Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Notes on Revelation 20

After the beast and false prophet are thrown into the fiery lake, likely an image John takes from the eruption of Vesuvius, an angel takes hold of the devil and casts him into chains for what is said to be 1,000 years. The number thousand is used in Revelation to refer to a vast amount of something, and like the other symbols, is not necessarily meant to be taken literally. 

For this same time period, those who have lived faithful Christian lives and have been martyred for it are brought to life to reign with Chrsit for the duration of the period. They do  not reign for part of the period, but for the entire thing.  

Although some have argued this is a picture of regeneration, it cannot be, as the people who are brought to life have already lived out a good Christian life and have been killed for it by the beast. The phrase that they have been brought to life, then, must refer to their physical lives, and therefore, resurrection. 

Gog and Magog are taken from Ezekiel 38-39, and perhaps, as they have developed in Second Temple Judaism, as the remaining hordes of people who were outside the empire that has now been destroyed. As in Ezekiel, these hordes are allowed to attack God's people, something that takes place after Revelation's thousand years, and are immediately destroyed for it. In Ezekiel, God says He does this to display His glory to the nations, which in Revelation would be the people from every tribe, nation, language, and people group He has acquired for Himself.

Thrones to rule over the hordes are set up for those who have been faithful to Christ so that they might judge and rule with Him.

The judgment of the dead takes place,  along with the places that once held the dead, the realm of death, the grave, and the sea. Hades here may refer more to the grave, and "death" to the realm of the dead as a spiritual state of existence. Nothing is dead anymore. Everything is brought back to either enjoy eternity or loathe it. 

 It is clear that by death and the grave being thrown into the lake of fire, that this includes the people themselves contrary to what some try to argue. Verse 15 makes that clear. 

The great judgment is according to works, as in the rest of the Bible, not because one is justified by works, but because one's federal head is proven by his allegiance manifested in not merely just a confession but also what he does. Hence, those who are written in the book of life were given robes that are their good deeds, but those not written in the Lamb's book of life have works that evidence no federal ties to Christ as their Lord. Instead, they are thrown into the same place as the devil, the beast, and the false prophet to display that their lords are found there. As they had more allegiance to them in life, they are aligned with them also in their eternal punishment. 

Chapter 20, then, spells the end of the wicked world and all of the chaos therein. 

As discussed before, this is likely to be understood as one scenario of the end like the other scenarios given in the book. It is not John's purpose to describe the details and timelines to God's people about how the wicked will be overthrown, but rather to argue that by all accounts they will be. The charge given by John, as throughout the book, is to remain faithful to Christ by taking one's thoughts off of the moment and placing them onto eternity. The lifestyle one displays now evidences the eternal home in which he sees himself, and thus, sets his mind there now.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Biblical Theology LVII: 2 Peter

The Second Epistle of Peter is written to counter gnostic antinomianism in the church that uses the human perspective and experience in its arguments to undermine apostolic Christianity. There are four, and perhaps five, arguments the book makes against the claims of false teachers. Although the teachings of these apostates are not explicitly cited in the book, their arguments can be reconstructed by what arguments the book puts forth to counter them. 

Theology:  It is clear that the false teachers are putting forth theological arguments that undermine biblical ethics by emphasizing the human experience as an authoritative guide to confirm their worldview. The book will argue the opposite, as it is the revealed perspective of God that is revealed that should be the guide of the Christian.

The first heretical argument is that humans, by their nature, are sinners, and thus, one should not expect them to be able to follow the moral code laid out in Scripture/the apostles. 

The book counters this by saying that "He has gifted to us everything that is necessary for life and godliness through the full knowledge of the One who called us to His own glory and excellence" (1:3). In other words, any human lack is compensated by God's gift to us for more than enough for us to live out our lives in godliness. Through the promise God gave to us, we partake of the very divine character that allows us to escape the things that are produced by a corrupted, not normal, desire (v. 4).

The second heretical argument is that Scripture and the apostolic witness to Christ is unreliable because it was produced by human subjects. Therefore, it is the compilation of human opinions and subjective religious experiences.

The book counters this by arguing that the apostles did not follow cleverly concocted human stories when they taught the church about Christ (1:16), but were eyewitnesses of His very glory and the kingdom that God granted to Him on the Mount of Transfiguration. Hence, this is not some cult interpretation of some puffed up human that is overblown in mythological fables, but that Christ is the real deal, and the apostles really did witness, rather than merely interpret, who He was and what He had received from the Father. Furthermore, no prophecy in Scripture was ever the private interpretation of some mere human speculating about God either, but men who were moved by God the Holy Spirit spoke God's teaching, not their own (vv. 19-20).

