Jewish Roots

Jewish Roots Evidence for a Futurist Interpretation of the Book of Revelation

Introduction

I am a believer in the concept of biblical patterns and double or even multiple fulfillments of prophecy. The destruction of the Temple on the 9th of Av, 586 BC and again on the 9th of Av, AD 70 evidence the pattern-like nature of God’s dealings.

Still, prophecies usually have one “more literal” fulfillment (e.g., Isaiah 7:14). So it is possible to examine a verse, see how it was fulfilled somewhat near to the prophecy, but then see a fuller fulfillment in the future. Thus the Book of Revelation can have several fulfillments, one that is past, one that is ideological and not tied to particular dates, and one that is somewhat more literal, sequential, and tied to the End Times. Thus the “Futurist” approach to Revelation is not necessarily mutually exclusive, but is, I believe, primary.

Does Jewish literature leave us an example, a clue for interpreting Revelation 4-19 in particular? Although many of us tie this period to Daniel’s 70th seven (Daniel 9:25ff), others see it otherwise. So what evidence is there—outside of the Bible proper—that suggests understanding Revelation 4-19 as an expansion and detailed account of the coming seven-year world tribulation? Glad you asked.

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Midrash & Jewish Roots: An Overlooked Bastion for the Fundamentals

Many scholars—whether non-Christians (such as David Flusser or Shmuel Safrai), Christians of a different flavor than we (such as Jacob Neusner), or evangelicals (such as Brad Young or David Bivin) have demonstrated that many NT passages are in the form of midrash: Jewish-style expositions, explanations and expansions of OT verses.

When one accepts the idea that many NT teachings are actually midrashim (the plural of midrash), the equation shifts. We are no longer trying to connect Paul to the Greek or Roman culture, neither are we interpreting him Platonically. We are asserting that much of the NT is based upon the OT—with some new revelation, yes, but not merely as much as many think. Most—of the major doctrines we believe and defend can be extracted from the OT. We are avowing that the NT writers were often such extractors.

Once we learn to interpret NT passages in conjunction with their OT origins (what I call “mother texts,”), we will find that many erroneous doctrines rescind and shrivel into non-existence. Conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists have essentially overlooked the wealth midrash brings to apologetics, hermeneutics, and theology. Midrash is a good friend to conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists, yet many of us are oblivious to it.

Most of us have already embraced the concept of midrash without knowing it. Biblical Theology—tracing the progress of doctrine from Genesis through Revelation—is a cousin to midrash. Proving the deity of Christ through Isaiah 9:6-7 is getting even closer. Interpreting the NT virgin birth teaching (Matt. 1:23 and Gal. 4:4-5) in light of Genesis 3:15 and Isaiah 7:14 is almost full-blown midrash.

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The Logos Midrash (John 1:1-4)

A New Testament midrash is a Jewish explanation, teaching, interpretation, or application of an Old Testament text. When Jesus talks about how He will be lifted just as the serpent in the wilderness was lifted up (John 3:13-17), I consider His words a midrash on Numbers 21:8-10. My book, The Midrash Key, demonstrates how we can better understand New Testament texts when we couple them with their Old Testament source texts. I could only include a few of Jesus’ many midrashim (plural) in a single book, so I have decided to supplement my book with brief articles—like this one.

Sometimes a midrash is not merely a midrash on a single Old Testament text, but, rather, on a series of scattered verses. Such is the case with John’s assertion about the pre-existence of the Messiah as the Eternal Word of God and as God Himself.

Note the background to the Concept of God’s Creative Word in John 1:1-3. The NIV reads,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

We can see that the Word was always with God (1). This takes us back to Genesis 1, where we repeatedly read, “And God said…” Most readers with any fluency in the Old Testament would make this connection.

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The New Birth Midrash

Yeshua’s* teaching about the new birth is a Midrash (explanation and application of an Old Testament text). In the text below, Jesus faults Nicodemus for not understanding the concept of the new birth already, even if he did not recognize Yeshua’s terminology. Thus the concept of new birth cannot be an original teaching of Jesus. Nor is its mysterious nature (like the wind) a new teaching.

If Jesus is teaching old material but adding a new phrase (“born again”) to describe that material, we must ask, “What verses did Yeshua draw upon?” My best guess is two passages in Ezekiel and one in 2 Samuel. Let me lay a foundation first.

The Old Testament typically uses the phrase “circumcision of the heart” to refer to regeneration (see Deuteronomy 30:6, 5:28-29 and 10:16 for the phrase or concept).

Look at the text from John 3:1-11 (NIV), verses that lead up to the well-known John 3:16:

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus, who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

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