26
Sep
22

revelation ch 21:1-2:5… an introduction (1)

an introduction

How do you encourage a church bedevilled by heresy or seduced by the world or threatened by persecution to stand firm in faith? One answer is to give it the book of Revelation.

Couched in the vivid often bizarre imagery of Revelation that may enthral or chill lie truths that when received create a steely faith. We discover afresh the greatness of God and Christ. In the shifting sands of time both are eternal and both are sovereign over history. Each is stronger than any enemy we may face. History is not out of control. Chaos may abound on earth but there is a sea of tranquil glass in heaven before God’s throne; God is neither dismayed nor alarmed by events on earth… he controls them. The course of history is in the more than capable hands of the Lion of Judah, the triumphant Lamb, and is being steered to its final destiny. It is a destiny where all evil opposition to God will be destroyed… we should neither be intimidated nor beguiled by evil. Moreover, eternal glory awaits all who follow the Lamb to the end. And what glory it is. John describes it for us in Chs 21, 22 of his letter. As with other parts of the book John draws heavily from OT Scripture. The faith of God’s NT church has deep roots in the OT. The OT traces saving faith to the beginning of time and in various ways points to the climax of history about which John writes. Indeed Revelation brings the themes of both the OT and NT to their conclusion in both judgement and salvation.

And so John marinates his prophecy in OT language, images and allusions as he gives what proves to be the final inscripturated prophecy. The prophecy is not in fact John’s but Jesus Christ’s, which he gave ‘to show his servants what must soon take place’. With the first coming of Jesus the ‘last days’ that once lay far in the future (Dan 2:28-30, 8:18-27) arrived. His arrival triggered the events of the End. Upon the church the climax of the ages has come and the events the OT anticipated and which John records have already begun.

I want to reflect a little on John’s final vision. It describes the final fully realised salvation of his people when God dwells among his people in a renewed creation. It is an encouragement to perseverance in difficult days. Today there may be suffering but tomorrow there is an eternal weight of glory.

some preliminaries

Firstly, I will assume that when we read the description of the new heavens and new earth and the new Jerusalem in ch 21:1- 22:5 we are reading about the final consummation of God’s salvation in a renewed creation (though the description of the New Jerusalem may apply also to the millennial kingdom).

Secondly, my understanding when reading Revelation is that a great deal in the book is symbolic. The use of the word ‘signify’ (ESV ‘show’) in verse one points in this direction as does the description of the book as a ‘revelation’ or ‘apocalypse’; apocalyptic literature is generally recognised to be symbolic. John is seeing visions not videos. He is seeing representations of reality and not the reality itself. Truth is presented in analogy.

The point about apocalyptic symbolism is it helps us ‘see’ and even ‘feel’ a reality that we could not otherwise grasp. The symbol, expressed in the words and cultural experiences of the writer convey a reality beyond his world of words and cultural experience. Thus symbolism conveys the unknown in the language of what is known. It comes as any reader knows with great rhetorical power and potency. It’s source is mainly the OT where God created various kinds of institutions that would serve as a symbol or model for the realities of a new heavens and new earth. From the past we learn about the future.

And so, when we come to the description of the new heavens and new earth and the new Jerusalem in Ch 21:1-22:5 (the last vision of the book) we know we are often looking at symbolic representations of reality. The symbolism, however, is highly evocative. In some instances we need not be particularly familiar with the OT background from which it draws to grasp the message being conveyed. For example, the image of a bride is readily understood. John’s description of a city made of solid gold, with walls of crystal clear jasper resting on precious stones, and pearl gates ever open in welcome will convey to most people that the city is magnificent and sublime. We are looking at a city from another world and its light is drawing us to it.

Yet, while like poetry, John’s description is intrinsically evocative, nevertheless, also like poetry, its depth of meaning yields to study. We must grapple with the images. Poetry is not destroyed by being analysed and deconstructed rather it is enhanced as the investigation brings the reader deeper understanding. In fact some images are only clear when their background is investigated. Why is the city cubic? Here OT passages in particular need to be quarried for the meaning of John’s vision to be discovered (Prov 25:2) though we should not forget that the NT also sheds light on the descriptions.

The OT allusions present problems for many of us have a poor understanding of the OT. I confess I am one. By God’s grace commentaries and reference tools (the margin references in a good reference Bible) help source the image John employs. Although no substitute for a good personal knowledge I, for one, am grateful for their help.

With these few introductory reflections in place we can look a little at John’s final vision that projects into the future to a new heavens and a new earth and the glories and joys that God has planned for those who are thirsty and drink from God’s spring of living water… for those who persevere in faith overcoming all obstacles in their desire to reach the Celestial city and know God in a deeper and more glorious way than ever before.

12
Sep
22

the mercy seat

The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Roms 3:22-26

Propitiation

It is clear as we read Romans that 3:21-26 are key verses in Romans; they are in a sense the heart of the book. In fact they are key verses in the whole Bible for they are a compressed summary of core truths of the atonement. They explain how justification is possible, the truth that runs through Romans. Right at the heart of this summary is the word propitiation.

Roms 3:25 ‘whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood’

Perhaps the first thing to note is that propitiation is God’s initiative. In fact all aspects of the atonement are God’s initiative. It is God who is keen to rescue humanity. There are those hostile to the gospel who caricature the atonement as if Jesus in dying is appeasing a vindictive and vengeful deity. That is a pagan sense of propitiation. The Greek word for propitiation (hilasmos) means ‘to appease’ or ‘avert wrath’. It commonly referred in the Greek world to the appeasing of the gods. A sacrifice was given to make the gods ’propitious’; it was intended to gain their favour. While the pagan practices of propitiation were corrupt in many ways this basic idea of appeasement or averting wrath belongs to the Biblical understanding of propitiation and sacrifice. However, when God is propitiated he provides the propitiation. He does so in Jesus his divine son; in reality God propitiates himself.

From 1:18-3:20 Paul has been outlining two great problems; humanity is unrighteous and this unrighteousness has made God angry (1:18). The atonement is the answer to both these problems. In the atonement sin is cleansed (expiation) and God’s wrath assuaged (propitiation).

In fact the word ‘propitiation’ in 3:25 is better translated ‘propitiatory’ or ‘mercy seat’ (hilasterion)

Many of the biblical images describing what happened at the cross are drawn from the OT. The tabernacle and its sacrifices were specifically designed to illustrate beforehand the atonement jesus would accomplish. In this way the dynamics of the once-for-all atonement accomplished by Christ would be more readily understood. To understand Christ as a propitiatory or mercy seat we need to go back to the OT Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) in Lev 16.

The Day of Atonement was a major event in Israel’s religious calendar. It was an annual event when God undertook a major cleansing operation in the nation and the tabernacle. It was God’s designated day ‘to make atonement for the Israelites once a year because of all their sins‘. It meant a fresh start with God. It was therefore a special sabbath, a kind of sabbath of sabbaths (16:31). Failure to observe this sabbath meant being cut off from the people (Lev. 23:26-32). Clearly the day of atonement was important and critical to it was the ‘mercy seat’.

Mercy Seat

The ‘mercy-seat’ refers to a slab of pure gold that belonged to the ark of the covenant. It was the meeting place between God and Moses (Ex 25:21, 30:6). Moses is instructed by God,

Exodus 25:17-21

“And you shall make a mercy seat of pure gold, two and a half

cubits long and one and a half cubits wide. 18 “And you shall make two cherubim of gold, make them of hammered work at the two ends of the mercy seat. 19 “And make one cherub at one end and one cherub at the other end; you shall make the cherubim of one piece with the mercy seat at its two ends. 20 “And the cherubim shall have their wings spread upward, covering the mercy seat with their wings and facing one another; the faces of the cherubim are to be turned toward the mercy seat. 21 “And you shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark, you shall put the testimony which I shall give to you. There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel.’

The mercy-seat is clearly a significant place.

The ark of the covenant or testimony resided in the ‘Most Holy Place’ of the tabernacle. It was there, in that inmost sanctum, that God dwelled. It was his throne room. The ark was the only furniture in the Holy of Holies. It was a chest 23”x39”x23”. It contained a golden urn, Aaron’s rod that budded and the stone tablets of the covenant (Hebs 9:4). On the top of the chest was a slab of solid gold, a cover. The slab of gold was a seat for the Lord who dwelt above the slab between the cherubim (Lev 16:2; Isa 37:16; Ps 80:1); a cloud was the sign of his presence (Lev 16:2). The slab of gold, or mercy seat was his throne (Ps 99:1-5). The awesome cherubim represent the holiness of his throne (Ezek 1:4-14).

This throne room from which God reigned was fearfully holy and forbidden to an unholy people. Everything associated with God’s dwelling place (tabernacle/temple) was holy and terrifying. It must be because God’s majesty is immeasurably exalted. Terrible judgements fell on those who disregarded the holiness of his dwelling (Lev 10, Lev 16:1,2; 1 Chron 13:1-10). It was from this awesome throne, awesome because of who filled it rather than the throne itself, that God ruled and administered justice among his people and ruled in the wider world. So holy was God and his throne that only the High Priest could enter this divine court and then, only once a year. He entered, no doubt, with trepidation. It was a fraught thing for a holy God to dwell among an unclean people. To enter the High Priest must take with him blood, the blood of a sacrificed goat and he must sprinkle it upon the mercy seat. He must burn incense to create a cloud that will hide the mercy-seat from view: if he sees it he will die (Lev 16:13). Everything stresses the towering majesty and holy righteousness of God. As for Isaiah, the presence of the thrice holy God is a shattering place to be (Isa 6).

Why was the High Priest required to bring blood? The blood atoned for sin; it cleansed sin and cancelled guilt. It was absolutely necessary if a holy God was to live among a sinful people. The sacrificial blood met the righteous demands of God’s throne. The sprinkled blood enabled the majestic throne utterly opposed to sin to become a place of acceptance for a sinful people. God’s terrifying throne became through propitiatory sacrifice, a ‘mercy seat’. Where the rumblings of wrath ought by rights to be heard because of human sin, sacrificial blood means grace is dispensed. The inevitably broken covenant in the ark’s chest demanding the curse judgements be implemented was covered by the blood of sacrifice. Sin had been atoned (covered). God had been propitiated. Atonement in the old fashioned theological use of the word (at-one-ment) had been achieved by blood (Lev 17:11). For another year a holy God could dwell among his sinful people in grace and mercy. The throne of absolute purity had become a place of propitiation and so a place of pardon and peace. But it was only for a year for in truth animal offerings could never put away sins, Indeed their very repetition was a reminder of sin (Hebs 19:1-).

How had the sacrifice enabled a holy throne to become a gracious throne for sinners instead of one wrathful judgement as their sins deserve? Clearly it had in some way dealt with both human unrighteousness and divine wrath.

Part of the answer is found in Lev 16 and other parts of the puzzle are found elsewhere (Eg Isa 53). In Lev 16 the focus is on both God’s holiness and human sinfulness. Human sinfulness is described in terms of uncleanness and disobedience (16:16).

Thus he (the High Priest) shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins.

Atonement is made possible through two goats. Together they enact the atonement that Jesus would accomplish. There were other sacrifices that were part of this day of atonement but the goats lie at the heart of what the atonement accomplished.

The first goat is presented as a sin offering. It is, we are told, ‘for the Lord’ (16:8, 9). It is slain and burnt upon the altar. The violent death off the animal and its sacrificial burning signals it bears the penalty for sin. Condemning wrath, God’s righteous verdict upon the nation, is borne by the sacrifice. When the blood is sprinkled on the throne God is propitiated; his holy justice is satisfied and his wrath appeased; national sin has been atoned in the death of the sacrificial goat. For God punishment and wrath go hand in hand. His punishment is not passionless but is impassioned. Speaking to Israel God says

Now I will soon pour out my wrath upon you, and spend my anger against you, and judge you according to your ways, and I will punish you for all your abominations. Ezek 7:8

It is this outpouring of judicial wrath upon the sacrificial goat that provides atoning blood which satisfies God’s righteousness and transforms his throne from a judgement seat to a mercy seat (Roms 3:25; Isa 53:5-8).

It is normally said that atonement involves two aspects; expiation and propitiation. In expiation human sin is cleansed: in propitiation divine wrath is appeased (Lev 16). The blood that cleanses also conciliates. God’s throne becomes for sinners a mercy seat. Sin stains and sanctions.

The removal of sin and purification is clearly accomplished in the first goat but it is even more graphically depicted in the second goat. One writer says,

By laying his hands on the head of the scapegoat and confessing all Israel’s sins over it, the high priest symbolised that God had reckoned the sin and guilt of the people to be transferred to the goat. Instead of bearing their own iniquity and being banished from the holy presence of God, Israel’s sin was imputed to a substitute. The innocent scapegoat bears the sin, and guilt, and punishment of the people and is banished in their place. By sprinkling the sacrificial blood of one substitute on the mercy seat, and by virtue of the imputation of sin to a second substitute, Israel’s sins are atoned for and the people are released from punishment.

Christ is forsaken (Matt 27:46) that our sins may be immeasurably removed from us (Mic 7:19; Ps 103:12). Together, both goats reveal the heart of the atonement; sin is purged and God’s throne is propitiated.

That blood sacrifice involves punishment and wrath is often questioned. Yet the Bible is clear that the sacrifice acts as a substitute bearing the punishment of the sinner. (Roms 6:23, 8:3; Isa 53 :4-6; 2 Thess 1:9; Matt 26:39; 2 Cor 5:21; 1 Pet 2:24). God’s anger is righteously kindled by sin. He is offended by sin, outraged by it; sin must be punished and God’s holiness satisfied. Would we really want the ultimate court of the universe to be indifferent to injustice and moral reprobation? The case for wrath-bearing punishment in the atonement is strong (Gen 8:20 – 9:1; Ps 7:11, 89:38,39,46; Isa 53:4-8; Gals 3:13). God’s wrath is an inescapable feature of the Bible story. D A Carson writes,

There is no doubt that part of God’s judgment against sin is to “let us go our own way,” but there is more to divine judgment than this. God, as the personal-holy God, stands personally against sin and evil (e.g., Rom. 1:18– 32; 2:5; John 3:36). Furthermore, in Scripture, God’s wrath has a strong affective element to it. In fact, God’s wrath is not some peripheral part of the Bible’s storyline. As D. A. Carson reminds us, “Theologically, God’s wrath is not inseparable from what it means to be God. Rather, his wrath is a function of his holiness as he confronts sin. But insofar as holiness is an attribute of God, and sin is the endemic condition of this world, this side of the Fall divine wrath cannot be ignored or evaded. It is not going too far to say that the Bible would not have a plot-line at all if there were no wrath.

The day of atonement (Lev 16) shows just how serious sin was and how pervasive its effects. Cleansing was necessary not only for the people but for High Priest and his family too. Indeed, the tabernacle itself including the Most Holy Place where God dwelled required to be cleansed by blood sprinkled on the mercy seat (Lev 16:16; Hebs 9:23). Human sin contaminates everything around it. We transmit uncleanness. Stamped upon Lev 16 is the extreme holiness of God to whom everything in contact with humanity is unclean. Uncleanness is no light thing. A little later God warns the nation that uncleanness will one day lead to expulsion from the land; it will vomit them out (Lev 18:24, 25). Yet this cleansing of the tabernacle pointed to a future cleansing when heaven itself and presumably the cosmos will be cleansed by blood – sin’s contamination has been all-pervasive (Hebs 9:23,24). The tight restrictions on access to God also indicate that a greater sacrifice was necessary to open a way into the holiest (Hebs 9:8).

But Lev 16 is not simply a part of ancient ritualistic Judaism. As pointed out earlier, we should remember that Moses had to make the tabernacle with its sacrifices precisely as God instructed because they modelled heavenly realities (Hebs 8:5). Thus God’s throne in the Most Holy Place mirrored God’s throne in heaven (Hebs 9:11). When we read of God’s heavenly throne in Hebrews it is a throne of grace (Hebs 4:16). It is so because Christ has made a once-for-all propitiation for the sins of the people (2:17, 7:27). God’s throne is now for us a mercy seat, a place where we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (4:16). Christ’s acceptance into heaven and his present reign as King-priest in heaven show his blood has secured eternal redemption. (Hebs 9:13-,14). Thus his people have boldness to enter the holiest by the blood of Jesus (Hebs 10:19). We are able to go confidently where the High Priest could go only once a year in fear and trembling. We enter with confidence not because of the measure of personal sanctification attained ‘by the blood of Jesus’.

In all of this we should remember that God’s character remains constant. The picture is not of a vengeful deity being reluctantly placated by a sacrifice we bring. We may ask who provided the sacrificial system that allowed a holy God and a sinful people to co-exist? Who presented Christ as a propitiation or mercy seat (Roms 3:24,25). It was as we saw at the beginning – God. It is always God who takes the initiative in bringing sinners to himself. It is his love for sinners that drives him to provide a sacrifice for sin that will enable him to act in saving righteousness. Propitiation reminds us just how troubling sin is to God. It reminds us that God is deeply and profoundly opposed to sin yet deeply committed to us and went to great lengths to redeem us. The desire to judge and punish is not what drives God but the desire to bless. He was determined that his love would find a way for his throne of judgement to become a throne of grace, a way that his holiness may be satisfied and his people saved… that way was the way of propitiatory sacrifice. John Stott says it well,

‘It cannot be emphasised too strongly that God’s love is the source, not the consequence, of the atonement.… God does not love us because Christ died for us; Christ died for us because God loved us. If it is God’s wrath which needed to be propitiated, it is God’s love which did the propitiating. If it may be said that the propitiation “changed” God, or that by it he changed himself, let us be clear he did not change from wrath to love, or from enmity to grace, since his character is unchanging. What the propitiation changed was his dealings with us…

It is those who cannot come to terms with any concept of the wrath of God who repudiate any concept of propitiation… It is God himself who in holy wrath needs to be propitiated, God himself who in holy love undertook to do the propitiating and God himself who in the person of his Son died for the propitiation of our sins. Thus God took his own loving initiative to appease his own righteous anger by bearing it his own self in his own Son when he took our place and died for us.’

John Stott. The Cross of Christ

We thank God for Jesus, the ‘mercy seat’.

31
Aug
22

revelation 19 (1)… God reigns and a marriage is anticipated

Revelation 19

1 After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, 2 for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute. who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” 3 Once more they cried out, “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.” 4 And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who was seated on the throne, saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!” 5 And from the throne came a voice saying,“Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great.” 6 Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God. the Almighty reigns.

After this’ seems to indicate a new section through clearly it has close links with what has gone before, namely the judgement of Babylon. (Jer 51L25,26). The smoke of her destruction arises forever (v3). The city which brought ruin now lies in ruins (Isa 34:10). There is a finality implied. The desolate silence of smouldering Babylon gives way to thunderous rejoicing in heaven. This is the climactic expression of praise in Revelation. The first song is heaven’s praise for God’s righteous judgement of Babylon and the final song heaven’s praise for the salvation of God’s people. Overall, four hallelujahs ring out; a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew used only here in the NT. ‘A great multitude in heaven’… ‘the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures’, ‘a voice’ from the throne and trumping them all, ‘the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder‘ from the throne combine in songs of praise, worship and hallelujahs, approving God’s actions. We seem to be back in the throne room of Ch 4,5. For the seventh and last time the elders and four living creatures appear. The whole of heaven and the representatives of both church and creation (the elders and the four living creatures) consent to God’s actions. Salvation belongs to God and his judgements are true and just (third time affirmed) These twin axes of salvation and judgement will be further unpacked through 19-22 as the reign of God unfolds. The elders and living creatures fade from view for the reality they represent is coming into focus – the new creation and the new Jerusalem (the glorified church). From now we see various aspects of God’s reign. The first cameo is of Christ and his bride, the church.

7 Let us rejoice and exult. and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; 8 it was granted her to clothe herself. with fine linen, bright and pure”—. for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. 9 And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” 10 Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.

If there is resounding praise for the demise of Babylon then the marriage of the Lamb calls for rejoicing and jubilation. Glory belongs to God who has arranged this wedding..

The bride/wife has made herself ready- the first mention of the bride in the book. There will be no further sounds of bride and bridegroom in Babylon but there will be a wedding in heaven. Here a few narratival connections are at work. Firstly, the bride, dressed in fine linen bright and pure, stands in sharp contrast to the great prostitute and her excessively opulent apparel. (17:14). The Prostitute’s dress reflects her excesses and her cup of abominations her idolatries and sins whereas the fine linen of the bride is the ‘granted’ woven righteousness of the saints It is her purity which is her beauty (Eph 5:25-32; 2 Cor 11:2). Hers is a purity both gained and given (Isa 61:10; Jn 3:29). In this image it is her purity that is to the fore while in the later in the image of the city it is her glory that dominates (21, 22)

The marriage supper of the Lamb, a time of joyful celebration about which Scripture often speaks, is in stark contrast to the ‘great supper of God’ the unclean feast where carrion birds feast on the bodies of the vanquished lying on the battlefield (v17). Apparently John is told to ‘write’ twelve times in Revelation. Here he writes one of the seven beatitudes of the book – the blessedness of being invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb. We ought not to read into this that the bride is the church and the guests are a different group. Both are the same group; the metaphor is mixed. The bride is the collective image of the church emphasising Christ’s love for his people (Eph 5:27; Isa 61:10,11, 62:5) Like ‘saints’ the guests are a metaphor for all the individuals who compose the bride (Matt 22:1-13, 25:1-13, 8:1-11; Isa 25:6-8 Cf. Lk 14:16-24; Mk 2:19). The joy of the wedding contrasts with the drunken revelry of the prostitute (17:1-6). Here is the feast that the Lord looked forward to eating with his own in the kingdom of God (Matt 26:29), the feast the church anticipates each time it participates in the Lord’s supper. However, only when his military battles are won can he marry his bride (Deut 24:5).

The introduction of the bride here in typical Revelation style prepares us for the fuller description of the bride in Ch 21, 22. There the bride descends from heaven as the New Jerusalem. Just as the world was both Babylon the city (culture) and a whore so the people of God are both a the New Jerusalem and a bride. In the OT, Jerusalem is depicted as both a city and a bride (Isa 61:10; 62:5; Hos 2:16-23; Ezek 16:8). Needless to say these OT Scriptures and images inform John in Revelation.

As John writes the invitation to be a wedding guest remains open, but barely – the bride has made herself ready (v7,9; Matt 22:1-13; Lk 14:17).

In a book replete with angelic beings who do astonishing things John’s misguided effort to worship one underlines they too are simply servants like us. The angelic instruction is clear ‘Worship God’.

The final words in this section guide us on how to approach prophecy; the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. Now it is true that testimony from Jesus in Revelation is the spirit of prophecy (1:2); the prophecy is from Jesus. However, it seems more likely that the objective sense is to the fore – the testimony about Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. Prophecy is about God’s purposes in Christ (1 Per 1:10-11. The work of the Spirit is to reveal the truth about Jesus and all that concerns him (1 Cor 12:3)

25
Aug
22

redemption in christ jesus

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Roms 3:21-25

These are key verses in Romans. They explain central aspects of the atonement. Paul has demonstrated the universal unrighteousness of humanity which, he reveals, has provoked the wrath of God (Roms 1:18-3:20). Paul exults in the gospel because in it is revealed God’s righteousness; the answer to human unrighteousness and divine wrath is the saving righteousness of God. In 3:21-26 Paul reveals how God can be righteous yet declare righteous people who are wicked. The answer is to be found in Christ. He has made it possible through his achievement on the cross for the ungodly who place their faith in him and in what he has accomplished through his death to be be made ‘right’.

One aspect of what the cross achieved is redemption. Redemption was a common idea in the C1. It referred to the money paid to secure a slave’s freedom. Helpful though the contemporary meaning was it is the OT that is the source of the NT meaning of redemption. Most significant aspects of the atonement are sourced in the OT. God shaped OT revelation to foreshadow the atonement that Christ would accomplish. He taught the meaning beforehand in ‘shadows’ so that the reality in Christ may be understood when it was accomplished.

There are various examples of redemption in Israel, however, two striking examples deserve reflection.

1. The Exodus from Egypt

2. The Kinsman Redeemer.

1 The Exodus from Egypt

The Exodus from Egypt is the primary source in the Bible for understanding redemption. Exodus begins by a flashback to Genesis and the family of Jacob who had gone down to Egypt to live – 70 people went down to Egypt. There, as promised by God to Abraham, the 70 had greatly grown in size. When they eventually left Egypt by a mighty redemptive act of God they had grown to a nation of over a million. However they were a million slaves and had been so for a very long time. Their great suffering led them to cry to God.

Ex 2:23-25 says

During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. 24 And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. 25 God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.

Commitment to his covenant promises and pity for his people move God to act. From this point God becomes the clearly pivotal character in the plot. The deliverance of his people will be his triumph. He is the divine warrior, the Almighty, who recognises and redeems his people. In Ch 6 we read,

‘God spoke to Moses and said to him, “I am the LORD. 3 I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them. 4 I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they lived as sojourners. 5 Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians hold as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant. 6 Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. 7 I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. 8 I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the LORD.’”

The Exodus is a highly significant event in the OT story of Israel. It leaves a decisive stamp in Israel’s memory. By any standards it is an astonishing story of deliverance. It is the story of over a 1,000,000 slaves (Ex 6:37) being delivered from the clutches of a world superpower. It is little wonder the story spread and the nations upon learning what happened recognised that Israel’s God was no ordinary God, he was a powerful God to be feared (Ex 15:14:13-18). God’s glory was revealed in Pharaoh‘s overthrow and he planned it this way (Ex 14:17,18, 15:4-18; Josh 2:9,10; Roms 9:16). The message of the Exodus was heard among the surrounding nations.

The echoes of the Exodus run throughout the OT and into the NT. OT Prophets and Psalmists celebrated the redemption of the Exodus. In Ps 78, Asaph writes of Israel as they travelled through the wilderness, ‘They remembered that God was their rock, the Most High God their redeemer” (Ps 78:35). It was a time when God’s great power as Redeemer was in full display. Indeed, from then on the Lord was ‘Israel’s Redeemer’ (Isa 43:14, 44:6). He was the Lord their God who brought them out of the land of Egypt (Numbs 15:41). God’s glorious power at the heart of redemption is never forgotten.

The Exodus serves too as a paradigm for future deliverances such as the return from Babylon which was a kind of second Exodus (Isa 43:14-21). More importantly it (with the Babylonian Exodus) pointed to a redemption to be accomplished in the last days, a time when God the Redeemer who delivered his people from slavery in Egypt would once again act to redeem his people (Isa 41:14-16, 50:2, 59:20, 63:3-6). It is anticipated in the gospels (Lk 1:67-75, 2:38, 24:21). On the transfiguration mountain Jesus spoke with Moses and Elijah concerning his death, describing it as an Exodus that would lead his people to freedom (Lk 9:31). It would be a redemption of far greater proportions than the redemption from Egypt not complete until his people are are living in a new heavens and new earth (Isa 50:2, 62:11-63:19; Rev 5:9).  

The main features of redemption in the Exodus story inform future redemptions, especially the Exodus redemption achieved by Jesus. Redemption is for an enslaved people. Israel had long been slaves in Egypt.

The Exodus , as noted above, was a stupendous act of divine deliverance. God brings what was effectively a rabble of slaves out of a sophisticated developed nation. He takes them through a sea on dry land while the Egyptian army is drowned behind them; Egypt could no longer pursue for it now had no army. Little wonder the nations heard and wondered; God was glorified in the deliverance (Ex 14:17,18). God’s glory is key to the Exodus and is key to the redemption accomplished by Christ (Eph 1:7,12, 13,14; Jn 13:31,32). Redemption shows the universe what God is really like.

Deliverance is a key component of redemption. It is people enslaved that God in Jesus delivers, those who cry to him for deliverance (Ex 2:23). He delivers: those under the condemning curse of a broken law (Gals 3:13); those bound by lawlessness (Tit 2:14); from futility (1 Pet 1:18); from decay and death (Roms 8:18-23). In the first century Roman world freedom from slavery was described as redemption. However, in Romans 3 redemption is not from Egypt or Rome, but from sin. The most fundamental tyrant of humanity is sin; we are enslaved to sin. Romans 1-3 reveals not only that all have all sinned but we are all ‘under sin’ – we are slaves of sin (Roms 3:9; Jn 8:34).

Redemption involves slavery and deliverance but it also involves ‘ransom’ (Ex 13:13, 34:20; Isa 43:12). A ransom price is normally intrinsic to redemption (Ex 34:20; Isa 43:12; Jb 36:18; Ps 49:7; Prov 6:34,35) Right at the heart of the Exodus, the key event that precipitates the exodus is the passover. God had told his people to prepare to leave Egypt that night because he would go through Egypt that night killing the firstborn in every household. It would be the judgement that would finally break the Egyptians. In the houses of Israel a lamb had to be slain and its blood splattered on doorposts and lintels of the house. The blood would redeem the firstborn in Israel’s houses; it would ransom their lives (Ex 13:16; Numbs 18:15,16). God had deliberately arranged that at the heart of the deliverance there was a sacrifice. In this it pointed to the sacrifice at the heart of the cosmic redemption story. In the NT we read, ‘Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us (1 Cor 5:1). The ransom price of the cross is clear, ‘the church of God, which he obtained (or purchased or acquired) with his own blood.’ (Acts 20:28) and, ‘You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (1Cor. 6:19–20). The price was paid by the Son of Man who ‘gave his life as a ransom for the many’ (Matt 20;28). Jesus’ death is the price paid that liberates his people; indeed Jesus’ blood (1 Pet 1:18,19; Eph 1:6,7; Col 1:13,14; Rev 5:9). Only blood-ransom can rescue sinners (Isa 53).

The Exodus, however, was not an end in itself; it was but the beginning. It revealed to the nation the greatness of the God who had delivered them, who would enter into covenant with them, give them his law, live among them and bring them into the promised land. He would be their God and they would be his people. The rest of Exodus (and beyond) develops this (Ex 6:6-10).

In Deut 4, Moses says to the nation about to enter the promised land,

32 “For ask now of the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether such a great thing as this has ever happened or was ever heard of. 33 Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live? 34 Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? 35 To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD is God; there is no other besides him. Out of heaven he let you hear his voice, that he might discipline you. And on earth he let you see his great fire, and you heard his words out of the midst of the fire. 37 And because he loved your fathers and chose their offspring after them and brought you out of Egypt with his own presence, by his great power, 38 driving out before you nations greater and mightier than you, to bring you in, to give you their land for an inheritance, as it is this day, 39 know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. 40 Therefore you shall keep his statutes and his commandments, which I command you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may prolong your days in the land that the LORD your God is giving you for all time.”

Redemption has a long reach. It begins at conversion and progresses until we have have the redemption of our bodies (Roms 8 Cf. Hos 13:14). We have been sealed by the Sprit as a down payment of our inheritance until the day of our final redemption to the praise of God’s glory (Eph 1:14). Like Israel we are redeemed that we might travel to our heavenly inheritance, the ultimate promised land.

When Paul says, ‘we are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus’ the Exodus is a big part of his conceptual background.

2. Kinsman Redeemer

The concept of a kinsman-redeemer comes from the book of Leviticus.

“If one of your fellow Israelites becomes poor and sells some of their property, their nearest relative is to come and redeem what they have sold” (Leviticus 25:25).

The Kinsman Redeemer is a near male relative who takes up the cause of a relative who is in financial distress with no means of paying. The kinsman takes on the debts and liabilities of his relative. The kinsman redeemer is illustrated perfectly in the book of Ruth where Boaz becomes a kinsman redeemer to Ruth. It is above all Boaz’s love for Ruth that motivates him to be her undertake her care. Her care was really the responsibility of a nearer relative but in love Boaz undertakes the responsibility. It is this love that led Jesus to become our near relative.

Although not explicitly mentioned in the NT nevertheless Jesus became human and laid hold of the seed of Abraham.

Hebrews 2:11 states that “Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.”

Christ is our Kinsman Redeemer. He has paid our debts and like Boaz he has gone further and made his redeemed people his bride. Such is the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

18
Aug
22

revelation 20… the millennium

Revelation 20 the millennium

The final aspects of the salvation story are unfolding (19-22). We have seen the end of the beast and false prophet and all who side with them. We are about to see the end of Satan. We are introduced to the reign of Christ and his people, particularly those martyrs found under the altar who call out ‘how long’ (6:10). The final threads are being drawn together.

Rev 20:1-10 is a controversial text, perhaps the most debated in the book. Quite different ways of interpreting it have emerged over the centuries. These tend to have wider implications for how we construct the Bible story. I outlined these in a previous post and said that my (tentatively) preferred perspective is premillennial. Premillennialism believes that Rev 20 describes the consummated messianic reign following the Second Coming and preceding the eternal state – the period Jesus calls ‘the age to come’ (Matt 12:32; Lk 18:30, 24:34-36; Eph 1:21; Hebs 6:5) and ‘the kingdom of God’ (Matt 6:10; 8:111,12. Cf. Acts 3:21).

In Revelation, other time-frames exist but none approximates to a 1000 years. It is a unique time period in the book. Even if the number is symbolic it signifies a very long time in marked contrast to the earlier dominant time-frame of three and a half years. All agree the three and a half years describe a period prior to the Second Coming. The contrast argues for a premillennial perspective rather than some form of recapitulation as in, for example, amillennialism; it’s unlikely Revelation suggests the present age will last a thousand years as amillennialism suggests since in Revelation this age is envisaged as short… the time is near.

We should, however, remember that ‘the kingdom’ is eternal. It seems the millennium and the eternal state in some sense merge into each other (despite an intervening transformation of a new heavens and new earth). We should remember that here as elsewhere in Revelation we are seeing visions that teach about future realities. We are not seeing the reality itself but images that help us grasp what is important about it.

In Rev 19 we are told ‘the Lord our God the Almighty reigns’. Rev 20:1-10 is one of a series of visions (some say seven) that fall between 19:7-22:5 revealing different implications of the reign of God.

Daniel 7 probably stands in the background. There, once the final enemy of God’s people is overthrown, the little horn, Christ and his people receive the kingdom. There too we read of thrones set up for judgement (Dan 7:10, 26; Matt 19;28). I take the ‘little horn’ to be the final persecuting enemy of God’s people, the AntiChrist, or, in Revelation, the ‘beast’(Ch 13). Now that he is overthrown and cast into the lake of fire (19:20) God’s people receive the kingdom and begin to reign.

Perhaps we should observe that this kingdom description in Rev 20 is relatively sparse in detail. Much of what we think belongs in it we import from elsewhere – other Scriptures and sometimes our imaginations.

There are three main foci in this kingdom vision

• Satan’s imprisonment

• Raised and reigning saints

• The final battle

satan bound

1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. 2 And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3 and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.

The first focus is the binding of Satan. God reigns over Satan. There is a strong continuity with the previous chapter leading us to expect progression and not recapitulation in the narrative. The Beast and the False Prophet have been thrown into the lake of fire. Now the fate of Satan himself, the third and leading member of the trinity of evil is revealed. His identity is spelled out in full lest we are in any doubt; he is the dragon, that ancient serpent, the devil, the slanderer, and Satan, the adversary (Cf 12:9). In all these roles he is about to be curtailed. Appropriately, as the chief architect of all opposition to God, his end is the last to be implemented. He is initially chained and and locked up for 1000 years in the bottomless pit or Abyss; chains were used to bind war criminals (2 Kings 25:7). He who had instigated the captivity of the saints is now a defeated captive (2:10.11, 13:10). Satan is not confined by God or Christ or an archangel; his imprisonment is assigned to an angel; his humiliation is complete.

This apparently lesser fate is unexpected. We expect him to be immediately cast into the lake of fire. It appears he has a further part to play in God’s purpose (v3). For now he is incarcerated. Large chains and a locked prison convey both his ignominy and his containment. Satan is vanquished. His powers are radically curbed. Most importantly he cannot deceive the nations. He is locked up for a 1000 years (mentioned six times in these verses). The number may be real or figurative but it represents an idealised lengthy period of time in sharp contrast to the previous 3½ years when he had been allowed to run havoc (Rev 12). The stated purpose of his imprisonment is that he might no longer deceive the nations (v3). Deceiving, however, is more than preventing the spread of the gospel or even blinding minds to it; it involves incitement against God’s people (20:8). Later, when he has fulfilled God’s purpose, he is cast into the lake of fire along with the beast and the false prophet and all who oppose God (Isa 27:1 Cf. Isa 24:21-23). In the meantime he is a prisoner bound and chained in the deepest prison. Christ’s reign with his people is free from his baneful influence. It’s important to grasp that Satan is bound before the millennium and freed after the millennium. During the millennium he has no influence to deceive.

But who are the nations that he cannot deceive? Clearly they are not the martyrs or church who reign with Christ. It is easy to assume that all who are not believers are already destroyed (ch 19). However, this does not seem to be the case. There appear to be nations who did not align themselves with the beast (Cont. 16:14). Perhaps it is over these nations God’s people reign (2:26-28, 3:21; Dan 7:27: Matt 19:28; 1 Cor 6:2). Some texts suggest the possibility of sin in the messianic kingdom (Isa 65:17-25). Are these nations converted? The NT teaches that only those who are born again inherit the kingdom of God (Jn 3:5; 1 Cor 15:50). And are not all who survive the Second Coming part of the church? Are not all others, God’s enemies, destroyed at the Second Coming (2 Thess 1:8)? Difficulties exist for premillennialism as well as amillennialism.

Amillennialists, who believe Rev 20:1-10 is a recapitulation rather than progression and believe the millennium describes the gospel age before Satan is released to attempt to create havoc at the end of the age, argue the imprisoning of Satan is the binding that took place in the gospels and through his defeat at the cross (Matt 12:29; Jn 12:31). The gospel is now reaching out to all nations because Satan is locked up and unable to deceive. Yet, the NT tells us, Satan is presently blinding the minds of those that do not believe (2 Cor 4:4; 1 Tim. 3:7; 1 Jn 5:19). Importantly, he is deceiving the churches in Revelation with false teaching (Ch 2,3) and by the nations who attack them. In the apocalyptic world of Revelation, Satan is thrown out of heaven but he is not locked up in the Abyss (Ch 12) Only in Rev 20 is he confined to the abyss before being consigned to the lake of fire. It’s hard to see an amillennial interpretation in Revelation 20.

resurrection and reigning

4 Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.

At the heart of this paragraph is the vindication of the martyrs and perhaps others who have died naturally but not worshipped the beast during the tribulation. Other believers are evidently there but in the background seated on thrones of judgement (v4, 3:21; Matt 19:28; 1 Cor 6:2,3). The parallels with Dan 7:9,10, 22 seem to place Rev 20 in a post-beast, post-3½ years consummated kingdom. Christ is reigning and with him, it seems, his people (those to whom authority to judge is committed) with special mention given to those who martyred during the final holocaust.

We have seen that a basic continuity seems to exist with what has gone before (the Second Coming) and what comes after (the judgement seat). It may be safe to assume that those alive at the Second Coming naturally enter the kingdom but what of those who died – the souls under the altar who cried out ‘How long’ (6:9-11) and others who died during this period? The question is similar to that asked by the Thessalonian and the answer is the same; they will be raised to share in the reign of the kingdom (1 Thess 4:13-17). All who suffer with Christ reign with him. Those who conquer through sacrifice will like their Lord be exalted as victors. Those who have been publicly humiliated will be publicly honoured (Cf. Lk 12:8; Rev 3:21, 5:9-10; Matt 18:28; Dan 7:27). The martyrs who gave the most, most deserve vindication (6:10) and are singled out for recognition. Though perhaps in Revelation all God’s people are viewed as martyrs. Certainly they are a kingdom of priests (1:6, 5:10; Ex 19:6); they reign as King-Priests mediating God’s rule in the world.

We are told the martyrs ‘came to life’. This phrase, and the word ‘resurrection’ are really important expressions in the chapter. Perhaps the greatest hurdle for amillennialism in Rev 20 is dealing with the references to resurrection. It views resurrection as spiritual, either the resurrection of initial spiritual life in Christ or a metaphor for the reign of deceased believers presently with Christ (Eph 2:4-6). These are contextually weak readings. Resurrection in the Bible is normally bodily resurrection; if not this is contextually indicated. Where people are physically dead resurrection is to a new bodily life. Here the language ‘came to life’ also applies to the resurrection of the unconverted and gives little room for manoeuvre; the ungodly clearly are not raised to any form of spiritual life. The most natural reading is the most compelling; John is describing the resurrection life of those who have endured the final times of persecution and not loved their lives unto death.

In fact, in Revelation this is the only explicit and protracted reference to resurrection – an otherwise major eschatological theme. It would be surprising if resurrection – the great hope of God’s people were absent. However, it is not absent and although implied in other texts it is here made explicit. Moreover, it is framed in one of the seven beatitudes of the book further stressing its significance. Living and ruling are the two hallmarks of God’s people in the millennium. God’s people are vivified and vindicated,

Although only the martyrs are explicitly mentioned the first resurrection applies to all believers since none are involved in the second death (21:8); a definite contrast in security and destiny is flagged. It is probably for rhetorical impact John contrasts the first resurrection with the second death; the resurrection of the damned scarcely merits the expression ‘resurrection’. Nevertheless we are confronted with a two-stage resurrection. The just and the unjust are separated in resurrection by 1000 years. This distinction may be implicit in the words of Jesus when he speaks of the resurrection of believers ‘from’ or ‘from among’ the dead (Luke 20:24).

The first resurrection assures exemption from the second death (2:11; 3:5; 20:14). The first death is physical the second is eternal in the lake of fire. The church (all the people of God who conquer) are those who participate in the first resurrection. Those who are alive at Christ’s return are not mentioned here. We have to turn to other Scriptures to see that they and resurrected saints together meet the Lord in the air and are forever with the Lord (1 Thess 4:13-5:11).

the final battle

7 And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. 9 And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, 10 and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

The greatest problem for premillennial interpreters surfaces in vv 7-10. It seems from the sweep of Scripture that the final battle occurs at the Second Coming; it is then we expect sin, Satan and death to be overthrown. And certainly for the church this is the case. Yet it. Seems their final demise awaits the completion of the millennium. In, what appears to be the consummated messianic kingdom Satan is released and incites revolt among the nations.

In the messianic kingdom it seems there are unconverted people; sin, it appears is present and Satan is set freed to organise a massive revolt against God’s people. I suspect a main reason for amillennialism is the difficulty of reconciling this revolt with the rest of Scripture. Does not the return of Christ overthrow sin and rebellion once for all? Are we to build a two-stage resurrection and the presence of sin in Christ’s messianic kingdom on one chapter in a book that is highly symbolic and not always easy to understand? Weighty questions. Yet not perhaps as weighty as we first think. At least part of our difficulty lies with our unfamiliarity with the OT. For it is not only Revelation that envisages sin and rebellion in an ideal kingdom, the OT seems to envisage the presence of sin in the messianic kingdom too. In fact, key to understanding the final rebellion in Rev 20, is Ezek 38, 39.

John’s reference to ‘Gog and Magog’ throws us back to Ezekiel 38,39 where we read of a renewed Israel (Ezek 37) living in idyllic conditions in the last days. They live in unwalled villages without fear of attack. However, Gog of Magog and other nations, believing God’s people to be an easy target, conspire to attack Israel. It is this event that John’s vision expresses. The nations come to attack ‘the camp of God, the beloved city’. The camp of God is a reference to Israel in the wilderness; the ‘camp’ suggests her apparent vulnerability and need for divine protection. Or perhaps it suggests that as long as evil is still present the church has not yet fully arrived at her final rest. ‘The beloved city’ is a reference to Jerusalem. (Ps 87:1,2). Here John appears to do what he often does in Revelation, namely introduce a player before later developing him more fully. Both here and in 21:2 the people of God as a city is introduced before being later described. We should notice that although the city is surrounded it is never in danger (Ps 48:1-8, 76:1-12). Fire comes from heaven (a common judgement of God) and consumes the rebels (LK 9:54.; Gen 19:24;; Rev 11:5). A similar point is made in Ezek 39.. Indeed, in Ezek 38 God’s wrath against the nations has all the hallmarks of a day of the Lord (Ezek 38:18-23). Whatever sin menaces the kingdom it is summarily crushed.

Why a final rebellion?

In Ezek 39 God raises up enemy nations to attack his restored people but his purpose in doing so is very different from past occasions when nations were raised to attack his people. In the past he had raised up nations to punish his people. The Babylonians attacked israel and removed her from the land. It was the Lord’s just punishment for her sin. However, doing so shamed both Him and his people. It gave the nations the impression that he was unable to protect his people. Now he demonstrates otherwise. He saves his people because they are now a holy people; now their assailants and not his people will come into judgement. The nations see that the only reason God had not delivered Israel previously was because she was sinful. It was his holiness not his powerlessness that led to his people’s exile. But now, the Holy One and his holy people are one, there is no sin creating a chasm. Now, however huge the army or apparently vulnerable their situation, he will deliver them. He will be a wall of fire around his people (Zech 2:4,5) This final battle, if it can be called a battle, vindicates God and his people just as it also demonstrates the invincible wickedness of the human heart; sin is not primarily environmental it is endemic. The battle demonstrates the absolute sovereignty of God in Christ who reigns until every foe is vanquished (1 Cor 15:24-25).

Satan finally joins the Beast and the false prophet in the lake of fire. The conclusion that the end of ch 19 demanded is realised. The ancient serpent who appeared in the third chapter of the Bible is finally banished to eternal destruction in the third last chapter (Isa 27:1). That the beast and false prophet are still there demonstrates the lake of fire is an image of agony not annihilation.

This post is finished. Have I questions? Yes, many. Some I’ve already mooted. The presence of sin is difficult to square with the impression elsewhere in the NT that all evil is defeated at the Second Coming. How do we square sin in the millennium with entry to the kingdom of God requiring new birth (Jn 3:5; 1 Cor 6:9-10; Eph 5:5)? Within Revelation, it is hard to see where the nations come from who populate the millennium; they are clearly not the reigning people of God and the impression we have of the Second Coming is that all who oppose God are destroyed. Why are there so few OT texts we may associate with less than perfect millennial reign? Why is it that the language of OT passages that may seem to describe a millennium are used by John to describe the eternal state (Isa 65:17-25; Rev 21:4)? When is the earth renewed, at the beginning of the millennium or the beginning of the eternal state (Cf Matt 19:28)? There are answers to many of these questions with varying degrees of satisfaction. I find myself persuaded by premillennialism because Rev 20 seems to demand it.

Further observations.

Henry Alford famously said about the interpretation of resurrection in Rev 20

‘If, in a passage where two resurrections are mentioned, where certain psychai ezesan [“souls came to life”] at the first, and the rest of the nekroi ezesan [“dead came to life”] only at the end of a specified period after the first, — if in such a passage the first resurrection may be understood to mean spiritual rising with Christ, while the second means literal rising from the grave; — then there is an end of all significance in language, and Scripture is wiped out as a definite testimony to anything.’

Alford’s criticism has weight.

Many, including dispensationalists, take the view that Ezekiel’s prophecy concerning Gog and Magog is fulfilled before the Millennium. Certainly Rev 19 draws its description of the ‘great supper of God’ the carrion feast that describes the end of those who oppose Christ from Ezek 39. While the attack on an apparently defenceless city living in peace in Rev 20 is drawn from Ezek 38. Amillennialists will understandably respond that this is because both are describing the same event. However, John may use OT images with more freedom than perhaps we allow. Or it may be that John is showing that history will repeat itself as long as Satan and sinful nature are present; the heart of man is the same at the end of the golden age of Christ’s rule as it was before it.

Incidentally, the possibility of ordinary mortal bodies mingling with glorified people is not so difficult to accept. Jesus in his resurrection body mingled with those in mortal bodies (Acts 1:3). The idea is not without precedent.

A number of commentators (Mounce, Michaels, Berkouwer, Bauckham etc) treat Rev 20 as a sort of parable. In their view, it as a premillennial reign intended to vindicate the martyrs but with no temporal reality. It is merely a metaphor. But why limit this hermeneutic to Rev 20? Why not have every symbolic picture in Revelation as an atemporal metaphor? John’s symbolism has empirical engagement. John is not dealing in myths but is consistently eschatological and deals with God’s redeeming and retributive acts in history. I find the merely a metaphor reading a strange hermeneutic. Yet while rejecting it, we should not forget that we are reading symbolism, symbolism or metaphor, however, which corresponds with reality.

Observe too, that in Revelation 20, there is no mention of a millennial temple or sacrifices etc. We must go to the OT to find these – things that Paul says are shown in the time of fulfilment to be weak and beggarly elements. (Gals 4:9). The writer to the Hebrews says they were shadows – things that God neither desired nor took pleasure in (Hebs 10). The New Jerusalem we are explicitly told has no temple.

Amillennialism is neat and I like neat. Perhaps it is too neat. Perhaps God’s ways are not our ways. Premillennialism may seem the worst of all interpretations of Rev 20 until the alternatives are considered.

01
Aug
22

rev 20… millennialism

Revelation 20

I once read s the millennium defined as a thousand-year period of time during which Christians fight over the proper interpretation of the book of Revelation (Keith Matheson)

We may add for two thousand years now Christians have debated the meaning of the millennium.

Before looking at Ch 20 and the millennium it may be best to outline some arguments for Premillennialism which is the view I will (tentatively) support.

There are three principal views on the millennium.

Postmillennialism

Amillennialism

Premillennialism

(Another view. seems to be gaining support by an increasing number of commentators. This understands the millennium as a symbol of the victory of God and the defeat of Satan but with no temporal reality; it is purely symbolic. In a book where all other symbols express historical realities this is hard to accept.)

Both Postmillennialism and Amillennialism have one great advantage over premillennialism – they both view the Coming of Christ as taking place after the millennium. This means that there is no conflict with OT and NT texts which seem to see the parousia as the climax of history, the point around which all judgement and salvation issues pivot and the cosmic battles of history are resolved. Sin, Satan, death, and evil do not survive the Second Coming. Premillennialism, however, believes the return of Christ, the parousia, takes place before the millennium which creates the difficulties just mentioned; full judgement and salvation is not realised at the Second Coming – Satan, sin and death still exist, God’s City will be attacked and the full cosmic renewal of a new heavens and new earth lies a 1000 years in the future.

In postmillennialism the millennium takes place on earth during the last 1000 years of the church age. The world will be Christianised through the gospel and cultures will be conformed in great part to the rule of Christ. Among the disadvantages Post-millennialism faces is its optimism that the world will be Christianised which seems to not only fly in the face of the empirical evidence but also appears to run against the grain of Scripture. The church in Scripture always faces stiff opposition and salvation is a narrow gate that few find (Matt 24, 7:13,14. When the Son of Man comes will he find faith on the earth (Lk 18:8) is not a picture of a Christianised world

Problems with Amillennialism

Amillennialism, like postmillennialism, believes the millennium takes place during the church age. Normally it views the millennium as the present reign of Christ and the deceased redeemed in heaven or sometimes the reign is believed to be Christ’s present heavenly reign shared by spiritually reborn believers presently on earth but actually seated with Christ in heavenly places (Eph 1). However, the reign of believers presently alive is normally future in Scripture (2 Tim 2:12). Amillennialism’s real difficulty, however, is Rev 20. Amillennial interpretations do not seem to do justice to Rev 20:1-10. Below are some weaknesses to consider.

• There is a narrative progression between Ch 19 and 20 that amillennialism discounts. A series of snapshots of events relating to the Second Coming and beyond run through 19-22. To place the millennium before the Second Coming seems contextually unlikely.

