Andy Woods The Protestant Reformation 001 Revelation 20:1-10
Open your Bibles to the book of Acts, chapter 11 and verse 25. We’re starting a summer series which the timing works good because this is the first Sunday in June and we’ll probably continue this throughout the summer months on the subject of The Protestant Reformation. Why are we talking about the Protestant Reformation? A couple of reasons, number 1, I just got back from Germany, I was there twice within the last two months so I got a chance to see the various places where the events of the Protestant Reformation started, places like Wittenberg, Germany, I stood next to the door where Martin Luther nailed his 95 Thesis to the Cathedral door in Wittenberg, Germany. And so it’s a chance for me to show off my amateur photography. I won’t be doing that today but we’ll be working that in as the series progresses.
And then the second reason we’re looking at the Protestant Reformation is because everybody now is talking about the Protestant Reformation because this October 31 it will be 500 years when the Protestant Reformation began. On October 31, 1517, exactly 500 years ago from this coming October, end of October, Martin Luther, a Monk, triggered off a chain reaction all over Europe. And there’s a lot of historical license that’s taken with this. I mean, really what he was trying to do was to start a conversation. This was a common way of starting a what was called a dialogue or a dispute in Luther’s day. And I think he was surprised more than anybody else when the Roman Catholic Church, which was the only church at the time, started to denounce him as a heretic. But through these series of events the sovereignty of God strategically worked and it set off a chain reaction all over Europe in what is called the Protestant Reformation.
And we today are living in the fruit of the Protestant Reformation. Most Christians don’t know much about it, it’s some weird thing that happened 500 years ago in our minds because we don’t get a lot of historical teaching in our churches. But what I want to do in this series is helpfully, as God allows me, to kind of fill in the gaps so we can look back on what happened 500 years ago and how God used these men, and how they put into motion a method of interpretation called the literal grammatical historical method of interpretation, which subsequent generations took, after the time of Luther, and applied it to the rest of the Bible. So the Theology that we have today we wouldn’t have to day had it not been for God’s initial work through these Protestant Reformers.
As I mentioned before, this happened October 31, 1517; this happened 500 years ago. It was a far-reaching impact but one of the things I want to communicate in this series is that it was a partial restoration. The Protestant Reformers, people have a tendency to put them on a pedestal and sort of act like they completed the revolution, which they did not. Reformed Theology today, which was birthed out of the various churches that they started, have not completed the revolution either. It was up to other Christian denominations, other Christian groups to take the method that the Protestant Reformers used and to complete the revolution by applying it to the whole Bible.
So what you have to remember, and if you’re not getting all this right now don’t worry about it, we’re going to be going through all of this in meticulous detail, but what you have to remember is the Protestant Reformation was a partial restoration because they used the literal method of interpretation selectively, but had they not given us the methodology subsequent generations couldn’t come along and apply it consistently. So that’s sort of the direction that we’re moving in with this study.
This study is going to be different than anything you’ve heard from me at this church. Every study that I’ve done here since I’ve been here, since 2010, has been completely based on the Bible as you would expect, right, from a pastor. I mean, you’d hope to see that from a pastor. So every study I have done has been a book study or I’ve also done various topical studies using the Bible to put together topics. We just completed the doctrine of soteriology which lasted a little longer than I had hoped, 58 lessons. I don’t anticipate this series lasting 58 lessons; I anticipate it just kind of going throughout the summer months, maybe 8, 10, 12 weeks, something like that. But this is not going to be a biblical study; we’re not studying a book of the Bible, we’re studying history, church history.
So what in the world did God do after the New Testament closed? We have about 2,000 years don’t we, of church history and so what I’m going to be trying to do is put together the pieces of church history for you and we’re going to be highlighting and emphasizing what the Protestant Reformers accomplished.
So if you look at this slide here, I’ve got some new toys and gadgets up here I’m just learning how to use these, here’s the big outline we’re going to be using, it’s got about eight parts. This slide gives you the eight major areas we’re going to look at. We’re going to start with the early church, and that’s probably what we’ll cover today, if we cover a little bit more than that then that’s fine. And I want people to understand what the apostles handed off to the first generation of Christians after the apostles. And I want people to understand what the early church believed for 200 years.
