TableBlog

Being Wrong to the Glory of God

homeI have three kids under 10 at my house. Needless to say, I get to watch a lot of kid’s movies. One of my favorites from the last few years is the DreamWorks movie “Home.” It is a story about a race of aliens, called Boov, who invade earth in a friendly manner, displace all the humans into a few very dense colonies, and simply take up residence in the now vacant human cities. The Boov invade earth under the perceived noble cause of bringing an intellectually and technologically advanced society to the dumb and needy humans. They are taught by their captain to believe that they are befriending humanity and giving humans a better life, while displacing all humanity into compact colonies around the world.

One of these Boov, named Oh, gets himself into trouble with his own kind, and ends up partnering with a young girl, named Tip. As they journey together and team up to overcome challenges to get what they both want, they do so basically as enemies in a reluctant partnership. The turning point of the conflict between them comes when Oh arrives at the conclusion that the humans did not need the Boov at all, nor have the Boov done any good service for humankind. He has the revelation that he has been wrong about everything that compelled him to follow his own kind into an invasion and occupation.

When confronted with his error, He tells Tip that they were led by their captain to believe that the humans needed the Boov to teach them and to make them better. In the course of his apology, he confesses, “We were told the humans were simple and backwards. It is what we thought. But I am thinking now, that we were thinking wrong.” Oh’s humility to consider that he might be wrong, later becomes the doorway to a friendship between human and alien. His willingness to see that he was wrong cleared the path to cultivate a real relationship.

In real life, as Christians, being wrong about our ideas about God (theology) and our understanding of the bible (interpretation) is the doorway to growing in true ideas and true understanding about God and his redemptive work. Like aliens invading earth under the wrong notion of a noble cause for primitive humanity, we often read our bibles with a view to bolster the things we have been taught. We dive into God’s word under the wrong notion that we have everything figured out, and just need a daily dose of encouraging, reminding, and strengthening of all our concrete ideas about God and Gospel. In effect, we enter the study of God’s word having already decided what we will find there.

For those raised in church life, these can be either the affirmation or rejection of interpretive systems, doctrinal views, and theological constructs that we were raised under. For those not raised in church, these can be ideas about God, the bible, Jesus, and the Gospel that were taught to us by movies, TV, school teachers and professors, social media, and professing Christian friends and family. All these ingrained ideas that we presume upon, often unknowingly, will cloud our ability to see what the text actually says. Our traditions can become a roadblock between us and the meaning of the scripture we are studying. The only danger of being wrong is when we isolate ourselves from a healthy community of others who will help us assess and challenge our theological traditions against our highest authority, the Scripture. It is our willingness to be wrong that paves the way to what is right.

Brothers and Sisters, don’t be afraid to let the text say what it says without regard to the consequences. When we are wrong, it is not a cause for shame and embarrassment. It is a cause for rejoicing and thanksgiving to the Holy Spirit who directs toward all truth as revealed in Scripture. Be humble. Study carefully. Glorify God with your traditions by constantly submitting them under God’s word with a willingness to dispense with any that His word exposes as wrong.

 

Be wrong. Be gloriously, joyfully wrong.

 

Six Months Later

In our last post we were wisely warned against being biblical jerks who assume all we need is me, my Bible, and my interpretation. We were reminded that one way to avoid being biblical jerks is by recognizing how we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us, being willing to interact with and learn from the many who have labored in the Scriptures before us.

Today we want to briefly consider the importance of our continued life in the church and how that effects our Bible reading and understanding. In the picture above we see the Rio 2016 Olympic Swimming pool which, only 6 months ago, was sparkling clean and full of people and life. In only 6 months the pool, and the whole Olympic park has been abandoned and vandalized (see – Rio’s Olympic Venues Six Months Later).

The pictures of the former Olympic parks are instructive for us because they show us how easy it is for something to fall into disrepair in an incredibly short period of time. Sadly, in the 20th Century much in the way of Christian evangelism was tied to crusades, concerts, and other large events rather than the ministry of the Word in local churches. It was easy to pack out a building with people and even to get many to come forward while “Just as You Are” or some other alter call song played in the background, just as it was easy to pack out the Olympic stadiums in Rio. However, apart from the normal ministry of the Word in the local church people will become as spiritually dilapidated as the Olympic pools and grounds are physically.

One of the best things Christians can and should do to avoid spiritual dilapidation is to find out where your pastor is preaching for next Sunday and read ahead each week. Read through the passage a couple times and see if you can identify the main idea that the text is getting at before you go into the sermon. Read through the notes of one of the great Study Bibles recommended in the last post and maybe even try to outline the text for yourself and compare what you found with what your pastor uses on Sunday morning.

