Big Picture Gospel – Part 1

What does it mean to be a human being? Why are we here or what is our purpose? What is truth and where do I find it? Why do we suffer? Where is everything heading? In sharing the gospel, these are the questions that also need to be answered. We need a “big picture gospel”, one that not only provides the answers to life’s larger ontological questions but shows their connection to God’s redemptive plan[1].

1. God created men and women in His image as eternal[2], free-will spirits[3] with a moral conscience[4] and a two-fold purpose:

1) to have relationship with Him and others.

1) (Gen 1:27 “image”) = Not only does this word infer humans are eternal, free-will spirits w/a moral conscience like God but also relationship w/God and other image-bearers given this is the primary reason things are created to be like one another: to make them compatible in relationship.

2) (Gen 1:28 “be fruitful and multiply” = Create others w/Gen 2:18-20 “there was not a suitable helper found for him”) = Because of the massive dissimilarity between humans and animals, animals cannot be used to create other humans and remove loneliness (deficiency of deep relationships w/others like you -i.e., humans).

2) to promote and protect moral physics (truth, beauty and justice[5]) in relation to Him and the rest of Creation. 1) (Gen 1:31 w/2:15-17 “cultivate”) = Promote or develop and expand…the borders of Eden according to its moral design (“Eden” = Paradise – a place filled w/truth, beauty and justice); “keep” = Protect and care for… Eden according to its moral design.

2) God’s moral physics (t/b/j) were to be promoted and protected in relation to both Him and His Creation – which included the woman or other image-bearers since the garden of Eden was her (or humanity’s) original residence as well.

3) It is this two-fold purpose that establishes not only the two greatest commandments (love the Lord your God and love your neighbor) but the entirety of God’s Law and Word (Mat 22:37-40).

2. God created everything that exists according to His moral physics (truth, beauty and justice) which is always in agreement with His law, as established by His written words in the Bible.

1) (Gen 1:31 [Heb., tobe]) = Full of truth, beauty and justice (excellence).

2) (Gen 2:7 w/19) “formed” [Heb., yasar] = To form as art (beauty); “breathed” = Filled w/His moral essence (t/b/j). This same idea is communicated when speaking about the Bible (2Ti 3:16).

3) Consider also (Psa 119:142, 15, 160 w/Joh 17:17 “your Word is truth”; Psa 119:96 “I have seen a limit to perfection [beauty]; Your commandment is exceedingly broad” [the most beautiful] w/ also Ecc 3:11 “everything [in God’s Word] is appropriate [beautiful] in its time [perfect for understanding God’s purpose and plan]”; Psa 19:7-9 = God’s Word establishes justice).

3. Our rebellion (sin) against our two-fold purpose is the biggest reason we suffer and die.

1) IOW: it is b/c we fail to have relationship w/God or others and/or violate truth, beauty and justice in our image-bearer relationships and/or w/the rest of Creation.

2) (Gen 2:17 w/3:16-19; Rom 6:23; 1 Jo 3:4)

3) Consider also (Rom 8:19-21) = The rest of Creation suffers b/c of the sin of humanity in failing to promote and protect her according to t/b/j. As a result, we suffer also. Hence the reason the Creation waits w/eagerness for the revealing (or arrival) of those who will be her good moral stewards (i.e., “the sons [children] of God”).

4. This Creation was never meant to be the final version but rather the test to determine who is worthy to enter the New Creation[6] where there will be no suffering, sin, death or disappointment but rather perfect and perennial truth, beauty and justice.

(Mat 10:37-38 [Contra Mat 22:8]; Luk 20:35; Rev 3:4-5; Jam 1:12 [Hence Jam 1:1-3]; Rev 21:1-8)

5. If we are to make it to the New Creation (i.e., be saved), we must exist with God in a marriage covenant – which could also be called a “new creation covenant” since this is not only its goal (to enter the New Creation), but the same goal given in the first human marriage (new creation – Gen 1:28 w/Gen 2:18).

1) What you discover when you read the Bible is that God uses covenants to save people. And those covenants are marriage covenants (e.g., Jer 31:31-32). Hence the reason the Bible begins with a marriage and ends with a marriage (Gen 2 and Rev 19) and a great portion of the language of Scripture is marital in nature (e.g., Rev 21:2). 2) In addition, the first marriage (Gen 2:23), possesses the same Hebrew structure as the Bundesformel [“I will be their God and they will be My people”], the vow of allegiance God makes when He enters into covenant w/people for the purpose of salvation (Lev 26:12; Jer 31:33; 2Co 6:16).

3) We likewise take vows of allegiance in our marriage to God (Exo 24:7-8 and 1Pe 1:1-2 and 1Pe 3:21 “appeal to God for a good conscience” = Pledge/vow of our allegiance to God).

4) As an additional connection between marriage and new creation, consider what we become when we get saved/enter into marriage w/God (a new creation – 2Co 5:17).

To be continued…

 

[1] Without the big picture, we run the risk of people hearing our gospel as the answer to the larger ontological questions. This risk is exacerbated by the fact that our world is becoming increasingly post-Christian. IOW: more and more people are operating without a biblical worldview. As such what the typical 3 point gospel of: 1) God is holy, 2) you are not (you are sinful and suck), 3) God sent Jesus to save you from His holy wrath (b/c you sin and suck) is interpreted as God created humans unlike Him (as image-offenders not image-bearers) whose purpose for existence is escaping His wrath through self-deprecation at the feet of His Son.

[2] Eternal = Cannot cease to exist.

[3] Free-will spirits = Spiritual beings characterized by unrestrained choice.

[4] Moral conscience = Ethical right and wrong are the lens and limits (locus) of one’s operation in the world (we do b/c we deem it right).

[5] Truth = Agreement w/reality; Beauty = Agreement w/symmetry; Justice = Agreement w/equity.

[6] This then is the other reason we suffer: this life is the test.

Divine Council – Part 2

Stranger things = Those fringe[1] subjects of the Bible which exist at the intersection of the supernatural and natural, the immaterial and material worlds.

Why we are discussing these kinds of subjects = So that we are viewing of our world in the same way Jesus and those living in the ancient near east (the bible’s authors) viewed their world since this is not only the real world but also vital to proper biblical interpretation (or the avoidance of projecting on the text/reading into the text our modern ideas and assumptions [eisegesis] – e.g., Gen 2:18-20).

“It would be dishonest of us to claim that the biblical writers read and understood the text the way we do as modern people, or intended meanings that conform to theological systems created centuries after the text was written. Our context is not their context. The proper context for interpreting the Bible is …not the modern world at all, or any period of its history. The proper context is the context of the biblical writers-the context that produced the Bible…The biblical context was produced by men who lived in the ancient near east (ANE). Seeing the Bible through the eyes of an ancient reader [therefore] requires shedding the filters of our [modern] traditions and presumptions. They processed life in supernatural terms.” – Michael S. Heiser (The Unseen Realm)

Previously discussed: Dimensional portals (def.,): doors or gates and their accompanying bridges connecting the immaterial/spiritual/supernatural world to the material/physical/natural world allowing those with access, the ability to travel or send/receive things from one dimension (or realm) to the other (e.g., Rev 4:1 “door” = Portal; Consider also 2Co 12:2 – Like John, Paul most likely travelled through a dimensional portal). BIG TAKEAWAY: In Christ’s churches, we have access to a heavenly portal that allows us to give and receive from God those persons (e.g., receive angels for help – Heb 1:14) and things (e.g., give praise to God, receive forgiveness through the sacraments – 1Pe 3:21; Joh 13:5-15 [context is the LT – v26]) important to our saving relationship with Him.