Chapter 2 is a condemnation of the false teachers that may evidence another objection given by them to undermine apostolic teaching--that is, that orthodox teachers are merely men, and their authority to combat other teachings comes merely from themselves. 

The book argues that these men are backed by angelic authorities who these teachers are reviling by reviling the authority of the church (2:10-12). The book will also argue in the end that these false teachers are unstable and untaught (3:16), meaning that their problem is that they are not taught by the church to interpret the Scripture correctly, and so do so with their own paradigms, nor are they stablized by allowing themselves to be corrected by ecclesiastical authority. There is a "way of truth" taught by orthodox interpreters of the Bible and these people speak against it (2:3).

The fourth objection is that Christ isn't literally going to be returning, as it has been a long time already and He has not returned. The promise of His physical return is nonsense. The word concerning the matter must not be true.

The book argues that it only looks to be so from the human perspective. From God's perspective, He created and destroyed the earth already long ago in water, and all of this by His word. so the perspective of the false teachers is near-sighted even in terms of what God has upheld by His word throughout history (3:5-7). Furthermore, in God's persective, a thousand years is but a day, so it has not been a long time at all in His eyes (vv. 8-9). He is waiting for His elect to come to repentance, but will absolutely fulfill His promise.

Finally, there seems to be an argument that the Apostle Paul taught what these false teachers teach, namely, something that feeds into their antinomianism. Hence, this is likely an appeal to what Paul says about grace, and turning it into a lifestyle that is directed by one's own moral code rather than God's.

The book argues that Paul actually agreed with everything Peter has taught, and not with the false teachers. They merely distort what he wrote because of their blindness and ignorance brought about by their lack of principles. Their spiritual lack has led to their interpretive lack to where they misunderstand and twist Scripture to their own destruction (3:15-16).

Ethics: Hence, since we have everything we need to become godly, the very divine power and character of God, we are to pursue maturity in moral excellence, perseverence, and love. The one who does not pursue these things has forgotten his former cleansing and is blind, even unsaved (1:9-11). Believers are told to make sure of their calling and election by pursuing godliness that an entrance into Christ's kingdom will be wholeheartedly granted to them.

Since the Scripture and apostolic teaching are true, they should be followed as completely reliable, not as the words of men, but of God (1:19).

Since the orthodox, apostolic church is backed by heavenly authorities, i.e., angels from God, it should be revered rather than slandered, and its interpretation of Christianity followed.

Since Christ will return and destroy the present world, Christians should not attempt to hold onto this world, nor should they live as though Christ is not going to return for some time, but always have a sense of imminence reflected in their lifestyles because they believe His promise to bring the world to its completion in a renewed heavens and renewed earth, where righteousness alone dwells (3:11-14).

Since the false teachers have misunderstood Paul and the rest of the Scriptures, genuine believers need to stear clear of them, be on their guard against such people in the church, and grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ passed down to them by the apostles (3:17-18). 

As in other texts, Peter makes it clear that what one's theology produces is a tell-tale sign of whether it is of God. If it affirms the apostolic witness and produces a life of order and godliness, it is from God. If it rejects the apostolic witness and produces chaos and an immoral life, then one can know for sure that such teaching comes from a false teacher and is not of God. Here, again, is the idea that one must have both biblical truth and ethics in order to show that one belongs to God and will enter His kingdom. Bad ethics stem from false religion, as only the image of God will reflect the creational activity of the true God.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Notes on Revelation 19

Chapters 18-20 depict a final judgment scene, where the wicked world is destroyed, conquered, and eternally judged. Chapter 19 stands in the middle of this scene, and depicts Christ crushing the enemies of God's people with ease, and rescuing them from their oppressors. This is the scene where the true knight rides in on His white horse and saves the captive maiden from the dragon. He then marries her and she lives happily ever after as co-ruler of the kingdom.

Lest John should discourage his readers in thinking that there will only be few that are saved, he depicts those who are saved as a massive group that are so numerous their voices sound like a deluge and loud crashes of thunder together (i.e., like a loud storm). By this, he assures his readers that those who are saved are numerous, as he has depicted before, and are a large nation made out of every nation, language, and people group. However, as is stated in v. 9, is only those who are invited to the wedding feast who are blessed, i.e., saved.

Notice, yet again, that the wicked world does not bring about sadness in the saints but rejoicing. Their oppressors' fortresses have been destroyed. 

