UNDERSTANDING THE WORD ‘EVERLASTING’ WHEN USED IN PROPHETIC PASSAGES
One thing that is important to keep foremost in mind when interpreting prophecy is that it should always be read in the light of the New Testament. In others words, one cannot assume that a literal reading of prophetic texts is what God actually meant to say by them. This is exactly the method that the Pharisees and scribes of Jesus’ day followed, and its results were devastating! They looked for an earthly kingdom full of pomp and splendor similar to what Israel had once possessed under the reign of Solomon. Why did they do this? The answer is simple. They looked at the prophetic passages and understood them as referring to an earthly kingdom and therefore interpreted them literally. This was the methodology followed in the Talmudic schools, and the popular view of the day—and they were ALL WRONG!
For example, consider the crowd’s response to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem:
"And those who went before and those who followed after, were crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Blessed is the COMING KINGDOM of our father David; Hosanna in the highest!" (Mark 11: 9-10)
What happened here? The crowds assumed that Jesus of Nazareth would now take His place as the rightful heir of David by vanquishing their Roman enemies and restoring Israel to its former earthly glory. They could not have been more mistaken. Jesus had already told them that "the kingdom of God was already among them" (Luke 17:21). He had plainly told Pilate that His kingdom was NOT OF THIS WORLD" (John 18:36). Yet, in spite of this, they continued to cling to their Zionistic dreams of an earthly kingdom. It was not to be.
The point I am making here is quite simple, but extremely important. Prophecy is not meant to be interpreted in the same manner as didactic portions of Scripture. Hidden among the literal meaning is the true, spiritual meaning and the true manner of fulfillment. For instance, we are CLEARLY told in the Exodus passage concerning the institution of the Passover that it was meant to be an "EVERLASTING ORDINANCE"(Exodus 12:14 – see particularly the side note NASV). "Keep it a feast by an ordinance FOREVER" (KJV). "You shall keep it as a feast by an EVERLASTING ORDINANCE" (NKJV). Now, even the most ardent premillenial dispensationalist will admit that the Passover feast is no longer to be kept, as it was a feast designed to commemorate Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. Nonetheless, the Scriptures call it an everlasting ordinance. How can this be? The apostle Paul gives us the answer in his first letter to the Corinthians:
"Clean out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. ForCHRIST OUR PASSOVER also has been sacrificed. Let US therefore CELEBRATE THE FEAST, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." (1 Cor 5: 7-8)
Note how easily Paul adapts the entire institution of the Passover to the New Covenant church comprised of both Jew and Gentile. He categorically states that the CHURCH IS TO CELEBRATE THE FEAST! But where, pray tell, is any mention of the church celebrating the actual feast to be found in the New Testament? For that matter, where do the apostles command the church to eat the bitter herbs and sweep their house of unleavened bread? The simple truth is that they do not. Yet the church keeps the feast nonetheless. How is that? Simple - The feast has its everlasting fulfillment IN CHRIST! It passes out of the temporal realm and into Christ, and that is the manner in which it receives its EVERLASTING FULFILLMENT. All the elements associated with it (bitter herbs, unleavened bread, etc.) are given a higher and an enduring meaning.
The same thing can be said for the covenant of the priesthood made with Phinehas in Numbers 25:
"Behold I give unto him my covenant of peace: and he shall have it, and his seed after him, even the covenant of an EVERLASTING PRIESTHOOD; because he was zealous for his God, and he made atonement for the children of Israel." (Number 25: 12-13)
Phinehas and his seed came to possess the priesthood forever according to
this prophecy. Yet in the realm of the natural, this is simply IMPOSSIBLE. Why?