Divine council (def.,): a heavenly assembly of beings who have been deputized by God to function as His vice-regents on earth governing and judging the nations on His behalf.[2]

1. Biblical evidence of their existence

(Psa 82:1-8)

(1) “God (Heb., elohim [singular – see underlined] = Divine being/God) takes His stand taking His stand(participle -singular) in His own the divine (Heb., be el = the divine [See ESV], e.g., el shaddai = God of the mountain, Gen 35:11) congregation (or council); He judges in the midst of the rulers (or gods) (Heb., elohim [plural – see verse 2], “you” [plural] = Divine beings/Gods/gods). See also verse 6, “I said, ‘you are gods’” (again, elohim). [3]

2. Who are the plural elohim that make up this divine council? Considering the options:

2.1. other members of the Trinity (Jesus and the Holy Spirit) (Heb 1:8; Act 5:3-5)

Why this is not a viable option: God not only condemns the elohim (“rulers”) of verse 1b of judging unjustly and walking in darkness but also promises they will one day “die like men” because of such behavior (2-7).

2.2. other deities (or the gods of other religions) 1) (Exo 20:3; 1Ki 11:33)

Why this is not a viable option: Other deities do not exist (Deu 4:35, 39; Isa 45:5-6)

2.3. Dead people – particularly dead saints (1Sa 28:13)

Why this is not a viable option: 1) Dead people play no role in governing or judging the affairs of those currently living (2-4). 2) Though communication with or by them is possible, God strictly prohibits such interaction as punishable by death (Lev 20:27).

2.4. Angelic beings (the view of Michael Heiser)

Specifically: Satan and the other fallen angels who are identified as “sons of God” before His throne (Job 1-2) and are responsible not only for the Fall but mating with humanity and promoting global rebellion against God leading to the Flood (Gen 6 w/1Enoch 6-11). God placed these demons over the Gentile nations as their divine council (or spiritual authorities) after their rebellion at Babel (Deu 32:8-9 w/17 = “Sons of Israel” sb “sons of God” referring to “demons”, who inherited the Table of “Nations” as God’s judgment against the Gentiles for the Tower of Babel event [Gen 10-11]). God’s rebuke and condemnation of this council in Psalm 82 is the result of their poor oversight. Though wicked they were still expected to rule righteously.

Why this is not a viable option:

1) God never gives angels authority positions over humans – including archangels (Jud 8-9). Rather, it is humans who function as judges (rulers) over the angels (1Co 6:3). Angels exist to serve humans – specifically, those inheriting salvation (Heb 1:14). [4]

2) The idea that angels had sex with women infers not only that angels have the ability to procreate. Yet Jesus makes it clear that angels possess no such capability given they lack the proper context for such activity, marriage (Mat 22:30). To assume sexual activity were possible by angels is to therefore equally accuse God of sin – or providing moral creatures with natural desires and capabilities that possess no righteous application or solution. The fact that giants existed after the global flood (Gen 6:4) lends additional support. They are the mutated offspring of men – not angels[5].

3) Viewing the word “nations” in Deuteronomy 32 as a reference to the 70 nations of Genesis 10 is not only a false assumption – one leading directly to Heiser’s change of the phrase “sons of Israel” (MT) to “sons of God” (DSS), but a failure in reading comprehension.[6]

The entire context and focus of the Deuteronomy 32 (Moses’ Song) is God’s inheritance for the people of Israel, a group made up of twelve nations (Gen 17:4-6 w/16) which means the phrase, “sons of Israel” found in the MT is correct.

Regarding the reference to “demons” in (v17), Moses is simply recounting the idolatrous acts of the first generation (e.g., Exo 32:1-6; Lev 17:7; Act 7:43 [Amo 5:26-27]) since this is what prohibited them from receiving or realizing this land inheritance.

4) Jesus applies (6) to humans not angels (Joh 10:34 = Jesus’ defense only makes sense if the Jews understood Psalm 82 – including verse 6, as referring to humans).

2.5. the anointed priests/judges of the covenant community (Deu 17:8-9 w/Deu 21:5 = Priests/levites are the judges in the CC)

1) the place where the elohim carry out their office as rulers/judges is on earth (not heaven), the same place as the priests/judges of the covenant community (1-4; hence why God will also judge them on the earth – v8 “Arise O God, judge [the unrighteous judges] on the earth for it is You [God] who possesses [owns] all the nations”).

2) the judges (priests and levites) of the covenant community are also referred to as elohim (e.g., Exo 21:6 [See “God” Fn]; Exo 22:8-9).

3) the word translated “earth” in (5,8 [eretz]) can also be translated as land – as in the land of Israel (i.e., the covenant community) (e.g., 2Ki 5:2 “land” [eretz]).

4) the word translated “nations” in (8) can refer to the tribes of Israel (i.e., the covenant community) (e.g., again Gen 17:4-6).

5) The predominant concern and scope of Scripture is justice in the covenant community and among its leaders – not the other leaders or nations. To therefore assign a context bigger than God’s people to Psalm 82 (as Heiser does – the 70 nations of the Gentiles from Gen 10-11), is to assume an interpretive position or approach contrary what is most common in the OT – including its largest literary portion, the Prophets (e.g., Jer 22:1-17; Eze 45:9; Amo 5:10-24)[7].

6) Paul uses divine council language to speak of Old and New Covenant priests and levites:

1] (Eph 2:6) “seated us” = Paul’s audience according to 1:1-3, is the church (“Paul” along w/the “saints…and faithful…in Ephesus”) not the individual. At the very least then, the “us” of ch.2 refers to the covenant community – most specifically, her priests and levites (“faithful” = Or “faithful ones” – most likely a reference to her priests and levites – See Phi 1:1[8]). This is further supported by Paul’s connecting phrase “with Him in the heavenly places” – a direct allusion to (Psa 89:5-7) = The leaders of God’s assembly/covenant community are viewed as existing in heaven. IOW: this is the origin of their office and authority (Eph 3:10).

2] That Paul is indeed referring to spiritual leaders in the covenant community when using the phrase “rulers and authorities in the heavenly places”) versus spiritual beings such as angels or demons (again, Heiser’s view) is confirmed by the role of the church in explaining and proclaiming the “mystery” and “gospel” of God’s Messiah [Jesus] – most especially to the Jewish nation (Act 1:8; Rom 2:10) – including its spiritual leaders (Eph 3:1-10) = Assuming Heiser’s view, why would the gospel need to be preached to demons or angels – those with no hope of salvation? These verses therefore have to be referring to a human occupied divine council – most specifically those in the OC community. Why the OC divine council (priests and levites) and not those under the NC? Because of (Eph 3:11-15) = Paul’s preaching this gospel (as the ambassador of the “church”) to the aforementioned rulers and authorities has caused him “tribulations” that will bring the Ephesians “glory” (or “glory in the church”). It can’t therefore be New Covenant priests and levites Paul is referring to since not only would they not be guilty of persecuting him, but by such tribulation, bring glory to the church (such actions – if true, would bring shame to the church). How then will Paul’s preaching to OC divine coucil bring glory to the church (one that makes the tribulation/persecutions suffered bc of it worth it)? Through their conversion. They remain a part of “God’s family” (again, vv14-15) and therefore the field of final harvest for the church before Christ’s return (Rom 11:11-12). Consider (Rom 11:11-12).

