Monday, February 15, 2010

Breaking the Apocalypse Code: Signed, Sealed, Delivered

In "Not-So-Mystery Babylon" I reviewed chapter 9 of Breaking the Apocalypse Code in which Hitchcock and Ice argue that the "great harlot" of Revelation cannot be first century apostate Jeruasalem, and must instead point literally to the Babylon of history. We discovered that the only "great city" which qualifies as the "mother of harlots" is, in fact, first century Jerusalem. The Babylon of history, however, aptly serves as the type finding its antitype in the home of apostate Judaism which rejected her Messiah and was "drunk with the blood of the saints."

As we've seen, the case presented in Breaking against preterism and in favor of dispensationalism has been flawed, frail and flimsy. In the chapters remaining to be reviewed, the authors do not so much attack preterism as much as they do particular interpretations given by Hank in his book, ones which are neither germane to the preterist eschatological model nor shared by all preterists. Therefore, preterism remains unscathed by this recent challenge leveled against it. Still, the remaining chapters deserve some attention, for while I tend to agree with many of them insofar as they are critical of Hanegraaff's views, they continue to exhibit poor exegesis concerning the timing of the biblical passages in question.


For the first five pages of this chapter, Hitchcock and Ice decry the tone and tactics Hanegraaff uses in criticizing dispensationalism on his radio show and in The Apocalypse Code. Indirect comparisons between Darby and Darwin, and between the views held by Jehovah's Witnesses and dispensationalists concerning the 144,000 of Revelation, do seem a bit unnecessarily derisive. I would stand in agreement with the authors of Breaking in saying that Hank ought to learn to express his views "with gentless and respect" (1 Peter 3:15). Moving on, Hitchcock and Ice call into question Hanegraaff's understanding of the 144,000:

"Hanegraaff says that his interpretive approach leads him to understand that the 144,000 of Revelation 7 and 14 is 'the purified bride,' or 'true Israel,' which is the church. This is a classic replacement theology interpretation whether Hanegraaff realizes it or not. He then continues to torture the biblical text by equating the 144,000 from every tribe of the sons of Israel (Rev. 7:4) with another group of believers said by the biblical text to be 'a great multitude, which no one can count from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues' (Rev 7:9). He says, 'The 144,000 and the great multitude are not two different peoples, but two different ways of describing the same purified bride.'" (p. 120)

Hank denies that he is a proponent of replacement theology, or supersecessionism. Nevertheless, I suspect one would find it difficult to identify many clear differences between his views and classic, replacement theology. But are the authors of Breaking correct when they say that Hanegraaff "torture[s] the biblical text" when he equates the 144,000 with the "great multitude?" Unfortunately, they don't address Hank's key argument:

"Literarily, the 144,000 and the great multitude are comparable to the Lion and the Lamb. Just as John is told about a Lion and turns to see a Lamb (Revelation 5:5-6), so he is told about the 144,000 and turns to see a great multitude (Revelation 7). Thus, the 144,000 are to the great multitude what the Lion is to the Lamb, namely, the same entity seen from two different vantage points." (The Apocalypse Code, p. 126)

In the rest of Hanegraaff's discourse he merely attempts to explain away the listing of the tribes and their numbers, which is only necessary when one presupposes that the 144,000 are equivalent to the bride of Christ. Therefore, much of this chapter of Breaking the Apocalypse Code would have been unnecessary had the authors merely refuted the poor exegesis Hank exhibits in this argument, for if it does not hold water, such a presupposition is unwarranted.


What happens in Revelation 5:5-6 is strikingly different than the events described in Revelation 7. In the latter case, John sees four angels and a voice says to them (not him), "Do not harm...until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads," at which point he "heard the number of those who were sealed." Thus John overhears a numbered group. In the former passage, however, John is not merely "told about" a Lion. He is addressed directly, specifically told to "behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah," and upon doing as commanded, John looks and sees a Lamb.