Because ALL THE GENEALOGICAL RECORDS OF ISRAEL were destroyed in the temple in
70AD. There is no longer any method of determining just who are the seed of
Phinehas. Yet Phinehas’ seed are to possess the priesthood forever. Does this
mean that they will possess the priesthood even after the order of the
priesthood changes and becomes one of the Melchizedec order and no longer the
Aaronic order? This would imply that there are to be TWO DIFFERENT ORDERS of the
priesthood in the future—one Aaronic, the other Melchizedec. Where is this
taught in the Scriptures? The simple answer is that it is not. The order of
Melchizedec SUPERCEDES the order of Aaron:
"Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people received the law), what further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designated according to the order of Aaron? For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also… And this is clearer still, if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek who has become such not on the basis of a law of physical requirement, but according to the power of an indestructible life. For it is witnessed of Him, ‘Thou are a
Simply put, the promise made to Phinehas was not made primarily with him in mind, but rather as he was a type of Christ. Phinehas’ zeal for God was the reason he and his seed were granted the priesthood. In this zeal, he is an example of the true Priest, the one who was full of zeal for God—none other than the Lord Christ Himself:
"Zeal for thy house has consumed Me." (John 2: 17)
"But I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who will do according to what is in My heart and in My soul; and I will build Him an ENDURING HOUSE…" (1Sam 2: 35)
It is Christ and His seed who now have the priesthood forever:
"But you are a chosen race,A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD…" (1Peter 2: 9)
This promise relates specifically to the church. The divinely inspired apostle Peter shows us the proper method of interpreting it. Notice that the church is now like her husband, Christ. He is a royal priest, a priest who sits on a throne, unlike the Aaronic and/or Levitical order whose members were distinct from the royal line. We, the church (seed of Christ), are thus royal priests. This is the manner in which the promise is fulfilled.
As a matter of fact, one can see that the earthly line of Phinehas corrupted the priesthood:
"And now this commandment is for you,O priests. ‘If you do not listen, and if you do not take it to heart to give honor to My name,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘then I will send the curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings; and indeed, I have cursed them already, because you are not taking it to heart. Behold I am going to rebuke your SEED, and I will spread vomit on your faces, the vomit of your feasts; and you will be taken away with it. Then you will know that I have sent this commandment to you, that My covenant may continue with Levi,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘My covenant with him was life and peace, and I gave them to him as an object of reverence; so he revered Me and stood in awe of My name. True instruction was in his mouth, and unrighteousness was not found on his lips; he walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many back from iniquity. But as for you, you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by the instruction; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi,’ says the Lord of hosts." (Mal 2: 1-8)
Phinehas was of the line of Levi—the only line from which priests could come. As a reward for his zeal, God had given him and his seed the priesthood. By iniquity and perverseness, however, his seed forfeited that covenant. Had they listened to the instruction, the covenant would have continued as per above—but they did not.
"Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites. " (Neh 13: 29)
As a result of their iniquity, the covenant would be disannulled by God (Zech 11: 10).
Thus, the promise to Phinehas and his seed, while coming to an end in the natural, goes on eternally in Christ and His seed. The Aaronic priesthood under the law was only of value as it prefigured the priesthood of Christ and His atoning and intercessory work. Now that Christ has come, it no longer serves any purpose.
This same principle can be applied to God’s promise in granting the land of Palestine to Abraham and his seed forever.
"And the Lord said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, ‘Lift up thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward. For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever.’" (Gen 13: 14-15)
"And I will establish My covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an EVERLASTING COVENANT, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an EVERLASTING POSSESSION; and I will be their God." (Gen 17: 7-8)
Now, it is important to keep in mind the above established principle if this is to receive a proper understanding. The earthly, natural promise may indeed be broken or disannulled, yet still be said to be ‘everlasting’ or ‘eternal’ since it finds its true fulfillment in Christ and that which He has obtained by His redemptive work.
The land promise, being the same in nature as the other ‘types’ of the Old Testament, is merely a symbol of a greater, spiritual reality. The land of Palestine was referred to as ‘an inheritance.’
"…that I should not enter the good land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance." (Deut 4: 21)
As such, it is ‘typical’ of the true, lasting, eternal inheritance, which Christ has purchased for the people of God.