• Resurrection is interpreted as a metaphor for the reign of deceased believers in heaven or living believers on earth, Resurrection in Rev 20 must therefore in either case be spiritual rather than physical. This is the really crunch problem for amillennialism. It is very hard to accept that ‘spiritual’ resurrection is in John’s mind. The souls of the martyrs (v4) come to life (v4)…this is the first resurrection (v5)… the rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.(V5). This is language for physical resurrection.

• Amillennialism’s view that Satan is presently bound is also hard to square with Rev 12 where Satan is marauding against the church. Amillennialists normally see Rev 12 as a description of the whole church age making it even more difficult to articulate with Rev 20 where Satan is bound for a 1000 years. In Rev 12 Satan is cast from heaven to earth to attack: in Rev 20 he is chained in a bottomless pit that he may not attack.

• Within its own system the two disparate time periods are difficult for amillennialism; The 3½ years (viewed by amillennialists as the whole church age) that dominate the majority of the book and Ch 20’s 1000 years are quite different symbols; one suggests a short period of time and the other a long period of time yet amillennialism must think of them as applying to the same time period.

• The idea of a 1000 years or a very long period of time before Christ’s return rubs against the emphasis on imminency Revelation teaches.

Lastly both these views (post-millennialism and amillennialism) place Rev 20 :1-10 before the Second Coming whereas Rev 20 is part of a series of visions that seem to be about the Second Coming and beyond.

I want now to present some of the leading arguments both for and against premillennialism since it is premillennialism that I think best fits Ch 20.

Premillennialism

Arguments For

• Premillennialism has probably the longest history among any views on the millennium. It seems to have been the dominant view in the early church fathers (I am speaking of historic premillennialism not dispensational premillennialism which is a much more recent variant).

• From Ch 19-22 a series of visions (introduced by ‘I saw’ ) describe the Second Coming and beyond. They are all a celebration of God’s victory in Christ. This includes the millennium passage. If the millennium passage describes events before the Coming it seems out of place in this series of cameos.

• Although the decisive passage for the millennium is Rev 20 there are OT passages that seem to fit with a millennial reign that falls short of eternal perfection. For example in Ezek 38,39 Israel is living in idyllic conditions with no thought of danger (unwalled villages) then an alien army (Gog and Magog) comes to attack only to be utterly destroyed before it can do any harm. These chapters are alluded to in Rev 20. Other OT chapters describing perhaps not quite perfect conditions include: Isa 11, 54, 65. Any passages which seem to describe life in the renewal of all things yet mention elements that are unexpected… the poor, death, sin, violence fit more readily with a premillennial kingdom. However, it’s important to remember that OT kingdom imperfections could be pointing to aspects of the kingdom presently. Its also possible the more limited description an idyllic future is because they describe the future blessedness in terms of the promised covenantal blessings described by Moses (Deut 8,11, 30)

• For most of Revelation (6-18) the action time-span is 3½ years. This is probably a literal 3½ years at the end of history though many think the time-span is a symbol for the whole age of the church. There is no sign, however, of 1000 years as a symbol of the church age. This seems to be a unique time-span (literal or symbolic as a number) that presumably points to some kind of perfection. Further, for the 1000 years to symbolise the present goes against the narrative of Revelation which stresses imminency.

• Premillennialism is the most natural interpretation of Rev 20

Arguments Against

There is a number of ways premillennialism does not sit comfortably with the rest of the NT. For example:

• It seems that the Second Coming of Jesus is the decisive event for the overthrow of all evil (2 Thess 1). Yet a premillennial kingdom has Satan, sin, death, unbelievers and revolt all present and active. This is a great difficulty for premillennialism.

• The NT and OT point to a renewal of creation what Jesus calls, ‘the regeneration of all things’ (Matt 19:28; Cf. Isa 11, 25, 65, 66). This seems to happen at his Second Coming (2 Pet 3:10-13; Roms 8:19-23). Yet in Revelation new creation is placed beyond the millennium in the eternal state (Rev 21:1,2). Are there two regenerations?

• We are told that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God (I Cor 15:50) and that unless we are born of the Spirit we cannot see the kingdom of God. (Jn 3:5). The unrighteousness and unclean will be barred (1 Cor 6:9-11). Yet it seems that many in the premillennial kingdom will be unregenerate and will at the end rebel against God.

• The NT seems to envisage an ‘’age to come’ or kingdom that is eternal not merely for 1000 yrs. (Lk 1:33, 18:30). However, we should remember Jesus will deliver up the kingdom to the Father (1 Cor 15:54) suggesting continuity and discontinuity. Nevertheless consummated kingdom followed by a separate and distinct eternal state does not have a lot of support.

• The resurrection of the just and the unjust appears to be one event (Jn 5:28; Dan 12:2) yet in premillennialism they are separated by around a 1000 years.

• The clearest mention of a temporal millennial kingdom (Rev 20) is found in a symbol-laden chapter in a symbol-laden book.

• It is difficult to see where the nations come from that inhabit the kingdom. It seems the unrighteous are destroyed (Rev 19:17-21). It seems at the judgement of his Coming those opposed to Christ go into everlasting punishment while the righteous go into everlasting life implying full glorification (Matt 25:46). If the wheat and the tares (Matt 13:37-43) and the sheep and the goats (Matt 25:31-46.) are consigned to their respective destinies where do the non-reigning inhabiters of the millennium originate?

• OT allusions to the kingdom in Revelation are mainly applied to the eternal state not the millennium (Rev 21).

• The final battle of the millennium (Ch 20) along with the battle of Armageddon (Ch 19) draws from the same Gog Magog battle (Ezek 38,39). Amillennialists argue this is proof that the same battle is in view in both passages.

• There is an apparent awkwardness in the transition from the temporal (millennium) to the eternal in premillennialism. If there are believers on earth who are not at that point part of the church what happens to them? The Bible does envisage the kingdom being transferred from Christ to the Father but this seems a more natural transfer at Christ’s Second Coming (1 Cor 15:24).

• A great deal that premillennialism claims for the millennium is imported from other Scriptures, mainly OT ones. At least some of these OT passages are used by John to describe the eternal state. Rev 20 itself says very little about life in the 1000 years.

Other problems can be raised, marriage and procreation in a kingdom where it seems they neither marry nor are given in marriage (LK 20:34-36; Matt 22:30). Death appears to be vanquished at the parousia yet is present in the millennium (1 Cor 15 :54). Finally, tears and distress are said to be wiped away in the new creation which follows the millennium not in the millennium itself (Rev 21:4). However, enough has been said.

Do these problems mean that the concept of a premillennial kingdom is wrong? No, in the first instance they reveal my limited grasp. Also, many of these objections have possible answers even if some are not always convincing. More importantly they mean we may want to avoid being over dogmatic. Both Amillennialism and Postmillennialism have a long pedigree in the church and should not be considered heretical. Perhaps we should also remember that we are still reading visions. How the vision translates into temporal realities is not always clear to us..

I confess to a fair degree of inner conflict on this question. It is said that amillennialism is stronger systematically whereas premillennialism is stronger exegetically. This rings true. The case for premillennialism is exegetically strong in Revelation. If other NT texts are privileged then amillennialism will be adopted: if Rev 20 and a few other texts are privileged then premillennialism will be adopted. I think I must allow Rev 20 to be heard. Other texts need not, I think, be in ultimate conflict with a premillennial reading of Rev 20.

At the moment, to repeat my opening acknowledgement, my own position on Rev 20 is (tentatively) premillennial. In the paraphrased words of Churchill: premillennialism is the worst of all millennial views until you consider the alternatives… yet amillennialism pulls.

(I have not distinguished between historic premillennialism and dispensational premillennialism though they express two very different approaches to Scripture. Dispensationalism must be judged on the basis of its very literal hermeneutic; its absolute disjunction between Israel and the church; and its pretribulation rapture)

18
Jul
22

a brief glance at typology

Typology

When God created the world he described it as ‘very good’. He placed Adam and Eve made in his image into a garden and to them was given the task of caretakers of creation. The were to rule it on God’s behalf. This mandate would in time take them beyond the boundaries of the garden or perhaps extend to boundaries of the garden as the cultivated and husbanded the resources of the world they had been given. The potential seemed boundless.

But it was not to be as planned. Sin entered the world and with it death. The pall of death seemed to settle on the world and with it the frustration of all human potential. However, death was not the end. God had a plan. It was a plan that would bring life out of death and a new creation out of bondage to decay. God had a way to renew, redeem, restore and regenerate – to create a new Eden, a new heavens and earth that would in glory far exceed the old.

The Bible story is how he does this.

He does it by shaping history towards his purpose. In the course of this history he introduces events, places, people, and institutions that point to the world to come. They are a form of promise, the shape of things not yet seen. They may be rudimentary but they correspond to the reality they indicate. They are promise looking for fulfilment; and fulfilment always eclipses the promise. They are models shadowing the reality which is always an escalation of the model. We call these models ‘types’. Types of course abound: Adam, the tree of life, the Sabbath, Isaac, Israel, Exodus, Canaan, Jerusalem, David, the temple, the sacrifices, the exile etc. Sometimes the type is dark: Babylon; Nimrod.

When we begin to explore the trajectory of fulfilment we find it is often realised in unexpected ways. Adam, for example, the man from the earth is a type of the man from heaven; he prefigures a future head of a new humanity who will come from a different realm and introduce a humanity of a different kind. Ancient Babylon becomes Babylon the whore in Rev 17,18. It seems to describe human civilisation in opposition to God or perhaps some variant on this. Few would see it as simply ancient Babylon rebuilt on the plains of Shriner. The exodus from Egypt is a type of the salvation accomplished by Christ upon the cross; the fulfilment corresponds to and eclipses the original though it is in many ways different from it.

It is important to see that the fulfilment does not require to be a mere replica of the original. This would place fulfilment in a straight jacket. We can see from Scripture this is not how types function. The many sacrifices of the temple point to the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ. While there is correspondence there are clearly differences, not least the temple atonement sacrifices were animals while the sacrifice of the antitype was human. The involuntary animal sacrifice is eclipsed by the obedient, voluntary human sacrifice. Correspondence and escalation are both evident.

Solomon’s temple is a good example of correspondence without being merely a copy. We can see how the temple goes through various phases. In the OT and NY it is an impressive building. In the gospels it becomes the person of Christ. At Pentecost it becomes the church. In the New Jerusalem it has disappeared and the whole city is a temple. The point is the temple is where God dwells. At different times the temple may look quite different but if it is always the dwelling place of God.

Correspondence and escalation seem to be key to types. Types find a correspondence and escalation in their fulfilment. We have seen this in the escalation of animal sacrifices into a human sacrifice who by one obedient volitional sacrifice removes sins (and the need for animal sacrifices) forever. We have seen how the temple becomes a person then a people then the New Jerusalem (itself a people). The promised land, Canaan, becomes presently life in the heavenlies (as opposed to earthly Canaan) in Christ and ultimately a new heavens and new earth.

In the new creation, these types will all find their final realisation. Types are prophetic and prospective. Their promise in embryonic form being finally realised in escalated reality. Thus, just as covenants and prophets anticipated the arrival of the age of fulfilment so to do the types. In fact, the OT in a great variety of ways strained towards the new creation which has begun already in Christ and will be completed in a fully realised new creation.

The thing about typology is it contains within it elements of the reality to which it points. The type is the seed kernel that produces the flower. Or perhaps we should thing of the communion meal. The communion meal is the foretaste of the full heavenly banquet of the people of God. There is a correspondence between the meal and its eschatological reality. There is also an escalation from the Lord’s supper to the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev 19). The type participates in but is exceed by the reality it anticipates.

If we grasp this we will be saved from too literalistic and wooden fulfilment expectations. Fulfilment will transcend the initial form. As we’ve noticed this is self-evidently the case in many of the types.

In the new creation there will be a realisation of God’s purposes in the initial creation only more so. There is a new heavens and new earth. The Eden garden has become a garden-city. Creation types have been occluded in the fulfilment that is the new heavens and new earth.

06
Jul
22

the biblical case for patriarchy briefly outlined

I have been involved in an online discussion among evangelicals regarding whether the Bible teaches patriarchy or egalitarianism. *Patriarchy believes that the Bible, while viewing male and female as equal in worth and dignity, teaches in the family and the church God has granted leadership responsibility to the male. Egalitarianism recognises there are differences between the sexes, however, for egalitarians equality between the sexes leaves no room for gender based hierarchies of leadership; the Bible, for egalitarians, does not teach male leadership in the home or in the church.

Evangelical egalitarians mount a case that many will find convincing largely because it gives a theology for a younger generation that gels with society’s egalitarianism. Egalitarianism is a powerful force in a society fed by abusive patriarchy and militant feminism. It is hard to stand against it for it seems eminently virtuous. It liberates women how can this be bad? Yet, I would argue that patriarchy is woven into the fabric of the biblical story as the way God intended society to best function. It is not egalitarianism that liberates women but a biblical patriarchy. Despite egalitarian protests to the contrary, patriarchy is written into the warp and woof of the biblical story.

For 2000 years the church has been patriarchal in its theology (advocating male leadership in the home and church). In fact, all societies in history seem have been patriarchal. Have Christians been wrong for all this time? Have they simply been embracing the values of the secular culture as egalitarians claim? Or is it egalitarians who are buying into the prevailing culture as they echo the egalitarianism that has engulfed Western culture?

My aim in this post is limited to sketching the contours of biblical patriarchy and commenting a little on the weaknesses of egalitarianism.

Patriarchy in creation

Patriarchy is built into the creation story. Egalitarians strenuously reject this and understandably because if patriarchy is integral to the creation narrative then egalitarianism has lost before it even begins. Its game over. Yet despite egalitarian protests patriarchy is evident in the creation narrative.

Genesis views creation from two perspectives. Genesis 1 shows humanity in its relationship to the rest of creation. Man is created on the sixth day as the crown of creation. All previous creating has led up to the creation of humanity. Humanity is distinct. It is created by the special breath of God and is made, both male and female, in the image of God. To humanity, both male and female, the responsibility is given to rule creation on God’s behalf. The equality that exists between male and female is the main emphasis of Ch 1. Both are made in God’s image. Both rule creation. Yet even in this egalitarian chapter hints of patriarchy are present; the male is first mentioned and the human race is named ‘man’ not ‘woman’.

It is in Genesis 2, however, that patriarchy is properly developed. Genesis 2 focusses on the relationship between Adam and Eve in Eden. In Ch 2, Adam is created first. Eve, in the words of the NT, was created from Adam and for Adam – she was to be his ‘helper’. (In the narrative Adam is not created to be Eve’s helper, however true this may be in everyday life). Egalitarians point out God is our ‘helper’ implying a ‘helper’ is in no way inferior. However, patriarchy is not suggesting there is inferiority in the designation ‘helper’. Differentiation of function need not imply inequality. Paul in his epistles refers to the priority of Adam in creation and to Eve being made from and for Adam and sees these creational elements as signalling male headship or leadership (1 Tim 2; 1 Cor 11).

The patriarchal narrative continues in the garden story. Adam, names the animals and subsequently names Eve. Naming is a signal of authority (we name our children). It is to Adam the command with a sanction is given forbidding the eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When both Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit it is to Adam God calls in the garden. In the NT, it is Adam who is considered the head of the race and the one responsible for humanity’s fall (Roms 5:12). The signals of patriarchy are unmistakable.

Eve’s role in the narrative is significant. It is she who is tempted by the serpent. Adam has clearly told her the fruit is forbidden (Gen 3:2,3) but she is persuaded by the serpent and is enticed by the fruit. She decides to eat and persuades Adam to do so too. Adam eats the fruit in weakness (to please Eve). Adam is not deceived. Adam eats knowing it is wrong to do so. Eve, however, as the NT points out, is deceived which is one reason according to Paul she should not hold an authoritative leading role in teaching in the church (1 Tim 2). In fact the narrative of the fall is predicated on role reversals between the man and the woman.

If, in creation, God grants to Adam the responsibility of leadership in marriage – a leadership of love and delight and one flesh with his wife (this is bone of my bone..), the judgement of the fall hardens loving leadership into a more autocratic rule; husbands will not be the kind of husbands God intended marked by Christ-like sacrifice for their wife. The judgement of the fall upon the man and women is straightforward. The sphere that was intended to be their joy and delight becomes instead a source of frustration and hardship. For Adam the ground will produce all kinds of weeds and working it will be arduous. For Eve, both child-bearing and her husband will prove to be difficult.

Egalitarians argue that patriarchy began with the fall and is not God’s intention. It is overcome, they claim, by grace. In Christ, they point out, there is neither male nor female (Gals 3:28). However, patriarchy did not begin at the fall as we have seen. The fall corrupted generous leadership into something ugly. It created a distortion of the true grace overcomes the fall but it does not obliterate God’s patriarchy in creation rather it restores it. Christ models what male leadership looks like for his people (Eph 5:25). Gals 3:28 is not describing roles in marriage and the church but the standing of believers before God.

It is very important to get the patriarchy of the garden story firmly established in our minds for it is upon this patriarchal beginning the development of the Biblical plot rests. The creation story of Adam and Eve is historical narrative and not metaphorical or mythological narrative. The NT, on a few occasions, speaks of Adam as a real person (Roms 5:12; Acts 17:26). Eve is also treated as historical (1 Tim 2). However, even if it were mythical or metaphorical the story carries the same meaning and integral to that meaning is a patriarchal narrative. Patriarchy pervades the garden story.

Patriarchy in the OT

The patriarchy of Genesis 1-3 informs and shapes the rest of the OT. It is a story undergirded by patriarchy. Egalitarians claim patriarchy in the OT is the effect of the fall; I repeat, the fall corrupted it but it did not create it. The story of Israel is not patriarchal because of the fall or because God’s people copied the nations. Israel is never excoriated by the prophets for a misplaced patriarchy. Instead patriarchy is advanced by God himself. From the beginning of life east of Eden the story is patriarchal. The Gen 4-11 authorial account is patriarchal. It is about men. The genealogies that pervade are traced through the males.

In Gen 12 we meet the first of the three male patriarchs. It is to the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) that God gives the promises. The covenant is made with the male and it is the male who carries the covenant sign of circumcision. It is Jacob’s sons (and not his daughter) who form the 12 tribes of Israel. Israel, the nation, is viewed by God as as a ‘son’. The priests and elders (the appointed leaders in Israel) were male. Later, in the land, Israel’s judges (bar one) were male. God entered a covenant with a male king of his choice (David) which extended to his sons. Kings ruled in Israel and rarely queens. Indeed, the promised Davidic Messiah would be male. Prophets could be male or female though they were normally male and all the canonical prophets were male. Male leadership pervades the OT.

Rule by women was considered a sign of weakness and of some dishonour.

My people—infants are their oppressors, and women rule over them. (Isa 3:12)

It’s impossible to read the OT and miss the patriarchy.

Patriarchy in the NT

In the NT, the 12 apostles were male. It will not do to see these as in some sense pre-Christian as some egalitarians claim. The 12 were the foundation of the Christian church. In any case, patriarchal instruction about marriage and the church was founded on creation and OT examples (1 Tim 2; 1 Cor 11; 1 Cor 14; Eph 5; 1 Pet 3:1-7). We could add conventions like using the male ‘brothers’ as a generic title for the church. Also believers are most often called ‘sons’ who will reign as ‘kings’. Patriarchy is very clear in the NT. Where significant acts of church leadership occur those involved are male.

In fact, God himself is presented in both the OT and the NT in male terms. His OT names have a male gender and male pronouns are used to describe him. In the NT, two of the trinity are explicitly male – God the Father and God the Son. The incarnate Son, as we have observed, is male. God is not our Mother and Jesus is not God’s daughter. Patriarchy extends in some way into the heart of the trinity.

To my mind patriarchy is indelibly painted on the page of Scripture. It takes a special kind of ‘seeing’ to miss it.

Egalitarians find support for their view in texts referring to Priscilla, Phoebe and Junia. Without examining these texts I simply note that by anyone’s measure these terse texts are asked to carry freight they cannot really bear.

Let me briefly outline some of the problems with egalitarianism

1. Egalitarianism is a Johnny-come-lately theology that sits on the back of an egalitarian culture (the first of its kind in history). Its newness makes it suspect.

2. Egalitarianism makes the exception the rule. Typically egalitarians will point to Deborah the judge and one or two other prominent OT women as part of their case for egalitarianism. But cases are not built on exceptions. Actually, in Deborah’s case, she pointed out to Barak that if he did not lead Israel into battle then the glory would go to a woman; she assumes this is belittling for Barak. Patriarchal assumptions are being expressed by Deborah (Judg 4:9).

3. Egalitarianism tends to privilege the opaque over the obvious. From a few terse texts about Phoebe and Junia in Romans 16 egalitarian assertions are made with a certainty that far exceeds what the text permits. We are browbeaten by what we are told is the assured results of scholarship. We aught not be intimidated by such claims; if the meaning is not clear in the text then we need not cow-tow to supposed scholarship. Scholarship is valuable but it is as open to bias as ordinary Christians are. It is also prone to serious error as its history reveals. Find out who the scholars are making the assertions and decide if they are trustworthy. Sometimes it is obvious scholarship needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. For examples when, as here, an interpretation is an inverted pyramid that flies in the face of other Scriptures we may justifiably be skeptical however assured the scholarship supporting it is.

4. Egalitarianism loads texts with weight they cannot carry . From Priscilla and her husband privately correcting the theology of Apollos a theology of female teaching in the church is constructed (Acts 18:18). The text cannot carry such freight.

5. Egalitarianism makes what Paul declares is creational merely cultural (1 Tim 2; 1 Cor 11). Egalitarianism is strongly opposed to creational patriarchy for creational patriarchy, if true, collapses the egalitarian edifice.

6. Egalitarianism employs an over-realised eschatology (Gals 3:28). We are told that ‘in Christ there is neither male nor female’ means that patriarchy has no place in the church. The patriarchy of the fall we are told is overcome by the gospel. However, we should note that Gal 3:28 is not addressing ecclesiology or sociology but soteriology; it is not about church structures or marriage norms but salvation. Its point is that all are saved on an equal basis. It is true that in the consummated kingdom gender distinctions will have no significance but presently this is not the case. To argue patriarchal distinctions have been expunged in the new age is an example of over-realised theology which crops up regularly in the NT. Indeed, the move for women’s participation in Corinth and elsewhere. was probably an example of over-realised eschatology (See I Corinthians).

We should remember that only contraception and sanitary-ware have made it possible for women to take the roles they do today. Previously, patriarchy was not only biblical, it was virtually inevitable; nature demanded it. This should prevent us dismissing it out of hand.

We have yet to see the full impact of egalitarianism on marriage and the church. I am not convinced the effects will be good. Patriarchy is undoubtedly abused but, as with many good things that are abused by fallen human beings, it is better to correct the misuses rather than throw out the principle itself. If Christian men learn to lead in the home like Christ then Christian marriages and Christian churches will be a light in the darkness of our egalitarian world.

1 Timothy 3… the husband of one wife.

There may be circumstances that oblige women to take a leading role in a church but it is not the normal. Egalitarians argue that women can be elders. They point out that no Greek pronouns are used in 1 Tim 3 to describe elders. Patriarchy argues male leadership is so established that the male gender of the elders is assumed. Just a few verses earlier women are denied a public preaching role because it usurps male authority – how much more female elders. We are told that the elder must be ‘the husband of one wife’. Egalitarians argue that this word simply means something like ‘monogamous’ and can apply equally to a woman elder. I doubt if this is merely an idiom applicable to both; the ‘husband of one wife’ seems very specific. Pressure sits on the egalitarian at every point to prove his case but he regularly fails to do so.

1 Cor 14… women silent in the churches

Often 1 Cor 14: 34,35 is dismissed as an interpolation by some egalitarians. Fee argues this is the case. Carson argues there is no basis for Fee’s view. It is certainly highly suspicious when egalitarians, opposed to any restrictions on women’s ministry, are keen to champion the case for an interpolation. Motivation must be examined here. We should note that no manuscripts are without these words. Some change where they are in the text but all include them. The case for an ‘addition’ to the text is apparently weak.

1 Tim 2… women not permitted to teach

1 Tim 2 we are told is not forbidding women a place of public preaching but is criticising some women who were teaching false doctrine and perhaps in a high-handed way. This is a classic example of egalitarian hermeneutics. It constructs a background not evident in the text that will relativise the prohibition and shape it according to egalitarian concerns. Meanwhile it bypasses the interpretation that is self-evident. Paul is not permitting women to teach for that is taking a position of authority over a man. He roots his teaching in the priority of Adam in creation and Eve’s deception by the serpent; the patriarchy of Genesis finds expression in the church.

1 Cor 11 … the head of the woman is the man

Headship – the cause of much angst and debate Egalitarians argue the word head means ‘source’ though some may concede in some biblical texts it suggests ‘’authority’ or ‘leadership.’ Wayne Grudem, in an extensive study of the word, shows it very frequently carries the idea of leadership or authority (Cf. Eph 1:22). In any case even if it did mean source often source contains within it an implied authority over that of which it is the source (e.g. parents over children)

Clearly, egalitarian arguments require greater analysis. My intent here is simply to flag up the main egalitarian arguments and some of the patriarchal responses. I am convinced by the patriarchal position. It seems to me to be basic ally irrefutable. However, we must not allow patriarchy to stifle women in ways which the Bible doesn’t. It is clear that women played active roles in both marriage and the church. We must be sure of our ground before closing down a role to a woman. Women with their husbands are heirs together of the grace of life. They have self-evidently many gifts enabling them to build up the body of Christ. We must not use patriarchy as in the fall to rule women but as in creation to respect and revere women giving them their God-given place.

*It seems that both sides in the debate wish to claim the title ‘complementarianism’. Patriarchy claims the title rooting the complementarianism in male and female differences among other differences. Egalitarianism, wishing to avoid any sense that the sexes are the same, also lays claim to complementarianism. Perhaps patriarchy and egalitarianism are more more accurate titles. The issue is not complementarity. Nor is it equality. All agree men and women are different and all agree they are equal. The issue is whether leadership lies with the male. Patriarchy says it does while egalitarianism says there is no leader.

04
Jul
22

rev 19 (2) … the war

11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.

17 Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, 18 to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.” 19 And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. 20 And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulphur. 21 And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.

The formulaic ‘Then/and I saw’ seems to introduce significant events throughout 12-21 giving a unity to these final visions. These are all events related to the End, to the beginning of the reign of the Lord God Almighty (v6).

The anticipated marriage of Christ and his bride was heralded in the previous verses. However, the wedding cannot take place until the Lamb’s military battles are complete (Deut 24:5) The End has been depicted multiple times in Revelation usually revealing judgement. Here is the climactic End. These verses depict the return of Christ as a conqueror who overthrows his enemies. (Ex 15:3). The Lion of Judah (5:5) has come to make war. In Ch 13 the question was asked ‘Who is like the beast? Who can make war against him? Now the answer is given. The Lion, the Rider on the White Horse will conquer him. The focus is entirely on Christ’s overthrow of his enemies. He is ‘faithful and true – to God and to his bride. His redeemed people accompany him. They are the ‘armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure’ who follow him on white horses (Cf. V8; Zech 14:5; 1 Thess 3:13). They are those who were caught up to meet him in the air and now accompany him to earth (1 Thess 4:16,17).

Like all John’s visions this is largely drawn from OT passages. I find it difficult to discern how literally some OT texts describing eschatological battles should be read (i.e. Zech 12-14). In Revelation, it is clearer. We are reading symbolism. For instance we are not to take literally that Jesus will come from heaven on a white war horse. Nor will he have eyes like flames of fire, be dressed in a robe dipped in the blood of his enemies, or have a sharp sword protruding from his mouth. There will, of course, be no literal winepress and it is doubtful that carrion birds will eat the flesh of his enemies. This is not to detract from the vision. The vision graphically describes in categories familiar to John and his readers an event they (and we) could understand in no other way. It embodies the occasion of Christ’s coming as victor in an extended metaphor that captures its salient features; among them triumph and the crushing of all enemies by his powerful word.

Vv11-16

In contrast to the colt the foal of an ass Jeus descends from heaven on a white war horse (parodied in 6:2). It is white signalling his righteousness and victory. His name ‘Faithful and True’ conveys the same message (3:14 cf. Jn 1:17); it is with righteousness he judges and makes war (16:7, 19:2. 2:16; Isa 11:4)

His eyes are all-consumingly holy and penetrating (1:14). His regal ascendancy is conveyed by ‘many diadems’ on his head. However, much we may know about him there remains mystery – he has a name no-one knows but himself (Matt 11:27). His vanquishing off his foes is not in doubt; he is clothed in a robe dipped in blood (of his enemies) anticipating the bloodbath to come. Climactically his name is revealed ‘The Word of God’. He is a divine person who executes God’s plans.

The armies of heaven follows him (Cf. 14:4; Ps 103:20-21). The ‘fine linen, white and pure’ indicate that these are primarily the bride, the church (v8, 17:14, 15:1,2; Zech 14:5). They too are on white horses but seem to require neither weapons nor armour. He who is ‘the word of God’ (Jn 1:1) expressing his deity, has the sharp sword of the word of God protruding from his mouth (clearly a metaphor. Cf. 1:16, 2:12,16; Isa 49:2). This is the one ‘weapon’ needed (Hebs 4:12). It is with a word not a weapon he will strike down the nations (Isa 11:4; 2 Thess 2:8). Victory will belong to Jesus alone; it is swift and decisive. It is he not his army who wars and wins (Jn 5:22). For the third time in Revelation we are told he will rule with a rod of iron (2:27, 12:5; Ps 2:9 ). In this context his rule is his conquering and crushing. The winepress is a familiar metaphor for divine judgement (14:19-20) while the language is chilling ‘the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty’ (Isa 63:3; Joel 3:13). On his thigh, a place of strength where his sword would normally be his name is written ‘King of Kings and Lord of Lords’ (17:14; 1 Tim 6:15; Dan 4:37, 10:17) This is a title often taken by rulers (Cf. Ezek. 26:7). For the first time it is not hubris but is actually true. He is the only truly sovereign. (1 Cor 15:24).

Vv17,18

From the awe-inspiring description of Christ the divine warrior there is a shift of focus. We are now observing the enemy and the battlefield. An august angel (loud voice and standing on sun) summons the birds to gather for the ‘great supper of God’. The ‘great supper of God’ is a parody of the ‘marriage supper of the lamb’ (Ezek39:17-20). The latter is an occasion of purity and joy the former of impurity and the macabre. The voice of the Son of God leaves the battlefield strewn with the bodies of all who opposed the rider on the white horse. Carrion birds are invited to gorge upon the flesh of the dead. The dead are drawn from very strata of society – both free and slave, both small and great (6:15) for all kinds of people oppose God*.

The beast and the kings of the earth (16:14) are gathered to make war on Christ and his army (Ps 2) It is possible that this is a reference to the beast’’s intention to destroy God’s people. It may refer to OT end-time scenarios (Zech 14) to be worked out in real battles in the real world. On the other hand it may be a visionary battle of what Paul expresses in plainer language, ‘then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming’. This is the battle of Armageddon (16:12-16)

The beast and false prophet (the beast from the earth) are captured and like Daniel’s friends are thrown alive into the lake of fire. This is a new image. It is an image of perpetual destruction and torment (Cf. Gen 19:24; 20:10). Satan will ultimately join them as will all whose names are not registered in the Lamb’s book of life (20:15). Some consider the beast and the false prophet to be systems rather than people. This doesn’t fit with John’s reference to a personal AntiChrist and Paul’s reference to the Lawless One (1 Jn 2:18; 2 Thess 2:8). Moreover we read that they, along with Satan, are thrown into the lake of fire ‘alive’ and are ‘tormented’ forever; hardly pictures of impersonal forces (19: 20, 20:10). Note, it seems the beast, false prophet and Satan bypass the great white throne judgement and are directly consigned to the lake of fire. Like Babylon, their end has come.

Meantime the dead are carrion for the birds, considered a horrific judgement (Deut 28:26; Jer 7:33, 16:4).

What a boost to faith this is. Even more so if you live in a country where Christianity is systematically crushed. John tells us the state and other enemies of the gospel will not have the last word. The last word belongs to Jesus and it’s a word that destroys all enemies of God and truth

* A number of OT texts describe the eschatological battle. How literally these are to be interpreted is an open question. Isa 31:4; 59:17-20; 63:1-5; Ezek 38,39; dan 12:1-3; Joel 3:9-16; Zech 14:2-9; Lk 21:27-36; 1 Thess 5:1-3; 2 Thess 2:8

02
Jul
22

rev 19 (1)… the wedding

Revelation 19

1 After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, 2 for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute. who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” 3 Once more they cried out, “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.” 4 And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who was seated on the throne, saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!” 5 And from the throne came a voice saying “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great.” 6 Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out. “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.

After this’ seems to indicate a new section through clearly it has close links with what has gone before, namely the judgement of Babylon. (Jer 51L25,26). The smoke of her destruction arises forever (v3). The city which brought ruin now lies in ruins (Isa 34:10). There is a finality implied. The desolate silence of smouldering Babylon gives way to thunderous rejoicing in heaven. This is the climactic expression of praise in Revelation. The first song is heaven’s praise for God’s righteous judgement of Babylon and the final song heaven’s praise for the salvation of God’s people. Overall, four hallelujahs ring out; a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew used only here in the NT. ‘A great multitude in heaven’… ‘the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures’, ‘a voice’ from the throne and trumping them all, ‘the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder‘ from the throne combine in songs of praise, worship and hallelujahs, approving God’s actions. We seem to be back in the throne room of Ch 4,5. For the seventh and last time the elders and four living creatures appear. The whole of heaven and the representatives of both church and creation (the elders and the four living creatures) consent to God’s actions. Salvation belongs to God and his judgements are true and just (third time affirmed) These twin axes of salvation and judgement will be further unpacked through 19-22 as the reign of God unfolds. The elders and living creatures fade from view for the reality they represent is coming into focus – the new creation and the new Jerusalem (the glorified church). From now we will see various aspects of God’s reign.

7 Let us rejoice and exult. and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; 8 it was granted her to clothe herself. with fine linen, bright and pure”—. for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. 9 And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” 10 Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.

If there is resounding praise for the demise of Babylon then the anticipation of the marriage of the lamb is cause for rejoicing and jubilation. Glory belongs to God who has arranged this marriage.

The bride/wife has made herself ready- the first mention of the bride. There will be no further sounds of bride and bridegroom in Babylon but there will be a wedding in heaven. Here a few narratival connections are at work. Firstly the bride dressed in fine linen bright and pure stands in vivid contrast to the great prostitute and her excessively opulent apparel. (17:14). The Prostitute’s dress reflects her excesses and her cup of abominations her idolatries and sins whereas the fine linen of the bride is the ‘granted’ woven righteousness of the saints It is her purity which is her beauty (Eph 5:25-32; 2 Cor 11:2). Hers is a purity both gained and given (Isa 61:10; Jn 3:29). In this image it is her purity that is to the fore while in the later in the image of the city it is her glory that dominates (21, 22)

The marriage supper of the Lamb a time of joyful celebration about which Scripture often speaks is in stark contrast to the ‘great supper of God’ the unclean feast where carrion birds feast on the bodies of the vanquished lying on the battlefield (v17). Apparently John is told to ‘write’ twelve times in Revelation. Here he writes one of the seven beatitudes of the book – the blessedness of being invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb. We ought not to read into this that the bride is the church and the guests are a different group. Both are the same group; the metaphor is mixed. The bride is the collective image of the church emphasising Christ’s love for his people (Eph 5:27; Isa 61:10,11, 62:5) Like ‘saints’ the guests are a metaphor for all the individuals who compose the bride (Matt 22:1-13, 25:1-13, 8:1-11; Isa 25:6-8 Cf. Lk 14:16-24; Mk 2:19). The joy of the wedding contrasts with the drunken revelry of the prostitute (17:1-6). Here is the feast that the Lord looked forward to eating with his own in the kingdom of God (Matt 26:29), the feast the church anticipates each time it participates in the Lord’s supper. However, only when his military battles are won can he marry his bride (Deut 24:5).

The introduction of the bride here in typical Revelation style prepares us for the fuller description of the bride in Ch 21,22. There the bride descends from heaven as the New Jerusalem. Just as the world was both Babylon the city (culture) and a whore so the people of God are both the New Jerusalem and a bride. In the OT Jerusalem is depicted as both a city and a bride (Isa 61:10; 62:5; Hos 2:16-23; Ezek 16:8). Needless to say these OT Scriptures and images inform John in Revelation.

As John writes the invitation to be a wedding guest remains open, but barely – the bride has made herself ready (v7,9; Matt 22:1-13; Lk 14:17). The wedding is imminent but not yet.

In a book replete with angelic beings who do astonishing things by John’s misguided effort to worship one it is underlined they too are simply servants like us. The angelic instruction is clear ‘Worship God’. In a book explicitly monotheistic it is all the more remarkable that the Lamb is an object of worship (Rev 5).

The final words in this section guide us on how to approach prophecy; the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. Now it is true that testimony from Jesus in Revelation is the spirit of prophecy (1:2), however, it seems more likely that the objective sense is to the fore – the testimony about Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. Prophecy is about God’s purposes in Christ (1 Per 1:10-11. The work of the Spirit is to reveal the truth about Jesus (1 Cor 12:3)

19
Jun
22

god’s sovereignty

God’s Sovereignty

I suspect all Christians believe in the sovereignty of God. It is so frequently attested in Scripture that it would be difficult not to believe in it. However, we often inject qualifiers that effectively limit, even neuter, his sovereignty; God is sovereign… but he will never interfere with human freedom; he does not orchestrate the behaviour of nations; he is never behind any evil that happens; tsunamis and other natural disasters are not his doing… and so on. God is sovereign but only in a titular sense; in reality most of the acts of human beings and the rest of. creation are not controlled by him. Mainly, the nice things are his doing and not much else.

Of course, the opposite is true. God is ‘the Lord’. ‘Lord’ among other things means simply that he rules everywhere and over everything (Cf. Ex 3:14).We are told unequivocally that God arranges all things according the counsel of his own will (Eph 1:11). Notice the scope of his sovereignty; he controls ‘all things’. It is not merely that God manages some big strategic events, he manages all the small events too; he micro-manages history. We have seen this in a previous post in his control of the lot (Prov 16:33). It is he who controls the tides (Job 38:11), the weather (Job 38; Ps 135:7, 147:16,18) and the seas (Ps 65:6 ). He provides the prey for the predator (Prov 38:39-41). All living things are under his providential care (Job 39). Even the most fearful of creatures are controlled by him (Job 41). The harvest, the rain, the sunshine come from him. The natural disasters and the wars come from him too (Rev 6). This controlling is not in a cold mechanistic or deterministic way but in a way that flows from a heart wise, loving and holy. His people can trust his sovereignty for it is for our good. John Piper writes,

To know him in his sovereignty is to become like an oak tree in the wind of adversity and confusion. And along with strength is sweetness and tenderness beyond imagination. The sovereign Lion of Judah is the sweet Lamb of God.

This absolute and universal sovereignty must not be diluted nor limited to make God fit our preconceptions (Job 42:2; Ps 135:6; Isa 4:10; Lam 3:37; Dan 4:35). The outcome of the thrown dice is in the hands of the Lord (Prov 16:33). The smallest matters are controlled by him. There is no domain that is outside of his sovereignty. In particular we must affirm God is sovereign both in human history and in human hearts. He controls human history. He does whatever he pleases (Ps 115:3, 135:6). Catastrophe and calm, both come from the Lord (Isa 45:7; Amos 3:6). He kills and he makes alive (Deut 32:39). Kings are raised and erased by him (Dan 2:21). This pervasive rule of God in humanity is expressed in the words of Paul to the Athenians, ‘in him we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28). Every aspect of our existence is contingent upon him at every moment.

This is important because, for some, so sacrosanct is the concept of human self-determining that the idea God will act within a heart in a hidden and sovereign way is anathema. Human autonomy must be preserved intact. If it is then frankly there is no hope for humanity. The popular notion of ‘free will’ as a ‘human right’ is not one championed by the Bible. Human autonomy is not a biblical ideal nor is it a biblical reality. In fact the human will is in bondage to sin. Free will is at best freedom to sin; it will take us to hell but never to heaven. If left alone the human heart, given over to sin, will always reject God; the natural mind is opposed to God (Roms 8:7, 7:18; 1 Cor 2:14; Ps 58:3; Gen 8:21). If someone comes to Christ it is a specific work of God that brings him or he would never come (Jn 6:44, 65; Jer 13:23). The gospel through the Spirit must overcome human nature inherited from Adam and create a new humanity that stems from Christ. This is a profoundly internal work – a new creation accomplished by God just as surely as he accomplished the first (Gen 1). If God does not invade the human heart there will be no salvation.

However, God’s involvement in the human heart is not simply in salvation he influences the human heart for providential reasons. It is his will that prevails in human behaviour; a man’s steps are from the Lord. We make plans but it is the purpose of the Lord that prevails (Prov 20:24, 16:9, 19:21; Jas 4:13-15). From conception the Lord shapes the person who will be (Ps 139:13-16) and maps out his life (Ps 139:16, 5). We read in Exodus, Then the LORD said to [Moses], “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?” (Ex 4:11). He is the Potter and who is the clay to complain at the way it is moulded (Roms 9:19-21; Isa 29:16, 45:9).

Human beings fondly imagine they are sovereign but they are not. There can only be one sovereign and that sovereign is God. Only God is completely free. His will is never thwarted (Ps 115:3, 135:6; Job 42:2; Ps 103:19, Dan 4:35; Isa 46:10). He rules completely in the kingdoms of men.

It is a mistake to think that God must pander to human autonomy by only ordering events ‘outside’ of them. His sovereignty extends to activity ‘inside’ human beings. The human heart is a domain to which he has access and over which he rules. We must allow God’s sovereignty to be as absolute as the Bible does. There is no suggestion that there is any place in the universe that is beyond his control. He is Lord of all things including the defiant sinful heart and rebellious will of man.

• It is impossible for history to be micro-managed without God internally shaping human hearts. The intentions of the human heart are inextricably involved in the events of history and of necessity the controlling of events involves the controlling of people.

• All we have observed of God’s sovereignty points to his profound involvement in in the human heart. As we read the Scriptures we are told that God controls human hearts in a variety of ways (Ex 3:19, 4:2, 14:4; Deut 2:30, 32:29; Isa 44:28. 45:1-7, 9, 11, 13, 63:17; Jer 1:5. Acts 4:27,28; Ps 33:15, 105:25; Judg 7:22; Dan 1:9; Ezra 5:22; 1 Kings 22:20-23; 2 Thess 2:11). He is involved in the shaping of a life from the moment of conception (Ps 139). His activity in redemption involves a profound involvement in the human psyche that is nothing short of a new birth by the sovereign blowing of the Spirit (Jn 3).

• Scripture explicitly tells us God intervenes in the thoughts and actions of people. Proverbs tells us ‘the king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it whatever way he will’ (Prov 21:1). This text is surely difficult to limit to him making suggestions that can be accepted or rejected. This is shaping the heart and mind to do what God decrees; there is no refusing this divine directing. A similar sovereign intervention is found in Genesis. Then God said to him [Abimelech] in the dream, ‘Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her” (Genesis 20:6). And again, in Ezra we read, “In the first year of Cyrus the king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing . . .” (Ezra 1:1).

• I find the view that God can ‘influence’ the human mind as long as he doesn’t ‘shape’ it to his will strange. God, it seems, is allowed to exert considerable pressure as long as he doesn’t interfere with ‘free will’. Yet pressure exerted is doing just that. It is bending the will. Is there really a difference between externally ‘persuading’ and internally ‘shaping’. Is he allowed to be the potter? Is he free to be sovereign?

Let me repeat, God’s creation does not exist independently of him; it is in him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28 Cf. Roms 11:36). The intention of the human heart may be quite different from the Lord’s but he nevertheless directs human actions (Gen 45:5-8). In the face of a mountain of evidence pf God’s involvement with the minutia of his creation the onus lies firmly with those who deny God’s interference in human hearts to prove their case.

When I read the Bible God’s sovereignty is writ large. It dominates the story. The story is his story. It is the story of his creating, his providing, his ruling, his saving, his judging and his recreating. It is the story of God being God.

Footnote

This is not to say that the Bible always presents God as being in control, There are verses which suggest otherwise. Consider these words of Jesus.

Jesus says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 38 Look, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

On the face of it it seems that the city has thwarted the will of God. Yet earlier Scriptures we have cited show clearly God controls the activities of nations and turns human hearts. Perhaps a topic for a future post.

12
Jun
22

psalm 60… a prayer for difficult days

TO THE CHOIRMASTER: ACCORDING TO SHUSHAN EDUTH. A MIKTAM OF DAVID; FOR INSTRUCTION; WHEN HE STROVE WITH ARAM-NAHARAIM AND WITH ARAM-ZOBAH, AND WHEN JOAB ON HIS RETURN STRUCK DOWN TWELVE THOUSAND OF EDOM IN THE VALLEY OF SALT.

1 O God, you have rejected us, broken our defences; you have been angry; oh, restore us. 2 You have made the land to quake; you have torn it open. repair its breaches, for it totters. 3 You have made your people see hard things; you have given us wine to drink that made us stagger. 4 You have set up a banner for those who fear you, that they may flee to it from the bow. Selah

5 That your beloved ones may be delivered, give salvation by your right hand and answer us! 6 God has spoken in his holiness: “With exultation I will divide up Shechem. and portion out the Vale of Succoth. 7 Gilead is mine; Manasseh is mine; Ephraim is my helmet; Judah is my sceptre. 8 Moab is my washbasin; upon Edom I cast my shoe; over Philistia I shout in triumph.”

9 Who will bring me to the fortified city? Who will lead me to Edom? 10 Have you not rejected us, O God? You do not go forth, O God, with our armies. 11 Oh, grant us help against the foe, for vain is the salvation of man! 12 With God we shall do valiantly; it is he who will tread down our foes.

This is a psalm where God’s people are engaged in battle. David is often at war with the surrounding nations (vv8,9) and with the Lord’s help wins his battles (2 Sam 8). However, on this occasion Israel is under attack and the enemy, Edom, ( v9), is gaining ascendancy (vv1-3). The war is not going in Israel’s favour (v10) though a counter attack is soon to take place (v9). How David reacts to his troubles is instructive for us all.

David’s strategy is to trace the defeat back to the source, back to God. The situation in his world is chaotic and dismaying: Edom is overwhelming Israel. However, David realises, ultimately it is not Edom but the Lord who is controlling events. And so David looks to the Lord. He brings his complaint to the Lord – you have rejected us (v1; 44:8). His cry for help soon follows – oh restore us (v1). It is in the presence of the Lord that perspective is to be found (Ps 73). It is he who controls history. God’s intimate involvement in the affairs of his people and indeed the nations is a given throughout Scripture. Nothing is by chance. What may at first sight be the result of human aggression or some other upheaval is really the hand of God; it is he, not Edom, that has broken his peoples defences and torn up the land (v1,2). The Lord has been a warrior against his people rather than for them. Their defeat is from the Lord. Israel’s distress is from the Lord – they have staggered with the cup of wrath as he has visited his people in judgement (v1-3). We are not told why the Lord is angry with them. Yet it is knowing that their defeat is from the Lord that gives hope. If he has brought them into defeat then he can also deliver them if they call on him; Israel, is his people whom he loves (v5).

From the outset David cries for the Lord to ‘repair her breaches’. He looks to the Lord to deliver his ‘people’, his ‘beloved ones’. Indeed, he sees that God has already in mercy ‘set up a banner’ for them to flee to in retreat. (Jer 4:6). He has not been a banner in this instance to lead them into battle but he is their refuge in defeat. This signals God’s continuing care for his people and that he has not ceased to be their Saviour and deliverer (v5). David is confident that God will deliver them and grant them salvation.

Where there is serious and persistent sin God judges his people. Persecution or other troubles may arise because of serious sin in the professing church. However, God also disciplines his people as he trains them in holiness (Hebs 12:5-11; 1 Pet 4:12-19). It may also be that God’s people are called to suffer for righteousness sake and for Christ’s sake (Matt 5). We are called to share in the sufferings of Christ (Matt 8:34). Whatever the trauma, behind it is the sovereign hand of God who loves his people. Whatever the threat, those who fear God find their refuge in him. He is their rallying point. They take strength from his salvation promises and courage from his presence.

In Israel, the land and the people under attack belong to God and therein is their security and blessing. God’s declaration of ownership rings out.

“With exultation I will divide up Shechem. and portion out the Vale of Succoth. 7 Gilead is mine; Manasseh is mine; Ephraim is my helmet; Judah is my sceptre.

The land being attacked is the Lord’s land and he in grace apportions it out. Its tenants are his people and he is the triumphant divine warrior with Ephraim his helmet (for defence) and Judah his sceptre (for rule); Ephraim in the north and Judah in the south (the two major tribes) represent the whole land and people. If the land and its tenants are his then both are ultimately safe. Meanwhile the nations, vessels for menial use, are his to use as he will (Roms 9:20). Moab is his washbasin, on Edom he places his sandal and over Philistia he shouts in triumph (Cf Ps 108:9). All are expressions of contempt and disdain. The Lord calls on his people to lead him out to the enemy. Edom’s ‘fortified city’ was apparently virtually inaccessible but God is not fazed by this. Perhaps herein lies the reason for Israel’s failure in battle; they have not been sufficiently trusting in the Lord to lead them into battle. Whatever the reason for his controversy with his people it is now resolved and now victory is assured (1 Kings 11:15,16) The perspective of trusting triumphant faith is found in the closing words

11 Oh, grant us help against the foe, for vain is the salvation of man! 12 With God we shall do valiantly; it is he who will tread down our foes

It is God who is the strength of his people. It is he who always leads them in triumph (2 Cor 2:14). The arm of flesh will fail (Cf. 2 Chron 32:7,8). As God’s people today we too are engaged in warfare. Our enemies ,unlike David’s, are not flesh and blood but spiritual powers in high place that seek to overthrow the church (Eph 6:12). We cannot conquer them in our own strength, we need to be ‘strong in the Lord and the power of his might’. We need to trust in him and refuse sin. We need the complete armour of God (Eph 6). We need to recognise that greater is he that is in us than he that is in the world (1 Jn 4:4). In Christ we are more than conquerors (Roms 8).

In fact, as is so often the case in the Psalms there is probably an eschatological perspective to the Psalm. It not only provides a model for our spiritual warfare it anticipates a time when all the enemies of the people of God are overthrown by the Warrior who champions his people who trust in him. This eschatological dimension seems even clearer in the parallel psalm (Ps 108).

We rest on thee, our Shield and our Defender! We go not forth alone against the foe; strong in thy strength, safe in thy keeping tender, we rest on thee, and in thy name we go; strong in thy strength, safe in thy keeping tender, we rest on thee, and in thy name we go.

Yea, in thy name, O Captain of salvation! In thy dear name, all other names above: Jesus our righteousness, our sure foundation, our Prince of glory and our King of love, Jesus our righteousness, our sure foundation, our Prince of glory and our King of love.

We go in faith, our own great weakness feeling, and needing more each day thy grace to know: yet from our hearts a song of triumph pealing, “We rest on thee, and in thy name we go”; yet from our hearts a song of triumph pealing, “We rest on thee, and in thy name we go.”

