Christian Apocalyptic Theology in the New Testament: part 2

When we speak about “Apocalyptic Theology”, we should understand that it is not necessarily about the end of the world. “Apocalyptic” means “to reveal” it does not mean “the end” as many might think, even though everything we know about the end of the world is apocalyptic. This will become evident as we take a look at Apocalyptic Theology and the Kingdom of God in the earthly ministry of Jesus.

The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.

1 John 3:8

In all that Jesus said, and especially in all that He did, Jesus made it quite clear that He was the Messiah, come to His people. The coming of the Kingdom of God was the subject of His preaching time and time again; here’s an example:

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15)

Notice the connection between the Gospel message and “good news”. Jesus, in proclaiming the Kingdom, has linked it with the fulfillment of God’s good promises that evil would be destroyed, and everything would be transformed into God’s will. This Kingdom idea was the focus of Jesus’ teaching; notice the part Kingdom plays when He teaches His disciples to pray:

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven. (Matt. 6:9-10)

When Jesus calls upon people to “repent” He is calling on them to renounce their alliance with Satan (conscious or otherwise) and conform to the ways of the coming Kingdom. When Jesus forgives sin, He is showing that God is in the process of doing away with evil, in the process of removing sin that has for so long corrupted the entire creation. When Jesus gathers disciples and commands them to “Love each other as I have loved you” (e.g., John 15:12) He is forming the community of believers that are the Kingdom on the earth in the coming “last” (eschatological) age with men and women who will set all aside to follow Him.

The miracles that Jesus performed were also proclamations of the kingdom, for in performing them He demonstrates to all that God has come to the earth in the Person of Christ in power to begin the removal of sin and corruption from this world in all of its forms. For example, when Jesus heals the sick, he demonstrates the power of God to remove pain and suffering in the fullness of His kingdom. As a result, when he sends out the disciples with authority to preach and heal in His name, He gives these instructions:

When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ (Luke 10:8-9)

Healing the sick comes for a purpose, to show the power of the Kingdom of God. Similarly, when he drives out demons, he is showing the power of God to destroy the works of Satan; that when the Kingdom comes in its fullness, Satan will be eliminated entirely (see Luke 11:14-20).

When Jesus walks on water and calms the storms, He shows that even nature (created by God) is under God’s control, and will be redeemed (see Matt. 14:22-33; Mark 6:45-52; John 6:16-21). When Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead (e.g., John 11) He shows God’s power to resurrect the dead.

We could continue on for many more words, but I think that by now you have the idea: Jesus’ entire ministry, both his teachings and His actions, point people to the coming of His Kingdom with authority and power, and that by doing so, Jesus is letting people see that God’s redemptive work was under way in their midst.

It is all well and good to look at His power and authority, but soon He would be killed. We will see next time how His death plays into Christian Apocalyptic Theology…

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Christian Apocalyptic Theology in the New Testament: part 1

The book of Revelation is the consummation of Christian Apocalyptic Theology of the New Testament, which derives from Jewish Apocalyptic Theology as seen in the Old Testament, and Jewish Apocalyptic Theology as it continued in the Intertestamental period, which is why we have seen so many parallels to both Old Testament writings and intertestamental writings in the first half of Revelation. As we take a look at New Testament Apocalyptic Theology, this relationship should become abundantly clear.

The earthly ministry of Jesus affirms most of the understanding of the Jewish tradition, so let’s take a brief look at some of these points:

First, New Testament writers share the Jewish belief in both an earthly and heavenly realm; the natural and the supernatural. They also share the old Jewish belief that there is a force behind the evil done in the earthly realm. They asserted that the spiritual forces of evil lie behind the wickedness of men, and the plight of nations, providing false worldviews to entire civilizations, that live and act in opposition to God. Paul sums this up:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Ephesians 6:12

Second, New Testament writers hold the view that the present world is dominated by Satan, because of Adam’s rebellion. Again, Paul makes this point:

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—

But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!

Romans 5:12, 15-17

For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

Romans 8:19-21

These points have clear and obvious connections to Genesis 1-5.  Obviously, when we are told that God created everything, and that it was “good” and then He created Man, and that was “very good” there was only the will of God at work. Soon after, that changes when the “serpent” enters the picture and entices the humans into rebellion. This is where that “other” kingdom begins. God and Man, once in perfect harmony are separated, Man has no further contact with the “tree of Life” and nature, now corrupted, takes its course and death enters the world.

As the Old Testament continues, God begins the process of redemption, relationships begin, more is revealed to men by God while the problems associated with sin continue, but in later generations, God begins to reveal through his prophets that a change is coming that will put an end to the corruption both of Man and the rest of Creation, and that change will take place when the Messiah comes onto the scene… and that is where we will pick up next time.

Halftime

As of this morning, we have finished the vision that extended from Revelation 8:2 through 11:19. What follows in chapters 12-14 is possibly the most pivotal and misunderstood of all the visions in the book, and I am loath to begin it at this point.

When I committed to this series on Revelation, I had no idea that we would be moving a thousand miles to the west; that simply wasn’t on the radar. Right about the time we were under way in Revelation, I was informed that it was the pleasure of the United States Government that we do so, because of Mrs. M’s job. I have now been informed that they will be here on Monday next, to pack us up, thus, they will be pulling the plug on my internet connection, and we will be on the road. Yesterday afternoon I received the news that I will be reconnected to the internet in Illinois sometime on August 14, which as far as I’m concerned is ridiculous… but then “they” never ask for my opinion on anything.