"…delivering you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, in order that they may receive the forgiveness of sins andAN INHERITANCE among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me." (Acts 26: 17-18)
Unlike the typical earthly inheritance, which could be corrupted and defiled, this inheritance is incapable of being defiled.
"…to obtain AN INHERITANCE which is incorruptible and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you." (1 Peter 1: 4)
The earthly inheritance of Canaan had been corrupted and defiled:
"And I brought you into the fruitful land, to eat its fruit and its good things. But you came andDEFILED my land, and MY INHERITANCE you made AN ABOMINATION." (Jer 2: 7)
God had specifically warned the children of Israel that should they embark on a course of willful rebellion and perverseness like the nations around them, they would SUFFER THE EXACT SAME FATE THOSE NATIONS HAD SUFFERED!
"Do not defile yourselves by any of these things; for by all these the nations which I am casting out before you have become defiled. For the land has become defiled, therefore I have visited its punishment upon it, so the land has spewed out its inhabitants. But as for you, you are to keep My statutes and My judgments, and shall not do any of these abominations, neither the native, nor the alien who sojourns among you (for the men of the land who have been before you have done all these abominations, and the land has become defiled);so that the land may not spew you out, should you defile it, as it has spewed out the nation which has been before you." (Lev 18: 24-28)
This is precisely what happened to the children of Israel when they were swept away by the Babylonians and then the Romans in 70AD. It should be said here that the very reason they disregarded all the warnings of the prophets was their flawed understanding of the land grant. They had been expressly warned in no uncertain terms that should they continue in their willful apostasy and idolatry, they would be carried captive out of the land. Most of them remained scoffers until the very moment of the invasions and the subsequent havoc and devastation was unleashed upon them. They continued in their misguided notion that their stay in the land was UNCONDITIONAL and EVERLASTING.
One more thing—this earthly inheritance was also destined to fade away. Notice from Peter’s text the phrase, ‘and will not fade away.’ This is a direct reference contrasting the heavenly inheritance, which would not fade away, with the earthly inheritance of Canaan, which was indeed destined to "fade away."
"In that he saith, a new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away." (Hebrews 8:13)
The entire Old Covenant and all that was associated with it, including the land of Canaan, were thus merely ‘types’ used to shadow forth greater realities. Once they served their purpose, there would no longer be any need for them. They would simply ‘fade away.’ Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey, serves to illustrate the magnificent provision and sheer abundance that God has provided for His sons and daughters in the heavenly inheritance that Christ has purchased for them. It has no value other than that:
"And for this cause he is the mediator of a new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receivethe PROMISE OF ETERNAL INHERITANCE." (Heb 9: 15)
This is the true and splendid grant, which God has for all who belong to Him. It is not a mere piece of earthly real estate, but an eternal inheritance in which God will be all in all! Thus the earthly, which is promised as an everlasting possession, fades away into the greater reality—theETERNAL. And in this manner is the promise made good, certain and sure.
One must merely look to the book of Hebrews, where the earthly is contrasted with the heavenly, to see exactly what it was that Abraham himself understood concerning the promise given to him and his seed. After all, if anyone understood the promise, it would have been him to whom it was made!
"By faith Abraham when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to RECEIVE FOR AN INHERITANCE; and he went out not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in THE LAND OF PROMISE, as in a FOREIGN LAND, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, FELLOW HEIRS of the SAME PROMISE; for he was looking for a city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God." (Hebrews 11:8-10)
Notice that Abraham knew he was to be given an inheritance. Yet he lived in a tent while in that very same inheritance, showing that he was not interested in the land at all. As a matter of fact the only piece of this land that Abraham possessed for himself was that which he purchased to bury his beloved wife, Sarah. That in itself should be instructional. While in this very land that God had promised him and his seed, he dwelt as a STRANGER or FOREIGNER! In other words, the land itself was not what Abraham valued, but rather only what it represented; the city whose builder and maker was God; the heavenly inheritance.