Imagine if everyone in the church was reading and studying through the same book of the Bible each week? Each church member comes to church on Sunday having read the passage a few times and through their Study Bible notes or maybe even a commentary. Then on Sunday morning after the pastor preaches there is a great opportunity to discuss the text together as a church. Later that week in small groups and community groups that book is being discussed and thought through and all are growing in their knowledge of the Word together.

The hyper-individualism of our day has often led to people assuming that the best thing in the world is for them to make sure they spend time alone in the Bible every day. But how much better would it be if at least part of our Bible reading each day was in the same place as the rest of your family and small group and church?

As we move into the second half of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, please join us in reading and thinking and praying through these amazing passages of Scripture for the next few weeks – TOGETHER!

At the Table,

Trevor

 

 

“That’s All I Need”

jerkAs we travel through the book of Galatians on Sunday mornings we continue to chant the Gospel and nothing but.  “No Other Gospel.”  Meanwhile, it is important to know that the Gospel didn’t come to us in a vacuum, nor did the Bible, which gives us the Gospel.

I recall when I was an older teen watching the Steve Martin hit movie, “The Jerk”, hilarious and yet crass.  One of the few scenes I recall is where Martin’s character, sad and in a fight with his girlfriend, tells her he doesn’t need her in his life anymore.  Then he begins to declare he doesn’t need anything and wipes his desk of all paperwork.  After declaring he doesn’t need anything, he picks up an ashtray and repeats over and over, “…all I need is this ashtray… that’s all I need.”  But then to the viewers delight and chuckle he picks up a paddle game, a remote, and matches while declaring “that’s all I need.”  He is – after all – the jerk.

As Christians who are devoted to the Bible and who celebrate Sola Scriptura, we must avoid the error of believing the Bible is all we need.  Most often, we hear well meaning believers say things such as “I don’t need other people’s opinions, just the Bible, that’s all I need.”  It’s a soft way of shunning Bible commentary and theology in general.  It is a mindset that believes a Christian and a Bible alone will unlock all the glories that are to be had in scripture.  One must ask: is that even possible?  While Christians are reading their Bibles they bring skills, thoughts, and assumptions to the scriptures, many we are not even aware of.  For example:  our knowledge of grammar, Middle Eastern geography, or ancient history (which may heighten the drama of a narrative or the clarity of what God is doing in particular time period).  Further, we bring with us our worldview which has been shaped by:  our parents, our pastors, our fallen nature, our emotional status, etc., all of which hinder or help our understanding of the text.

Many in fear of being misled (or driven to be pretentious) will contend they only need their Bibles and yet miss the glaring contradiction: their own commentary they impart on the text called their mind.  While claiming “That’s all I need” like Steve Martin’s character, we ignorantly drag along many beliefs, interpretations, and knowledge.  So for this reason, Christians should cautiously and thoughtfully engage with Bible helps and commentaries.

We stand on the shoulders of giants.  Those who’ve labored hard in the text and provided brilliant insight into the context of the Bible.  They are fallen yes, but they help us see the un-fallen (Scripture) more clearly and for that we are grateful and humble.  Rather than shun, or more likely ignore, let’s glean from the men and women who have rightly labored over the text for our benefit.  So meanwhile for 2017 please read the Bible, YES!  Perhaps with a commentary, study-bible, or even audio sermon close by…  Lest we be a Biblical jerk.

One last warning: one could just as easily mooch off of commentators and never actually reflect long on the scriptures themselves.  This is equally a sham.

Not sure where to start with resources?  Here are a few suggestions:

Study Bibles:

ESV Study Bible

NIV Zondervan Study Bible

Gospel Transformation Bible

Bible Commentary:

For You Bible Commentary Series

Sermon Audio:

See Gospel Coalition’s Resource page

At the Table,

Thomas

The Sealing in Revelation 7

Revelation 712000 from 12 Tribes

This is a very difficult section of the book of Revelation, especially for those of us who have grown up in American Christianity. I specify American Christianity because we are one of the only places where dispensational theology grew. Dispensational theology began in the British Isles in the 1800s but never took root, so eventually it was brought over to America where it ended up growing.

Dispensationalism is an approach to the Bible which sees a radical difference between Israel and the Church. Originally they argued that there were two people of God – Israel and the Church – and the two must never be confused or combined. Any beliefs that did combine them was termed Replacement Theology.

This is a term that Dispensationalists came up with to say that it is wrong to believe that the Church inherits the blessings of Israel. The church must never “replace” Israel because God made promises to Abraham which can never be broken.