3] What Paul says about these heavenly rulers or authorities in his letter to the Colossians confirms this is who Paul has in mind (the OC divine council/priests and levites) (Col 2:15-16) “When He (God) had disarmed (or defrocked and dismissed) the rulers and authorities” (through Jesus’ atoning death that removed our debt before God – v14), He made a public display of them having triumphed over them through Him” = IOW: Christ was able to make us righteous before God without the OC priesthood which in turn made them essentially obsolete (Heb 7:12 w/8:13). Additional support: (v16) = B/C the priests of the OC community have been defrocked and dismissed, we are to no longer recognize them as our spiritual authorities (our divine council).

4] Lastly, consider how Paul uses this phrase (“rulers…in the heavenly places”) at the end of his Ephesian epistle. Close cross examination of this phrase with earlier portions of the letter and other Scripture also points to Old Covenant priesthood.

(Eph 6:11-12) “schemes of the devil” = Schemes accomplished thru the “deceitful scheming” and trickery of men (4:14) = More than likely a reference to the Jews since this was – once more, the main antagonist in Paul’s ministry – and the apostolic church[9]. Additional support (1Th 2:14-18) = Notice Paul views the Jews “hindering” his mission in the gospel as satanic [“Satan hindered us”]). Paul’s point (then) in verse 12 of Ephesians 6: “Our struggle is not (only) against flesh and blood but against the rulers…in the heavenly places” (i.e., the OC divine council) who – though they have been defrocked/dismissed from their former poisitons, are now being empowered by “the powers” related to “the world forces of this darkness…the spiritual forces of wickedness” (i.e., Satan). That Paul is in these verses referring specifically to the Jewish rulers and authorities (“in the heavenly places”) is also supported by the fact that the Greek term Ioudaioi (v14, “Jews”) was the common way to refer to the Jewish priesthood and its levites (e.g., Joh 2:13-18).

7) If the anointed leaders of the Old Covenant community possessed spiritual authority (i.e., represented God’s divine council), how much more this would be true for the New Covenant community given:

1] the biblical evidence of priests and levites (judges) existing under the New Covenant just as they did under the Old (Isa 66:21; Deu 17:8-9 w/Mat 18:15-20; Consider also 1Co 6:1-4 = The church will appoint her own judges who will not only be competent enough to make righteous decisions concerning “matters of this life” but also one day judge the angels. How is that possible unless they like their predecessors have been anointed and/or deputized as God earthly vice-regents?).

2] the Body of Christ has also been given the indwelling Spirit to help her leaders – something not present under the OC.

3] We possess the “perfect” or completed corpus of God’s revelation for securing justice in the covenant community (i.e., the completed canon of Scripture – 1Co 13:10).

8) In the ANE, the spiritual realm and humanity were inextricably linked. To believe in the spiritual realm meant also believing that its supernatural power had also been given to certain humans who functioned as authorities within specific spiritual communities. Those communities were identified as religions (or the old term, cults) and the dispensers of this power, their priests (e.g., Psa 132:16). To assume then that no such power or authority existed – or still exists today, would have been for those in the Bible, the same as believing the spiritual realm itself was fantasy. The question should therefore never be, are their human beings functioning as God’s divine council today? But rather, who are they?

 

CLOSING CHALLENGE/CONTEMPLATION: What are the practical implications and application associated with the divine council being God’s anointed leaders in the church (the New Covenant community)? List as many as you can and discuss with others.

 

[1] Subjects not part of the mainstream; topics or understanding that are unconventional and/or uncomfortable to modern culture and thinking.

[2] “All ancient Mediterranean cultures had some conception of a divine council.” – Michael Heiser (“So What Exactly Is an Elohim?”)

[3] That the office of this assembly or council is indeed located in the heavens is supported not only by the fact that it is identified as “divine” – a word implying heavenly or spiritual origins, but also passages such as Eph 3:10 and 6:12.

[4] Ancient Jewish tradition teaches that this was the reason for Satan’s initial rebellion. Though stronger and more knowledgeable, God placed humans above the angels in authority and made them their servants. It should be mentioned also that though Scripture speaks of Satan as the ruler of this world (1Jo 5:19; also 2Co 4:4 “god”/elohim), his office and authority are illegitimate – having no appointment by God. To assume God did give such appointments/authority to angels (including Satan) would mean as humans we are required to submit to them and all rebellion against them would be viewed as rebellion against God (Rom 13:1-2).

[5] The purpose of Genesis 6:1-4 is to communicate the level of devastation produced by the global flood. At the time it took place, the earth was covered by human beings – including their mutated offspring, the giants (“the sons of God [human males] came into [procreated with] the daughters of men” [human females]; See 1Co 11:7).

[6] Though I do believe that the intention of God’s language confusion – or the forfeiture of His divine language (Hebrew), was a means of judgment that would ultimately send Babel’s rebels further into the direction of spiritual darkness and false religion (i.e., worshipping and serving demons – Deu 4:19-20 “beware not to…be drawn away and worship them [the moon and the stars] those which the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven”), such conclusions are of no import to our understanding of Deuteronomy 32 whose concern are the nations of Israel not the world.

[7] The Prophets (major and minor) contribute 250 chapters to the Old Testament’s total of 929 chapters – almost as many as the entire New Testament (260 chapters).

[8] The Ephesian church is made up of Christians (or “saints”) including also “faithful ones” (priests and levites). See similar in Col 1:2.

[9] This only changed after 70 A.D. and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Neronic persecution – influenced, aided and abetted by the Jewish priesthood, ultimately back-fired, turning Rome’s destructive forces against them and their religion.

Canon – Function

Canon (definition): Those books containing God’s spoken words (the Old and New Testaments otherwise known as Scripture, God’s Word or the Bible) preserved for the purpose of saving (physically, spiritually) His people (the covenant community).

A major deterrent to canonical confidence[1], is not only a poor understanding of the canon’s formation, but the intended function of God’s spoken words as communicated in the canon itself. This study (or part one) will address the latter, part two, the former. With that in mind, there are several important truths that must be understood with respect to God’s spoken words:

 

1. The exclusive instrument God has chosen to lead and have relationship w/His people (i.e., to save them) has been His spoken words (not feelings or Jesus’ face in pancakes or naan – or the more recent and local example, glitter bombs [Church of the Front Range]) (Exo 34:27 “in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel” = God’s words were the means to covenant relationship w/OC Israel; Deu 31:8-9 = God’s words were the means to leading OC Israel; Isa 8:19-20 = Those led by anything other than God’s spoken words are counterfeits; Heb 1:1-2; 2Ti 3:16 “inspired” [Grk., “God-breathed” = Spoken by God] = What has been written down as Scripture is what was spoken [to the human authors] by God; 2Pe 1:19-21 = Gaining and maintaining a saving relationship w/God [“until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” = Until you get to heaven/the day of your eternal salvation is realized] requires that you give yourself to His “spoke[n]” words [“Scripture”] as the exclusive means to leading and living your life [versus to false teachers who lead thru feelings, their experiences or promises of false freedom [2:1-19]; What about Gideon’s fleece? See Jug 6:36 w/37-40).