And then we’re going to be getting into what I like to call Roman numeral II, the Alexandrian eclipse. You say well why are you giving us all of this information? Because you can’t really appreciate what the Protestant Reformers accomplished until you understand what had to be retrieved. You can’t appreciate a solution until you understand a problem, and the problem really began in a place called Alexandria, Egypt, and their method of interpretation (which is not literal) eclipsed what the church had done for the first 200 years. And that led us into what’s called the Dark Ages. The Dark Ages is a period of time that lasted from the 4th century A.D. and it lasted over a thousand years. So it started from the 4th century and it really continued right on up to the 16th century. Over a thousand years is a long time. Think about how long that is. That’s the sad and pathetic condition, doctrinally, theologically, the church was in. And unless you understand the Dark Ages largely ushered in by Alexandria, Egypt, you can’t really appreciate what the Protestant Reformers accomplished in terms of rescuing the church theologically.
So after we study the Dark Ages then finally, Roman numeral IV we’re actually getting into the Protestant Reformers. I’ll try to show you what they did, what they stood for, but I’ll also lead you into Roman numeral V where I want to communicate the idea that their revolution was incomplete. Basically what they did is they knocked over a domino and how they knocked over that domino is very important because they introduced a method of interpretation to accomplish that. But once that domino fell the other dominos started to fall and God raised up other individuals, outside of the Reformed faith, subsequent generations, to knock over even further dominos and all they did is they took the method that the Reformers used and they began to apply it consistently to the whole Bible. So I will not just be focusing on the Protestant Reformers; I’ll show you other heroes centuries later that God began to use. But those heroes couldn’t have been raised up had they not been reading the blueprint of Martin Luther and others to the Protestant Reformation.
And then we’ll Roman numeral VI where I’ll tell you the kind of sad state of Reformed Theology today. Reformed Theology is a hybrid; one of the great errors of Reformed Theology is it assumes that there was no further progress to be made. So that’s why you can go into a Reformed church and they will take the Bible literally in some areas but in other areas they won’t take the Bible literally. And so Reformed theology today is sort of a hybrid breed, part Protestant, part Roman Catholic. So I’ll be drawing that to your attention.
And then I’ll be sharing with you Roman numeral VII, dispensationalism which is our heritage at Sugar Land Bible Church and the specific men that God used to complete the Reformation that the Protestant Reformers started. And then finally in Roman numeral VIII we’ll be looking back 500 years later and I’ll try to give you a proper perspective on how to look at the Protestant Reformers; not to idolize them but at the same time to look at them as if we owe them a great note of indebtedness and gratitude for what they accomplished.
So anyway the class is going to proceed sort of in a lecture format and I’ll try to reserve the last five or ten minutes of class for question and answer. We’re going to try to start the class right at 9:45 a.m. and then the music team has to get in here and set up and everything so we’re going to try to end right at 10:45 a.m. That’s the direction that we’re moving in. I kind of like to give people the big picture before we start getting into the details. So over the next 8 to 10 to 12 weeks, however long this is going to take, those are the big subject areas we’re going to be going over.
Let’s start with Roman numeral I, the early church. First of all let’s talk about before the canon of Scripture is shut. The canon of Scripture officially shut when John completed the Book of Revelation in A.D. 95. But we know from looking at various biblical writers that New Testament characters, when they interpreted the Old Testament, particularly information as it relates to the kingdom of God, always took Bible prophecy at face value. And I’m sort of using “Bible prophecy” as a bell weather because the idea is if you can spiritualize away or allegorize away Bible prophecy it’s not long until you start allegorizing and spiritualizing away what? The rest of the Scripture.
So here’s Jesus speaking, this is Matthew 9:28, look at how seriously Jesus took Old Testament prophesies concerning the kingdom. It says, “And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne,” now what throne would that be? The Davidic throne, which is described in 2 Samuel 7, “when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
So very clearly here Jesus took Old Testament prophecy related to the kingdom, related to the Davidic throne, and He took it literally; He believed in (Jesus did) an earthly kingdom that would come to planet earth one day. There’s no hint here that Jesus spiritualized this, those prophecies, reinterpreted them. And Paul, over in the book of Romans, chapter 11, verses 25-27 says the same thing. Paul says, “For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel” notice Paul says Israel’s hardening is partial, “until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in;” that would be us, and then what’s going to happen, “and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, ‘The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob. This is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins.’”