As you can see the whole idea of “Replacement theology” assumes that there are two peoples of God that must remain distinct. However, the whole New Testament speaks of the oneness of the people of God. For example:

Galatians 3:28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 2:13-22 – “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility  by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”

Romans 11:11-24 is one of the most vivid pictures of the oneness of the people of God. An illustration is used of a single Olive tree – a Jewish tree – but many Jews were broken off for unbelief. Notice that not all of them were broken off because the whole early church all the way up to Acts 8 & 10 was Jewish, but many of them were broken off.  So God grafted the Gentiles into THE SAME TREE, notice the idea is that there is ONLY ONE TREE, there is only ONE people of God.

Think about that picture carefully – It is a tree with Jewish roots and trunk, but then Gentiles are grafted into it. Clearly that means that the Gentiles ARE receiving the blessings of Israel because they are all in one tree together! To be sure, it seems that Romans 11 goes on to say that many Jews are grafted back into that same tree – many have been grafted throughout the ages and I believe that many are still going to be grafted in.

Based on these passages and many, many more, not for a second does the church “Replace” Israel – the church grows out of and is fed by the roots and trunk of Israel! There is only ONE TREE – there is only ONE people of God.

In the Old Testament the only way to gain access to Yahweh was through Israel and the Temple. In the New Testament the only way to gain access to God is through the gospel message which has been entrusted to the church to proclaim to all nations.

The church does not replace Israel – rather “Israel” expands to include Gentiles. Is that not the whole picture of the book of Acts it starts with 120 Jews and grows to include Gentiles from all over the Roman Empire? Therefore, it is much more accurate to hold to “Expansion” theology as opposed to “Replacement” theology. Whereas Israel was one nation, in the New Testament and especially in Revelation those who worship the Lamb are from “every tongue and tribe and nation.”  

Some may respond but doesn’t “Expansion” theology mean the church inherits the blessings of Israel – because I was told the church cannot inherit their blessings. In short, the answer is Yes because that is what Galatians 3 teaches quite clearly.

In Galatians 3:7-9 we read, “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham…”

Paul could not be clearer on this point – the Gentiles have and do receive the blessings of Abraham, which are the blessings promised to Israel. And they receive those blessings by faith in Jesus Christ who IS THE BLESSING OF ABRAHAM to all those who believe!

Galatians 3:13-14 – “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.”

Often times reference is made to the unconditional nature of the Abrahamic covenant, but there is not space to address that fully here. However, it must be a serious consideration that Paul claims Jesus as the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant. In Galatians 3 Paul says Jesus is the “seed of Abraham” and the “blessing of Abraham” which was to bless all nations. Paul wrote as an inspired Apostle exegeting the Abrahamic covenant in Galatians 3, so all Christians today must submit their exegesis of Abraham to Paul’s inspired exegesis.

The reason this is important for Revelation 7 is that since the New Testament so clearly attributes the blessings of Israel to the Church, and since the Church grows out of the roots of the Israel Olive Tree, it should not surprise us that the imagery of 12000 from each of the 12 tribes is really pointing to the totality of the people of God found in the Church. The Church is made up of Jew and Gentile, and only those who are “in Christ” receive the blessings of Christ, which is the true fulfillment of the promised blessings of Abraham.

After all, Abraham was to be the father of a “multitude of nations” and that is exactly what he is to all of those who have placed faith in Jesus who took the curse for us so that we can become “sons of Abraham” by faith.

 

The 5th seal: The Voice of the Martyrs

This seal is not really in the flow of the the others. Yet it belongs here for a reason. John’s vision puts a pin in it here, because Jesus is going to resolve the tension of the martyrs expressed in the 5th seal later in ch 7-9.  Here are a few key points to see the connecting the 5th seal with the first four.  

 

  1. The events depicted under the four riders are things that have clearly been occurring throughout every generation since the death of Christ. I highlighted those examples after each rider in today’s sermon. Military conquest/murderous hearts/famine/Death&Hades. If we are good students of history, we cannot say we are waiting for these things to begin.
  2. In Rev 1:9, John opens his letter to the churches by identifying himself in this way, “I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus…”  Tribulation, the Kingdom, and patient endurance in Jesus are all wrapped up into this life for John and his audience.
  3. It is then that we get to the martyrs crying out God, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” The Lord justifies His delay in avenging their sacrificial deaths. He says that there are more martyrs who have not yet been killed for their witness. God intends to avenge the martyrdom of His saints only after all those who will be killed for the Gospel have been killed. You see, there are still Christ followers dwelling on the earth, and some of them will continue to be murdered as they boldly proclaim the Gospel in the world (the very thing we find the 144,000 doing in chapter 7). And while we western Americans may not recognize the continuation of the martyrs’ reality, there are places throughout the world where, as we speak, Christians are being slaughtered in numbers for their witness to the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
  4. This is all we get before the universe crumbles as the Lamb approaches in the great day of His wrath. There is judgements/tribulation, the ongoing murder of Christians for the testimony of Jesus, and then the end comes. There is no accommodation for any period of time where the world suffers tribulation without the Church proclaiming the Gospel during such time, and being murdered on account of it. We have to insert that into the text, into the vision, if we are to preach a message that the Church is saved from the common variety of deadly tribulation that the Church has been suffering since Jesus was nailed to a Roman cross.