We rest on thee, our Shield and our Defender! Thine is the battle, thine shall be the praise; when passing through the gates of pearly splendour, victors, we rest with thee, through endless days; when passing through the gates of pearly splendour, victors, we rest with Thee through endless days.

Edith Gilling Cherry

27
May
22

revelation 18… the fall of babylon

Revelation 18

Earlier chapters announced the fall of Babylon (14:8;16:9,19; Cf. Isa 21:9). In Ch 17 her idolatrous and bloodthirsty character is described as is her demise at the hands of her own political leaders. Babylon to C1 readers was Rome and John has traits of Rome in his description of the city. However, Babylon is more than Rome. In its precise sense, it is the city and civilisation of the antichrist that precedes the return of Christ; it is the final godless world empire. But Babylon has existed for centuries. It is essentially human culture in every age opposed to God. Various OT texts including the fall of ancient Babylon and Tyre shape John’s language for they are part of the composite civilisation opposed to God (Jer 25, 51; Ezek 27); the final ‘great city’ is an echo of godless cities that have preceded her and she shares their fate. John’s vision is nothing less than the collapse of human civilisation.

Thus as we look at John’s picture of the demise of Babylon we should remember Babylon is a symbol for a world opposed to God and so devoted to destruction; it s the kingdom of the beast.

1 After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was made bright with his glory. 2 And he called out with a mighty voice, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast. 3 For all nations have drunk. the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living.”

Vv1-3 Babylon’s fall heralded.

In Ch 18 the focus on Babylon’s continues: Babylon’s fall is announced (vv1-3); God’s people are called to come out of her that they may not share in her judgement (vv 4-8); a series of laments at her downfall follow (vv 9-19); contrasting with the laments is a call for rejoicing by heaven and the saints at her demise (vv20); and finally, her downfall and its implications are once again heralded (vv21-24).

The fall of Babylon is heralded (14:8, 16:19; Isa 13:19-22; Jer 51:37). John speaks of it as an accomplished fact so certain is he of its destruction. It is desolate. Implied in its fall is the destruction of its idolatries (Isa 21:9) the reason for her demise (v5, 17:2, 4,5).

In Ch 18, the focus is chiefly Babylon’s idolatry of wealth and extravagant living. Babylon has always been idolatrous and no doubt in here last manifestation will have many idolatries chief among them it seems is her love of wealth. Kings and merchants of the world were intoxicated by both (v3; Ezek 27:33). They compromised themselves to gain what she had to offer. However, like all faithless cities, she will be razed and her ruins will become the home of the demonic and unclean, the things that fill her before her destruction (Isa 13:19-23; Zeph 2:13,14; Jer 9:10-11). The invincible empires of men have feet of clay before the judgement of the Lord.

4 Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, 5 for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. 6 Pay her back as she herself has paid back others, and repay her double for her deeds; mix a double portion for her in the cup she mixed. 7 As she glorified herself and lived in luxury, so give her a like measure of torment and mourning, since in her heart she says, ‘I sit as a queen, I am no widow, and mourning I shall never see.’ 8 For this reason her plagues will come in a single day, death and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for mighty is the Lord God who has judged her.”

VV4-8. Judgement and escape

However, luxurious living is not her only sin. We are told her sins , like the Tower of Babel, reach up to heaven and God has remembered them (v5 ; Jer 51:9 Cf. Gen 11:4). No doubt she plays a part in promoting worship of the beast. God’s justice requires that she be paid back as her sins deserve, a form of Lex talionis…an eye for an eye (Cf. 16:4-7). She is to be treated as she treated others and according to her luxury so will her poverty be. Double may mean twice or perhaps as a number of commentators think, it may mean ‘equivalent’ (Ex 22:4, 7, 9; Isa 40:2). Equivalence certainly fits the context; Babylon’s influence in the world is destructive and so she will be destroyed.

A voice from heaven (seventh and last time the expression is used according to Ian Paul) calls upon God’s people to come out from her and not partake of her sins (2 Cor 6:17). They are to flee the city under judgement (Jer 50:8, 51:45; Isa 52:11) … presumably mainly the plagues of judgement already indicated in the bowls (Ch 16). Judgement will be sudden and absolute (in a single day). Like other cities before her (Ezek 28:2; Zeph 2:15) she has become intolerably proud. Her self-regard, arrogance and misplaced sense of security will collapse under the onslaught of judgement (Dan 4:30; Isa 47:7-12; Zech 9:4; Rev 3:7). She is not a queen just a common prostitute. To place trust in Babylon is a great mistake. Even today the corruptions of Babylon are evident. God’s people flee Babylon by not embracing her values; to be like her will be to share in her judgement just as receiving the mark of the beast means sharing in its judgement (Ch 13). Whatever part the beast plays in her destruction (Ch 17) it is ultimately the might of the Lord God who judges her.

9 And the kings of the earth, who committed sexual immorality and lived in luxury with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning. 10 They will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say,

“Alas! Alas! You great city, you mighty city, Babylon! For in a single hour your judgment has come.”

11 And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore, 12 cargo of gold, silver, jewels, pearls, fine linen, purple cloth, silk, scarlet cloth, all kinds of scented wood, all kinds of articles of ivory, all kinds of articles of costly wood, bronze, iron and marble, 13 cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and slaves, that is, human souls. 14 “The fruit for which your soul longed. has gone from you, and all your delicacies and your splendours. are lost to you, never to be found again!” 15 The merchants of these wares, who gained wealth from her, will stand far off, in fear of her torment, weeping and mourning aloud,

16 “Alas, alas, for the great city. that was clothed in fine linen, in purple and scarlet, adorned with gold, with jewels, and with pearls! 17 For in a single hour all this wealth has been laid waste.” And all shipmasters and seafaring men, sailors and all whose trade is on the sea, stood far off 18 and cried out as they saw the smoke of her burning, “What city was like the great city?” “Alas, alas, for the great city. 19 And they threw dust on their heads as they wept and mourned, crying out, where all who had ships at sea. grew rich by her wealth! For in a single hour she has been laid waste.

VV9-19 Three laments at Babylon’s fall

Various groups mourn the fall of Babylon. We should not underestimate the collapse of Babylon. With her collapse is the collapse of civilisation itself. The wealthy and influential of the world realise their comfortable and cushioned life of often fabulous luxury has collapsed. The world’s merchants lament her fall for with it comes the end of trade and commerce in all kinds of extreme luxury goods which they sold to Babylon and from which they gained their wealth. Much of Rome’s trade came by sea and so seafarers also lament her fall. The lament is uniform, ‘Alas, alas for the great city’ (9,16,19); they lament, for in its demise is theirs. The smoke of her burning suggests the permanence of her end, the end of the city that had trafficked in human souls and built its great wealth upon human misery (v13). There is grief expressed at her demise but no repentance even although in Babylon’s fall is their fall.

20 Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has given judgment for you against her.

V20 God’s people rejoice

If the kings and merchants of the world mourn then heaven rejoices at Babylon’s judgement (Jer 51:48). The contrast is marked. God’s people on earth rejoice too for in the judgement of Babylon God has declared himself to be for his people. In her judgement is their vindication.

21 Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “So will Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence, and will be found no more; 22 and the sound of harpists and musicians, of flute players and trumpeters, will be heard in you no more, and a craftsman of any craft. will be found in you no more, and the sound of the mill. will be heard in you no more, 23 and the light of a lamp. will shine in you no more, and the voice of bridegroom and bride. will be heard in you no more, for your merchants were the great ones of the earth, and all nations were deceived by your sorcery. 24 And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all who have been slain on earth.”

Vv21-24. Babylon’s End

An angel casts a boulder into the sea symbolically enacting the sudden destruction of Babylon (Isa 47:9; Jer:51:63,64). Babylon’s sorceries have deceived the world. Her idolatries have mesmerised human hearts. She is about to come to a violent end (16:19; 17:16,17). Everything that signals joy and well-being is forever gone – music, love, work, and light (Jer 25:10; Ezek 26:13). She will be a wasteland (18:2,3). Again John concludes by naming one of Babylon’s most damning sins. Her judgement is justified because ‘in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on earth.’ No doubt the sacking of Rome in 410 AD, the eternal city, has a place in this prophecy, however, as we noted at the beginning of this post, Babylon is the final kingdom that precedes the Second Coming. It is the kingdom of the beast, of the antichrist, who will also play a part in her final destruction (17:16).

Covid has shown just how easily God can bring a whole economic and social culture to its knees. We should not underestimate his ability to bring the world to its knees. The city of man is no match for the might of God.

Babylon is no more but soon John will see the city of God, the New Jerusalem which will endure forever. There may be no bride in Babylon and no light but the true eternal city will herself be a bride and the city will be lit by the everlasting radiance of the glory of God.

22
May
22

revelation 17… the woman and the beast

1 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters, 2 with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk.” 3 And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. 4 The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. 5 And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.” 6 And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.

When I saw her, I marvelled greatly. 7 But the angel said to me, “Why do you marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her. 8 The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come. 9 This calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; 10 they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while. 11 As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction. 12 And the ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast. 13 These are of one mind, and they hand over their power and authority to the beast. 14 They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.”

15 And the angel said to me, “The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages. 16 And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the prostitute. They will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire, 17 for God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled. 18 And the woman that you saw is the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth.”

The Fall of Babylon

Revelation is fundamentally a narrative. It is the story of the arrival of the eternal reign of God through judgement and salvation. However, it is a narrative involving significant recapitulation. Repeatedly we are brought to the End and the arrival of the day of the Lord only to return again to a significant event or actor that is part of the story of the End. Ch 16 reveals significant divine plagues being poured on the kingdom of the beast, the political power, the antichrist, opposed to God and his people. The chapter reaches a climax with a final eschatological judgement poured on the empire of the beast, ‘the great city…Babylon the great’. We are told it is to drain the wine of the fury of divine wrath. Babylon’s demise, previously heralded has already arrived (14:8; 16:9, 19).

From a terse description of Babylon’s end in Ch 16 we are now given a detailed description of its downfall of Babylon (Ch 17,18).

Ch 17 divides into two clear sections

  • Vv1-6 The vision of a woman riding the beast.
  • Vv7-18 The explanation of the vision.

Vv1-6 The vision of the woman riding the beast

Continuity is created by one of the seven angels who held the seven bowls taking John to see ‘the judgement of the great prostitute’ (17:1) ‘the great prostitute… the mother of harlots’. (17:5). It is, of course a description of Babylon.

There are two principal cities in Revelation – Babylon and the New Jerusalem. There are certain literary parallels between them. In both cases the angel says to John ‘Come I will show you…carried me’ (17:1, 21:9). In each case a city is described as a woman. Each has a few names. Each is introduced in advance before being more fully revealed. Here , however, the resemblance ends for both cities are moral and spiritual polar opposites. Babylon is a brazen whore while Jerusalem is a chaste wife. Cities in the Bible are often female. Some are prostitutes (Isa 23:17; Nahum 3:4) and some are brides (Isa 54:5, 62:4,5). John’s two cities are archetypal. Babylon is the city of man, opposed to God and destined for destruction: the New Jerusalem is the city of God, whose citizens are the followers of the lamb and it is destined for glory, It, unlike Rome, is the true eternal city (Rev 21).

Perhaps we should say a little more about the woman who is Babylon. She is identified as ‘Babylon the great’. Babylon has its origins in Genesis. From the beginning it was a city built for the glory of man (Gen 11). Babylon later gained notoriety as the empire which crushed God’s people. It’s capital city sat upon many waters (Jer 51:13). Here the waters represent other nations over which she has influence (v15). Babylon is seen in the wilderness (17:3). Isaiah describes Babylon as a desert perhaps presaging her end as a wasteland (Isaiah 21:1). In the C1, Babylon is embodied in Rome, the city famously, built on seven hills (17:9). Like Babylon, Rome and her empire seduced the world with her attractions. Both were filled with hubris (18:7; Isa 47:7, 1-15; Zeph 2:15). Babylon and Rome were the two great empires that particularly crushed God’s people. From her own perspective and that of the world she is ‘Babylon the Great”. From the perspective of heaven she is, ‘the mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations’. Like the headbands worn by prostitutes to display their name and character Babylon’s name is on her forehead. She is the source of everything vile and unclean, of all that allures people away from God. John’s Babylon is the cultural centre of the final empire of the antichrist which will seduce the nations by all it promises. At its heart Babylon is all human culture opposed to God.

We see the woman riding the beast; human culture is propped up by political power. At this point the culture (the city) apparently has some control of the political power (the beast). But it is very dangerous to ride a wild beast and likely to end disastrously. The image of the prostitute is developed. The woman is a contradiction, an imposter. She is dressed regally with all the trappings of splendour and wealth reflected in purple and scarlet. However, her appearance is deceptive; it is the dress of a courtesan who despite appearances is nothing more than a common prostitute. Her deception continues with the cup in her hand which is a ‘golden cup’ suggesting something of value, yet it is ‘full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality’. It is with this intoxicating cup of obscenities that she seduces the nations. The cup is filled with every kind of inebriating enticement – greed, cruelty, idolatry and illicit pleasure and it is held out to draw into sin and away from God. This city is the mother of prostitutes. Every arrogant, oppressive, idolatrous culture is the child of Babylon. In all her damning odiums the last mentioned is among her most damning. She is ‘drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus’ (18:24, 19:2). She has become intoxicated by the slaying of God’s people. Nothing more graphically displays her unholy opposition to God. Here is a culture with a bloodlust for cruelty. Babylon doesn’t just deceive she destroys. The beast and human culture are hand in glove. Babylon has nothing of worth, nothing truly pure in her. Her appearance may deceive but underneath is only violence and corruption. Like the world before the flood.

Vv7-18. The vision explained

When the vision is explained to John, surprisingly, the focus is not firstly on the woman but on the beast. I have already considered these verses in discussing the beast in Ch 13. The beast is an empire, in the C1 embodied in the Roman Empire. The empire endures through its various emperors or kings (the seven heads). Yet the beast is properly identified in an eight king who belongs to the seven yet is in some sense distinct. Here the focus has moved it seems from C1 Roman emperors (the seven kings?) to the final antichrist (the eighth king) whose empire (of a brief hour) is founded on the authority he is given by ten kings. The numbers seven and ten are typically symbolic yet like the seven churches seem also to be real. Ch 19 is anticipated when we are told they make war on the Lamb who conquers them for to him belongs supreme authority – he is King of kings and Lord of lords. The nature of this ‘war’ is not easy to imagine (19:11-21). What is clear is that the Lamb will destroy them and all who side with them by the breath of his mouth and the majesty of his coming (2 Thess 2:8). Babylon is not a world for which to live; its end is to be burned,

The chapter closes with a surprising revelation; the beast and his vassal kings turn upon the woman and destroy her; ironically their unity is expressed in wanton self-destruction. Perhaps it is not so surprising when we reflect on how often the empires of this worl d implode and self destruct. Yet in the final analysis this is God’s doing. He has put it into their hearts to fulfil his purpose. He has guided human evil to self devour. The woman is formally identified as the great city that dominates the earth – yet here it is destroyed by the very forces she created. The city that was drunk with the blood of the saints and prophets is sacked and burned, As Nero burned Rome so Babylon the city of man is destroyed by those who rule.

Babylon’s relationship to the beast is described in ch 17. In Ch 18 we witness her downfall and the laments that follow her demise.

17
May
22

free will

Free Will

I was involved in an online discussion with another Christian on the topic of ‘free will’. Free will was very important to him and while God could ‘persuade’ the will this persuasion could not be at a level that overcame personal autonomy. The discussion raised issues I have not thought about for years. The following comments are by no means exhaustive but hopefully they will be helpful.

Firstly, I wish to think of ‘free will’ less as an abstract philosophical concept and ask how it features in the Bible. Although ‘free will’ is an expression often used by Christians it is not a biblical term and more importantly does not particularly express a biblical way of thinking certainly in the sense it is generally understood.

‘Free will’ is a slippery term to define. John Frame says the following:

The term freedom has been taken in various senses. In our current discussion, two of these are particularly relevant: (1) compatibilism,which is the freedom to do what you want to do, and (2) libertarianism, which is the freedom to do the opposite of everything you choose to do. Compatibilism indicates that freedom is compatible with causation. Someone may force me to eat broccoli; but if that is something I want to do anyway, I do it freely in the compatibilist sense. Alternatively, if you have libertarian freedom, your choices are in no sense caused or constrained, either by your nature, your experience, your history, your own desires, or God. Libertarianism is sometimes called “incompatibilism,” because it is inconsistent with necessity or determination. If someone forces me to eat broccoli, I am not free, in the libertarian sense, to eat it or not eat it. On a libertarian account, any kind of “forcing” removes freedom.

It is this libertarian sense of ‘free will’ that most mean when they speak of free will; human beings are autonomous and self-determining and this freedom must be respected, even by God.

Yet, as I say, in this sense, free will is not particularly biblical. Did God create Adam intending that he should be an autonomous person? Was not Adam’s duty simply to obey the Creator? The Creator was the ‘Lord God’. As ‘Lord’ implies, only he was sovereign and only he had the right to be self-determining; everything in creation, including Adam was subject to him. Adam clearly had the capacity to rebel and disobey but in God’s universe he was not granted the ‘freedom’ or ‘right’ to so do; to rebel against God’s will carried with it the sentence of death. Autonomous freedom is not a human right in God’s world.

In fact, it was the desire to be self-determining that led to the catastrophe we call the Fall. In an act of rebellious self-determining Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. Indeed, part of the forbidden fruit’s attraction was its promise of moral autonomy (it promised wisdom and the knowledge of good and evil independent of God) but the freedom promised proved delusional for the act of eating was sinful and corrupting; humanity gained independence at the price of a relationship with God. Adam’s quest for autonomy led to depravity. ‘Free will’ in a fallen humanity is no more than the freedom to sin. Arising immediately from this rebellious choice were divine judgements making the sphere of life where each of the human couple functioned hostile. For Eve, the homemaker, sin meant pain in child-bearing and a husband who would rule in a way that distorted his headship. Adam, the provider, would discover the ground he tilled would resist him and make work difficult. Already human ‘autonomy’ was being thwarted by divine judgements.

Life in a fallen world would bring to bear all kinds of things that curtailed human freedom and frustrated the human will. Autonomy was an illusion. Freedom to do as willed was an myth. A world of sinful truly autonomous human wills could only mean conflict and chaos. Restricting rules were required to which all must be subject if society were to flourish. Human beings must surrender their autonomy if they were to negotiate life. And this is to say nothing of innumerable other ways that life confined so-called freedom. Human self-determining was curtailed by the realities of living in a fallen world. These pressures may come from without but they are no less enslaving. ‘Free will’ in the libertarian sense is largely notional.

It is however, when we look at Scripture we see just how profoundly chained the human will actually is. Far from the will being free it is in bondage. It is in bondage to sin for we are a sinful race. We have inherited a sinful nature (Ps 51:5, 58:3; Job 14:14, 15:14). Sin is a controlling power burrowed deep in our hears. To sin is our instinctive impulse; and he that sins is a slave of sin (Jn 8:34). If we are are given a law we want to break it. Tell me not to covet and I will covet in every conceivable way (Roms 7:7). Tell me to love and serve God and I will do the opposite. In fact, because of indwelling sin, I am a hater of God (Roms 1:30). I love darkness rather than light and will not come to the light (Jn. 3:20). My freedom can only take me further and further away from God. Such is free humanity East of Eden.

But the truth is, indwelling sin is not a foreign body; it is who I am. The truth is my will is free only to respond to my nature and my nature, who I really am, as a son of Adam, is ‘flesh’. My ‘flesh’ is opposed to God. It will not submit to God and indeed cannot (Roms 8:7; Ps 58:3). Paul describes my condition as ‘dead in trespasses and sins’. Not only is my nature oppose God but, as in the garden, I am beguiled by forbidden fruits (the world) and manipulated by the Serpent (Satan). Paul puts it like this,

Eph 2: 1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

Humanity, outside of Christ, is dominated by the world, the flesh, and the devil. It follows the bidding of the world and Satan for it is in harmony with them. Human nature, Satan and the world are kinsmen. The passions which drive fallen humanity are both fuelled and fulfilled by Satan and the world. Humanity is driven from within and without by sin. It is helpless and powerless before it. It is utterly under its thrall. Humanity dominated by sin is invincibly separated from God. It wants nothing to do with him. This is what it means to be dead.

This is the libertarian ‘free will’ that is championed. If it is freedom then it is freedom to be blind… freedom to be deaf… freedom to be hateful. It is freedom to be enslaved to disfiguring, dehumanising sin ; to be pathetic Gollum-like figures before our ‘precious’. It is freedom that constitutes us ’sons of disobedience’ and ‘children of wrath’.

Given this spiritual slavery in which humanity is hopelessly mired, it will come as no surprise that what we need above all is to be freed from this slavery. And freedom is what God in love bestows. He knows the freedom we cherish will destroy us not least because the rebellion at its heart will incur his wrath. And so he resolves to give us freedom. He resolves to operate in us and renew our hearts.

Real freedom comes from Christ (Jn 8:36) and embracing the truth (Jn 8:32). Through the truth of the Christian gospel concerning Christ, God, by his Spirit, works a miracle of deliverance in our hearts. In some profound way our ears deafened by sin and our eyes blinded by Satan are opened. God performs spiritual surgery in our rebellious hearts and renews them; hearts of stone become hearts of flesh. The impossible takes place and God brings a clean thing out of an unclean (Job 14:14). The Bible calls it – the new birth (Jn 3). God effectively re-creates us so that we become in Christ a new creation. As the metaphors of new creation and both imply, this is a work entirely of God. He renews us (circumcises our hearts) so that we are completely transformed, utterly renewed. How he does this is shrouded in mystery but we simply praise him that he does.

God overrides so-called libertarian freedom (freedom to choose without any interference) and employs combatilist freedom (God works in our hearts yet the choices are all ours). On the surface of things it appears that all the moves towards faith come from us. There is no sense in us that we are being manipulated against our will and nor are we. We respond to God because he has been active in our hearts giving us the ability to see what is true. All that becoming a Christian involves internally is supplied by God; he who gave us his son will give us all things (Roms 8; 2 Pet 1:3; Phil 4:19). When God intends his word to convict and save he sends it with special spiritual power (1 Thess 1:4,5). If we need enlightenment to understand the gospel (and we do) then God gives this enlightenment – he opens the eyes of our understanding (Eph 1:18; Lk 24:45; 2 Cor 4:6). It is he who opens the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf (Isa 29:18, 32:3, 35:5; Ps 146:8). When we repent of our rebellion and seek forgiveness this capacity to repent is a gift of God as is faith (Eph 2:8,9 1:3; Phil 1:29; Acts 13:48;2 Tim 2:25). God must open our hearts to believe (Acts 16:14). Indeed he must give us a new heart (Ezek 36:26; Jer 31:33; Ps 51:10). When we become Christians we discover that all these responses towards God that we have made have been created within us by God; it has been God working within to will and do for his good pleasure (Phil 2:13). We are God’s workmanship (Eph 2:10). We are his new creation (2 Cor 5:17)

Salvation is the only freedom that the Bible considers true freedom; he that the Son sets free is free indeed (Jn 8:36). True freedom is to be as God made us to be. It is freedom to live, by the Spirit, under the Lordship of Christ (Roms 6:22; 2 Cor 3:17). When we think of freedom in these terms we are thinking about freedom as God does. In the age to come we will have only the new nature of new creation and our will shall be finally free in the way God intended; free to gladly serve him in the delight that is new creation.

10
May
22

preaching christ

Tim Keller

“…So we have a balance to strike—not to preach Christ without preaching the text, and not to preach the text without preaching Christ.

Charles Spurgeon gives us a great metaphor for striking this balance. In his sermon “Christ Precious to Believers” (Sermon no. 242, March 13,
1859). In it he says that often he hears sermons that are “very learned… fine and magnificent– but there is not a word about Christ in that sermon.” And here is what he says about such preaching—“They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. I heard
nothing about Christ.”

Finally he tells of a Welsh minister who spoke to a younger minister
about his sermon. “It was a very poor sermon,” he told the young man. “Will you tell me why you think it a poor sermon?” came the response. “Because,” said the Welsh minister, “there was no Christ in it.” “Well,” said the young man, “Christ was not in the text; we are not to be
preaching Christ always, we must preach what is in the text.” So the older man said this—
“Don’t you know young man that from every town, and every village, and every little hamlet in England, wherever it may be, there is a road to London?” “Yes,” said the young man. “Ah!” said the old divine “and so from every text in Scripture, there is a
road to the metropolis of the Scriptures, that is Christ. And my dear brother, your business in when you get to a text, to say, ‘Now what is the road to Christ?’ and then
preach a sermon, running along the road towards the great metropolis—Christ. And,” said he, “I have never yet found a text that had not got a road to Christ in it, and if I ever do find one that has not a road to Christ in it, I will make one; I will go over hedge and ditch but I would get at my Master, for the sermon cannot do any good unless there is a savour of Christ in it.”

06
May
22

rev 16… the seven bowls of wrath (2)

Revelation 16

1 Then I heard a loud voice from the temple telling the seven angels, “Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.”

2 So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth, and harmful and painful sores came upon the people who bore the mark of the beast and worshiped its image.

3 The second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became like the blood of a corpse, and every living thing died that was in the sea.

4 The third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of water, and they became blood. 5 And I heard the angel in charge of the waters say,

“Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was, for you brought these judgments. 6 For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink. It is what they deserve!” 7 And I heard the altar saying, “Yes, Lord God the Almighty, true and just are your judgments!”

8 The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire. 9 They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory.

10 The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in anguish 11 and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds.

12 The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, to prepare the way for the kings from the east. 13 And I saw, coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs. 14 For they are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty. 15 (“Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!”) 16 And they (he) assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.

The Seventh Bowl

17 The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple, from the throne, saying, “It is done!” 18 And there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth, so great was that earthquake. 19 The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath. 20 And every island fled away, and no mountains were to be found. 21 And great hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, fell from heaven on people; and they cursed God for the plague of the hail, because the plague was so severe.

In studying Revelation the issue of deciding what is symbolic and what is literal is constant . Often it is not easy to be sure. We should normally start from the premise that we are normally reading symbolism. Symbolic representations of ultimate things are given to help us imagine what is otherwise beyond our grasp. Truth is conveyed through symbolism not necessarily intended to be taken literally. Yet not all is symbolic, Sometimes literal observations are laced through the symbolic. Are we to see the plagues as literal plagues? Or are they symbolic? Is the Euphrates literally dried to make way for kings from the East? Is there a real end-time battle at Megiddo in Israel? Is Babylon a real city or a symbol? These kind of questions are not always easy to answer. And certainly for a number of them I don’t know. We can, however, learn what is really important in the chapter even if we cannot always answer these questions. Often the really important things are obvious.

The bowls are the third and final series of judgements (preceded by the seals and trumpets). They are commissioned from heaven (v1) leaving us in no doubt these judgements are a divine initiative. These judgements bring God’s wrath to a conclusion (Jer 10:25). They are much more absolute than the previous judgements of the seals and trumpets, They are bookended by a ‘loud voice from the temple’ that commissions the bowls in v1 and announces their completion in v17. The voice, which comes from the throne, seems to be the voice of God (Cf. Isa 66:6). As with the seals and trumpets there is a (brief) interlude between the sixth and seventh bowl.

Like the judgements of the trumpets the bowls draw from the plagues of Egypt. The parallels with the plagues of Egypt are clear. Boils, sea of blood, darkness and frogs feature in both the bowls and the plagues of Egypt. Both Egypt and the kingdom of the beast act in defiance of God and persecute his people; the outcome is divine judgement. In the final kingdom of the beast there is even less inclination to repent than in Egypt. Instead they curse God (v9).

The bowls are poured out, largely at least, on the kingdom off the Beast. The first bowl is poured out on the earth but affects only those ‘who had the mark of the beast and worshipped its image’. They are covered in painful sores. Judgement is targeted at wilful idolatry. Possibly there remain countries that do not belong to the empire of the Beast just as there were countries that did not belong to Rome. Probably the main point is that the people of God are shielded from this judgement just as Israel was sheltered in Goshen from the plagues in Egypt (Ex 8:22,23).

The first two judgements like the fourth and fifth are complementary. The first two fall respectively on the land and sea. The fourth scorches with the sun and the fifth brings darkness. It is strange how lines cross. It was the dispensationalist writers i read who were more likely to treat the plagues symbolically and the final battle literally while others were inclined to treat the plagues literally (at least within the vision) and the battle metaphorically.

The plagues were certainly literal in Egypt and may well be real again. Climate change may even be part of God’s means to bring about such things. The wide scale pollution (the seas and rivers turned to blood). What is emphasised is death. The plague brings death. If literally true the ecological and economic consequences would be immense. Civilisation depends on the sea. God’s judgements will disrupt life and bring death.

Such judgements inevitably raise questions about the justice of God. A hostile world will accuse God of injustice and malevolency. God often only exists when things go wrong and someone is needed to blame. The angel in charge of the waters (angels not gods have responsibilities in creation) insists God is ‘just and true’. His justice as with all biblical justice is based on reaping what you sow and receiving what you give. It is ‘an eye for an eye’ or ‘life for life’ (Ex 21:23). Thus those who shed blood, drink blood; they get what they deserve. The blood shed is that of God’s people, those the beast has persecuted. The altar (which earlier had souls under it) is personified and echoes the sentiments of the angel of the waters. Into the world God’s long anticipated judgement has come. God has come to judge. Perhaps that is why we are told God is he ‘who is and who was’. He is no longer ‘to come’ for he has now come.

The following two plagues ‘scorching sun and darkness’ (spiritual or literal) are devastating but it they do not prompt repentance. Instead they provoke cursing.. Such is the wickedness of the human heart. In neither pleasure nor pain do men seek God or glorify him (Roms 1:18-32). Darkness is a frequent sign of judgement in the OT (Joel 2:30,31; Isa 13:9-13, Ezek 32:6-8) while it seems in the Greco-Roman world fiery heat could be a sign of divine wrath. The first four bowls are about nature while the last three are more obviously political. In the fifth the throne of the beast was attacked.

The sixth bowl as with the sixth seal and sixth trumpet brings us to the brink of the end. We are expecting a dramatic judgement but we are told simply that the Euphrates is dried to make way for the kings from the East. In fact no catastrophe happens in the sixth bowl. Instead the Satanic trinity assemble the nations for battle. The great day of God Almighty is approaching, the day of the Lord (Zeph 1:14 Ezek 30:3). History is coming to a climax.

The nations assemble in a place called Armageddon. There is quite a bit that needs unpacked here. My comments are at best intended to stimulate reflection.

Firstly, the drying of the Euphrates and the kings of the East. In John’s day the Euphrates held at bay threats to Rome from the East such as the Parthians. According to Herodotus, when Cyrus the Persian invaded Babylon he did so by diverting and effectively drying the Euphrates (Cf. Isa 44::27,28; Jer 50:38). Both suggest the kings of the East are enemies of the beast and his empire (Isa 13; Jer 51:27,28). On the other hand, it may be God is facilitating the gathering of the nations for war. For although the beast summons it is actually the Lord who is gathering (Joel 3:1,2). Is the ‘he’ of v 16 ambiguous?

Armageddon, mentioned only here, seems to refer to Megiddo in Northern Israel 91kms from Jerusalem. It was the site of many battles against Israel not least the battle where Deborah overcame Sisera against impossible odds; the Lord gave them victory (Judgs 5). There too the last godly, if flawed, pre-exilic Davidic king, Josiah, was defeated (2 Chron 35:‘22). And so it is fitting that it should be the site of the final overthrow of the enemies of God and his people by the final godly Davidic king who will not be defeated but conquer takes place. Is the location literal or symbolic?

The beast is assembling his armies for war. Against whom? Against the kings from the East? Very possibly. Clearly he has invaded Israel for that is where Megiddo is. The OT envisages an invasion of the Holy Land by Antichrist. It describes an End-time attack on Jerusalem. Jerusalem’s plight is desperate and at that point the Lord comes from heaven to the Mount of Olives and overthrows her enemies (Dan 11:40-45; Joel 3:1-7; Zech 12-14; Mic 4:11-13)

The question is will these OT texts be fulfilled as they read or do they point forward to eschatological Israel, the church. Is it the church, citizens of the new Jerusalem, who are under attack by Antichrist or is it ethnic Israel? Is Armageddon to be understood literally or is it a symbol? Are these OT texts and this vision a metaphor for a final drive by Antichrist to eliminate the people of God? I find the detail of these OT texts draws me to the more literal interpretation but even as I write this I recognise OT texts are often interpreted in the NT in ways that are not immediately obvious in the OT but in retrospect make sense. To some extent we need to take into account that ‘Zechariah uses the language of “prophetic idiom,” i.e., the OT prophets speak of Messiah’s eternal kingdom using the language and limited frame of reference of their own physical, Israelite context.’ I have no final view at this point, even while standing on the shoulders of others.

The antichrist in Dan 11 seems all powerful. Yet we read ‘he shall come to his end with none to help him.’ (Dan 11:45). When Jerusalem is about to be crushed we read, ‘Then the LORD will go out and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. 4 On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem’. Zechariah speaks of mourning on the plain of Megiddo (Zech 12:11).

In the sixth bowl the beast is gathering a huge army to fight the people of God and just at this point John has an interlude. It is the third of seven beatitudes in the book. It is written to the church to both encourage and warn. Its opening words are ‘behold I am coming like a thief”. Antichrist is attacking God’s people but he has not reckoned with the unexpected return of Christ. He will come to the Mount of Olives and bring all rebellion to an end (Zech 14:4; Acts 1:11). He has come like a thief (Matt 24:43; 1 Thess 5:2-4; 2 Pet 3:1) unexpectedly to deliver his people and judge the nations. Only his people, those who have kept awake and remained loyal to Christ (clothed and not naked) will rejoice on that day (2:2, 3:17).

The seventh bowl as with the seventh seal and seventh trumpet brings history to a conclusion. The loud voice from the temple again speaks (v1, 17). Here the focus is Babylon and the cities of the world. Civilisation and human culture collapses under the judgement of God. Indeed creation itself seems to be collapsing. On the cross Christ’s cry of ‘It is finished’ signalled the end of the divine wrath of his atoning ‘day of the Lord’ was complete. Here the wrath of of that final ‘day of the God almighty’ is completed. It is accompanied by familiar features of divine judgement, fearsome storms and earthquakes that express divine wrath. Yet once more God has shaken the earth (Hebs 12; Rev 6:12-14.8:5, 11:19 Cf. Joel 2:30,31). Only God has a kingdom that cannot be shaken (Hebs 12:28). Hail of enormous proportions (100lbs) rains down (Isa 30:30; Ex 9:18,24). Creation fights for its Creator. And the response is, we read, ‘they cursed God’. Not only do the nations refuse to repent they curse God.

There have been various glimpses of the end from various perspectives in Revelation. How Babylon and the Beast meet their end is yet to be revealed. We find this out in the following chapters. These chapters humble us before God. They cause us to question our ways and prompt us to find refuge in Christ. God has risen yet once more to shake the earth.

.

30
Apr
22

revelation 15… the seven bowls of wrath (1)

Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and amazing, seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished.

2 And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire—and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. 3 And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,

“Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! 4 Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come. and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

5 After this I looked, and the sanctuary of the tent of witness in heaven was opened, 6 and out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, clothed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes around their chests. 7 And one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever, 8 and the sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished.

Revelation 15

The seven bowls demonstrate that Revelation does not adopt a rigid chronological order. The bowls of Ch 15 precede the harvests of Ch 14. After a long interlude (11-14) we come to the third ‘seven’ of divine judgements in revelation, the seven bowls or plagues. That they are plagues suggests parallels with Israel and Egypt, a parallel that will prove to be true (Ch 16). The earlier seven seals and trumpets brought limited judgements initially. In the bowls, the judgements are absolute. The bowls bring God’s wrath to a consummation The bowls are introduced in Ch 15 but not revealed until Ch 16. Such is the magnitude of the judgements contained in the bowls that like the dragon and the woman they constitute a great sign (Ch12).

The pause between introducing the bowls and revealing them serves to heighten anticipation of this ‘sign, great and amazing’. It also serves to reveal the security of God’s people in days of world convulsing judgements.

John is seeing events in heaven. Before the final cataclysmic judgements fall God’s people are seen in heaven. The scene is proleptic. The judgements are assumed to be past The heavenly congregation are they who ‘conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name’; they have withstood political, religious and economic pressure to conform. Their death has been their victory. The harps probably identify them with the 144,000 (Ch 14),

The scene is the heavenly court, the throne room of God. The sea of glass (the heavenly laver) is mingled with fire (4:6). In one sense heaven is tranquil however the judgements of God are reflected in the fire. Or perhaps the fire represents the suffering of God’s people. The redeemed singing beside the sea of glass (all is now tranquil in God’s presence) is perhaps an allusion to Israel’s victory song beside the Red Sea having crossed over (Ex !5). Certainly the song they sing is the song of Moses and the Lamb.

The song of Moses and the song of the Lamb are praise for the mighty judging and saving acts of God – the Lord God Almighty. God is the divine warrior. In language drawn from a variety of OT texts, the might of the Lord who rules the nations is extolled. Great and marvellous are his works, here principally works of judgement (Deut 28:59,60; Ex 34:10). He is holy just and true (v3). He is righteous in his acts (v4). Both in judgement and salvation the Lord is to be feared. ‘Who is like the beast’ (13:4) becomes ‘Who will not fear you’. Only God is king of the nations, not Caesar and not the beast. The song of Moses (Ex 15) is a celebration of God overthrowing evil powers opposed to him and his people. God’s ways involve salvation through judgement. As he saves his people, he judges the wicked. The song of the Lamb is similar in that it involves the judging of evil and the rescue of his people. At the cross in a greater way than in Egypt God’s power and glory is displayed; there evil is overthrown, his people saved and Christ triumphs. These are God’s ‘great and amazing deeds’. Both his saving and judging are acts of righteousness (Roms 1:16, 2:1-5). The end-time people of God echo these songs. They too know salvation through divine judgement. Such a judging and redeeming God is worthy of the worship of all nations (Ps 86:9; isa 2:2-4, 66:23; Jer 16:19 Cf. Phil 2:11).

John then sees the open temple. Being open connects it to events on earth. The tent of witness (Ex 38:21) was part of the wilderness wandering of Israel. It expressed God’s covenant promises to his people and God’s presence with his people. It symbolised security against enemies and their overthrow. Seen in heaven these are perhaps to be understood as new covenant promises. From the sanctuary come the seven angels whose judgements will rain on the enemies of God and his people. They are dressed in pure white linen suggesting their purity and righteousness and so fitness to punish. Priestly clothes for those from the sanctuary. Golden belts or sashes are found elsewhere (Dan 10:5, 1:13).

The golden bowls reminds us of the prayers of the church (5:8). Here their prayers are answered in the golden bowls filled with the wrath of God (Cf Isa 51:17,22 bowl cups). As God’s bowl cup of wrath was directed against Babylon in Isaiah 51 so it is directed against End-time Babylon and its kingdom (Ch 16). God’s outrage against sin is vast. It will be expressed in the bowls and with these the wrath of God in history will be finished. God, however, is not finished; he lives for ever and ever. The sanctuary filled with smoke reflects his glory and power. Here that glory is his full expression in judgement and like Sinai the temple cannot be approached. When Isaiah saw the Lord the house was filled with smoke and Isaiah was undone (Ex 40:35; Isa 6:4).

And so before these final judgements fall the triumph and security of God’s people is affirmed. Neither the beast nor divine judgements on the world need be a cause for fear.

18
Apr
22

psalm 16… I set the Lord always before me

1 Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. 2 I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” 3 As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight. 4 The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out. or take their names on my lips. 5 The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. 6 The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. 7 I bless the LORD who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. 8 I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. 9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. 10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. 11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

What kind of life will you have if you have set the Lord always before you? Psalm 16 tells us. It describes the life of a God-centred person.

We are told little about the troubles of the psalmist though the opening line makes it clear he is in some kind of trouble. David had many difficult situations in life. He faced many life-threatening situations. Here there are those who run after other gods nearby (v4). There are times when he is awake at night (v7). Yet David is unshaken (v8). Indeed his heart is glad (v9). It is glad because he has made the Lord his portion (v5). All David’s ‘good’ is found in the Lord; the Lord is his treasure.

Finding himself in a dangerous situation he makes God his refuge. His security lies with the Lord (7:1; 11:1; 17:7). Notice that here and throughout the Psalm David actively pursues the Lord and finds in him the answer to his needs. The Lord’s presence in our life doesn’t just happen we must pursue it; we must make him what we want him to be. And so David trusts in the Lord. He says to the Lord (Yahweh) ‘You are my Lord (Adonai)’. He acknowledges the Lord as his master and sovereign. He confesses he has no good apart from the Lord. It is this aligning of values and centring all that matters in the Lord that will lead David in the path of life (v11).

In committing himself to the Lord David is resolutely rejecting other ways. He will have nothing to do with other gods and their rituals. He has chosen Yahweh and rejects apostasy and idolatry and other masters. Consequently it is those who follow Yahweh, the saints, in whom he (and Christ, the ultimate God-centred person) will delight. They are ‘the glorious ones’ or ‘the excellent ones’. Apparently the gods were sometimes called ‘glorious ones’. David recognises that God’s people and not false gods are the true ‘glorious ones’. They are the ones deserving of praise. In them he will delight and he will not be part of those who pursue other gods and so bring increasing trouble upon themselves. Other gods enslave and destroy.

The Lord, for David, is his chosen portion, not false gods (v5). Once again we see his deliberate decision. The Lord is his portion, his cup and his lot. In Israel land was divided by lot into portions and became the inheritance of God’s people (Numbs 33:54; Josh 19:9). It was to be passed on through each generation. Only the Levites had no land inheritance instead the Lord was their inheritance (Numb 18:20). David here aligns himself with the Levites. It’s possible that at this point he was a fugitive, as he was more than once in his life. His land inheritance may be forfeit at this point (1 Sam 26:19). Be that as it may, the important thing is that it is in the Lord he finds his inheritance and land. With the Lord as his inheritance his allotted inheritance is pleasant and beautiful. The land with its allotments becomes a metaphor for all he enjoys in the Lord. The Lord is his cup of refreshment and celebration. The land in its best sense is the Lord; it is in him all blessings lie (Eph 1:1-3).

The blessings of having the Lord as his inheritance are clear. The Lord is his counsellor who guides and instructs his heart even in the night. He is both his counsellor and his guardian (v7,8). The Lord is like a warrior by his side protecting and warring on his behalf. This is the source of his stability. Because of this he will not be shaken (Ps 15:5; 21:7; 112:6). He is secure. Should he die the Lord will still protect him. He will not be abandoned; the path of life that has been revealed (Deut 30:15-20; Provs 5:6; 6:23). and that he has followed will result in resurrection life. He is God’s holy one and will not be left in death.

This text about resurrection* presents some difficulty for as Peter says in the NT David did see corruption. The NT interprets this text as ultimately a prophecy concerning Christ, David’s son and Lord (2 Sam 7:12,13; Ps 110:1). The whole psalm finds fulfilment in him. He was truly God’s ‘Holy One’ in life and death. He lay in death for three days and saw no corruption. He arose from the dead with a transformed incorruptible body and ascended to heaven to be seated at God’s right hand (Acts 2:22-33). It is at God’s right hand that there are ‘treasures forevermore’. Interestingly it is from there that the Holy Sprit is sent by Christ as the crowning new covenant gift to the church. For the church the treasures at the Father’s right hand are already being partially enjoyed. In God’s presence David anticipates ‘fullness of joy’. David knew that the taste of God’s goodness and joy he experienced under the old covenant could only intensify in the world to come. He believed in resurrection (17:15). John reveals how God and the Lamb will flood the heavenly city with a glory that shall be eternally captivating (Rev 21). Such is the heritage of those whose hearts are set on God.

* Resurrection is muted in the OT but it is there. The NT tells us that Abraham believed that if he slew Isaac God would raise him from the dead (Roms 4). Hebrews tells us that OT saints died in faith not having received the promises but seeing them from afar. They looked for a better country, a heavenly one. Many suffered and died for their faith believing they would rise to a better life (Hebs 11:35). In psalm 16:9-11 and 17:15 resurrection is present. Isaiah 25:7,8; 26:19; Daniel 12:2 seem to be resurrection texts too. Cf. Lk 20:27-40

10
Apr
22

revelation 14 (3)… two harvests

Revelation 14 :4-20

14 Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand. 15 And another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to him who sat on the cloud, “Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.” 16 So he who sat on the cloud swung his sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped.

17 Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18 And another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over the fire, and he called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, “Put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” 19 So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. 20 And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia.

In Revelation the day of the Lord, the day of Christ’s return in judgement and salvation is never far away. It is the central event in the final drama. Sometimes the day of the Lord (especially in the OT) has a broad time reference and seems to encompass events ranging from Christ’s first coming up to and beyond his second coming. In this sense it is in the OT a catch-all for the eschatological events. At other times it refers to the specific Second Coming of Christ in judgement and salvation. Here, although the language ‘day of the Lord’ is not mentioned, nevertheless it is that day in its narrow sense that is in view; the day it is depicted by the image of harvest, both the grain harvest (14-16) and grape harvest (17-20). The day for choosing is now past; the time for judging has come.

It is tempting to see the grain harvest, where no judgement is announced, as the ingathering in of believers. Jesus uses the image of harvest in this way. He speaks of the Son of Man (Dan 7:13) sending his angels to reap (Matt 33:12, 24:30). If believers, then John intends a contrast between the destiny of believers and of the ungodly.

However, it is unlikely the grain harvest metaphor refers to believers. Even when Jesus uses the image the dominant emphasis is on the destruction of the wicked (Matt 24:38-43). In the OT the grain harvest is a regular image of judgement (Isa 17:5; Jer 51:33; Mic 4:11,12; Hos 6:11). Indeed Joel seems to join both the grain harvest and grape harvest when he writes,

Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Go in, tread, for the winepress is full. The vats overflow, for their evil is great. (Joel 3:13)

It seems likely John is building on the Joel text. The dual image of judgement chills. The focus in the first harvest is on the Son of Man. His majesty is stressed. He is Jesus who rules the churches in ch 1 (1:12-20). Now with a golden crown of victory in battle he sits on a cloud as the divine king and judge of the nations. The time has come to reap. Human sin has has fully ripened. It is time for the sickle of divine judgement.

In the grape harvest the stress seems to lie more on the ‘great winepress of the wrath of God’. An angel comes from the temple, with divine authority to execute judgement. Another angel from the altar perhaps reminding us of those martyred and calling out for justice and the prayers of the persecuted saints (6:9,10; 8:3,5). It seems to be the golden altar in view. From it an angel had previously thrown fire on the earth (8:3,5). Once again the harvest is ripe. God in Christ will crush and trample all opposition (19::15; Isa 63:1-6). The bloodbath imagery is visceral and shocking. Once again the cost of sin and opposing God is graphically expressed. Those who shed blood will have blood shed. The winepress is an image just as the 1600 stadia is a symbolic number (It is the square of 40 and also approximately the length of the Holy land from North to South).

The battle here takes place ‘outside the city’. The city is presumably Jerusalem. In the OT the destruction of the nations takes place outside Jerusalem. As Jesus experienced the day of wrath outside the city on behalf of his people (Hebs 13:12) so too will the unbelieving nations (Zech 12, 14; Joel 3:1-16; Dan 11:45. Cf Rev 20:9). It is hard to know just how literally to interpret this geographical reference. Although describing ultimate realities much of Revelation is couched in highly symbolic language. How are we to interpret the OT images upon which this city allusion is based? Is there a final confrontation between Israel and the nations centred at Jerusalem? Reading chapters such as Zech 12-14 it seems there may be. If the image refers to the heavenly city then the security of God’s people is in view. In fact, if Jerusalem is heavenly or earthly its security is certain as the Lord fights the nations who threaten her (Zech 14:3,4). However, the detail is to be understood the picture is plain the winepress is the final overthrow of the ungodly. Here it is angels that gather the ungodly as grapes to a winepress – the winepress of the wrath of God. Isaiah 63 speaks of God treading the winepress until his garments are splattered with blood (Isaiah 63:1-6). In Rev 19 it is Christ who comes to tread the winepress and strike down the nations. His robe is dipped in blood (19:11-21). All judgement has been given to the Son.

The victory of God in Christ is juxtaposed with the fate of the wicked. Yet again it is a call for God’s people to endure (14:12). The end is not yet but it is certain.

07
Apr
22

revelation 14 (2) … three cameos

Rev 14 (2)

6 Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. 7 And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

8 Another angel, a second, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality.”

9 And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”

12 Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.

13 And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labours, for their deeds follow them!”

Three cameos introduced by three angels follow the vision of the 144,000. Each in its own way calls for repentance.

The first is the worldwide proclamation of the eternal gospel to the nations or as John describes them, ‘those who dwell upon the earth’. This is John’s way of describing the unregenerate; they live for this world. All nations hear, just as the gospel has to be proclaimed to all nations before the end comes (Matt 24:14). The angelic proclamation is not how we think of the gospel. The angel proclaims, ‘“Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.’. The language as with much of the language of Revelation is more OT in tone. The message is a call to repentance and faith (fear God and give him glory) as his judgement has come. In fact his judgement has not yet come but treating it as present makes it more immediate. Ancient Rome believed she ruled the land and sea but she was wrong. God rules it for he created it; he alone has proprietorial rights. The song of the saints in Ch 15 seems to be an expanded version of the angelic announcement. We read,

Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! 4 Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come. and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

God’s great acts of salvation among his people are a reason to turn to him.

The second angel announces the fall of Babylon. It is a warning about love for an idolatrous world. The name Babylon occurs six times in the book. It is a human number. Frequently John introduces an actor in advance. Here Babylon is introduced before the full account of her demise in Ch 17,18. It is not literal Babylon that is in view; Babylon the OT city by this stage was no more than a small village. But Babylon has many incarnations. In the first century Rome was no doubt a template for Babylon. However, ultimately Babylon is more than any one city she is a symbol of human society in opposition to God just as the new Jerusalem is a symbol for the church as a society in submission to God. She is the anti-city, a parody of the New Jerusalem. Here the collapse of Babylon is announced. It is proclaimed in the past tense although it describes a future event. This emphasises the certainty of the event.

The fall of Babylon is the collapse of apostate civilisation. Proud Babylon (Babylon the Great) is no more, just like the original city. Later it is clear she collapses because her leaders Nero-like turn in on her but ultimately her judgement is from God because she has ‘made all nations drink of the passions/wrath of her adulteries.’ (Isa 21;9; Jer 50;2; 51;7, 8). Babylon and Rome are not in the final view great cultures but great courtesans full of adulteries and infinite cruelties. Later we discover what these adulteries involve;; they are often spiritual adulteries, idolatries. Babylon is the ultimate harlot and her adulteries include all the ways she intoxicates and seduces the hearts and minds of men away from God. And involved in her beguiling is a ruthless determination that erupts into wrath when questioned or resisted. The announcement of her collapse (again preempted) should drive the nations to repentance but cause God’s people to rejoice.

The final angel reveals what is perhaps the most chilling vision in the book.

