A popular error in prophetic interpretation

A review of Four Blood Moons by John Hagee

Being a Seventh-day Adventist believer, with Adventist views on Bible prophecy and eschatology, I was oblivious to the latest mania of prophetic interpretation sweeping the evangelical Christian world. It seems that there are signs in the heavens. From the spring of 2014 to autumn of 2015, there will be four “blood red moons,” plus one solar eclipse sandwiched in the middle of the four lunar eclipses. These signs portend something significant. No one knows what, but something is going to change! 

Some Adventists are more attuned to trends in evangelical thinking; an Adventist friend of mine became aware of this phenomenon and urged me to read Four Blood Moons by John Hagee. Hagee is the pastor of the non-denominational Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, and over the course of three decades, has built a mega-church (over 20,000 members), a television ministry, a sideline in writing books, and a pro-Israel association known as “Christians United for Israel” (CUFI) which has more than 1.3 million members. It was at a meeting in support of CUFI in Puyallup, Washington, that Pastor Mark Biltz told Hagee about the blood moons. 

Only three times in the last 500 years has a cycle of four “blood red” lunar eclipses enclosed a solar eclipse: 1) April 1493 to September 1494; 2) April 1949 to September 1950; and 3) April 1967 to October, 1968. The fourth “blood moon” “tetrad” is coming during the next couple of years. What does it mean? Is it a “wonder in the heavens” (Acts 2:19) with prophetic significance?

Hagee believes that when Scripture mentions Israel, Judah, or Zion in a prophetic passage, it applies to the Jewish people and/or the modern state of Israel, not to the Christian Church. Because Hagee believes that prophecies usually refer to the Jewish people, he searched the three previous tetrad dates for events significant to the Jews. Hagee concluded that the 1493-4 tetrad signified the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, that the 1949-50 tetrad signified the founding of the modern state of Israel, and that the 1967-68 tetrad signified Israel's victory in the Six-Day War, during which Israel won control of the city of Jerusalem. 

There are some very odd things about Hagee's interpretation of the blood moon tetrads. First, signs and portents come before the thing they are signifying or portending. What use is a sign that signifies something that has already happened? Yet Hagee believes that the three previous tetrads signified events that had already taken place when their sign was seen in the heavens. The first tetrad did not begin until April, 1493, but the Jews were driven from Spain on July 30, 1492; they left Spain 9 months before the first blood moon appeared. Likewise, Israel declared its statehood on May 14, 1948—immediately upon the termination of the British Mandate—but the first blood moon did not appear until April of 1949, almost a full year later. Finally, the Six Day War was over and done with before the appearance of three of the four blood moons that supposedly portend that war. Following this pattern, the 2014 -2015 tetrad could signify something that has already taken place, in which case the event could hardly have been earthshaking.

Second, Hagee believes that the previous moons signified one bad thing—the expulsion of the Jews from Spain—and two very positive events—the establishment of Israel, victory in the Six Day War. A sign that can signify either something very good or something very bad without indicating which is, frankly, not much use. (Although, since the sign does not manifest until after the event occurs, I suppose the positive or negative character of the event will be obvious.)

Third, a “blood moon” occurs when the earth is between the sun and the moon, blocking direct sunlight from reflecting off the moon. Some sunlight passes through our atmosphere, however, and when it does the shorter wave-length blueish light is diffused or scattered whereas the longer wave-length red light is refracted (bent) inward toward the moon. This red light reflects off the moon creating the “blood moon” phenomenon. Eclipses occur in a predictable manner according to movements of the heavenly bodies. This is to say that there is nothing supernatural about the blood moon tetrads, so how do we know that they are a sign from God? In other words, doesn't a sign need to be unequivocally an act of communication? Now, if the moon turned blood red when there was no lunar eclipse, nor any other natural explanation, that would be a sign.

But by far the most serious error in Hagee's approach to prophecy is his insistence that the Jews are its primary focus. Hagee is following an interpretation popularized in the 1970s by Hal Lindsey, but although this view is popular, it is erroneous. Prophecies that have an eschatological fulfillment, meaning that they are to be fulfilled at the end of time, apply to the Christian Church, notwithstanding the use of terms such as Israel, Judah, or Zion. The Israel of end-time prophecy is spiritual Israel, a faith community composed of Christian believers, regardless whether genetically Jew or gentile. 

In Romans nine, Paul says that although the Jews had “the adoption to sonship, the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises,” without Jesus Christ they have nothing: 

For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. (Rom. 9:6-8) 

This is also what Paul told the Galatians: “just as Abraham 'believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.' Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.” (Gal. 3:6-7) “There is neither Jew nor Greek . . . for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Gal. 3:27-28) In other words, if you are in Christ, then you are “Israel,” regardless whether you are Jew or gentile.