 

Therefore, when we let the text say what it says, we see this: there is a Tribulation that the Church will patiently endure, John claims to be living in that time with all the first century Christ followers. The Martyrs are waiting for their vindication while more martyrs are added to their number. Are we to think that those who have been slain for the Gospel in the past, or those who are being slaughtered today, are waiting for tribulation to begin on the earth? Moreover, it becomes clear in these passages that whenever The Great Tribulation begins, that Christians are there on the ground enduring it for the sake of, and with view to, the Kingdom. As such, they continue to be slaughtered for their faithful testimony throughout that time in a world who is foaming at the mouth to silence them.

When Does This All Happen?

gallery_movies-back-to-the-future-2-poster-artworkRevelation chapters 4 and 5 tell us the most interesting story.  In short, all of heaven is positioned to exalt and praise a king on a throne.  Yet, when we look at this king he is not as we’d assume.  This king has been marred by the wounds of a battle.  His upcoming was not through a great victorious strong line of kings but from the stump of a tree cut down long ago.  The stump of David.  Further there is a drama or suspense to these chapters.  A scroll needs to be opened!  This particular scroll has seven wax seals and when a seal is broken open, particular contents of the scroll are enacted out.  What is this scroll?  It is the Purposes of God’s Judgement and Redemption.  One might say it is the plan of God to save his people, and cut off his enemies.  The fifth chapter ends with the king whom is the lamb “standing as though it had been slain” being the only one worthy to open the scroll and thus bring all things to their fulfillment.  And for this all of heaven and earth resound with praise.

Yet for all this great picture it still leaves a contemporary question unanswered: “When does this all happen?”

Back to the Future? (The Timing of 4 & 5)

The Time Travelers Handbook of 1001 Tense Formations says the aspect of time and describing time is very difficult!

For example, “How do you describe something that was about to happen to you in the past before you avoided it by time-jumping forward two days in order to avoid it. The event will be described differently according to whether you are talking about it from the standpoint of your own natural time, from a time in the further future, or a time in the further past and is further complicated by the possibility of conducting conversations while you are actually traveling from one time to another with the intention of becoming your own mother or father.”

The point is well made from our 21st century perspective reading what John the Apostle saw on the island Patmos concerning the past, present and future gets a bit confusing.  Also, consider the fact that John wrote this book not on Patmos but only received the vision on Patmos.  Revelation 1:9 “I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos.” (Emphasis mine)

Our western minds long for a linear timeline and clear outline of a great book like Revelation.  Some have proposed that John built in an outline for us to follow.  A table of contents if you will.  The key verse being Revelation 1:19 which has an echo in 4:1

Rev 1:19 reads, “Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.” A popular approach is to view the phrase “Things which you have seen” as chapter one, “those that are” as chapters 2-3 (the seven churches), and “those that are to take place after this” (the future) as chapters 4-22.  Thus chapter one becomes the past, 2-3 the present and 4-22 future to us today. Viewing most of Revelation as future.  This position is very tempting as it could help make sense of several sections of the book.  If Luke had written this book as an “orderly account” (Luke 1:1-4) then this position would have more strength.  But the book of revelation is Written by John, as a letter, in Prophetic and Apocalyptic prose.  Apocalyptic being a genre that is not concerned with tight timelines or strict categories.  It is a much more flexible genre.  For example, consider how chapter 12 clearly precedes chapters 4 & 5 in our earthly time.  Revelation 12 paints a picture for us of Christ being born (the Son) and Satan attempting to devour him (the Dragon).  In human history this clearly happens before the events of chapters 4 & 5 which display Christ as crucified, but resurrected and ascended.