The clothing of the saints is said to be their righteous works. The word "works" is not explicit in the text. However, the word here is τὰ δικαιώματα in the neuter, and given the purpose of the book that is consistent throughout, the author likely means for the reader to assume the word ἔργα "works." It is also important to point out that this is not talking about the imputed righteousness of Christ. For one, the entire book is about Christians living in obedience to Christ over the pressures of the world upon them to compromise in their theology and works, and for another, the terminology is that the clothing represents "the righteous things" of the saints. It is plural, as argued before, modifying an implicit
ἔργα "works," not a singular δικαιοσύνη "righteousness." Nor does it say that these are the righteous works belonging to Christ, but rather the righteous works belonging to the saints. Of course, in larger biblical theology, this is understood as an extension of Christ's work through His saints, but the Apocalypse is emphasizing what these Christians have done in their life, not the imputed righteousness of Christ. What this means is that every good work, every act of faithfulness, these saints have done is a thread that is now sewn into a beautiful white wedding gown, preparing them for the eternal kingdom of Christ as their eternal King.

The wedding imagery itself comes from John's Gospel. Although here, it is not only the occassion of salvation for the elect, but the event in which the wicked world is judged. It is possible to see the four liturgical elements in John's Gospel in Revelation as well (water, wine, wedding, and Word), but with the double-edged purpose of both salvation for God's people and judgment upon the wicked. Of course, temple imagery dominates the book (tabernacle, temple, lampstands, priestly clothing, fire, bowls, incense, etc.), but it may be that the book is bringing it all together in the same way that the author brings together the Law and Prophets with the Gospel. In any case, Christ's return is pictured as a groom coming for His bride, and wedding is sure to take place soon after.

What this means is that the entirety of the believer's life is a betrothal period in which the bride pledges her faithfulness to the groom. John may be implying this, and the law concerning the unfaithful betrothed, with his imagery. The faithful betrothed will get married and live with the groom as his wife. The unfaithful betrothed will be found out on the wedding night, or before, and be executed in judgment of her unfaithfulness. Only the faithful believer with white clothes will be married and live in Christ's inheritance. The chaste/faithful woman in white clothes is in contrast to the top whore that charactrizes Rome.

It is likely that the reason why the episode where John throws himself down at the angel's feet to worship him, and is subsequently rebuked, exists in the text is to create an understanding of how much participating in the imperial cult and Roman paganism is an abomination to God. If one is not even to worship a holy angel of God, how much less an ambassador of the devil? 

 The many diadems on Christ's head mimic those of the beast, but as in the rest of the book, the beast is the counterfeit emperor. The true King of Kings, i.e., Emperor, is Christ. Hence, He comes to take His throne away from the usurper.

As earlier in the book, the white horse symbolizes conquest. Christ and His people have now come to conquerer the dominion of the beast and his armies, and take it from them once and for all.

In the same way that his people's clothing is made up of their works, His clothing if made up of His. It is dipped in His blood. Likewise, as names have played a powerful role in identifying one throughout, He holds a name that is exclusive to Himself as God the Son, as well as the name of an Emperor (King of kings and Lord of lords). It is possible that John means to display the dual natures of Christ, as he does throughout his writings--the divine represented by the exclusive name that only He knows and has, and the human represented by what He obtained through His work on earth (i.e., the inheritance of Lordship).

The feast of the wedding banquet will be the carcasses of the wicked, and the birds will feast upon them. This again displays the idea that salvation for Christ's people is one and the same event with the destruction of the wicked.

The beast and false prophet (perhaps, the man of lawlessness and antichrist in other New Testament literature) are thrown alive into the lake of fire. The rest of the people are physically slaughtered by the judgment of Christ represented by the sword. From here, the judgment of God will be rendered.

Monday, May 6, 2019

The Exclusive Love the God of Molinism and Calvinism Have for the Elect

I'm not quite sure what Molinism attempts to accomplish. If it is trying to make God appear more loving than Calvinism, it utterly fails in doing so. Perhaps, there is some explanation that I've not heard that negates this, but as far as I can tell, it isn't distinguished from Calvinism in this regard at all. God still loves one group over another.

 The reason why this is the case is due the fact that one must conclude the reason why God makes people He knows will not believe in any universe, or at least, in the one with the maximum amount of people believing is not for the sake of themselves, but for the sake of those who would believe. Surely, it is better not to exist than to exist and be eternally punished. So why does God create these people?

They are part of the necessary conditions that make up this universe and allow the maximum amount of people to believe. But if this is true, it means that God did what was worst for them, i.e., decided to not love them, by loving those who would be saved. He made vessels of dishonor for the purpose of making vessels of honor, but how is this different from Calvinism?

