Mountains in prophecy [pdf]
In Acts, Luke mentions a river near the city of Philippi, “where prayer was wont to be made.” [Acts 16:13] In the course of any river, there are likely to be places which are scenic, and peaceful. Rivers in any country may picture the spiritual ideas depicted in the prophetic rivers mentioned in Psalm 46:4, Isaiah 33:21, Ezekiel 47, Joel 3:18, the rivers of living waters in Zechariah 14:8, and the river in Revelation 22:1-2. The mountains of prophecy are similar; the ideas of majestic heights, and landmarks, and durability, are characteristic of mountains anywhere, and are not limited to the mountains and hills of Palestine.
Some commentators, however, suppose that the rivers described in Ezekiel 47 and Zechariah 14 are literal rivers that will exist in Palestine in the future. They miss the spiritual reality that those rivers represent. The spiritual rivers flowing from God’s throne exist in the present age, and their benefits are available now. The claim that literal rivers will flow from the earthly Jerusalem, or another temple yet to be built there, IMO, is nonsense. And, such claims lead to contradictions when the various prophecies about those rivers are compared.
An example is evident when the river in Ezekiel’s prophecy is compared with those of Zechariah 14:8 and Revelation 22:1-2. The river of Ezekiel 47 flows towards the east from the threshold of the temple, but elsewhere in Ezekiel’s prophecy, the city lies to the south of the temple. In Zechariah 14:8 there are rivers flowing from Jerusalem, “half of them toward the former sea, and half of them toward the hinder sea.” Presumably they flow towards the Dead Sea and towards the Mediterranean, to the east and to the west, but it would be unwise to disregard the symbolic meaning of seas in prophecy.
The point here is that in Ezekiel’s prophecy, the city is distinct from the house of the Lord, or the temple where the river originates, and yet in Zechariah, the rivers flow from Jerusalem. And in Revelation 22, the river is described flowing in the street of the holy city. These discrepancies led Thomas L. Constable to distinguish between the rivers of Ezekiel 47, and Revelation 22. He proposed they are two different rivers. Constable claimed that the river Ezekiel described is a literal river, although he noted some similarities to the river of life of Revelation 22:2. He wrote: 
This river is similar to two other rivers in the Bible: the river that flowed out of the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:10) and the river that will flow in the New Jerusalem during the eternal state (Rev. 22:1-2; cf. Ps. 46:4; 65:9; Joel 3:18; Zech. 14:8). Like the river in Revelation the one in Ezekiel will flow from the throne of God; He is the source of both rivers. However, there will be a temple in the millennial earth, but there will not be one in the eternal state (Rev. 21:22). The river in Revelation also flowed down the street of the city, but Ezekiel mentioned no city to the east of the temple, just one to its south (45:6). It seems that Ezekiel and John saw two different rivers, but the purpose of both rivers was the same. God will be the source of fertility, blessing, and health in the Millennium and throughout eternity.
The river that Ezekiel saw was a real river with life-giving and healing properties. But like the rivers in Genesis 2 and Revelation 22 it also has symbolic significance. Many interpreters spiritualize the entire passage and see no literal fulfillment in the future. It represents the spiritual life and healing that flow to humanity from the throne of God (cf. John 4:14; 7:37-38).
Constable viewed Ezekiel’s river as a future literal river that he said represents “the spiritual life and healing that flow to humanity from the throne of God,” but this is a spiritual concept, that may be represented by any river, in any land. And how can a river that does not yet exist represent something that is already a reality? A future literal river at the earthly Jerusalem is of only limited symbolic value. First, it is local. Its waters could benefit only those in the immediate vicinity. And, if it is future, it is of no benefit now, or in the present age. And, if he is right, people will have to travel from all parts of the earth, to Palestine, in order to see it. But, does it make any sense, to claim people all over the earth will go to Jerusalem, to view the river there, and perhaps, go fishing in its waters? The truth is, as Christians have known since the early days of the church, the river is spiritual, not literal, and it flows from God’s temple, which is the church, during the whole of the present age.
I suggest the miry places in Ezekiel’s river, and marshes, that are given to salt, represent false doctrines, and flawed literal interpretations, and Dispensationalism, which generates those literal opinions, is but one of several miry bogs and marshes in the course of the spiritual river. Christians have long been confused by its teachings, impairing their spiritual growth and health. Their understanding of the gospel, and the new covenant, and the kingdom of God have each been affected.
According to John N. Darby, the new covenant is only for Israel. Clarence Larkin also taught this. But others said that there were two new covenants, one for Israel, and one for the church. Lewis S. Chafer, John F. Walvoord, and Charles C. Ryrie promoted this view. Ryrie’s position changed, however.
Dispensationalism changed with the publication of the New Scofield Reference Bible. The new covenant, and the heavenly kingdom, were seen as existing already, but as also having a greater fulfillment in the future. This was expressed in the phrase: “Already–Not Yet.” This view was supported by scholars such as Alva J. McClain, John McGahey, Charles C. Ryrie (1970s), Robert Saucy, and Darrell Bock.
Walter K. Kaiser, Jr. wrote of the changes in dispensationalism, involving a change in the way the new covenant was understood. The effect of the new development was division and conflict, since many scholars continue to resist the new interpretation. Kaiser wrote: 
… somewhere in the decade of the 1960′s, one of the most significant developments in dispensationalism took place. It happened so quietly, but so swiftly, that it is difficult to document, even to this day. This is what changed the whole course of dispensationalism: the view that there were ‘two’ new covenants, one for Israel and one for the church, was decisively dropped…when Israel and the church were viewed as sharing one and the same covenant, the possibilities for major rapprochement between covenant theology and dispensationalism became immediately obvious.
Jerry Shugart was critical of Progressive Dispensationalism. He claimed that “the New Covenant promised to Israel is a ‘type’ and the ‘antitype’ is the New Testament that is in operation at the present time.”  But this is confused since a type is physical in nature, and precedes the spiritual reality that it represents, or foreshadows. Perhaps it would be better to say that the law written in stone was a type of the law which Christ writes on the hearts of the saints under the new covenant.
John N. Darby distinguished between the kingdom of Heaven and the kingdom of God, claiming they were separate and distinct. But leading dispensationalist scholars eventually had to abandon this idea as well. Besides Darby, dispensationalists who viewed the two kingdoms as distinct included Clarence Larkin, C. I. Scofield, Lewis S. Chafer, and Charles C. Ryrie (1950s). In the New Scofield Reference Bible the two expressions are treated as interchangeable, yet having distinct meanings. This position was also adopted by Alva J. McClain, J. Dwight Pentecost, and John F. Walvoord. The view that there is no distinction between the kingdom of Heaven and the kingdom of God, but they are synonymous, was defended by Eric Sauer, Clarence E. Mason, Clarles C. Ryrie (1970s), and Stanley D. Toussaint. 
The long time that it took for dispensationalists to escape their delusions about the new covenant, and the idea of two kingdoms, shows what a miry bog their doctrine is. Many have struggled for decades with these issues. The healing waters are those that flow directly from the throne of God, not the salty marshes and miry bogs of the doctrines of men.
1. Thomas L. Constable. Notes on Ezekiel. p. 231.
3. Jerry Shugart. Israel’s New Covenant and the Body of Christ.
4. Herbert W. Bateman, Stanley D. Toussaint, J. Lanier Burns, Darrell L. Bock. Three Central Issues in Contemporary Dispensationalism: A Comparison of Traditional and Progressive Views. Kregel Academic, 1999. p. 30.
Copyright © 2012 by Douglas E. Cox
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