Perhaps a better approach is to read 1:19 first from John’s perspective.  Already by verse 19 in chapter one John has seen an intense vision.  Thus a better reading of 1:19 is “Write things which you have seen,” namely “things which are” and “those that are to take place after this.  The phrase “after these things” in 4:1 is used as a transition from the seven churches section (2-3) to the heavenly vision (4-5).  It has similar echo’s in 7:1 (after this), 7:9, 15:5, 18:1, 19:1 (I heard).  In Apocalyptic literature the phrase “after this” followed by “I saw” or “I heard” is repeated over and over again. Because the “seer” or the person telling the story is seeing vision after vision, and they are just letting us know what they saw next.

Verses 1:19 and 4:1 then, are not so much a timeline but literary markers helping us see key sections of what has been revealed to John.

All this may be the long way around to say, we aren’t told explicitly when chapters 4 and 5 occur.  This section was penned not to give us decoder timeline of end times, but rather to exalt and lift up the only one worthy to open the scroll, the only one worthy of our praise.  God himself, revealed to us in His son, Jesus Christ the Conquering King.  It seems safe to assume that all of Heaven worshipped (past) the lamb as He ascended into the heavens.  That they currently are (present) worshiping Him, and those who die in faith, will (future) join the countless number to worship too.

Introduction to the Revelation

Revelation as Apocalyptic

“One of the real advances in twentieth-century biblical scholarship was its rediscovery of the genre of apocalyptic literature, which made it easier to interpret the last book of the Bible and to justify its place in the canon. For many centuries, Revelation was either ignored or misunderstood because no one really knew what to do with its rich symbolism. Many made the mistake of treating it as a literal prophecy, which led to fantastic predictions of the immanent end of time, and so on. … Now, however, it is possible to appreciate the text of Revelation for what it is and to realize that it is one of the most profoundly theological books in the entire Bible. It may take some time for awareness of this to percolate down to the average churchgoer, who is still liable to be misled by sensational interpretations, but there is a new scholarly consensus on the subject that promises to enhance, not diminish, the book’s reputation and usefulness in the life of the church. – Gerald Bray Revelation Flyer

As was mentioned in the Introducing the Revelation sermon (www.tablechurch.net/#sermons) we live in a very specialized world where people go through years and years of study for a very specific field. The opening quote points out how many people have been taught to read Revelation in the church over the years, but until recently there simply were no specialists on apocalyptic literature. In other words, many of us have been taught – with dogmatic certainty – what the book of Revelation means and yet our teachers have never really studied the apocalyptic genre Revelation was written in.

Of course it is God’s Word and God’s Word speaks to us. However, just as a poem cannot be made into a math problem no matter how hard one tries to force it, so too the apocalyptic genre of Revelation cannot be made into something it was not designed to be. Unfortunately, many American Christians have never been taught that Revelation is from a very specific genre or style of literature, and so they are simply unaware that to read this literature in a highly literal way is the same thing as treating a poem like a math problem. Or even worse, a math problem like a poem!

 

Respecting Revelation as a Genre

“We are obligated … to read the texts (of the Bible) in… their historical setting, in their literary setting. … That means when we come to read the Bible we must try, by God’s help, to understand the various parts as God, himself has given them to us. … We do not interpret all literature exactly the same way. We do not take a Shakespearean sonnet and interpret it exactly as you would free verse. … So it is when you come to the Word of God. God in his wisdom has given a wonderful diversity of forms in Scripture. … One of the forms he has given is apocalyptic, and it has its own principles of interpretation, its own standard symbols. For a start it is steeped in Old Testament allusion. … In addition it schematizes history. It is the only part of the Bible where you can count on the numbers being symbolic. … In this kind of writing everything is in 7’s and 3’s and 10’s and 12’s. That’s the way the language works and you have to understand how it works. If you try to understand it in merely literal terms you will distort it. … When we come to the book of Revelation the numbers are symbol laden, it is the genre, it is the literary form. And you treat the Word of God with less than respect unless you come to terms with the different forms that God has given.” – D. A. Carson

I bolded that last sentence because I know that all Christians with a high view of the Bible genuinely want to know what the text says. However, as I pointed out in the sermon we would never go to a friend who has been an expert in their field and tell them to move over so you can show them how to do their job. Because we would never do that to a friend, we should never come to the Bible with an attitude that “we know” how to read this text so everyone else can just move on over. The simple fact is that most of us have been raised in churches with pastors who love the Word of God and long to teach it faithfully, but they simply were not trained on how the genre apocalyptic works.

Let me give you an illustration for what the past couple generations in America have done to the Revelation. Lewis Carroll famously wrote Alice in the Looking Glass which was made into a cartoon when I was a kid and recently has been redone as a movie. In that movie is a non-sensical poem which Carroll wrote with mostly made up language. NOTE he intentionally made up words to write a poem which was intentionally nonsensical. However – even though much of the language of the poem was made up words it still communicates the story of a boy (or girl in the new movie) who slays a hideous beast. The poem is called The Jabberwocky – http://www.jabberwocky.com/carroll/jabber/jabberwocky.html.