9 And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”

In Ch 13 we saw the power of the beast to command worship and allegiance. In one sense the beast has been active throughout history. Again and again the state has called for obedience that if refused results in imprisonment or death. John’s focus however is on the final and most fearful manifestation of the beast. If the beast is denied loyalty his vengeance is swift and his wrath great. Like Nebuchadnezzar in ancient Babylon he insists on the worship of his subjects. Unlike Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom, the kingdom of the beast is world-wide. The whole earth must worship the beast or face the consequences.

However, the first angel has made it clear that only God should be worshipped. Now the third angel states that failure to worship God and choosing to worship of the beast will give rise to far greater wrath than that of the beast and far greater punishment than the death of the body. As Jesus says,

Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body but can’t kill the soul. Instead, be afraid of the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell. (Matt 10:28)

If the city of the beast makes men drink of the wine of the wrath of her adulteries then here is another wine that men will drink. It is the wine of divine wrath (Jer 25:15,16). It is not cut or diluted wine but wine of ‘full strength’ . Wine was cut to make it palatable but there is nothing palatable about divine fury. The wine of his wrath poured into the cup of his anger Ps 75:8). This wine will make men stagger and fall. Drink from Babylon’s cup and you will drink from the cup of divine wrath.

Two issues arise that tend to disturb minds cosseted by never having faced persecution and compromised by the values of our age.

Firstly, judgement is evidently eternal. Somehave tried to back pedal from the implications of the imagery by arguing that it is the smoke that is forever not the suffering; like the smoke from a ravished city (Matt 18:8,9; 19:3; Isa 34:10). The belief is called annihilationism but however attractive the notion, biblically it doesn’t stack up. Without even considering other Scriptures we can see how annihilationism draws the teeth of the present image. The whole point of the image is to paint a horrific picture. It is a severe warning for believers and others; don’t be tempted by idolatry, don’t worship the beast. Do not receive his mark and give him your allegiance. Whatever he may do to you worship him and God will do much worse to you if you do. Idolatry is the worst of all sins and will result in punishment far worse than our worst nightmare; it will bring everlasting pain and torment. The picture is of a sulphurous eternally consuming lake of fire (19:20, 20:10,14,15. 21:18 Cf. Isa 34:10). The stakes are enormously high. Disregard the eternal gospel and endure the eternal burnings. Worship the beast and wail forever (2 Thess 1:6-9; Roms 2:3-9).

All things being equal who will defy the beast more strenuously; the annihilationist or the believer in eternal punishment? Who will endure? The fear of God must be greater than the fear of man (Matt 10:28). In eternity life becomes in the fullest sense eternal life and judgement becomes in the fullest sense eternal judgement.

Secondly, the eternal suffering is in the presence of the angels and the lamb. This is not a picture of sadistic gloating. It is most probably a picture of the heavenly court ensuring that the sentence is carried out and justice has taken place (Dan 7:9-12). It is another way of stressing Christ’s absolute victory over his enemies. John writes,

he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”

John is a realist. Believers will require to patiently endure (the last of seven uses of the term in the book). Faith and obedience will require a Spirit given courage. Intensified persecution means many, perhaps most, will be martyred. The dragon is a devouring lion. For the martyred church there is a special blessing; not only do they find rest but their heroic resistance to death will receive its reward (2:23; Matt 16:27; 2 Cor 5:10; Roms 2:6-11). God’s justice is always just (Jer 17:10; Jas 2:13; Roms 2:). Indeed rest is the appropriate reward for their labours. This is the second of seven beatitudes (all the others are addressed the church indicating the church is in view here). John writes,

13 And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labours, for their deeds follow them!”

However, while martyrs are no doubt the main focus we shouldn’t limit the blessing to martyrs for John doesn’t limit it. It is true of all who die in the Lord. Indeed all who die in the Lord are in one sense martyrs (witnesses). In life they have learned to die to self and live for Christ. The ‘amen’ of the Spirit to the voice from heaven further affirms the future of those who die in Christ.

John is painting the alternatives in ever increasing stark contrast. The issues at stake are high.

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27
Mar
22

credo baptism… the baptism of believers

Christian Baptism

Some Christians believe in infant baptism (paedo-baptism) and others think only believers should be baptised (credo-baptism) Who is right?

Whole books, of course, have been written on the subject. This is a very simplified discussion of the issues and admittedly comes from a believers’ baptism perspective while trusting it fairly represents paedo-baptist beliefs.

Believers’ Baptism

While most who hold to believers’ baptism also hold it should be by immersion, immersion is not the main issue. Indeed, sometimes, if a person is infirm, immersionists may pour water on the head instead.. Immersion, however, is the usual practice for credo-baptists. Aside from word studies and some texts that imply baptism is by immersion (Matt 3:16, Jn 3:23; Acts 8:38; 1 Cor 10:2) the main argument for immersion is what baptism signifies. Baptism signifies complete cleansing (Acts 22:16). and death and burial with Christ (Roms 6:1-4); immersion more naturally expresses these realities.

The real question therefore is not the ‘how’ of baptism but the ‘who’.

Those who advocate infant baptism have two main arguments.

  • Under the OT covenants children were circumcised and so became part of the covenant family. Baptism, they say, is the NT and new covenant equivalent of circumcision and therefore believers’ children should be baptised.
  • When we read the Acts of the Apostles households were baptised and these would include children.

A credo baptist counters these arguments by pointing to the following:

  • Not all children in the OT were given the sign of covenant membership; only male children carried the covenant sign. Immediately we see that a simple correspondence between circumcision and baptism doesn’t work; in the OT, the initiatory sign of circumcision is applied only to males while in the NT, both male and female are baptised. Covenants don’t carry over to one another seamlessly.
  • There is no doubt that the argument of continuity between covenants is the main argument supporting infant baptism. However, although there is indeed continuity between the OT and the NT (or the old covenant and new covenant), there is also discontinuity. The OT is promise, while the NT is fulfilment. The OT is infancy, while the NT is maturity. The OT looked forward to the kingdom and in the NT the kingdom arrives. This is a massive change (Mat 11:11; MK 2:22). In particular, the new age is the age of the new covenant (Lk 22:20; Jer 31:331,33; Hebs 7:22). Change between covenant practices in the OT and NT should not surprise us; the new has come. The old covenants conferred membership on the basis of family whereas new covenant membership is on the basis of faith. The old covenants demanded circumcision of the flesh but the new covenant provides circumcision of the heart (Col 2:11,12). In other words, in a way not true of the OT covenants, the new covenant’s participants are believers. John puts it like this:

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

  • Here John contrasts birth into a human family and birth into the family of God. In the New Covenant those eligible for the baptismal sign of covenant (and so church) membership in the family of God can only be those of faith. It is faith that brings membership to the new covenant. In the old covenants blood gave access to the covenant privileges, in the new covenant only belief gives access. This distinction between covenants is very important. It is not birth or background that provides a place in the new covenant but belief. It is those who believe that are children of God and members of the new covenant community; those and none else. This is why credo-baptists baptise only believers for only believers are covenant members and eligible for baptism. Unless we are born again we cannot see the kingdom of God (Jn 3:3).
  • Baptism is both a proclamation of personal faith and a symbol of God’s activity in salvation. This is why it is disciples that are baptised (Matt 28: 19. Cf. Acts 2:41). In fact, as we noted, the symbolism of baptism is that the participant is cleansed from sin (Acts 22:16) and has died and risen with Christ (Roms 6:1-6). In Acts it is regularly those who believe who are baptised (Acts 2:38,41;10:12). New birth precedes baptism. Of course, not all who profess faith in Christ and are baptised will prove to be real, however, all are baptised assuming that their confessed faith is real and only time will tell.

But what of the other plank of the paedo-baptist argument namely that households are baptised in Acts on the strength of a the faith of the head of the household.

  • At first sight this has a little weight but it quickly disappears. There are a few examples of households being baptised in the Bible. The question is whether the household members were baptised because the head of the house believed or because each member also believed and wished to be baptised. Certainly the heads of households held significant authority in those days. Society was much less individualistic. Patriarchal authority may have persuaded the rest of the household to believe. This seems likely. On the other hand it seems unlikely that patriarchal authority would force commitment to the Christian faith not least because Christianity was avowedly individual. Faith was always a personal choice and never forced.
  • When we examine the cases of ‘household baptism’ documented we see the high likelihood of personal faith being present (Acts 10; Acts 18:8,9; Acts 16; 1 Cor 1:16, 16:5. Cf. John 4:53). In each of these faith is embraced by the household and not simply by the head of the household. In the example of Lydia in Acts 16 there is no mention of her household believing, only of their baptism, however, the case has been so well established by Luke that faith is personal and precedes baptism in households as well as individuals that there is no need for him to rehearse all the details once again. In fact, we do not even know if young children were part of these families.
  • Louis Berkhof, a leading exponent of paedo-baptism confessed: It may be said at the outset that there is no explicit command in the Bible to baptize children, and that there is not a single instance in which we are plainly told that children were baptized. This does present paedo-baptism with an uphill battle.

Summary

The case for paedo-baptism rests principally on assumed covenant continuities and examples of household baptism. For the reasons given these arguments seem to be insecure. Beyond these objections, the case for the baptism only of believer’s seems uncontroversial and self-evident. The new covenant upon which the church is based is composed of believers. All participation in church life is premised on confessed faith. In the NT the overwhelming evidence is that it is believers who are baptised.

Postscript

Perhaps what hinders some paedo-baptists being baptised as an adult is a sense of disloyalty to their baptism as a child. It may be helpful to think of adult baptism as the realisation of that to which one’s infant baptism aspired, rather like Jewish believers may have viewed their circumcision giving way to believers’ baptism.

23
Mar
22

simply trusting

The last few years have brought changes that have significantly shaken the previously cushioned existence of the developed nations of the West. Christians have not been immune from this shaking.

With the sudden advent of Covid life changed dramatically. The future became more uncertain. The war in Ukraine, hard on Covid’s heels, has served to further shake our sense of security. While clearly devastating for Ukrainians, the war has impacted on all of us. The plight of the Ukrainians, a daily visual reality, arouses empathetic dismay. Tied into this is the fearful possibility that the war could widen making the spectre of nuclear holocaust more tangible than it has been for a considerable time.

Woven through these macro events is the advancing of an ideology deeply threatening to Christianity. Wokeism with its lethal cocktail of critical race theory, intersectionality and identity politics has embedded itself in western culture. It is a movement fuelled by the left-wing media and by some in the LGBT community (particularly some transgender people). It is a threat to all who oppose its agenda. It seeks to silence opposing voices and authentic Christianity undoubtedly is one opposing voice.

The present economic instability of the world tends to destabilise society in other areas too. Dissatisfaction becomes strident and fear generates anger. The outcome for Christians in the West is that the world is a more precarious place than most of us have known. Uncertainty in life is more pronounced. Persecution, once virtually inconceivable, is now a real possibility.

Of course, if we widen the lens beyond the West, we discover Christians in many countries live daily with hardship and persecution and have done so for many years. The stabilities of the last seventy years in the West have been unusual in the bigger story of the world and the church. The church for much of its history has, like the C1 church, lived with hardship, opposition and often life-threatening persecution as it does today in many parts of the world.

How have Christians living with adversity and persecution risen to these challenges?

Well one thing is certain, it is not by having all the answers. Job is an example of a believer traumatised by circumstances who was given no pat answers. It is not certain that answers would have really helped him cope with his distress. The one answer that would really help him cope is the answer Job is given by God, ‘Trust in me’. Job’s answer is a vision of the surpassing greatness of God (Job 38-40). Peace lies in trusting in him.

This is the first and most foundational of a number of ‘answers’ Christians are given to enable them to navigate the strains and threats of life. I thought it may be helpful to list some of the faith responses that lead to the peace of God that surpasses understanding in our lives even in troubled times.

  • Trust in God. The ‘answer’ given to Job in his distress was ‘Look at me’. It is the foundational answer to all distress encountered in the Scripture; we are to look to God. Both NT and OT urge God’s people in their troubles to look to the Lord. Psalm 105 is one text among many that express that humble dependence on the Lord.

To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens! 2 Behold, as the eyes of servants. look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant. to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he has mercy upon us.

In the NT we are exhorted in the Christian race to ‘fix our eyes upon Jesus’. (Hebs 12:2).

We draw strength for the Christian battle of faith as we look upon God and. Christ and the resources that lie in them. We don’t look at the waves but at the God who commands the wave and who can speak peace and stillness into our heart in the midst of the storm as we look to him. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding is the wisdom of proverbs.

  • Pursue joy. Paul experienced much suffering for the sake of the gospel. It was while in prison that he writes to the Philippians and says, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice’ (Phil 2:4) A key source of strength for the Christian life is rejoicing (Neh 8:10). We rejoice in the many blessings God has given us in every day life. Preeminently we rejoice in the Lord. We rejoice in all he is for us and all he has given us. We even learn to rejoice in suffering because of the spiritual character it produces in us. To rejoice in our suffering removes its ability to drag us down and depress. We can see why Paul placed such a premium on rejoicing. Sometimes that rejoicing may be exuberant at other times quiet and gentle but both fight unbelief, fear and depression.
  • Be realistic. Recognise that suffering is part of what we expect in life. Man is of few days and full of trouble (Job 14:1). He is born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards (Job 5:7). Yet we remember too, ‘This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles’ (Ps 34:6). The Lord hears the cries of his people and comes to their aid. It is vital to be realistic and accept that in the world we will have trouble often generated by others but Jesus reminds us ‘fear not, I have overcome the world’.
  • Apply the great truths of the faith to daily life. Remember God is our father who cares for all his creation (Matt 10:31). Jesus reigns at God’s right hand and all authority has been given to him. He rules over Putin and every other world ruler. He rules over ideologies and cultures. We live not for this world but a world to come. Here we are strangers and pilgrims without roots heading for a world to come (Hebs 11). There are many great truths given to strengthen our hearts in the adversities of life. They are ours to draw from.
  • Learn to distinguish between the voice of Satan and the voice of God. Satan always speaks to destroy. Don’t be dismayed by his fiery darts, those sudden destructive arrows that dismay, wound and disorientate. Have the shield of faith raised to deflect them and absorb them. The whole armour of God is available to equip us for battle against spiritually malevolent powers bent on our destruction.
  • Rest in God. Perhaps there are times when our minds are too jaded and tired to think. It is time to ‘Be still and know that I am God’ (Ps 46:10). He will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint (Jer 31:25). For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.“ (Isa 30:15). The Psalmist writes, ‘I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.’ (Ps 131:2). And again, ‘For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.’ (Ps 62:5,6). God is often to be found in ‘the gentle stillness’ (1 Kings 19:12). Waiting on the Lord is a common experience in the Psalms. ‘I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.’ (Ps 130:5,6). Waiting on the Lord is no vain thing. ‘I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.’ (Ps 40:1). In Christ, who is the Lord, we find rest, ‘Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’
  • Make regular use if possible of the God-given means of grace. We should endeavour to read and pray. Daily devotions of prayer and reading is a good practice. Seek to reflect a little on the truths of the faith. Meet with other believers and enjoy Christian fellowship and encouragement.

The list could go on. The Lord has provided a wide variety of means to enable perseverance in faith. These are not necessarily direct answers to our ‘why’ questions but they do answer our ‘how’ questions; how can I persevere in this adversity I’m facing The race can be arduous and seem interminable but it is not. It is in reality a light affliction and but for a moment preparing us for an eternal weight of glory.

Let Hebs 12 have the last word.

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”

7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. 12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. 14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

20
Mar
22

revelation 14 (1)… the triumph of the lamb and his army

Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. 2 And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, 3 and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. 4 It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb, 5 and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless.

If Ch 12,13 reveal the cosmic conflict that has run through history climaxing in the beast from the sea warring against the people of God then Ch 14 provides a series of glimpses of the final resolution of this conflict involving both salvation and judgement. These resolutions are designed to encourage perseverance in God’s people (v12).

Ch 14 has four sections:

the triumph of lamb and his army (vv1-5). the judgement messages of the three angels (vv 6-12). the second of seven beatitudes (v13). the harvest of the earth (vv14-20).

The first cameo in the chapter, the triumph of the Lamb and his army, is clearly a salvation theme.

Ch 13 revealed the church experiencing great persecution at the hands of the beast from the sea (the political AntiChrist) and the beast from the earth (the religious power supporting the beast from the sea, the false Prophet). Both in their own way are imposters of the Lamb. In Ch 14, we meet the true Lamb and the 144,000, his devoted followers. We were introduced to the 144,000 in Ch 7 where they were given the protective seal of divine ownership (7:3). Here they carry the identity mark of the Father and the Lamb in evident contrast to those who carry the mark of the beast (13:17,8). The reality is, all bear either the mark of the beast, identifying its bearers with all that is Satanic, or the mark of the Lamb and the Father, identifying them with God. Identification with the former will lead to judgement and identification with the latter leads to salvation. Whatever the merits of a literal mark surely the true mark of ownership is likeness to the one to whom allegiance is given.

Despite the crushing of the church by the beast in Ch 13 the scene in ch 14 is one of triumph. The Lamb and the 144,000 stand on Mount Zion (a metonym for Jerusalem). The image is militaristic victory. The 144,000 seems to be a metaphor for the church as an army*. In Ch 7 we learn they are drawn from the 12 tribes of Israel. The number is evidently stylised and not literal; it suggests administrative completeness. In ancient Israel a census was taken to count troops for battle. It seems likely this is the significance of the numbered 144,000, though the number is clearly stylised and symbolic. We discover the 144,000 are male and both ritually and really pure (14:4). When engaging in a holy war sexual relations were foregone for purposes of ritual purity (Deut 23: 9-11; 1 Sam 21:5, 2 Sam 11:8-11; Cf. Rev 19:14). Here the army do not simply abstain from sexual relations, they are virgins (Cf. 2 Cor 11:2; Amos 5:2; Rev 3:4). This is probably an image for the loyalty and holiness of God’s people as they engage in holy war. They are spiritually and morally pure; free from adulterous relationships with the world. In the world of ‘the false prophet’ are idolatrous lies which are deny the Christ (1 Jn 2:2) . The world worships the beast and his lies; neither the lie of idolatry nor any other pernicious lie is found in the army of the Lamb (Zeph 3:13). In this they are like their champion (Isa 53:9; 1 Pet 2:22). They are blameless. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They are devoted to him (Matt 10;38). While the 144,000 appear to describe the church in the few years of suffering prior to Christ’s return nevertheless to be the army of Christ is the calling of the church at every stage of its history. We are to conquer as he did – through sacrifice and perhaps like him through literally laying down our lives in martyrdom. To die is not defeat it is triumph; the beast does not conquer by killing the church, the conquerors (like Jesus) are those who die.

I take the image of the 144,000 male virgins to refer to the church at the end of the age, that is, the church of the tribulation period since this is the apparent time-frame of Ch 6-18 (13:5). Yet I wonder whether the part may stand for the whole. Can the 144,000 also represent the whole church? The 144,000 are referred to as firstfuits for God and the Lamb (v4). First-fruits is elsewhere used of the people of God both OT and NT (Jer 2:2,3; Jas 1:18) Also the multiples of 12 in the 144,000 fit with the description of the New Jerusalem in Ch 21 where the whole church, the people of God from both Testaments is in view. Are the 144,000 representative of the complete people of God? Is the imagery fluid enough to allow this?. The 144,000 are the End-Time tribulation believers but are they a synecdoche for the whole? Questions to ponder. Of course, different prophetic perspectives will arrive at different conclusions about the the precise identity of the 144,000.

It seems in these verses that the time of warfare is over (v4,5). Although it is difficult to be certain whether Mount Zion where Christ and his army stand in victory is earthly or heavenly (Ps 2:6) on balance the scene seems heavenly. The OT does have passages which appear to describe final world conflicts around an earthly Jerusalem culminating in the Lord’s arrival at the Mount of Olives where Jesus and his holy ones stand (2 Kings 19:31; Isa 4:2,3, 37:30-32; Joel 2:32; Zech 14; Dan 11:40-12:4. Cf Joel 2:32). It may be the victory of the Second Advent in view. However, the eschatological and earthly redeemed Jerusalem of the OT clearly becomes the heavenly Jerusalem Mount Zion of the NT (Isa 54, Gals 4 cf. Hebs 12:22). It is clear is that Mount Zion is a place of security and blessing – of salvation and triumph (Isa 4:2-6, 31:4, 62:2,4,12; Joel 2:32).

In the text, the surrounding scene in John’s vision, is certainly heavenly. Harpist are playing and singing in heaven (1 Chron 15:16, 16;5). It is possible that these priestly singers are the 144,000. It seems that only the 144,000 can sing this song (v4). This would be fitting for it is the new song of redemption; of victory in battle (5:9). Though perhaps the song is learned from the heavenly host. The sound of praise is thunderous and majestic (Cf. 19:6). New songs are often associated with acts of God’s power, victory and redemption (Cf. 5:9). Whatever the details it seems the warfare of the 144,000 is over and their triumph has begun.

*It can be hard to bear in mind that Revelation is symbol-laden. Many of its images are symbols of reality and not reality itself. Thus the 144,000 seem to be a symbol for God’s people viewed as a holy army engaged in holy war. If the New Jerusalem is a symbol of the people of God with 12 and multiples of 12 being significant then a correspondence with the 144,000 seems likely. It is not necessary to assume the 144,000 from the tribes of Israel means these must be Jewish believers; they are all celibate males pointing to a symbolic meaning. In the NT, the church is the eschatological army of God composed of Jew and gentiles. They are the Israel of God inheriting the promises (Gals 3:26-4:6). The 144, 000 are best seen as the army of the Lamb, the church at the end of history.

14
Mar
22

psalm 132… a prayer for the king

Remember, O LORD, in David’s favor,
all the hardships he endured,
2 how he swore to the LORD
and vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob,
3 “I will not enter my house
or get into my bed,
4 I will not give sleep to my eyes
or slumber to my eyelids,
5 until I find a place for the LORD,
a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob.”
6 Behold, we heard of it in Ephrathah;
we found it in the fields of Jaar.
7 “Let us go to his dwelling place;
let us worship at his footstool!”
8 Arise, O LORD, and go to your resting place,
you and the ark of your might.
9 Let your priests be clothed with righteousness,
and let your saints shout for joy.
10 For the sake of your servant David,
do not turn away the face of your anointed one.
11 The LORD swore to David a sure oath
from which he will not turn back:
“One of the sons of your body
I will set on your throne.
12 If your sons keep my covenant
and my testimonies that I shall teach them,
their sons also forever
shall sit on your throne.”
13 For the LORD has chosen Zion;
he has desired it for his dwelling place:
14 “This is my resting place forever;
here I will dwell, for I have desired it.
15 I will abundantly bless her provisions;
I will satisfy her poor with bread.
16 Her priests I will clothe with salvation,
and her saints will shout for joy.
17 There I will make a horn to sprout for David;
I have prepared a lamp for my anointed.
18 His enemies I will clothe with shame,
but on him his crown will shine.”
When Brothers Dwell in U

What do you do if you know someone in difficulties? Well, one thing you will do is pray for them. What if he is a king? What if he is the Davidic king? Psalm 132 is a prayer for a Davidic king who is possibly in trouble… ‘do not turn away the face of your anointed one‘ (v1, 10). It is the last of the ‘songs of ascent‘ and so one of a number of psalms probably on the lips of pilgrims as they made their way up to the religious festivals in Jerusalem.

Had you asked any of the pilgrims where God resided they may well have replied that heaven was his dwelling place. He was enthroned in heaven (Ps 2) and earth was his footstool (Isa 66:1). He filled both and both were the domain of his rule. However, immediately they would add… yet in great grace he has chosen the temple at Jerusalem as his earthly home (v13). It is from Jerusalem his rule reaches out into all the earth. (Ps 9:11).

The Psalm is a royal psalm. Its subject is not only Jerusalem where God chose to dwell but the royal house of David which God chose to bless. It is a prayer that the Lord will look with favour upon the David tat he will not reject, the Davidic king designated as his ‘anointed one’ (vv1,10). Perhaps the king is in trouble or the psalm may be simply praying that the king will prosper (Ps 84:9). Similar words are petitioned by Solomon (2 Chron 6:41,42). Yet some Davidic kings were rejected. Indeed while every Davidic king was God’s anointed, the title ‘anointed one’ points ultimately to Messiah and the blessings promised are realised in him – but not before he knows divine rejection. So close is his identification with them that he not only vicariously bears his people’s sins, he experiences their history. And so, while the psalm no doubt had an initial context and a liturgical relevance yet, as with other psalms, whatever the initial context, the trajectory is messianic.

The Psalm divides into two parts, each expressing a reason why the Lord should come to the aid of the Davidic King. The first is David, his forefather’s, devotion to the Lord (vv1-10) and the second is the Lord’s devotion to David (v11-18). There are close parallels between each section. The first is David swears to the Lord (v2) and the Lord swears to David (v11). Other parallels are obvious when read.

Vv1-10. David’s oath to the Lord.

The writer recalls David’s oath-based commitment to build a house for the Lord (vv3-5). David has his own house, his palace, but the Lord and the footstool of his throne, the ark, have no significant house. This troubles David. The ark had been the symbol of God’s presence in power in the journey from Sinai to Canaan. The Lord had been a warrior for his people – the ‘Mighty One of Jacob’ (v5, Gen 49:24). The ark was the footstool of his throne a visible emblem of his prowess and rule (v8, 78:61). It went before the people each time they moved camp and sometimes led them into battle. Forty times it arose (v8) and forty times it came to rest (Nu 10:35,36; 33). Now the Lord and the ark are called to arise once more and journey to their rest in Jerusalem (v8). We should remember that when the Lord and the ark rest the people rest (2 Sam 7:1).

It is a critical point in Israel’s history. Her relationship with the Lord had not been good. Initially the ark had been at Shiloh the centre of worship (1 Sam 4:3). But corruption in the priesthood in the era of Eli led to the ark being captured by the Philistines (1 Sam 4:3). The glory had departed (1 Sam 4-19-22). When the ark was returned it traveled from place to place and was neglected during the reign of Saul (1 Chron 13:3). But by God’s grace things have changed. David, a man after God’s own heart, jealous for God’s glory, is anointed king. The Lord is with David and he wins battles. One strategic battle he won was taking Jerusalem. Jerusalem was a Jebusite fortress the last significant obstacle to conquering the land. It was believed to be impregnable yet David captured it and made it his royal city. David recognises that his success in battle was from the Lord (2 Sam 15:6-10). Consequently Jerusalem was David’s city for only a short time before he determined to bring to it the ark of the Lord. It was a significant act. It signalled a new beginning, a new era.

Jerusalem, not Shiloh, will be the new political and religious centre of Israel. The Lord will have his place at the very centre of national life (Cf. Ex 25:8,9). He must have his throne in their midst. And so amid great celebration the ark is brought to Jerusalem and placed in a tent on what would become the Temple Mount. The Lord is enthroned in Zion (Ps 9:11). Zion is not simply the royal city it is the holy city.

However, David is not content to leave the Lord in a tent he wants to build him a house, a temple. He feels the incongruity that he lives in a solid palace but the Lord lives in a flimsy tent (2 Sam 7:2). The Lord, jealously guarding his sovereignty, refuses him permission (2 Sam 7). Furthermore David was a man of war and an established temple (where God rests) belonged to a time of rest (2 Chron 22:1-18). David does not take umbrage,, as some might, instead he gives himself to the arduous task of collecting materials necessary for the temple’s future construction.

David’s loyalty to the Lord is evident. Initially he goes to great pains to bring the ark to Jerusalem and later devotes himself unsparingly to collecting materials for the future temple. David’s devotion to the Lord cost him considerably (1 Chron 22:14). It is to this sacrificial devotion the psalmist first appeals as he petitions the Lord to help David’s son (v1, 10). It was an appropriate plea since the Lord often treated Davidic kings more leniently than they deserved ‘for the sake of my servant David‘. Even when judgement became unavoidable, judgement will not be his last word ( 1 Kgs 11:11-40, 2 Kgs 8:16-24). And so the psalmist asks that the Davidic king will not be rejected (v10) knowing it is a prayer in tune with God’s own heart.

Vv11-18. The Lord’s oath to David

If the first half focuses on David and the ark the second half focuses on his descendants and the city. If David was loyal to the Lord then the Lord would exceed him in loyalty. He is no man’s debtor (Mk 10:30). If David expressed his devotion to the Lord in his desire to build him a house then the Lord expresses his commitment to David by promising that David’s house will be an everlasting dynasty ( v12; 2 Sam 7). Like David he underwrites his promise with an oath though unlike human oaths the Lord’s oath is a ‘sure oath’; it is certain. It is an extravagant promise. David’s rule will be forever. Kidner says, ‘It was a typically divine response to a well-meaning gesture, to refuse a perishable house and bestow an imperishable one.’ Anything we give to the Lord he returns a hundredfold.

The basic building blocks of the Davidic city and Davidic rule reach into the world to come; they shape the new creation. The language of the promise is covenantal and so absolutely certain. As with similar covenants it is both unconditional and conditional (Ps 89:30-37). It is unconditional in that the Lord promises to place one of David’s sons on David’s throne and place him there forever (v 11; 2 Sam 7:13,15,16). Nothing will prevent this purpose being fulfilled. It is conditional in that retaining the throne was predicated upon covenant obedience. (v12; 2 Sam 7:14). Only a son obedient to the covenant would reign forever. In Messiah that obedient son was found and the covenant secured (Lk 1:32,33; Matt 3:17).

However God not only chose David he also chose Zion. The ark did not arrive at Jerusalem simply because David desired it. As the psalms frequently point out the decision to make Jerusalem home was taken by the Lord (v13, 14, Ps 78:68; 68:16). From the beginning God had a special mountain, an abode or sanctuary (Ex 15:17). Moses had said God would choose a city in which to live (Deut 12:5,11). David in bringing the ark to Jerusalem and planning a temple was fulfilling God’s purpose. Jerusalem was the holy mountain city where he would dwell (tabernacle*) among his people forever. Of course the full realisation awaits a new heavens and new earth (Rev 21), however, God has already placed David’s son upon his throne (v11; Acts 2:11). Here is the sovereign choice of grace. Jerusalem was a small city built on a small mountain (Ps 68:16) but it was the first stage in the realisation of a new Jerusalem where the Lord chose to dwell among his people forever.

The Lord’s presence in Zion means blessing for its people, its priests and its king (v14-18). Again the unconditional and conditional nature of the promise comes in to play. In one sense this blessing is contingent upon obedience. In time, the disobedience of people, priests and king leads to God abandoning his temple and forsaking his city. The city will be destroyed and its people, priests and kings exiled. Covenant disobedience is punished. Yet God’s promise was unconditional (2 Chron 21:7). Failure along the way would not prevent the Lord fulfilling his purpose. His promise remained on course and certain. He would dwell among his people forever and bless them. Jerusalem will be a city of social justice – the poor have bread. It will be a city of righteousness and salvation reflected in the clothes of the priests (vv9,16) and a city of joy (v16, 48:2). It is in a redeemed Zion, an eschatological Zion, a holy city with a faithful king that God will dwell forever among his people in blessing. The Psalms in depicting an ideal Zion are looking to an eschatological Zion.

The psalmist has prayed for the Davidic king, God’s anointed. He prays that he may not be rejected. Messiah is rejected like the nation but only briefly. Like Israel he is raised (Hos 6:2; Matt 12:40). God will make a horn (symbol of power and strength) sprout for David (v17; Lk 1:69-75). He will always be a light (wonderful counsellor) to his people (v17; 2 Sam 21:17; 1 Kgs 11:36: Isa 9:6). His enemies – those that oppose the righteousness and truth of his reign – will be overthrown (v17) and his crown will shine – his reign will be glorious. From the two thrones of Zion (which ultimately become one Rev 22:3), the throne of God and the throne of the Davidic King, God’s rule extends over all the earth.

Longman says that when the Davidic dynasty came to an end with Zechariah and the Babylonian exile, the royal psalms began to be understood as messianic. Davidic promises blossomed into messianic hope. Undoubtedly the description of God’s blessing on city and king in this psalm points to a reality beyond the world as it was then and as it is now. Some aspects have begun to be realised. We have already come (by faith) to Mount Zion and the heavenly Jerusalem (Hebs 12:22). The king is already enthroned and salvation has already begun but the full consummated kingdom is yet to be.

Meantime we can learn from this psalm that God is loyal to those who are loyal to him. He will honour those who honour him… and deny those who deny him (1 Sam 2:30; 2 Tim 2:12). If we suffer with him we will also reign with him. In the heavenly Jerusalem the royal house is democratised and all God’s people are kings (Isa 55:3). The pilgrims travelling up to Jerusalem (Jerusalem is always up) went expecting to be blessed. Wilcock nicely says, ‘we still await… the last great going up‘. We await the return of the Davidic king.

*’Tabernacle’ has a certain contingency to it. Freedom of choice is involved. Should it be inappropriate to ‘dwell’ he can leave as he did before the exile.

10
Mar
22

revelation… outline

Revelation Outline

(G Beale’s outline slightly amended and with annotations).

(1:1 ) The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place… OT prophecy anticipated an End-Time (Dan 12:4) involve divine judgements, persecution for God’s people and ultimate salvation and blessing in the kingdom of God (Cf. Dan 7, 12). Sometimes this period is called the latter or last days (Dan 2:28; Isa 2:1). This End- Time began with the arrival of Christ (Isa 9:1,2, Matt 4:12-1; Lk 4:16-21). However, it did not arrive in its full sense… unbelief prevented this (Acts 3:19). Nevertheless, the NT assumes that since the End-Time has begun the End must be imminent; it must ‘soon take place’. We live in the last hour (I Jn 2:18. Cf. Roms 13:2; 1 Pet 4:7, Hebs 1:2, 9:26; 1 Tim 4:1). In Revelation, from chapter four, John describes the events of the End yet to be fulfilled. Most are prophesied in the OT. John’s prophecy consciously sums up and completes all previous prophecy.)

Introduction (1:1-8)

Prologue (1:1-3). Greetings and Doxology (1:4-8)

Christ in the midst of the seven Churches (1:9-3:22)

The things which are…

John’s Vision of Christ (1:9-20)

Prophetic Messages to the Seven Churches (2:1-3:22)

To the Church in Ephesus (2:1-7). To the Church in Smyrna (2:8-11). To the Church in Pergamum (2:12-17). To the Church in Thyatira (2:18-29). To the Church in Sardis (3:1-6). To the Church in Philadelphia (3:7-13). To the Church in Laodicea (3:14-22)

The Heavenly Throne Room (Ch 4,5)

(the things that are yet to be… 1:19,4:1)

(Dominating the heavenly scene in Ch 4 is the throne. God, the Creator, the one who sits on the throne, is totally sovereign. In Ch 5, focus shifts to the Lamb. He takes the scroll from the right hand of God with its decrees of judgement that will bring rebellious history to a conclusion and bring in God’s eternal kingdom. He is the only one worthy to effect these decrees. Surrounding the throne are representatives of both creation (the four living creatures) and the church (the twenty four elders). Behind Ch 4, 5 lie Ezek 1, Dan 7 and Ps 2).

The Throne in Heaven (4:1-11). The Scroll and the Lamb (5:1-14)

(Much of the drama of Ch 4-19 is set within a time frame of 3½ years variously called 1260 days, 42 months, a time, times, and half a time. Some see this number as symbolic of the whole age until Christ’s return (Rev 11:2; 12:5,6). Numbers in Revelation are often symbolic, however, there are a few reasons to think these, even if they have symbolic allusions, are intended literally: various ways are used to express the same time-frame; the numbers are not obviously stylised; the time-frame is derived from Daniel where it seems literal (Dan 7:25); the beast in Rev 13 drawn from Daniel 7 appears to be a real person, the antiChrist who is given power for 42 months. If so, this limits the 3½ years to within the reign of the antiChrist.)

The Seven Seals (6:1-8:5)

(There are four cycles of ‘sevens’ (seals, trumpets, thunders and bowls) though only three are developed (the seals, trumpets and bowls). Each is largely a series of divine judgements. The final judgement in each series is the arrival of the End. It is effectively the return of Christ which means catastrophe for a godless world. Between the sixth and seventh seal and sixth and seventh trumpet is an interlude that focuses largely on God’s people during these judgements. There is also an interlude between the trumpets and bowls.)

The First Six Seals (6:1-17)

Interlude

144,000 Sealed (7:1-8) (the church militant… viewed as an army on earth). The Great Multitude in White Robes (7:9-17) (the church triumphant… in heaven)

The Seventh Seal and the Golden Censer (8:1-5)

The Seven Trumpets (8:6-11:19)

The First Six Trumpets (8:6-9:21). Trumpets herald a warning to repent.

Interlude

The Angel and the Little Scroll (10:1-11). The Two Witnesses (11:1-14) (Probably the church as a prophetic witness almost annihilated by the Antichrist).

The Seventh Trumpet (11:15-19)

The Cosmic Conflict Between the Dragon and the Lamb (12:1-14:20)

Ch 12 forms a kind of break in the book. It traces the whole conflict of Revelation to its origins and the conflict between the woman and the dragon.

(Interlude between the trumpets and bowls)

The Beast out of the Sea (13:1-10) (Political power… the AntiChrist (Dan 7:19-28). The Beast out of the Earth (13:11-18) (Religious power employed in the interests of the AntiChrist)

(Both of these beasts were easily identifiable in the Roman Empire which becomes a template for the final world empire)

The Lamb and the 144,000 (14:1-5). (God’s people viewed as warriors in a holy war). The Three Angels (14:6-13). Harvesting the Earth and Trampling the Winepress (14:14-20)

(Probably both harvesting images depict the final judgement of the wicked or possibly the first harvest is the gathering in of God’s people at the Second Coming.)

The Seven Bowls (15:1-16:21)

(These seem to be mainly poured on the kingdom of the beast. Remember other kings and kingdoms exist. Rome was not the only kingdom. It was massive and it was the empire that most impacted on God’s people but beyond it there were other kingdoms. In the final days of history there will be other kingdoms too)

Babylon Mother of Prostitutes (17:1-19:10)

(Babylon is the archetypal city of Man that stands in contrast with the New Jerusalem, the city of God. In the first century this city would have been identified as Rome. Whether it’s final manifestation is an actual city or the whole corrupt human culture remains to be seen).

Babylon, the Prostitute supported and destroyed by the Beast (17:1-18). Lament Over Fallen Babylon (18:1-3). Warning to Escape Babylon’s Judgment (18:4-8). Threefold Hallelujah Over Babylon’s Fall (19:1-10)

The Final Victory, Judgment, and Restoration (19:11-21:8)

(A final series of visions showing various aspects of the end climaxing in a new heavens and new earth and a description of the new Jerusalem. Most of these are divided by ‘and I saw’. The links between each vision suggest they are chronological.)

Heaven celebrates the arrival of the reign of God (19:1-5) The wedding anticipated (19:6-10). The Heavenly Warrior defeats the Beast (19:11-21). The Thousand Years (20:1-6). The Judgment of Satan (20:7-10). The Judgment of the Dead (20:11-15). A New Heaven and a New Earth (21:1-8). The New Jerusalem and God’s Glorious Presence (21:9-22:5). The New Jerusalem, the Bride of the Lamb (21:9-27). Eden Restored (22:1-5)

(God created a good world that was spoiled by human rebellion. His task since has been to recreate what was spoiled in a reconfigured form. Of course the final form was always his initial plan, the second was always first, and all will be to the glory of his grace.)

Epilogue (22:6-21)

John and the Angel (22:6-11). Invitation and Warning (22:12-21)

04
Mar
22

revelation 13… two feral beasts

1 And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. 2 And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority. 3 One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marvelled as they followed the beast. 4 And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?”

5 And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. 6 It opened its mouth tTo utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven.

7 Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, 8 and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. 9 If anyone has an ear, let him hear:

10 If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.

Two beasts

We saw in Ch 12 that we are immersed in a cosmic spiritual battle which has raged since the dawn of time and intensifies at the end of history. (12:7). We read of Satan’s relentless efforts to destroy God’s people (12:13-17).

In Ch 13 we discover that for his final desperate destructive surge he enlists two allies. These are two beasts. The first is the beast from the sea and the second the beast from the earth. Most agree that these represent political power and religious power. The political power is consolidated by the support of the ideological or religious power. In Job we have two fearful beasts (one from the land and one from the sea) that oppose God (Job 40-41). Like these beasts, John’s beasts are monstrous and violent, however attractive their public image may be to the world. Believers in the C1 would easily see in the Roman Empire and the imperial cut (the cult of Emperor worship) the imprint of these two beasts. Time would prove that Ancient Rome and the imperial cult was neither beast in its final form although each was a manifestation of what was yet to come. Perhaps before considering these violent creatures we should remember that they appear from the land and sea – both spheres which God controls (10:2,5,8). However, fearful these beasts may seem they are not in control; God is in control.

The beast from the sea

At the end of Ch 12 we read, ‘17 Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. And he stood on the sand of the sea. This final sentence, ‘And he stood on the sands of the sea’ is significant for Ch 13 begins with the words, ‘And I saw a beast rising out of the sea’. Clearly the dragon and the beast are closely connected. The connection is strengthened by the resemblance of the beast to the dragon, both have ‘ten horns and seven heads’. Both are red (17:3). The beast from the sea is the dragon’s representative on earth; he is an incarnation of Satan’s desires. We are told the dragon gives his authority to the beast. Ultimately, however, the beast arises not simply from the sea but from the bottomless pit (11:7). The beast is Satan’s progeny. In fact, the dragon and the beast are a grotesque parody of God and the Lamb whose authority they wish to usurp. The beast is the ultimate false Christ eager to set up his counter-kingdom. Revelation places great stress on the trinitarian God not least because when we add the ‘beast from the earth’ or ‘false prophet’ to Satan and the beast from the sea a trinitarian parody is clear; they are a devilish triumvirate attempting to replace the triune God. The battle is cosmic in proportions. However, Satan’s creative powers it seems are limited; he can only parody God and what he has done.

There are four principal references to the career of ‘the beast’ in Revelation. As John sometimes does, he introduces an actor briefly then develops their character at a later point. And so the beast is introduced in Ch 11, developed in Ch 13 and further developed in Ch 17 and in Ch 18, he is destroyed.

The appearance of the beast is drawn from the four gentile kingdoms in Daniel (13v2; Dan 2, 7). Daniel’s four kingdoms that oppress his people come out of the sea a symbol of the chaotic unsettled world of the nations (Isa 57:20; Dan 11:30). John’s beast although identified with the fourth of Daniel’s predatory beasts (the Roman Empire), nevertheless is an amalgam of all four empires. The world’s final empire embodies characteristics of all previous empires. It may surpass them in power and influence (vv7,8) but ultimately it is simply a synthesis of previous efforts to rule the world and play God. And like these previous empires God will bring it to an end in a cannibalistic orgy of self engorgement (Ch 17) and with the return of Christ (Ch 19).

The beast is primarily an individual(1 Thess 2:1-113). It is an empire, however, empires have an emperor or leader from whom they take their character. An empire of course may survive through a succession of leaders as has this empire (17:7-16). The Roman Empire to which John seems to be alluding was ferocious and cruel, however, different emperors brought different characteristics to it. In John’s vision the various ‘heads’ represent different leaders or Roman emperors (13:1). Each head has a blasphemous name implying the emperors claimed divinity or ascribed to themselves divine names.

However, this final representation of the Roman Empire, ‘a head of the seven but actually an eighth ‘(17 :11), belonging to the whole but in some sense distinct from it, having a head fatally wounded but healed or, ‘slaughtered‘ then healed. Is clearly distinct. In him, the Roman Empire that had ceased to exist seems to be resurrected. Yet he seems inextricably linked to this empire (17:7-16). Perhaps this ties in with the beast who is described as that which ‘was and is not and is to come’ (Rev 17:8).

Being slain yet living, seems to be specifically applied to the head of the beast, its final leader, the Antichrist. However, the head and the whole (emperor and empire) are inextricably linked. Some see in the final head an allusion to a revived Nero-like figure, a Roman emperor who was rumoured to have returned from the dead. Certainly Nero is a likely template for the final antichrist. He crucified Christians and set them alight. He also turned against his own city (Rome) and set it on fire. (17:16). In Nero, the Roman beast revealed its true nature (Koester). Certainly, in the final expression of the beast, the cruelty of Rome is revived and becomes more ferocious than ever taking on violent aspects of all previous empires that persecuted the people of God.

Yet.however, ferociously ‘beast-like’ the beast is he is admired by the world. The world is not subjugated by force rather it adores the beast and follows him; he reigns with consent. He inspires wonder and worship (v8). ‘Who is like the beast and who can stand against it.’ In worshipping the beast humanity worships dragon who has raised him up. Satan worship, realised or not, is at the heart of the final empire as it is whenever the state is deified. Through Satan, humanity has become feral and corrupt; it worships power (Dan 11:38). We become like what we worship. The might of the beast is the reason it is worshipped. Daniel had anticipated that power would be what was important to the final world ruler who single-mindedly devotes himself to acquiring it (Dan 11:36-39). The nations of the world unite under his rule. He has created Pax Romana on a massive scale; he has created a fallen world’s version of the kingdom of God. With this of course comes security, prosperity and pleasures of peaceful empire even if it is built on brutality and corruption (Ch 17,18). All commercial and cultural life flows from the might of the beast and sits precariously on him (17:7).

The beast’s sovereignty is world-wide (v7) and he is singleminded in his opposition to God. He utters blasphemies against God. Receiving worship he proclaims himself to be God (2 Thess 2:4). Tyrants have often claimed divinity both now and in the past. The beast from the sea is no different, however, the scale of his authority is. We read, ‘authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation’. His empire seems world-wide. All this is more than enough to turn his head into believing he is something he is not which he was already predisposed to do. Is not this great Babylon which I have built? Probably the destructive impact of his persecution of God’s people exceeds other despots too ( 13:7). It appears all but believers whose names are in the book of life will worship the beast while the beast will wage war against the saints and conquer them (v7; Dan 7:21) fulfilling the ravenous impulses of the dragon (12:7).

Yet, in their martyrdom, it is Satan who suffers defeat for martyrdom is not defeat but victory. In martyrdom the powers of evil are withstood and conquered (12:11). The church conquers through sacrifice. It is in death it finds life. In this holy war the Church ultimately conquers by submitting to the sword.

We should note too that the beast’s authority is ‘given’. He conquers the saints only because he is permitted (v5,7). He is a beast on a leash. He has power but it is controlled, contained and fleeting. It seems his reign or certainly the period of his reign when he persecutes the church is merely 3½ years or 42 months duration. (13:5). This is a familiar time period in Daniel and in Revelation. In both books it is a time of despotic rule and persecution of God’s people. In Revelation it is the time the beast is given authority, the time the church is protected yet persecuted and the time of its witness (Ch11, 12,13). Given the beast is a historical character at the close of history (identified with Antichrist, the Man of lawlessness, Daniel’s little horn and the Prince to come) it is hard to see how the 3½ years in Revelation can be anything other than literal (a view with a long supporting pedigree). It is difficult to see how the years can can be symbolic of the whole period from the ascension to the Second Coming (a popular view currently) since the time frame is placed decisively within the reign of antichrist, beast from the sea.

Such then is the career of the last great enemy of God’s people who opposes and apes Christ. He speaks proud words (13:5; Dan 7:2,11). He is bold in his defiance of God.(13:5; Dan 7:25,11:36). He persecutes God’s people (13:7; Dan 7:25). He receives worship as if a god by the nations of the earth (v4). But he is not God he is merely a man, his number is a human number 666 (13:18). His reign is short lived (Dan 7:11) and is succeeded by a reign that will last forever, the reign of Christ who is king of kings and Lord of lords.

The prophetic voice interjects to God’s people

If any has an ear to hear let him hear, 10 If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.

It is a call to submit to the aggressor. Like Christ, God’s people are not to retaliate. It is a sobering call. A call we are told for faith and endurance and surely that is so. By the Spirit we will need to look to the living One, who became dead, and is alive forevermore.

The beast from the earth

11 Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. 12 It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. 13 It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, 14 and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15 And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. 16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. 18 This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.

The rising of the beast from the earth and not the sea has suggested to some that he is a Jewish leader. I don’t feel able to comment on this. Perhaps he is the head of an apostate church. (2 Thess 2:3). He certainly seems to be the head of a massive idolatrous ideological and religious network that supports the beast. Some think because he deceives that he and not the beast from the sea is the AntiChrist of John’s letters. He is apparently meek or docile (two horns of a lamb) but his words betray him – he is dangerous for he speaks like a dragon, he is the mouthpiece of Satan (Matt 7:15). He promotes worship of the beast by deception and force. In John’s day, the Roman imperial cult would be a candidate for the beast from the earth. It provides John’s template. Throughout history political leaders have often had behind them a religious cult promoting their reign. The beast from the earth like other false prophets can perform impressive signs to deceive (Cont. Acts 4:30; 2 Thess 2:9,10; Cf. Deut 13:1-3) Like Elijah he can summon fire judgements from heaven to consume (1 Kgs 18:24). He promotes worship of the beast as a supernatural figure who received the fatal wound of a sword and yet lived.

Is the beast of the sea promoted as Christ? Reminiscent of Nebuchadnezzar the beast of the earth makes an image of the beast of the sea that is to be worshipped slaying those who refuse (Dan 3). He is able to deceive people that the image is alive. Such charlatan activities were current in the C1. We may wonder how people are deceived. It is becoming increasingly apparent that people will believe any lie if it suits them: it is part of the strong delusion God sends as a consequence of choosing delusion (2 Thess 2:11). Just how literally these descriptions are to be understood is hard to say since things like these existed in C1. They are likely to be templates of a greater reality. Certainly we must never forget we are reading visions not seeing realities but representations of reality. The beast imprints on people an identity mark without which it is impossible to function in society. God places a mark of ownership and protection on the 144000 but it is not a literal mark. Be the branding literal or symbolic the effect is real. It identifies those who are with the beast and those who are not… those who belong to the world and those who belong to the 144,000. The change from a past to present tense in some of this description gives it an immediacy and dramatic impact.

And so the question is for those who read – to which kingdom do we belong? Do we stand with the Beast or the Lamb?

Footnote

It may be best to include here a later passage about the beast where John interprets some of the symbolism of Ch 13.

The beast interpreted.

17: 7 But the angel said to me, “Why do you marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her. 8 The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come. 9 This calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; 10 they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while. 11 As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction. 12 And the ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast. 13 These are of one mind, and they hand over their power and authority to the beast. 14 They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.”

15 And the angel said to me, “The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages. 16 And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the prostitute. They will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire, 17 for God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled. 18 And the woman that you saw is the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth.”

Ch 17 shows the beast and its relationship with Babylon which it eventually destroys. I want to note what John says about the beast as a geopolitical power.

The beast arises from the bottomless pit (v8). It’s Satanic origins are to the fore. It has existed before and has arisen again. Its history shows it is a rival and parody of God and Christ. However, John stresses at the outset that however fearsome this beast is it will ‘go to destruction’. Twice this is emphasised (v8, 11).

The beast is a symbol firstly of empire and finally of one emperor. However, symbolism is not an exact science. Take numbers. Numbers in Revelation may be purely symbolic. This is often true of stylised numbers like 4,7,10,112, 444,000 Other numbers which are less stylised are often real. The story is more complicated yet. Some numbers appear to be symbolic but may have real historical referents (E.g. the seven churches). Some numbers or images may have more than one referent. For example, we are told the seven heads of the beast are seven hills and also seven kings (17:9,10). The seven hills clearly identifies the beast with Rome which was famously built on seven hills. The beast in the first instance is the Roman Empire. However seven heads are also seven kings. Here we seem to be looking at successive Roman emperors.

