Topical Studies

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What the Bible says about Axial Period
(From Forerunner Commentary)

The Old Testament gives a strong impression that prophets arose in times of crisis, and most church members believe we are facing the crisis at the close of this age. However, the New Testament shows that God is no longer using prophets as He did before He established the church. Instead, He has given us an understanding of the dual application of what has already been written, using the apostles to fill in necessary prophecies for the sake of the church. God has given these prophecies so we can be spiritually prepared for the end-time crisis and do whatever work of witnessing of Christ's gospel He requires.

The Bible's prophets, with few exceptions, have indeed come in bunches. Most of them appeared within a 250-year period beginning about 800 BC and included a remarkable range of personalities: the visionary Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel; the ethical Amos and Hosea; and the outstanding Jeremiah, who seems to be in the midst of everything.

A 130- to 150-year period began in about 620 BC, which contained Jeremiah, Habakkuk, Ezekiel, Daniel, Haggai, Zechariah, and possibly Obadiah and Zephaniah. Their lives and service preceded and spanned the most tumultuous period in man's history until now. Some historians call it the "Axial Period" because history shows the rise and fall of nations created a multitude of flip-flops in terms of power and influence. New nations rose to dominating power, and older powers fell, never to rise again. Some nations disappeared from view altogether.

Axial means "having the characteristics of an axis." An axis is "a line, shaft, event, or thought on which something rotates." Rightly applying what happened immediately preceding and during the sixth century BC gives greater insight to history and, because of the duality principle, to what is happening now. The sovereign God was deeply involved, as shown through the writings of His prophets to Israel. Understanding this period from a biblical as well as a secular viewpoint is important because it is a type of what we are living through now.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prophecy and the Sixth-Century Axial Period

Related Topics: Axial Period | Prophets


Swiss historian Karl Jaspers authored The Origin and Goal of History, first published in German in 1949. Within his opening paragraphs, he writes:

It would seem that the axis of history is to be found in the period around 500 BC, in the spiritual process that occurred between 800 and 200 BC. It is there (about 500 BC) that we meet with the most deep-cut dividing line in history. Man, as we know him today (mankind and his present civilizations) came into being. For short, we may style this the Axial Period." [p.1, emphasis mine throughout]

He advances on page 18, "It might seem as though I were out to prove the events of the Axial Period as a directintervention on the part of the Deity, without openly saying so." This remark is especially interesting because Jaspers is agnostic. The fact is, however, there was intervention. The historical evidence, when combined with belief in the Bible, is so overwhelming that even the agnostic Jaspers has to mention the obvious appearance of supernatural involvement. Or, as he states it, "The Axial Period is in the nature of a miracle, in so far as no really adequate [human] explanation of it is possible within the limits of our present knowledge" (p. 18).Nevertheless, there is an explanation because God was involved, and He left a record in the Bible. Notice, Jaspers posits this period to have occurred between 800 and 200 BC, a period that encompasses the writings of all prophets from Isaiah to Malachi.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prophecy and the Sixth-Century Axial Period

Related Topics: Axial Period


Isaiah 10:5-7

Isaiah, the key prophet at the beginning of this period, is very interested in a dominating Gentile power, the Assyrians, and its threat to Israel and Judah. He begins to trumpet a warning to them of the impending commencement of the times of the Gentiles. Assyria is the first great Gentile power, but not the most influential.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prophecy and the Sixth-Century Axial Period

Jeremiah 1:5

This verse shows how far ahead God was planning. The key prophet during the sixth-century Axial Period is Jeremiah, and God prepared him from his conception.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prophets and Prophecy (Part 3)

Jeremiah 1:6-10

Above all others, Jeremiah is the "axial" man prepared by God. God told Jeremiah, a prophet not only to Israel and Judah but to the nations and kingdoms, to root out, pull down, destroy, throw down, build, and plant. Many of us understand this verse in light of Jeremiah's influence on the destruction of Judah and the replanting of David's dynasty in Ireland. However, Jeremiah 25:15-29 shows that his responsibility extended much farther than Israel and Judah.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prophets and Prophecy (Part 3)

Jeremiah 7:5-7

So reliant were king and people on the past that they had forgotten to plug God into their present. They refused to live His way of life. Thus God called for a change in attitude and behavior.

The moral and social depravity of king and people had reached a crucial state that could only become an inevitable tipping point, or to change the metaphor, a decided critical mass that begged God's prompt attention. The iniquity of the Amorites, so to speak, was full. Through a number of prophets, God warned of the consequences of this widespread turpitude. Consider Jeremiah 17:27, only one of many examples:

But if you will not heed Me to hallow the Sabbath day, such as not carrying a burden when entering the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day, then I will kindle a fire in its gates, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched.

God meant business. The king and all his men would be unable to douse the fires of Jerusalem. The cultural artifacts they so dearly prized would go up in smoke.