In fact, whenever John beholds something which he's heard, or about which he's told, he makes it clear to us that the two are one and the same. In Revelation 17:1-3 John is told, "Come here, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot," and upon looking he "saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast." In Revelation 1:10-12 John "heard behind [him] a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet," and then he "turned to see the voice that was speaking." And when John beholds a group which he first hears numbered, he tells us they are the same group: "The number of the armies of the horsemen was two hundred million; I heard the number of them. And this is how I saw in the vision the horses and those who sat on them: the riders had breastplates the color of fire..." (Revelation 9:16-17, italics mine).

John "heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand" and does not tell us that they are the same as the "great multitude which no one could count." Therefore, the two groups are two different groups. The excellent exegesis Hanegraaff exhibits elsewhere is missing from his interpretation of the 144,000 as being to the great multitude what the Lion is to the Lamb.


Though Hanegraaff elsewhere superbly illustrates the parallels between Revelation and Ezekiel, he seems to ignore those parallels here. In chapter 9 of Ezekiel, he hears God tell the destroying angels, "Draw near, O executioners of the city, each with his destroying weapon in his hand...Go through the midst of the city, even through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations which are being committed in its midst" (Ezekiel 9:1,4). God tells them, "Utterly slay old men, young men, maidens, little children, and women, but do not touch any man on whom is the mark" (Ezekiel 9:6).

Ezekiel, then, sees the destroying angels told to kill all but a sealed fraction of a larger group. The larger group is apostate Jews in Jerusalem and the temple; the sealed fraction thereof are Jews loyal to God who've recognized the abominations committed by their leadership. In the same way, John also sees the destroying angels told to kill all but a sealed fraction of a larger group. We know that the larger group is apostate Jerusalem. It stands to reason, then, that the sealed fraction thereof are Jews, specifically, who've not followed after their brethren and who have instead remained in allegiance with God.

Therefore, when John speaks of the 144,000 he has neither Gentiles nor the universal Church in mind, any more than Ezekiel did. If we recognize the parallels between them, we must acknowledge that the 144,000 are Jewish inhabitants of apostate Jerusalem who, by virtue of their allegiance with God, are sealed and delivered from God's wrath. It seems to me that Hank, and indeed many of my fellow preterists who would agree with him, are exegetically unjustified in equating them with the "great multitude" which John sees thereafter.


We see, then, that Hitchcock and Ice appear to have the exegetical upper hand when it comes to the identity of the 144,000. However, whereas the question asked by this chapter of Breaking is "Who are the 144,000 Jews?" I would instead ask, "When are the 144,000 Jews?" The authors are convinced they will appear on the scene in the future:

"Israel's calling is to be a light to the the tribulation she will make progress toward becoming that light she was set apart to be. The 144,000 Jewish men will be like having thousands of apostle Pauls out evangelizing the nations. The result will be millions of conversions to Christ among the Gentiles, even though many will have to give their lives as described in verse 9. The 144,000 Jews, like Paul, are supernaturally converted at some point after the rapture of the church." (p. 128)

As we've seen during the course of my review of Breaking the Apocalypse Code, we have very convincing reasons to believe that most of Revelation was fulfilled in the first century. But beyond those, the words of Hitchcock and Ice themselves sound suspiciously supportive of a first century fulfillment. There was, in fact, a time when there were "thousands of apostle Pauls out evangelizing the nations"--the first century. On the day of Pentecost, Peter preached to the Jews and as a result "There were added about three thousand souls" (Acts 2:36, 40-41). Peter preached again shortly thereafter at the portico of Solomon, and though he and John were arrested, "many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand" (Acts 3:11-12, 4:1-4). Not long thereafter we read that "all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number" (Acts 5:14) and "the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith" (Acts 6:7).

Were these thousands of Jewish believers "out evangelizing the nations?" At least some of them were. After it was revealed to Peter and passed on to the Church that Gentiles were to be welcomed into the faith, "some of them...came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus...and a large number who believed turned to the Lord" (Acts 11:18-21). In response Barnabas was sent, too, to Antioch, "and considerable numbers were brought to the Lord" (Acts 11:22-24). Yes, Jewish Christians were "evangelizing the nations."