Sure, it is different in other respects, through its Pelagian understanding of man, for instance, it determines people's choices by the environment rather than changing the person through regeneration, but it doesn't seem to escape the issue that God loves some over others, and is willing to damn some in order to save others. Am I missing something?

Sunday, May 5, 2019

The Danger of Believing God Speaks to Us through Our Own Thoughts

Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel, prophesy and say to those who prophesy out of their own minds: 'Hear the word of the LORD!'  
 Thus says the Lord GOD, Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing! . . . They have spoken falsehood and divined a lie; they say, 'Says the LORD,' when the LORD has not sent them, and yet they expect him to fulfill their word. (Ezekiel 13:1-3, 5)

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Notes on Revelation 18

Picking up from Chapter 17, Chapter 18 further describes the "great city" by describing its destruction.

It must be understood that this city is the same as that in Chapter 17, and it is characterized as sitting on top of the beast, first described as the Roman Empire as a whole, and then described as two of the kings of the Roman Empire.

John argues that his first century audience can figure out who the beast and the woman who rides it are by using "wisdom" (13:18; 17:9), i.e., taking the information that is given and putting it together logically. The angel also inteprets both for John in the book so that the reader will have no doubt who he is talking about (17:7). 

This means that both the beast and city have first century referents that can be identified.

The attempt to identify the city as Jerusalem by some fails on numerous accounts. The argument that two cities are presented, i.e., Babylon and the New Jerusalem, is absolutely true. However, this is not a contrast between earthly and heavenly Jerusalem, but between the chaotic world ruled by the devil and the glorified world ruled by God. It is a contrast between dystopia and utopia, characterized by the cities of Babylon/Rome that represents the center of the sinful world and a restored Jerusalem that represents the center of the new world where the presence of God dwells and gives life to all of it and its inhabitants.

Revelation is truly a tale of two cities, therefore, but the two cities contrasted are the Renewed Jerusalem and Rome, the former symbolizing the kingdom of God and the latter the kingdom of the wicked world. John is arguing throughout his work that one must choose between them and cannot live in both worlds, compromising the worship of the Lord Jesus Christ with participating in pagan festivals which are held as worship events dedicated to their gods and emperor. 

The description of the city does not characterize Jerusalem at all without stretching the meanings of every term and image.

1. The city is actually described as having kingship over all the kings of the earth (17:18).
2. The city is said to be a major, if not the major, center of commerce (18:3, 9, 11-15), yet scholars reject the idea that Jerusalem did much trade at all with any nation outside of itself (Philip A. Harland “The Economy of First-Century Palestine: State of the Scholarly Discussion” in Anthony J. Blasi et al. Handbook of Early Christianity: Social Science Approaches [Walnut Creek: Altimira Press] 2002, 520).
3. The city is dressed in scarlet, displaying that it has political power.
4. All of the kings live in luxury from its immoral behavior, likely referring to its plundering the nations. They weep when the city is destroyed because their luxury will be gone. No such thing occurs to the nations when Jerusalem is destroyed.
5. It is described as causing the other nations to commit sexual immorality with it (18:9), which is often a symbol of idolatry in prophetic literature. This means that all the kings of the earth participated in the religion of the city. This makes sense if John's concern is the pressure received from Rome to worship the emperor and his image and the gods of Rome, but makes little sense if Jerusalem, which denounced idolatry and even got itself in the Jewish War for trying to avoid it, is the city. Furthermore, the city really didn't have much a religious influence over the empire, so that all the kings of the earth would be viewed as participating in Judaism, and their religion is never characterized as idolatry in the New Testament.
6. The image of the beast burning the city is almost a sure use of imagery from the rumors that Nero burned the city of Rome in A.D. 64, and the Nero redivivus myth that reported that Nero would come back to life to take vengeance upon the city. 
7. As discussed before, the identification of the beast as Nero is clear, but the fact that he is dead according to the book in Chapter 17, means that it is his resurrected successor who is to be identified as the beast. Since this is Domitian, who has nothing to do with destroying Jerusalem, but does in many ways work to destroy the city of Rome through his policies and destruction of the senate, the correct identification of the city should be Rome.
8. All of the deaths of Christians and everyone else on the earth is the fault of this city. This characterizes Rome, but doesn't make much sense as Jerusalem, which according to the New Testament only killed a couple of Christians that we know of (James beheaded by Herod and Stephen by the mob). One could say that this was under the jurisdiction of Rome, and also include these deaths that occurred under its watch, but one could not blame the deaths of all Christians and everyone else in the civilized world on Jerusalem without getting imaginitive with it.