And Paul is very clear here that God is going to fulfill all of His purposes and all of His programs through the nation of Israel. And those verses that he quotes there at the end are references to the various covenants that God made with the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
And then just one more, over in the Book of Revelation, chapter 5 and verse 10, John, in the very last book of the Bible, records these words: “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign” where? Up in the clouds somewhere strumming harps? No, “upon the earth.” So the biblical writers, whether it’s Jesus, as recorded in Matthew, Paul as recorded in the Book of Romans, John as recorded in the Book of Revelation, all took Bible prophecy very, very literally, very, very seriously. There’s no hint anywhere that these prophecies are going to be fulfilled in any sense other than their literal sense. And so when you close the New Testament that’s the spirit that you have; that’s the attitude. And this mindset is what was handed off like a baton to the first generation of Christians after the apostles left the scene.
So leaving the Bible we come now to this map and you’ll notice there’s two circles on the map and what I want you to focus on is the top circle, up north, and that’s in place called Antioch, Antioch of Syria. Now immediately when you hear the word “Antioch” it should ring a bell because if you look at Acts 11:25 (that’s why I had you open there, it says, “And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul;” and actually I think I also wanted verse 26, “and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; [and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.]” So this is up in the northern tip of the nation of Israel, this is where Christians started to proliferate numerically. He “taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.”
So it’s interesting that prior to this point in time you don’t have the word “Christian” used. The Christians are called “the way” or other different names, and now finally these people here gathering in Antioch, believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, they acted so much like Jesus in terms of their moral character that let’s just call them Christians. So Antioch then becomes a big deal in Bible history and you can trace what we would call apostolic succession back to Antioch. Antioch is where Christians multiplied; Antioch is where Christians started to be called Christians.
Does anybody recall what else happened at Antioch that’s biblically significant? Who launched his three missionary journeys from Antioch? Paul! Paul launched all three of the journeys, first into southern Galatia, then into Greece and Asia Minor, and then ultimately as a prisoner to Rome, but his first three missionary journeys were all launched from Antioch. So Antioch is very significant. If you want to understand the way the apostles think you study the student’s at Antioch. Let me very quickly, I wasn’t planning on looking at all these verses, but just jot these down and you’ll see very clearly in the Book of Acts that Antioch is where Paul launched his three missionary journeys from. Acts 13:1-3, Acts 14:26, Acts 15:35-41; and then Acts 18:22-23.
Antioch is very special because you can trace the Apostle Paul’s ministry itself back to Antioch. So Antioch, in terms of what it taught, is sort like bellwether, if you will, to what the apostles taught. So when the apostles leave the scene what develops in Antioch, the place that we’re reading about here, is a School. We would call it today a seminary, perhaps; it’s called The School of Antioch, and these people in Antioch, they stood for something. Do you know what they stood for? They stood for a literal interpretation of the Bible. And see, the Protestant Reformation, what it’s going to do is bring us back to Antioch and I’m trying to explain this foundation of what was lost.
So they stood for a literal interpretation of the Bible, including Bible prophecy. And from the School of Antioch comes a theological system that we embrace here called pre-millennialism. The word “millennium” is not found in the Scripture. Where do we get this word “millennium” from? It comes from Revelation 20:1-10 and what you have to understand is a lot of the terms we use today, like Trinity, millennium, they don’t come directly from the Bible; the concept is there but the term is not used in the Bible because it’s in church history Latin became the lingua franca of the day and so theologians began to develop these terms in Latin. So mille in Latin means a thousand, and annum means years. So the term millennium itself is Latin, it means a thousand years.
And these people in Antioch are what you would call premillennialists. What does that mean, premillennial? It means Jesus comes back first, pre, and then the millennial kingdom comes after that. So how did they reach that conclusion? Because they took Bible prophecy the same way Paul took it, the same way John took it, the same way Jesus took it, as literal. And if you take it literally and you look at the state of the world today and it’s obviously we’re not in the millennium. If this is the millennium I’m sorry I signed up for this deal because the millennium is a time period where there won’t be any war, there won’t be any starvation, the nations will beat their swords into plowshares.
So you take those prophecies from the Old Testament about the millennium and you have to put them after the time of Christ’s return, which makes you a premillennialist, and this is what the School of Antioch was all about. From the School of Antioch comes the doctrine of premillennialism, which is an outworking of a literal interpretation of the whole Bible.