In figurative language, God issued a like warning through His prophet, Isaiah. As recorded in Isaiah 5, God likens His people to a vineyard that He has painstakingly cultivated. The fruit was not what He expected, however:

And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah,
Judge, please, between Me and My vineyard.
What more could have been done to My vineyard
That I have not done in it?
Why then, when I expected it to bring forth good grapes,
Did it bring forth wild grapes?
And now, please let Me tell you what I will do to My vineyard:
I will take away its hedge, and it shall be burned;
And break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.
I will lay it waste;
It shall not be pruned or dug,
But there shall come up briers and thorns.
I will also command the clouds
That they rain no rain on it.”
For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel,
And the men of Judah are His pleasant plant.
He looked for justice, but behold, oppression;
For righteousness, but behold, a cry for help.
(Isaiah 5:3-7)

The metaphor is informed by the thoroughness implied by the act of digging up a plant. God is not just clipping or trimming or pruning. He is digging up, root and branch, stock and foliage. Everything is gone. A number of other passages convey this idea of uprooting. Consider Psalm 80:8-16, where Asaph asserts that God uprooted Israel from Egypt and planted it in the Promised Land. As another example, consider God's commission to a young Jeremiah, as recorded in Jeremiah 1:10:

See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms,
To root out and to pull down,
To destroy and to throw down,
To build and to plant.

Yet another use of the same metaphor appears in Jeremiah 18:7-10:

The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it. And the instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it, if it does evil in My sight so that it does not obey My voice, then I will relent concerning the good with which I said I would benefit it.

As a final example, consider Jeremiah 31:28, a more positive passage: “And it shall come to pass, that as I have watched over them to pluck up, to break down, to throw down, to destroy, and to afflict, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the LORD.”

There is, as God inspired Solomon to write, “a time to plant and a time to uproot” (Ecclesiastes 3:2, Complete Jewish Bible). The time for planting was past, and the time for “digging and dunging” (see Luke 13:8) was over as well. It was now time for God to do some serious uprooting, and to do so on a vast scale. Indeed, far more than “the house of Israel and the men of Judah” awaited the shovel. God sent Jeremiah to the kings of the earth, giving them a cup, telling them to drink of it. Jeremiah 25:27-29 tells the story:

“Drink, be drunk, and vomit! Fall and rise no more, because of the sword which I will send among you.” And it shall be, if they refuse to take the cup from your hand to drink, then you shall say to them, “Thus says the LORD of hosts: 'You shall certainly drink! For behold, I begin to bring calamity on the city which is called by My name, and should you be utterly unpunished? You shall not be unpunished, for I will call for a sword on all the inhabitants of the earth."

In verses 31-32, God emphasizes the depth and the breadth of His imminent digging project:

“A noise will come to the ends of the earth—
For the LORD has a controversy with the nations;
He will plead His case with all flesh.
He will give those who are wicked to the sword,” says the LORD. . . .
“Behold, disaster shall go forth
From nation to nation,
And a great whirlwind shall be raised up
From the farthest parts of the earth.

The historical fact of the matter is this: In the days before Jeremiah, God had uprooted ten-tribed Israel and later, Assyria. Now, He was in the proximate act of uprooting Judah. He would later uproot Babylon, Egypt, Persia. In this general timeframe, what some today call the Axial Period, God also rooted out empires in the Indus Valley and in the Far East. The scope of God's actions, as Jeremiah states, were gigantic, their impact on history—and on people—monumental.

Charles Whitaker
Baruch's Complaint (Part One)

Related Topics: Axial Period | Bad Fruit | Baruch's Complaint


Jeremiah 25:15-30

This is a tremendously broad commission to lay on one man's shoulders! His ministry embraced the totality of the biblical world, and some verses can be understood to encompass the entire world. Many of these nations had existed from the time God scattered the people by confusing the languages at Babel (Genesis 11). Did Jeremiah actually, in person, deliver this warning to these nations? We do not know because records are so rare. Jeremiah's writings include specific prophecies against Egypt, Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Edom, Damascus, Elam, Kedar, Hazor, and Babylon. Did he deliver these prophecies in person, or does the duality principle apply so that the literal fulfillment will occur in a time like ours, when rapid transportation and communication systems exist?

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prophecy and the Sixth-Century Axial Period

Habakkuk 1:5-7

This prophecy concerns the economic, political, and military machinations that will occur as the end approaches, but these maneuvers end with the return of Christ. Many parallel prophecies are fulfilled during the same period, for instance, the appearance of the Two Witnesses and their work. Even God declares that what He is going to bring to pass will be astounding, partly because it runs counter to what most believe could happen. Nonetheless, God will have His Two Witnesses expounding upon these prophecies and warning all who are willing to listen that a new world order is being ushered in through the tumultuous, worldwide events of the end-time "Axial Period."

It will not be the "New World Order" of human dreams, but Christ will return and continue to develop this new, God-devised revolution. The Babylonian image, which has governed and influenced the world since the sixth century BC, will be smashed on its feet, but the entire system will fragment into millions of pieces and be blown away into the dustbin of history, replaced by the Kingdom of God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prophecy and the Sixth-Century Axial Period

Habakkuk 1:5

Secular historians believe that what happened in the sixth century BC is marvelous almost beyond belief. Events of that magnitude do not happen that swifty in such a short period of time. We have seen evidence, however, in God's Word of what happened and why it happened that way. God Himself did it to bring about a radical change in the history of man. Since God did it, it was part of His purpose.

In Habakkuk, He is speaking about a work He will do that is so amazing that "If I told you, Habakkuk, what I am going to do, you would not believe it." What is that amazing work? God is going to turn the world upside down again, only this time He will replace the nations with the Kingdom of God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prophets and Prophecy (Part 3)

Revelation 17:3-5

The culture symbolized here is not mystery Assyria, Persia, Greece, Rome, or Israel. It exists down to the time of the end because its ways are embedded in the nations to this day. Babylon is the fountain and yardstick even in Israel. In fact, Israel epitomizes Babylonish ways brought to their very peak.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prophecy and the Sixth-Century Axial Period


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