3:13-15, in which “wisdom” is the synonym for Christ: “Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding. For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies: and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her.”
Happy the man who engages in this divine traffic--this holy merchandise--this prudent buying and selling and gaining and enriching. Sad indeed that we have in Dr. Scofield’s notes, so many examples of merely casual and superficial interpreting, which has been the ruination of preaching for a century past.