The city receives the punishment in gave out to Christians in full measure, displaying that God allowed His people to be killed by it, but in no means does this mean that He will not pay it back for what it did to them. 

The destruction of fire is total. The destruction of the city is ultimately a symbol for the destruction of the wicked world, its power, its luxury, etc. The fact that chaotic agents destroy their own city is parallel to the fact that the inhabitants of the earth destroy their own earth (11:18). The point, of course, is to argue that although the world enjoys life now, it will be taken from it. This is part of the warning, not to the world, but to so-called Christians who need to understand that if they bind themselves to the world by compromising with it, they bind themselves to its judgment as well. The city will never again exist upon the earth. Destruction is total and final. 

In this way, the city and the beast are identifiable to the audience of Revelation, but it does not mean that they themselves do not represent larger things in the future. As discussed many times before, John uses microcosmic descriptions as that which pictures and leads up to the macrocosmic event. This means that even the city of Rome and the beast may not be the final referents, but rather are first century pictures of the wicked world and its rulers who oppress Christians. In this way, an idealist understanding of Revelation is not ruled out, as long as it takes the historical imagery as the direct referent seriously. 

Saturday, April 27, 2019

The Gospel according to Willy Wonka

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) was one of the weirdest movies I ever saw as a kid. There was always something very disturbing about it, an eerie feeling that shocks its audience with the strangeness of another world and the judgment that takes place there of those who misbehaved in ours.

It wasn't until I was older that I actually saw the movie in a different light. Wonka, in my estimation, is meant to be God. The Oompa Loompas are angels. The factory is heaven or the new earth, i.e., God's garden, and the people going through the tour are there to be judged.

Each child represents at least one type of sinner guilty of one of the seven deadly sins. There is Veruca (greed), Augustus (gluttony), Violet (pride), and Mike (sloth). The others are displayed in the kids as they get angry (wrath) when their sins are not fed (lust). Some think Charlie represents lust, and this is possible as well. One could also say that they are all tempted with lust and envy by the Satan figure, Slugworth, who of course, ends up working for Wonka. Others think that the entirety of humanity represents lust and envy in their imbalanced desire to possess the golden ticket. In any case, the sins likely represent all the sins of humanity.

The song about Wonka displays he is God in that he takes creation and fills it with goodness. He then sings a song that the factory is paradise. He's the candyman who makes the world taste good.

However, sinners do not inherit paradise. One by one, the sinners are ejected from it and go off to various images of hell (a garbage dump, a furnace, the boiler, being turned into something not human, trapped in one's delusions, etc.).

The most important part, however, is the end. Charlie has sinned by partaking of something he was told not to. He incurs Wonka's wrath for this, and is told that he will not inherit the promise because of it. He has a chance to still get what he wants by betraying Wonka, but instead he repents by handing over his only chance to gain a reward. By doing so, Wonka forgives him and gives him his entire kingdom. They go up into the sky to look over Charlie's new kingdom.

The idea seems to be that God rejects sinners unless they repent. This much is true, but the story is missing one thing: a basis for God to be just and forgiving at the same time. In other words, this is the gospel according to an older Americanity (which is more of a general relgious idea rooted in Judaism or the Inclusive God of American religion), where God is forgiving if one turns from his wicked ways, even without Christ as the sacrifice that would allow such a thing.

Christ isn't needed. Hence, as long as one follows the songs of the Oompa Loompas and repents even if they don't, they'll be fine in the end, as they'll still inherit paradise.

Unfortunately, the gospel of Willy Wonka falls short of being good news in that there is nothing that takes away the sins already committed. They are unjustly dealt with by the god-figure in the movie, and so evil is left unanswered. This is Christless Christianity, or just Christless religion in general.

So if I could rewrite it, I would make Charlie the Christ figure. He would go into the factory for his family, just like he does, but he would be without sin. He would obey the rules perfectly and reject the temptation of Slugworth from the beginning, showing his absolute loyalty and love for Wonka the entire time. In the end, his family would inherit paradise with him. This is the message sinners really need to hear: that since Christ died for sinners, there is a basis for God to forgive them in Christ, and those who are united to Him will inherit all things with Him. This provides hope in a world of suffering and a joy in the midst of hardship. Evil is only temporary. God has overcome it through the work of His Son, and forgiveness through Christ's work restores the sinner to God and seats him as an owner of the paradise of Christ. And that is what makes the world taste good.