There is an eighth King that belongs to the seven yet is distinct from it. It is this king or emperor and his empire that ‘was, is not, and is to come’. It seems to be this ruler that is the final antichrist of Ch 13 and Daniel’s little horn (Dan 7:8). His kingdom is impressive and is augmented by ten kings who give their allegiance to him. His city has influence over ‘peoples and multitudes and nations and languages’. It has dominion over the kings of the earth. Perhaps John makes use of the legend of a resurrected Nero (was, is not, is to Come) to model the eighth king since Nero cruelly persecuted Christians. At any rate it seems the final manifestation of the beast is a revived Roman Empire in some sense.

The kingdom of the beast is extensive but his reign is brief. It is for ‘one hour’. In Ch 13 he reeks havoc in the church for ‘42 months’. The point is his time of power and glory is brief and will end badly for all who side with him. He and his confederates will make war on the Lamb and the lamb will conquer him for he is King of Kings and Lord of Lords (v14, 19:11-21).

Unexpectedly, the beast turns upon his own city, his own kingdom. We read that the ten kings and the beast hate the woman (the city). Rome provides the historical C1 model for the city but ultimately the city of the beast’s complex empire is Babylon the archetypal city of a society opposed to God. Why do her leaders turn against her? Why the orgy of self destruction? Do the beast and his ruthless militaristic rulers despise the soft belly of society? Do they resent a society grown rich on their efforts? Is there envy of the diplomacy and commerce? The ultimate reason is because God has put it in their hearts to do so. For whorish societies are always doomed to destruction (Jer 2 :20-4:30). Like Nero, the beast turns on his own city. The city is sacked and razed. Evil devours itself. The kingdom the beast creates he destroys.

Once again we are reading a visionary representation of the end. Yet it seems at times that vision and the real world are not so far apart. Scripture envisages a final world ruler who will oppose God and persecute the people of God. But he will be a flame soon extinguished, The Lamb will return and with him will be his people – including those who resisted the beast and were martyred by him – the chosen and the faithful and he will crush and destroy the beast and his armies.

Throughout history many governments become beast-like. They are harbingers of the final empire opposed to God and his people. If we find ourselves living under such a hostile rule it calls for patient endurance and not loving our lives to the point of death, if we are faithful unto death we shall receive a crown of life and reign in a kingdom that shall last forever,

PS. Since writing this events have changed dramatically in our world. It is not difficult to see in the economic disarray of the West and warmongering a world ripe for a leader who will unite Europe and provide renewed prosperity. I am assuming the Roman Empire revived would be a European empire. Of course this is no more than speculation but its quite startling to see how quickly the world can change in a few short years. God sits on the throne. Christ rules.

27
Feb
22

revelation 12… the woman, the dragon and the man-child

The first half of John’s description of the End (4-11) focuses primarily on on the triumph of the church through end-time judgements and opposition.. The second half (12-20) mainly focuses in the enemies of the church and their final fate in the context of the triumph of the Lamb and his church.

Ch 11 closes with the arrival of the day of the Lord in the blowing of the seventh trumpet. The twenty-four elders then say,

We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power. and begun to reign. 18 The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.”

However, once again history rewinds. The nations who rage and all who destroy the earth – Satan, the beast, the false prophet and the harlot – must yet culpably and arrogantly strut the stage of history before eschatological wrath finally consumes them. Koester points out that structurally Revelation introduces the dragon, the beast, the false prophet and then the harlot. Their end, however, comes in reverse order; first the harlot then the false prophet and the beast then finally the dragon.

Two great signs in heaven

Ch 12 is recognised as a midpoint in Revelation and in many ways the heart of the book.

In Ch 12, we have the most panoramic view of human history. The battle of the End which absorbs most of Revelation is the climax of a conflict that has raged since the dawn of time between the people of God and their most formidable enemy Satan. It is Satan and his hatred for God and his people who is the source of the church’s distress. By possibly employing and subverting a pagan myth, this historical conflict between Satan and the kingdom of God is sketched.

Structure

Vv1-6 a brief summary of the plot. Vv6-9 war in heaven and Satan cast out. Vv10-12 a hymn of praise. God’s Kingdom is imminent. Vv13-17 more detail on the plot especially its end.

Vv1-6

1 And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. 2 She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. 3 And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. 4 His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. 5 She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, 6 and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days.

John plays little part in this drama appearing only once to say what he heard (12:10). The scene begins in heaven for the conflicts on earth are a reflection of conflicts in heavenly realms (Eph 6:12). Two great signs or symbols appear in heaven. The first is ‘a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and on her head a crown with twelve stars’. The woman represents the idealised OT people of God, perhaps as the idealised Zion for cities rather than nations were traditionally feminine (Isa 66:7-9; Gal 4:26). The sun, moon and twelve stars refer to the dream of Joseph and point to the woman being Israel the people of God Gen 37:9). The language involving heavenly bodies suggests the woman has a holy radiance and glory (1:16). Yet she is a woman and is vulnerable. She is also pregnant (even more vulnerable) and about to give birth to a male child (Christ) who will rule the nations with a rod of iron (2:27, 19:15. Ps 2:9. Cf. Isa 66:7-9)… dragons unfortunately devour the vulnerable (Jer 51:34).

The second sign is of ‘a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems’ (Cf. Isa 27:1). This time the image is fearsome and grotesque. The dragon is clearly imposing and destructive as his tail sweeps a third of the stars from the sky. He is red perhaps suggests his bloody agenda. The crowns and horns on the dragon represent his claim to sovereignty and power. The dragon is very powerful. The numbers are symbolic of perfections of malevolent power. They also imply an imitation of Christ (5:6; 19:12). Historically ten horns they are a reference to the Roman Empire and the beast (Ch 13; 17; Dan 2:42; 7:7, 24). Both are historical manifestations of the dragon; the empire and the emperor are demonic (17:8). The dragon (a mythological creature) depicts ‘that ancient serpent, which is called the devil and Satan’. Satan means adversary and he is the adversary of the woman. In the dragon we meet the source of all opposition to God and his people.

Satan’s malevolence towards God’s people has raged since the dawn of time. The serpent is the ‘ancient serpent’ who first appears in the garden in Genesis. From the beginning he has been intent in destroying what God is building. From the beginning the war between Satan and humanity is predicted. Gen 3:15 says,

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

Yet, although Satan seeks to destroy the seed he is unable to do so. The woman’s child is protected. He is caught up to the throne of God.. We can see how truncated a history Ch 12 is. Most of the history of God’s people in the OT is passed over. Most aspects of the life of Christ (including his death) are not mentioned. Messiah is simply born and caught up to heaven and so is safe. The vision’s aim is to outline the big picture not develop historical details; the apparently vulnerable (the woman, the child, the rest of her children) are safe. However, disproportionate the battle the weak are safe and ultimately conquer (12:11). Satan, however apparently strong, will be destroyed (12:12).

The woman flees into the wilderness were God protects her, no doubt an allusion to Israel’s wilderness escape from Egypt and Pharaoh, the dragon (Ezek 29:3). The wilderness was simultaneously a place of testing and safety; it gave Israel refuge from the wrath of the Egyptians. It represented redemption (Isa 51:9,10;Ps 74:13,14; Ezek 29:3). The wilderness was also a place of safety and nourishment for Moses David and Elijah (Ex 2:15; 1 Sam 23:25; Ps 63; 1 Kings 19: 3-7). In John’s vision the wilderness once again is offering protection. It is a planned providential protection for we are told the woman goes to a place ‘prepared’. In Ch 7 the 144,000 are sealed as protection from God’s judgement. In Ch 11 the measuring of the temple is a symbol of protection. The two witnesses cannot be touched until their witness is completed. The protection is primarily spiritual but it is often providential ; God’s people are always in the palm of his hands. When we pass though the waters he will be with us. We may be put to death but not a hair of our head will perish (Lk 21). God has redeemed his people and they are secure in all the ways that truly matter.

The period of her protection is 1260 days (3½ years). It is very tempting to take this number as a symbol of the whole age of the church for it seems to span from the ascension to the Second Coming. However, as previous posts have argued (Ch 11), it seems best to see the years as literal and referring to the final days of the antiChrist (13.). John does not work with a normal temporal sequence here. Time is condensed. The child us caught up to heaven without reference to his life and death. John, it seems, moves straight from the ascension to the time the End. Ch 4-18 focus on, the years immediately preceding Christ’s return. Why is the church in Revelation facing such persecution? Because Satan is filled with wrath. He has been cast out of heaven and he knows his time is short. Yet it would be a mistake to view these depicted final days of history as lying in the remote future. John does not think of them in this way. In Ch 4-19 he describes these events as near. The church on earth at any given point lives on the brink of the end.

It is noteworthy that the one who is caught up to the throne of God and will rule the nations with a rod of iron is the ‘child’ while the powerful regal dragon is cast out of heaven. God inverts human expectations. In this sense John echoes the early chapters of Isaiah where hope for Israel lies in the weakness of a child (Isa 9:6).

Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, 8 but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9 And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. 10 And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11 And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. 12 Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”

A hymn of praise

Vv1-6 are an introductory summary of events now unpacked in more detail inn vv 7-17 and beyond. If the focus’s in vv1-6 was on God’s people and their safety in vv7-12 the focus is principally on Satan. A voice of praise is raised in heaven for Satan the accuser of God’s people is cast out of heaven (Lk 10:18). This is a sign that God’s kingdom has triumphed. The lead antagonist has been defeated and now banished (Jn 12:31) The Davidic King at God’s right hand is overthrowing his enemies (Ps 2). The triumph is at this point is primarily realised in heaven but it will soon embrace the earth. However, in the short term it means greater persecution for God’s people on earth; a cause for rejoicing in heaven is a cause for lamenting on earth.

God’s people on earth experience the triumph of heaven by faith. They conquer Satan by their confidence in the cleansing blood of the Lamb and their witness to the him. Guilt creates powerful emotions. It leads to despair and to defiance. It is a powerful weapon of Satan to crush humanity. The blood of the lamb liberates us from guilt and its destructive effects. We are freed from the fear of death and judgement; they are emboldened by the liberty they find in Christ. God’s people are more than conquerors as these truths are realised in their hearts (Roms 8: 31-39). Their accuser in heaven has been cast out and can no longer bring a charge against God’s elect.

Satan is filled with wrath and desperation – he knows his time is short and he now concentrates his energies on destroying the people of God. Defeat does not make Satan falter, it makes him furious. This accounts for the persecution the church faces. When the allies made the Normandy landings effectively the war was over. America had entered the war. The allies had greater resources and greater numbers. Germany had lost heavily on the eastern front. Hitler knew at that point he had lost. Did that make him give up? No he was all the more furious and dangerous.

And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. 14 But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time. 15 The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood. 16 But the earth came to the help of the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from his mouth. 17 Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. And he stood on the sand of the sea.

Yet, despite, Satan’s efforts to destroy her the woman survives. She survives because she is protected. She is given great wings to fly like an eagle to the wilderness (Ex 19:4; Isa 40:31). There she is nourished. We must remember we are reading a vision that draws from other Scriptures. We have already noticed the parallel with Israel redeemed from Egypt and God’s keeping of his people in the desert. From this John depicts the security of God’s people. The woman’s primary offspring, the man-child, is now protected but the rest of her offspring are vulnerable; individual believers will suffer. Satan ‘makes war’ on them through the beast (13:7) and no doubt also through the lies of the false prophet and the allure of Babylon, ‘the great city’. The river that flows from the mouth of the dragon is probably a flood of persecution and deceit (Ps 144:7,8). Believers conquered earlier through the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony and by not loving their lives unto death tin addition we are told that they keep the commandments of God and the testimony of Jesus. John does not support a faith that is no more than words. Faith for John is a whole-souled commitment to Christ.

Yet the increased vehemence of Satanic attack itself testifies that the end is near as Jesus indicated… when you see these things lift up your head for your redemption is near (Lk 21:28). Again we are told of the woman’s divine protection as she like Israel at the exodus was carried on eagles wings (Ex 19:4; Isa 40:31) into the desert. Should we find ourselves living in these last of the last days we can derive comfort from the fact it will be short (a time, times and half a time is very short) and our redemption is right at the door (Matt 24:33). Furthermore although it may seem like the church is no more God is keeping it secure and safe. Indeed on that day the dragon will be destroyed and the church delivered (Isa 27:1).

Satan cannot touch the woman. The church is in this sense inviolable; it is secure. However he can attack its members and so he goes to make war on the rest of her offspring (those other than the male child). This leads naturally into Ch 13 and the period of the great tribulation. Ch 12 ends with the dragon standing on the sea and Ch 13 commences with a beast rising out of the sea. This is the AntiChrist who makes war on the saints and conquers them.

Revelation is not for the faint-hearted. As we read it we need to often remind ourselves of Ch 4,5 and the throne established in the heavens.

18
Feb
22

john 14 (1)… faith and the father’s house

1 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Sometimes in the rough and tumble of life we may lose sight of Christ’s love for us. It is all too easy to do. A long gaze at the cross is often the answer. Another associated answer is to take a seat in the upper room and listen as Jesus instructs his disciples. It is an occasion of special poignancy and intimacy. Judas soon left and Jesus was alone with his chosen few. It is how he wanted it (Lk 22:15). It is the last time he will be with them before the cross. Beyond the cross he will leave the world and return to the Father. The cross must have weighed heavily on his mind yet he sees beyond it to his return in glory. In fact, despite his own imminent troubles his thoughts are concentrated on his disciples. These are they his Father has given him out of the world. Their world is about to be thrown into utter disarray and Jesus wants to prepare them for the future. The upper room account begins by John saying,

1 Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

It is his love that drives him in these chapters. Firstly, he counsels them not to be anxious or concerned about his going. The antidote to anxiety is trust. He exhorts them to trust in God and trust in him, a high Christological claim (14:1). He knows what he is doing. Throughout the evening he advances reasons why his going is a good thing. The first is given here. He is returning to the Father to prepare a place for them. Jesus is not abandoning them. They are being temporarily separated that they may be eternally together.

For Jesus, his relationship with his Father is defining, the heavenly temple to which he is returning is therefore his ‘Father’s house’. He is not simply going to heaven but to ‘the Father’s house’. Being with his Father and introducing his disciples to his Father is Jesus’ burning desire. The Father is who Jesus came to reveal. He has made God known as Father and revealed the glory of the Father. He has done so that the Father may not only be his Father but also their Father (Jn 20:17). He is going to make preparations that the Father’s house may be their home too. Herod’s temple apparently had many rooms and God’s heavenly temple has ‘many rooms’ or places to live. It can accommodate many sons (Hebs 2:10).

Jesus is anxious to stress their reunion. If he goes away he will come again. At his return the promise is not simply that he will take them to the Father’s house but that he will take them ‘to myself‘ (to my home). He wants them to be with him (v3). Christ loved his disciples. They are those the Father has given him (17:9) and he wants them to be with him to see his glory (17:24). Later in the evening he will develop the special relationship between the Father, the Son and those who believe. It is at heart a fellowship of love (Jn 14:21). Christ loves the church. He loves it above all else (save perhaps his Father). It is his bride that he wins though death. He wants her to be with him. It is a relationship that will be mutually absorbing. We know in life that relationships matter more than things. What will make heaven, heavenly, is not the place but persons. It is ‘the Father’s house’ where ‘our Father‘ is. It is where ‘the Son‘ is, our friend and Lord. We have begun to drink from that spring of eternal joy presently. We already have eternal life and know the Father and Son (Jn 17:3). Already they are our ‘life’ and will be eternally in a way yet to be more gloriously and perfectly realised.

We are not told how he prepares the place. At the cross he prepares the people for the place. How does he prepare the place for the people? Perhaps it is by his reentry to heaven, as a man, by virtue of his own blood, the blood of redemption, blood that prepared heaven for the redeemed and blood that purifies the heavenly sanctuary. If sinners (albeit sanctified sinners) are to be in the Father’s house then the only way is by blood. It is blood that has opened up the holiest. By virtue of Christ’s blood, eternally effective, heaven is the forever home of God’s people (Hebs 9:11, 23). We should not think of actual rooms being constructed. The point is, in the Father’s house, because of blood, there is room for all who believe.

We should avoid being too rigid about the metaphors that describe our eternal home. Here it is the Father’s house, the heavenly temple. In Revelation it is the New Jerusalem which has no temple for the whole city is a temple filled with the presence of God and the Lamb. Metaphor is being employed to describe the indescribable.

Jesus says they know the way to where he is going. Thomas responds that they do not know where he is going so how can they know the way. We can see how little they have taken on board what he has been teaching. They have not yet grasped that everything essential to eternal life resides in Christ.

If he is providing a home, he is also providing the way to that home. He is the way, the truth and the life. The claim is exclusive. This is implicit in the definite article (the way…the truth…the life). It is further underlined in, ‘no man comes to the Father but by me’. Indeed, to know him is to know the Father. This exclusive claim of the gospel puts it at odds with every other faith and philosophy. It is ultimately this gospel reality that produces suffering; exclusive faiths are not popular in a world of religious syncretism. Christ and the Father are not popular in a Nietzschean world of power and promiscuity. Yet it this gospel way that leads to the Father’s house.

Knowing the Father is the great distinctive and privilege of Christianity. Jesus is the Son who reflects and so reveals the Father. To know God as ‘abba’ is to know him intimately and without fear. It is to know him as Jesus knew him. It is to know him in a reciprocated relationship of love (Jn 3:35,5:20, 14:31, 17:23). It is the experience of this love that enables us to accept the hate of the world. It is the Father’s love in our hearts that keeps us from loving the world.

To follow Jesus will be hard but we follow living in love. He has gone to the Father’s house and soon will return to take us to be with him. In the meantime, those who love him he will love and will reveal himself to them (14:21) and he and his Father will make their home with him (14:23); the home in the Father’s house, we can know now by faith.

11
Feb
22

revelation 11… the church protected and witnessing

In Revelation, God’s people are depicted by various fairly familiar symbols. We have already encountered the church as an army (the 144,000) and a worshipping victorious international multitude, now in Ch 11, in an interlude between the sixth and seventh trumpet, the church is imaged as a temple and worshippers and as a prophetic witness. Ch 11 begins,

Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, “Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, 2 but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months. 3 And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.”

Undoubtedly the assumptions with which Revelation is approached will influence how we interpret this chapter. Those who understand the book more literally will take references to Israel and the temple as applying to Jewish believers. They will understand the first part of the chapter to refer to the preservation of end time Jewish believers while Jerusalem or the nation is under attack. There are Scriptures that suggest earthly Jerusalem may yet play a role at the close of history (Zech 14). Others are inclined to see the measuring of the inner temple and its worshippers as a reference to the preservation of the whole church spiritually while outwardly it is open to attack (the outer temple holy city) Temple imagery is not inappropriate for the church (Rev 3:20; Eph 2:21,22) and the holy city elsewhere in the book is the church (21:2,10, 22:19). If the christian church is in view (the eschatological new covenant Israel composed of Jew and gentile then John is saying something similar to what Jesus when he says to his disciples in Luke 21,

16 You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. 17 You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your lives.

I’m drawn to this being a description of the whole church, however, whether Jewish believers (as part of the church) or the whole church what is clear is that the world may do its worst but God has his people firmly in his grasp. God’s people – the holy city – are trampled just as Jerusalem was in AD 70 yet they are secure in the protective grasp of him who has them as the apple of his eye. Christ will build his church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. God has laid in Zion a corner stone and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame. (I think it is unlikely that John would call earthly apostate Jerusalem, the ‘holy city’. Cf. 11:8)

For 3½ years the nations trample (persecute) the holy city and the two witnesses prophecy. 3½ years (42 months or 1260 days) seems to be the time frame for many of the events in Revelation. Some see these years as symbolic of the whole church age but it seems best to understand them as primarily literal years. They are derived from Daniel where they seem to be literal and refer to the time of intense persecution for God’s people that immediately precedes the Coming of Christ (Dan 7:23-27). Furthermore, Revelation, as with Daniel, sees this time frame as that of the antiChrist’s rule (Rev 13:4). What is clear is that the nations who trample God’s people will one day be trampled in the wine press of God’s fury (14:20, 19:15).

While the two witnesses may refer to two actual witnesses it is probable that they are symbolic of the prophetic witness of the church in the days of the AntiChrist. ‘Two’ represents reliable witness (Deut 19:15) and the disciples of Jesus were sent out on mission in twos (Mk 6:7-13) The beast makes war on them (11:7) and in Ch 13 we are told he makes war on the saints (13:7)); the two, it seems, are identical. The witnesses are also referred to as lampstands, a title given to the seven churches. Describing them as olive trees is an allusion to Zechariah (Zech 4:1-3) and stresses their authority and spiritual power. Dressed in sackcloth symbolising mourning over sin their message is a call to repentance. They are modelled on Elijah and Moses who represent the law and the prophets; both were with Jesus on the Mount of transfiguration. Ultimately the OT as a whole witnessed to Christ. Elijah had the power to shut the sky and prevent rainfall while Moses had the power to turn waters into blood and various other plagues. It is hard to know just how literally these powers are to be taken in the two witnesses remembering this is an image. It is clear they have great authority but when we read of fire coming out of their mouth consuming their foes the language seems to be metaphor echoing the words of Jeremiah 5.

14 Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of hosts: “Because you have spoken this word, behold, I am making my words in your mouth a fire, and this people wood, and the fire shall consume them.

The fire is not literal but a message of condemnation and judgement for those who oppose their message.

The witnesses are safe until the time of their testimony is complete. Only then will the beast from the bottomless pit (his origin reveals his nature) make war on them and conquer and kill them. This is the first mention of the beast. Sometimes actors are introduced in advance before the drama specifically focuses on them. Daniel tells us the final ruler who oppresses God’s people will make war with the saints and prevail over them (Dan 7:21; Rev 13:7). Note that the beast makes war against and kills both the two witnesses (Ch 11) and the saints (Ch 13). This strongly suggests a shared identity.

The bodies of the witnesses are left exposed and unburied. They are treated with contempt (Cf. 1 fKings 21:24; Jer 8:1,2). It seems as if the voice of the church has been silenced, annihilated by persecution. The world rejoices that consciences will no longer be disturbed. In the image the bodies of the two witnesses lie ‘in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified.’ Where their Lord was crucified suggests the city is Jerusalem while the reference to ‘the great city‘ suggests Babylon (18:10). In Babylon (as in Jerusalem) is found the blood of the prophets and saints (18:24). She is corrupt (Sodom) and oppresses God’s people (Egypt). Babylon may have originally pointed to Rome but ultimately she is every city, including Jerusalem, the whole human culture opposed to God and his people; the city of man that exists in contrast too the city of God. If the two witness are the church then the city in which they die is ultimately every city for there is a sense in which every city has crucified Christ,

For 3½ days the bodies of the witnesses lie on the street to the delight of ‘those who dwell on the earth’. Then a breath of life from God enters them and they stand on their feet before being taken up to heaven in a cloud. Celebration turns to great fear by those who witness it. 3½ days aligns with 3½ years although a fraction of the time. It may also remind us of the time of Jesus burial. Certainly the renewed life and ascension to heaven echoes the resurrection and ascension of Christ. Are we meant to see here the Second Coming (Rev 20:4)? We are right on the cusp of the seventh trumpet and the triumph of the Lamb. Certainly we see the vindication of God’s people who have been abused and despised.

The resurrection is followed by an earthquake often a signal of the end (6:12, 11:19). In this case it leads to limited judgement and provokes the survivors to give glory to God either simply out of fear or out of repentance. Some see here the final conversion of the Jewish people. This assumes the city is a literal city and is Jerusalem. A literal interpretation cannot be discounted. There are OT texts that seem to see an end-time conflict for Israel (Zech 14(). At the same time often OT texts concerning Israel and Jerusalem are fulfilled in the church; the church is, after all, the New Jerusalem (Rev 21). The church is the eschatological Israel, composed of Jew and gentile (Eph 2). A certain humility is called for on these issues.

NB

The theme of witness has run throughout. Jesus is the faithful witness. The church as lamp-stands implies witness….Antipas is Christ’s faithful witness. The testimony of Jesus occurs six times. For the two witnesses to represent the church would not be unlikely.

04
Feb
22

God the Son… true God of true God

According to the church father Augustine anyone who denies the Trinity is in danger of losing their salvation, but anyone who tries to understand the Trinity is in danger of losing their mind.

To safeguard my mind (and yours) my aim here is modest. I want to consider only one aspect of the trinity namely the deity and eternity of Christ. There are many who will say that Jesus is the Son of God but what they mean by ‘son of God’ will vary widely. Now there is some basis for this for the Bible uses the title ‘son of God’ in a variety of ways. Adam is the son of God (Lk 3:38). Israel is the Son of God (Ex 4:22). The Davidic King of Israel was the son of God (Ps 89:27). In all these ways Jesus too is the son of God. However, he is son in another sense, a more profound and essential sense; he is not simply the human son, or the chosen son like Israel, or the royal messianic son; he is the divine son. The truth is that the Son of God is God the Son. Here he is in a category of one.

Some will deny there is any sense in which Jesus is a divine person, that he is God the Son. Others, will more subtlety argue that he is a divine person but a divine person who had a beginning. The beginning may be in his exaltation, his incarnation, at creation or even in the in the mists of eternity but nevertheless there was a beginning. In the words of C4 Arius, the father of these kinds of views, ‘there was a time when the son was not’. Jehovah Witnesses and others hold variants of the Arian view.

I was involved in an online discussion with someone who holds Arian views and it led me to wondering how I would prove in a way that satisfied me, if no-one else, that Jesus was the divine uncreated eternal Son, the second person of the trinity. I’m thinking of fairly rudimentary proofs that will reassure a believing heart.

Below are the lines I followed.

Monotheism

The first and fundamental assertion of the Bible is that there is one God. The OT affirms this (Deut 6:4; Isa 45:5; Zech 14:9). Monotheism, however is not simply a foundational truth about God in the OT, it is also the confession of Christianity and the NT (1 Tim 2:5,6; Jas 2:9; 1 Cor. 8:6; Jas 2:9; Mk 12:29). Christianity is a monotheistic faith. Yet the NT, with its theological culture of approved monotheism, also speaks of this one God as the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit; God is monotheistic but he is also trinitarian. God is one but in his oneness is three. Straining for formulaic language to express the teaching of Scripture, Christian orthodoxy speaks of God as three persons in one being. Already our minds are strained as we seek to grasp this.

Orthodoxy

Orthodoxy means the established teaching of the Christian church. For the first three centuries of its existence the church experienced significant persecution which absorbed much of her energies. In the fourth century Christianity was adopted by the Roman emperor Constantine as the official religion of the empire. Formalising of belief quickly became critical to church unity; an early flash point was the doctrine of the trinity. It seems that although trinitarian beliefs were already well embedded in the church, non-trinitarian beliefs also existed. Church councils were held in the C4 to map out the relationship between God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as taught in Scripture. The earlier so-called Apostles Creed of the C3 was trinitarian in structure but it was left to the Nicene-Constantinople Creed 381 AD to express trinitarian implications more fully. Below is a truncated version of the Creed focussing on the critical relationships of the trinity.

I believe in One God,
the Father Almighty,
Maker of Heaven and Earth,

and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Son of God,
the Only-Begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages;
Light of Light;
True God of True God;
begotten, not made;
of one essence with the Father,
by Whom all things were made;

Who for us men and for our salvation
came down from Heaven,…

And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life,
Who proceeds from the Father;
Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified
;

Through struggles an unambiguous trinitarian confession ultimately triumphed. This creed was accepted by both the western and eastern church and for many centuries it has remained the expression of orthodoxy. It is accepted by Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant churches. Mainstream conservative evangelicals affirm the conclusions of these councils. Such a wide and enduring range of acceptance is reassuring. Most of us cannot hope to delve into the more subtle nuances off trinitarian questions but some did and their conclusions have been consistently upheld and embedded in various catechisms and confessions since. This is heartening as we seek to grapple with these issues. An orthodoxy has emerged which has stood the test of time. A wise believer will think long and hard before abandoning this creedal consensus. This is an important caution for we live in an age of bold individualism where novel beliefs are expressed with misplaced confidence and the unwary can be swept in.

However we should be aware that those who formulated the creed were aware of their limitations. God is not encompassed by the human mind; if he were he would not be God. And so those that framed the creed were guarding against what they believed to be wrong as much as they were defining what they believed to be right. Unlike many Arians who champion human logic and decry what thy claim to be the illogicality of the trinity, Athanasius and others who defend the trinity both then and now recognise the limitations of human understanding and are humble enough to confess mystery.

And so the Nicene Creed has a significant role in assuring me of the deity of Christ and his trinitarian person. Nevertheless the question we naturally (and rightly) ask is whether the creedal statements can be supported by Scripture? It is Scripture that is ultimately the believer’s authority. Does the Bible teach that Christ is the eternal divine Son? Is the doctrine of the trinity biblical?

Some argue the doctrine of the trinity is best understood from the general tenor of Scripture rather than from proof texts. The trinity they point out is the theological glue that holds Scripture together, especially the NT. No doubt this is true. The triune God’s activity in creation, history and salvation pervades the NT and is not absent from the OT (Cf. Prov 30:4). The trinity is the hermeneutical key to the Bible story. However, if this is so, surely we can expect some strategic texts will exist that reveal this trinitarian relationship, or, reveal to our more modest inquiry – the deity and eternity of the Son of God. And such texts do exist. It is time to turn some of these and see their witness to creedal trinitarian claims.

God the Son

The Son of God is God the Son. He is the Son in the sense the creed means when it says he is ‘of one essence with the Father.’ It is because he is Son in this essential sense he is the object of universal worship (Rev 5). If he is not God then to worship him is idolatry.

It is this creedal sense of sonship for which we want biblical evidence. If we have that we will also have gone a long way towards establishing the orthodox doctrine of the trinity. Is evidence available? It is. It is incontrovertible. And it is abundant.

John’s gospel is the obvious starting point. John was a disciple very close to Jesus. He and the other disciples observed Jesus, listened to his teaching, and were given the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth. It is clear that the doctrine of the trinity arose from the growing awareness that no category other than deity fitted Jesus. Coming later than the other gospels and combatting false views about Jesus, John has establishing the deity of Jesus firmly before him. The prologue to his gospel lays out the case which the rest of the gospel develops. In the opening verses John spells out in words of virtually one syllable the deity of Christ and what it implies vis-à-vis divine relationships.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made…. The word became flesh…

In the plainest and simplest of language John teaches the deity of Jesus and his distinction from all that s created.

1. In the beginning was the word… the eternity of the word. In the absolute beginning when everything that was made was made the word already existed. He predates creation. He belongs to eternity. He is in the beginning but does not begin in the beginning. He comes to history from outside, from beyond, from eternity.

2. And the word was with God… the word is distinct from God yet close to God. ‘With’ meaning ‘towards’ or ‘face-to-face’ carries a few suggestions. Firstly it clearly implies distinction. At the same time, the word and God are obviously closely related. There is a near intimacy in their relationship. A few verses further on John describes the Son as being in the bosom of the Father. Theirs is a relationship of deep affection. The Father/Son relationship signals their bond. Elsewhere he is the ‘beloved son’ (Matt 3:17). Some think ‘only begotten’ should be translated ‘one and only’ believing it implies a relationship that is unique and exclusive. ‘Face-to-face’ also suggests equality. Fathers and adult sons were equals in the world of the NT (Jn 5:18).

3. And the word was God… the deity of the word. Here is John’s startling but unambiguous affirmation. He has crafted his dramatic climax in three affirmations…. In the beginning was the word,,, the word was with God… the word was God. The deity of Christ is stated unmistakably in John’s opening words. The word is not like God, nor is the word another God (anathema to biblical monotheism); the word is God. It seems like an exclamation, ‘The word is ‘God!’. Wow!’ The word is both with God and is God. What God is the word is Whatever enigmas may lie in these statements we should not lose sight of John’s declaration that Jesus is a divine person. In the rest of the gospel he will substantiate this affirmation leaving no doubt that Jesus is as the creed confesses ‘True God of true God’. John believes with Paul that Christ is ‘in very nature God’ (Phil 2:6). Jesus states that he and the Father are one and by this he clearly means one in being which is why the Jews considered his words blasphemous (Jn 10:30-36). Faith will either believe or pick up stones to throw (Jn 5:17,18).

4. All things were made by him and without him was not anything made that was made. Lest we are still inclined to think that Christ is someone other than God – a created being – John underlines the distinction between all things created and the word. The word is not created he is the Creator. John essentially repeats himself to remove all doubt. Any possibility that the word is a created being is emphatically swept away (Col 1:16,17; Hebs 1:2). Yet the word is not an ‘it’ but a ‘him’. He is a divine person.

5. The same was in the beginning with God. The circle completes a full turn. The word who is God is with God in the beginning. There is a shared eternal relationship that separates the Word and God from everything that is made.

Here are our key proof texts against Arian false teaching. Jesus (the word made flesh) predates creation; he is eternal. He is uncreated. He is the word. He is alongside God. He is God. Trinitarian claims are substantiated. In an act of confession and worship (and as a conscious climax to the gospel) Thomas, one of the twelve, exclaims’ ‘My Lord and my God’. It is this confession of faith that John expects from all.

The Word

John’s first title for Jesus is ‘the word’. The Greek word is ‘logos’. It is a word meaningful in the wider world where Greek ideas of the creative logos were current. More importantly it projects the reader back to Genesis. In the OT, God’s word is the agent through whom he acts. What he does, he does by his word. It is his omnipotent speech. His word is clearly integral to him yet is distinct from him. He sends his word out and it accomplishes his purpose (Isa 55:1). Importantly God’s word is present in creation and is his agent in creating. We read, ‘and God said… and God said… and God said… and it was so’ (Gen 1; Col 1; Hebs 1). God spoke and it appeared. He commanded and it stood fast (Ps 33:9). God’s word, the uncreated logos, is present at creation and ‘by him all things were made and without him was not anything made that was made’. The word was with God and the word was God. We see too the Spirit of God hovering over the waters. The divine breath and divine word engaged with God in the work of creation. The trinitarian God is active from the beginning. We can see that God and his word are one yet distinct.

Genesis 1 hints at trinity in other ways too. God is plural in Genesis 1 (Elohim) though his name (plural) is accompanied by singular verbs (created). Cf. Gen 11:7. Again, on the sixth day God says, ‘let us make man in our image’ expressing an inward plurality in God. As early as Genesis One there are implicit pointers to trinity. John’s assertion is that the word who created and acted on God’s behalf through the whole OT – the powerful creative word of truth and life is Jesus – ‘the word became flesh’.

The other OT text that probably inhabits the background of John’s ‘logos’ is Proverbs 8. The ‘logos’ has close conceptual connections with reason and wisdom. In Proverbs wisdom is personified. Wisdom is lady wisdom though interestingly enough in the verses that point most closely to Christ the feminine pronoun is not used. The OT is preparing us for the wisdom of God that arrives in Christ (i Cor 1:24).

2 “The LORD possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. 23 Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. 24 When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. 25 Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth, 26 before he had made the earth with its fields, or the first of the dust of the world. 27 When he established the heavens, I was there; when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, 28 when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, 29 when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, 30 then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, 31 rejoicing in his inhabited world. and delighting in the children of men.

Proverbs extols wisdom. Wisdom is personified. It is indispensable to God. It was with him at creation, a master craftsman alongside God. It was not part of creation rather it is part of God. Yet while wisdom is part of who God is it has in Provs 8 a distinct identity. Just as the word was ‘with’ God or ‘towards’ God as a companion so wisdom is the companion of God. Wisdom and God rejoice and delight in each other. A more literal translation renders the opening verses like this:

‘Jehovah possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. 23 I was set up from eternity, from the beginning, before the earth was. 24 When there were no depths, I was brought forth, when there were no fountains abounding with water. 25 Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth;’

Possessed could mean created but this is obviously unsuitable. There was not a point where God did not possess wisdom. ‘Brought forth’ or ‘birthed’ is more suitable Our minds, of course, immediately think of Christ the wisdom of God who is described as the ‘only begotten’ Son (children are begotten by fathers and birthed by mothers). Birthing and begetting suggest a shared essence. Arians latch on to language like ‘brought forth’ or ‘only begotten’ to insist the Son had a beginning. Some argue that the very concept of a son demands a birth. A father, they argue, logically precedes a son. Now I’m beginning to dig deeper than I intended but since this is a typical Arian argument it may be as well to face it.

Firstly, we should remind ourselves that the word who is the Son is not created. We are plainly told this as we have seen. He is the creator not the creation (Jn 1, Col 1:16,17; Hebs 1). Creation is the beginning but the word was ‘in the beginning’. Perhaps we should note too at this point that ‘the word become flesh’. Incarnation was the word becoming ‘flesh’ not becoming ‘the Son’. In John the Father sends the Son (Jn 8:42. 13:3, 16:28, 20; 21; Gals 4:4 ; 1 Jn 4:9,10,14 Cf. Prov 30:4) who shared glory with the Father before the world was (Jn 17:5).

Secondly, we should keep in mind that ‘the word’ of John 1 is the ‘and God said’ of Genesis one. God and his word are distinct yet one. We bring these truths to any reflections on ‘begotten’. Whatever ‘brought forth’ and ‘only begotten’ mean they do not mean created and they do not imply anything short of deity.

Arians claim language such as ‘begotten’ teaches the son. They say a father/son relationship means implies the father precedes the son. These ideas seem reasonable until we remember correspondence between divine begetting and human begetting is very limited. The fundamental mistake made by Arians is assuming what is true of a human temporal father/son relationship is also true of a divine eternal Father/Son relationship. We cannot assume superficial analogies. We must say that as a human son is temporal like his father so the divine son is eternal like his Father. We are are creatures living in time. In our world of sequential or linear time sons are born subsequent to their fathers (with a mother required for conception). In eternity where God the eternal Father begets God the Son begetting must necessarily be different. The eternal begets the eternal. The Nicene Creed says he was ‘begotten of the father before all ages or time’. Arians wish to inject ‘when’ questions into the divine begetting but it cannot be done. ‘When’ questions belong to time they do not belong to eternity. Thus theologians speak of eternal generation. ‘

Augustine says, since the generation of the Son by the Father is eternal, “one exists not as before the other, but as from the other.’ When a temporal person ‘begets’ he ‘begets’ another temporal person. When an eternal person ‘begets’ he begets outside of time and begets an eternal person. As personified wisdom says in Proverbs 8, ‘I was set up from eternity… from before the earth was’. Begetting in eternity is an eternal act and not temporal and so theologians employ the language of eternal generation. The NT suggests this generation not only by describing Christ as the divine speech (Hebs 1:2) and the divine son (Hebs 1:2) but also as the divine radiance and the divine image (Hebs 1:3). There never was a time when God lacked wisdom or lacked speech. His glory always radiated even when there was none to see it. Father and Son together inhabit eternity. They share the same essence and being (the word was God) and yet within the one God are distinct persons. Again, trinitarian relationships are taking shape.

But we’re getting in over our heads. We want safer waters. And safer waters are to be found. Thankfully we can readily find texts that point to the eternity of Jesus. Returning to John’s gospel we hear Jesus say, ‘ ‘Before Abraham was, I am’.(Jn 8:58). Jesus was not simply claiming to be older than Abraham, he was claiming the divine identity of the ‘I am’ (Ex 3:7,8) It is a title that carries eternity at its heart. It is a title used by Jesus repeatedly in John’s gospel.

In Micah 5 we read of Messiah born at Bethlehem

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
from ancient times (or, from everlasting).

If ‘ancient times’ is the translation then the reference may be to his Davidic roots. It may also be a reference to God’s ancient revealed plan to bring a ruler through David. The expression, however, could also could be translated ‘everlasting’ expressing a literary intensification from ‘of old’ to ‘from everlasting’. The text seems to be implying there is something mysterious and extraordinary about this ruler. This suggests that the reference is not simply to Davidic roots but something more profound. Given other texts that teach the eternity of Messiah, ‘from everlasting’ is an appropriate translation (Hebs 1:8,12; Ps 110:1; Col 1:16,17). Certainly his eternity is made plain in other Scriptures,

In Hebrews, Melchizedek prefigures Christ. In Genesis, where people of significance have genealogies, Melchizedek, a significant person, has none. He briefly appears in the narrative then disappears. The writer tells us this absence of ancestry was deliberate. Melchizedek ‘having neither beginning of days nor end of life’, was intended to resemble the Son of God (Hebs 7:3). Language conveying Christ’s eternity could scarcely be clearer. Given Hebrews high Christology we should not be surprised at its affirmation in Ch 13 ‘Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today and forever’. Immutability implies eternity and deity; I am the Lord I change not (Mal 3:6)

In Revelation, God is described as ‘the Alpha and Omega’ closely tied to the one who ‘is, and was, and is to come’. He is ‘the beginning and the end’ (Rev 21:6). These are statements of his eternity. Similar language is used of Christ in Revelation. ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.’ This is language expressing eternal existence. God and the Lamb encompass the whole of history. They are before all things and after all things. Messiah is not simply David’s seed and Son he is David’s root and Lord (Rev 22:16; Ps 110:1). If all God’s fullness dwells in Christ then part of his fullness is his eternity. Arianism has little to commend it; it defies the grain of Scripture.

There are many other ways we can establish the deity of Christ and trinitarian patterns in Scripture. Here are a few avenues to explore. Only a few examples have been given but many more exist.

• References in the OT that belong to God, in the NT are given to Jesus (Isa 45:23; Phil 2:10; Zech 14:4; Acts 1:10-12; Isa 6; Jn 12:41 ).

• Activities, prerogatives, and names that belong to God in the OT are ascribed to Jesus in the NT (Mk 2:1-12; Jn 5:18-47; Rev 5:13; 21:22, ‘22:1). The miracles of Jesus were often echoes of divine acts in the OT. The feeding of the five thousand re-enacts God’s feeding of his people in the desert.

• Trinitarian triads are often found in the NT ( Matt 28:19; 2 Thess 2:13,14; 1 Cor 12:4-6; 2 Cor 13:14; Eph 1; 3-14; 1 Pet 1:2)

The evidence is persuasive. The Bible teaches that the Son of God is not only the messianic son but he is the divine Son, the eternal Son, and in this sense, the exclusive Son. Much more could be said. We have barely mentioned the Holy Spirit and we have not discussed the nature of trinitarian relationships. Perhaps the right context for such a study is one of worship. Certainly I think even from what is written here the benefit lies not in its polemical potential but in provoking worship. Humble, intelligent, heart-filled worship is the best response to these truths. And worship that wonders not least at the observation made of the divine wisdom who eternally rejoiced in God, ‘his delights were with the sons of men’.

30
Jan
22

revelation. 10… the seventh trumpet and the little scroll

The Trumpets Concluded

Rev 9 ends with the reader awaiting the seventh and final trumpet. Again the sixth in each series of seven brings us to the brink of the end which arrives in the seventh. The seventh is the arrival of the eschaton or day of the Lord. The trumpets are judgemental warnings, wake-up calls, to repent, however, the verdict of the sixth trumpet is that God’s voice in the various judgements is ignored and humanity does not repent of its sins (v20).

Ch 10 introduces a two chapter interlude between the sixth and seventh trumpet similar to the chapter separating the sixth and seventh seal. Once again the focus is principally on the people of God. Specifically the focus is the prophetic voice, God’s voice of warning and witness. In Ch 10, in the light of the imminent end the prophetic voice of John is discussed. Following this, in Ch 11, the church is viewed viewed as a spiritually protected community and as a prophetic witnessing community. To be a prophetic voice is costly. The cost of bearing a message of coming judgement for the world and persecution for God’s people carries inner bitterness for John while in Ch 11 the message of the two prophetic witnesses brings the bitterness of opposition and martyrdom.

1 Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire. 2 He had a little scroll open in his hand. And he set his right foot on the sea, and his left foot on the land, 3 and called out with a loud voice, like a lion roaring. When he called out, the seven thunders sounded. 4 And when the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down.” 5 And the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven 6 and swore by him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it, that there would be no more delay, 7 but that in the days of the trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God would be fulfilled, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.

The Seventh trumpet

An angel comes from heaven who has characteristics that suggest he is representing deity (10:1) Some think he is Christ but in a book where Christ’s trinitarian identity is emphasised it seems better to see the angel as speaking on behalf of God and Christ (1:1,2). He speaks with the authority of the eternal God, the Creator and therefore owner.of all things (v 5) The majesty of the angel is further revealed in his loud voice, like that of a lion roaring (v3). He stands Colossus like astride land and sea (three times we are told this); God’s messengers not Greek gods have authority in God’s world. Shortly two beasts inspired by Satan will arise from the sea and land. Here the mighty angel standing with a foot on both asserts God’s rights and rule over them. God is also declared to have created heaven from which Satan will be cast out (Ch 12). God’s sovereignty is underlined. The angel’s voice gives rise to the seven thunders.

A voice from heaven instructs John not to reveal the judgements of the seven thunders. Perhaps this is a device to imprint how terrible these judgements are by leaving them undisclosed (Cf Ps 29). One writer suggests these judgements are withheld from happening. The imminence of the end is announced by the angel. It is announced with an oath underlining its certainty. There is little time left. There will be no waiting. No delay. The mystery of God is about to be fulfilled, the story of rebellious history is about to end and the kingdom of God arrive. God’s eternal purpose is about to be realised. History is not meaningless and evil will not triumph. God’s scroll of destiny will be accomplished. He will triumph. The words of the prophets would be realised (v&). In the days of the seventh and last trumpet the end will arrive (11:15,16)

8 Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, “Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” 9 So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll. And he said to me, “Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.” 10 And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter. 11 And I was told, “You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.”

The Scroll

The angel carries a scroll for John. As God reveals his plans to Christ who reveals them to John through an angel so John receives the scroll from an angel here. A voice from heaven tells him to take it. As Christ received the scroll from the hand of God so John receives the ‘little scroll’ from the hand of the angel. Is it that the scroll received by Christ is comprehensive while the prophecy given to John is not so detailed? John’s scroll seems to be the events of the following chapters. He is told he must prophesy again (he has already been prophesying) about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.

John is told to ingest the scroll. He has to make it part of himself. It will be sweet in his mouth. This probably refers to the pleasure of receiving God’s word. However, in his stomach it would be bitter no doubt because it was a scroll of judgements for the world and troubles for God’s people (Ezek 2:8-3:3; Jer 15;16.17 Cf Amos 3:7).

And so Ch 10 stamps God’s authority over his creation once more. The end is near but in grace God still speaks through the prophetic voice.

24
Jan
22

revelation 9… the trumpets continued

Revelation 9

13 Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew directly overhead, “Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!”

1 And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit. 2 He opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft. 3 Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth. 4 They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. 5 They were allowed to torment them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings someone. 6 And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them.

7 In appearance the locusts were like horses prepared for battle: on their heads were what looked like crowns of gold; their faces were like human faces, 8 their hair like women’s hair, and their teeth like lions’ teeth; 9 they had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle. 10 They have tails and stings like scorpions, and their power to hurt people for five months is in their tails. 11 They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit. His name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon.

The fifth trumpet and first woe

Here judgement comes not from heaven or earth but from under the earth. A star fallen from heaven is given the key to (and so controls) the Abyss. The Abyss (meaning bottomless) some say has its roots in the primal chaotic deep (Gen 1:2). It is the prison of demons. They are described as locusts echoing the plague in Egypt (Ex 10:12-15). Unlike the Egyptian locusts these do not attack the land but attack people, everyone but those sealed by God, the saints. In the OT plagues of locusts could be a punishment for idolatry. The locusts torment humanity taking from it the will to live. A locust sting is apparently several times more powerful than that of a wasp. Presumably their description as locusts conveys their appallingly large number while tails like scorpions suggests their power to hurt. Scorpions were also associated with demonic powers (Lk 10:17-20).

They erupt Vesuvius like from the sulphurous underworld and their hideous and terrifying appearance reveals their demonic nature (Joel 1-2). They are swift and powerful like war horses. Yet they are reasonable and have human intelligence. They claim regality wearing crowns they do not intend to lay before the throne. They have a gracious beauty (hair like women’s hair) yet are ferocious (lion’s teeth). They are well protected and furious in battle (breastplates of iron and sound of chariots). Their danger is not immediately obvious, it is in the tail. John writes of their king though locusts have no king, clearly we are looking at a symbol. (Prov 30:27). Their king is the angel from the Abyss. His name is Abaddon meaning destruction or Apollyon meaning destroyer; this aim is destruction. However they are limited. Once again he who sits on the throne holds the leash. They are not allowed to kill only torment and their duration is five months (apparently the typical length of a locust infestation).

Some see a reference here to the Parthian barbarians that threatened Rome. Rome that attacks God’s people will be attacked. Whatever the merits of this view, it seems likely, however, that these demons seek to beguile and deceive by all kinds of false ideologies and thinking. Their torment is psychological. They only afflict unbelievers. Their destructive lying philosophies drive people mad (Deut 28:28, 29, 34).They feed destructive lies that enslave. They may appear reasonable even good (human faces) but are ultimately demonic and produce despair. We can see something of this in the various ideologies that are gripping people today and turning God’s laws for good living on their heads; superficially plausible they bring only pain and anguish. Those who took the lives of God’s people now long to die.

A plague of locusts is a devastating thing in every sense of the word (Joel 1-2). They were considered a harbinger of the day of the Lord (1:15; 2:1). The day when God destroys those who destroy (11:18).

The first woe is passed and two woes have yet to come (v!12). The announcement is ominous.

13 Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar before God, 14 saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” 15 So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour, the day, the month, and the year, were released to kill a third of mankind. 16 The number of mounted troops was twice ten thousand times ten thousand; I heard their number. 17 And this is how I saw the horses in my vision and those who rode them: they wore breastplates the colour of fire and of sapphire and of sulphur, and the heads of the horses were like lions’ heads, and fire and smoke and sulphur came out of their mouths. 18 By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed, by the fire and smoke and sulphur coming out of their mouths. 19 For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails, for their tails are like serpents with heads, and by means of them they wound.

20 The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, 21 nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.

The Sixth Trumpet and second woe

We arrive at the penultimate trumpet. The sixth in each series always precedes the imminent arrival of the kingdom of God (Rev 11:14). In the previous woe permission was given to torment. Now the permission is to kill. The golden altar was where prayers oof the saints mingled with incense ascended to God (8:1-5). There we were on the threshold of the End and once again that is where we are. The angels have been prepared for this very time underlining God’s sovereignty in the trumpet devastation. Four angels are released who are bound at the great river the Euphrates. They are the architects of the coming destruction through mounted hordes.

As an initial reference, we seem to be looking at the Parthian hordes. They were enemies of Rome on the other side of the Euphrates and an attack on Rome by them was a fear. But they and Rome were but templates for a bigger canvas. The army is inconceivably vast and terrifying, far beyond the Parthian hordes (Ps 68:18). It is hellish in origin…. Breastplates the colour of fire and sulphur. (Rev 19:20) The horses have plagues of fire and smoke and sulphur coming out of their mouths. Their tails are like serpents. All this is devilish and designed to inculcate dread i.n the reader. However, we must remember we are reading imagery and symbols. We are not told what the corresponding reality will be. We should remember, however, that whatever the real world counterpart, it will be every bit as horrific as the symbol.