Now very early on in Antioch, for the first two centuries of the church, they didn’t call themselves premillennialists because Latin hadn’t come on the scene yet. The name that they gave themselves, or the name that was given to them we chiliasts. Where are we getting that from? The Greek word for a thousand, which is mentioned six times in Revelation 20:1-10, describing the thousand year kingdom of Christ, the word translate thousand is chilia, so these people got the name very early on in Antioch as chiliasts. They believed in a literal thousand year kingdom; they believed that all of the prophecies of the Old Testament will be fulfilled during that time period and today we would call it premillennialism but back in the time of the School of Antioch it got the name chiliasts or chiliasm.
And what you have to understand is this is the mindset that was passed from the apostles themselves to the first generation of Christians. And this is what is represented in the School of Antioch. So premillennialism, chiliasm, dominates the church for its first two centuries.
I have a quote here from Justin Martyr. Justin Martyr lived towards the beginning of the second century, about A.D. 100-160 and he makes an astounding statement here in what’s called his Dialogue with Trypho, Section 80 and the nice thing about being on the age of the internet is you can look at all this stuff to make sure I’m quoting it correctly But Justin Martyr, who was a representative of the Antiochan mindset or school of thought says this: “But I and every other completely orthodox Christian feel certain that there will be a resurrection of the flesh, followed by a thousand years in the rebuilt, embellished, and” enlarged city of Washington D.C…. it doesn’t say that, “enlarged city of Jerusalem” now where in the world did Justin Martyr get this idea? “as was announced by the prophets Ezekiel, Isaiah, and the others.”
So you’ll notice here that the School of Antioch and Justin Martyr believed in Bible prophecy, they took it very literally, they believed that the center of the world one day would return to the city of Jerusalem and Jesus Christ in the kingdom age would rule over the entire world from that city. That’s called premillennialism or chiliasm. Now what’s very interesting to me about this quote from Justin Martyr is he says “I and every other completely orthodox Christian feel” this way, because what we hear today, what I hear today from people when I try to defend premillennialism is they say well, you can’t make that a test of orthodoxy, premillennial, I mean, you know, this is an area that we as Christians can agree to disagree on, can’t we. I mean, let’s just focus on the big ticket items, like virgin birth, Trinity, deity of Christ, and that’s sort of an ecumenical mindset that we have today. But let me tell you something; that’s not what Justin Martyr said here.
Justin Martyr said if you believe this you’re an orthodox Christian; if you reject chiliasm or premillennialism you’re unorthodox. And the early church, I believe, based on this statement believed in premillennialism or chiliasm to [can’t understand word]. If you didn’t believe in this then you were considered heretical, and this is the mindset that began in the school of Antioch. And as I’ve tried to establish can be traced directly back to the apostles themselves.
Now it’s not just Justin Martyr who says this; there’s a lot of very reputable church historians that will tell you the exact same thing. One of the best church historians we have is Philip Schaff; Philip Schaff wrote multiple volumes on the history of the Christian church. And he says in Volume 2, page 614, he makes this statement about the first generation of Christians following the apostles. He says, “The most striking point in the eschatology of the ante-Nicene age” now that’s basically what he’s saying there is the first generation following the apostles after the canon of Scripture closed. “The most striking point in the eschatology of the ante-Nicene age [A.D. 100–325] is the prominent” look at that word, “chiliasm,” just mentally substitute the word premillennialism for chiliasm, “or millenarianism, that is the belief of a visible reign of Christ in glory and with the risen saints for a thousand years, before the general resurrection and judgment. It was indeed not the doctrine of the church embodied in a creed or form of devotion, but a widely current opinion of distinguished teachers,” and he mentions all of these first generation Christian leaders, “Barnabas, Papias, Justin Martyr,” whose quote I gave you a second ago, “Irenaeus, Tertullian, Methodius, and Lactantius.”
And what people say is well if this premillennialism that you believe in is so clear why doesn’t it show up in any of the creeds of the church? How come it’s not in the Apostle’s Creed? How come it’s not in the Nicene Creed? Well, you have to understand something about creeds; creeds and confessions of Christendom were never designed the way we as a church would put together a doctrinal statement of our beliefs.
