Friday, May 23, 2003
Thursday, May 22, 2003
The Revelation of Jesus Christ
The Vision of the Son of Man
"Gentle Jesus meek and mild." is a phrase I remember from childhood. There is great truth here. On earth, Jesus had a gentle and meek side to Him. It flowed out of His mercy and His having a provision for the problem of sin. Jesus came to earth to "seek and save the lost." But when He ascended to heaven, He became the rightful king. As Daniel foresaw:
I was watching in the night visions, “And with the clouds of the sky there was coming one like a son of man. He approached the Ancient of Days and was escorted before him. To him was given ruling authority, honor, and sovereignty. All peoples, nations, and language groups were serving him. His authority is an eternal authority which will not pass away. His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14, The Net Bible)
So it should come as no surprise that the Jesus that John sees is awesome and full of glory:
I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day when I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, saying: “Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches—to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.” I turned to see whose voice was speaking to me, and when I did so, I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands was one like a son of man. He was dressed in a robe extending down to his feet and he wore a wide golden belt around his chest. His head and hair were as white as wool, even as white as snow, and his eyes were like a fiery flame. His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. He held seven stars in his right hand, and a sharp double-edged sword extended out of his mouth. His face shone like the sun shining at full strength. When I saw him I fell down at his feet as though I were dead, but he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid! I am the first and the last, and the one who lives! I was dead, but look, now I am alive—forever and ever—and I hold the keys of death and of Hades! Therefore write what you saw, what is, and what will be after these things. The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and the seven golden lampstands is this: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. (Revelation 1:10-20)
What are we to make of this bizarre and wonderful image? I think that it would be a mistake to say that this is exactly what Jesus looks like today. Rather, the image communicates truth about Him in symbolic form. There are two bits of evidence for this. The first is that the text itself says that the lampstands symbolize churches and that the stars symbolize seven angels or messengers to those churches. It makes sense, therefore, that we should look for symbolic meanings in the rest of the details. The other bit of evidence comes from Ezekiel chapter 1. Ezekiel had seen a bizarre and magnificent vision of the throne of God transported by strange creatures. At the end, he described the substance of his vision this way:
The appearance of the brilliant light all around him was like a rainbow in the clouds after the rain. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of Lord. When I saw it, I threw myself down with my face to the ground, and I heard someone’s voice speaking. (Ezekiel 1:28)
The phrase "appearance of the likeness" is very interesting. If Ezekiel had just said "it was the likeness of the glory of God" what he saw would have been one step away from the real thing. It would be the same as saying that a photograph contains a likeness of you. But when Ezekiel says "appearance of the likeness," I believe that what he saw was at least two steps removed from reality. It would be like a drawing of a photograph. God is Spirit and our sense are not. By definition, what we know of Him must communicated by indirect means that touch our spirit with truth about His. Please note that I am not leading you or me towards mysticism, but that rather we discern the difference between vision and its supporting reality.
Which brings us back to this vision of Jesus in His glorified state. Here is a brief meditation on what this image tells us:
- He walks among the seven lampstands and holds seven stars in His hand. These speaks of His oversight and concern for His churches. He is present among us and owns us. Theologically speaking this tells us that Jesus is omnipresent.
- The white robe and golden belt speak of purity and value. There is a simple elegance here. It is not gaudy or pretentious. Jesus lived without sin and knowing Him is our highest good.
- The white hair and beard speak of His eternity and wisdom. Jesus is the ancient of days. He is full of years and knowledge. He is the source of wisdom.
- The flaming eyes are eyes that shine with their own light illuminating and seeing at the same time. Jesus is able to see the hearts of men and judge them. Jesus is full of knowledge. He is omniscient.
- Glowing bronze feet speak of His testing and sure footedness. Metal is tested by fire and Jesus passed His test by being obedient to death on the cross for our salvation. He is tested and true. The feet are also what the victor places on the neck of the vanquished. Jesus is the true and tested and victorious king.
- The two-edged sword means that Jesus need only speak to judge the earth and destroy His enemies. His authority comes from His word and not from His armies. He is omnipotent.
- The face like the sun speaks of His awesome glory.
And so John saw what I believe to be the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Son. John was at first afraid, but Jesus said, "Do not be afraid! I am the first and the last, and the one who lives! I was dead, but look, now I am alive—forever and ever—and I hold the keys of death and of Hades!" John did not have to fear, because the One standing before him had died for him. He is the first and the last and everything in between. He holds the keys of death and Hades.
