binsThe Word of God contains many different truths. We know that many of these have to do with the past. They tell us of the creation of the world and of Adamkind. They teach us about Israel, and the work God did with them. We learn of His activities through His kings, prophets, and apostles. And we learn of the life on earth of Jesus Christ, and of His finished work on the cross. Then, there are some passages that speak of the present time. They tell us of the mystery, of the dispensation of grace, and of God’s current, secret dealings in grace, and His work to bring men of all nations to faith in Christ through the gospel. And finally, there are passages that speak of the future. These tell us what God is yet going to do in the time to come. There are many such passages, and they tell us of many things that must come to pass in the future if the Word of God is not to be broken. These are predictive passages, that is, they tell us of things yet to come. Yet it is clear that these things must happen in a certain order and sequence. Just as it would not be right to scramble past events and put the coronation of David before the exodus from Egypt, so we are not interpreting these passages speaking of the future correctly if we do not determine the proper order and the proper time when each of them needs to take place.

Otis Q. Sellers suggested the need for properly ordering these predictive passages in his pamphlet called “Sorting Prophetic Material.” He got this name from Lord Bacon, who used these words “sorting prophetic material” to describe this task that the student of the Word must undertake when seeking to understand these predictive passages. But ultimately, this is just what we dispensationalists are always seeking to do with Scripture. Paul said we need to “rightly divide the Word of truth,” (II Timothy 2:15,) and this applies as much to the future as it does to the past. Dispensationalism in its most basic form helps us sort out our own time from those past and future. Yet certainly the greater emphasis here is on the past. We must not confuse the current administration of God with that which He had over Israel in the past. Yet we must also use Scripture to sort future events from each other. Thus, the principles of dispensationalism can help us greatly here, especially that of right division. Indeed, dispensationalists in the past have applied these principles to future events, and the result is the future scheme known as “dispensational premillennialism.” In fact, many who are ill-informed about dispensationalism seem to think that dispensationalism and that idea of the future known as “Darby-Schofield Dispensational Premillennialism” are one and the same. Of course, this is totally wrong, yet I have read whole articles arguing against dispensationalism that have taken this as their premise.

But let us not get too far from our point. We can, and we must, apply right division to the Bible’s predictions of the future, and this is where “sorting prophetic material” comes in. I might compare this to the sorting of screws. Suppose you had a whole mass of screws all mixed up in a jumble, and wanted to sort them out. First, you would collect a number of containers…let’s call them “bins”… that you would plan to sort the screws into. Then, you would mark out each bin to fit a certain type of screw. For example, you might find a half-inch screw with a Philip’s head. You would put this screw into an empty bin, and from then on that was the type of screw that you would sort into that bin. Every screw of that type that you found would go into that bin. Then, you might find a half-inch hex-head screw. This screw would go into another bin, and would mark out that bin as to what its contents will be. You would do this as you went through your screw pile, and would create a new bin each time you came upon a new type of screw.

Now this is what I am saying we need to do with the future prophecies of Scripture. We need to establish from Scripture “bins” to sort all these prophecies into. These “bins” will be future time periods, time periods we will have to establish from Scripture. Then, as we examine each future prophecy, we will need to decide which of these “bins” each must be sorted into. This way, we will be able to sort out prophetic material.

Now I think it will be helpful here if we start out at the end and work our way backwards. So we ask ourselves, “What is the very last bin in Scripture that we can sort prophecy into? What is the very last time period that God reveals to us in Scripture?” And I think that there can be no doubt but that this is the time period set forth in Revelation 21:1-4. There, we read,

1. Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. 2. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

There are very definite predictions here. These define our first period. We read of a new heaven and a new earth that God will establish. This takes place, we learn, because the first heaven and the first earth have passed away. We read that there will be no more sea. This is interesting, for think how much more room there would be upon earth for men to live if so much of the landmass was not covered by water. Yet strictly speaking, the “sea” here would probably speak of the Mediterranean Sea, and would not necessarily mean that there would be no more vast oceans. Yet this also could be a figurative use of the word “sea,” and could mean the mass of men upon earth who are not in relationship with God. Yet whatever it means, it is speaking of something that happens in this final time period, the New Heaven and the New Earth.