Biblical Theology LVI: 1 Peter

The First Epistle of Peter is written to encourage Christians in Asia Minor, who are going through suffering, that their suffering is normative for the Christians life, and that the true grace of God is evidenced in their leading holy lives in the midst of suffering, and not in using it as an excuse to return to a life of sin.

Theology: Peter focuses the attention of the Christians in Asia Minor on the eschatological hope that is to come, and away from the desire to minimize suffering and to be happy in this life. Peter argues that joy comes to the Christian when he focuses on what God has done, is doing through suffering, and will do for him when Christ is revealed. God’s judgment of Christians is now instead of with the world later. Hence, the fiery trials they are undergoing are for the purpose of purification and a testing of their faith.

Ethics: Peter argues that, in light of Christ’s suffering, Christians are to be priests in the world who display Christ through their suffering. Their suffering is not an excuse to live in ungodliness, but rather than means of their growth in godliness. They are to be holy as God is holy, and their holiness is manifest in how they deal with unjust treatment from those in authority over them. This sets up his argument that Christians must submit to all governing authorities, even if tyrannical, and even if they are afraid of losing their possibility for happiness in this life, because Christ did the same. Through their suffering, they live out His ministry in the world as His priests, and gain opportunities to proclaim Him to those who are disobedient and lost.

He argues that being priests also means not partaking in the wickedness of the world, or its criminal behavior that throws off and disrespects government, but rather to take upon the name “Christian” only if one suffers in submission for the sake of Christ. The former behavior of the Christian when he was a pagan was due to desires that were fed by ignorance of everything the Scriptures proclaim. Christians have been ransomed from their former way of life, not with perishable money, but the imperishable blood of Christ. Their lives here are temporal, but God has secured an eternal life in Christ for them that cannot be tampered with by an earthly power.

In this regard, Peter presents two roads of happiness, one against which he is implicitly arguing, and one for which he explicitly champions. The one road is that of seeking happiness here and now in one’s current situation. This road will lead to rebellion against God and man when one thinks he has been unfairly treated. The second road is one that seeks the happiness of the kingdom to come, which in turn seeks the joy of being a suffering priest in the world now. It is not that one finds joy in suffering, but rather that one finds joy in proclaiming Christ through his suffering, and when given opportunities by their unbelieving masters, to proclaim him with their words as well. Since Christ’s path was one of submission and not rebellion, even when cruelly treated by authorities, the Christian’s path is one of submission and not rebellion. The trials themselves are God’s temporary judgment upon believers that saves them.

This is possible only because Christians focus on the future hope they have been given in the promises of God to His people according to the Scriptures. Hence, it is through craving the proclaimed word that they as newborn infants will grow up to salvation, i.e., becoming like Christ in the world. As a result, they display Christ’s value to the world, a kingdom of priests, a temple in which His glory dwells, and is on display before the world that now hates Christians, but will glorify God because you them when He appears. Hence, Christians are not to see themselves as the rest of the world, but as strangers and foreigners in a land that is not yet their own.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Notes on Revelation 17

Chapter 17 reuses the image of the beast in Chapter 13, adds an additional rider to the beast, and then interprets both.

It's important to understand here that the beast is being brought into the image again in order to identify the madam of the whorehouse (i.e., "great prositute," or "mother of prostitutes"), and is not a separate image. This is important because many want to identify the city as Jerusalem, but John's point of bringing in the beast is to say that the city is Rome, not Jerusalem.

It is here that we also see what the image of the beast is about. It is first described as the Roman Empire and the heads representing the seven hills upon which the city of Rome sits. The woman, of course, is dressed in royal garb and represents the city of Rome.

However, as is common in apocalyptic, nations are often personified in their leaders, and so the beast is soon interpreted by John to refer to one of Rome's kings, who is then identified as two of Rome's kings.

We saw in Chapter 13 that the beast had a name of a man. Contrary to Beale et al. who take the position that the man is generic, the number is said to be his name in 15:2, and here it is explicitly said to refer to a single king of the empire who then returns in the form of another king. It does not refer to all the kings, the Roman Empire as a whole, the corrupt system, etc. The beast is specifically said to be one of the seven and an eighth.

As we saw the beast to referred to Nero originally, it is clear that John is concerned with the beast come again in the form of the eighth king.

Here, it is said that the original beast, i.e., Nero, is dead. It also says that five of the kings have "fallen," meaning that five are dead. This means that Nero is one of the five, and according to Roman history, he would be number 5. Revelation begins the list of kings from Augustus on down to Nero for the five who have fallen. John then presents himself in the time of Vespasian, as a writer in the Flavian Dynasty would not have included the usurpers as legitimate kings. This means that Titus, who only reigns for two years, is the correct identification of the seventh king who only reigns for a little while.

