The course of world history: acid test for the
interpretation of the Bible? / Reply - Ernst Panzer 00, 2000-10-09
Having studied the prophetic Word for forty years, I have discovered that for
the interpretation of the prophetic Word there is only one fully qualified critic, and that is
the course of world history and the history of the church. Even if we have the most
comprehensive knowledge of the Bible, this is what we must repeatedly confront afresh, and it is
only in this way that we can avoid faulty interpretations. If it confirms our view or
interpretation, then we are on the right track, and can point the way with a great degree of
(Ernst Panzer / https://www.philadelphia-verlag.com)
At first glance, the statement quoted above appears perfectly reasonable and
objectively based. In the last resort it is the normative force of the factual which puts an end to
all speculations and interpretations and brings about objective realities. This applies at all
events to the things of this world. But does it apply to divine prophecy as well?
Any line of theoretical argument here would undeniably be colored by the personal point of view of the author; so we will try to base our analysis on reality – taking for granted that this is the reality of the Bible.
Let us imagine ourselves in the time of Jesus, and single out one of those members of the Sanhedrin who as an elder and scribe, along with the high priest Kaiphas, exercised religious authority in Israel. As a member of the Sanhedrin, he of course has knowledge of the scriptures, and a familiarity with the prophecies of the Old Testament that few in Israel can equal. And now this Jesus from Nazareth comes along, with the claim to be the anointed one foretold by the prophets on repeated occasions, the Messiah who is to lead the people of Israel to world dominion as their king. Let us further assume that this scribe, unlike others of the Sanhedrin, does not have to fear the loss of power and influence, and so is not amenable to slander or intrigue.
This man now observes over a period of about three years the "course of world history and history of the church" in Israel. At the end of these three years he can draw conclusions like these about the Nazarene:
- He preaches a different faith from that of the Jews. Not "An eye for an eye", but "Love your enemies".
(See also Discourse 75: "Must Christians love
- He works miracles, admittedly, but there are others who do as much, and
no one can tell from what source they derive the power to do this.
- He sets his face against the scribes and the Pharisees, calling them a
generation of vipers.
- He proclaims himself to be the Son of God, yet he does not even have the
power to protect himself from the Romans.
- The majority of the Israelites – including the Sanhedrin and the high
priest – reject him.
If now this scribe takes as his starting point the maxim that "for the
interpretation of the prophetic Word there is only one qualified critic, and that is the course of
world history and the history of the church", then in view of the course of world history and the
history of the church, as shown in these last three years in Israel, he must inevitably come to the
conclusion that all those who see in this Jesus of Nazareth the Messiah foretold by Scripture are
patently relying on a mistaken interpretation. And as we know, it is just this reaction which the
Gospels convey to us in the person of Kaiphas, the high priest. It appears, then, that it is
precisely this supposed critical authority of "the course of world history and the history of the
church" which resulted in such total blindness of the people of Israel and its religious leaders.
But the traces of this attitude of mind are not only to be found in the past. Even today there are some interpreters, for example, who see Napoleon III as the Antichrist who will be resurrected in the Last Days. And that even though the Scriptures tell us that the ungodly – and Napoleon III must surely be one of these, if he is to return as the Antichrist – will not rise again until the Universal Resurrection at the end of the world, to eternal damnation in the Last Judgment, and not before!
But these attempts to force worldly events to fit the prophecies of the Bible lead likewise to the view that the foundation of the state of Israel in the year 1948 should be seen as the gathering together of the people of Israel in their own land, as prophesied by Scripture. This too involves a somewhat superficial view of the events of world history, where judgment is passed without the proper testing of the Scriptures. In the interest of objectivity let us note here that E. Panzer, the author of the passage quoted above, rejects this point of view.
If we now test the Scriptures, we will not find a single prophecy that promises, with reference to this restoration of Israel by its God, that it would come to fulfillment in our own day. The Jews have not "sought their God weeping" (Jer 50,4) in the time since the year 1948, nor have the nations brought the sons of Israel "in their bosom" and carried their daughters "on their shoulders" (Isa 49,22). On the contrary, they were hindered in their attempts to reach Israel by ship in the forties, and to this day they must wage war for this country, and kill and be killed. Nor has the Holy Spirit been poured out on them (Joel 3,1), nor, to this day, has the people of Israel in its entirety turned to its God (Eze 20,42-44). And at the present time in particular it can be seen that the peace promised in this connection to this people (Isa 60,17; Jer 33,9) does not exist, not to speak of the fact that through this gathering together the other nations too are to acknowledge the Lord their God, and come to believe in him (Eze 36, 23-24). And this is after all not so surprising, seeing that it was actually not their God who gathered them, but Theodore Herzl's Zionists, who on the basis of their own, human motivation worked for the restoration of their people and carried it through.