A third of humanity died.

Yet despite these judgements humanity does not repent. They persist in their idolatry. Idolatry may be literal or an attitude of heart that gives supreme allegiance to someone other than the one true God. The heart becomes hardened against God and will even curse him in defiance (16:10).

As with the seals an interlude follows before the seventh trumpet when ‘the mystery of God’ shown to his servants the prophets would be fulfilled (10:7). Partial judgement will give way to final judgement.

21
Jan
22

genesis 3… your desire shall be to your husband

I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be [contrary] to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” 17 And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife. and have eaten of the tree. of which I commanded you, You shall not eat of it,’. cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face. you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Genesis 3 is an account of the divine judgements that result from eating the forbidden fruit. The judgements are pronounced in reverse order – first the serpent is judged, then the woman and finally the man. It is the man who is primarily held responsible. It was Adam who, before Eve was created, received the command not to eat the forbidden fruit. Although Eve was clearly aware of the prohibition. Eve’s sin was persuading Adam to eat (the serpent knew what he was doing attacking Adam through his wife). Adam’s sin was his moral weakness in listening to his wife and defying God by breaking an express command.. Doubtless we can see some of the dynamics of the sexes in this episode; both compromised their God given role.

Many see the judgement that follows as a further play on these sex dynamics. Thus the ESV quoted above has God say to the woman,

Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.

The word ‘contrary’ is an interpretive addition making the sense of the passage a war between the sexes.

For a number of years I was convinced of this interpretation but now I’m not so sure. The word ‘desire’ can mean ‘to attempt to usurp or control’. Hence the ESV translation (Cf. Gen 4:7). Thus the woman seeks to dominate the man and he seeks to dominate her. The man appears to win the battle. However, ‘desire’ in itself is neutral. Desire can be evil or good. The desire of the woman may simply be the desire for a loving relationship with him; the desire to be his helper.

This seems a likely interpretation for a few reasons.

1. The war of the sexes is consciously a modern concept, I don’t know if it was a live issue and articulated as such in the ancient world. Certainly it doesn’t seem to be a dominant theme in Scripture though wives are encouraged to submit to their husbands and have a meek and quiet spirit (Eph 5:24; 1 Pet 3:4).

2. It seems unlikely that the judgement would be a propensity to sin – to seek to dominate her husband. God is not the author of sin. He tempts none to sin. This is a weighty point to my mind.

3. A judgement that incites to sin does not fit with the pattern of the judgements. For both Adam and Eve, God’s judgement is that the main foci of their lives turn against them. Thus, for Eve, the joy of childbirth is accompanied by pain. The husband to whom the woman as a homemaker reaches out will abuse his God-given authority, The man, whose labours are outside the home will find the sphere of his work constantly frustrates him. Indeed, it is this frustration in life’s activities that is the hallmark of life after the fall. Every appointed area of toil will become an area of trouble; every source of pleasure will involve pain; all that was intended for concord will now involve conflict.

And so it seems to me that ‘Her desire shall be contrary to her husband’ would be better translated, ‘her desire shall be towards her husband’. The judgement is not an ordained fault; it is distress in the area where previously there was delight. At one time this was the traditional interpretation and it may well be the best.

We praise God that in his grace these judgements are often alleviated and we do not receive as our sins deserve,

16
Jan
22

revelation 8 (2)… the seven trumpets

The Seven trumpets

The second series of judgements begin. Judgements are not a reason to despair but a reason to repent; in a sinful world God’s salvation always comes through judgement. The seventh seal ushered in the End. The trumpets repeat the pattern of the seals; they are not necessarily chronological except that, like the seals, they bring.history to a climax in the sixth and seventh trumpet. Since each ‘seven’ brings us to the end they must to some extent run concurrently. Like the seals, there is an interval between the sixth and seventh trumpet where once again the focus is primarily on the people of God. The trumpets introduce judgement on a larger scale than the seals – a third of the earth and not simply a quarter are affected. The trumpets are a warning, a wake up call (Ezek 33:1-5). These judgements and those of the bowls are frequently modelled on the judgments in Egypt only what were then judgements on one country are now judgements affecting the whole earth. The world like Pharaoh is called to repent, however, we read,

8: 20 The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, 21 nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.

As with Pharaoh, such is the human heart that judgement hardens it in its resolve to rebel. In the case of Jericho where the trumpets were sounded seven times they were announcements of imminent judgement. And with the seventh trumpet judgement fell.

In the later seven bowls the judgements are total. Here mercy is still evident.

Like the seals there is a four three divide. The last three are accompanied by three woes.

The first four trumpets

6 Now the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to blow them.

7 The first angel blew his trumpet, and there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, and these were thrown upon the earth. And a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.

8 The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. 9 A third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.

10 The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. 11 The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it had been made bitter.

12 The fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of their light might be darkened, and a third of the day might be kept from shining, and likewise a third of the night.

13 Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew directly overhead, “Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!”

The first trumpet

Now that God’s people are sealed judgements on the natural environment can take place (7:3). The first trumpet (hail, fire and blood) parallels the judgements on Egypt (Ex 9:22-25, Ps 78:47). Egypt’s judgements were aimed at exposing the weakness of the gods of Egypt, producing repentance in Pharaoh and the freeing of God’s people. The judgements initially created a change of heart in Pharaoh but it was superficial and temporary. Blood perhaps suggests death. The death of grass suggests economic collapse as grass was important to livestock. In these first trumpet judgements there is no sign of repentance.

These, if not symbolic, are mainly, it seems, ecological disasters (v7).

Second trumpet

It is difficult to determine how literally to read some of these judgements. The second trumpet on the face of it describes judgement on the sea. The sea turned to blood is again an echo of Egypt (Ex 7:20,21). Or is the great mountain a kingdom and the sea the nations of the world. Babylon is described as a burnt mountain (Jer 51:25). Babylon’s ruin brings ruin to part of the world economy suggested by ships (18:17-19). Something similar may be implied in this trumpet.

Third Trumpet

This time a star not a mountain is on fire. Again it may point to an ecological disaster but perhaps refers to the fall from grace of some major world leader who was or ought to have been a source of light and guidance. In Isaiah the demise of the king of Babylon is described as a star falling from heaven (Isa 14:12). The ramifications of the collapse of John’s star is bitterness and even death for many (Cf Jer 23:15). If God offers to those who believe springs of living water here the springs have become deadly (7:17; Jer 9:15)). God’s judgements involve the rise and fall of leaders sometimes with devastating consequences. It may refer too to a fallen angel (9:1).

Fourth Trumpet

Here the judgement seems more clearly ecological. Again it echoes the Exodus judgements (Ex 10:21-23). It is a judgement that anticipates the entire darkness of the day of the Lord (Matt 24:29; Isa 13:9-11). During the bowl plagues the kingdom of the beast is plunged into darkness (16:10). It may, however, point to the collapse of many leaders who can no longer be a light. Moral darkness is allowed increased sway in the world.

The reenacted Egyptian plagues show that the Lord alone is God but as in Egypt they produce no repentance.

The final three trumpets are accompanied by three woes introduced by a flying eagle or vulture a carrion-eating bird of prey and a sign of death nearby ( Rev 19:17,21). Judgements escalate and create more urgency. The threefold woe announces disaster (isa 5:8,9; Han 2:9,10).

13 Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew directly overhead, “Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!”

1 And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit. 2 He opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft. 3 Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth. 4 They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. 5 They were allowed to torment them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings someone. 6 And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them.

7 In appearance the locusts were like horses prepared for battle: on their heads were what looked like crowns of gold; their faces were like human faces, 8 their hair like women’s hair, and their teeth like lions’ teeth; 9 they had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle. 10 They have tails and stings like scorpions, and their power to hurt people for five months is in their tails. 11 They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit. His name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon.

The fifth trumpet and first woe

Here judgement comes not from heaven or earth but from under the earth. A star fallen from heaven is given the key (and so controls) to the Abyss. The Abyss (meaning bottomless) some say has its roots in the primal chaotic deep (Gen 1:2). It is the prison of demons. They are described as locusts echoing the plague in Egypt (Ex 10:12-15). Unlike the Egyptian locusts these do not attack the land but attack people, everyone but those sealed by God, the saints. In the OT plagues of locusts could be a punishment for idolatry. The locusts torment humanity taking from it the will to live. A locust sting is apparently several times more powerful than that of a wasp. Presumably their description as locusts conveys their appallingly large number while tails like scorpions suggests their power to hurt. Scorpions were also associated with demonic powers (Lk 10:17-20).

They erupt Vesuvius like from the sulphurous underworld and their hideous and terrifying appearance reveals their demonic nature (Joel 1-2). They are swift and powerful like war horses. Yet they are reasonable and have human intelligence. They claim regality wearing crowns they do not intend to lay before the throne. They have a gracious beauty (hair like women’s hair) yet are ferocious (lion’s teeth). They are well protected and furious in battle (breastplates of iron and sound of chariots). Their danger is not immediately obvious, it is in the tail. John writes of their king though locusts have no king, clearly we are looking at a symbol. (Prov 30:27). Their king is the angel from the Abyss. His name is Abaddon meaning destruction or Apollyon meaning destroyer; this aim is destruction. However they are limited. Once again he who sits on the throne holds the leash. They are not allowed to kill only torment and their duration is five months (apparently the typical length of a locust infestation).

Some see a reference here to the Parthian barbarians that threatened Rome. Rome that attacks God’s people will be attacked. Whatever the merits of this view, it seems likely, however, that these demons seek to beguile and deceive by all kinds of false ideologies and thinking. Their torment is psychological. They only afflict unbelievers. They drive people mad (Deut 28:28, 29, 34). Perhaps they feed destructive lies that enslave. They may appear reasonable even good (human faces) but are ultimately demonic and produce despair. We can see something of this in the various ideologies that are gripping people today and turning God’s laws for good living on their heads; superficially plausible they bring only pain and anguish. Those who took the lives of God’s people now long to die.

A plague of locusts is a devastating thing in every sense of the word (Joel 1-2). They were considered a harbinger of the day of the Lord (1:15; 2:1). The day when God destroys those who destroy (11:18).

The first woe is passed and two woes have yet to come (v!12). The announcement is ominous.

13 Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar before God, 14 saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” 15 So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour, the day, the month, and the year, were released to kill a third of mankind. 16 The number of mounted troops was twice ten thousand times ten thousand; I heard their number. 17 And this is how I saw the horses in my vision and those who rode them: they wore breastplates the colour of fire and of sapphire and of sulphur, and the heads of the horses were like lions’ heads, and fire and smoke and sulphur came out of their mouths. 18 By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed, by the fire and smoke and sulphur coming out of their mouths. 19 For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails, for their tails are like serpents with heads, and by means of them they wound.

20 The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, 21 nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.

The Sixth Trumpet and second woe

We arrive at the penultimate trumpet. The sixth in each series always precedes the arrival of the kingdom of God in the seventh (Rev 11:14). In the previous woe permission was given to torment. Now the permission is to kill. The golden altar was where prayers oof the saints mingled with incense ascended to God (8:1-5). There we were on the threshold of the End and once again that is where we are. The angels have been prepared for this very time underlining God’s sovereignty in the trumpet devastation. Four angels are released who are bound at the great river the Euphrates. They are the architects of the coming destruction through mounted hordes.

Some think the reference may be to the Parthian hordes. They were enemies of Rome on the other side of the Euphrates and an attack on Rome by them was a fear. If so they and Rome were but templates for a bigger canvas. The army is inconceivably vast and terrifying, far beyond the Parthian hordes (Ps 68:18). It is hellish in origin with.,,breastplates the colour of fire and sulphur. (Rev 19:20) The horses have plagues of fire and smoke and sulphur coming out of their mouths. Their tails are like serpents. All this is devilish and designed to inculcate dread in the reader. However, we must remember we are reading imagery and symbols. We are not told what the corresponding reality will be. We should remember, however, that whatever the real world counterpart, it will be every bit as horrific as the symbol.

A third of humanity died.

Yet despite these judgements humanity does not repent. They persist in their idolatry. Idolatry may be literal or an attitude of heart that gives supreme allegiance to someone other than the one true God. The heart becomes hardened against God and will even curse him in defiance (16:10).

As with the seals an interlude follows before the seventh trumpet when ‘the mystery of God’ shown to his servants the prophets would be fulfilled (10:7). Partial judgement will give way to final judgement.

09
Jan
22

revelation 8 (1)… the power of prayer

Revelation 8

The seventh seal.

Silence in heaven. It is the silence of stunned awe as final judgement is unleashed.

1 When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. 2 Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. 3 And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, 4 and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. 5 Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.’

In Revelation (ch 5) Jesus takes from the right hand of God a scroll with seven seals. It is God’s blueprint to bring history in a rebellious world to a conclusion. It contains various judgements that God has decreed to take place in the world including the final climactic day of judgement that will give way to God’s everlasting kingdom. To Jesus (the Lamb) is given the task of revealing and executing the contents of the scroll – God’s final judgements on the earth (Ps 2).

What is startling is that God’s plan to bring history to a conclusion takes into account the prayers of God’s people. In the heavenly temple the combined prayers of God’s people mingled with fragrant incense (much of Revelation borrows OT imagery) lead to an angel taking fire from the (golden) altar (Lev 16:12) and throwing it on the earth resulting in ‘peals of thunder, rumbling, flashes of lightning and an earthquake’ (16:8). This is metaphorical language for the arrival of the day of the Lord and final cataclysmic judgement on a godless world. History as we know it comes to an end and one of the direct reasons for this is the prayers of God’s people.

Presently the world is once again profoundly unstable. Destructive forces are pulling from various directions, all threatening to the church. One particularly nauseous evil is the internal corruption of the church itself. Ours is a world (and church) ripe for judgement. Personally I have little doubt that Covid is a judgements like those contained in the scroll. The judgements of the scroll are probably describing the days of the very end though Jesus speaks of horsemen like judgements throughout history (Matt 24:2-14). Certainly in our days Covid seems like the fourth horseman of the apocalypse has been riding; the rider on the pale horse’ or someone similar has been sent out (Rev 6:7,8) as a warning shot over the bows. Yet tragically, God’s judgements, while intended to lead to repentance, rarely do, instead hearts become hardened and human hubris arises – we will triumph… our science will solve it… glory to man in the highest. There is a singular absence of any sense that we must humble ourselves before God. Read the account of the seven trumpets in Revelation if you’re inclined to think adversity brings humanity to call on God (Rev 9). It doesn’t. God’s judgements largely create railing not repentance… they lead to cursing not contrition (Rev 16:9). Adversity simply causes human rage to grow.

In the face of rising evil what can we do? We can pray. We can pray ‘your kingdom come your will be done on earth as in heaven‘. On the face of things it seems so little. The world mocks pious praying Christianity. And we are tempted to wonder if they are right. John tells us the reality is these prayers are more powerful than all the armies of men and the rage of a million tweets.

It is the one who sits on the throne (Ch 4) who controls history. Events on earth are determined in heaven. It is the scroll that dictates the future not the crowd. And the scroll is partly shaped by the accumulated prayers of ‘all the saints’ dead or alive, every ‘how long O Lord‘ (6:9,10) and every ‘your kingdom come’ is heard by God and as a direct consequence of these combined prayers the fire of final judgement is hurled upon the earth. John’s focus is on the saints at the end of history but the truth straddles the whole history of the church. The cumulative cry of the saints and martyrs throughout history urges on the arrival of the kingdom.

Do you feel your prayers are ineffective? This text gives thee lie to such feelings. Our prayers are effective (Jas 5:16). They play an important role in hastening the day of God. Prayer not only changes us it changes history. These are robust times calling for robust faith. Therefore we ought always to pray and not to faint. May the Lord help us to persevere in believing prayer.

01
Jan
22

revelation 1 (5)… a time frame

Revelation has known a variety of interpretative approaches over the years. These inevitably affect the time frame in which the middle section of the book is considered to be set (Ch 6-18). Different systems understand this time period differently.

first, some general comments on time in Revelation

Revelation is apocalyptic prophecy. It stands in conscious continuity with previous. biblical prophecy (OT and NT) which was also sometimes apocalyptic (10:8-11). It is the last biblical prophecy bringing canonical prophecy to a climax and conclusion. John’s immediate template, living as he does in C1, is the Roman Empire. The End may well be played out in the C1 and C2 but if not a generation will come where Revelation’s prophecies will be realised.

the time is near

Time is important in Revelation. Revelation begins by commenting on time. Chapter 1:1 tells us the prophecy concerns ‘the things that must soon take place’ and that the ‘time is near’ (1:3). Later in Ch 1 a further time division occurs dividing the book into ‘the things you have seen – things that are and things that have to take place after this (1:19) The ‘things that are‘ appear to refer to the seven churches of Ch 2&3 while ‘the things that have to take place after this’ refer to events described in the main body of the book, Ch 4 – 22:5. In Ch 4, John is summoned to heaven (as God’s prophets often were) by the reigning Christ and told, ‘Come up here and I will show you the things that must take place after this.'(4:1). These ‘things’ are events revolving around the return of Christ, both preceding and succeeding it. Broadly speaking, Chs 4-18 describe events preceding Christ’s coming while 19-22 describe events at and beyond his coming. It is the time-frame of 4-18 that is our concern here.

imminency

In Revelation the End (the Second Coming and events surrounding it) is always near; it is imminent (1:3). OT prophecies envisaged a time at the close of history marked by climactic divine judgement and salvation. The final convulsions of history would take place ushering in the kingdom of God (Dan 2,7, 9, 12). Sometimes this time was called the ‘latter days‘ or ‘the last days’ (Dan 2:28). In Daniel it is also called, ‘the time of the End‘ (Dan 12:4).

In the OT the time of the End lay in the distant future. Daniel was told to seal his prophecy for it concerned a time far ahead (Dan 12:4,9 Cf. 8:24). With the advent of Messiah to Bethlehem Daniel’s future, however, began to be arrive. With Christ’s coming the time of the End began and its beginning implied that completion was imminent. And so John, as he describes the End, is instructed not to seal up the prophecy for ‘the time is near‘ about which he writes (22:10). This sense of ‘imminency’ marks the life of the NT church. The arrival of Jesus began the ‘last days’ the OT anticipated (Hebs 1:2, 9:26, Acts 2 :16-18; 2 Tim 4:1) and so for the early church the completion of the events began was ‘near‘. John in his letter says ‘it is the last hour’ (I Jn 2:18). Paul says, ‘the night is nearly over, the day is at hand’ (Roms 13:11,12). Peter says, ‘the end of all things is near’ (1 Pet 4:7). Given it is the last days it must be so… the church in every generation of the ‘last days’ lives with the end is in sight… the day is approaching (Hebs 10:25). We are alert and expectant (Rev 3:2,3; Matt 24:36-51). Imminency, in biblical sense of ‘near‘, grows out of the apostolic conviction that ‘the End’ had already begun. The events of the End had been set in motion in the arrival of Jesus and therefore their completion cannot be far away (Lk 18:8).

True, a tension exists. imminency sits alongside ‘delay’ (6:10,11; Matt 24:6, 45-51). Events that resemble the events of the End may occur yet the End is ‘not yet‘ (Matt 24:6). If events of the End don’t unfold as quickly as expected then Peter reminds us,

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

Imminency and ‘delay’ must be held in tandem. However, in Revelation the focus is emphatically on imminency. If in the opening verses of the book we are told ‘the time is near’ then three times in the closing epilogue Jesus says, ‘I am coming soon’.

Revelation’s stress on imminency is important. John is not asking his readers to envisage a protracted church age, rather he invites his C1 readers to live with the expectancy that the events described (6-18) may happen in their lifetime.

In Ch 4 and 5 John is a prophet in the heavenly throne room. He sees a scroll in the open hand of God which is taken by Christ, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the slain Lamb. It is the scroll of destiny, God’s decree for how history is to be brought to a conclusion. The stormy throne hints that judgements will be integral to the end. While the scroll eventually fades out of focus it Ch 6-18 describe the events that belong to the End.

6-18 judgements, characters and events

The judgements that the stormy throne implied and the scroll contained are visited upon the earth in subsequent chapters (6-18). In a literary sense these judgements provide the narratival backbone of 6-18. All other activity occurs around the framework of these judgements. In God’s world, God’s actions are primary even if they are acts of judgement. God’s judgement is dispensed through four series of seven (seven seals, trumpets, plagues (or bowls) and thunders, though the thunders remain concealed). The three revealed sevens display increasing intensity of judgement and have an advancing though overlapping time frame. Each sequence of seven reaches a climax with the sixth taking us to the brink of the End; the seventh in each brings history as we know it to an end with the final victory of God in Christ.

These sequences of seven (seals, trumpets and plagues or bowls) reveal we cannot read Revelation as a straightforward linear narrative. The sevens have a degree of chronological overlap not least being that each climaxes in the day of the Lord.

In a series of interludes mainly sandwiched between these divine judgements players are introduced who fill the stage in the final climactic scene of history. The principal focus in the interludes, other than God, is the people of God. Other actors are largely significant as they impact on the church. The people of God are prominent. They form the first interlude and appear in further interludes. Their preservation, persecution, worship, prophetic witness. and ultimate victory is highlighted.

The church (for I take it the saints in these chapters are the final generation of the church) is viewed variously as the messianic army of the Lamb that conquers through sacrifice (144.000), a multitude from every tribe and nation (Ch7), temple worshippers, the holy city, two fearless and martyred witnesses (Ch 11), and a woman clothed with the sun (Ch 12). They live through a period John calls, ‘the great tribulation’ (7:14) echoing Jesus’ reference to a time of ‘great tribulation’ at the end of history (Matt 24:21). This ‘tribulation‘ involves the wrath of Satan vented on the church through ‘the beast from the sea‘ and the ‘beast from the earth‘ (12,13). These beasts are demonic political and religious leaders working in tandem to deceive and destroy the people of God (Ch 13). Like all else in God’s creation they cannot act without divine consent. They are given divine permission to kill God’s people, however, God preserves his people in the way that is most necessary (11:3, 12:6); they may die but not a hair of their head will perish (11: 1-3; Lk 21:18).

Ultimately the trinity of evil (the dragon, beast and false prophet) do not fully destroy the holy city, the people of God. They do, however, destroy the corrupt city, Babylon the city of man. They destroy their own creation: one way God expresses his justice is by allowing evil to consume itself. With Babylon’s collapse, Christ returns judging and destroying all who oppose God and his people and bringing everlasting salvation. He conquers Satan’s forces, the beast, the false prophet and all who follow them. The destroyers will be destroyed in keeping with the biblical principle of justice, lex talionis or exact equivalent (Rev 11:18) and the righteous will be delivered in triumph to reign in God’s eternal kingdom. Rev 6-18 is a story of hope.

imminency revisited

C1 believers, hearing this letter read to them, would readily envisage its scenarios played out in the Roman world in which they lived. The language and allusions were Roman. Rome persecuted believers. Faithful witness had already led to martyrdom for some (Rev 2:13). Christianity did not sit comfortably in C1 Rome. Roman emperors and the cult of emperor worship could easily and quickly morph into John’s beast and false prophet. Satan’s final attack on the church through the beast and the false prophet was already at work in persecution, false teaching and seduction (2,3). And was not John’s seven-hilled city Rome (Rev 17:19)? That the End may arrive in their lifetime in their familiar Roman world seemed very possible.

Furthermore, John’s emphasis on the nearness of the End, a perspective common in the NT, no doubt filled the early church with expectation. The NT taught that signs of the End were already evident. Both John and Paul see elements of the final antichrist already at work. John writes,

Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour’ (1 Jn 2:18).

Paul, writing to the Thessalonians, says of the day of the Lord,

For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. 5 Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? 6 And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming’ (2 Thess 2:3-8).

If the End did not arrive with the first generation of Christians then the next generation will look out on the world anticipating the End arriving in their lifetime. Each successive generation of Christians lives with this sense of imminency, the sense that the End is near, that the end of all things is at hand (1 Pet 4:7). Only time reveals that ‘the end is not yet‘ (Matt 24:6). Traumas that seemed to signal the end proved to be but ‘birth pangs’ of the End (Matt 24 1-12) However, for one generation, alert and watching for the Lord’s return, contractions will give way to final convulsions that birth the kingdom of God. Christ will come to establish God’s kingdom. The stone cut out without hands will grind the kingdoms of men to powder and become a great mountain that fills the whole earth (Dan 2).

a futurist reading of 6-18

There are four main approaches to Revelation – preterism, historicism, idealism and futurism. Preterism believes the much of the prophecy was fulfilled in the C1. It faces problems in its dating of Revelation and the close chronology between the events of Revelation and Christ’s actual return. Historicism sees Revelation fulfilled in various ways through history but there is no agreement about historical references and fanciful schemes have brought this approach into disrepute. Idealism sees the prophecy as principles at work in history but not tied to specific historical events, however, prophecy in the OT was not abstract but described true historical people and events; it’s hard to read Revelation as historically abstract. Futurism sees the events of Ch 6-18 as temporal (albeit couched in symbolic language) and describing the years immediately prior to Christ’s return. It struggles with the emphasis on imminency since many years have passed, however, this is a problem with which all views must grapple.

Each view, no doubt, has some legitimacy. Undoubtedly the book speaks into the C1. Furthermore, aspects of the final conflict run throughout history. However, with some reservation, I find the futurist reading the most convincing*. In my view, Chs 6-18 primarily describe people and events in the last few years prior to Christ’s coming, events as yet unfulfilled. Each generation lives in anticipation that the events John describes may happen in their lifetime and so approach the book as potential participants rather than detached observers. One generation will not be potential participants but actual participants: the church living in the final traumatic years immediately preceding the coming of Christ.

In my view, the drama of these chapters seems to demand an end of history interpretation. The events described are too extreme, too specific, too concentrated and too climactic to describe the whole of church history. These chapters are a denouement, the final convulsive struggle of history. They are, in the popular sense, apocalyptic. They display an escalation in divine judgements, blasphemous arrogance by world leaders, breathtakingly extensive world government and fearsome persecution of God’s people along with profound spiritual deception. Such is the heightened drama of these times they must surely belong to the End. In reading these chapters the sense that we are observing history’s dramatic convulsive climax is difficult to avoid. In fact those who advocate a ‘whole church age’ reading of 6-18 often add ‘with special reference to events at the end.’ They feel the pressure of the apocalyptic and ultimate., not to mention the NT expectation of difficult times at the very end before Christ’s return (Matt 24:15-35).

This (6-18) time period is called by one of heaven’s elders, ‘the great tribulation’ (7:14). Some see this expression as describing the sufferings of the church throughout her history (Matt 24:9). It is true that tribulation is the promised lot of the church through her history. And while I am drawn to this view it seems better to understand John’s phrase as echoing the words of Jesus who describes the last days of history foreshadowed in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 as a time of ‘great tribulation‘ (Matt 24:21,29). Both Jesus and John are drawing from Daniel which envisages a time of intense persecution or trouble for God’s people just prior to the arrival of God’s final kingdom (Dan 12:1-4; 7:21-27). It exceeds all that has gone before in ferocity; this fits well with Rev 6-18 which depicts a drive by Satan and his servants to annihilate the church (Rev 12,13).

Also drawing from Daniel it features specific individuals. For example, John’s beast from the sea is not a general reference to human empires or even a reference to a particular empire; it is more specific still and is a reference to a definite ‘emperor’ or ‘king’ (Rev, 13,17:11). The beast, it seems, is the anticipated ‘antichrist’ or ‘lawless one’. He is Daniel’s ‘little horn’. This places the events firmly in the few years immediately preceding the return of Christ.

time, times and half a time

In fact, John supplies a time frame for the events he describes in 6-18. They will unfold in, ‘a time, times and half a time’ , that is , in a period of 3½ years (12:14) . This time frame is similarly described as, ’42 months’ and ‘1260’ days.

Between Ch 11-13 are told:

  • the holy city will be trampled for 42 months (11:2)
  • the two witnesses will prophecy for 1260 days before being martyred (11:3)
  • the woman ‘clothed with the sun‘ flees into the wilderness for divine protection for 1260 days (12:6) or ‘a time, times and half a time‘ (12:14)
  • the beast from the sea is given authority for 42 months (13:5)

Are we to understand these years as actual or symbolic? Many understand them to be symbolic. They believe the whole age of the church is in view (12:13,14). It is true numbers are often symbolic in Revelation. However, they are not always symbolic, or not always only symbolic. . The seven churches are representative churches, with seven suggesting completeness, but they are also seven actual churches. The New Jerusalem has as its foundation the twelve apostles. The number twelve has symbolic meaning in Revelation but there were twelve actual apostles who are the foundation of the church. The city of Rome was literally a seven hilled city (17:9). We read of the beast in Ch 17,

‘the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her… The the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; 10 they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while. 11 As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction. 12 And the ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast.’

These numbers describe various kings belonging to a God defying empire and the intricate detail given suggests they describe real historical figures. The description echoes similar texts in Daniel’s apocalyptic prophecy describing real historical figures. Numbers in Revelation, it seems, are sometimes symbolic and sometimes actual and sometimes both. No hard and fast rule can be applied. Each number should be considered on its merits.

How are we to understand the 3½ years? I think the 3½ years are primarily literal years** describing the last few years of history before Christ’s return.

The use of three different measures to describe the same time period (1260 days, 42 months, a time, times and half a time) points towards the time span being literal and concrete. Also, the time frame is drawn primarily from Daniel where 31/2 years is a literal period describing years of intensified persecution prior to the arrival of the kingdom of God (Dan 7). Throughout Daniel this time frame is repeated and intended literally.

Perhaps the strongest argument in favour of actual years is that this time period is located in the reign of the beast from the sea who makes war on the saints and conquers them (13: 5-8). The beast, in Revelation, is not simply a symbol of anti-god political power throughout history, he is ultimately the final autocratic ruler of hostile demonic government… the satanically empowered political leader of the final world empire – the antichrist (17:11). He is very precisely defined (13,17). He reigns for a short time at the end of history before being overthrown by Christ at his Coming. If the beast is an individual, the expected antichrist, as suggested, then an actual 3½ year span of terror over God’s people is likely. To make 6-18 simply a broad description of the characteristics of the gospel era seems to do violence to the particularities found in these chapters.

However, let me draw back a little and regroup. John says ‘the time is near.’ For John it was possible as we have observed that these events may happen in his lifetime. He describes the end-time events in terms of the Roman Empire. Allusions to Roman times abound. Rome was the template for Babylon. A Nero-like emperor was the template for the beast. And so as persecutions broke out or persecuting emperors emerged to Christians it looked like the 3½ years of the world’s last days had arrived. The same applies beyond the Roman Empire and throughout history. Persecutions, antichrists and divine judgements occur that suggested to the believers living through them the end of history had come and Jesus is about to appear.

In this way we can see that the 3½ years is not simply a static period at the End but has a dynamic life for Christians in every age, especially those who face persecution when a leader arises who makes life intolerable. There are many antichrists before the antichrist. The mystery of lawlessness is already at work. This is the perspective with which the apostles lived as we saw in some texts above. In this sense the gap between those who view the 3½ years as symbolic of the whole era of the church and those who view them as specifically describing the End is not so wide.

Perhaps allied to the above is the near and far perspective that marks OT prophecy. There is an initial reference to Rome (preterism), an ongoing reference (historicism, idealism) and a future reference (futurism).

Yet ‘near’ though these years may be in the experience of God’s people nevertheless , I repeat, they do primarily describe a specific time that has clearly not yet arrived. They have a particularity that can’t be avoided. They describe a period of particular judgements, particular suffering for the church and a particular final world leader who rebels God and persecutes his people. Moreover, the beast is destroyed and the saints are rescued by the Second Coming of Christ; End-time persons and events interface with Christ’s return. There may be many foreshadowings but there will be only one finale.

in conclusion

John places the events of 4-22 in a time that is ‘near’. In the experience of the church the time of the end is always ‘near’. OT End-time events began with Christ’s First Coming and so his Second Coming where these are completed cannot be that far off. Prior to the ‘completion’ at Christ’s Second Coming are 3½ concentrated years of divine judgements on the earth, world-wide persecution of the church, and prophetic witness. Each generation looks at the signals they see suggesting the End is approaching and remain alert. For one generation the end time events will be realised and Christ will return. Meanwhile the wait calls for patient endurance.

*There are of course two main futurist approaches to Revelation. The first is historic premillennialism and the second is dispensational premillennialism. My own (tentative) position is historic premillennialism which views much of Revelation as the last days of the church in history followed by the Second Coming and accompanying events. Dispensational premillennialism is different. It believes a sharp line exists between Israel and the church. The church is raptured to heaven at the beginning of Ch 4 and 6-18 describes the experience of those converted after the church has been raptured. This means large chunks of Revelation, a book written to the church, are not about the church and describe a time when the church is already in heaven. Inevitably this makes much of Revelation merely of curiosity interest. If Scripture is not describing a future in which the reader has a stake then interest is more detached. This is precisely the opposite effect from that for which John is aiming: personal involvement not detached observation is key.

**Yet I can’t help but notice indications that these years may be more flexible than I think. For example the four horsemen of the first four seals (Rev 6) follow precisely the temporal calamities Jesus mentions in Matt 24; events that were part of ongoing history and not the end. The 144,000 are saints at the End. Yet given their numerical alignment with the New Jerusalem the temptation is to see them as the whole church. Rev 12:6 may imply that the 31/2 years begin at the ascension. Furthermore the only saints we are told that reign with Christ in the millennium are the dead believers (martyred or otherwise) from the final tribulation and those who do not worship the beast. There are problems with most views that call for humility.

29
Dec
21

depression and assurance of salvation

Depression often generates troubling thoughts. One distressing thought it can raise in a Christian’s mind is, ‘Am I saved?’ It’s easy to doubt your salvation. How do we address these doubts. In this brief post I’m going to assume these doubts are arising from depression and not from major persistent high-handed sins. If these are present they should be repented of and a new start made. If we look to Christ in faith and confess our sin then he will forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

In fact, for many of us repentance may be necessary. It may be that there is some specific sin or sins we need to confess and forsake. Perhaps our depression is tied into some specific sin or sins. It need not be but sometimes it may be, If so, as I say above, we are called to confess the sin to God and forsake it. However, often depression brings up the same sin repeatedly or dredges up things we have done wrong perhaps many years ago. Unless these are of a very significant nature requiring some action in the present it seems to me we simply say to the Lord something like, ‘Lord you know about all these things. You know I’m sorry about them. I have forsaken them help me to forget them.’

Forgetting them is what we must do. God has put them out of his mind and so must we. When past failures repeatedly arise in our minds they do not come from God – he has put them out of his mind – they arise from our own minds or perhaps from Satan. Accompanying them may be the worming suggestion that we are not saved. How can we be with such a mountain of past failures? At this point we may need to counter these snaring thoughts.

When assurance is attacked it is the time to remind our hearts that we are trusting in Jesus. Our faith and obedience may be (will be) imperfect but it is all directed at Jesus. Our confidence is in him,

Yes we have sin – but the blood of Jesus, God’s son, cleanses us from all sin’ 1 Jn 1:7. Repeat this over to yourself as often as helps. Rejoice in it. Exult in it as your mental health allows.

If we sin, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, Jn 1:9

Remind your heart it is by grace you are saved through faith and it is not of yourself but a gift of God.

Remind yourself that where sin abounds grace abounds all the more.

We should not be looking to our performance as the main source of our assurance but to work of Christ. We find our rest in him. It is as we focus on Him and his salvation that the inner witness of the Spirit thrives and grows. Depression makes us turn in on ourselves and assurance is lost. We must look out to Christ and God that faith and assurance may flourish.

There are many different ways that assurance of salvation can be attacked. I have suggested only two of the most basic ways to counter this attack.

1. If real sin is present confess it and determine to forsake it. If general sins from the past are thrown up perhaps ask the Lord’s forgiveness once but refuse to look at them again and again. Replace accusations with truths that counters the accusation. The word ‘grace’ can be a great word to lodge in the back of your mind as a response to guilt.

2. Remind yourself of the great truths of the gospel. Whoever comes to him he will never cast out. He gives to his sheep eternal life and they will never perish. By grace we are saved through faith. Whoever believes in him has eternal life (Jn 3:16). Hold on to these promises and refuse to doubt them. Look to Christ by faith far more than you look within.

These are very basic points. If this is a real problem you may find it helpful to speak to someone you know who may be able to help you. Perhaps an in-depth book may help. Remember too that depression is an illness and your doctor may prove to be a great help. I regret I am unable to answer any questions.

19
Dec
21

revelation 7… the 144,00 and the great multitude.

Revelation is a visionary narrative of what John saw and heard. It is describing End-time events. However, it is not a simple chronological narrative. The backbone of the narrative is God’s judgements. God’s judgements, expressed in the seven seals, trumpets, thunders and bowls sweep the world at the end of history. They are an expression of his wrath as are many destructive events in history but they are not properly the day of wrath. The. Day of wrath/of the lamb/of the Lord – the return of Christ – comes at the very end of each cycle of judgements. (6:12-17). Each cycle of seven ends with the arrival of the End. However, between the sixth and seventh judgement in the seals and trumpets and between the ‘seven’ trumpets and bowls there are interludes which focus in on specific actors or events in these final times. Ch 7 is an example of such an interlude.

Six seals of the book of God’s activity in judgement have been opened. The sixth announces the arriving of the day of the Lord which generates fear in a godless world. We read,

15 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Cf. Nah 1:6).

The End is upon them… the seventh seal is about to be opened. Who can stand? Chapter 7 is an interlude before the the final seal and the arrival of that final day. Narratively this serves to heighten tension as we await the seventh seal. However, fundamentally it answers the question posed in the sixth seal… who can stand in the day of ultimate judgement. The answer is, those who have God’s seal will stand (v3). The servants (slaves) of God will stand (v3) The 144,000 will stand (v4), the redeemed (14:4). The first interlude focuses on the people of God which I take to be the church. The church will stand and will stand too in the days that precede when the four winds of God’s judgement are unleashed on the world (Zech 6:5) and when Satan’s hatred is unleashed against the saints by the beast.

I heard…and I saw

Ch 7 describes two people groups. They seem quite different. The first group is composed of the tribes of Israel while the second group is from every tribe and nation. The first group is a defined number 144,000: the second group is a great multitude no man could number. The first group is on earth: the second group is in heaven. The first group is protected from God’s judgments: the second group have been persecuted through the great tribulation. The first group John hears about and the second group he sees.

This hearing… seeing… is a device we have met before. In Ch 5, John is distressed because it seemed no-one could open the sealed book – until he hears about the ‘Lion of the tribe of Judah’ who, when seen, is ‘a Lamb’ (5:1-6). The figure about whom he initially hears and subsequently sees is the same person but viewed from two perspectives; it is Christ the Davidic King who conquered through becoming the sacrificial Lamb. In Ch 7, John again ‘hears‘ and ‘sees‘. He hears of the numbered tribes of Israel (v4-8) and he sees ‘a great multitude that no-one could number from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages’. It seems we have the same people group viewed from two perspectives; two contrasting yet complimentary visions The first group is an army… the army of the Lion of the tribe of Judah. Israel was numbered for battle. The second group are sheep shepherded by the Lamb (v17). They wear robes made white by the blood of the Lamb (v14). They have suffered but their suffering is over. They are in heaven… they are the church triumphant who like their Shepherd, have been sheep counted for slaughter (Roms 8:36).

144,000

The 144,00, however, are on earth. Some take them to describe the redeemed of Israel. I can see why this may be so. They are after all taken from the twelve tribes of Israel. However, once again we must remember we are in visionary symbolic literature. The use of highly stylised numbers should remind us we are interpreting symbol. These multiples of 12 and 10 remind us of the New Jerusalem where 12 and multiples of 12 often appear (Rev 21). Moreover, not all the tribes are included. Dan is missing probably because that tribe was associated with idolatry. The sealed 144000 are those who hate idolatry (Ezek 9:4); they have no lie in their mouth (14:5). The 144000 look less and less likely to be ethnic Israel converted in the last days.

When we follow the 144000 to Ch 14 we discover they are all men and all are celibate (virgins); they have not ‘defiled themselves with women’. It is by now obvious the 144000 are an image and the image is fairly clear – this is an image of the church as an army. Israel was numbered for warfare (Numbs 1,2 Cf. Numbs 31:4-6). Soldiers in Israel when engaged in a holy war maintained ritual purity by avoiding sexual relations before a battle (1 Sam 21:5). This army ‘follows the Lamb wherever he goes (14:4). It is a firstfruits to God (v4 Cf. Jer 2:3; Jas 1:18).

The 144,000 are the army of the Davidic King, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Lamb (Cf. Ezek 37:10). It is Judah who heads the list and Benjamin who finishes it; the two tribes loyal to the Davidic King bookend the list. These are they who are called to be conquerors and conquer through the blood off the lamb, the word of his testimony and through not loving their lives even unto death (12:11).

The 144,000 are the church militant about to enter the arena of the final traumatic battle of the church before the return of Christ. We should not be distracted by the Jewish symbolism. After all, the New Jerusalem (Ch 21) is clearly the church yet it is a Jewish city with Jewish names on its foundations (the 12 apostles) and each gate is named after a tribe of Israel. The church has its roots firmly in Israel. The lesson national Israel found hard to learn, despite it being taught in various ways in the OT, is that Israel, the true Israel of God, the holy nation, ultimately includes every nation (Isa 19:24, 25; Eph 2:19-22). ‘My people’ are Gentiles as well as Jews (Roms 9:25). Gentiles are wild shoots that have been grafted into the Jewish olive tree of faith (Roms 11). The 144,000 are called ‘servants’ (v3) a descriptor also used of the church in Revelation (1:1; 2:20)

The 144,000 are sealed. The ‘sealing‘ is a mark of divine ownership and (probably spiritual) protection through God’s judgements though sometimes physical protection may be envisaged (9:4). There are two people groups sealed and juxtaposed – those loyal to the beast (13:6, 14:9,11) and those loyal to the Lamb (14:1). The seal for the 144,000 is the name of the Father and of Christ; it is a Christian identity (14:1). That it is solely the 144.000 who are sealed, further confirms they represent the complete people of God. Would God seal some of his people and not others? The OT background to the seal is probably Ezek 9. There those who opposed idolatry were sealed and the idolaters were not (14:5. Cf. Isa 26:20.21). The evidence mounts, I think, that the 144,000 represent the complete people of God And not an elite band within Israel (6:12-16, 7:3, 22:15; Ezek 9:3-6; 2 Thess 2:11; 2 Tim 2:19).

When we move away from apocalyptic imagery to the more prosaic language of other NT books the church is still described in military terms (Matt 16:18; Phil 2:25; Phil 1:2; 2 Tim 2:3,4, 1 Cor 9:7) . OT Israel was both a people and an army. Canaan was the land to inherit but it was full of enemies of God and the people of God who must be destroyed by holy war (Nums 21). The church too is engaged in holy war. Its warfare is not physical but spiritual (2 Cor 10:3,4). It is against spiritual powers and requires a soldier’s spiritual armour (Eph 6:10-18). Essentially the church is the 144,000 who follow the Lamb wherever he goes (Hebs 12:22). To follow the Lamb is to accept the Lamb’s way as our way and his fate as our fate; they have taken up the cross (Rev 12:11; Matt 26:24-26). However, while the 144,00 in principle denotes the whole church, the focus in Revelation is the church’s warfare in the final days before Christ’s return during the period of final tribulation and it is specifically they who are the 144,000..

a great multitude no man could number

John heard of the 144.00 but he sawa great multitude no man could number’.

Israel. as noted, has now expanded to include people from every nation on earth (Eph 2; 1 Pet 2:9). The shepherd had flock from another fold and together they become one flock and one shepherd. The walls of Jerusalem have been expanded to embrace the nations (Isa 54; Ps 87). And so there is no contradiction between the two images in the chapter. The 144,000 are about to embark on a holy war. How will they fare? The second image tells us; they triumph. Here God’s people do what a guilty world could not do – they stand before the throne and the Lamb (v9). This seems to be within the circle of elders (4:5). They can stand because they are dressed in white robes – they are clean – their robes have been washed in the blood of the Lamb (Cf Dan 12:10). They sing a song of salvation to God and the Lamb. They wave palm branches of victory. They have conquered. The Lamb has conquered.

An elder asks John who these people are and where they have come from. John replies, echoing Ezekiel before him, that the elder knows and can inform John (Ezek 37:3). He is told that they are the saints who are coming out of ‘the great tribulation’. Is ‘the great tribulation’ a reference to the whole of the church age or specifically to the final days of persecution under the beast (Rev 13; Matt 24:21; Dan 12:1)? Jesus does describe the whole era of the church as a time of tribulation, however he envisages a period of ‘great tribulation’ (Matt 24). Daniel more clearly identifies the period of AntiChrist as the time of great trouble (Dan 7:21,25, 12:1). From Ch 4-19 Revelation’s main focus is the last days of the final antiChrist. It seems likely that ‘the great tribulation‘ applies to this time.

Yet, while identified by its final experience of hostility in the great tribulation it is probably the whole church in view. We must remember that John is describing things soon to come. He writes of those aspects of prophecy still to be fulfilled before Christ comes. Also what happens to the church in the last convulsive days of history is but a concentration of what has always been its experience. So it is possible that the church at the end functions as a synecdoche with the part representing the whole.

Now their suffering is over and their joy has begun. They praise God and the Lamb for salvation. They are priests serving in the temple of God (v15). They are protected and shepherded by God and the Lamb (Ezek 34:23). Their deepest spiritual desires are satisfied as they are led to springs of living water (Isa 49:9,10) and every tear is wiped from their eyes (Isa 25:8; Rev 21:4). Parallels with new creation and the New Jerusalem are obvious. Then ‘the great church victorious will be the church at rest’.

Vv 9-13

*In Numbers the tribe of Levi is omitted from warfare because it had been set apart for the priesthood. However now all God’s people are priests and all are warriors it can now be included.

12
Dec
21

revelation 6… the seven seals

John is a prophet commissioned by Christ to reveal to the church the events that will bring history as we know it to a conclusion (1:1,2). These events were described as ‘near’ (v3).

In Ch 4, 5 John is translated to the heavenly court to observe divine councils, a mark of a true prophet. The heavenly court scene underlines that history is neither haphazard nor in the hands of men or demons; history is God’s drama written and directed by him. John sees a throne and one who sits on it. The throne dominates the heavenly court. It throbs with the majestic sovereignty of God. The message of the throne is – God rules. Then the scene shifts from the throne to the Lamb. He takes a scroll with seven seals from the right hand of God. It is the scroll of destiny, God’s plan to bring the ancient battle between heaven and its demonically driven enemies to a conclusion. Consequently it is a scroll of divine judgements and divine victory. Again the message is clear, the Lamb will execute God’s plans in history. He too is sovereign.

judgements

In Ch 6, God’s end-game for history begins to be enacted. It is, for the unbelieving rebellious world, a tale of judgement and woe. We are left in no doubt that the seals mean judgement and that they are God’s judgements. The scroll that lay in the hand of God is now held by Christ who begins to break its seals. Each opened seal unleashes a new judgement upon the earth. The Father has given all judgement to the son (Jn 5:22). Four horsemen are summoned by the four living creatures that surround the throne (‘Come’). These riders are tasked with implementing the divine judgements (1,3, 5,7). To each horsemen it is ‘given‘ to bring havoc and death upon the earth (this divine passive functions elsewhere in Revelation). We should not be squeamish about attributing judgements to God. When wars, plagues, famines, disasters and the like happen God is both judging and appealing to humanity. These are God’s megaphone calling a sin hardened world to repentance before it is too late. And these judgements are no less than we deserve.

structure

The seven seals is one of three (or technically four) ‘sevens’ of divine judgement (trumpets, thunders and bowls or plagues) in Revelation. Each ends with the final crushing of wickedness and the complete triumph of God. The first five seals have no linear sequence; they can happen in any order. However the sixth seal, as with the sixth trumpet and sixth bowl, brings us right to the brink of the final day of judgement and the arrival of God in Christ. The three cycles of seven, the seals, trumpets, and bowls increase in ferocity though once again apparently have considerable overlap in time frame. The cycles of seven indicate God’s judgements are perfect and complete.

time

This is a difficult one. Part of me wants to say the first four (the horsemen) happen throughout the history of the church. Indeed a glance at history tells us these horsemen have indeed been active in the ways John describes. There is also a close correlation between events Jesus predicted in the experience of the early church and the four horsemen (Matt 24). However, for reasons discussed in an earlier post, it seems best to view the time-frame of 6-18, the period of ‘the great tribulation‘ and of the beast’s demonic reign, as the final few years of history, – John delimits them as 3½ years (13:5-7). Certainly, although the horsemen seem to have been at work throughout history, here they initiate havoc perhaps on an unprecedented scale, precipitating the Day of the Lord (Joel 1:15-2:11).

interludes

Between the sixth and seventh seal and the sixth and seventh trumpet there is an interlude. Dramatically this interlude creates tension as the sixth seal heralds divine wrath and we must wait to see what the seventh and final seal reveals. However, the main purpose of the interlude is theological. The interludes focus on various players in this final curtain closing act in the drama of history. In each subsequent ‘seven’ the scale and intensity of the judgements increases. A quarter of the earth judged in the seals becomes a third in the trumpets while the bowls are extensive judgements on the kingdom of the beast.

four riders

The first four seals have a near legendary status. Many who know little about the Bible have heard of the four horsemen of the apocalypse and probably realise, at least vaguely, they are riders of wrath. The imagery is theatrical. It is drawn from Zechariah. There they patrol the earth, involved in God’s administration of it. The earth belongs to the Creator (ch 4) who continues to rule it. The horsemen in Zechariah report peace on earth which seems unjust as God’s people suffer. For change to come God would need to disturb the peace (Zech 1:1-11). God’s judgements in the world are initiated for the sake of his people.

The seals reveal judgements but these judgements are measured – only a quarter of the world is disrupted. God’s wrath is never unmeasured. He never acts on impulse or rashly. The decreed judgements are written on a scroll which is given to Christ to execute. The horsemen are each summoned by a different living creature…’Come‘. Each is ‘given‘ authority to inflict different judgements on the earth and there is divine restraint albeit extensive judgments. A chain of command revealing deliberation precedes the judgements. We tend to be far too reticent to say God is involved in the disasters that happen yet chapters like this could scarcely be clearer (Isa 45:7; Deut 32:39). God judges the peoples of the earth. He would hardly be good if he didn’t.