Imagine for a minute that (for whatever reason) all of civilization begins to collapse – maybe the Matrix is true after all! With this collapse all the history books and knowledge that we have gained is lost. Then a small society some 2000 years from now finds a copy of The Jabberwocky and reads it. Imagine that they read it so carefully that they begin to define terms in the poem which Carroll had made up. Imagine that they begin to discuss the possibilities of what the poem could mean for so long that they begin to become absolutely certain their explanations were true.

A very similar thing has been done with the Revelation. Most people didn’t know how to read it because they were unaware that it is a book written in a very specific genre of literature and so they attempted to “read it literally.” This is why many in the past century have read this book and try to explain the imagery by saying that it might speaks of helicopters and nuclear warfare.  The problem is that reading the Revelation in that way completely ignores the fact that it was written to a people in history, with a genre of literature that they all knew and loved. It is very much like reading The Jabberwocky and assigning meaning to nonsensical words that Lewis Carroll made up.

 

Revelation was written to them, but applicable to us

Revelation can only communicate to us today when we understand what it meant to the first readers back then. Because it was written to them back then. Apocalyptic was an incredibly popular genre in their day and so for us to read it as though all of that history never happened is to disrespect God’s Word and make this book far more about us and what we want it to say, than about what God was looking to communicate.

With that said – what is the Revelation about? As we said in the sermon – Revelation was written to comfort the suffering Christians who were in the midst of deep trials and tribulation. And it was meant to shock the complacent Christians into repenting and coming back to their first love.

As we said, rather than get lost in the details in this book get caught up in the drama of the story. Be amazed at the glory of the Son of Man in chapter 1. Weep with John when no one is found who is worthy to open the scroll, and let those tears of sorrow be turned into tears of joy when the Lion of Judah, who is also the Lamb who was slain is found worthy to open them in chapters 4-5.

Feel the tension and the fear when the four horsemen pour out their wrath in chapter 6, and when the demonic hoards attack in chapters 8-9. Hold your breath when the Dragon waits between the legs of the woman who is about to give birth, because the dragon is seeking to devour her offspring in chapter 12. And breathe a sigh of relief when the child and all the woman’s other offspring are protected by God from the dragon.

Don’t get lost in the details, but be moved by the story of the King who comes to slay the dragon and win his bride. Let the reminder of God’s sovereignty and the promise of his ultimate victory over sin and death and hell bolster your faith, and encourage us all to repent and believe in the Lamb who was slain for us.

In closing, the book of Revelation seeks to tell the reader about the ultimate reality by using fantastic imagery and symbolism. Think on this until we look at chapters 4-5 this coming Sunday.

“Revelation invites us to see ultimate reality through our imaginations, in breathtaking, earth-scorching, mind-stretching, sin-defeating, dragon-slaying, Christ-centered, God-glorifying images that change the way we think, act, and speak. … For years I neglected cultivating my imagination. Once I began developing an appreciation for fantasy and imaginative literature like Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey, C. S. Lewis’s series The Chronicles of Narnia, and of course J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, I discovered that my appreciation for Revelation has grown and the weight of its images have pressed heavier on my soul. As I have read imaginative literature, my imagination has developed. As my imagination has developed, I have found myself reading Revelation more patiently, allowing the images to emerge in my mind until I feel the full spiritual shock of their intended voltage.” – Tony Reinke

Is Hebrews 11 About the “Use” of Faith, or the “Proof” of Faith? 

Isolated Handshake in high resolution

A common approach to Hebrews 11 is to use the examples from the so-called Hall of Faith as a diving board to jump off into studies in the “use” of faith. Each example mentioned in Hebrews 11 is taken as an individual example of how we as Christians “use” faith. This is seen clearly in Warren Wiersbe’s commentary on Hebrews where he labels them as follows: Abel is an example of faith worshipping, Enoch an example of faith walking, Noah an example of faith working, Abraham and the patriarchs are examples of faith waiting, and Moses was an example of faith warring.

While this alliteration is catchy we must ask ourselves if this is really the point that the author of Hebrews sought to make. For example, did the author really expect for people to break up their reading of Hebrews 11 in order to go back and reread and rethink the faith of each person mentioned? Or is the author looking to make one large overarching point with smaller points not being excluded?

Context. Context. Context.

