By seeing historical anchors throughout the process of history we are given an opportunity to raise our awareness of the Kingdom of God and its militant work of inner growth throughout the process of our lives.
An Eternal Ship with Historical Anchors
By Todd Dennis
The history of Christian interpretation had been highly idealistic from its inception, primarily striving to reveal the working of God in the individual through the accounts of God working in history. However, the tendency to see the inner workings of the Holy Spirit of the primary focal point of prophecy has waned over the most recent centuries. Thankfully, recent scholarship is beginning to recover that focus on personal growth seen in the earliest Christian writings.
Examples of the tendency to internalize prophecy can be seen in the output of most early authors, from Melito to Justin Martyr to Athanasius. The Latin Fathers, particularly Augustine, carried that banner into the Middle Ages. It was the norm for the writers in the centuries leading up to the Reformation to find personal meaning in the prophecies of Israel’s redemption.
Once the Reformation took hold, pneumatology became a distinct field of study, typically removed from considerations on the focal point of Bible prophecy. Though the idea of personal consummation in Jesus Christ held a large role in prophetic studies still, it was typically viewed as subservient to a focus on the process of history. Those who determined to maintain a central role for the process of salvation and sanctification in theology were satisfied by using a “double sense” of prophetic fulfillment, seeing the historical process of nations as the primary intent, with the development of the inner Kingdom of God treated as merely an application of the words of Jesus Christ.
With the growth of studies on the Kingdom of God in the 20th century, scholars such as F.F. Bruce and G.K. Beale began to recognize the primary role the Bible places on the person and work of Jesus Christ within the individual. And yet, there is still another bridge to cross in order to fully reclaim the early church’s usage of personal sanctification as the primary focus of prophecy.
That means of recovering the earliest views of Christocentric fulfillment is through the recognition that historical events are only object lessons pointing to true focal point of prophecy, which is Jesus Christ King Eternal.
An illustration of how we are able to re-orient our view of prophecy can be seen in the idea of the Kingdom of God as a ship sailing the eternal waters. Though it was built before creation and presides over all things under the eternal sea, every once in a while, this ship will drop anchor — revealing its existence in events visible in our natural realm.
The prime example of this anchorage is the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. Having humbled Himself, taking on the form of a creature below the eternal sea, Jesus swam among the other fish in the lower waters. This concept is what lies behind all of the sayings of Jesus, particularly in His declaration that “the kingdom of God is in your midst”.
Another example – which I would consider the most important for the reader of the Bible – is the idea of Kingdom of God “dropping anchor” in the midst of the believer through the anchorage of the Holy Spirit. History matters not when a person struggles under the dominion of sin. Only “in Christ” is the old made new — certainly not in history. The newness of life that arrives through the anchoring of heaven to Earth in the form of the indwelling Spirit provides the great consummation promised for those who eagerly seek the Kingdom of God. Do you understand?
The point of the eternal ship illustration is not to focus on the anchor, however important it may be to the individual. The goal is to look beyond the anchor to the chain — and then beyond the chain to the eternal ship which dropped the anchor. This imagery is akin to the burnt offering of the Old Testament, wherewith the pillar of smoke arising guided the gaze of the observer to the heavens. The apostle Paul often guided his readers likewise, exhorting them to “look not at the things which can be seen, for the things which are seen are temporal but the things which cannot be seen are eternal.”
What we realize once our gaze is firmly fixed on the eternal is that historical revelations can easily become distractions. These distractions render otherwise profitable revelations inert spiritually. The distractions have a corrosive effect on our thinking towards our life decisions and the role of the Holy Spirit in the world at large. Take, for instance, the following questions on how Christians typically view fulfillment. One can see that under the new testament the gaze of most has simply shifted horizontally from one earthly thing to another:
Was the Sabbath changed from Saturday to Sunday?
Was the Kingdom transferred from Israel to the Church?
Was the Passover transferred to the Lord’s Supper?
Was the Exodus fulfilled when Jesus came out of Egypt as a boy?
Did the Old Heavens and Earth become the New in the first century?
- Does the First Generation of Israel’s History point to the Final Generation?
The problem with this type of reasoning is that — and pay attention to this point, because it is the guiding interpretive principle for recovering biblical truth — God’s revelation does not progress horizontally from natural to natural but rather vertically from natural to spiritual. Therefore, instead of looking horizontally from anchor to anchor we are meant to look vertically to see how each of the anchors are given to focus attention on things of an eternal nature.
Therefore, the idealist point of view would suggest looking at the same questions in this revolutionary way:
The Jewish Sabbath (and Sunday) only stood as a shadow of Everlasting Rest in Jesus Christ. (Heb 4:10)
The Jewish Kingdom (and the church) have always only been a picture of Everlasting Kingdom of Jesus. (John 18:36)
The Passover (and Lord’s Supper) have always exemplified our partaking of self sacrifice to escape sin. (1 Peter 4:13)
“Exodus” in the Bible looks to deliverance from the bondage of Egypt/Sin. (Heb. 3:10-13)
Old things only become new in Jesus Christ (II Cor. 5:17)
- The entire History of Ancient Israel points to Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 10:11)
Please pay attention to the fact that, in no way, does this perspective minimize the importance of the natural and historical revelations. Rather, it glorifies them by showing how they were given to magnify Jesus Christ and His work within. The Kingdom of God drops anchor like the planting of a mustard seed, which is very small and humble in stature. This is akin to Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a very humble beast — both being the same operation shown in parable and in history. It may be worth noting that of the two planes represented by the Christian cross, the vertical axis is the more prominent.
When we glorify the historical shadows and models beyond their role as indicators of spiritual things, we are falling for fleshly distraction. In some cases, we actually regard these anchors with idolatrous worship, just as with Moses’ serpent in the wilderness.
By seeing the historical anchors for all of God’s revelation — most importantly and significantly in the person and self sacrificial work of Jesus Christ upon the Earth — we are given a wonderful context through which to see the actual ship which is moored above. Once the true nature of the eternal ship is seen, we can then marvel at how it has established an unmovable anchorage in our soul through the implanting of the Holy Spirit.