You know, today in churches you put together a doctrinal statement and you say this is what we believe. The early church didn’t think that way. In fact, they didn’t have to do it because everybody [can’t understand word] believed the correct thing. Creeds and confessions come about as a response to heretics. Creeds were never designed to be a sum total of Christian truth but they’re designed to respond to heretics at a specific point. So one of the heretics that arose early on was a man named Arius. Arius basically taught what the modern day Jehovah’s Witnesses teach today, that Jesus was a created being. In fact, Arius even had a song, which I won’t sing for you, I don’t have a recording of it going back 2,000 years ago; singing is not my spiritual gift anyway.
But he basically sung this song which is there was a time in which He was not. So Arius basically pontificated that there was a time in which Jesus didn’t exist. So Arius basically believed that God the Father created God the Son. So when the Jehovah’s Witnesses, not if but when they show up at your door and try to convince you that Jesus is a created being, you have to understand that that’s just recycled Arianism. And so the early church responded to that through the Nicene Creed. Have you read the Nicene Creed lately?
There’s a section in it that says Christ was begotten but not what? “begotten but not made.” So when the Nicene Creed was formulated it was never designed to be a sum total of everything the church believed. What it was designed to do was respond to Arius at a particular point. So until major heresy started to emerge you don’t have confessions and creeds in the early church. They weren’t needed because every man, to a man, as a Christian, believed the right thing or they weren’t considered a Christians. So that’s why premillennialism or chiliasm doesn’t show up in the early church creeds, but this statement by Philip Schaff is very important because he says even though there was no formal creed, because creeds were given to respond to heretics which hadn’t quite arisen yet, this was a reigning sentiment, everybody believed this.
Just to kind of get the point across I have this other quote here from Edward Gibbon, now you recognize the name Edward Gibbon don’t you? Edward Gibbon wrote the historical treatise called The Rise and the Fall of the Roman Empire. He wrote that, I think around the time that our country was founded (if I’m not mistaken terms of my years and dates). Edward Gibbon, the best I understand didn’t have a Christian bone in his body but he was just trying to be an honest historian. And in one of his books, called The History of Christianity, he makes a statement about what the early church believed.
He says this, quote: “The ancient and popular doctrine of the Millennium was intimately connected with the second coming of Christ. As the works of the creation had been finished in six days, their duration in their present state, according to a tradition which was attributed to the prophet Elijah, was fixed to six thousand years. By the same analogy it was inferred, that this long period of labor and contention, which was now almost elapsed, would be succeeded by a joyful Sabbath of a thousand years; and that Christ, with the triumphant band of the saints and the elect who had escaped death, or who had been miraculously revived, would reign upon earth” isn’t this exactly what Jesus taught, Matthew 19:28, John, Revelation 5:10, Paul, Romans 11:25-27, that they “would reign upon earth till the time appointed for the last and general resurrection… The assurance of such a Millennium was carefully inculcated by a succession of fathers” who are these fathers? This is the first generation of Christians after the apostles left the scene. “…a succession of fathers from Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus, who conversed with” look at this, “the immediate disciples of the apostles,” so what he’s saying is these early church fathers have a direct line back to the apostles themselves. That’s why the school of Antioch is such a big deal because you can trace apostolic succession back to Antioch.
“…and Irenaeus, who conversed with the immediate disciples of the apostles, down to Lactantius, who was preceptor to the son of Constantine. Though it might not be universally received,” look at this, I have the relative section underlined, “it appears to have been the reigning sentiment of the orthodox believers;” in other words, this idea of a literal Bible flushing its way out into literal interpretation of prophecy was so dominant in the minds of Christians that they didn’t even see the need to formulate a creed. You only formulate a creed if there’s a heretic on the horizon, and Arius hadn’t arisen yet. “…it appears to have been the reigning sentiment of the orthodox believers and it seems so well adapted to the desires and apprehensions of mankind, that it must have contributed in a very considerable degree to the progress of the Christian faith.” [History of Christianity (NY: Eckler, 1916), 141-44] So there’s another historian that’s reputable that’s documenting exactly what I’m trying to say to you.
