By Christopher VanDusen
How are we to understand prophecy in the Bible? Are we supposed to assume that every detail in a prophecy is a literal description of something, or is there another way? In New Covenant Theology & Prophecy (published by New Covenant Media in 2012), former pastor and evangelist, and beloved author and Bible teacher John G. Reisinger answers these questions.
God’s Promises for Abraham are Fulfilled Spiritually in the New Testament
In the first chapter, Reisinger states the main purpose of his book. He’s coming from what he calls a “millennial agnostic” position, since he’s unconvinced of any of the various views regarding “the millennium”, or “thousand year kingdom”. Thus, his purpose isn’t to prove a view that he already holds, but to examine the underlying methods of interpretation of some of them — namely Dispensational Premillennialism (which posits that there’s a literal thousand year reign of Christ over Israel) and Amillennialism (which holds that the thousand year reign of Christ is spiritual in nature, and not literally 1,000 years long).
Therefore, he begins by summarizing the three views of the millennium. Then, he explains that the only biblical passage in which a thousand year kingdom is described is in Revelation 20:1-9. Hence, he proposes that the best way to begin to examine the issue of biblical prophecy is to focus on the “kingdom” promises found in the Old Testament (hereafter OT).
In order to understand how God’s promises to His people to give them a part in some sort of kingdom are fulfilled, Reisinger looks at God’s promise to Abraham to give him and his descendants land. He first looks at how the OT describes the fulfillment of this promise in Joshua 21:43-45, which says,
“43 Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. 44 And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands. 45 Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.” (ESV)
Reisinger points out that this passage clearly says that all of God’s promises to Israel were fulfilled when they finished their conquest of the Promised Land. However, he also points out that the Old Testament continues to refer to the promise of land after the Book of Joshua.
This leads him to turn to the New Testament (hereafter NT) to see how its writers describe the fulfillment of this land promise. Specifically, he analyzes Hebrews 11:8-10, which says,
“8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” (ESV)
Again, Reisinger explains that this passage describes Abraham as “looking forward”, not to possession of a physical land, but to inhabiting a divinely created “city”. Hence, this passage, among others, such as Romans 4:13, teach that God’s promise to give Abraham’s descendants land is fulfilled spiritually in the New Testament, and show that Abraham himself understood that this would be the case.
God’s Promises for David are Fulfilled Spiritually in the NT
In his second chapter, Reisinger next turns to God’s promises made to David. He first reviews his method of studying such OT promises — read the prophecies, ask questions about them, and try to answer those questions by searching the NT for its answers to them. Thus, he first lists God’s promises made to David and one of his descendants. These include “a house”, “a temple”, and “an eternal kingdom”. Then, after asking the questions he wants to answer, he turns to the NT’s interpretation of these promises.
In particular, Reisinger focuses on the apostle Peter’s interpretation of this prophecy in Acts 2. In this passage, he explicitly says that David himself understood that God’s promise to him of a descendant with an eternal kingdom referred to Christ. This is found in Acts 2:30-31:
“30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.” (ESV)
Reisinger points out that David understood the establishment of the “eternal kingdom” as referring to Christ’s resurrection. Hence, the fulfillment of that kingdom at least began to be fulfilled when Christ rose from the dead.
The Thousand Year Binding of Satan in Revelation 20:1-9
Having shown how the NT interprets OT prophecy, Reisinger uses chapter three to consider how Satan’s binding in Rev. 20:1-9 should be understood. In this study, he specifically focuses on the three time frames found in this passage. First, Satan is unbound and deceives the nations. Then, he’s bound and is unable to deceive them. Finally, he’s released, and again deceives the nations.
In seeking to interpret these three time frames, Reisinger explains how both the Old and New Testaments describe Satan’s deception of the nations. Then, he presents multiple NT passages that refer to the binding of Satan. All of these show that Satan was bound through Christ’s coming and death on the cross.
After looking at the biblical data about Satan’s binding, Reisinger then shows how understanding the thousand years in Rev. 20 as literal time can lead to contradictions with what’s actually happened in history (assuming one interprets the three time frames in a certain way). He also applies this literal interpretation to both Psalm 22 and Isaiah 11. In the first passage, adherents of the literal principle interpret animals as referring to people, and in the second, they interpret descriptions of animals as literal animals. He points out that there’s no good reason from the contexts of those two passage, and from the literal method, to interpret them differently.
Finally, Reisinger closes this chapter by defining the literal method of interpretation that he’s been examining. It assumes that every word is to be understood in its normal sense, unless the context of the passage forces one to conclude that a word must be understood figuratively.
Applying the Two Hermeneutics (Methods of Interpretation) to Revelation 20:1-8
In his fourth chapter, Reisinger again analyzes the “millennium” passage in Revelation. This time, he looks at each of the details in verses 1-8, and applies the consistently literalistic hermeneutic to them. When he does this, he shows that such an interpretation is simply impossible, since it forces clearly symbolic details to be understood as literal things. For example, Satan clearly can’t be literally bound with physical objects, since he’s a spiritual (or non-physical) creature.