The seven letters to the seven churches that follow provide application to Christians and Churches throughout the ages of these characteristics of Jesus communicated in this vision.
The next blog post will be Tuesday. My Dad is undergoing emergency surgery today. My second son is getting married on Saturday and my oldest son is expecting his second child any day now. A lot is going on. But on Tuesday, I will look at the seven letters.
Tuesday: Ephesus and Thyatira
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Wednesday, May 21, 2003
The Revelation of Jesus Christ
Daniel, Zechariah, and John
The book of Revelation begins:
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must happen very soon. He made it clear by sending his angel to his servant John, who then testified to everything that he saw concerning the word of God and the testimony about Jesus Christ. Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy aloud, and blessed are those who hear and obey the things written in it, because the time is near. (Revelation 1:1-3, The Net Bible)
The first phrase is ambiguous and is, therefore, an apt introduction to this book. In what sense is this "the revelation of Jesus Christ?"
- Is it a revelation that belongs to Him? In this sense it is the same as saying, "the car of John Doe." God gave Jesus a revelation with instructions to pass it on to His church.
- Is it a revelation about Him? Is there within the vision more understanding to be gained about who Jesus is?
I think that you will agree that the revelation has elements of both. I think that you will also agree that ambiguity rules in this vision.
The next thing that I want to look at is this carefully crafted summary statement of the book:
(Look! He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all the tribes on the earth will mourn because of him. This will certainly come to pass! Amen.) (Revelation 1:7)
John neatly combines to Old Testament prophecies to tell us the subject matter and purpose of his vision. He has not related yet what he has seen. Rather he is introducing it and, therefore, these words begin to set the tone.
He is coming with the clouds. This is a reference to the following passage in Daniel:
I was watching in the night visions, “And with the clouds of the sky there was coming one like a son of man. He approached the Ancient of Days and was escorted before him. To him was given ruling authority, honor, and sovereignty. All peoples, nations, and language groups were serving him. His authority is an eternal authority which will not pass away. His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)
Daniel refers to the ascension of Jesus and His return to His Father, who gives to Him the future Kingdom. The kingdom is universal and eternal. It is over all peoples, nations, and language groups and it is for all time. John's reference to Daniel is again ambiguous, because John now uses it to refer to Jesus' return. Of course, this is consistent with the words of the angels in Acts 1:
As they were still staring into the sky while he was going, suddenly two men in white clothing stood near them and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking up into the sky? This same Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will come back in the same way you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:10-11)
And every eye will see Him. Here is the section from Zechariah:
On that day I will make the leaders of Judah like an igniter among sticks and a burning torch among sheaves, and they will burn up all the surrounding nations right and left. Then the people of Jerusalem will settle once more in their place, the city of Jerusalem. The Lord also will deliver the homes of Judah first, so that the splendor of the kingship of David and of the people of Jerusalem may not exceed that of Judah. On that day the Lord himself will defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the weakest among them will be like mighty David, and the dynasty of David will be like God, like the angel of the Lord before them. So on that day I will set out to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. I will pour out upon the kingship of David and the population of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication so that they will look to me, the one they have pierced. They will lament for him as one laments for an only son, and there will be a bitter cry for him like the bitter cry for a firstborn. On that day the lamentation in Jerusalem will be as great as the lamentation at Hadad-Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. The land will mourn, clan by clan—the clan of the royal household of David by itself and their wives by themselves; the clan of the family of Nathan by itself and their wives by themselves; the clan of the descendants of Levi by itself and their wives by themselves; and the clan of the Shimeites by itself and their wives by themselves— all the clans that remain, each separately with their wives. (Zechariah 12:6-14)
The Zechariah connection tells us several things:
- There is a day of national salvation for Israel. The looking on the one that they have pierced is not in fear of judgment and retribution, but one of recognition and regret. Some have read John's words and suggest that the tribes of the earth mourn because of the coming wrath. This is not the case
- There is a future kingdom for Judah. There are a several geographical and tribal references in this passage and it makes little sense to try to map them exclusively to the Church. Later, in chapter 14, Zechariah will reveal that the Lord will also be king over the entire earth.
John, on the basis of Daniel and later sections of Zechariah, universalizes his quote from Zechariah to include all the peoples of the earth.
So John's vision is about the return of Jesus Christ to reign and bring salvation and repentance as far as it is possible. Those who do not see the One they have pierced and refuse to mourn, are lost.