Now John sees a glorious vision of the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. Then we learn that the tabernacle of God will be with men. Back when Israel was a nomadic people, they lived out of their tents. That meant that your tent or tabernacle was your home as well as your place of business. We might think of it as kind of a “home-office.” So this means that God will be dwelling among men, and conducting His affairs among them. His center of work, His base of operations to work with the rest of creation, will be among men upon the earth. Then, we learn that God will be God to all the people living upon the earth at that time. God will comfort them regarding every sorrow, and death, sorrow, and pain will no longer exist upon earth. This is our first bin, and is the first time period we can identify. It is the last mentioned in the Bible. That does not mean that there may not be plans beyond this, but this is the last thing God has revealed to us, and so for all we know this period may have no end. Yet we do find its beginning here in Revelation 21. So, we have established our first time period, the New Heavens and the New Earth.

Now let us move on to our second time period, found in Revelation 20:1-3. There, we read,

1. Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. 2. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; 3. and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while. 4. And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. 6. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.

We see yet more future predictions here. This also sets forth a time period, a period that lasts a thousand years. During this time period, we read, Satan is chained and imprisoned in the Abyss, here translated the “bottomless pit.” Thus, he is no longer able to deceive the nations during this time period. Then, we read of a resurrection, and those who have a place in it live and reign with Christ throughout the thousand years. This thousand year period when Satan is chained in the Abyss and God’s people reign with Christ on earth is commonly called the Millennium, though that is not its name in Scripture. Yet that is as good a name as any to start out with, for “millennium” means a thousand years, and that is indeed how long this period lasts. So we will call this our second period, the Millennium.

Now many, especially those called “amillennialists” who do not believe there is a thousand year period in God’s future plan, try to say these statements about a thousand years are symbolic for a longer period of time that takes place between Christ’s first and second comings. Thus, by making this period symbolic, they believe they can apply these statements to the current time period in which we live.

Now I would agree that the thousand years are doubtless symbolic, but I do not think those who claim this know what a symbolic time period really is. Just because a number in Scripture is symbolic, that does not mean that it is not also literal. Would any time period in the Bible, like the forty years’ wandering in the wilderness, be symbolic if it was not also literal? The forty years’ wandering was not actually twenty years that were symbolic for forty years. The forty years’ wandering was not eighty years that was symbolic for forty years. No, forty is the number of probation, and the forty years’ wandering was symbolic because it was a literal forty years. The number would not have been symbolic had it not also been literal. So it is with this thousand year period. There can be little doubt but that the thousand years are symbolic, yet there would be no symbol if a literal thousand years were not meant. This period must last for a thousand years, or it would not be symbolic of anything.

It also seems to me a significant problem with this view, that if this is speaking of us today, then that would mean that these statements are true today. Now men might have enough imagination to convince themselves that they are reigning with Christ, though they certainly cannot demonstrate any sort of power to prove that they are reigning. Yet I for one, along with many others, have trouble believing that Satan is bound and not deceiving the nations today! If this is the case, then why are the nations so deceived? This view just does not make sense, and it destroys altogether the statements that Revelation 20 makes about the thousand years.

Men like to take clear Bible facts, like this thousand year time period, and approach them with no other goal than to make them fit into their theological schemes. Thus, they find a place for this thousand years to fit, and yet not disturb anything they already believe, or challenge them to discover any new truth. In doing so, they will positively ignore everything the Bible actually says about this thousand years, and make it to mean nothing more nor less than they want it to mean. This is how many people treat predictions like this, yet this is not an honest way to set forth Scripture, and a true seeker after truth should avoid any such handling of the Bible.

Yet the point is that this thousand years is our second time period, and thus we can make it into our second “bin” in which to place prophecies that we find in the Bible. It is yet another place to sort prophetic material.

Now we have two time periods. Yet there is a third here in Revelation 20, a time period that does not fit into the thousand years, nor into the new heaven and the new earth. This period is found in Revelation 20:7-9, which reads:

7. Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison 8. and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea. 9. They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them.

