It is disturbing to discover how much we are all victims of our own presuppositions.
A truth’s initial commotion is directly proportional to how deeply the lie was believed. It wasn’t the world being round that agitated people, but that the world wasn’t flat. When a well-packaged web of lies has been sold gradually to the masses over generations, the truth will seem utterly preposterous and its speaker a raving lunatic.
As we study the Word of God, let’s guard against becoming victims of our own presumptions and presuppositions.
There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all argument, and which cannot fail to keep man in everlasting ignorance. That principle is condemnation before investigation.
Our recent book, The Kingdom, Power and Glory, is an excellent example. While we are most gratified by the numerous emails received from people whose lives have been profoundly affected, refocused, and revitalized by the practical implications of our book, there are some who stumble over several widespread misconceptions. There at least three major hermeneutic pitfalls one can encounter.
1. “Everyone in Heaven Is Equal”
Many are disturbed to realize that not everyone who enters heaven will be “equal” in their assignments or responsibilities. The Scripture clearly teaches that we all are to appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10) to receive the re-wards for our “fruit bearing”—perseverance and diligence. Our sins have been completely dealt with at the Cross. But our fruit bearing subsequently is the issue before the Judgment Seat of Christ. Our behavior after receiving Christ matters!
Unlike the assurance which all Christians have that we possess eternal life and will be raised up to enjoy it in the presence of God (Jn 6:39-40), our partaking as metachoi of the Messiah in His dominion over creation is attained by doing His will to the end (Rev 2:26-27).
If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.
1 Corinthians 3:14,15
These men (and women) are believers; their justification is not at issue (Cf. 1 Cor 3:15). Judgment will emanate from the Bema seat, with a just recompense of reward for works—fruit bearing—positive and negative as appropriate (Mt 18:23-35; 24:42-51; 25:14-30; Mk 8:34-38; Lk 12:1-12; 41-48; 19:11-27).
This, of course, is the main practical thrust of our recent book (and our featured study this month, Inheritance and Rewards.
In his colorful Foreword to our book, Dr. William Welty highlights our message to the Church of Laodicea, which certainly characterizes the church of today (Cf. Rev 3:14-22). The fact that our book is highly controversial in some quarters shouldn’t surprise us. As Dr. Welty queries, “What do you suppose was the reaction of the Pastor of the Church of Laodicea when he received John’s missive from Patmos?”
2. “Kingdom of Heaven” and “Kingdom of God” are Synonymous
Only Matthew uses the specific term, “Kingdom of Heaven,” and he does so 33 times. (Yet, he occasionally uses the more comprehensive term, “Kingdom of God,” five times.) Most commentators fail to recognize that the Kingdom of Heaven is a genitive of source, not a genitive of apposition. (In both He-brew and German, the word “of” and the word “from” are identical. Translating it, the Kingdom from Heaven, would relieve the ambiguity.)
In addition to being referenced in several other places, the Kingdom from Heaven is the fifth of the five kingdoms listed in Daniel (Cf. Daniel 2:44-46). Recognizing Matthew’s unique specificity reveals much about the forthcoming Millennial Kingdom, and the Throne of David, which would otherwise be obscured.
It is interesting that while the “Kingdom of God” always deals with sevens (seven churches, etc.), the “Kingdom of Hea-ven” is always in twelves: 12 tribes, 12 apostles ruling over the 12 tribes, 12 Kingdom parables, 12 Kingdom mysteries, 12,000 sealed from each of 12 tribes; the New Jerusalem will have 12 gates, 12 foundation stones, and is described as being 12,000 furlongs in each of three dimensions. (These are explored in our briefing, Thy Kingdom Come.)
3. “Outer Darkness” Refers to Hell
Another disturbing presumption relates to the term, “outer darkness,” which Matthew uses in several places. I suspect that we all have been guilty of presuming that this refers to “hell.” However, the unique construction in the Greek strongly indicates otherwise, and profoundly impacts our understanding of Matthew’s unique presentations of the Kingdom events.
This phrase, to. sko,toj to. evxw,teron, is more precisely, the “darkness outside,” and is so rendered in the International Standard Version (ISV). The Greek term to. sko,toj means literally “the shadow” or “the darkness.”
The term to. evxw,teron “the outside place” is, strictly speaking, a comparative adjective of evxw, which means “outside.” Dr. William Welty, one of the principal translators of the ISV, admits that it could be more accurately rendered as “the darkness farther away,” implying a place which entails lesser illumination than places closer in. (The LXX employs evxw,teroj over 20 times in the final chapters of Ezekiel, which specifically deal with the Millennial temple.)
The allusions in all three Matthew citations are clearly “ob-server true,” in that they are given from the standpoint of one who is inside the Father’s house, which any New Testament era observer would see as being the Jerusalem Temple.
The Shekinah glory, the observable light that emanates from the manifested presence of God, is seen within the Holy of Holies, and is not directly observable from any other area of the Temple grounds, except on very rare occasions (such as the Temple dedication ceremony, when the Glory of God filled the entire Temple and its surrounding compound, resulting in a condition during which no one could carry out ministerial responsibilities).
The place that is “the darkness outside” refers to any area of the Temple grounds other than the Holy of Holies. It’s talking about the place in which the Shekinah does not normally manifest, but which is, nevertheless, within the Father’s House.1
Many competent scholars recognize that this phrase is commonly misunderstood, due to an erroneous presumption from an unintended connotative transfer. This view, therefore, is consistent among an abundance of acknowledged experts, including:
• Thayer Greek/English Lexicon of the New Testament2
• Kenneth Wuest, Expanded Translation of the Greek New Testament3
• Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study New Testament (with Parallel Greek)4
• Warren Wiersbe, Bible Exposition Commentary5
• Charles Stanley, Eternal Security6
• Erwin Lutzer, Your Eternal Reward7
• Tony Evans, The Prophecy Study Bible8
These references are in addition to those of Joseph Dillow,9 G. H. Lang,10 and A. Edwin Wilson,11 et al. This doesn’t mean that these views are unquestionably correct; it simply high-lights that our view is not inconsistent with the best of con-temporary conservative scholarship. The supplemental phrase, “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” is simply a Hebraism expressing extreme disappointment, and is not necessarily invariably associated with damnation.
The Scriptures indicate that God will wipe tears from our eyes in heaven. Why are there any tears? There is no death, no sorrow, or pain (Cf. Rev 21:4). I suspect that it may be our response when we, at the Judgment Seat, are confronted with the opportunities we have missed or deferred:
Of all the words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: It might have been.
—John Greenleaf Whittier
As Christians, our behavior matters. Every day that the Lord tarries is another day in which we can improve our report card.
These topics are further addressed in new special studies deriving from our book, including Inheritance and Rewards, and The Whole Counsel of God, which will be released next month. But always remember that our trademark verse, over the past four decades, is still to be your personal guide:
These [the Bereans] were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, but searched the Scriptures daily, to prove whether those things were so.