2. Since the purpose of God’s spoken words is the salvation (physically and spiritually) of His people, we should: 1) always view His spoken words with this as their intention (i.e., whatever He has said is relevant/important to the subject of salvation – 2Ti 3:15), 2) never view His spoken words as an attempt at referring to or explaining all things (e.g., the Bible has very little to say about dinosaurs; the Bible spends very little time on the subject of Creation).

3. Never – including the present, have God’s people ever possessed all God’s spoken words yet they have always had what they needed to be faithful (Deu 29:29; 2Pe 1:3; e.g., 1Sa 10:10-11; Joh 20:30; Col 4:16; Rev 10:4).

4. God at times, has deliberately hidden His spoken words – or their understanding, until His people were ready to receive it and take the next necessary step in their journey of obedience (Neh 8:13-18 [Lev 23:34; Deu 16:16]; Eph 3:1-6 = OT saints not given full understanding as to the prophecies regarding the coming Messiah. Hence Mat 13:34-35 and Luk 24:27, 45-46//Luk 9:45, 18:31-34; Joh 12:16, 13:7, 20:9; *the importance of this truth to our church: do not become unsettled by the fact that as we mature, God corrects our poor understanding of His spoken words from the past – e.g., Calvinism, baptism, Insurrection or the unforgiveable sin, what other things qualify as a capital crime, etc. ** what has never changed: our view that what a person needs to do to be saved is more than simply put faith in Christ, they must also be faithfully obedient to His laws).

5. God has also deliberately foregone giving the exact application for some of His spoken words to accommodate the changing moral climates experienced by His people throughout the world and redemptive history (e.g., Deu 25:1-3; 1Co 5:1-5 w/2Co 2:6-8; see also 2Co 8:21; *important not to miss: though the church is given freedom as to the application of these laws, that does not make our decisions arbitrary or without God’s authority and backing[2]; Mat 18:18-20).

6. Under Jesus’ new covenant kingdom, God has deliberately changed the way we are to understand and apply some of His previously spoken (or preserved) words (e.g., Rom 10:20-21 w/Isa 65:1-2; 1Co 5:1-5; Col 2:11-12; Act 15:17 w/Amo 9:12 [LXX versus MT[3]]).

7. In addition, God has deliberately made some of His spoken words hard to understand (e.g., 2Pe 3:16) so that those who truly love Him will truly understand it and those who don’t, won’t[4] (Jer 29:13 “with all of your heart” = Hard work motivated by love is the condition to finding God; Isa 6:10 w/1:1-15 and 5:24 = Dull and dim are God’s curse on those who refuse to love Him by listening to His laws [to love is to listen]; Mat 13:13-15; Joh 8:42-43; Act 28:27; 2Co 12:7-10 [the theory of desirable difficulty] = We are better at understanding things [we are “stronger”] when those things are presented in a difficult way[5]).

8. Though not always apparent on the surface, there are no contradictions or inconsistencies between the principles established by God’s spoken words in the Old Testament and those established in the New Testament (Hence the reason: 1) Jesus and the NT’s speakers always appeal to the OT in support of their position or teaching – e.g., Act 24:14 [roughly, one out of every three verses in the NT is a direct or indirect reference to the OT], 2) Paul supports the OT as a source for becoming “wise” about NT salvation or training in righteousness [2Ti 3:15-16], 3) the Scriptures used at the start of the 1st century church to discern truth from error was the OT [the NT didn’t exist] – e.g., Act 17:10-11//e.g., Act 15:17 w/Amo 9:12 = No contradiction in the way James applies Amos since the intended goal of the prophet’s words agree with James’s interpretation [i.e., the Gentiles will be able to seek God’s salvation w/o becoming Jews [“all the nations who are called by My name”. Hence Paul’s struggle w/the Jews – Gal 6:13-15 w/3:28).

9. The two worst things therefore a person can be, are: 1) lazy in working hard to understand God’s spoken words (2Pe 3:16 = The reason they are “untaught and unstable” is due to their unwillingness to put forth the effort or work to “grow” in their understanding of God’s new covenant plan [the “grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” They are “unprincipled men” [lazy – literally, w/o a law governing their behavior- most esp. God’s law – e.g., 2Pe 2:7], vv17-18; why so bad: v16b, “to their own destruction”) and 2) under the impression that no changes or corrections will be made to their understanding of God’s spoken words as a consequence of their growth in understanding (and therefore refuse to change – or call into question what is being taught) (this too is implied in 2Pe 3:16-18 = People refusing to grow are people refusing to change; e.g., Act 6:8-7:53 [51]; Gal 4:1-10 [8-10]; why so bad: Heb 6:1-8).

10. The end of first-century supernatural offices, brought an end to any additional spoken words from God in human history (1Co 13:8-10).

 

[1] By canonical confidence I mean, confidence that what we possess as God’s spoken words is enough to save us.

[2] Arbitrary (def.) based on random choice or personal whim, rather than any reason or system.

[3] Based on the evidence from other extant Jewish sources (e.g., Dead Sea Scrolls), some scholars believe the LXX rendering to be the more accurate/correct rendering.

[4] To say that something is hard to understand does not mean the same thing as beyond human understanding. If this were true, then hardly could Peter (for example) make an appeal to Paul’s wisdom – or encourage other Christians to read his letters since their message would be indiscernible (2Pe 3:14-15). It should also be noted that acknowledging the difficulties of Scripture (i.e., their interpretation) does no violence to the doctrine of Perspicuity or clarity of Scripture. Clarity is not the same as simplicity. In the words of Mark D. Thompson, “The clarity of Scripture [does] not mean, and [has] never meant, that there are no difficulties in Scripture.” (A Clear And Present Word, p.153).

[5] For a popular culture treatment of this subject see Malcom Gladwell’s David and Goliath (Part 2: The Theory of Desirable Difficulty).

Making Sense of Revelation – Part 2

“One of the ironies of the Bible is that its most difficult book is called ‘Revelation’.”

 

Making sense of the book of Revelation requires:

1. We treat Revelation like all other prophetic literature in Scripture which operates according to the principles of symbolism (Rev 1:1, “communicated” [Grk., saymainoe] = Communicated through symbols/signs), original audience relevance (Rev 1:3-4, written to seven churches existing in the 1st century about events that will [in the majority] take place in their lifetime [3, “the time is near”; Mat 24:34]. Hence the early date for writing: > 70 AD[1]), unconventional fulfillment (e.g., Rev 14:8 [Isa 21:9], “Babylon” identified as someone other than literal Babylon), and recapitulation ([def., repeating previously mentioned events for the purpose of reinforcing formerly established truths and introducing new details or different perspectives that further the reader’s understanding and appreciation of those events.], Rev 5-11 w/12-18 [TBD]).