Then, Reisinger seeks to understand whether or not the thousand years in the passage should be understood literally or figuratively. In order to do this, he presents numerous passages from both the OT and the NT that use the phrase “thousand” or “thousands”. What he finds is that in most cases, “thousand” refers to a large, but indefinite, number of something. In other words, it doesn’t literally mean “1,000”. Hence, he concludes that, while this doesn’t prove that the “thousand years” in Rev. 20 are symbolic, it does prove that this is a possible interpretation that is consistent with the Bible. I, for one, would argue that the “thousand years” in this passage is clearly symbolic for a long, unspecified, period of time, since nearly every other detail in the passage is symbolic; its found in a book that’s written in an apocalyptic style; and the word “thousand” is clearly used by multiple biblical authors in this way.
After applying both hermeneutics to the various details of this passage, Reisinger next elaborates on the meaning of the binding of Satan. He explains why it’s consistent with biblical teaching to see the coming and death of Jesus as preventing Satan from deceiving the nations.
Lastly, Reisinger shows, largely from the Gospel of John, that the first and second resurrections in Rev. 20 refer to two types of resurrections. The first one is spiritual resurrection from spiritual death — that is, being born again. The second is physical resurrection from the dead.
Is the Dispensational Hermeneutic Consistent with that of the NT?
In the fifth chapter, Reisinger tackles the question of whether the interpretive method of Dispensationalism (DT) can be reconciled with the hermeneutic employed by the writers of the NT. However, he frames the discussion in terms of the study of New Covenant Theology (NCT), which is a theological perspective that always seeks to interpret the OT with the NT. Thus, he asks whether it’s possible to hold to the Dispensational (or literalistic) hermeneutic, and also hold to NCT.
In order to answer that question, he goes to a passage that he’s already covered briefly in the book — Ezekiel 40-48. This passage describes a future Jewish temple in great detail. Reisinger quotes two DT commentators — one being the well-known Charles Scofield — to show how they interpret this passage. Although they both take most of the passage to be describing a literal temple that will exist during a literal, earthly, millennial kingdom, they differ on how they interpret the animal sacrifices that are prescribed.
After examining the DT view of Eze. 40-48, Reisinger shows from the NT that a literalistic interpretation of the passage contradicts clear NT teaching about the fulfillment of OT institutions, namely animal sacrifices and the temple. Now that Christ has come, the church is God’s temple, and Christ’s sacrifice has fulfilled all of the sacrifices found in the OT. I would add that the NT also teaches that Christians themselves offer up sacrifices, including their bodies and praise (see Romans 12:1 for example).
To close this chapter, Reisinger offers concluding remarks, in which he points out that the hermeneutic of NCT contradicts the hermeneutic of DT. This is because NCT seeks to interpret the OT based on clear NT teaching, while DT seeks to interpret all passages literalistically, leading to a neglect of the NT when interpreting the OT.
The NT Interprets the OT
In the last chapter, Reisinger demonstrates from a few NT passages that the NT provides the infallible interpretation of OT prophecy. First, he shows from 1 Corinthians and Hebrews that the new covenant the Lord promised for Israel in Jeremiah 31 is fulfilled in the church. Therefore, the “Israel” with which the Lord made this covenant is really the church. Second, Reisinger shows from Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 that all of the prophecy about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Joel 2 was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost.
If one takes Peter’s words at face value, this is clear enough. In Acts 2:15-21, Peter says,
15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:
17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
18 even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
20 the sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
21 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’” (ESV)
Reisinger points out that Peter says “this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel” (italics mine), and then proceeds to quote what was uttered by Joel. While many maintain that the miraculous signs in the prophecy refer to the time immediately before the Second Coming, Reisinger isn’t one of them. Instead, he uses this point to press home the insistence of NCT that we must accept the NT’s interpretation of the OT, rather than allow our presuppositions to force us to misunderstand clear words.
Writing Quality and Value
As Reisinger usually does, he writes in a way that is clear and straightforward in this book, so it’s easy to understand. His handling of Scripture is very good, and he also interacts well with opposing views. Also, this book is very short, so it can be read in a few hours.
If you don’t understand how to interpret prophecy in the Bible, then I heartily recommend you get this book. It’s available on Amazon in paperback for about $13 (US), and for about $6 on Kindle.
Speaking of prophecy, the next most significant event in biblical prophecy is the Second Coming of Christ, so are you ready? If you aren’t trusting in Christ as your King and Savior, then you’re in rebellion against Him, and He will judge you and punish you for your crimes by sending you to hell. God sent Him to die for our sins, rise from the dead, and go into heaven as our King. He now commands everyone to change their minds and trust in Christ alone as their King and Substitute to have His forgiveness and peace. Please make sure you’ve done that, and that you have perfect peace with God because of Christ alone.
All Scripture quotations taken from:
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.