John includes one more important word in his summary:
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God—the one who is, and who was, and who is coming—the All-Powerful! (Revelation 1:8)
Daniel and Revelation speak of the beast who will wage war against the saints and prevail against them (Daniel 7:21 and Revelation 13:7). During such times the saints must have utmost confidence in the sovereign plan and power of God. It is ordained that there is a time of suffering for His people as part of bringing about His rule and reign on the earth. At such times we must trust Him that it is in the plan and not just out of His control.
Thursday: The Vision of the Son of Man
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Tuesday, May 20, 2003
The Revelation of Jesus Christ
Structure of the Book of Revelation
From a high level, the Revelation of Jesus Christ has a simple and straight forward structure, that communicates the core message of John's vision. It begins with John describing the vision he saw of the Son of Man. This is the glorified Jesus in His full authority, walking among His churches. There follows seven letters to seven churches. These letters reveal the spiritual state of each church and admonish them to overcome their weaknesses and strive toward the reward for overcoming. Then follows the main portion of John's vision. It is here that as we read we find ourselves thrashing and seeking meaning and understanding. It is not so much that each paragraph cannot bring forth an understandable picture, but the flow of images and their connections among themselves are mysterious. Nevertheless, the message, at the highest levels, is easily seen:
- The Throne of God is in Heaven (Revelation 4, 5)
- Seven Profiles of the Future (Revelation 6-20)
- The Throne of God is on a New Earth (Revelation 21,22)
The above outline works for all four interpretive modes. John's vision is about bringing God and mankind together.
Of course, that middle section again is a strange and difficult read. One reason for this is that we seem to read about the same events multiple times. When the Lamb breaks the sixth seal, the wrath of God comes:
Then I looked when the Lamb opened the sixth seal, and a huge earthquake took place; the sun became as black as sackcloth made of hair, and the full moon became blood red; and the stars in the sky fell to the earth like a fig tree dropping its unripe figs when shaken by a fierce wind. The sky was split apart like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved from its place. Then the kings of the earth, the very important people, the generals, the rich, the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one who is seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, because the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to withstand it?” (Revelation 6:12-17, The Net Bible)
But chapter 7 appears to have nothing to do with the dramatic events at the end of chapter 6. Then later, at the blowing of the seventh trumpet, the wrath of God again seems to come:
Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven saying: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.” Then the twenty-four elders who are seated on their thrones before God threw themselves down with their faces to the ground and worshiped God with these words: “We give you thanks, Lord God, the All-Powerful, The one who is and who was, Because you have taken your great power And begun to reign. The nations were enraged, but your wrath has come, and the time has come for the dead to be judged, and the time has come to give to your servants, the prophets, their reward, as well as to the saints and to those who revere your name, both small and great, and the time has come to destroy those who destroy the earth.” (Revelation 11:15-18)
But chapter 12 appears to have nothing to do with the proclamation at the end of chapter 11. And so it goes, we seem to be at the end, but then we are not, then we are, then we are not.
That is why, in the outline above, I group chapters 6 through 20 as Seven Profiles. Here they are:
- Seven Seals and an Interlude
- Seven Trumpets and an Interlude
- Seven Persons and an Interlude
- Seven Bowls and an Interlude
- Babylon's Destruction
- The Kingdom Established
- The Final Battle and Judgment
Here is the key, I believe, that can make sense of John's vision. Each of the profiles tells the same story from a different point of view and its own timeline. The interludes represent a vision of the people of God within the flow of events in that profile. The interludes also have separate timelines.
- The seven seals focus on what is physically happening to the earth.
- The seven trumpets focus are the spiritual and demonic.
- The seven persons focus on the main players in the drama: Israel, Jesus, Satan, etc.
- The seven bowls focus on the justice of God's wrath.
- Babylon focuses on the source of evil
- The Kingdom speaks of Jesus reign on earth before evil is destroyed
- The Final Battle is about the final removal of evil from creation
In other words, the book of Revelation is not chronological. It is thematic. The first profile might well cover many many years, while the fifth seems to cover a few hours. What is important is that each concludes with the return of Jesus to the earth to reign.
Perhaps this will help you read and get more from the book.
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Monday, May 19, 2003
Four Views of Revelations
With this post, I begin a survey of the Book of Revelation. I begin, simply enough, with an overview of 4 different ways of approaching the truths in this book. Those of you who would like to explore these viewpoints more deeply might find Steve Greg's Revelation: Four Views; A Parallel Commentary useful. It is published by Nelson.