2. We read John’s heavenly vision (chs. 4-22) as five main acts: two past, one in the past and present, two yet future.

2.1. ACT ONE (PAST): DIVORCE

(4:1-5:14) = Jesus before the divine divorce court.

2.1.1. John is taken up to God’s heavenly throne room, the place where His judgments are determined (4:1-3).

2.1.2. The court’s business on this day is the finalization of Jesus’ divorce from OC Israel (5:1-5).[2]

2.1.3. The “book” (or scroll) with the seven seals represents the marriage covenant between Jesus and OC Israel created during the Sinai event (Exo 19-24 w/Jud 1:5; Exo 24:7 “the book of the covenant” = the marriage covenant document).

2.1.4. John weeps knowing that unless the marriage w/OC Israel is put asunder, the kingdom and promises of God could not be transferred to the church (or NC Israel). IOW: Jesus’ prophecy would not come true (Mat 21:43).

2.1.5. Jesus’ status as Israel’s true Husband (her “Lion” and “Root”) is the reason He is only One who can execute the divorce (break the seven seals of the marriage document rendering it void).

2.1.6. Likewise, Jesus’ status as a priest is the reason for the seven seals (Heb 4-10). Unlike normal marriage documents which were sealed only once, the marital document used for priests (get mekushar) was sealed seven times to dissuade priests from hasty divorces since priests were prohibited from the possibility of re-marrying their former spouses (or marrying those divorced). This understanding tells us that Jesus’ decision to pursue divorce is neither hasty nor without substantial grounds. Jesus’ grounds for divorce are two-fold: 1) OC Israel’s continuing (and generational) spiritual harlotry (Isa 50:1; Jer 3:8-9, 5:7, 13:27; Eze 16:8-30), 2) OC Israel’s murder of her Messiah and Husband-God (Act 2:36, 3:15, 7:52; Rev 5:6, 11:8; According to Jesus, this was the “final straw” – Mat 23:32-36).

2.1.7. As such, correctly interpreting Revelation 4 and 5 is essential to understanding 15 of the remaining 17 chapters (i.e., chs. 6-18 or 70% of the entire book of Revelation).

(6:1-11:19) = The seven-seals of the marriage document are broken releasing a seven-fold judgment against OC Israel culminating in the destruction of the Jerusalem and the Temple by the Romans (depicted as seven trumpets)

2.1.8. God promises a seven-fold judgment for Israel’s adultery/apostasy in Leviticus 26 (Lev 26:18, 21, 24, 28).

2.1.9. The “four horsemen” of the initial four seals are also an allusion to Ezekiel 14 where God promises severe judgment against Jerusalem for unfaithfulness (Ezekiel 14:12-21).

2.1.10. Direct parallels exist between the initial four seals and what is communicated in Leviticus 26 and Ezekiel 14: 1) Seal one (Rev 6:1-2) = Conquest (Jerusalem) (Lev 26:28-31; Eze 14:21), 2) Seal two (Rev 6:3-4) = Sword/War (Lev 26:24-27; Eze 14:17-18), 3) Seal three (Rev 6:5-6) = Famine (Lev 26:18-20; Eze 14:12-14), 4) Seal four (Rev 6:7-8) = Wild Beasts and Pestilence (Lev 26:21-23; Eze 14:15-16, 19-20).

2.1.11. Jesus prophesies that He will use the Romans as His primary means of judgment against the Jews (Mat 22:1-7; the Roman-Jewish War [67-70 AD]).

2.1.12. The fifth seal places Nero’s persecution (64-68 AD) squarely on the shoulders of the Jews (who suggested Christians be Nero’s scapegoat for the burning of Rome) (Rev 6:9-11[3]).

2.1.13. The sixth and seventh seals (Rev 6:12-17 w/8:1-11:19) represent the five-month siege against Jerusalem (April – September 70 AD).

2.1.14. The seven trumpets which begin at the breaking of the seventh seal, signal the high point/culmination of the vision’s goal: the destruction of Jerusalem (most spec., her Temple) and the end of Jesus’ marriage to OC Israel (Rev 11:2 w/8).[4]

2.1.15. Revelation 7 predicts a reprieve in the war when: 1) Jewish Christians (i.e., the Jerusalem church) who understood and heeded Christ’s previous warning, flee the city (Rev 7:1-8; Luk 21:20-24[5]), 2) the full number of martyrs is complete and Nero’s persecution is over (Rev 7:9-17; fulfillment of Rev 6:11; Nero’s death/Vespasian’s dispatch [68 AD][6]).

(12:1-18:24) = Recapitulation (repeat w/extra details/different perspective) of Revelation chapters 6 through 11.

2.1.14. Jerusalem, the “great city” of (Rev 11:2 and 8) is identified w/the idolatrous and pagan nation of Babylon, OC Israel’s former oppressors and place of exile (Rev 14:8 w/16:19, 17:18, 18:2, 10, 16, 18-21).

2.1.15. The beast that comes up from the abyss” in (Rev 11:7) is identified as Rome and Nero (the beast from the sea) (Rev 13:1-6, 18 [Rev 17:9-10 “seven heads…seven mountains” = Rome the city on seven hills; “seven kings, five have fallen, one is” = Nero was the sixth of the seven Roman Caesars][7]) who makes an unholy alliance with Israel and her priesthood (the beast of the land and the false prophet) (Rev 13:11-17 [Rev 16:13, 19:20, 20 :10 “false prophet”][8])[9] to destroy Christians. (Rev 6:9-11 w/[11:7, 12:17, 13:7-10, 14:12, 16:6, 17:6, 18:24])

2.1.16. The seven seals (of Rev 6-11) are depicted as seven bowls of wrath (Rev 16).

2.1.17. Revelation 12 and 13 also reveal: 1) OC Israel’s apostasies in relation to Messiah (Apostasy #1: abdication of her Messiah motherly duties [Rev 12:1-2; Mal 2:10-15], Apostasy #2: attempted murder of her Messiah Son [Rev 12:3-4; Mat 2:13-18; Luk 4:28-29], Apostasy #3: abandonment of her Messiah Son [Rev 12:5-6]), Apostasy #4: anarchy against the Roman govt [Rev 12:7-14][10]. 2) Satan’s (aka, the “dragon” and “serpent”) direct involvement in Israel’s apostasy (Rev 12:3-4), Rome’s power (Rev 13:1-4), and Christianity’s persecution (Rev 12:12, 17, 13:7-10).

2.2. ACT TWO (PAST): REMARRIAGE

(19:1-21) = Jesus consummates His marriage to the Church (NC Israel) signaling their reign on earth.

2.2.1. After celebrating the finalization of His divorce to adulterous/apostate OC Israel (the “great harlot”) through: 1) destroying Jerusalem and the Temple and 2) avenging the blood of the first century Christian martyrs (Rev 19:1-6), Jesus consummates His marriage to His new Bride, the Church (OC Israel) whose faithful deeds are her wedding dress (19:7-10).