Hebrews 11 is not an island, so we need to pay careful attention to the themes which surround the chapter. When we look closely at Hebrews 10:32-39 and Hebrews 12:1-4 we see the words endure and endurance repeated in each section. These repeated words should be like flashing lights helping us to uncover why Hebrews 11 was included at this point of the letter.

The examples of faith given in Hebrews 11 were meant to challenge the first hearers to remain steadfast through persecution. The author sought to help each reader and hearer endure the suffering they were experiencing. However, there is an even greater point being made when we consider the larger context of the book of Hebrews as a whole.

Jesus the Key to Hebrews and the Whole Bible

This greater point can only be discerned when we see how Hebrews 11 is still part of the overarching theme of the whole book. The original recipients of this book were primarily Hebrew Christians who were experiencing severe persecution and so they were tempted to go back to the Old Covenant structures of worshipping at the temple to make the persecution stop. However, the author of Hebrews writes to them to explain how the Old Covenant structures were all shadows that pointed to the greater reality which is found in Jesus – the one who is greater than angels, Moses and Joshua, the Great High Priest whose blood has established the New and better Covenant which means there will never again need for blood to be shed for God’s people.

What this means is that the “faith” being spoken of in Hebrews 11 is not the subjective “use” of faith that each person had. Rather the point is the objective reality that faith lays hold of. The chapter shows us that faith in God has always been a requirement for God’s people down through the ages, and Abel, Noah, Abraham etc, are examples of that truth. But with Jesus’ coming the object of their faith had been realized, all they hoped for had finally arrived. This is the point of Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen. (emphasis added)” Those in the “Hall of Faith” looked forward but did not experience the reality, which is why the chapter ends like this, “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised… (emphasis added)”

The most amazing thing about the examples of faith found in Hebrews 11 is not the “use” of faith that they each demonstrated, but the “proof” of their faith – the objective reality of salvation found in Jesus. This is the point of Hebrews 11:13, “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. (emphasis added)”

All the previous generations had looked ahead, in faith, knowing that God’s promises were sure and in Jesus the reality had finally come. So while these stories do provide examples that God’s people have always been those who had to cling to his promises by faith, their faith is meant to encourages us to look afresh at Jesus who is the reality. This is what the author goes on to say in Hebrews 12:1-4, “Therefore… let us run with endurance the race that is set before uslooking 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. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted…” (emphasis added).

The Antichrist and the Last Days

1clock

1 John 2:18-23 – “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. … Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.

1 John 4:1-3 – “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God:  every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from GodThis is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.”

There are some passages of the Bible which are so familiar that they are often not thought about deeply. Perhaps it is because the language seems so simple that there is no attempt to really mine the depths of what is being said, but these two passages from 1 John have been limited in what they are communicating. Thinking deeply through these passages reveal the vast amount of implications they have for Christians today.

There are two key points to be made in this post and I have placed the corresponding verses in bold to highlight them. First, John is very clear that many antichrists have come, and the fact that this was true in John’s day meant that he could write “it is the last hour.” John sees the “end times” and the threats of antichrists having begun in his day and not something that was to come later. John’s point has massive implications – John did not see any other prophetic event that had to happen in order for the “last hour,” let alone the “last days” to begin.

This is certainly not to say that all prophecy had been fulfilled when John wrote those words, but rather by putting it this way John is demonstrating a need to rethink the end times prophecies due to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. The prophets were seemingly unaware of the “last days” being an extended period of time, but John says the “last days” began in his day and so they must extend until the Lord’s return. We need to allow the New Testament to give us insights into the Old Testament, and clearly John is expanding the category of “end times” to a much longer time period than the prophets were aware of. With this in mind one must not go back and reread the prophets as though 1 John hasn’t been written. Instead reread the many prophecies about the “last days” and realize how the prophets were seeing a shadowy picture of a much longer period of time than what they expected.

This same understanding of the “last days,” “last day,” and “last hour” is also found in Paul’s letters. When Paul writes to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:1-9 he is not writing about something in the distant future but about troubles that began in his day and would continue until the Lord’s return. We dare not read these texts as though we are the only people in time to be experiencing “the last days” when Paul and John clearly saw themselves as also living in “the last days.”

The second key point in this passage is regarding the nature of the spirit of antichrist. Again John calls out many antichrists, and while this does not prohibit a final, future antichrist who is yet to come, it does mean that this entire period of the “end times” is characteristic of these types of false teachers. Notice how in both passages John links the work of the antichrists to denying Jesus is God. This means any religion or sect which explicitly or implicitly denies the deity of Jesus is actually operating under the influence of the spirit of antichrist.