Identifying the scourges of four horsemen is relatively free of controversy. Their judgements are plain. They bring war, famine and various kinds of death. Only the white horse occasions debate. Some, because of the reference to ‘conquering’, associate the white horse with military and political power. On the other hand, Christ coming on a white horse in Ch 19 has caused some to think the white horse is the conquering power of the gospel. This is unlikely since the horsemen bring judgement not blessing. Much more likely is that the horse represents false ideology… counterfeit gospels… an alternative Christ** (13:11-14, 17:18, 18:2). Ideas conquer bloodlessly but enslave and kill just the same. The Red horse initiates wars, bloody and demented. The black horse brings famine but it is prescribed; in judgement there is mercy . One of the four general judgements brought by the Pale horse (resembling a corpse in colour) is pestilence bringing Covid to mind (Cf. Ezek 14:21). We have witnessed God use a micro-organism, invisible to the naked eye, to bring the whole world to its knees. Covid is a shot over the bows. It reminds us that paradise is not to be found in a fallen world and we ought not expect it. Pax Romana was largely a myth in the C1 as are all visions of utopia. Throughout history Jesus anticipates birth pangs of the End. Here as the End approaches these contractions increase in intensity and multiply in occurrence as the horsemen ‘leave a trail of death and destruction’ (Mounce). The final agonising kingdom-birthing convulsion of history is near.

martyrs

The fifth seal focuses on persecutions, including martyrdom, Since the beginning the Christian church has been persecuted (Acts 7:54-60; Rev 2:13). John envisages martyrdom for Christians who are faithful in witness (20:4). Once again the image is cast in OT language. The souls under the altar cry ‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?‘ Only if we overstate the disjunction between the OT and NT is this a problem; the NT fulfils the OT it doesn’t forsake it. God’s people cry for vengeance (justice) in both testaments (Ps 79:4-6,10; Roms 12:19)***. Jesus promises it is a cry that will not go unheard (Lk 18:7,8). Under the altar suggests their lives were a sacrifice offered to God in the ultimate way (Roms 12:1). White robes point to their righteousness and connects them with those who conquer in the church (3:4, 7:9). TheIr deaths were no accident. This too was written in the scroll. God has ordained that some of his people will die a martyr’s death. He, not their persecutors, is in control of what happens to his people (6:11). That the Lord is involved at every point is a source of comfort and courage in the face of martyrdom. The Lord who loves us is ultimately behind the events that overtake us and not some hating human face (14:13). Our death is in his hands not theirs. Their persecutors are they who dwell upon the earth, a common expression in Revelation for those for whom the present world is everything. The scroll promises final redemption for God’s people.

the edge of the end

The sixth seal begins to initiate the End (Mk 13:24-27). The cry for vindication by the martyrs is about to be answered. The cosmic disturbances described are those commonly associated with the day of the Lord (6:12-14; Isa 13:9-13; 50:3; Ezek 32:7,8; Joel 2:31, 3:14; Matt 24:29). The language throughout is drawn from OT Scripture. We must be careful just how literally we read these descriptions. They describe massive dislocations in the world but how literally they are to be taken calls for hesitancy. The reason for caution is twofold. Firstly, the OT uses similar language for mini ‘days of the Lord’ where cosmic disturbances were not literally fulfilled. Also, if every mountain and island was moved from its place it’s difficult to see how those fearful of the wrath of the Lamb could call on the mountains to fall on them and hide themselves in caves (v15). Literal readings don’t always make good sense. Rather, the mountains falling into the sea suggests the collapse of what seems most stable and sure while the islands moved shows this disturbance is world wide. This is language in the first instance describing the complete collapse of the old world order and the transition from this present age to the age to come.

And yet, we must not diminish the cosmic collapse of the End. It is a time of cataclysmic judgement. The judgements of the End are truly catastrophic, earthshakingly catastrophic (Hebs 12:26). The plea by the people of the world for the mountains to fall on them and cover them is drawn from the OT (Hos 10:8; Isa 2:10,19, 21) and vividly reveals the raw terror of the nations; collapsing mountains is preferable to the wrath of the Lamb. None can escape from the dissolution of the cosmos, from the greatest and most secure, to the least of humanity (seven categories) all will be humbled (Isa 2:17). All find their bowels loosen in fear driving them to deranged self-destructive desires; they want the the mountains to fall on them (Lk 23:30; Hos 10:8). Things have not changed since Adam and Eve hid from God in the garden (Gen 3:8). Only now mercy is a thing of the past. Judgements that initially fell on Israel in the OT are universalised and now apply to the whole world. Such is the darkness of the day of the Lord (Amos 5:18) as both ‘he who sits on the throne’ and ‘the Lamb’ are united in final judgement. The ‘wrath of the Lamb’ is a startling image; meekness has given way to might. The seven horns are in full evidence.

The question rings out, ‘…the great day of their wrath has come and who can stand?’ (Nah 1:6). The following chapter will reveal who can stand. The 144,000 sealed by God will stand. God’s people will stand.

In the meantime the End is arriving as it does a number of times in Revelation and we have a preliminary tantalising glimpse; the temporal is about to be conquered by the eternal (6:17, 8:1, 10:7, 11:15-19, 14:14-20, 16:13-21; 19:11-21).

This Spiritual captures a little of the spectacle of the End

Refrain:

My Lord, what a morning; my Lord, what a morning; oh, my Lord, what a morning, when the stars begin to fall.

You’ll hear the trumpet sound, to hear the nations underground, looking to my God’s right hand, when the stars begin to fall.

You’ll hear the sinner moan, to hear the nations underground, looking to my God’s right hand, when the stars begin to fall.

You’ll hear the Christian shout, to hear the nations underground, looking to my God’s right hand, when the stars begin to fall.

My Lord, what a morning; my Lord, what a morning; oh, my Lord, what a morning, when the stars begin to fall.

*Christians are often reluctant to attribute wars, disease, natural disasters etc to God. This is surprising because the Bible without embarrassment does (Amos 3:6). Again and again terrible things happen to Israel and the nations and the Bible sees them as part of God’s judgements. Some Christians see these judgements as exceptional interventions of God in biblical times. But that is rather disingenuous. There are far too many exceptions. Further, the Bible so often asserts the sovereign involvement of God in all things that the idea of exceptions lies dead in the water (Job 42:2; Prov 21:1, Prov 16:33; Isa 45:7-9; Lam 3:37-39; Acts 4:27,28; Eph 1:11 and many more). The biblical examples of God judging are not exceptions they are the rule. The Bible is simply revealing that God is active in every page and line of human history.

Behind the reluctance lies fears of making God seem a monster. Instead we have created an anaemic God, a passionless and powerless God in the name of creating a God of love. This, however, is not the God of the Bible. It is not the God of love we find in the Bible. God’s love is a sovereign love. That is, he chooses to love. He sets his love on sinners who are anything but loveable. His love is a holy love. God never loves in a way that compromises who he is. His love must be holy. He will only finally save those who repent of their sin. Love is offered but if rejected love is withdrawn. When God brings judgements upon humanity it is a sign love is not yet withdrawn. These are a call to flee from the wrath to come for there is a coming day of judgement. There is a day of wrath, fury, and judgment for a world that has stubbornly and persistently defied its Creator and refused to bow to his sovereignty. Revelation has as a foundation vision of God upon a throne ruling the universe by his wisdom and will. His holiness and goodness mean that intractable evil must be overthrown. It is only in this certainty that there is hope for the triumph of what is right and good over evil.

**Some see a connection with the Parthians who attacked Rome and were harbingers of the end of imperialistic power. They rode white horses and used bows which the Romans didn’t use. It is possible that John was using this historical reference to construct his apocalyptic message of greater world significance.

***The cry of the souls under the altar crying for vengeance is really a cry for justice, for wrong to be righted. This is a big subject but we should be aware that imprecations are found not only in the OT but also the NT (Lk 18:7; Matt 25:41; Acts 13:10,11;1 Cor 16:22; Gals 1:8,9; 2 Tim 4:14).

05
Dec
21

psalm 143… a prayer for help based on God’s mercy

1 Hear my prayer, O LORD;
give ear to my pleas for mercy!
In your faithfulness answer me, in your righteousness!
2 Enter not into judgment with your servant,
for no one living is righteous before you.
3 For the enemy has pursued my soul;
he has crushed my life to the ground;
he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead.
4 Therefore my spirit faints within me;
my heart within me is appalled. 5 I remember the days of old;
I meditate on all that you have done;
I ponder the work of your hands.
6 I stretch out my hands to you;
my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. Selah
7 Answer me quickly, O LORD!
My spirit fails!
Hide not your face from me,
lest I be like those who go down to the pit.
8 Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love,
for in you I trust.
Make me know the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.
9 Deliver me from my enemies, O LORD!
I have fled to you for refuge.
10 Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God!
Let your good Spirit lead me
on level ground!
11 For your name’s sake, O LORD, preserve my life!
In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble! 12 And in your steadfast love you will cut off my enemies,
and you will destroy all the adversaries of my soul,
for I am your servant.

I struggle with depression. For me, guilt is one of its symptoms (perhaps one of its causes) . Perceived sin in me or others can overwhelm causing anxiety and further depression. The reason I mention this is that Psalm 143 is personally helpful because it recognises no believer is righteous in themselves. It stresses that we are ever dependent on the mercy of God.

The psalm is perhaps best divided by the ‘selah’ in v6. In Vv1-6 the psalmist lays out his dilemma. In vv7-12 follow a series of further petitions arising from his initial plea.

David brings his plight to the Lord. Often in the psalms a plea for help is based at least partly on personal righteous – the writer believes he is living with integrity before the Lord (Ps 7:8, 18:29, 24; 35:24; 112:3,4) However, in this psalm there is no assertion of personal righteousness instead he confesses his unrighteousness.

2 Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.

The psalm is a plea to the Lord. An unnamed enemy or enemies is attacking David (vv3,4, 9) The enemy has hounded David, crushed him. and forced him into darkness (v3,4). It is likely that David’s enemy (or enemies) are physical people. Some think that the background is David hiding in a cave when hunted by Saul. But a believer’s enemies come in various guises. The thoughts bearing fear, guilt and depression that can grip our minds can be crushing and confining enemies. They can isolate us from others and put us in a dark place.

The psalm is the last of the so-called penitential psalms though no specific sin is mentioned. David is God’s servant, he is a believer, but he still sins and recognises his need of mercy. Indeed he recognises that sin is a universal malady. Both Grogan and Boyle note this is an unusual perspective in the psalms (Ps 53:3-5, 103:3; Roms 3:23). At any rate, David does not appeal to his personal righteousness as other psalms do. Instead his total appeal is to God’s omnipotent mercy that flows to his people as a result of his covenant faithfulness and righteousness (v1). Later he will include God’s covenant love in his plea (v12). God’s great promises to his people expressed in the covenants are the source of his hope. It is always the great promises of the gospel (for many of the covenants were gospel covenants) that give his believing people a solid rock on which to stand (Gals 3:8). Our own obedience is so flawed that our confidence must lie only in God’s saving grace. God’s righteousness and not ours is where salvation lies. I find this heartening. Depression can undermine a sense of salvation. Like David, I know my personal righteousness is defective even as I seek to follow Christ and so for my security I must look by faith to God’s righteousness expressed in the gospel… a righteousness that declares me righteous despite my sin on the basis of the death and resurrection of Christ (Ps 24:5). In Christ is the righteousness I need and it is a gift from God.

Sometimes when we bring a concern to the Lord, we focus more on the concern than the Lord and prayer becomes a form of worrying.. David does not fall into that trap. He looks away from his enemy to the Lord. In the psalm his focus is on the Lord. He reflects on all that God did in the past, no doubt both in creation and redemption; acts that reveal his incredible power and might. These mighty works in the past assure David that the Lord is well able to deal with his trouble in the present. And so he holds out his hands in supplication to the God for whom he thirsts (vv7,8). In our struggles we need to look away from the threat and focus on the solution – the Lord and his might committed to us. And this side of the cross there is so much more that we know of God’s mighty power in Christ. The God who has power to raise and transform the crucified Christ is powerful indeed. Whatever or whoever our enemy, Christ is more than able.

David’s prayer seems to take place at night possibly during the night. The worst time to deal with problems is the middle of the night. Problems at night grow arms and legs. David is certainly greatly stressed. His spirit is failing (v7). He is unsure about the way forward (v8). He is not even completely confident of the Lord’s support (don’t hide your face). In the middle of the night and in deep anxiety losing perspective can easily happen. Established certainties flee. David looks to the morning for resolution. He calls on the Lord to make known his steadfast love in the morning. Many of us have known the phantoms of the night that disappear with morning light. Morning is the time of deliverance (Ps 30:5, 46:5). Yet not all night fears are phantoms. Many are real issues that require to be dealt with and often the morning enables us to regain perspective. The key response to our fears real or imagined is found at the beginning of v8. ‘for in you I trust’. David looks to the Lord to show him the way he should go.

Various petitions shape vv7-12.

Answer me quickly, O Lord… Hide not your face from me… Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love… Make me know the way I should go… Deliver me from my enemies… Teach me to do your will… Let your good Spirit lead me… Preserve my life… bring my soul out of trouble.’

David is committed to the Lord. He looks to the Lord for direction and deliverance. And it is emphatically to the Lord he looks: in you I trust… you lift up my soul…I have fled to you for refuge…for you are my God.

The psalm finishes where it started. God in his covenant love and righteousness is the source of his hope. The Lord in his covenants promised loyalty to his people. All that he is, he is for them. And David declares his loyalty when he says, ‘you are my God’ and ‘I am your servant’. He submits to trust and obey (albeit imperfectly). In this reciprocated loyalty saving relationships lie.

David reminds the Lord that his reputation is involved in preserving David’s life. As the anointed king, David’s well-being reflected on the Lord. He certainly sees God’s covenant commitment as ensuring his deliverance (v11,12). In the NT, the final and ultimate David is also under attack from enemies. He too is in distress and cries to the God to whom David cried. His hands are stretched out too, not in supplication but on a cross. He, however, is not delivered but forsaken. Deliverance and vindication for him are beyond death. In the NT, the Lord’s commitment to his people remains. However, his promise is not deliverance in this life but that in life’s trials he will keep us from falling and bring us faultless into his glorious presence in his eternal kingdom. Like Messiah, our Lord, it may be through death even violent death. The enemy may kill our bodies but they will rise to eternal life.

29
Nov
21

revelation and dispensationalism

Revelation and Dispensationalism

In these posts on Revelation I adopt a historic premillennial approach. Part of me is inclined to amillennialism because it permits all final judgements and blessings to flow immediately from the Second Coming which seems to articulate with many NT texts. However, in Rev 20, amillennialism faces a difficult, maybe insurmountable, uphill struggle. It requires resurrection in the chapter to be interpreted as spiritual and not physical which is not an easy interpretative decision to swallow. Many are premillennialists, me included, because it seems the only responsible reading of Rev 20.

There is another group of Christians who are also premillennial, however, they understand most of Revelation quite differently from historic premillennialism. I’m referring to dispensational premillennialists. Although clearly evangelical and orthodox on all the foundational doctrines of the faith, including eschatology, they employ an interpretative hermeneutic that creates significant differences between their approach to Scripture and other mainstream approaches.

The hermeneutic that makes their interpretive grid radically different is their core belief that an absolute distinction exists between Israel and the church. God has two programmes; an earthly programme involving ethnic Israel and a heavenly programme involving the church. From this premise troubling consequences flow. Many parts of Scripture are not about the church; they are about Israel. This inevitably makes parts of Scripture less relevant to Christians than they may otherwise be. A great chunk of Revelation (6-18) is distanced from its Christian readers since it does not describe their future but the future of Israel after the church has been raptured to heaven.

Dispensationalism’s two distinct peoples (earthly Israel and the heavenly church) results in two separate comings; the rapture (Christ’s coming to the air to rescue the church) and the revelation or Second Coming (Christ’s coming to the earth to rescue Israel and judge the world). In Revelation, the rapture, dispensationalism affirms, takes place at or before Revelation 4:1.

A full dialogue with dispensationalism is beyond this post. Here I simply want to mention a few points to consider. I write as a friend, as one reared in dispensationalism who has many friends who remain committed dispensationalists. Their faith, loyalty to Christ, commitment to Scripture and understanding of it is not in question though clearly in some areas I consider them mistaken.

typological trajectories

In my view the fundamental flaw of dispensationalism is a failure to weigh adequately OT typological trajectories. This is ironic, since Brethren churches, from which dispensationalism hales, majored in typology. Yet it seems to me dispensationalism has failed to think through typological implications.

Should you speak to a dispensationalist and ask him if his Reformed brothers are right to baptise infants on the basis of the Abrahamic covenant’s circumcision he would probably (rightly) reply in the negative. This is not simply because his church tradition is credobaptist but because he recognises the Reformed argument as a typological error. Dispensationalists recognise the progress of redemption means that new covenant fulfilment has replaced the type with the anti-type; circumcision of the body in the Abrahamic covenant pointed to and is superseded by circumcision of the heart in the new covenant. They see a trajectory at work; human circumcision gives way to divine circumcision (Col 2:11); the merely earthly type has given place to the heavenly antitype.

However, what they see clearly in this instance, they fail to see in other examples of OT typology; they miss the pattern at work. They do not recognise that messiah, land, people, city, temple, sacrifices, priesthood, monarchy etc are all on a flight path from the earthly to the heavenly. Dispensationalism grounds OT promises, prototypes and prophecies on earth while their course is heavenly. It fails to recognise the escalation between the type and the antitype.

Of course, dispensationalists do not make this mistake with all types. They recognise for example that earthly Adam, the first man, is a type of the heavenly Christ, the second man (1 Cor 15:47). They recognise that the animal sacrifices of the OT which were used to purify earthly temples pointed to the once and for all sacrifice of Christ whose blood cleanses the heavenly sanctuary (Hebs 8:5, 9:23,24) and that Aaron, High Priest serving in an earthly sanctuary typologically pointed to Christ as High Priest serving in a heavenly sanctuary (Hebs 9). Indeed, the earthly tabernacle and temple were copies or shadows of heavenly realities – they pointed to what was heavenly (Hebs 9:23). Yet while the direction of travel is recognised in these types the dynamic at work is missed; Messiah, the second man, is heavenly and defines the course for the whole purpose of God. In Christ, all promise becomes heavenly in their trajectory.

Other examples could be given. The trajectory from earthly to heavenly, is marked. For example, the divine warrior victorious in battle who ascends earthly Mount Zion in victory procession in Psalm 68, in the NT becomes Christ after the victory of Calvary ascending to heaven (Ps 68:18; Eph 4:8). Micah prophesies that in the last days the mountain of the house of the Lord will be higher than all mountains and the nations will flow to it (Mic 4:1-4). The NT views this fulfilled in the gospel as gentiles become Christians and come to the heavenly mount Zion (Hebs 12:22,23); the earthly prototype is fulfilled in a heavenly reality.

The hope of OT saints was a heavenly hope. Abraham did not settle in the earthly Canaan for he was looking for a heavenly country (Hebs 11:16). He and others of OT faith were not looking for an earthly city, an earthly Jerusalem, but the heavenly Jerusalem whose builder and maker is God (Hebs 11:10, 12:22). They expected a kingdom which the NT tells us is heavenly (2 Tim 4:18; Hebs 12:28) where they will partake of the heavenly gift (Hebs 6:4). This is the kingdom that Jesus and the apostles proclaimed. There is only one kingdom just as there is only one kingdom people – those born of the Spirit who respond in faith to the Kingdom’s King (Jn 3:5). These eschatological sons of the kingdom (Matt 13:38) are a people with a heavenly calling (Hebs 3:1), citizens of a heavenly city (Phil 3:20) with a heavenly Father (Matt 5:48). They are on earth but it is not home; they long to put on their heavenly dwelling or body (2 Cor 5:2). Indeed they already by faith are seated in heavenly places (Eph 2:6). The kingdom has arrived yet its full realisation is yet future and the kingdom sons, like OT believers, live on earth yet seek a heavenly homeland.

Now of course a dispensationalist will agree that the church is ‘heavenly’. This is precisely the distinction he affirms; Israel is earthly and the church is heavenly. However, that is not the model the Bible builds. It is not an absolute disjunction that the Bible presents between the OT and the NT but rather the relationship is one of promise and fulfilment. Intrinsic to this is continuity and discontinuity. Most significantly there is a typological trajectory that moves from the earthly to the heavenly. There is an unambiguous progression: OT earthly hopes are fulfilled in NT heavenly realities. OT saints, we have seen, were looking for a heavenly fulfilment to the promises. Indeed, as we read the OT prophets it is clear that only what is ‘heavenly’ can do their prophetic descriptions justice; they describe realities that belong to another world (Isa 54:11-14). ‘Heavenly’ is not a designation that arises in a salvation-historical vacuum. It is not the separating identity of a people unknown to OT revelation. ‘Heavenly’ arises within the biblical movement from promise to fulfilment, type to antitype, natural to spiritual and earthly to heavenly. OT believers may have seen only dimly and from afar but they grasped they were looking at an inheritance that did not belong to this world but a world to come, a heavenly world (Hebs 11:13; 1 Pet 4:1). The church is the eschatological people of God to whom OT promise pointed, the heavenly people of God; God’s earthly people become in fulfilment a heavenly people.

But here we must register what we mean when we speak of what is ‘heavenly’. We do not necessarily mean what is ‘in heaven’. It means that which is from heaven and takes its character from heaven (Jn 6:38: 3:12). ‘Heavenly’ is not opposed to what is physical but what is natural and of this fallen world. In the Bible the spiritual and the heavenly are closely related. Thus the heavenly kingdom of God to come and the heavenly city to come are located on earth (Rev 20,21). However, creation has changed; it is completely renewed. Earth is no longer earthly but heavenly. God dwells on a new earth among his people in the new Jerusalem that has come down from heaven. Earthly Eden is renewed and reconfigured into the heavenly and eternal home of God and his people. Earth and heaven become one.

This means when we come to Revelation that we must not assume references to the temple, the holy city etc are necessarily speaking of earthly realities; they may refer, and clearly often do, to heavenly realities.

a heavenly people

In the NT, we discover that a new messianic community is born – the eschatological people of God. In Jesus, Messiah arrived and inaugurated the eschatological kingdom and covenant in his death, resurrection and ascension. He came to national Israel who rejected him. Consequently the kingdom was taken from Israel and given to a nation who through faith union with Messiah would produce kingdom fruit (Matt 24:43). The ‘nation’ was his disciples and all who would subsequently believe in Messiah, both Jew and gentile (1 Pet 2:9). Thus while the foundations of Messiah’s eschatological people remained Jewish (the twelve apostles) in time the people would be multinational: in fact, the OT had revealed that the eschatological people of God would be drawn from all nations. The giving of the new covenant gift of the Spirit (firstly to Jews) revealed the eschatological kingdom had arrived as did the heavenly coronation of the King (Acts 2). The giving of the Spirit to gentiles (Acts 9) demonstrated that they too were part of the kingdom, new covenant members, on an equal footing with Jewish believers; the house of David had been rebuilt in Christ and all nations are seeking the Lord (Acts 15). The church, Jew and gentile, are the heirs to the covenants of promise, fellow citizens, and members of the household of God. (Eph 2). We eat the new covenant meal because we are the new covenant Israel of God with whom the new covenant is made.

In the church, Israel is not replaced rather she is enlarged (Isa 54). In Abraham all the nations of the earth are blessed (Gen 12:1-3). How are they blessed; they are blessed by becoming Abraham’s offspring. Through faith union with Abraham’s one true son, Christ, Jew and gentile alike become Abraham’s seed, heirs according to promise (Gals 3,4) and citizens of Isaiah’s eschatological city (Gals 4; Isa 54). Notice in the these aforementioned texts the flight path from earthly to heavenly. Isaiah’s earthly eschatological Jerusalem Paul calls ‘the Jerusalem above’.

God’s ultimate purpose is fulfilled ‘in Christ’. The messianic community is created ‘in Christ’. Indeed, ultimately salvation is only located ‘in Christ’. There is no salvation outside of Christ. In the OT, believers looked forward to the coming kingdom but were not part of it. However, in resurrection they too will belong to the fulfilment, the ‘in Christ’ family who inherit the promises (Hebs 11:39,40). ‘In Christ’ does not detach us from the stream of OT promise rather it is the location where these promises are fulfilled. All the promises to Abraham are realised ‘in Christ’. It is ‘in Christ’ that the promises are ‘yes’ and ‘amen’ (2 Cor 1:20) and ‘in Christ’ is a heavenly location (Eph 1:1-3).

This means that it is not unnatural or untoward in Revelation for Jewish symbols to refer to the church. Revelation uses much OT symbolism but it is used against the recognised background that the NT church is heir to the OT promises and is the eschatological Israel of God*. When the OT anticipates certain experiences in the future End-times for Israel it is possible, even probable, that many find fulfilment in the church presently and in the future. The NT bears witness to this. Consider the number of times NT writers cite OT passages as fulfilled in the church (Acts 2:16,17, 24-36; 13:47; 15:15; Roms 15:8-12 ; Gals 4:27,28 etc). Given that we are heirs to the covenants and inheritors of the promises this is hardly surprising (Gals 3:28,29; Eph 2:11-22).

Dispensationalism believes that in Revelation the church is raptured from earth from Ch 4. The believers in 6-18 are not the church but in the main belong to God’s recommenced earthly programme for Israel. It has no hermeneutic that moves via OT earthly promise to NT heavenly fulfilment. Yet in a book written to churches we would naturally expect a book mainly about the church. We would expect events raised and developed in the book to impinge upon the church. This seems to be the case in other biblical books. In the OT, prophecies given to Israel impinged upon Israel and her world both in the immediate and in the ultimate future. In NT books, what is written is largely about those to whom it is written. Yet, in a book expressly written to seven churches, dispensationalism affirms that the bulk of the book is neither about them nor impinges upon them. It describes a world they will not inhabit and a people to whom they do not belong. This assertion is very difficult to credit. It is especially difficult since a simple check reveals that many of the descriptors used of the church in the early and later chapters are also used of the believers in Chs 6-18 (saint, servant, brothers, those who conquer, faithful etc). On the face of it both are the same people group.

Once conceded that many OT earthly forms have a NT heavenly fulfilment; once recognised that the church is the messianic sons of the kingdom, the guests invited to the wedding banquet when those initially invited refused; once acknowledged that the descriptors of the church in 1-3 and of suffering believers in 6-18 are the same, then large parts of Revelation change from being text we approach with a fair degree of detachment (it’s not about us) and becomes text with which we are closely connected. It becomes text that describes our future and prepares us for difficult days ahead. Recognising that I may face the persecution of the beast from the sea changed my perspective not only on Revelation but on life itself

in conclusion

Dispensationalism is not beyond the pale and does not make someone a bad Christian. I know dispensationalists far better versed in Scripture than I am and far more godly. All conservative evangelicals agree in the things that really matter about the End times. However, this post is written in the hope of nudging some to reexamine their dispensational assumptions. It is a journey I have taken and hope in God’s grace that others will take it too.

*The title ‘Israel of God’ is only once used of the church (Gals 6). Even there its meaning is debated. The NT is keen to do away with labels (neither Jew nor Greek) among the people of God (Gal 3:28; 6:15). Nevertheless, theologically it is important to recognise our inherited Jewish DNA is found everywhere; salvation is of the Jews (Jn 4:‘22). The church, inheriting the promises is the true circumcision (Phil 3:3). It is a holy nation, a royal priesthood, a people for a possession (1 Pet 2:9). The church is the eschatological temple and city. James writes to the 12 tribes scattered abroad (Jas 1:1) Peter writes to the diaspora (1 Per 1:1). The sense of continuity and fulfilment is hard to miss. Of course, gentile believers do not become ethnic Jews. They are not part of national Israel they are part of spiritual or believing Israel. It is spiritual Israel, believing Israel, that is the true Israel and can trace its origins to Abraham and the patriarchs, the roots of the olive tree (Roms 11; Roms 2:25-29, 4:11,12,13,17; Eph 2) and to that ‘Israel’ we belong. Abraham had only one true son. There is only one true Israel. In both cases this is Christ and by grace all who are ‘in Christ’.

21
Nov
21

revelation 5… the lamb is worthy

1 Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, 4 and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5 And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

6 And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7 And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. 8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God. from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice,

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”

13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

Revelation is an unusual book in the NT. It is a book of apparently esoteric visions and symbols. Presumably John chose this apocalyptic genre intentionally. Reasons are not hard to find. Images are a powerful means of communication. They pack a considerable punch. Their impact is visceral and searing and they convey in a picture what may otherwise require a thousand words. And the picture is likely to stay in our minds much longer. Moreover, in attempting to describe the indescribable, we must use metaphor and analogy, we have no other choice.

Nowhere is the power of the visual better illustrated than John’s vision of Christ in the heavenly court. It is a vision and not reality; clearly God does not really sit upon a throne. However, it describes reality in terms that we can understand. Aspects of the throne room, for example, seem to be based on the court of the Roman emperor. Analogy is inevitable.

John, at the behest of the exalted Christ has been transported by the Spirit into heaven, into the heavenly temple. Like true prophets before him he is made privy to heavenly councils (1 Kings 22:19; Jer 23:18-22; Ps 82:1) In Ch 4 the heavenly scene is dominated by the throne. God – he who sits on the throne – is revealed as the Creator. He is the Almighty who ‘was and is and is to come’. Creation and its history are ruled by him. He is present at every point in its story. In Ch 5 the focus shifts. It is the Lamb who takes centre stage.

Ch 5 opens with a sealed scroll lying in the open right hand (right symbolising power Ex 15:6) of ‘him who was seated on the throne’. The scroll (mentioned seven times in the chapter) is clearly significant for a majestic angel full of celestial gravitas thunders out a call for someone worthy to come and open it. Its royal seals confer divine authority and validity. Written on both sides suggests the message of the scroll is detailed and comprehensive. It will prove to be both the divine decrees for final judgements on a godless world and the final triumph of God (Ch 6, Ezek 2:9,10). John, has been brought into heaven that he may see the things that are yet to come that will bring history to its God ordained conclusion. Presumably he knows the scroll reveals the final climax of history in judgement and salvation and so weeps with consternation, lamenting because none anywhere is worthy to open it and execute it.

It would certainly require someone of exceptional authority to break a divine seal. None, it seems, has the credentials. A search of heaven and earth and even under the earth produces no candidate. None is worthy (worth is apparently a Roman virtue). None is qualified for this role. John’s tears add to the dramatic tension of the moment. Yet, in a sense we are not surprised. We know that no philosopher or world leader can explain history far less lead it to a righteous conclusion. Many have tried usually with disastrous results. The question was always rhetorical; none is worthy but one. That none is found worthy (four mentions out of seven in Revelation are found in Ch 5) serves to underline the uniqueness of the one who is found worthy. Only one can reveal and execute God’s goals in history (Cf. Dan 7; Ps 2).

At this point we arrive at one of the great moments in Christian theology. In a context vibrating with dramatic tension John is told by one of the elders to weep no more,

Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.

The ‘Lion of the tribe of Judah‘. The title conjures images of a mighty warrior. He is a Davidic King anticipated long before Davidic kings existed (Gen 49:9,10). His credentials are not in doubt. He has already ‘has conquered’. We are not told what or how he has conquered. However, his conquering must have been on a massive scale to qualify him for this demanding role. John’s expectations are naturally aroused. Who is this King from the Davidic dynasty who has fought like a lion and triumphed, this shoot from the stump of Jesse (Isa 11:1-10)? Where is this person of surpassing worth? John’s senses shift from hearing to seeing (a frequent device in Revelation) and the contrast is startling.

6 And… I saw a Lamb standing, as though it been slain…and he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.’

John (with his readers) has to process this paradox. He hears of a lion and sees a lamb. It is the glorious cognitive dissonance of Christian belief. The central paradox of the gospel. It contradicts all human corollaries. Lions slaughter, lambs are slaughtered. Lions tear their prey, lambs are their prey. We live in a culture influenced by Christianity but in John’s Roman world and the worlds of preceding empires there was no such cultural influence. Power was extolled and weakness was contemptible. The idea that strength lay in weakness or prowess was displayed in passivity was morally repugnant. Lions were not lambs and lambs could never be lions. The concept was anathema. In the hard cruel world of first century Rome weakness and worth were opposed.

Yet in the paradox of a lion who is a lamb lies the whole Christian message. For the figure who takes the scroll is of course Christ. He has done what no other has done – he is the lamb who has conquered (Isa 53:7). And in his death he provides the model for his people to conquer. We conquer through sacrifice. The lamb (mentioned 28 times) led to the slaughter was an act of supreme submission but it was also an act of supreme power. Christ was never more like a lion than the day when he died as a lamb. The Lion of Judah is worthy to open the scroll because he was the slain lamb (5:9). The final victory over evil he will effect is really only an extension of the victory he won at the cross; the critical battle is won the end now is in no doubt. The roman cross, the symbol of roman might, cruelty and arrogance, is forever the symbol of love and a new kind of power – the power of God made perfect in weakness. On that particular cross it was not Rome but the victim who conquered. Here is a new way of conquest that will reverberate for centuries to come around the world.

That true worth was demonstrated and real power wielded by submitting to crucifixion was unthinkable, beyond parody, to the Roman world. There were no tales of crucified conquering heroes. There was nothing about the crucified that commanded respect. Everything about crucifixion was calculated to demean and dehumanise. The crucified were objects of utter scorn and contempt. They were worthless wretches, worthy only of derision and abuse. Power and prestige lay with Roman military lions not with those they crucified. But God’s way was not the Roman way. His plans are not human plans. Rome conquered through power, the Lamb conquers through weakness. Rome conquered by killing, the Lamb conquers by being killed. God’s kingdom grows through different virtues nevertheless it is a kingdom that will ultimately crush and grind to powder the Roman Empire and every other pretentious empire of men (Dan 2).

And so John sees a freshly slaughtered lamb. The sacrificial death of Christ is always recent in heaven. The slaughtered lamb is the Bible’s big story. Everything about God’s redeeming triumph in the world is traced to a slaughtered lamb. It is this unique sin-bearing sacrificial death that vanquished the enslaving forces of evil emancipated the nations and created a kingdom of priests (5:9,10; Col 2:15; Hebs 2:14,15; Jn 12:31). Only a warrior who has won a battle like this can bring to a conclusion God’s final acts of judgement and redemption in his creation*. And so John sees a lamb with more than the marks of slaughter. The lamb he sees has seven horns and seven eyes which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth (5:6; Jn 15:26; Phil 1:19). The seven horns symbolise complete royal power and strength (Ps 89:17,24; Matt 28:18) and the seven eyes tell us he sees completely what is happening on the earth; he is overseeing everything (Zech 4:10; 2:23; 2 Chron 16:9). John’s lamb is no longer compliant but conquering and will crush those who defy him for he is King of kings and Lord of lords (17:14 Cf. Dan 2:37). The imagery is militaristic. He will rule the nations with a rod of iron (Rev 12:5, 2:27). Soon the world’s powerful will be calling on the mountains to fall on them that they might hide from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb (6:16)

It is clear that the Lamb is a divine person. He stands ‘in the midst of the throne’ (5:6, 7:17). Indeed he is in the midst of the elders and living creatures too. Like the one who sits on the throne he is at the centre of heavenly rule and authority. The elders are engaged in priestly service of offering incense, the prayers of the saints (5:8; Ps 141:2; Lk 1:10), prayers that God hears and answers (8:3-5); normally incense would be presented to God but here it is presented to the lamb. The elders fall before the Lamb just as they previously fell before God (4:10, 5:8). And as they proclaimed God’s worth as Creator so they with the four living creatures sing of the Lamb’s worth as Redeemer. It is a new song celebrating a battle newly won. Angelic voices join in this doxology with a sevenfold acclamation of worth (Dan 7:10). Indeed, as the camera pans out, the voice of every living creature in heaven and earth and under the earth unites in praise ‘to him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb’. There is no absenting voice (Phil 2:10). Unitedly they ascribe ‘blessing and honour and glory and honour forever and ever’. This to the slain lamb who holds the scroll of destiny in his hands. The camera then retracts and focuses once again on the four living creatures and the elders. The living creatures say ‘Amen‘ and the elders worship (5:14). The worshipping community of created beings is complete. God and the lamb are universally adored. Once again as we see this preview of the heavenly court we remember that worship is the theology and life of heaven.

It is worth observing that God and the Lamb are not in competition. They are one (Ps 2). Together they bring history to its God determined conclusion. God’s will in creation will be accomplished by the slain Lamb (Jn 5:22). The voices of God’s people are part of that universal swell of praise. In fact, if they are represented by the twenty-four elders, they will lead the praise. And understandably so. They have robes made white in the blood of the lamb (7:14) and by this blood they have conquered (12:11). Yet they know that to identify with the Lamb is costly. To follow the Lamb wherever he goes (14:4) means not loving life unto death (12:11). The cost is high but the reward is immeasurably higher; it is eternal life in the New Jerusalem whose throne and glory is God and the Lamb (Rev 21:22,23).

A modern verse captures the heavenly chorus

All hail the Lamb enthroned on high His praise shall be our battle cry. He reigns victorious forever glorious. His name is Jesus, He is the Lord

Now the lamb is about to open the scroll and implement its decrees.

*There seems to be a parallel with the drama of Daniel 7. There the Son of Man approaches the divine throne and is given dominion. In terms of placing this heavenly scene in a temporal context, clearly the crucified Christ is exalted and is about to take up the task of bringing history to its conclusion (Ps 2). However, as we shall see the key word is ‘conclusion’. John’s time frame in 6-18 seems to be mainly if not exclusively the last few years before the Second Coming.

13
Nov
21

revelation 4… the throne

Revelation 4

To read Revelation Ch 4 is to be confronted with the throne.

Ch 4 introduces a new vision and a new section of the book. Ch 4, 5 are the basis for all the chapters that follow. In chapter one, John saw a vision of Jesus as the sovereign Lord of the seven churches, now in chapter four he is invited into heaven and sees a throne and ‘one who sits on it‘. It is God who fills the throne and his sovereignty is universal. This sovereignty is stamped over all the chapters that follow.

John was instructed to write down his visions. These focussed on ‘things which are‘ and ‘things to take place after this (1:19). The ‘things which are‘ comprise the messages to the seven churches where the Lord of the churches examines their present spiritual condition and circumstances. The things that ‘take place after this‘ are revealed in Ch 4-22. John is called by the exalted Christ into the heavenly court. The open door invites him. In the OT, to be privy to heavenly councils was a mark of a true prophet (1 Kings 22:19; Deut 23,18,22; Ps 82:1; Amos 3:7). Having spoken into the immediate situation of the churches in Asia, John is about to learn of the things that are ‘soon to take place’ (1:1). He will discover too that events that happen on earth are determined in heaven. This is already implied in Christ’s words ‘ Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this’. The ‘must‘ is a divine imperative: they must take place because God has so decreed it. In Ch 5 we will see a scroll that contains God’s plan to bring history to its conclusion. The scroll however belongs to the drama of Ch 5, in the meantime Ch 4 creates the setting for this drama by focussing on the throne.

What dominates the heavenly court is the throne. It is the first thing John sees (4:2), a throne and one seated on it. Fourteen times in this chapter the throne is named. God is ‘he who sat there‘(4:3). God is not directly named or closely described. These absences give weight to his majesty. Ezekiel, whose vision of the heavenly court informs John’s vision, describes the ‘likeness‘ of God in more detail (Ezek 1. Cf. Dan 7). John simply says he has the appearance of jasper and carnelian. His glory is conveyed in the apparently fiery hues of these precious stones (15:2). He is identified only in the proclamations of worship that are offered by those surrounding the throne. He is ‘the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come‘. It is he who greeted the churches in the opening benediction and revealed his identity (1:4,8). He is the omnipotent eternal God who straddles history.

The throne is a symbol of absolute authority. It is a metonymy for the complete sovereignty of its occupant. From here he rules history. From here he judges the world. This is the imperial throne of God that rules all he has made. John sees everything in the heavenly court in its relationship to the throne. They may be ‘round‘, ‘before‘, or ‘out of’ the throne but their reference point is the throne. It is the throne that is central. All that surrounds the throne reflects the majesty and gravitas of the throne. The twenty-four elders and their thrones, the torches of holy consuming fire which are the seven spirits if God and the four living creatures with their ceaseless praise all variously express the wisdom, holiness and vitality of the divine throne. Some say the throne room is modelled on that of the Roman imperial power*. If so it is only to expose how diminished the Roman throne is by comparison. Certainly compared to the gravity and power of this throne, the thrones of men and the throne of Satan and of the beast are as nothing (2:13, 13:2).

From one perspective, the throne is tranquil. The pavement before the throne is like a sea of crystal glass (Ex 24:10; Ezek 1:22, 1 Kings 7:23-26). The sea, often a symbol of the wild and chaotic in Scripture, is perfectly still and calm. There is nothing chaotic in the heavenly court. Nothing is unruly or feverish. Whatever convulsions there may be on earth heaven is not dismayed. All is tranquil before the throne of God.

Yet while there is nothing chaotic the scene is full of vibrancy and drama.

An emerald rainbow is around the throne signalling God’s care for and commitment to his creation creation (a care we should share). He will ‘destroy the destroyers of the earth’ (11:18) and renew creation (21:1) The rainbow also reflects God’s glory in creation (Ezek 1:28) and perhaps his role as the divine warrior (his bow encircles his throne) . His glory as Creator is the focus of praise, ‘you created all things and by your will they existed and were created‘(v11). Worth is a Roman virtue. Being a worthy person was valued in the Roman world. Some emperors if considered sufficiently worthy were conferred divinity. John sees where true worth lies. God is worthy because he is the Creator. Everything that exists he has brought into being. Here is incomparable worth. Creation is his and he will judge all who destroy it (Rev 11:18). The four living creatures (mainly a composite of cherub and seraph from Isa 6 and Ezek 1) in the midst of the throne represent animate creation and ceaselessly proclaim God’s praise. Praising the Creator is what his creatures ought to do. They extol his holiness, proclaiming his name and holiness continuously in the heavenly court (v8. Isa 6:3). Full of eyes they see in every direction. Nothing is hid from he who sits on the throne.

Holiness is conveyed by the white robes of the twenty-four elders (v4). Perhaps also the sea of glass. It is conveyed too by the resonance of Sinai (Ex 19:16) in the ‘lightnings, and(rumblings?) and thunders’. Their plurals adding intensity. God’s holiness is awesome and intimidating. Each cycle of ‘seven’ judgements later in the book climaxes with a storm theophany (8:5, 11:19, 16:18) as God visits the earth in final cataclysmic judgement. The description of God’s Spirit as seven lamps of fire burning complete this picture of holy majesty and power ( 4:6,10).

The proper occupation of heaven is worship. The heavenly court resounds with praise and adoration. The twenty four elders fall down before God and worship him who lives forever and ever, casting their crowns at his feet; to him, not them, belongs glory and honour and authority. Opinions differ as to who these twenty- four elders are. Many think they are the complete people of God OT and NT (Eph 1:3). Others think they are the NT church raptured. Perhaps rather than being the complete people of God they represent the complete people of God just as the four living creatures represent created life. Their number suggests the twelve apostles and twelve tribes – God’s people OT and NT – who compose the New Jerusalem. There were also twenty four orders of Aaronic priests and levites (1 Chron 24:5, 25:1). They appear to be priests (5: 8) and kings (4:4) like the people of God (1:6, 20:6). Like the church and the tribulation martyrs they are clothed in white robes (3:10, 7:13), they sit on thrones (3:21, 20:4) and they wear a victor’s or conqueror’s crown (2:10). They sing a new song, however, the song is about the redeemed (5:9,10) which seems to distinguish them from the redeemed. The main point, however, is that in the twenty four elders and the four living creatures God’s people and God’s creatures are represented in heaven. They encircle the throne worshipping and praising he sits on it. He has created all things and by his will they exist and were created. Revelation is the story not only of the triumph of the redeemed but of the rescue of creation. So great will be the liberation of creation that it will be effectively ‘a new heaven and new earth’ (21:1).

John is of course describing the indescribable. His visions are intended to symbolise truth rather than be understood literally – God does not sit on a throne. We are seeing a vision and not a video. John’s purpose is to evoke wonder. And so John leaves imprinted on our minds a sense of the surpassing glory, power and holiness God. He is the eternal God, the Lord God Almighty. He is the ‘Lord‘ who covenantally commits himself to his people. He created the universe and he rules it. He alone is sovereign. Such a vision of God in incomparable power and majesty is what his church in Revelation needs as it face a threatening future. God, not intimidating murderous political leaders controls all things. They need to see that God redeems his people and frees them to share in his reign. This is the focus of the second scene in this heavenly drama.

*Apparently there are parallels between the activity surrounding God’s throne and that of the Roman Emperor. Public appearances of the emperor showed him sitting on his throne surrounded by his friends and attendants. It seems from Domitian onwards the emperor had 24 official bodyguards or attendants. Sometimes when travelling he would be met by representatives of a city dressed in white and presented with golden crowns. Towards the end of the first century the emperor Domitian insisted on being addressed as Lord and God. Admirers surrounding his throne were constantly sycophantically praising the emperor.

07
Nov
21

psalm 143… my spirit faints within me… you are my God

Psalm 143 is a psalm of David. Here as in many other psalms he no doubt voices the prayer of many of the godly in Israel. The psalm is the last of four similar psalms of lament (141-144). It has been classed among the penitential psalms since David acknowledges his sin (v1). However, there is no confession of specific sin rather David confesses his flawed humanity.

I find the psalm encouraging as it speaks into difficult situations we all encounter to a greater or lesser extent. It expresses the distress God’s people face when confronted with fierce enemies. Believers are not free from deep emotional trauma, rather the opposite. Further, David acknowledges his fallenness yet believes the Lord will come to his aid; he believes in grace. Finally, David looks to the Lord as his deliverer from the power of his enemies. Surely, there is a model for our faith to follow.

Structurally, the psalm begins and ends with an appeal to the character of God as expressed in his covenant with his people (1-2, 11-12). The ‘selah’ at the end of verse six divides the psalm in two.

Vv 1,2 … 11,12

Hear my prayer, O LORD; give ear to my pleas for mercy! In your faithfulness answer me, in your righteousness!…

For your name’s sake, O LORD, preserve my life. In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble! 12 And in your steadfast love you will cut off my enemies, and you will destroy all the adversaries of my soul, for I am your servant.

David is in distress and cries to the Lord for mercy. The Lord is the God who has committed himself in covenant to his people. He will rescue his people who trust in him; this is his covenant promise guaranteed by his faithfulness, righteousness and committed love. The glory of his name depends upon him keeping his commitment to protect his trusting people.

It is to these divine qualities of faithfulness, righteousness and steadfast love that David appeals. The latter two qualities are mentioned twice. Each ensures David’s cry for mercy will be heard. Yet his righteousness reminds David of his own sinfulness. He says,

Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.

Both here and in the last words of the psalm David affirms his covenant commitment; he is the Lord’s servant. Yet he acknowledges he (and the rest of humanity) is not sinless (Roms 3:20) He asks that the Lord will not judge him for his faults. Failure, he confesses, is part of the human condition. This seems to be an unusual perspective in the psalms (130:3). Elsewhere specific sin is confessed and God’s righteous judgement acknowledged. On other occasions the psalmist appeals to his personal righteousness and asks the Lord to judge him on the basis of that (Ps 7:3-5, 8). In the latter instance the writer is not claiming he never sins but that in this instance he is without blame.

But how can a righteous God righteously help David if David is unrighteousness? How can he fail to enter into judgement with him? The answer to this question lies in the cross and the full expression of the Christian gospel. Perhaps Martin Luther was not so far out in counting this psalm as a ‘Pauline Psalm’ (VanGemeren). Paul writing in Romans says,

For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

(Interesting, in the psalm which voices ‘there is none good not even one’ we read ‘God is with the generation of the righteous’ (Ps 14:5).

Verse three expresses David’s lament. An enemy, or enemies (v9), pursues him. The effect on David is profound. He is crushed. His spirit faints within and his heart is appalled. He feels like a dead man who sits in darkness. (Vv3,4). There is a degree of parallelism between the first and second halves of the psalm not only in the language used to describe the Lord but David’s description of his distressed state. In v7 he repeats that his spirit faints and employs the image of death – he fears he may be like ‘those who down to the pit’ (30:3). David clearly feels he is in a dire situation. Some suggest the oppressive physical darkness of a cave when pursued by Saul as view as in the previous psalm. Also the image of death would fit with a cave as a place of burial. If so, his inner spirit reflects his environment for his darkness seems more a darkness of soul. Many of God’s people have known a similar crushing darkness making him feel scarcely alive. It is good to know this is not unusual and that we are not alone. David has been there before us probably at a deeper level. Moreover, David’s Lord has been there too at the deepest level of soul darkness (Mat 26:37-38).

David employs a strategy to help him (v5). He consciously reflects on past acts of God. He meditates on all that God has done (perhaps mainly his great acts in redemption) and he considers the work of God’s hands (perhaps principally his activity in creation). He focuses his thoughts on the Lord’s great acts of power and strength drawing strength from the belief that he who acted in mighty ways in the past can do so again for him in the present. And so he stretches out his hands in supplication (44:20) thirsting for God’s presence like parched land thirsts for refreshing renewing rain.

It is possible that most of David’s emotional anguish has taken place during the night. Troubles often grow in the night. At any rate he asks that in the morning he may hear of the Lord’s steadfast love (Cf. 46:5, 130:6). He seems to be hoping that the morning will bring an answer to his prayer and he will know deliverance from his enemies – proof of the Lord’s steadfast love.

It is clear throughout the psalm that his hope is in the. Lord. Verse 9 expresses his heart attitude ‘in you I trust’… ‘to you I lift up my soul’. It is to the Lord (more than the cave) he has ‘fled for refuge’ (v9) for, as he says, ‘You are my God’ (v10).

As the Psalm begins to approach the end David has a more positive outlook. He looks to the future with hope and expectation. He looks for the Lord to lead him in life…. Make me know the way I should go…. Teach me to do your will…. Let your good Spirit lead me. As God’s people we want the Lord to direct our paths and lead us paths of righteousness. By his grace we can seek to live each day positively led by him.

The psalm ends with David’s confidence that the Lord will deliver. Virtual despair gives way to assured hope.

The ‘you are my God’ (v10) is complimented by ‘I am your servant’ (v12). The covenant relationship is intact David is committed to God and God is committed to his servant and will fight on his behalf.

In your steadfast love cut off my enemies, and destroy all the adversaries of my soul, for I am your servant.

25
Oct
21

revelation 1 (4)… the vision

The prologue over we now come now to the first of John’s visions. Appropriately, it is a vision of the glorified Christ in the midst of his churches. The vision takes place on the Lord’s day, the specifically Christian day and fitting for visions about the Lord and his church.

Vv9-11 suffering, kingdom and endurance

From exile in Patmos because of faithfulness to the gospel, John writes to the seven churches in Asia Minor (modern Turkey). Why these seven (v11) is not obvious. There were other cities and churches in Asia Minor. Perhaps John had close connections with these seven. The cities lay in a horseshoe shape and were joined by road. In addressing them John does not presume authority but writes as an equal. He is their brother. Together they share fellowship in suffering, the kingdom, and patient endurance (Matt 24:13). The coming kingdom, present suffering and endurance are three important themes in Revelation. The seven letters to the churches will reveal the difficulties they face as they strive towards the kingdom. Paul’s words are true, ‘Through many hardships we enter the kingdom of God’ (Acts 14:22). Yet we should note that John says these things are ‘in Jesus’. The suffering, kingdom and patient endurance proceed from our relationship to Jesus.

Vv12-16 the vision

The loud voice like a trumpet prepares us for something weighty. And weighty it is. John sees the glorified Christ in the midst of the seven churches. It seems to be Christ to whom the voice belongs (v12,13). The churches are golden lampstands stressing their value perhaps heavenly origin and witness. Christ walks among them as Lord of the churches (2:1). He is not aloof but engaged. He knows the churches intimately (2:2 etc). He is the resource perfectly suited to their need. Ch 2,3 will show he scrutinises, encourages, warns, and condemns each church as appropriate. Later God’s judgement will fall on the world but judgement begins with the house of God (1 Pet 4:17). No doubt these seven churches are representative churches. Seven suggests completeness and so the seven churches probably represent the whole church.However, the vision’s focus is not the church or churches but the glorified Lord of the church; the focus is Christ.