2.2.2. Jesus is revealed as the Divine Warrior Husband Who fights for His Church (Rev 19:11-16 w/6:2 [“conquering to conquer”] and 19:2 [“avenged the blood of His bond-servants”]).

2.2.3. As His final act of vengeance for the first century Christian martyrs, Jesus’ destruction of Rome is also predicted (19:17-21). IOW: (Dan 7:13-14) wb fulfilled!

2.2.4. The reign of Jesus’ kingdom (NC Israel/the Church) has begun (Rev 19:6b w/11:15, 12:10, 17:14).

2.3. ACT THREE (PAST and PRESENT): SATAN

(20:1-6) = Satan’s exile and NC Israel’s reign

2.3.1. As part of the Church’s reign, Satan is exiled from this world curtailing his ability to deceive the Church or corrupt its gospel message to the nations (20:1-3; “thousand years” = Like the former time indicators in the book [e.g., Rev 13:5]], this refers to a literal period of time).

(20:7-9a) = Satan’s escape and NC Israel’s demise

2.3.2. Satan is successful in escaping back into this world (20:7).

2.3.3. Satan begins deceiving NC Israel/the Church through the invention of various false gospels/forms of Christianity: 1) Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy (11th century – or [roughly] one thousand years after his exile), 2) Evangelicalism and the Faith Alone Gospel (Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation, 16th century).

2.3.4. Satan unites the world against the last remaining Church on earth (Rev 20:8-9a).

2.3.5. The extinction of Christianity (the last Church) is thwarted by the physical, final and fiery return of Jesus and His heavenly armies who instantly obliterate Satan and his forces and throw them into the eternal “lake of fire” (Rev 20:9b-10; 2Th 1:7-9). For additional consideration: A clue to Satan’s HQ since his escape (Isa 27:1 w/Mat 12:43).

2.4. ACT FOUR (FUTURE): JUDGMENT

(20:11-15) = The end of human history results in a final judgment of all who have ever lived.

2.4.1. Two books determine every human’s new and eternal home, both related to our deeds (Rev 20:11-13).

2.4.2. Based on what has been communicated in the previous chapters, our performance in the face of temptation and persecution – as well as our productivity for the Kingdom (the Church), will be the determining factors for finding our names in the “book of life” or among those who continued to receive the blood of Christ for forgiveness (Rev 20:14-15 w/Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 26, 3:5, 12, 21, 7:9-14, 12:11, 17, 13:10, 14:4-5, 12, 17:14, 19:8; Mat 25:14-30).

2.5. ACT FIVE (FUTURE): REBOOT

(21:1-22:21) = The saints of human history enter the new heavens and new earth.

2.5.1. Every human who passed their test through persevering and productive faithfulness to Jesus during their earthly lives, will inherit a new and permanently perfect creation where they will serve Jesus and search out new worlds in immortal, impregnable, immutable bodies which guarantee no end to their happiness, knowledge or life (Rev 21:1-22:5).

2.5.2. Our free-wills (and nothing else) will determine where we end up eternally (Rev 22:6-13).

2.5.3. Those who end up going to Hell (instead of the Reboot) are not only pagans but those who: 1) chose to believe Christ’s blood was an endless fountain for their constant sin (versus endless only for those who are faithful keep His commands/not characterized by sin) (Rev 22:14), 2) continued to practice what are false versions of God, the gospel and reality (e.g., revisionist history, slander, careless words and thinking) (Rev 22:15).

 

CLOSING WORDS: God: 1) sees salvation a s a marriage between Christ and the Church (Rev 22:16-17), 2) wants Revelation to be a part of Scripture – and His Law to still be in force (STARE DECISIS!) (Rev 22:18-21).

[1] For further study see Kenneth Gentry’s, Before Jerusalem Fell.

[2] Papers were served and divorce threatened in the past (over 600 years ago; Isa 50:1; Jer 3:8-9). Unfortunately, Israel produced no lasting moral change/repentance to keep the divorce from being finalized (Mat 23:37).

[3] “If the martyr’s blood is flowing around the base of the altar (Rev 6:9), it must be the priests of Jerusalem who have spilled it.” – David Chilton (The Days of Vengeance); “(The Neronian persecution of Christians was accomplished)…through jealousy and envy (by the Jews).” – Clement (source unknown); “(The Jews) possessed very powerful advocates in the palace, and even in the heart of the tyrant; his wife and mistress, the beautiful Poppaea, and a favorite player of the race of Abraham. These two suggested to Nero the new and pernicious sect of the Galileans, the Christians.” – Edward Gibbon (History of the Fall and Decline of the Roman Empire)

[4] The significance of the Temple’s destruction to Jesus’ divorce = The Temple was the sign of Jesus’ presence and covenant w/OC Israel (Exo 25:8). Hence the reason: 1) immediately after God first makes covenant (Exo 24), He gives to them the plans to build the tabernacle/temple (Exo 25-31), 2) the Temple had to be rebuilt (after its destruction by the Babylonians) for the covenant to be renewed (Neh 9:38-10:29).

[5] “For when the city was about to be captured and sacked by the Romans, all the disciples were warned by an angel to remove from the city, doomed as it was to utter destruction.” – Epiphanius (On Weights and Measures)

[6] “Vespasian [Rome’s new emperor] sent a dispatch to Rome rescinding the disenfranchisement of Christians as had been condemned by Nero.” – Dio Cassius

[7] “Corporately the Beast is the Roman empire; specifically, he is Nero Caesar, its contemporary head.” – Kenneth Gentry (Revelation Made Easy)

[8] “This lesser beast appears as a ‘lamb’ reminding us of temple worship in that the lamb us the dominant sacrificial victim. Just as the first beast’s image as a carnivore compound points to Rome and her bloody amusements, so it seems that the second beast’s lamb image points to Israel’s sacrificial system and religious claims.” – Kenneth Gentry (ibid)

[9] “Revelation appears to present an unholy alliance against Christianity, a Roman-Jewish alignment.” – Kenneth Gentry (Navigating the book of Revelation)

[10] “What did most elevate the Jews in undertaking this war, was an ambiguous oracle that was also found in their sacred writings [Dan 7:13-14], how…one from their own country should become governor of the habitable earth. The Jews took this prediction to belonging to themselves.” – Josephus (Wars); “Since God has established Rome and since you are at war against God’s laws, then you must go to war against Rome [that will] depend on [additional] human assistance. [Yet] where are you going to get human assistance? You might as well kill your wives and children and set fire to your own cities with your own hands and save Rome the trouble.” – King Agrippa (Josephus, Wars)

Revelation 2-3: Jesus’ Final Message To His Shepherds

Ephesus · Smyrna · Pergamum · Thyatira · Sardis · Philadelphia · Laodicea

1. The senior pastor (or shepherd) –and therefore his helpers/under-shepherds (i.e., deacons/officers – Luk 12:58), are the one(s) responsible for the spiritual health of their churches (Rev 1:20 “stars are the angels of the seven churches” or “messengers sent by God to those particular churches)”(2:1, 8, 12, 18, 3:1, 7, 14) = Senior pastor/shepherd.