The implications for this are stunning.  Here is one to walk away with: EVERY religion and worldview that denies Jesus is God is of the spirit of antichrist. Unfortunately many Christians have been taught the antichrist is a man who will do very specific things, at a very specific time, and in a very specific place. But if the antichrist is merely some guy who will do some specific task then most Christians will not fully heed the warnings that John lays out in his letter. If, however, we see the vast scope of the spirit of antichrist as something that has invaded many, if not most, facets of society then we will be far better prepared.

John’s explanation of the spirit of antichrist is one that should keep his readers constantly aware of our need to press into a deeper and deeper knowledge of Jesus. It is said they teach people how to spot counterfeit money by having them handle the real thing all the time, and the same is true regarding our knowledge of Jesus. If we are saturated with a whole-Bible view of Jesus and his person and work, and if we are constantly being pointed to Christ from every part of Scripture, then we will be able to spot the many worldviews and religions which deny Jesus.

 

How “Zion” the Caterpillar Becomes a Butterfly

15302-Butterflies-EscapeThe well known metamorphosis from a caterpillar to a butterfly is a helpful illustration for understanding how certain Old Testament themes become transformed in the New Testament. Seemingly insignificant or uninteresting words or themes in the Old Testament often develop into some of the most amazing treasures that the New Testament has to offer. In this post we will see how the word Zion transforms across the Bible.

The Zion Caterpillar in the Old Testament

The word “Zion” is use 161 times in the English Standard Version of the Bible, the vast majority of which are found in the Prophets and the Psalms (108 in the Prophetic books and 39 in Psalms)

Zion often refers to Jerusalem as in 2 Samuel 5:6-7, but more specifically the word Zion tends to refer to the mountain of God’s temple in Jerusalem as the dwelling place of Yahweh. These themes are found in Zechariah 8:3, “Thus says the Lord: I have returned to Zion and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem, and Jerusalem shall be called the faithful city, and the mountain of the Lord of hosts, the holy mountain.”

Though much more could be said, this gives us a solid introduction as to some of the main ways “Zion” is used in the Old Testament.

The Zion Caterpillar in the New Testament

The New Testament only uses the word Zion seven times (Matthew 21:5; John 12:15; Romans 9:33, 11:26; Hebrews 12:22; 1 Peter 2:6; Revelation 14:1), and five of these seven usages are quotes from the Old Testament.

·      Matthew 21:5 and John 12:15 are quoting Zechariah 9:9

·      Romans 9:33 and 1 Peter 2:6 are quoting Isaiah 28:16

·      Romans 11:26 is quoting Isaiah 59:20-21

All five of these passages revolve around the coming of Jesus as the fulfillment of the deliverer who will come from Zion or is the cornerstone laid in Zion.

Hebrews 12:22 and Revelation 14:1 are not quoting Old Testament passaged so we will look at each passage. In context Revelation 14:1-5 reads:

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. 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, 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. 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 first-fruits for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless.

Regardless of the various interpretations, it is interesting to note the theme of God’s presence with his people is clearly seen. On Mount Zion is the Lamb and those who he has redeemed. The scene here is similar to the Zechariah 8:3 passage that we already read as it shows God in Zion with his people.

Hebrews 12:22 is part of a section comparing and contrasting those who went to Mt Sinai with Moses and those who “have come” to Mount Zion with Jesus. Hebrews 12:22-24 says:

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, 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, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (emphasis added)

This passage says New Covenant believers “have come” to Mount Zion which is then explained to be “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem”, and these ones have come “to God” and “to Jesus” all because Jesus’ blood has sprinkled believers clean. What is stunning about this is that the verb for “have come” is in the Greek Perfect tense, meaning that the act is completed but the results continue on.  This means Hebrews 12:22 says to Christian believers of the New Covenant that they already “have come” to Mount Zion and they are already dwelling in “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.”

Seeing the Zion Butterfly
Since the New Testament “reveals” the “concealed” aspects of the Old Testament – what does this passage teach us about the many prophecies of a coming restoration of Zion with all her fortunes, and of the Lord dwelling there with his people (e.g. Joel 3)?

As we look back on those Old Testament texts we realize there are more layers than first appeared. New Covenant believers live in the tension of the Already and the Not Yet. Though the consummation of all things has NOT YET happened, we are those who are ALREADY dwelling in Mount Zion because Jesus has ALREADY secured our entrance into the Heavenly Jerusalem and God is ALREADY in our midst because of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence.

What is most amazing is how the author of Hebrews focuses exclusively on what Jesus has already achieved. He leads his readers to hope in Jesus alone because in him we “have come to Mount Zion.”