And I ran into one more recently, Jesse Forest Silver makes the following citation concerning what the first believers, after the apostles left the scene, believed in. “Silver says of the apostolic fathers that “they expected the return of the Lord in their day…” So they believed very strongly in not just what is called premillennialism, they also believed very strongly in what I would call Tribulationalism or the idea that Jesus Christ is coming back for the church before the tribulation period starts. Now did they have an in depth flow chart like we have today, explaining all of these things in detail? Not really. It’s kind of hard to put together your theological flow charts when Nero is trying to cut your head off, right. So they didn’t have the luxury that we have today of sitting back in an air conditioned building, where our biggest complaint is its either too hot or too cold or whatever, listening to a lecture.
I mean, they had no such luxury, I mean, these are people that ever since the time of Nero who were fighting for their very lives. They were being lit on fire to illuminate Nero’s garden parties, thrown in prison and others, but they believed, according to Silver, in the imminent return of Jesus Christ. They believed that was the next event on the prophetic horizon. They weren’t looking for the antichrist, they were looking for Jesus Christ. That’s what we call pretribulationalism.
So “Silver says of the apostolic fathers that “they expected the return of the Lord in their day… They believed the time was imminent because the Lord had taught them to live in a watchful attitude.” Now where do they get this idea that Jesus Christ can come back at any moment? They didn’t study it in Charles Ryrie’s Systematic Theology or The Ryrie Study Bible, they got this directly from the apostles. Well where did the apostles get it from? They got it directly from Jesus Christ. “ Concerning the ante Nicene fathers,” Silver says, “by tradition they knew the faith of the apostles. They taught the doctrine of the imminent,” another fancy name for that is pretribulationalism “imminent and pre-millennial return of the Lord.” So they believed in imminency, that Christ can come back at any moment, and they believed in chiliasm, which is the idea of a thousand year kingdom which would manifest on planet earth. [The Lord’s Return: Seen in History and in Scripture as Premillennial and Imminent (NY: Revell, 1914), 62-64.]
And so what you have to understand is this is the state of Christianity for the first two centuries, and unless you understand that foundation you can’t really appreciate what got lost. And unless you understand what got lost you can’t understand the work of God in church history to raise up people like Martin Luther and others to store what got lost.
So I’m not starting this study with the Protestant Reformation, I’m starting this study at the very beginning because unless you understand the very beginning and the foundation that was laid and the baton that was handed off you don’t really have much of a concept as to what God did in 1517 through a monk named Martin Luther.
So that takes care of Roman numeral 1, the early church. The reigning sentiment was literal interpretation of the whole Bible, including prophecy, emanating from the school of Antioch which can be directly traced back to the apostles themselves. So if that is true what in the world went wrong? What happened? Where did the shift comes from? So that takes us into Roman numeral II and I’ll tell you exactly what went wrong: there’s another circle there down at the bottom, down south, in a place called Alexandria, Egypt, not up north, but down south, Alexandria, Egypt, a rival school started which basically said you know, all that literal interpretation stuff, I mean, we all know it’s really symbolic and metaphorical, and they developed what is called the allegorical method of interpretation. And once they spiritualized away Bible prophecy it wasn’t long until the rest of Christianity was spiritualized.
Think about this for a minute; if you can’t believe in a future resurrection of the body then maybe Jesus Himself didn’t come out of the grave in a body. See that? And that’s what happened at Alexandria, Egypt. And sadly, between Antioch and Alexandria, Egypt, although Antioch was dominant for 200 years, the folks in Alexandria won the day. The reigning sentiment of Jesus and the apostles and the first generation of Christians was eclipsed (that’s why I call this the Alexandrian eclipse). It brought in what I call, what is called by many the dark ages and this is exactly what Luther was trying to drag us out of. God is raising up Luther over a thousand years after the literal interpretation of the Bible had been dismissed.
But before we start explaining that let’s remember what the Apostle Paul warned. Paul, in the Book of Acts, chapter 20, verses 29-30 is completing his third missionary journey and he is speaking to the elders at the church at Ephesus in a harbor town called Miletus. So he is a shepherd speaking to shepherds; Ephesus was not far from Miletus. And in Acts 20 he gives an amazing talk to these guys, from a shepherd about how to be a shepherd. So if you want to understand a proper philosophy of ministry I would you to encourage you to read Acts 20. Almost everything I try to do here at Sugar Land Bible Church I’m getting right out of Acts 20. People think I’m making this stuff up; I’m getting my ques from the Apostle Paul.