At Pisidian Antioch, Paul and Barnabas, citing Israel's calling as a light to the nations, turn to the Gentiles who "began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was being spread through the whole region" (Acts 13:48-49). Now, Paul and the other apostles were martyred prior to the destruction of Jerusalem and thus would not have been among the 144,000 sealed. However, it is unlikely that they were the only Jews witnessing to Gentiles. Why was the gospel "being spread through the whole region?" Because believing Jews, faithful to their calling, were "evangelizing the nations."


An additional clue hints at a first century identify for the 144,000 Jews. We are told they "have not been defiled with women, for they have kept themselves chaste" (Revelation 14:4). David Guzik notes that,

"Many take the virginity of the 144,000 as simply a symbol of their general purity (as in 2 Corinthians 11:2). But Paul recommended celibacy in distressing times (1 Corinthians 7:25-35), and Jesus spoke of woes upon those with children and families in that day (Matthew 24:19-21). It isn’t hard to see that God would specially call 144,000 to a literal celibacy for the kingdom’s sake during the time of the great tribulation."

Indeed, but these passages point strongly to a first century group of Jews. Paul doesn't just recommend celibacy in distressing times, he recommends celibacy in HIS time! He writes, "I think then that this is good in view of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is (1 Corinthians 7:26, emphasis mine). And why does Paul suggest that single men remain as such? Because they would "be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord" (1 Corinthians 7:32). The 144,000 Jews who had "kept themselves chaste" would have been uniquely suited for the work of evangelism, for their interests would not have been divided (1 Corinthians 7:34).

The "great tribulation" Jesus spoke about, which would be more difficult for "those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies," was to take place before His generation had passed away. In fact, pregnancy and young children are unlikely to present as much of a difficulty to people in modern times as they would have in the first century. In a time of wheelchairs, automobiles and strollers, transporting pregnant wives and their babies to safety is not nearly as problematic as it would have been for husbands of pregnant wives and fathers of infants escaping the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. As Dee Dee Warren writes,

"note the difficulties of flight for those who are pregnant. While yes today pregnancy can be difficult, it is nothing compared to the ancient world. Flight for a pregnant women would be on donkey or on foot, truly a woe! Today it would be by jetliner or vehicle, nothing to warrant this special warning." (It's Not the End of the World!)

Likewise, in a time of baby bottles, breast pumps and even artificial milk-based formula, feeding infants would not terribly hinder a quick escape; but the first century mother of a young baby would likely find it difficult to be fleet of foot while nursing hungry babies. And this, of course, translates to difficulty for the husband and father. For all these reasons, if the chastity attributed to the 144,000 is to be taken literally--and it seems perfectly reasonable that it is--then we have all the more reason to believe they were first century Jewish men, unmarried and thus free to fully serve the Lord, sealed and delivered from destruction.


In the years following Christ's ascension into heaven, the Church was growing and spreading rapidly, and multiplied thousands of the converts were Jews. It is not inconceivable that by AD 70 there were 144,000 Jewish believers in Christ. The question is, were they sealed in the manner overheard by John and delivered from the destruction of Jerusalem? History records that of the millions of Jews assembled at Jerusalem for Passover, the Jewish Christians recognized Jerusalem's impending doom and escaped, while those who remained faced God's wrath. This sounds to me exactly like the sealing described for John.

Hitchcock and Ice conclude this chapter saying, "Hanegraaff's interpretive approach clouds and obfuscates the intended meaning of the text" (p. 129). Based on my exegesis of the text, I agree. However, the authors of Breaking are equally in error; whereas Hanegraaff misidentifies the 144,000 Jews as the universal Church, Hitchcock and Ice misdate them. They are not Jews sealed during a future tribulation, "supernaturally converted at some point after the rapture of the church." They were first century Jews, faithful and devoted to God, sealed and delivered from the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.

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