"All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from afar, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own…But as it is, theydesire a better country, that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them." (Hebrews 11: 13-16)
There you have it. A close examination of these verses reveals that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all received the same promise (v. 9). We know that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all lived in the land in tents by which they proved themselves to be strangers and exiles on this earth (v. 9). Clearly they revealed that what they were looking for was something far greater than merely the geographical land mass known as Palestine (v. 10). The Scriptures state that they ‘confessed themselves to be strangers and exiles on the earth.’ What, then, were they looking for? How did they understand the promise that God had given to Abraham, renewed to Isaac, and renewed again to Jacob? The answer comes to us in verse 16. They were looking for a ‘HEAVENLY COUNTRY,’ the same CITY that Abraham was looking for in verse 10, whose builder and maker is God.
Notice not one word is said of earthly Canaan. Surely if the earthly land of promise were of any significance, this would have been the proper time to state that and make it explicitly clear. Keep in mind that this letter was originally written to the "Hebrews" who had been converted to Christ. Were these not the seed of Abraham? Surely they would be familiar with the promise. Why, then, did the inspired apostle fail to record a single word reminding them of some future time period in which they would receive the earthly land grant of Palestine? The answer is that the everlasting possession God had promised Abraham was none other than the city whose builder and maker was God. And that everlasting possession, that eternal inheritance, was purchased by His Son.
As a matter of act, one can look throughout the entirety of the New Testament Scriptures in vain for ANY MENTION of an earthly land grant being made good to the natural descendants of Abraham. It is simply not there! The idea that somehow natural Israel after the flesh must yet live in and possess the earthly land of Palestine hasABSOLUTELY NO NEW TESTAMENT countenance whatsoever. That alone should send up warning flags among those who are discerning. Tragically, it is a Jewish myth that has been woven into modern church doctrine by well meaning but misinformed dispensationalists who are making the exact same error that the scribes and Pharisees of Paul’s day made when it came to interpreting the promises.
The great blessing that God promised to Abraham was not the land of Palestine, but rather the forgiveness of sins and the imputation of righteousness based solely on the redemptive work of Christ—the coming Seed of the woman who would, by his redemptive work, entitle himself and all his seed (by faith) to a HEAVENLY INHERITANCE. This is precisely the point Paul is arguing in his letter to the Galatians.
Moreover, the promise to Abraham spoke of far more than a small segment of real estate in the mid East. It was the entire world:
"For the promise to Abraham or to his seed that he would beheir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith." (Romans 4: 13)
Where is that mentioned anywhere in the text in Genesis? It is not! But the inspired apostle tells us that Abraham was to be heir of the world. Now how could Abraham be HEIR to the world? There is only one way described in the New Testament.
"And if you belong to Christ, then you areABRAHAM’S SEED and HEIRS according to the promise." (Gal 3: 29)
"The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children,HEIRS also, HEIRS OF GOD, and fellow HEIRS WITH CHRIST…" (Romans 8: 16-17)
"So then let no one boast in men. ForALL THINGS BELONG TO YOU, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or THE WORLD or life or death or things present or THINGS TO COME; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God." (1 Cor 3: 21-23)
As a reward of His obedience unto death, God has bequeathed all that He has to His Beloved Son. Christ is the heir of God and owner of all things! If we are in Him by faith, then all that Christ possesses belongs to us as well. That is simply astounding!
I know not what manner of consolation they can obtain who look for a mere piece of land as their hope. The entire universe now belongs to the saints of God; for they are in Christ and all belongs to Him! He is their fellow brother and companion who earned it by His mighty work. That is abundance indeed! This is what Paul refers to in his letter to the Colossians as:
"The inheritance of the saints in light." (Col 1: 12)
This is none other than the NEW HEAVENS AND THE NEW EARTH in which righteousness dwells.
This is the promise made to Abraham and to his seed. (More on whom the seed of Abraham really is later)
TO BE CONTINUED
January 28, 2002
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