Those who believe modern, non-Christian Jews are still prophetically significant believe in irrevocable national election. But the Bible teaches that both individuals and nations may reject the grace of God, and such was the case with literal Israel. Jesus summed up its history when He said, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Behold, your house is left to you desolate.” (Mat. 23:37-38) In the parable of the tenants (Mat. 23:31-46; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19) the rebellious tenants killed the hired rent collectors (the prophets), and ultimately killed even the landlord's own son (Jesus Christ), after which nothing remained but for the landlord to “come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” (Mark 12:9) Judgment was delayed for 40 years, but was terrible in its execution. Interestingly, Hagee relates the high points of the catastrophic siege and destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, but Hagee does not comprehend that this event was divine judgment visited upon a people who had demanded the blood of Jesus, saying “his blood be on us and on our children.” (Mat. 27:25)

Hagee has harsh words for those who believe that the Bible's end-time prophecies refer to spiritual Israel rather than the Jews. He calls this view “Replacement Theology,” and states that it is “intellectually and scripturally dishonest” and “one of the most dangerous forms of deception in the church today.” Replacement theology is a poor term, because Israel has not been replaced; spiritual Israel presents an unbroken line from Abraham to Moses to the prophets to Christ to the disciples to true Christians up to the present day. But while the tree of Israel has never been replaced, Paul points out that those branches that rejected Christ were “broken off” and replaced by believing gentiles:

If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. For if God did not spare the natural branches [the Jews = literal Israel] he will not spare you [gentile believers] either. Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. And if they [the Jews = literal Israel] do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree! (Rom. 11:17-24)

Hagee points out that verse 26 says, “and so all Israel will be saved,” but “all Israel” in this context means all spiritual Israel, that is, believing Jews who were not broken off, plus the believing gentiles who were engrafted onto the tree. To read this text to mean that all literal Israel will be saved regardless of faith in Christ would be to nullify Paul's main point in Romans 9 through 11.

The process of applying prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures to Christ and the Christian Church was begun by Christ Himself; it is not some unorthodox modern innovation. On the road to Emmaus, “He said to them, 'How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?' And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:25-27) Later, when he appeared to the disciples, “He said to them 'this is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.' Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:44-45) 

The New Testament writers also applied the Hebrew prophecies to Christ. Both Matthew and Luke pointed out that Christ fulfilled the prophecy of the suffering servant in Isaiah 53. (Acts 8:26-40; Mat. 8:16-17) John pointed out that when the soldiers cast lots for Jesus' clothing they were fulfilling David's prophecy in Psalm 22. (John 19:23-24; Psalm 22:18) Matthew understood that Israel prefigured Jesus Christ, and that when the young Jesus came out of Egypt, it fulfilled Hosea's prophecy in regard to “Israel.” (Ex. 4:22; Hosea 11:1; Mat. 2:14-15) Peter understood that Psalm 110 was a Messianic prophecy (Psalm 110:1-2; Acts 2:31-35), and Paul quoted that same Psalm to show that Christ was a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. (Heb. 5:6-10) Many more examples could be adduced.

Not only did the Bible writers apply Hebrew prophecies to Christ, they applied them specifically to the Christian Church. Peter applies God's description of literal Israel to spiritual Israel: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people.” (Ex. 19:6; 1 Peter 2:9) To the Jews of Antioch who were rejecting their message, Paul and Barnabas quoted Isaiah to the effect that “Israel” was to be a light to the gentiles and bring salvation to the ends of the earth, implying that Isaiah foresaw a time in which spiritual Israel would spread the gospel to the gentiles. (Isaiah 49:1-7; Acts 13:44-48) A prophecy in Isaiah 54 speaks to Zion's desolation, yet states that Zion's “children” will be so numerous that they will displace nations; Paul applies this prophecy to the Christian Church, implying that the numerous “children” of Zion's desolation are, and will be, gentile Christians. (Isaiah 54; Gal. 4:21-31) 

Hagee repeatedly asserts that God made a real estate covenant or contract with the people of Israel that is perpetual and can ever be broken. But, by Hagee's interpretation, it was broken for over eighteen centuries. From 70 AD until 1948, there was no Jewish state in the land of Israel. If I believed as Hagee does, I'd be embarrassed at how poorly God honors his contracts. But literal Israel was not given perpetual title to its real estate. If Hagee were disposed to see Messianic prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures, and properly understood the Messianic prophecy in Daniel 9, he would know that literal Israel's tenure in Bible prophecy, and its life estate in its real property, came to an end in 34 AD:

Seventy ‘sevens’ [490 prophetic days/literal years = from 457 BC to 34 AD] are decreed for your people and your holy city to restrain transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy One [Jesus Christ]. (Dan. 9:24)

Bible prophecies referencing Israel or Judah that have application subsequent to 34 AD are applied to spiritual Israel, not literal Israel, the Jews, or the modern state of Israel.

Is there any prophetic significance to the blood moon tetrads? I don't know, but I very much doubt it. I do know that whatever their prophetic significance, it has nothing to do with the modern state of Israel. 

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