What this means is that Domitian is the eighth king with whom John is concerned. It is Nero and Domitian who are recorded by Christian historians as being the only two emperors in the first century to have persecuted Christians. Through these two, the prostitute is drunk with the blood of the saints who give testimony to Jesus Christ.

The kings under the emperors dominion yield to him an empire for his city to rule over, and they help him persecute Christ through Christians with his power. As said before, they are seen as only temporary rulers, as the beast is himself one who must go up to destruction, and is not permanent.

It is important here to note that the overcoming of the Lamb in this war is not meant to be literal at this point. The Lamb overcomes the beast by sealing those who belong to Him. They are the called, chosen and faithful who do not give in to the pressures of the beast. Because of this, Christ is seen as more powerful than the beast, as his greatest weapon is the fear of death, and these Christians love and fear Christ more. Hence, in this way, Christ has beaten the beast.

This understanding of overcoming is a thread that exists throughout the book. The one who overcomes is the one who will inherit the throne of Christ and rule with Him over the earth/nations in the end. Overcoming does not mean that one overcomes politically, through force of arms, by gaining control of human institutions; but rather it means to stay faithful among the pressures of an unfaithful world. This is what it means to be a conquerer in the book.

John returns to the city as the object of the emperor and his minion's wrath. This is John's use of the Nero redivivus myth, where Nero returns to destroy the city of Rome. It is through their tyranny that they are viewed as hating their own city. Nero himself is said to have burned the city, and that imagery is used here. Domitian is said to have been a tyrant over his own city, destroying much of its well-being during his time, so much so that the senate forbade his deification and tore down his statues after his death. This theme is a common one in the Bible where chaotic agents are used to destroy their own. Like the Urukhai and Orcs in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, evil eventually cannot contain its own murderous lusts in a cage and will inevidably destroy itself.

The many waters are interpreted to be the many different people groups that Rome rules over, and this is made more explicit by the statement that the "great city" (often used of a capital city) has kingship over the kings of the earth.

1 Corinthians 15 and the Clarity of Greek Syntax

When I finally sat down to learn German, I aced the grammar and vocabulary. My pronunciation was prestine. So, of course, when I went to take my Theological German exam, I had the utmost confidence that I would ace that as well . . . until I sat down to take it. Then I immediately realized that I had no idea what, I think was a text from Barth, was saying. That’s because learning a language is much more than learning grammar and vocabulary. I see this same error repeated with students of Greek who have a couple years of Greek but no advanced knowledge of it under their belt. What is worse is that many lesser seminaries and Bible colleges just teach people the Greek alphabet and then tell them to use the resources like dictionaries and interlinears. This is a recipe for destruction, and the common joke echoed throughout the faculty departments of Greek scholars everywhere is that a person now has enough knowledge of Greek to be dangerous. This is said, of course, because partial knowledge is usually a convincing ignorance that leads to the dogmatism of error.

Since I am writing a book on Preterism right now, I see tons of this in Preterist exegesis. 1 Corinthians 15 is a good example of this, and I’ll just mention a few of the many errors made by Preterists concerning this text. There are many more. 

In vv. 1-34, Paul argues against the idea that there is no resurrection by arguing that a denial of the resurrection means that Christ has not been raised, since to deny that X takes place is to deny that any part of X takes place, including the X of Christ. It is clear from this passage that Paul is arguing for the physical resurrection of Christ, as he mentions the gospel of Christ being raised after dying on the cross and being buried, as well as His appearing physically to the apostles and other disciples afterward. The Greeks would have taken issue with this idea simply because their religious anthropologies reject the notion that the physical body is to partake in what is spiritual and good in salvation. This is Part I of his argument and sets up his second argument in the rest of the chapter.
In vv. 35 and following, Paul begins to answer a second objection to the resurrection, which functions off of the idea that the body is crude and a temporary thing, and therefore, could not possibly be something that inherits eternal life. 

Because Preterists often read interlinears, they see that many of the articles or adjectives or verbs stand alone, and therefore, feel that they can plug in whatever referent, their own antecedents, to these, since none are explicitly named by the Greek.  

For instance, one might read in a translation or interlinear that, “It is the same with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. (vv. 42–43). When he reads this, he concludes that the word “it” is not in the text. Hence, the subject becomes open. What is sown in dishonor and raised in dishonor? What is sown in weakness and raised in power? What is sown a natural body and raised a spiritual body? He might conclude that it is the Christian person. In this case, the Christian person dies with his physical or earthly body and is raised as a spirit or with another body that is his spiritual body, a different body than the one he currently has. 