Additional support: 1) stars are a metaphor for pastors who lead people to righteousness (Dan 12:3), 2) the seven stars exist among the “seven golden lampstands.” Not only is this a metaphor for the church, but a reference to the lampstands tended to by the OC priests and Levites in the Temple. In the same way, the NC priests and Levites will tend to (or be responsible for) the lampstand that is now the church.

 

2. A church that is spiritually healthy is a church characterized by people overcoming their sin (i.e., their lives are no longer characterized by sin – 1Jo 5:3-5 = Christians [those who believe in Jesus/God’s Son and are born again] overcome sin [the “world” – 1Jo 2:16] by faithfulness to God’s commands which they do not find hard/burdensome”).

Maintaining the spiritual health of the church – or seeing to it that people are overcoming their sin is absolutely necessary not only to each individual’s salvation, but each church’s ability to continue as a place where God’s Spirit and salvation resides (Hence Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 26, 3:5, 12, 21) = Each “overcome” message exists in the form of a conditional statement. IOW: only those who overcome their sin will receive the salvific/eternal promises mentioned.

With respect to the church see (Rev 2:5 “remove your lampstand out of its place”) = The lampstands in the Temple represented God’s spiritual presence and lit the way to inner sanctum/holy of holies – the place offering salvation. As such they represent both the Holy Spirit and salvation. Christ’s threat to remove the lampstand therefore refers to Him removing that church as a legitimate church – or dwelling place of His spirit and salvation.

 

3. To produce a church that is spiritually healthy – or characterized by people overcoming their sin (or being faithful to God’s commands), requires that her shepherd (senior pastor) and his under-shepherds (deacons/officers) be completely intolerant of seven particular sins. The reason Jesus chose the seven churches mentioned in Revelation (though there were many other churches), is because each of them possessed one (or the potential for one) of these seven sins:

 

3.1. Ephesus: Failure to give first loyalty to Jesus/His church/His words and gospel.

(Rev 2:1 w/4-5 ) “The One who holds…in His right hand…who walks” = Jesus is the One who created/owns us and cares for us most (Gen 3:8).

“left your first love” w/(Mat 10:27-37) = Our loyalty to Jesus includes preaching God’s words/gospel to our lost blood family members. Our loyalty to Jesus is also measured by our loyalty to His Body, the church (Mat 25:40 “to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers…you did it to Me”; “The blood of the covenant is stronger than the water of the womb”).

 

3.2. Smyrna: Failure to be faithful when suffering persecution.

(Rev 2:8-10) “first and the last” = Jesus is the only God. The largest cult of emperor worship (“Nero is Lord of the universe”) existed in Smyrna; “who was dead, and has come to life” = Docetism – or the belief that Jesus could not be a man or die, came only in spiritual form, also very popular in Smyrna;

“you will be tested…have tribulation…be faithful unto death” = The city’s devotion to the emperor as God and the popularity of Docetism within the local churches made employment/living as a true Christian very hard – even deadly (Mat 10:22).

3.3. Pergamum: Failure to be theologically, spiritually and sexually pure.

(Rev 2:12-16) “The One who has the two-edged sword” = Jesus possesses the real authority not only to destroy but heal. Pergamum worshipped the Asclepius – the Greek god of healing.

“I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is” = Asclepius was a serpent; e.g., symbol for modern medicine/medical science

“teaching of Balaam/Nicolaitans” = Doctrinal impurity. The church was teaching that it was okay to embrace the sin of your culture as a means of reaching others for Christ (e.g., the pragmatism of the mega-churches – “the ends justify the means”)

“eat things sacrificed to idols and commit acts of immorality” = Spiritual and sexual impurity. Christians were frequenting the temple of Asclepius to receive healing (e.g., our involvement in alternative medicine associated w/false religion; entertainment that is spiritually/sexually impure)”.

 

 

 

 

3.4. Thyatira: Failure to separate from false Christians or gospels.

(Rev 2:18-20) “The Son of God, whose has eyes like a flame of fire and His feet are like burnished bronze” = Jesus knows the true motives of our hearts (v19 and 23; also Rev 1:12-15 [picture of a king/judge sitting in judgment – “in the middle of the lampstands”]). Jesus’ stmt (ml) due to the excuses made by those unwilling to separate from false Christians/gospels (e.g., “I go to that church/hang out w/those people b/c I am trying to win them to Christ”).

“you tolerate the woman Jezebel who calls herself a prophetess and teaches and leads my bondservants astray” = There were people in the church (not everyone – v24) who were not separating from this local false Christian teacher, yet the church did nothing about it (2Jo 1:9-11).

 

3.5. Sardis: Failure to take our Christian life seriously by being productive for the Kingdom of God.

(Rev 3:1-3) “He Who has the seven Spirits of God” = Jesus is the One Who determines who remains spiritually alive (Hence, “you have a name that you are alive but you are dead”).

“Wake up, strengthen the things that remain, which are about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed” = The Christians in Sardis were lazy and unproductive when it came to advancing the Kingdom and gospel. As a result they were about to lose their personal salvation and ability to offer salvation to others (as a church) (Mat 25:14-30; Luk 8:16-18).

3.6. Philadelphia: Failure to take on the religious giants condemning us as heretics or apostate.

(Rev 3:7-11) “He Who is holy who is true, who has the key of David…I have put before you an open door that no one can shut” = Jesus is the true King of Israel and His church the true re-constituted Israel that old Israel cannot oppose/reject (Rev 6:10-17).

“you have a little power [you are small in comparison to your opponents]…[yet] I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan [the majority group/the giants who condemn you and call you apostate – Act 24:14], who say they are Jews [i.e., the true followers of God] and are not…I will make them come and bow down at your feet”).

3.7. Laodicea: Failure to be truthful in their assessments of life, love, self or others.

(Rev 3:14-19) “the Amen” [the truth] the faithful and true Witness” = Jesus is the God Who demands truth.

“I wish that you were cold or hot” =I wish you were true to one degree or another (hot or cold)

“you say, ‘I am rich…and you are wretched and miserable and poor’” = You are untruthful in your assessment of self/life.

“blind” = You are untruthful in your assessment of others (Mat 7:5)

“those whom I love I reprove” = (ML) said for the purpose of correcting their wrong/untruthful view of love (e.g., slander, lies, revisionist history, holding onto/refusing to change from former views of the world or the way things work that are no longer true, viewing God’s shepherds/authority as those who hurt us rather than help us, viewing justice as a bad thing; Rev 21:8 “all liars” [all forms of liars] w/Mat 12:34-37).

 

4. Eradicating these seven sins will be a primary goal of all those functioning in any capacity as shepherds in Jesus’ churches (in our church!) (Rev 2:29).

Making Sense of Revelation – Part 1

“One of the ironies of the Bible is that its most difficult book is called ‘Revelation’.”

Making sense of the book of Revelation requires:

1. We treat Revelation like all other prophetic literature in Scripture which operates according to the principles of symbolism, original audience relevance, unconventional fulfillment, and recapitulation.