John is told to write what he sees and send it to the seven churches. The vision of the glorified Christ among his churches should shape their direction. John, in fact, is told to write twelve times in Revelation.

We should remember John describes a vision not reality. A vision is a representation of reality. Visions often make powerful visceral impact. This vision of Christ does just that. Upon seeing the vision John falls at Christ’s feet as one dead. Others have had similar reactions to visions of God (Dan 10:7-10; Isa 6; Ezek 1:28). John finds the glory of Christ overwhelming. As we read the vision it has a similar if lesser impact on us. The vision of the ruling Christ in the midst of the churches is to say the least intimidating and generates not a little holy fear(Cf. Ps 89:7).

That the description of Christ involves symbols of reality and not reality itself is clear from the many similes employed. John sees someone like a son of man… he sees hair white like wool, like snow…eyes like a flame of fire etc. Each image conveys an aspect of Christ’s glory and qualification to rule. Some are borrowed from OT descriptions of God leaving us in no doubt as to Jesus’ divine identity. Also, by employing OT images John shows the essential continuity between the testaments; the images confirm that the God of the OT is embodied in the Christ of the NT.

What is revealed about the Christ who rules his church in the vision? The first two identify him while the following seven describe aspects of his person, mainly his face, where character is revealed.

  • He is… one like a son of man… like a human being. Son of Man was Jesus favourite self-designation. It expressed humility (I am a man) yet pointed to his messianic glory and destiny (Dan 7:13). He is the Son of Man who will conquer the nations and receive an everlasting kingdom. He will execute judgement (Jn 5:27). This judgement is firstly in his church.
  • He is clothed in a long robe with a golden sash around his breast. Perhaps these are priestly clothes (Ex 28:4) however, long robes also belonged to important dignitaries (Isa 22:1).
  • The hairs of his head were white like wool, like snow. This is an echo of Daniel’s Ancient of Days (Dan 7:9). He shares the matured wisdom of deity. Age was honoured in the biblical world. Here age has a timeless element. Christ is, after all, the first and the last.
  • He has eyes like blazing fire connote penetrating and holy insight (Dan 10:6) that identifies and exposes all that is unholy.
  • His feet are like burnished bronze (Dan 10:6) conveying stability and strength. He is solid and reliable.
  • His voice is like the roar of many waters. Again an echo of the Almighty (Ezek 1:24, 43:2). Christ’s voice is strong, commanding, and authoritative as he speaks to his church. It cannot be ignored.
  • In his right hand (the hand of strength) are the seven stars revealing his power and protection over the angels who serve the churches. He cares for the churches,
  • And from his mouth comes a sharp two-edged sword (Isa 49:2; Hebs 4:12; Rev 19:15,21). This sword is a heavy sword used to kill. Christ speaks to the churches in ways aimed to destroy what is false and evil. This image should convince us that John is looking at symbols and not reality.
  • Finally we read his face shone like the sun in full strength (Cf. Matt 17:2). It is the brilliance of blinding light. The radiance of glory that normal eyes could not look upon.

Such is John’s vision of the exalted Christ that as we noted John in fear falls at his feet as though dead. Perhaps prostration is the only fitting response to divine majesty, for this like other OT examples is a theophany (Dan 10: 9-11; Isa 6:5: Ezek 1:28). Certainly veneration and worship are appropriate. Here is one who is the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15). John’s vision functions as a theophany… a revelation of God. Yet prostration is not John’s final position for the one who died laid his hands on him and said, ‘Fear not’ (Cf. Matt 14:27).

Vv17-20 the aftermath

Compressed into this scene are a number of important truths about Christ. He identifies himself to John in terms of deity. Like God, he is the first and last (1:8; Isa 44:6). All of history is contained by him; it is in his hands. To a church of martyrs he comes, like God, as the Living One (Deut 32:40; Jer 10:10), who became dead and is alive forevermore. Life is in him (Jn 1:4, 5:26) and he holds the keys of death and hades. He controls all threatening forces. Christ not Satan rules hell or hades. Among these signals of deity and power lie the words ‘I became dead’. He has been where faith may take his people. Later he will be revealed as the ‘freshly slaughtered lamb’(Ch 5). Yet John’s vision centres not on one who died but one who is alive forevermore. It is he who guides his people and enables them to conquer. It is he who is their strength as they face martyrdom. John’s slain lamb in Ch 5 has seven horns of power. As the visions of the church’s future unfold John and his readers will need the Christ who is the first and last, the Living One, who is alive forevermore and holds the keys of death and Hades.

commissioning

Finally, John is commissioned by the glorified Christ to write the things he has seen, the things that are (ch 2,3) and the things that will be hereafter (4-22). He we are provided with the basic division of the book. He is then told that the stars represent angels and the seven lamp stands are the seven churches.

This vision of the glorified Christ among his churches not only provokes awe with its expansive description of the Lord as judge in his churches but it provides vital clues on how to read the visions that are yet to come some of which we considered in a previous post. Soon we will see that the Christ who rules in his church also rules history and will bring it to its God-ordained conclusion. Peter writes,

It is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And
“If the righteous is scarcely saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
(4:17,18)

17
Oct
21

revelation 1 (3)… themes

In the two previous posts we reflected a little on both Revelation’s genre and people. The genre we noted is in great part apocalyptic accounting for the highly symbolic nature of the book. Its intended audience was the C1 church. specifically the seven churches to whom Jesus speaks. Like other NT books however it is part of a canon aimed at the church across history. We argued that the saints throughout the book belong to the church. The book is not describing believers on earth after the church is raptured – the pre-tribulation rapture is an idea that requires great weighing before being adopted for its existence is by no means plain in either Revelation or the rest of Scripture. The implausibility of this construct in Revelation ought to counsel caution.

The natural reading of Revelation is that the believers in 1-3 and those in 4-18 are the same people group. Nothing in the text signals otherwise. Indeed the events of the book both immediate (1-3] and ‘after this‘ potentially could have been fulfilled in the C1 lives of the believers to whom John writes. The events to come were ‘near’ and were expected ‘soon. John writes to prepare these C1 believers for the future… a future that was imminent. When we remove the church from this future we deny them the faith preparation that Chs 4-18 provide (Cf. Matt 24).

Given the genre is predominantly apocalyptic (visionary and symbolic its narrative is nevertheless straightforward and readily accessible. The sovereign God brings history to a conclusion destroying his enemies and rescuing his beleaguered people. The highly visual and symbolic genre means the impact is visceral and powerful. We do not easily forget it. John employs a great deal of OT allusions in his symbols. Indeed the OT is the key to understanding lots in Revelation. However, we shouldn’t be surprised that the OT is the source of much of John’s symbolism for the OT/NT promise/fulfilment motif is very active in Revelation. John is bringing biblical prophecy to completion and so the combination of OT prophecy and NT truth is understandable.

This post looks at 1:1-8 more closely. Its aim is to notice various themes mooted in these verses that are developed later in the book. Revelation 1, like John 1, serves as a kind of introduction to the themes that occupy the book.

Vv1-5

We are introduced to the credentials and the importance of the apocalyptic prophecy of Revelation. The authority of the prophecy couldn’t be higher. God himself is its author. It was given by God to Christ, by Christ to an angel, by the angel to John and by John to the churches. The chain suggests its importance. The prophecy has urgency; it concerns things that must soon take place. Its importance is underlined too by the blessing attached. There is a blessing upon the reading and hearing of this prophecy and upon the ‘keeping‘ of it. To “keep‘ the prophecy is to live by its message, to be a conqueror, faithful to God in all circumstances.

We have already considered above and in a previous post the apocalyptic and prophetic genre that John announces. Apocalyptic focused on the written and was highly symbolic. Prophetic had an oracular flavour and normally involved direct preaching. Combined they generate spiritual force in John’s visionary prophecy.

V4

The recipients, again previously considered, are the churches in Asia Minor (modern Turkey). Revelation is not only apocalyptic and prophetic, it is also a letter written to Christians that focuses on their present experience and what they can expect in the near future. In this letter format some of the themes of the book are introduced Vv4-8

In fact, in this ‘letter’ section a variety of literary forms are compressed into a few verses – a benediction (4,5a), a doxology (5b,6), a proclamation (v7) and a divine self-disclosure (v8).

a benediction from the triune God

The introductory greeting to the churches of grace and peace is from a robustly trinitarian God (v4). If the triune God is the ultimate author of this letter it clearly carries great authority. Also the explicit triune God places us emphatically on NT ground. John says,

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the , of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.

God, elsewhere identified as the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are one in their benediction of grace and peace.

the God of history

This trinitarian God is the God of the OT. He is the eternal and self existing God… who is, who was, and is to come (1:8, 4:8, 16:5). Unusually his immediacy ‘who is‘ heads the triad. The churches, in difficult times need to know he is actively engaged in their historical ‘now’.1:8, 4:8). God is the ‘I am’ who ‘was and will be’ who revealed himself to Moses at the burning bush (Ex 3:14). He inhabits history and bookends it just as his titles in v4 repeated and enlarged in v8 bookend the introductory greeting.

In v8 God himself speaks. God speaks directly only twice in Revelation (1:4,5; 21:5-8). In both instances the stress lies on him standing at the beginning and end of history. He is lthe Alpha and Omega, who initiates and finishes (21:6).

I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (21:6. Cf. Isa 44:6).

He was present at the beginning of history and he will bring it to completion. Notice, his future is not described in Revelation as ‘will be’ but as ‘is to come‘. It is the ‘is to come‘ that will dominate the letter climaxing in the return of Christ for it is in him that God comes in judgement and salvation to conclude the present age.

the sovereign God

He is eternally present and he is all-powerful. The perspective of apocalyptic literature is that God is sovereign and this perspective is evident in Revelation. His final self-disclosure in these verses of greeting is that he is ‘the Almighty’ (v8). By definition there can only ever be one ‘Almighty‘. He is sovereign in the universe. John mentions God’s throne some 46 times. God’s throne is the seat of absolute authority and dominion from which history is directed and from which all who rage against him will be crushed (4,5,11:17, Ps 2). Life on earth may appear to be chaotic and rudderless but it is not. Evil may appear to triumph but it will not. All is orchestrated by he who sits on the throne (ch 4,5). Throughout the book the judgements, the beasts, the dragon etc are all controlled by God. He is sovereign, they are subjects. The divine Spirit of God in his sevenfold perfections before the throne shares in this rule (3:1, 4:5, 5:6). History happens not by might or power but by God’s Spirit (Zech 4:6). While Jesus Christ (who is the lamb standing in the midst of the throne 7:17) has triumphed and rules all the apparently great of the earth as God’s human-divine representative. He is ‘the ruler of the kings of the earth’ (19:16). This is the third and last time the full name ‘Jesus Christ‘ is used (1:1,3,5). John wants us to be in no doubt who Jesus is. This is all the more important since the main title of Jesus throughout the book is ‘the Lamb’… the triumphant slain lamb.

Christ the pioneer

Throughout the book the church is called to be a faithful witness, if necessary unto death. Some have already died for their witness to Christ (2:13). Others will follow in their footsteps (6:9, 12:11, 14:4). They can do so because Christ has previously blazed a way. He is the Davidic King who is ‘the faithful witness’ (Isa 55:4; 1 Tim 6:13 ). His witness to his Father (Jn 1:18) resulted in his execution, however, his death was not his end. He was raised to become ‘the living one‘ who was alive forevermore (1:17,18). He is ‘the firstborn from the dead‘ (1:5,18 Cf. Ps 89:27,37). He conquered death and is the first of many who trust in him who participate in the same resurrection life (20:5,6). Faithful witness may lead to death and in one sense always does but the reward is a crown of life (2:10).

Ps 89 lies behind these verses. In resurrection, Christ was exalted to God’s right hand (1:10-18; Ps 2, Ps 89: 19-37) and shares the divine throne (7:17, 22:1, 3) All authority was given to him. (Matt 28:18-20). God’s intention in creation was that man should rule creation on his behalf. Adam forfeited the right to rule because of sin. This rule was re-established in the Davidic King. It anticipated a royal Davidic son, a son of man, qualified by his righteous humanity, this endowment with the Spirit and his own divine credentials (like God he comes on clouds) to rule on God’s behalf (Dan 7:13: Hebs 2:5-9; Jn 3:35, 5:22,27 Cf. Rev 1:13). Jesus Christ is this person – the faithful son. Christians need not fear the powerful of the earth for he rules them. He is ‘the ruler of the kings of the earth’ He is seated at the right hand of the majesty in the heavens and all authority is his. Presently his rule is from behind the scenes. When he returns his rule will be visible to all and evil will be vanquished (Ps 89:27; Ps 2 Cf. Rev 14:14, 19:11-21). And in his rule his people share (5:10, 19:14, 20:6, 22:5). Thus he pioneers his people in witness, resurrection and rule.

The sovereignty of God mediated through Christ is flagged in various ways in the chapter. The doxology expresses his eternal glory and dominion (1:6). His coming will be a cosmic event provoking mourning in the nations of earth (v7). John’s first received vision is of an awesome intimidating Christ ruling in his church who holds the keys (controls) of death and hades (vv10-20). His first spoken words are a claim to divinity; he, like God, is ‘the first and the last‘, a divine title he repeats and expands at the end of the book (22:13). He like God contains history.

These texts could be further unpacked, however, my aim is to highlight their central thrust. The thrust is clear; God in Christ and by the Spirit is central to everything. God, through his divine-human spirit-enabled representative, Jesus Messiah, rules everything. These are the foundation truths that will serve and strengthen God’s people in their spiritual battle. They are called to faithful witness which may cost them their lives but this is what it means to follow Christ. To love life is to lose it while to lose it is to gain it eternally. In this Christ is their leader whom they follow. One way or another these themes echo and resonate throughout Revelation.

doxology

John follows the divine benediction with a doxology of praise to Christ. Trinitarian worship permeates Revelation and integrates its themes. It is the heart of Christian faith. The alternative is worship of the unholy trinity of Satan, the beast and the false prophet (12-14) and that ends in eternal destruction. John writes,

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood 6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever.

It is praise for his redeeming love and blessings that flow from this. It is Christ’s present love for his church that is stressed… ‘’him who loves us’. In times of stress God’s people need to know they are loved at that moment. Christ love for his people is that of a bridegroom for his bride and will find its full expression in their marriage feast in Ch 19. His blood, the blood of the slain lamb, has ransomed and cleansed his people and enables them to conquer as he did (5:9, 7:14, 12:11). Christ’s shed blood is never forgotten in Revelation. If his coming is central then so too is his cross.

He has transformed them into ‘a kingdom and priests.’ (5:10). When Israel was redeemed from Egypt she was forged into a holy nation, ‘a kingdom of priests’ (Ex 19:6). This calling finds its ultimate expression in the church (1 Pet 2:9 Cf. Isa 61:6). The King-Priest has made his people to be kings and priests (Cf. 20:6). Presently, that priesthood involves declaring his name to the nations. We are his witnesses. This will bring opposition. It will always involve a measure of suffering, and may involve death. In Revelation his witnesses are often martyred, Indeed, the noun martyr comes from the Greek word meaning witness. John describes present kingdom experience as

the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus’.

For the church, like Christ while on earth, presently kingdom realities involve ‘tribulation‘ and ‘patient endurance’ before final glory. These qualities are clear in a number of the churches to whom John writes who are experiencing persecution (2:9,10,22). However, here is another close link with the later part of the book. For tribulation is what God’s people face there (7:14) and patient endurance is necessary (2:2,19, 3:10, 13:10, 14:12). John does not give false comfort. The difficulties the Christians faced in the seven churches at that time were not promised miraculous improvement. The church was engaged in a battle. Opposition is the nature of kingdom life until Christ returns… perhaps even greater opposition than we experience now. If we suffer with him we will also reign with him (2Tim 2:12).

proclamation

Central to the things that must soon take place is the Coming of Christ. The God ‘who is to come’ comes decisively in the Second Coming. What this ‘coming’ means for the nations is announced in v7

7 Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will mourn on account of him. Even so. Amen.

For believers seeking to be conquerors this event is the great focus for faith. It is announced and anticipated both in the introduction and epilogue of the book (22:7,12,20). It is the climactic ‘End’ realised various times and described in various ways throughout the book. ‘Coming in clouds’ suggest a divine visitation full of glory; he who re-entered heaven as a man to receive a kingdom now returns to establish it (Cf. Dan 7:13; Ps 104:3). This is the climax of history. It is the event that changes everything. It is of incomparable significance.

Yet the focus here and so often through the book is not on the Second Coming and the church but the Second Coming and the world (6:16, 11:15-19, 16:17-21, 19:11-21).

Every eye shall see him (we may assume this will not require live television) and the result is international mourning as the nations look on him whom they pierced. (Notice that each reference to Christ in these verses imply his death). It is hard to be sure whether the mourning expresses remorse or repentance. The normal interpretation is that i is remorse as they anticipate judgement. Certainly Christ’s coming will be a day of great anguish, a day of universal judgement for the unbelieving nations of the world (11:9, 13:7, 19;11-21). The various cycles of divine judgement (seals, trumpets etc) each with intensifying judgements climax in catastrophic judgement resulting in terror (Rev 6:16, 10:7, 11:15-19; 16:17-20). The traditional view that the reference is to the wailing of the ungodly as they anticipate judgement has a strong case (Matt 24:29-31; Isa 13:6-13).

Yet the passage employed by John is from Zechariah where it seems to indicate mourning of repentance by Israel. Israel mourns over how they have treated the one they pierced (Zech 12:10). Paul connects the conversion of Israel intimately with Christ’s second coming (Roms 11:26). John, however, universalises the mourning. It is not simply Israel who mourns but also the nations; for ultimately all pierced him. Is this repentance by the nations? Is the life from the dead that Israel’s acceptance brings partly the conversion of many from the nations (Roms 11:12:15). The later mention of Christ coming with a cloud possibly refers to the ingathering of believers (14:14-16, Mk 4:26-29) but that is more about those who already believe and who have no reason to mourn. Perhaps both senses of mourning are implied. Perhaps there is a deliberate ambiguity.

These themes of divine sovereignty, faithful witness, resurrection hope, the church’s kingdom calling, and the day of judgement will reappear in one form or another throughout the book where they will be enlarged and shaped into the tapestry that is history’s End.

In the meantime we remind our hearts – He is coming. His promise repeated for the third time in Revelation’s epilogue is, ‘Surely I am coming soon’. Eliciting the response from all his people, ‘Amen. Come Lord Jesus’ (7,11.20).

13
Oct
21

revelation 1 (2)… the church

Revelation 1

John to the seven churches that are in Asia Minor (1:4)

In the previous post we considered how the opening chapter of the book prepares us for the highly symbolic form of the book. We noted it shared features belonging to a literary genre popular at that time that we call apocalyptic. The book of Daniel seems is an early form of this genre and certainly Revelation borrows heavily from Daniel.

Narrative

In this post I want to reflect on the book’s recipients and their place in Revelation’s narrative. Perhaps it is worth observing that from Ch 4 Revelation progresses within a narrative framework. The narrative framework, however, is not straightforward. Its structural backbone, the various divine judgements, (the seven seals, trumpets, bowls etc) seem to involve a degree of recapitulation. Other players in history’s final act appear around these judgements. Yet within a complicated structure and highly symbolic visions a storyline does exist. In the narrative, history is heading to a denouement. God has revealed his plan for the End and Jesus, the slain yet triumphant Lamb is tasked with executing It. The narrative entails the increase and overthrow of evil, its providential and final judgement and the triumph of God and his people in Christ. In many ways these are familiar NT themes though they come to a dramatic climax in the highly visual symbolism of Revelation.

A letter to the churches

Revelation, is not only apocalyptic narrative, it is a letter and its recipients are Christians in the Roman province of Asia. The letter is addressed to the seven churches in Asia Minor, modern Turkey (1:4). There were other churches in Asia Minor so it seems likely that seven were chosen to symbolise completeness. Chapters two and three address specific problems in these churches. The seven churches are real churches but they are probably also representative churches revealing the challenges the church throughout its history. (Ch 2,3). However we must remember that Revelation, like much of the NT, does not envisage it will be long until history is brought to a climax and conclusion. The end is near (1:3) and Christ is coming soon (22:20). From Ch 4 chapter we begin to see we see the challenges the church faces specifically at the End. An End that must soon take place (1:1). Thus Revelation, written to the church describes its experience both in the present (Ch 2,3) and at the End of history (4-18) and beyond (19-‘22).

This perspective, or something similar to it, is held by many Christians. However, a significant number of Christians who accept that Revelation is written to Christian believers nevertheless think the majority of the book (4-18) is not about Christian believers. From the beginning of Ch 4 the church is believed to have been raptured to heaven and the narrative that follows describes an End-time period of intense suffering endured not by the church to whom John writes but a group we shall simply call the ‘tribulation saints’. Revelation therefore has two distinct groups of people, the church (1-3) and the tribulation saints (4-18).

This is a big topic with implications far beyond the book of Revelation. However, despite being held by some able Bible teachers, I believe this is a mistaken perspective and that throughout the book one people group, the church, is in view; the church encountered on earth in 1-3 is viewed in its final trouble and triumph at the end of history in 4-18, a time that when John wrote, was ‘near’.

Below are some reasons that lead me to this conclusion.

The natural assumption is that the book addresses issues which impinge directly upon the life of those to whom it is written or their wider spiritual family. The OT prophets did this. They prophesied of events in the present and the future that affected Israel, the people of God. Likewise John was to prophesy concerning ‘the things which are’ (1-3) and ‘the things which are to take place after this’ (4-18). Since believers appear in both sections we naturally assume they have a shared identity – they are both the church. In fact, the language in Revelation is such that the churches described in chs 2,3 must have expected the End (4-18) to happen in their lifetime. They are told that these events are ‘near‘ and ‘must soon take place’ (1:1-3). Potentially the first readers are the subjects in both sections of the book. Time has revealed the End did not arrive with that generation and lies still future – possibly in this generation. Thus the narrow time frame suggests one people group as does the normal pattern of OT prophecy where however long the time gap may be until fulfilment the same family group was envisaged.

To be told that the believers who feature later in the book (4-18) are not the church and are a group quite distinct and different is discombobulating. Such a reading is not natural and. would need to be very clearly signalled in the text to he credibility. We are being asked to believe that a letter written to local churches describes in considerable detail the lives and times of future believers who are not part of the church and belong to a period in history from which the church is removed and is already in heaven. Such an interpretation is radical and counter-intuitive so much so that the burden of proof lies squarely and heavily on the shoulders of those who champion it to prove their case.

However, while the burden of proof lies with those who argue for this surely unlikely idea that Revelation envisages two people groups – the church (1-3) and ‘tribulation saints’ (4-18) – I want to make a case for the most natural and apparent reading – that there is but one people group in view throughout, the church to whom John writes and whose future he describes.

The case is involves demonstrating the many continuities that exist between Ch 1-3. And 4-18. It begins in the opening prologue of the book. There we encounter the first of seven beatitudes (1:3 ). The final beatitude is in the epilogue (22:14). Both are clearly addressed to the church. Two others appear also to be addressed to the church (Rev 19:9, 22:7) Others, however, are found in the tribulation section (14:13; 16:15) and address tribulation saints (Cf 20:6). Yet the language of these three beatitudes is remarkably Christian (Cf. 3:2,3, 1 Thess 4:13-5:10). The natural assumption is that all seven beatitudes, which have a pastorally integrating function in the book, are addressed to the same people. Each seems to be an exhortatory blessing arising from the ethical demands of the vision and addressed to John’s readers, the church. Along similar lines the local churches are each enjoined ‘he that has an ear let him hear’ and so too are the saints persecuted during the reign of the beast (13:9).

The most compelling argument lies in commonly shared titles and experiences by both groups. We discover that titles used of the church in the sections where her identity is not in dispute are also used of ‘tribulation believers’. For example, John describes himself as a ‘servant‘, and records that Revelation’s prophecies were given to Christ to show his ‘servants‘ (the church) what must soon take place. (v1). The church is described as ‘servants‘ in a few places (2:20, 22:3,6). However, believers in the tribulation are also called ‘servants, (7:3, 19:1,5). Parallels are emerging. Another shared name is ‘saints‘. In Ch 19, the bride of Christ (the church) is dressed in fine linen which we are told is the ‘righteous deeds of the saints’ (19:8). Yet other references to ‘saints‘ throughout the book describe those on earth through the period of great tribulation (8:3,4, 11:18 13:7,10). The same commonality is true of the word ‘brother(s)’ (1:9, 6:11, 12:10, 19:10, 22:9). Believers in the churches are urged to be conquerors (2:7,11,17) and tribulation believers are also conquerors (12:11, 15:2). In both groups those who conquer are dressed in white robes (3:5, 6:11). The word ‘lamp-stand’, used to describe each of the seven churches (2,3), is also used to describe each of the two witnesses (11:4). The church is described as ‘a kingdom of priests’ as also are tribulation saints martyred under the beast (1:6, 5:10; 20:6). We shall see a few more parallels but In my view, these shared names decisively point to one believing people group,the church, throughout the book.

Closely related to conquering is the call for endurance. John writes to the churches,

9 I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus,’

The kingdom in its present form calls for ‘patient endurance’ by the church (2:2,19, 3:10). The saints later in the book with whom the beast makes war are likewise urged to ‘endurance‘ (13:9,10, 14:12). Once more we see marked pastoral concerns for the two groups.

Similarly the church is to be ‘faithful’(2:10,13) and those who face the hostility of the beast are ‘called, chosen and faithful’ (17:4).

Along with parallels of titles and exhortation there are parallels of experience. There is a considerable overlap between the problems of the church in Ch 2 and 3 and the challenges believers face in the days of the End (4-18). The problems are largely the same allthough intensified in the time of the End. False teaching (the false Prophet), persecution (the beast from the sea) vulnerability (the woman and the dragon), worldliness (Babylon) and Satanic attack are problems faced by both the seven churches and the End-time believers.

In summary, shared titles and experiences argue for a shared. Identity John is preparing the church for difficult days that are coming just as Jesus did his disciples when they inquired about his coming and the end of the age (Matt 24). Through apocalyptic imagery truths are marshalled that will steel the church for perseverance in the difficult dangerous days immediately preceding Christ’s return.

What arguments in support of two people groups are mustered? I am aware of three popular argument although there will be others. The three popular ones, in my view, are rather flimsy.

John’s ascent to heaven is a symbol of the rapture of the church. At a popular level at least this seems to persuade many. . As far as I am aware, this symbolism was rejected by early dispensationalists such as JN Darby and W Kelly although they believed the church was no longer in view or on earth from Ch 4. Clearly an a priori commitment to a pre-trib rapture is necessary to posit such symbolism for there is no signal in the text that John is an intended symbol of a raptured church. In the text, John ascends to heaven as a prophet to receive from the risen Christ the next part of the prophecy. Like some OT prophets, he sees God in his heavenly throne room and is privy to divine councils (Isa 6:1-13; 1 Kings 22:19-23, Jeremiah 23:19,20, Ps 82:1). His ascension to the heavenly throne room seems more about his prophetic credentials than as a symbol of the raptured church. Indeed, in Ch 10, John appears to be back on earth as he sees an angel come down out of heaven to earth and hears a voice from heaven (10:1-4. Cf 11:1, 14:6, 13, 18:1, 21:1,2, 10). Much that follows seems to have earth as his vantage point, though where on earth changes (17:3, 21:10). It is exegetically precarious to say the least to derive a pre-trib rapture from Rev 4. Prior assumptions drive the view that John is a symbol of the raptured church rather than the text.

A second argument mounted is the absence of the words ‘church‘ or ‘churches‘ in the main body of the book. At first blush this absence is a little strange. However, it is given an importance by dispensationalists that it does not merit. A number of NT letters do not use the word ‘church‘ (E.g. 2 Timothy, Titus, 1,2 Peter, 1,2 John, Jude). Others use it only rarely. Yet all these books are clearly about church life. We would not dream, in of the absence of the word church, of assigning those of whom these books speak to a different people group; they are church believers.

In Revelation, the word ‘church(es)’ is used only of local churches and only of the seven to whom Jesus writes. Since John’s literary form in Chs 2,3 is epistolary and is addressed to seven churches it is hardly surprising that the words ‘church’ and ‘churches’ frequently appear. Thereafter, even when the church is unambiguously in view (the bride and the New Jerusalem), the word ‘church(es)’ is not employed. However, as we have seen, other words John uses to describe the church are used of the tribulation saints making their identity plain. Thus dispensationalism’s argument from silence should not be given undue weight. Perhaps we should also note that John, in his gospel and in his first two epistles, does not use the word church.

A third argument advanced is that the language in 4-18 is OT and sub-Christian and cannot describe the church nor the age of the church. To be sure Chs 4-18 use a great deal of OT language and imagery but so too do Chs 1-3 and 19-‘22. Since Revelation consciously stands in the prophetic tradition and brings that tradition to a conclusion we should not be surprised that it draws heavily from the OT. John appears to consciously weave OT allusions into his prophecy probably for the very reason of showing the promise and fulfilment continuity. We should not therefore be surprised at the OT flavour. It permeates even the climax of the letter with its description of the New Jerusalem, an image of the NT church. Indeed, a study of other NT books will demonstrate a high use of the OT in many of them. If the relationship between the OT and the NT is promise and fulfilment then this conceptual unity between the OT and the NT is fully understandable.

The popular arguments for a dispensationalist reading of 4-18 don’t really stake up while, it seems to me a good case can be made for the plainer reading that throughout the book the people of God described is the church.

If the arguments raised have cogency then of course this raises major difficulties for dispensationalism. It means that believers throughout Revelation are one people, one flock, the church, the redeemed from every tribe and nation church whose robes are washed and made white in the blood of the lamb. If there is but one people then for dispensationalism the consequences are far reaching.

I believe there is but one people of God in view. Addressing the church John assesses their present and reveals their future. He focusses on the final few years before Christ’s return. These will be days of great suffering for the church, however faithfulness and perseverance then will be followed by great joy and glory afterwards. The militant church, the church at war will become the triumphant church, the church at rest. Each generation of the church lives alert to the days in which they live and the End that may soon come. Much that is important is lost when the church is excised from a great chunk of Revelation.

04
Oct
21

revelation 1 (1)… genre

Revelation, the last book of our Bible, is a book we tend to find both fascinating and incomprehensible in equal measure. The features that draw us to it, its many images, sometimes bizarre, sometimes grotesque and sometimes sublime, also make it difficult to understand. What do they mean? What is their message? How do I get to grips with this book? Should I try? Should I leave Revelation to the specialist?

revelation is for everybody

To leave it to the specialists would be a mistake. The opening chapter tells us it was written to the seven churches in Asia (v4). John anticipates it being read and heard in ordinary 60-=churches. We shouldn’t think it is a book only for a special kind of Christian who has made it a life study. It is intended for all of us. And carries a blessing for those who read, hear and keep its message (1:3).

I would argue that Revelation is not as difficult to understand as we tend to think. The big issues of the book (God’s sovereignty, divine judgements, a hostile world, persecution, preservation, Christ’s coming, final judgement for the lost and final blessing for God’s people) are fairly easy to grasp even if we scratch our heads at the detail. Actually most mainstream commentaries broadly agree on the main issues and can be a real help.

In fact, if we’re struggling with the book, the opening chapter is a kind of key to the book introducing us to many of the issues necessary for our understanding as we read on. Over the following four posts I hope to consider some of these issues.

genre

Revelation’s varied styles of writing can be a barrier to getting to grips with the book. In the opening chapter we are told the book is an apocalypse (v1) a prophecy (v3) and a letter (v4). These are the three principal styles of writing that we may expect to find as we read Revelation.

apocalyptic

The genre that dominates and easily throws us is the apocalyptic genre. It is a form of writing with which C1 believers would have been familiar for there were popular examples of it but it is alien to us today though perhaps the rise of fantasy has provided some similarities.

When we begin to read Revelation we soon encounter this unusual form of writing. As we read the first chapter it becomes evident that numbers are significant in Revelation. Numbers occur throughout and some numbers, such as the number seven, occur frequently. In chapter one we are told of the ‘seven spirits who are before his throne‘ (v4). John writes to ‘seven churches’ (v4,11, 3:11). We read of ‘seven lamp-stands’ (v12) and ‘seven stars’ (v16) which represent the ‘seven churches’ and ‘seven angels’ (v20). Other named ‘sevens’ appear throughout the book (e.g. seals, trumpets, thunders etc). Sometimes, as with the beatitudes, the ‘seven’ is not obvious. Key words are often used a set number of times. The word ‘prophecy‘ is used seven times. The title ‘Lord God Almighty‘ occurs seven times. Studies have revealed these and other hidden ‘sevens’ throughout the book. Fourteen is another significant number (2×7). ‘Jesus‘ for example appears fourteen times while ‘Christ‘ appears seven times. There are other examples of this kind of numbering, sufficient examples to indicate it is intentional. While numbers may be real (the seven churches were actual churches) numbers are also symbolic. Seven is normally recognised to represent perfection or completeness. The seven spirits before the throne is generally understood to represent the perfection of the Spirit of God (Cf. Isa 11:2), symbolised in the seven. The seven churches suggests the total church. It is clear that Revelation is a carefully crafted book.

The focus on numbers even in the opening chapter alerts us that Revelation no ordinary book. The apocalyptic genre clearly has some unusual conventions. Heavenly beings are employed to reveal God’s plans for the future to a seer on earth (1:1). God is seen to be sovereign and his plans will succeed while those of the godless world will fail (1:4-8). These plans are couched in symbolism. It is of course the bewildering symbolism that troubles us. Some uncomfortable with symbolism resist it and try to treat Revelation as literally as possible. This, however, is mistaken; Revelation is intended to be read as imagery and not as video recordings of the future.

The apocalyptic genre is announced in the book’s opening sentence. We are told it is ‘the revelation of Jesus Christ’. Revelation as we noted can be translated ‘Apocalypse‘. In fact, Revelation, as its title ‘apocalypse’ suggests, belongs to a kind of literature found elsewhere in the Bible and also outside the Bible that we call ‘apocalyptic’. Scholars identify it in a few OT books (e.g. Joel, Amos and Zechariah). The Book of Daniel has clear apocalyptic passages and is thought to have influenced later apocalyptic literature. The genre seemed to flourish in the intertestamental period and into the first century AD. It contains visions and revelations in highly symbolic forms. Most Bible dictionaries will give a history of the genre and point out its features. We can also discover these as we read the Bible’s own apocalyptic literature.

Symbolism is undoubtedly a key characteristic. We noted the symbolism of the lamp-stands and stars. We are told these are symbols and their interpretation is given – they represent churches and angels. Already we are being alerted to what we might expect in the book and how to read it. It will have many images that should not be taken at face value but must be understood as symbols that require interpreting. Indeed sometimes numbers and symbols have more than one referent (Cf. 17:7-10). Yes it can be confusing. We need the enabling of the Spirit. Yet we should not be discouraged for the ‘apocalypse’ lifts the cover off what is about to take place. The symbols reveal rather than hide.

In fact, the visual and symbolic nature of the book is signalled in the introductory verses of the book. John writes,

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known (signified) by sending his angel to his servant John’

The verbs ‘to show‘ and ‘made known’ or ‘signified‘ alert us to what to expect. William Kelly, an early and influential Dispensationalist, writes,

The terms “show” here and “signified” in the clause that succeeds are used with striking propriety, when we consider the visions on the one hand and the signs and symbols on the other which characterise the book.’

Clearly early dispensationists recognised the visual and symbolic nature of the book. They did not subscribe to the literalism that mars some later forms of Dispensationalism. They recognised, with many, that Revelation and other biblical examples of apocalyptic literature are symbol-laden. Daniel, a seminal OT apocalyptic book, has a vision of four beasts which is then interpreted as four kingdoms. It is a mistake to press literal readings in this kind of literature. We must be alert to symbolism and interpret accordingly. Arguably there is more in Revelation that is symbol than there is straightforward prose.

Why did John employ the apocalyptic genre? Well one reason surely is because the highly visual narrative is both evocative and symbolic. The visual intensity provokes a visceral reaction. It may be awe or dread or joy or some other reaction. Images are a powerful and compressed means of expressing truth. They connect at a profound level and often say more than a thousand words.

The evocative power of symbolism is evident in the first vision of the book. It is a vision of the glorified Lord Jesus ruling his church. Remember God’s sovereignty in history is apparently a typical theme in apocalyptic literature. Certainly God’s sovereignty is stamped in various ways in Ch 1, not least in v8 where in a key moment of self revelation God speaks and says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega,says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” This is one of only two occasions in the book where God speaks (1;8, 21:6). Among other things it is stressing his sovereignty over history. Immediately following this self-revelation is a vision of the sovereign Christ. We read,

12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lamp-stands. 13 and in the midst of the lamp-stands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. 17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. 19 Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.

Even without Bible knowledge this description packs a punch. Most readers instinctively recognise the descriptive implications. We will identify the figure as wise (his white hair suggesting ancient wisdom) with searching holy insight (eyes like a flame of fire) and commanding authority (a voice like the roar of many waters). We will sense this is a figure of overwhelming greatness. If we actually encountered such a figure, like John, we would fall at his feet as if dead. John is in the presence of massive crushing imposing majesty prostration is the only available response .

Yet, as readers, a moments reflection will tell us this is a symbolic composite of searing majesty and not a facsimile to Christ. The two-edged sword proceeding from his mouth should confirm this as should the writers repeated use of simile… he has hair ‘like’ white wool, ‘like’ snow.

The image has made a powerful impact and conveyed its intention even on the biblically illiterate. However, if we have a good knowledge of the OT (which unfortunately few of us do), we will understand the images even better. John assumes an OT background in the Christians to whom he writes for in this vision and others throughout the book he draws heavily from OT language and metaphors. If we knew the OT well, we would recognise John’s allusion to regal and priestly clothes in the robe and sash. We would know that the title ‘son of man’ not only reveals Christ is a man but is a man like no other man, a divine man (Dan 7). Revelation is a book of esoteric visions and the key to interpreting many of the them is the OT.

It is sometimes suggested that the profusion of OT allusion and metaphor in Revelation makes it in some way sub-Christian. The conclusion drawn is that it cannot be about the church and the age of the church. A few points can be made in response. Firstly, it is true that much of Revelation employs OT imagery but that includes Chs 1-3 which are clearly church passages. The description of the New Jerusalem in Ch 21,22, employs a great deal of OT allusion yet it is a description of the church, the bride of Christ. Secondly, Chs 4-20, the section that seems heavily OT, includes distinctly Christian motifs. For example the 144,000 are sealed with the name of the Father and the Lamb decidedly Christian identities (14:1, 22:4). Thirdly, Revelation is the climax of prophecy and so we may expect it to both sum up OT prophecy and frame it according to NT revelation. Although there are discontinuities between the OT and NT there is essential continuity; the NT is the OT fulfilled not forsaken. John’s Revelation, or the revelation given to John by Jesus Christ, the final Prophet, brings the prophetic voice to completion. Sharp absolute divides between OT and NT are mistaken. Profuse OT imagery in Revelation indicates continuity and fulfilment not the absence of the NT church.. We are reading in Revelation about the salvation of which the OT prophets inquired (1 Pet 1:10).

In apocalyptic literature the vertical distance between heaven and earth is easily bridged. The vision of the glorified Christ walking among the lamp-stands is an example (Cf. 4,5). So too, in Revelation, the horizontal and historical distance between promise an fulfilment disappears as both integrate in the fulfilment of divine purpose.

prophetic

Revelation is not simply apocalyptic it is also prophetic. Some think the book would be best identified as ‘apocalyptic prophecy’. Certainly prophetic features are found in the book. Apocalyptic literature is literary and contains a narrative. Prophetic literature is more oracular. God and others may speak directly (1:8). Opportunities to repent or encouragements to trust are expressed (1v3). It is more the style of the preaching prophet. Thus, for example, the seven beatitudes scattered throughout speak to the audience calling for a response. Yet of course, it too reveals from God’s perspective the things that are to be. And God’s perspective is the correct perspective.

letter

Finally Revelation involves a letter format. It has an introduction with greetings (1:4-8) and an epilogue (22:9-21) with a benediction (22:21). The letter format controls chapters two and three but thereafter fades.

Hopefully this tentative toe dip into Revelation One helps establish the principal literary forms of Revelation. In summary, Revelation employs an array of literary forms. The principal three are apocalyptic, prophetic and epistolary but other forms arise too (benediction, beatitudes, doxology etc). Dominating is narrative symbolism. Images are replete. These images are both evocative and informative. The images themselves tell a story and create a reaction. They also point to realities beyond themselves often made clearer as we trace them back to OT sources. They implicitly make a challenge – will we serve God or the dragon, the Lamb or the beast? Where does my heart lie – in Babylon or the New Jerusalem? Our souls are fed and our faith strengthened as the images and the truths they convey impress upon our minds and shape our perspective. John’s visions show that the world of the beast and Babylon however powerful and established they may seem are transient and about to be judged while the world of faith apparently more tenuous and weak will triumph and is eternal. Blessing lies in seeing reality from the perspective of John’s prophetic visions. In the words of the first beatitude,

3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.

PS. I should say that this and any future studies represent my thoughts on Revelation as they are at the moment. It is possible that in time I may change my mind on areas. Certainly Revelation is a book where I want to avoid dogmatism while hopefully saying something helpful.

25
Sep
21

psalm 24… who is the king of glory?

1 The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein,
2 for he has founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.
3 Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully.
5 He will receive blessing from the LORD
and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
6 Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah
7 Lift up your heads, O gates!
And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
8 Who is this King of glory?
The LORD, strong and mighty,
the LORD, mighty in battle!
9 Lift up your heads, O gates!
And lift them up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
10 Who is this King of glory?
The LORD of hosts,
he is the King of glory! Selah

Psalm 24… Who is the King of Glory?

Psalm 24 is a hymn celebrating the victory procession of ‘the King of Glory’. Majestic, and it seems, fresh from battle, he arrives at the gates of Jerusalem, his city, and the cry for distinguished entry is heralded. His name, rings out for all to hear – ‘the King of Glory’.

Twice, in response to the command for entry, the question rings out from the city, ‘Who is the King of Glory’ ? (v8,10). These are rhetorical questions intended to confirm and enhance the glory of the arriving Warrior-King. Who is the King of Glory? The whole Psalm may be viewed as the answer to this question. We are told three times he is ‘the Lord’ (vv8-19). The King of Glory is divine. He is Yahweh, the Warrior God of Israel. He created the world and his kingdom embraces all he has created (1,2). Mighty in battle he overthrows all resistance to his rule (7-10). He wars for righteousness and all who would walk his courts must share in his holiness. (Vv3-5).

The Psalm is about Yahweh’s entrance to Jerusalem. This is normally understood to involve his enthronement and to anticipate the enthronement of Christ and his ascension to the heavenly temple. Perhaps it also anticipates Christ’s final conquest of evil and his consequent reign (Rev 19).

The three apparently disparate sections of the psalm are in fact a composite picture of the King of Glory expressing his excellence.

Vv1-2 the Creator-King

Perhaps the description of the earth founded on the seas has a sideward glance at the myths of the surrounding nations. Mythological gods became kings by conquering the chaotic seas. Yahweh controls the seas because he made them. There is nothing chaotic and threatening in his kingdom. The earth sits above the waters (Gen 1:9,10; 2 Pet 3:5). The so-called forces of chaos are completely under the Lord’s authority. From him chaos takes flight. Here in the splendour and plenty of an ordered world is revealed the king of glory. It describes the first creation but are we intended to see a description of new creation? If so, ‘the earth is the Lord’s’ has a triumphant eschatological ring to it too.

Some may have been tempted to view Yahweh as simply the tribal god of relatively small and insignificant Israel. But this would be a mistake. Yahweh is Lord of the whole earth. Regularly when establishing the Lord’s greatness his role as Creator is adduced. The whole earth is his kingdom because he is its Maker. The earth and everything in it belongs to the Lord. The world is his domain. His rule extends throughout creation. Its ‘fulness‘ points to the ample resources of Yahweh’s kingdom (Gen 1; 1 Cor 10:28). David’s words, ‘The earth is the Lord’s’ is like a victory shout. It’s exultation in his ownership and reign. Creation does not belong to the gods of Baal. It does not belong to Satan, or AntiChrist or any empire-building demigod who self-importantly struts the stage of history… it belongs to the Lord. He is its Creator and he is its King. This, the Psalmist proclaims, is a reason for celebration.

Vv 2,3 the Holy King

If the Lord is the ‘King of Glory’ who may ascend to where he is? If the Lord is about to enter his city and take residence in his house who is fit to meet with him there? Who may stand in his courts and have an audience with the the Lord? What kind of glory is required to stand in the presence of the King of glory?

The answer is, it is not majesty or greatness that is needed to draw near to the King of Glory but moral worth, moral likeness to him. His court is above all holy for he is holy. His kingdom is not built on the shifting sands of unrighteousness but the solid rock of true righteousness and holiness. To ascend his (holy) hill (Ps 15:1) and draw near to him in the Holy place is to draw near to divine holiness. The Lord is holy and holiness becomes his house for ever (Ps 93:5).

The holiness required is not a ritual holiness but a real holiness – inwardly (pure heart) and outwardly (clean hands). The two positives are balanced by two mirroring negatives. He who approaches God must be free of idolatry (lifting soul to what is false) and swearing deceitfully – being false in life (vv3,4). We are not told how such holiness is attained only that it is necessary. Though v5 may provide the answer to attainment… ‘he will receive blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation’. The worshipper aligned with the values of the Lord’s kingdom will be blessed by the Lord (Cf. Lk 24:50-53). He will be vindicated by the Lord. Is his vindication the recognition that he is righteous or is it the gift of righteousness as the gift of salvation? Ultimately both are true of God’s people. Only those committed to holy lives are acceptable to him yet the holiness required for God’s presence must be a gift received. Only gifted righteousness is vindicating righteousness.

Ultimately, of course, only One was intrinsically qualified to ascend the hill of the Lord. Only Jesus the Lord had clean hands and a pure heart. Only the King of Glory could enter ‘the Glory’. And he did so not simply by right as a divine person but as the conquering divine warrior. It was as victor in battle he entered heaven (Col 2:15; Phil 2:1-15; Eph 4:8). He is the lion of the tribe of Judah the lamb, the root of David who has conquered – that was slain (Rev 5). He has conquered sin and put it away by the sacrifice of himself. The battle against sin and the forces of evil is the great battle of history and Christ won it. As the triumphant King-Priest he entered the gates of heaven furnished with his own blood. Blood that atoned. Blood that cleansed. Blood that brings his people with him into holy and heavenly courts. The conquer’s blood, admits all who belong to him by faith, now and eternally to the Father’s house. We enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus (Hebs 10:19). His death has perfected his people eternally for the divine presence. It is not our level of spiritual attainment that gives us access to heaven and the presence of God. To repeat, ‘we enter the holiest by the blood of Jesus‘ (Hebs 10:19).

Those who come in integrity of a believing heart and receive his blessing are those who seek his face, the face of the God of Jacob (Septuagint; Ps 46:7). At Peniel Jacob was blessed and saw the face of God (Gen 32:29). To see God’s face is to see him as he is. David envisages a people, a generation, who seek the Lord in this way. The repetition of ‘seek the Lord‘ serves to intensify the expression (v6) as does the reflective pause ‘selah‘. A personal encounter with the Lord is the desire of those who belong to the Lord. It is this God-seeking people who will participate in the victory celebrations of the King of Glory.

Vv 7-10 the Warrior-King

Who is the King of Glory? He is the Creator whose kingdom extends over all he has created (1,2). He is holy and his people are holy (3-6) And He is the Lord victorious in battle (7-10). The language is now militaristic. These final verses stress the Lord’s valour and conquest in battle. He is the Almighty. He is the Lord of hosts (of armies)… Israel’s invincible warrior… mighty in battle… the divine warrior fighting a holy war.

The occasion of the Psalm may well be when David brings the Ark of the covenant from Kirjath-jearim to Jerusalem*. The ark had travelled before Israel from Sinai to Canaan (Ex 15:17,18). It symbolised God’s presence as a warrior leading his people (Numbs 10:35; Deut 20:1; Ex 15:2,3). Now it has arrived at Jerusalem. Its journey is over, symbolically at least its battles are over. Jerusalem, the last strategic Canaanite stronghold is conquered and is now the capital city of its captors. The ark was about to find rest in Jerusalem. It is in Jerusalem, in tiny Israel, that God’s throne is to be found. It is from there his rule reaches out into the whole world. Indeed, the rather little hill of Zion was destined to become the chief of mountains, a great mountain that covers the whole earth and all nations would flock to it (Isa 2:2; Mic 4:1; Dan 2:35). The throne will be have universal authority, ruling in both heaven and earth a rule already established in Jesus (Eph 1:20-23; Phil 2:9,10)

And so the gate ceremony possibly announces the arrival of the ark. . Certainly the arrival of Yahweh the warrior king who has fought and won Israel’s battles is heralded. He subdues not only seas but nations. Such is the glory of this mighty warrior – the King of Glory – that his entrance requires full recognition. He has been asked to identify himself. Why should he be admitted? A number of identifications could have been given, all valid. The one that is given is his victory in battle… he is ‘The Lord… mighty in battle’. It is enough. The personified gates that open for him are exhorted to lift their heads in joy and celebration. This is of course is to be the response of the city to the arrival of the Warrior-King as he takes residence on his holy hill.

Traditionally as we’ve noted, this psalm has been associated with the enthronement of Jesus at his ascension; he returns to the heavenly temple having won his battles to receive a kingdom (Dan 7:3-14). His enemies, the spiritual forces of chaos, the principalities and powers are overthrown (Col 2). It is a trajectory we can readily see. And again, perhaps too it anticipates the final overthrow of evil by the Warrior-King and his established reign (Rev 19).

The NT stresses the fulfilment of this event in the messianic community, the NT church.

The writer to Hebrews writes in Ch 12, ‘22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.’

Psalm 24** is a celebration. ‘Lord’ is its opening word and is repeated often in the Psalm. The psalm ends by affirming ‘the Lord of hosts, he is the King of Glory‘. The Lord has conquered. Our God reigns. His people exult and rejoice.

This partial paraphrase of Psalm 24 from the 1650 Scottish Psalter captures the majesty of the occasion. Especially when sung to the tune St George’s Edinburgh (Thomson) written much later.

Ye gates lift up your heads on high;
ye doors that last for aye,
be lifted up, that so the King
of glory enter may.
8 But who of glory is the King?
The mighty Lord is this,
even that same Lord that great in might
and strong in battle is.

9 Ye gates, lift up your heads; ye doors,
doors that do last for aye,
be lifted up, that so the King
of glory enter may.
10 But who is he that is the King,
the King of glory? who is this?
The Lord of hosts, and none but he,
the King of glory is.

Alleluia! alleluia!
alleluia! alleluia! alleluia!
Amen, amen, amen.

*The Psalm appears to assume a temple (v3). Perhaps the occasion when the ark is brought by Solomon into the temple (though David who writes the psalm was not alive by then). It is a hymn, a composition. Perhaps it draws from the past and anticipates future.

** Writers of previous generations, fond of alliteration, sometimes spoke of Psalms 22-24 as the cross, the crook and the crown.




the cavekeeper

The Cave promotes the Christian Gospel by interacting with Christian faith and practice from a conservative evangelical perspective.

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