To avoid giving any wrong impression here, this country belongs to the Jews. It was made over to them by God. But they were dispersed in the world by their God, with the promise that he – their God and ours – himself would gather them and bring them back out of this Diaspora. And unless one is prepared to see Theodore Herzl as the God of Israel, this time has not yet come. Consequently all these promises have not yet met with fulfillment. So Israel will not rest in peace in this country either. On the contrary, Israel’s politics will make it increasingly unpopular in the world as a whole.
We can at any rate assume, in analyzing the relevant scriptural passages, that Israel will succeed, as a first step, in displacing the Palestinians from East Jerusalem and in at least recovering full possession of the Mount of the Temple. It is the prophecies relating to the Temple, found both in the Old and in the New Testament, which entitle us to make this assumption.
They will do away with the regular sacrifice and set up the abomination of desolation.
Dan 11,31 "Forces from him will arise, desecrate the sanctuary fortress, and do away with the regular sacrifice. And they will set up the abomination of desolation. 11,32 "By smooth words he will turn to godlessness those who act wickedly toward the covenant, but the people who know their God will display strength and take action. Dan 11,31-32;
In the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering.
Dan 9,27 "And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate." Dan 9,27;
From the time that the regular sacrifice is abolished and the abomination of desolation is set up.
Dan 12,11 "From the time that the regular sacrifice is abolished and the abomination of desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days. 12,12 "How blessed is he who keeps waiting and attains to the 1,335 days! 12,13 "But as for you, go your way to the end; then you will enter into rest and rise again for your allotted portion at the end of the age." Dan 12,11-13;
The abomination of desolation is standing in the holy place.
Mt 24,15 "Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand). Mt 24,15;
He takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.
2The 2,3 Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 2,4 who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. 2The 2, 3- 4;
Get up and measure the temple of God and the altar, and those who worship in it.
Rev 11,1 Then there was given me a measuring rod like a staff; and
someone said, "Get up and measure the temple of God and the altar, and those who worship in
it. 11,2 "Leave out the court which is outside the temple and do not measure it, for it has
been given to the nations; and they will tread under foot the holy city for forty-two months. Off
11, 1- 2;
These passages all refer to the Last Days. Both in Dan 9,27 and in Dan 11,31 and
12,11, as well as in the New Testament passages, the holy place – that is, the Temple in Jerusalem
– is spoken of, and in the passages from Daniel the regular sacrifice is referred to, which will
be done away with. The "regular sacrifice" is the morning and evening sacrifice in the form of
divine service established by Moses, and if it is here done away with, it must then have existed
before. Now according to the Jewish rite the daily sacrifice can only be made on the sacrificial
altar, and a sacrificial altar, in turn, can only stand in the Temple. But the Temple itself can
only stand on the same spot as the Temple on the Mount of the Temple in Jerusalem which was
destroyed, where for 1300 years the Omar Mosque (more properly, the Dome of the Rock) has stood –
the place from where, according to Islamic belief, the Prophet Mohammed ascended into heaven. If we
now go along with this interpretation of the scriptural passages quoted, there must in the Last Days
be a Temple in Jerusalem once more. But to build this Temple – the third, after the Temple of
Solomon and that of Herod – Israel must first recover the Mount of the Temple.
Coming back now to the return of the Israelites in the time since the year 1948, and the confusion of this development with the gathering together of the people by God in the Last Days, we can establish the following points:
- For the reasons set forth above, the foundation of the state of Israel in
the year 1948 cannot be the gathering together of Israel by its God in the Last Days. But this also
confutes the conclusion, so readily made in this context, that we are already at the present time
living in the Last Days.
- But we can also see that trusting in "the course of world history and
the history of the church" as the "one qualified critic" for the exposition of the prophetic
Word carries with it the considerable risk that we may all too easily confuse human doings and
actions with the action of God.
- And finally it becomes plain that the old principle of our fathers in the
faith, "sola scriptura", is still valid today, and that Scripture can only be expounded on the
basis of Scripture.
There can be no doubt that true prophecy will become reality at some time, nor can
there be any doubt that the faithful are repeatedly called on to test the signs of the times so as
to see how far we have come towards the fulfillment of the prophetic Word. But we absolutely must
not, in the course of this testing, set the events of world history as a critical authority above
the Scriptures, but must take the opposite line, testing worldly occurrences against the Word of
If Kaiphas, in his day, had acted like this, he would perhaps have judged differently. And if those who adhere to "the gathering of Israel in the year 1948" were to do so, they would likewise see that much more is needed for the fulfillment of this prophecy than that a portion of the people of Israel has colonized a portion of the land of Israel, and has been compelled for decades now to defend it against the Palestinians, with military violence and many deaths on both sides.
(See also Discourse 08: "The gathering of Israel:
already since 1948, or not to happen until the Last Days?")
(See also Discourse 101: "The "Israel movement"
in the Christian congregations")