The Mystery of Parables
Vol: 126 Issue: 20 Tuesday, March 20, 2012
I was challenged recently with a question that I guess we’ve all wrestled with at some time or another. Why is the Bible so ambiguous on so many important points of doctrine?
For example, there are three different doctrinal views concerning the Rapture; four different doctrinal views concerning the timing of the Rapture, three different doctrinal views on the Millennial Kingdom, and so on.
Some argue, based on their reading of Scripture, that the Rapture is not taught anywhere in the Bible. They aren’t liars or false prophets or false teachers. They sincerely don’t believe that the Bible teaches of a Rapture.
The late Dr. Ray Brubaker, based on his reading of Scripture argued in favor of a partial Rapture. In his view, the Lord will return for His Church, but only for that part of it that is living in a state of grace at the time.
Those Christians that are saved, but out of fellowship with the Lord, will be left behind to go through the Tribulation.
This contrasts with the third possibility, which is that every living Christian will be Raptured by the Lord.
Even as good, sincere, Bible believing Christians disagree on whether there will be a Rapture, there are disagreements about when. I believe that the Rapture will occur before the breaking of the First Seal, which is the revelation of the Antichrist. (Daniel 9:27, 2 Thessalonians 2:7, Revelation 6:2)
Others believe the Rapture doesn’t take place until after 1/4 of the population has been killed by the first five judgments. This is known as the “Pre-Wrath Rapture.” There are others that believe it takes place at the mid-point, others still that are convinced it doesn’t happen until the very end.
There are even three different perspectives on the Millennial Kingdom; amillennialism, meaning No Millennial Kingdom. Proponents of this view believe that the Second Coming and the Great White Throne Judgment are concurrent.
Post-millennialists believe that the Bible teaches the Second Coming comes after the Millennium. Pre-millennialists believe the Bible teaches that the Second Coming marks the start of a Thousand Year Kingdom that ends with the Great White Throne Judgment.
These are pretty widely divergent beliefs, given that they all emerged from the same Bible. Each of these views has its champions, and all of them are sincere, devoted and honest seekers of Biblical truth that believe with all their hearts that they have found that truth.
Having found what they believe the Bible really teaches on a particular topic, they naturally want to share that belief with others. After all, that is what we Christians are supposed to do, right? Each one teach one?
That is how Christianity made the leap from twelve Jews in a Roman backwater province to becoming the largest monothesitic faith on earth.
Each one, teach one.
So how can it be that ALL of us read the same Bible, are called by the same Father, saved by the same Son, and led by the same Holy Spirit, and end up with such widely different eschatological doctrines?
We’ve discussed the word mystery and how it is used in the New Testament before. In New Testament Greek, the word musterion or “mystery” means “something not previously revealed.”
Jesus was once asked by His disciples why it was that He sometimes taught using parables, instead of teaching the point outright. He replied;
“And He said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables:” (Mark 4:11)
But parables are open to interpretation. Why not just speak in clear, unambiguous terms?
After the Flood, the Bible says that God instructed Noah and his sons to go forth and multiply,to replenish the earth. Genesis Chapter 10 is one of those chapters most of us skip through — the first verse is a warning that your eyes will glaze over before you hit the last one:
“Now these are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth: and unto them were sons born after the flood.” (Genesis 10:1)
After that, they begat children that begat children that begat more children . . . (yawn) . . . that had sons with names like Raamah. . . (yawn) . . . and . . .
And we slept right through the answer we’re looking for, buried in the middle of the chapter.
“And Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be a mighty one in the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD: wherefore it is said, Even as Nimrod the mighty hunter before the LORD. And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar.” (Genesis 10:8-10)
Then, where they went after that; Ham, Cush, and Mizraim . . . (yawn) . . .and Rezen between Nineveh and . . . (yawn) . . and the Jebusite and the Amorite. . . (ZZZZZZZZ)
. . . ZZZZZ SNORK . . .
And we come to the next chapter, wherein we learn that the “whole earth was of one language and of one speech.” (Genesis Chapter 11:1)
If you stayed awake through Chapter Ten, recall that Nimrod started his kingdom in Babel. So Nimrod has gathered all the people that were supposed to go forth and multiply into his kingdom. Remember the time frame. What all those begats in the previous chapter tell us is that the Flood is probably still within living memory.
Nimrod — the first King of the World — is in clear defiance of God’s admonition to disperse and replenish the earth — and he says so outright. He announces that he has found a way to defeat God and forestall any future judgment.
“And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” (Genesis 11:4)
Understand what is happening here. The people like living in Babel. They don’t want to obey God, but they don’t want to be swept away by another Flood, either. Encouraged by their King, the people are openly defying God, trusting in Nimrod’s planned countermeasures against judgment.
To prevent a united population from going into open rebellion and forcing God’s Hand of judgment, God confused their languages and separated them into nations.
Now, back to musterion and parables and ambiguity and a dozen sincerely held eschatological doctrinal views.
Prior to the Reformation, Christianity was more or less united under the papacy. The Church became first a tyrant, then a business, then King of the World. During its zenith, no temporal king sat on his throne, except by papal permission.
The King of the World could offer indulgences, which he claimed were countermeasures against judgment in purgatory, a place of punishment invented by the King of the World so he could offer get out of purgatory free cards.
By the time of the Reformation, doctrinal dissention was dealt with by burning dissenters at the stake.
And then, with the Reformation, God’s people were scattered once again, only this time, spiritually, into denominations, breaking the power of the King, at least, for a time.
“And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space.” (Revelation 17:10)
Ultimately, the Bible says, there will be one more aspirant to the title of King of the World.
“And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition.” (Revelation 17:11)
As we count down the generations to the last days, there are all kinds of sincerely held beliefs about how they will play out, according to differing understandings of the very same passages.
This has the effect of keeping us united on the central doctrines of Christianity, which is that one must be born again, while keeping enough doctrinal disunity about the things to come to keep us watchful.
“For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only He who now letteth will let, until He be taken out of the way.” (2 Thessalonians 2:7)
At first glance, the ambiguity about the things of the end seems mysterious; why not just tell us exactly what to look for? But the mystery is just enough to keep us all from being united under a clever deceiver.
We Christians are a fractious bunch; apart from salvation by grace through faith in Christ, we don’t agree on hardly anything. But we agree that we need a Savior. We agree that the Bible is the Word of God. We agree that we are saved by grace and not works.
“That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ.” (Colossians 2:2)
But we’ll never agree that we should all come together as one big Christian family. New Testament ambiguity ensures there will never again be a Christian Nimrod.
“Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.” (Matthew 13:13)
Not until ‘He who lets’ is taken out of the way.