Saturday, June 06, 2009


G.K. BEALE – “The Temple and the Church’s Mission”
(Part 1)

Dr. Beale is Professor of New Testament, Biblical Theological Studies at Wheaton College. He is also the author of an amazing book called “The Temple and the Church’s Mission”.

As I’ve been researching the New Testament Church a friend recommended the book and it has proven to be a goldmine of great insight for me.

I was honored to have Dr. Beale agree to a phone interview a few months ago. Here is part one of a transcript of that conversation.

Keith: What is the main thesis of your book and what lead you to write about this subject?

Dr. Beale: The motivation was really from a commentary I wrote on the Greek text of Revelations for the New International Greek Testament Commentary series. As I was near the end of finishing the book I was looking at the last vision from the book of Revelation and as I finished studying that section I saw that John said, “I saw the new heavens and the new earth and the old heavens and earth have passed away and were no more and there was no more any sea” and the rest of the vision doesn’t appear to talk about a new creation. It speaks of what’s envisioned as a city in the shape of the Holy of Holies that is garden-like.

The way to simply solve this is that John sees this vision of the new heavens and the new earth and then he focuses in on a particular location which is the New Jerusalem, or the city itself, shaped like the Holy of Holies that is garden-like. That’s one possible understanding. But, in fact, from a number of considerations exegetically from chapters 21 and 22 of Revelation it is apparent that the reason John doesn’t go on to describe the undulating valleys and rivers is because in fact he is equating the new heavens and the new earth with the City, the new Jerusalem.

So, then the question arises once we are convinced of that, is “Why is that?” I mean, it’s very odd. You can maybe picture a Star Trek episode where they find a planet that is square and is garden-like but it’s a very weird picture. So, in the commentary I actually had a two page explanation of what I thought was going on. Of course, part of the solution is to see that the Garden of Eden was a temple of God’s presence and Adam was the first priest and he should have faithfully spread the boundaries of God’s presence until the Garden covered the entire earth. Of course, that immediately answers the question of why the new heavens and the new earth is equated with a garden (in Revelation). Because now Eden has now finally become co-equal with the New Heavens and the New Earth.

In terms of the city, the book traces the idea that the expansion of the end-times temple, prophetically, reveals that the Holy of Holies is first to expand to cover the city, then the land of Israel and then the whole world. So, the idea is that at some point the Temple and the City become one.

At any rate, the book is a 450 page expansion of that first two-page excursis. It just felt to me like an important enough topic to warrant further study and illumination.

Keith: As you began to go through the Old Testament prophecies concerning the End Times Temple you started to connect all these same dots. You point out that God refers to the Temple as being a garden, a temple, and a mountain almost interchangeably.

Dr.Beale: For example, the reason that many haven’t seen that Eden is a temple is that the word isn’t used (in Genesis) to describe it. But, one wants to be careful of making the word/concept confusion. Certainly the Bible, for example talks about the concept of new creation without using the actual phrase “new creation”. It talks about eschatology without using the phrase “latter days” or “end times”. It’s the same with the Temple. You can go too far the other way and just be too wild and just claim the concept is there even though the concept, in reality, isn’t there. You have to be very careful.

Keith: Right. How did you avoid this pitfall?

Dr. Beale: One of the ways was to trace these various themes, in this case the Temple, to demonstrate that Eden is a sanctuary of God, hence a Temple, and then begin to see how the Old Testament itself literarily develops by allusion the references to Eden and the Temple. From the Patriarchs to the Sanctuary to the Temple in Israel, as well as the Tabernacle before the Temple, and on into the New Testament and Revelation. There are a lot of what I call intertextual trails and trajectories that can actually be traced literarily. I think that’s one of the areas that much more work in Biblical Theology can be done. It’s not just tracing concepts and themes, because that can get very subjective, but you can begin to see how themes trace literarily and textually. I’ve just written another book using this same method called, “We Become Like What We Worship” which is subtitled “A Biblical Theology in Idolatry”.

So, at any rate, that’s basically what I did in my book.

Keith: Let me ask you, especially with current events today, it’s nothing really new but ever since I’ve been alive there have been waves of End Times extremism. Books like “The Late, Great Planet Earth” and films like “Thief in the Night” and more recently, “The Left Behind Series”, tend to take a very unique view on the rapture and the return of Christ. My whole life I’ve been told how to read scripture and understand the End Times prophecies and story. Especially today as we look at Israel and Gaza and turmoil in the Middle East, what are we to believe? Taking into account the things you’ve studied, is it true that any day now we should expect to see the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem in order to fulfill the prophetic, end times prophecies?

Dr. Beale: I think that, first of all, there are two main groups of Christians in the United States, speaking very generally. One group is very pro-Israeli, basing their stance on the notion that what happened in 1948 with the creation of the Jewish nation is the beginning of the fulfillment of the restoration of Israel and that it will be climaxed in the dispensational scenario with the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple and so on.

The other group of Christians would be very much against that and would attempt to argue from the Bible, in some cases well, that there is really no legitimacy for what Israel is doing. I can understand that from the perspective that Israel has all the armament and the Arabs have none, and that sort of thing.