1.1. Symbolism

(Rev 1:1 “communicated” [Grk., saymainoe]) = To indicate the reality of something through signs or symbols; symbolism). Scholars believe Jesus’ use of this Greek word is a direct allusion to Daniel 2 where he is told to interpret the various pieces of Nebuchadnezzar’s great statue dream as symbolism – or symbolic of the various kingdoms that would exist in the future (Dan 2:30 “interpretation” = saymainoe [LXX]). Jesus is therefore communicating that like Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, John’s visions (chs 1 and 4-22) are not to be interpreted literally, but through the lens of signs and symbols. This principle is true not only with respect to Daniel’s prophecy but all OT prophetic literature. We are to interpret its visions as symbolism (signs/symbols pointing to reality rather than the reality itself). What also proves true is that the book of Revelation shares many of the same signs and symbols found in those Old Testament prophetic books. Knowing this helps us to avoid using our imaginations in the interpretive process (e.g., Rev 1:7-8 w/Isa 19:1).

Examples of imagination from John MacArthur’s interpretations of Revelation:

1.1.1. (Rev 6:12-13), “moon became blood. Accompanying the earthquake will be numerous volcanic eruptions; large amounts of ash and debris will be blown into the earth’s atmosphere, blackening the sun and giving the moon a blood-red hue. Stars of heaven fell. The best explanation is a massive asteroid or meteor shower.”

Understanding these verses based on prior OT use (Isa 13:1-22; Eze 32:1-11) = Prophetic language indicating God’s judgment against one pagan nation through their destruction by another pagan nation– which also meant the defeat of their false gods/idols. Isaiah 13 = The fall of the Babylonian kingdom to the Medo-Persians in 539 BC. Ezekiel 32 = The fall of the Egyptian kingdom to the Babylonians in 605 BC. In respect to false gods/idolatry = Both the Babylonians and the Egyptians worshipped gods derived from the “sun”, “moon” and “stars”.

What then is being communicated by these symbols in Revelation 6:12-13? Israel’s rejection of their Messiah (Jesus) means that they too have become a nation guilty of idolatry (of worshipping a false god) and will likewise

suffer God’s destruction at the hands of a pagan nation. In this case, the Romans (Jewish War 67-70 AD).

1.2.1. (Rev 8:8), “Like a great mountain. Probably a huge meteor or asteroid surrounding by gases that will ignite as it enters earth’s atmosphere. Its impact will create a tidal wave, destroying one-third of the world’s ships. sea became blood. This may refer to an event known as red tides, caused by billions of dead micro-organisms poisoning the water—in this case the result of the meteor’s collision.”

 

Understanding these verses based on prior OT use (Jer 51:24-25, 42 [w/Rev 17:1-6 which is the same city mentioned in Rev 11:8; See also Rev 18:20-21] = Prophetic language indicating the destruction/conquering of a great city by a massive enemy army. Jeremiah 51 = The conquering of the great city of Babylon by the massive armies of the Persian king, Cyrus).

 

What then is being communicated by these symbols in Revelation 8:8? The great city of Jerusalem (and her Temple) will be overrun and destroyed by the massive army of the Roman Empire.

1.2. Original Audience Relevance

The majority of what the biblical prophets write has relevance to its original audience (e.g., Isaiah = 71% or 47 of its 66 chapters). As such, before we attempt discern universal principles – or what portions of prophecy may be related to us, we must first attempt to understand the importance of the prophecy to those to whom it was first spoken or written (1:4-6, 9-11) = The majority of what John receives as prophetic visions in the book of Revelation is directly relevant to seven 1st century churches existing in Asia Minor. The majority of what is revealed will be fulfilled in their time (1-3). Similar time-markers are provided in Jesus’ prophetic, “Olivet Discourse” (e.g., Mat 24:15-34). Scholars agree that Jesus’ Olivet Discourse is a direct corollary to John’s Revelation. Of interest, is the fact that John’s gospel is the only of the four gospels not containing this famous prophecy. As such, some have called Revelation, “John’s Olivet Discourse.”

Examples from OT prophecy supporting the principle of historical or first relevance to the original audience (Isa 7:10-16 w/8:1-8 w/Mat 1:23; Jer 1:11-16 w/7:1-13 w/Mat 21:13).

Applying this principle to the book Revelation (examples):

1.2.1. The mountain thrown into the sea in Rev 8:8 as the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple: 1) Jesus made this connection w/His disciples before His death (Mat 21:18-21), 2) According to Dr. William Telford (Dept. of Biblical Studies, Sheffield University), “mountain” was the standard expression among the Jews for the Temple Mount.

1.2.2. The Beast who kills Christians for 42 months and possesses the number, 666 (Rev 13:1-7, 18) = The 1st century Roman king, Nero Caesar: 1) his name according to Hebrew numerical value equals six hundred and sixty-six, 2) many in the 1st century referred to him as a “wild beast” or “the beast” due to his bloody tirades and public displays of animalistic sexual indulgence, 3) As a means to escaping national revolt, Nero blamed his burning of Rome on the Christians (an idea provided by the Jewish leaders via his Jew-favoring wife, Poppaea Sabina) leading to 42 months (Rev 13:5) of the most bloody and violent persecution of Christians in the history of the world (A.D. July of A.D. 64 until Nero’s death in January of 68).

1.3. Unconventional Fulfillment

Most prophecy in Scripture experiences multiple fulfillments (e.g., Isa 7:10-16 w/Mat 1:23). Each however is almost always partial – or related to only a portion of the entire prophecy. Rarely is a particular prophecy fulfilled in its entirety in the same event (e.g., contra Isa 53). Instead, each successive fulfillment tends to be concerned with different portions while at the same time, reapplying the previous portion already fulfilled to a completely new or different context.

Example from Isaiah (Isa 9:1-7):

1.3.1. Sans verses 6b-7a = Hezekiah (Isa 36-39 -esp., Isa 37:32).

1.3.2. Sans verses 4 and 5 = Jesus (Mat 4:15-16; Luk 1:32-33, 79).

 

Such unconventional forms of fulfillment can also include change to the original intent or meaning (e.g., Isa 65:1-2 w/Rom 10:20-21).

Example from Revelation: Isaiah’s prophecy regarding the destruction of Babylon by the Persians is later used to communicate the destruction of Jerusalem (the new Babylon) by the Romans (Isa 21:9 w/Rev 14:8).

1.4. Recapitulation

Recapitulation is the repeating of previously mentioned events for the purpose of not only reinforcing formerly established truths, but to introduce additional details and different perspectives that also help the reader’s understanding and appreciation of those events. Revelation 12 through 18 (the seven bowls of wrath) are a recapitulation of Revelation 6 through 11 (the seven seals culminating in seven trumpets). Recapitulation is an important literary tool employed throughout the Bible.

For example:

1.4.1. The historical books of the Bible: 1) Genesis (Gen 1 w/Gen 2), 2) history of the kings and prophets ([1Sa 31 and 2Sa, 1 Ki and 2Ki] w/1Ch and 2Ch), 3) the Gospels (Matthew w/Mark w/Luke w/John).

1.4.2. The OT prophetic books (e.g., Isa 42:1-9, 49:1-13, 50:4-9, 52:13-53:12, 61:1-3 = The Servant of the Lord).

1.4.3. Theological truths (e.g., Isa 65-66 w/Rev 21-22 = The new heavens and the new earth/Reboot).

CLOSING CONTEMPLATION: Was Revelation written in the 60s or the 90s? Based on what we learned today, how do we know?