But in the process of this speech, and he says things in this speech like I have warned you with tears for three years. [Acts 20:31, “So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.…”] And people say well, a pastor should never get emotional in the pulpit; a pastor should never show any emotional weakness. Oh my gosh, I don’t think most churches would have hired Paul. Paul is warning them for three years, to the point of tears, that’s emotion isn’t it? Of what is going to come when he leaves the scene and the rest of the apostles leaves the scene. He makes a prediction. I believe that this prediction is flushed out in another book that Paul wrote, his final book that we’ve studied in this church called 2 Timothy.
But here’s what he says, just a small excerpt from it. “I know,” now when he says “I know” there’s no guesswork here, he says this is going to happen. “I know that after my departure” that’s the departure of Paul and the rest of the apostles, “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you,” that would be false teachers, right, “not sparing the flock;” [Acts 20:29] So he’s talking about an external theological attack that’s going to come against the church. But then he starts talking about an internal attack, he says, [Acts 20:30] “and from among yourselves” now that probably put the fear of God into some of these elders because what he’s saying to them is some of you, that I’m talking to, are going to turn in a theologically wrong direction after I leave the church. [Acts 20:30, “and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.]
And you have to understand that Ephesus was the key church at that point. I mean, think of a church as influential in Houston as, like First Baptist, Second Baptist, some church that has an impact on a whole area. That’s what the church at Ephesus was and he says this church is going to go south, and you believers are going to go south, theologically, when I leave the scene. Fortunately it didn’t happen for a couple hundred years but as I’ll be showing you, because of the influence of Alexandria it did happen. He says, “and from among your selves men will arise and speak perverse things,” what perverse things is he talking about? Ideas contrary to what Jesus taught and the apostles taught and the school of Antioch taught. They will “speak perverse things” now why ae they doing it, because they’re trying to draw away disciples after themselves. [Acts 20:30, “and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.”]
There’s going to be people in the church that are going to try cut the cord from the apostles to you. Now they’re going to be called a lot of names, probably they’ll be called hyper-literalists, they might even call you the “F word” (Fundamentalist), literalist, flatterer, right wing, narrow minded, whatever they’re going to call you but through this derision and this name calling they’re going to remove the church from apostolic teaching.
And beloved, that’s exactly what happened in Alexandria. So in Alexandria, Egypt, North Africa, by the way, think about this, is there apostolic succession to Antioch? A ton of it! How much apostolic succession is there to that bottom circle? How many apostles do we know of that have any connection whatsoever to Alexandria, Egypt? ZERO! So that automatically tells you if there’s a dispute between these schools which school of thought you ought to follow. But sadly the school that had no connection to the apostles starts to dominate during the dark ages. They had a big library there and so they were known for their academics, their scholarship. God, in His sovereignty, I believe, allowed that library to be burned down. But just because the library burned down, I think that library, if I’m not mistaken, is one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. But just because the library got destroyed it doesn’t mean that the ideas of these people in Alexandria, Egypt, didn’t start to dominate.
So what were they teaching there in Alexandria, Egypt that was so wrong. Well, they taught, not a literal interpretation of Bible prophecy and the rest of the Bible, they began to teach allegorization. What in the world is allegorization? Allegorization is the idea that you use the text of the Bible to not teach the actual text of the Bible. You use the text of the Bible to bring in a higher meaning that sounds a lot more spiritual, that only you are aware of exists by the way, as an allegorist. The nice thing about being an allegorist is you can never lose your job because you’re the only one that knows what the allegory means. So you use the language of the text to bring in a higher spiritual meaning.
One of the great allegorists that came out of the school of Alexandria was a guy named Philo. This process started in Judaism, even a tad before the time of Christ; Philo lived right at the end of the B.C. days and into A.D. so he lived just a little bit before Jesus Himself, and Philo is one of the guys that introduced this allegorical method of interpretation. Just to give you an example, he would take Genesis 2:11, 13 which talks about four rivers in Eden, the Euphrates, the Tigris, the Pashan and the Gohan, and he would say you don’t really believe those are four rivers in Eden, do you? [Genesis 2:11, “The name of the first is Pishon; it flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold.  The name of the second river is Gihon; it flows around the whole land of Cush.  The name of the third river is Tigris; it flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.”]
I mean, you poor naïve fundamentalist, don’t you understand the higher meaning. The higher meaning is these really represent four parts of the soul. OH, well, that’s a little bit more interesting to listen to, isn’t it, than a boring sermon about four rivers. Tell me about four parts of the soul. This sounds so spiritual, and it sounds so academic.