This does not fit into the “New Heavens and New Earth,” for in that period there is no more death, and yet we read of a whole group of people who die here. Nor does this fit into the “Thousand Years,” since it takes place after the thousand years “have expired.” Thus, we must sort this prophecy into its own period. I believe we can get a name for this period from verse 3.

3. and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while.

We read that after the thousand years are finished, Satan will be loosed for “a little while.” This is the time period mentioned in verses 7-9. In the King James Version, this is translated as “a little season,” and from this is derived the most common name for this time period, “The Little Season.” So the Little Season is our third time period, and it fits right in between our first and second time periods so far. We have the thousand years, then the little season, and finally the new heaven and the new earth.

Now we have covered the last three chapters of Revelation. The first 19, however, are also prophecies of the future, and must also have their own time period to fit into. Careful comparison of these chapters with Daniel, especially chapter 9, will lead the student to the conviction that this time period is the seven years that are the last seven years of the seventy weeks of years determined upon Israel. Daniel 9 gives a prophecy of seventy “sevens,” or seventy weeks. Yet these are not weeks of days, but rather weeks of years. Israel had weeks of years, as we can read in Exodus 23:10-11, and in Leviticus 25. These weeks of years were defined by a Sabbath year at the end of them. Most people think of Sabbaths as only being a day of the week, yet there were Sabbath years in the law as surely as there were Sabbath days. And just as the Sabbath day marks out the seven day week, so the Sabbath year marks out a seven year week.

Now many have assumed that a prediction of seventy weeks of years would calculate out to seventy times seven, or four hundred and ninety years. Yet there is an important fact that these people have missed. Every seven Sabbath years, which would cover 49 years, there would be an extra, fiftieth year called the Jubilee year, which was a Sabbath of Sabbaths. This year did not count among the weeks of years, as it was a special year inserted among them. There would be two such Jubilee years every century, and so every century would end with a Jubilee year. When we apply this principle to Daniel 9, we realize that Daniel’s “seventy sevens” would not cover a total period of 490 years, but, including all the Jubilee years, was actually a prediction of 500 years that would take place in the future.

Now Daniel 9 has much to say about the final week of years of this seventy weeks of years. The last three and one-half years of this last seven year period are what is called the great tribulation, as Christ set it forth in Matthew 24:15-28.

Matthew 24:21. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be.

So this last week of Daniel’s seventy weeks of years is another period. This period takes place immediately before the second coming of Jesus Christ, and before the thousand year reign that follows His return.

Note that, in saying this, I am clearly not a postmillennialist. Postmillennialists believe that the thousand years comes about as a result of the efforts of the Christian church to bring the world to Christ. I do not believe this. I believe that Christ’s return brings in the thousand years, and that return will take place in the future between these two time periods of Daniel’s seventieth week and the thousand years of the Millennium.

So, now we have examined four future time periods. From this study, we can construct the following chart showing these time periods in order:

Daniel’s Seventieth Week

The Millennium The Little Season The New Heavens and New Earth

      1                               2                               3                               4                               5

Notice that the second coming of Jesus Christ takes place at line 2, and the release of Satan from his imprisonment takes place at line 3. At line 4, the heavens and earth are renewed. Line 5 does not necessarily signify anything. The Bible does not take us beyond the new heavens and the new earth. It could very well be that this period will have no real end, though there could be changes within it as God’s plan continues to unfold. Yet we have no real knowledge of what happens after the very start of this period, so line 5 just makes this period a “bin” into which we can sort prophecies, and does not represent a time period of any sort.

Now we have examined these four future time periods, all of which can be “bins” into which we can sort the future prophecies of the Scriptures. All of these take place after the dispensation of grace, the current time period we live in. If we have properly identified all the future “bins” into which prophecies can be sorted, then we should be able to fit any future prediction we find in the Bible into one of these four bins. But before we go about the task of sorting prophecies, let us focus in a bit more on the second bin I have shown on the chart above, the Millennium. We will examine this time period in more detail in our next lesson.

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