The problem with this interpretation is that the word “it” does not need to be a separate word from the verb supplied. It can be that the 3d masculine singular could be translated as “he,” but this then takes us to understand what the antecedent is. The text of v. 43 does not say that “he is raised with a spiritual body,” but rather that whatever the subject may be, it is to be identified both with the natural and spiritual body. In other words, the thing that is being sown is the same thing that is being raised. If the thing is a natural body sown, the thing is a spiritual body being raised. Since that is the case, the 3d masculine singulars should be understood, not as “he,” but as “it,” referencing the body.
This is also made clear in the preceding verses. The subject matter is the nature of the body in the resurrection, not the nature of the man who is raised. Hence, in vv. 35–41, Paul talks about the form that is given to the body of a seed that is planted, and then continues to talk about different bodies that have different natures, arguing from nature that physical bodies can be given different natures and are not confined to a singular one. It is from this argument that he proceeds to discuss the fact that when a physical body dies, its temporal, mortal nature dies and God gives to it a new nature that is immortal. There is no man mentioned that would be the antecedent of the verbs other than the sōma.

But the reading of interlinears gets worse than this when one approaches v. 46. Some Preterists have argued that the natural man (i.e., the sinful man in Adam) is first and the spiritual man (i.e., the man redeemed in Christ) comes afterward, and therefore, Paul would not be arguing that the physical man comes after the spiritual man again. First is the physical and then is the spiritual. There is simply nothing else after this. It is clear that this is talking about a person, and not the body, because Paul refers to Adam and Christ in the preceding verse.

The problem is that this is talking about the body still, not the Christian person as a whole. This is made clear by the grammar, which is neuter singular in agreement with sōma and not with anthrōpos in v. 45. The contrast between Adam and Christ, therefore, is not one between the fallen and redeemed natures, but between the mortal body given to Adam and the immortal body given to Christ. The body’s first nature is not immortal. It is mortal. The body’s immortal nature is given later (as Paul says, after it dies). The argument continues that those who are in Adam have received the mortal nature of Adam’s body, but those who are in Christ will also receive the immortal nature of Christ’s resurrected body.

Some of this is a simple misunderstanding of what Paul means by terms like “spiritual” and “heavenly” versus “earthly” or “natural.” Preterists often interpret these terms to mean “non-physical” versus “physical” based on their interpretation of v. 50; but it is clear that the term “flesh and blood” is defined immediately by Paul as “that which is perishable versus that which is imperishable.” Paul further clarifies this in vv. 53–54 as the mortal body being transformed by its being given the nature of immortality and imperishability. 

The misuse of the interlinear comes in again in these verses, as the Preterist will note that the word “body” is not in the text; but this, again, is a misunderstanding of Greek syntax. The article and adjective are neuter singulars and refer back to the antecedent sōma. It is a very common practice in Greek for the author to leave out the modified noun simply because it is seen as redundant. The author will either just write the article that is in agreement with the noun in gender and number, or as in this case, write both the article and modifying adjective that agrees in gender and number. What this means is that, even though the interlinear does not show it, Paul means the reader to read sōma after each adjective. Hence, the text of vv. 53–54 should read, “For this perishable body must put on an imperishable nature, and this mortal body must put on an immortal nature. Now when this perishable body puts on the imperishable nature, and this mortal body puts on an immortal nature . . .”

It is clear, then, from the Greek, that what is being raised is the actual body that Christians have gained from Adam, but this body is being raised with a new nature that mimics that of Christ’s redeemed body. The term enduō means to “clothe over,” and often refers to putting on an outer garment over existing clothes. Paul is not arguing, therefore, that the Christian becomes a spirit or is given a new body that is a completely different body than the one he has, but rather that his body will be redeemed and transformed into one that is fit for the immortal kingdom of God.

It should be noted for further meditation that Paul argues that Christ has not conquered death, what he refers to as the last enemy, until the body is transformed in this way. In other words, until the resurrection/transformation of the physical body from mortal to immortal occurs, Christ will remain on the Father’s throne until He puts all of His enemies under His feet. What this means is that “death” here refers to physical, not spiritual, death, which is another misunderstanding that Preterists often plug into this text. One can see that the understanding of Greek, rather than a cursory knowledge gained from interlinears and a nominal knowledge of Greek, can sharpen one’s understanding of what is being said, and even refute deeply held assumptions that often go into reading the English text.