If you go over to Nehemiah 3 for a minute let me tell you about a sermon that I’ve heard as a new Christian and most likely a sermon that you’ve heard; it’s on the walls, the walls surrounding Jerusalem that Nehemiah built. There’s a series of gates there. So in verse 1 you have the sheep gate and people say well, the Sheep Gate represents Jesus because John the Baptist said about Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” [Nehemiah 3:1, “Then Eliashib the high priest arose with his brothers the priests and built the Sheep Gate; they consecrated it and hung its doors. They consecrated the wall to the Tower of the Hundred and the Tower of Hananel.”]
And then in verse 3 you’ll see the fish gate. [Nehemiah 3:3, “Now the sons of Hassenaah built the Fish Gate; they laid its beams and hung its doors with its bolts and bars.”] Now that represents evangelism, right, because Jesus said, “Go, I’ll make you fishers of” what? “men.”
In verse 6 you have the old gate. [Nehemiah 3:6, “Joiada the son of Paseah and Meshullam the son of Besodeiah repaired the Old Gate; they laid its beams and hung its doors with its bolts and its bars.”] Now the allegorist would say the “Old Gate” is conversion because don’t all things become new when you’re “in Christ.” You transfer from old to new.
Verse 13 of Nehemiah 3 is the valley gate. [Nehemiah 1:13, “Hanun and the inhabitants of Zanoah repaired the Valley Gate. They built it and hung its doors with its bolts and its bars, and a thousand cubits of the wall to the Refuse Gate.”] And they say that represents the believer overcoming death because David says in Psalm 23, “Though I walk through the” what? “valley of death I will fear no evil.”
And I’m always interested in what they’re going to do with the dung gate, and they that represents hell because Jesus, in Matthew 5 analogized hell to manure being burned in a place called Gehenna, refuse being burned outside the city gates. Verse 15 talks about the fountain gate and of course that would represent healing because Jesus told the blind man to wash in the pool of Siloam if I remember right, John 9. [John 9:11, “He answered, ‘The man who is called Jesus made clay, and anointed my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash’; so I went away and washed, and I received sight.”’] Verse 26 talks about the water gate; the water gate would represent what? The Holy Spirit, because Jesus, did He not say in John 7, “Out of your innermost being will flow living waters,” referring to the Holy Spirit.
And then you have the horse gate; now didn’t James 3:3 talk about the tongue is like a bit in a horse’s mouth? [James 3:3, “Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well.”] So when you see the horse gate you’re supposed to remember to control your tongue.
And then you have verse 29, the east gate, and the east gate represents the second coming of Jesus because according to Matthew 24 His coming is like lightening in the east. And then verses 31-32 you have the inspection gate and that represents the judgment seat of rewards because God is going to take our works and put them through a fire to inspect their quality.
So you listen to something like this and you say great sermon, wrong passage, which is kind of like a lot of the evangelical preaching you hear today. It’s like good stuff, it gives me the liver quiver of the day that I’m looking for, but where in the world is he getting this information from because when I read Nehemiah 3 I don’t see anything about evangelism or conversion or controlling our tongue. Do you know what the fish gate was? Are you ready for this? They took fish in and out of the gate, period. And it’s the same with all these other gates, the horse gate, the water gate, Watergate… that’s a bad word anyway in America.
What I’m trying to describe is this is the mindset that starts to take over in Alexandria, Egypt, where they move into this very aggressive allegorization. So what is happening is the preachers and teachers from Alexandria, Egypt, art NOT deriving their ideas from the text; they’re reading them into the text. Now if you want to preach a sermon on evangelism and the Holy Spirit, I can’t tell you how many verses I can think of to do that but they didn’t do that in Alexandria, Egypt, what they started to do is they moved into allegorization.
So this is what takes over; this is what eclipses Antioch. This mentality is what eclipses what the church taught for 200 years. And this, beloved, is what dominates the church for over a thousand years, this mentality. This is why God raised up the Protestant Reformers, to correct this problem.
So why should we not allegorize? I think I’m actually running out of time so we’ll pick up there next week; I’ve got four problems against allegorization but I hope you find this helpful because this is the background you need to have to understand the Protestant Reformation.