So, I think those are two extreme views. Now, in terms of attempting to support Israel because what’s happening now is the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy and the restoration of Israel and waiting for the temple to be rebuilt I just don’t think scripture supports that. So, I wouldn’t support any political, pro-Israeli position on the basis of what the Bible says. I think Israel was not faithful and disobeyed and I think God raised up a true Israel. I think that Jesus is true Israel, which he is actually in Isaiah 49:3, “You’re my servant Israel,” it’s one of the servant songs which is developed most famously in Isaiah 53. But Jesus is actually called “Israel” and is actually referenced in Luke 1:2 and Acts 13. Isaiah 49:8 is referenced in 2 Corinthians 6:2 and following as either applying to Christ, or even more intriguingly to Paul and the rest of the church as being identified as true Israel, being a light to the nations. When the New Testament says that Jesus is the seed of Abraham this is another way of saying that Jesus is true Israel in Galatians 3.

I can go on if you want me to, but the point is that Jesus is true Israel, he is the apple of God’s eye, not any particular ethnic nation including Israel in the land. So, the promises as 2 Corinthians chapter 1 says, “as many as may be the promises of God, (the eschatological promises), are yes in Him.” They’re inaugurated, but not consummated, in Jesus. He’s the locus, not any particular ethnic nation.

Keith: Can I just interject that to me, one of the most powerful verses along those lines is where Jesus talks about how God could raise up sons of Abraham from the stones of the ground and that the true son of Abraham is the one who does the will of the Father. It doesn’t matter then if you are born of Abraham’s seed physically, ethnically, or not.

Dr. Beale: Right. I mean, Jesus brothers and sisters and mother are outside calling for him and he says, “Who is my mother and my brother and my sister except those who do the will of God?” Romans chapter 2 says that the true Jews were the ones who were circumcised spiritually and not physically and has in mind even Gentiles there.

For myself, I think that Jesus is the true Israel, and what that means actually is that you have prophecies of the restoration of Israel that are applied to Jesus and the Church. The Dispensationalists just take these as analogies, but in fact I think it’s more probable that these are beginning fulfillments. So the restoration of Israel began, not in 1948, but in Jesus and His Church, and I think this can be demonstrated exegetically.

So, I do believe that whatever we’re seeing in the Nation of Israel today is part of God’s plan. It’s part of His decretive plan. If a bird falls from heaven it doesn’t fall apart from God, but the bird isn’t prophesied to fall from heaven. So, likewise I think that what’s going on in the middle east today and in Israel isn’t prophesied but it’s part of God’s plan but it’s the wrong direction to go.

With regard to the Temple, again, (and I think I might use this illustration in the book), but it reminds me of when I was doing doctoral studies in Cambridge and I had a picture of the girl I ended up marrying on the desk. I would get her letters from back home in the States and I might have hugged and kissed her picture, who knows, I don’t remember. But certainly I looked endearingly at it. But now that we’ve been married thirty years if I were to spend every evening in our den continuing to stare at her picture when she is right there in the room then there is something wrong. She’d probably call our pastor to come over and counsel me.

The point is, the substance is here with my wife. I no longer need the picture. Christ is the true Israel. He is the true Temple. So, to look longingly at the picture of a physical temple is to make the same mistake. The substance is here. In fact, Hebrews chapter 9 uses the word parable, in verses 8 and 9, to refer to the physical Temple. The physical, Old Testament Temple is not the literal Temple, it’s the illustrative Temple. The Temple that Jesus has begun to establish is called the “True Temple”. So, to look at the picture is not to see the substance that is already here. I think to expect something in the future is to try to put the progress of redemptive history into reverse while you’re going seventy miles an hour.

Keith: That sounds like it could be very dangerous. (laughs) Now that I begin to see these things in a different light it makes me stop and question so much of what I have been told to expect in terms of signs and prophetic expectation. I believe that Christ will return but now the signs and the conditions of that return seem to be up in the air.

Dr. Beale: That’s why he says he’s coming like a thief. Yet I think there are some signs but I don’t think we’ll know definitively until after he comes. So, we should always be alert.

Keith: Right.

Dr. Beale: I, like you, believe that there is a final, personal coming of Christ. I think that there’s going to be a final, actual, literal anti-Christ, but I think that anti-Christ is also already here. All the prophecies of the Old Testament have begun fulfillment but not consummated.

Keith: I think I agree because the danger is when we read something like Revelation or other eschatological books or prophetic verses and, I believe they’re written, almost on purpose if you will, in a cryptic way. That it’s not so much for the purpose of allowing us to predict what’s going to happen in advance, but that it’s more so for the benefit of those who are living at the time when it is being fulfilled to say, “Oh, this is what’s happening now,” or even after the fact to look and see that God knew it would happen and He told us it was going to happen and we have the benefit of hindsight, if you will. He’s enlightened us by His Word but, I believe, more to comfort those who are enduring persecution and living through these end times events, and less for us to plan the next hundred years, or to anticipate what will happen in advance.

Dr. Beale: Fulfillment always fleshes out the details of prophecy so there are always some surprises just as there was with Christ’s first coming. There’s no doubt that God does prophesy and He does so specifically. Mathew 2 says that Micah 5 prophesied that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem and He was, and so forth. So, Isaiah 53 is a direct verbal prophesy, so you do have specific prophecies but there are always surprises because that’s the nature of fulfillment. Fulfillment always fleshes out the details.

Keith: I agree. The best example of that is the Messiah. There were very strong opinions based on Biblical evidence that the Messiah will do this and say that. So, people being so dogmatic about what the Messiah must do and how he must come and they’re standing an inch away from Him and they don’t recognize Him. So, I think we can also be in danger of being so sure of ourselves that “this absolutely must mean that” and we could miss what God’s really doing because it doesn’t fit what we’ve decided it is supposed to look like.

Dr. Beale: Right.


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