Here are the four interpretive styles that I will cover.
- Preterist -- The book of Revelation predicts events that have already occurred. They were future at the time of writing. Fulfillment occurred in the first century.
- Historical -- The predictions in Revelation come to pass in the entire span of church history.
- Futurist -- Most the the prophetic fulfillment in Revelation is yet to happen.
- Symbolic -- The events in Revelation describe eternal principles of the struggle between good and evil, the world and the church, persecution, suffering, and so forth.
I should mention that the Revelation of Jesus Christ contains much value to the Christian regardless of viewpoint or time-point. It promises a blessing to all who read it. It gives us insight into the nature of God, His mercy, and His wrath. It can give us perspective when the events of life come crashing down around us.
In any case, what I would like to do briefly is illustrate the four viewpoints of the book of Revelation by taking certain key events and highlighting how the approaches deal with them. I will then state my preferences and why.
The Seven Seals
Preterist. The seals represent the judgment of God upon Jerusalem in 70 AD.
Historicist. The seals represent the beginning of the fall of the Roman Empire.
Futurist. The seals represent the beginning of the future Great Tribulation. I should note that whereas all dispensationalists are futurist, not all futurists are dispensational.
Symbolic. The seals represent God's dealings with mankind seen in cycles of war, famine, martyrdom, and so forth.
I must point out that within each camp there are distinct variations. Not all preterist view holders would agree that the seals correspond exactly to the destruction of Jerusalem. But they would agree that the seals represent past events from our viewpoint. The purpose of the above pithy comments is to give you a flavor for the approach. As I read Gregg's four Views, I sometimes wondered where he got his information concerning the futurist viewpoint. I can imagine the same would be true for anyone studying this book from the other viewpoints.
The Seven Trumpets
Preterist. Correspond to disasters inflicted by the Romans on the Jews during the Jewish Wars.
Historicist. Represent a series of invasions against the Roman Empire by the barbarians.
Futurist. Calamities endured by unrepentant inhabitants on the earth during the tribulation.
Symbolic. Typify catastrophes through which God warns mankind to repent.
Let's take one more.
The Seven Bowls
Preterist. Judgment against Jerusalem culminating in its fall in 70AD.
Historicist. Judgment on the Papacy beginning with the French Revolution.
Futurist. Global judgments at the end of the tribulation period.
Symbolic. Periodic outpourings of God's wrath.
Which is Right?
The fair-minded person recognizes that intelligent people are behind each of these viewpoints. They are spiritual people who love their God. They are truth seekers. If there is any fault to be cast, it is simply that the viewpoints are so diverse and there are so many more critical issues facing the church, nobody really has the time to understand the real soul of the alternatives. Besides, each viewpoint has strengths and weaknesses. After centuries of debate, views that were only weak have long since disappeared. the fair-minded person will acknowledge the strengths of the alternate views and face the weaknesses of his own.
The preterist view is clearly strengthened by the "coming soon" references. If first century events did fulfill the vision of John, then Jesus did "come soon." Two negative points are that the book must be dated prior to 70AD, which is somewhat problematic, but not impossible. The other is that it seems, to me, preoccupied with wrath agains the Jewish people, and I do not see the scriptural warrant for that.
The historicist has the advantage of explaining seemingly repeated events. On the other hand, it is incredibly subjective. There can be no definitive correlation between a particular historical event and a passage in Revelation. The other problem is that it does not generally include non-western history and movements.
The futurist, of course, has trouble with the "coming soon" passages and must swizzle meaning. It can miss many symbolic meanings by tending to be too literal. It has the strength of being a natural first reading of the book. The adoption of another view would come either from reading the works of others or from subsequent readings of Revelation. But the book purports to proclaim future events.
The symbolic has a unique strength. The preterist, historicist, and futurist span all time periods. It follows that the book contains visions that are, in fact, timeless. The problem is that there is no internal evidence for such an approach. The book is hardly cyclical and moves to a conclusion.
I hope that you can see that choosing among these viewpoints is not easy. There is no clear winner. Here is where I make my cuts. The historicist is too subjective and would drive me crazy. The preterist rejects a future Kingdom of Israel and forces a figurative understanding of otherwise plain Old Testament passages. The symbolic ignores the book's claim to speak of real future events. So my preference is the futurist with symbolic themes. Eternal principles are at work in the events of this book.
Tuesday: The Structure of Revelation
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