As a consequence, I’ll be offline for most of two weeks, and I can’t see leaving off right in the middle of this next vision for that long… so I needed a plan, and here it is…

I’m going to add some additional background information for the next few days, things I thought about discussing in Bonus Posts later on in the book; let’s call it our “halftime show” instead. 🙂 After Monday, The Life Project will go “dark” until I’m back online…

So, our thrill-packed “halftime show” will begin Friday morning… I can hardly wait!

The Seventh Trumpet

Revelation 11:15-19

“The kingdom of the world has become
the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah,
and he will reign for ever and ever.”

Revelation 11:15b

When the seventh trumpet sounds, the final judgment and the fullness of God’s Kingdom are realized; those who “revere” His name, both “great and small” received their reward, and those who do not, receive His “wrath”.  With all of God’s enemies out of the picture, His reign in its fullness begins, and the entire creation is redeemed from the plagues of sin and death. “Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, and peals of thunder, an earthquake and a severe hailstorm” (11:19). As we have seen before in Revelation, the “flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a severe hailstorm” are representations of God Himself; a theophany. The Ark of the Covenant, as we have seen, represents God’s presence in the midst of His people. Here we have a parallel with Exodus again: The people lived through the ten plagues of Egypt, and when they were completed, the people were set free from that land, and God’s presence dwelt with them over the ark. Now, in the fullness of the consummation of God’s church, God, who has delivered His people through the plagues of this present age, is present with them in His Kingdom.

We have also seen in earlier visions that the song at the end interprets for us what has been going on in the vision; here it is…

The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said:

“The kingdom of the world has become
the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah,
and he will reign for ever and ever.”

 And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying:

“We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty,
the One who is and who was,
because you have taken your great power
and have begun to reign.
The nations were angry,
and your wrath has come.
The time has come for judging the dead,
and for rewarding your servants the prophets
and your people who revere your name,
both great and small—
and for destroying those who destroy the earth.”

There isn’t anything in these verses that is hard to understand; this is all about the final judgment and the consummation of the Kingdom. What this should tell us is that even if we were confused on this symbol or that symbol, we have once again seen a vision that takes us through this present evil age from John’s time to the coming of Christ at the final judgment.  Of course as always, in spite of John’s clarity and what by now has become an obvious pattern, there are many views on these things…

Photo of the Week: July 29, 2015

 

 

This photo is very similar to the one I used recently in “A Nostalgic Morning”.  I actually took this one first, several steps farther from the river and with a bit of zoom so that the Arlington Memorial Bridge is larger in the frame, yet with better framing by the trees… I also got the swimming duck in this one, but a better shot of the clouds in the other one. I can’t decide which one I like. 🙂

A Terrified World

But after the three and a half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them. Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.”And they went up to heaven in a cloud, while their enemies looked on. (11:11-12)

When Christ’s return is imminent, the world’s worst nightmare comes to pass when those who have been murdered for their testimony of Christ are resurrected. Just as Jesus Himself testified to the Truth, was persecuted and put to death, only to rise again from the grave, so also will those Christians who testified of Jesus, were persecuted and killed for His sake, rise from the grave. Just imagine the horror the world would feel when such a thing takes place. Even now, to tell a non-believer of such things will evoke a response, usually one of contempt, but listen carefully to the words of contemptuous dismissal, and ask yourself if they remind you of someone who is whistling in the dark.

“Look, he is coming with the clouds,”
and “every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him”;
and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.”
So shall it be! Amen.

Revelation 1:7

At that very hour there was a severe earthquake and a tenth of the city collapsed. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. (11:13)

As in Revelation 6:2, the earthquake represents God’s final judgment, and the end of this “present evil age”. From this point forward, nothing will ever be the same again…

The “seven thousand” who are killed in the “earthquake” represent the full and complete number of those who are condemned in the final judgment, while those who are left terrified and giving glory to God are those believers who were alive at that time. I can only imagine what a terrifying thing that would be to see!

A “tenth of the city collapsed” refers to that portion of the creation that God destroyed. As we will see in our discussion of Revelation 21-22, God’s intention is not to destroy the entire creation, but to redeem it by removing the evil that has polluted it (cf. Rev. 16:19). “At that very hour” that the final judgment is to begin, the “two witness”, i.e. the church, is caught “up to heaven in a cloud” is John’s description of the church being taken to heaven, “saved” from judgment: It is the “new” Exodus, and reminds us of Paul’s words…

According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

1 Thessalonians 4:15-18

John continues:

The second woe has passed; the third woe is coming soon. (11:14)

Next time, we’ll have a look at the seventh trumpet; see you then!

Death of the Two Witnesses

Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them. (11:7)

The two witnesses were protected while they gave their testimony to the world concerning the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but when they had finished, a beast from the Abyss comes to kill them. You might recall our discussion of the Abyss in chapters 8-9, where we saw that it was a place from which the demonic forces were unleashed upon the earth. In this case, a beast comes up from there… In Revelation, a beast refers to a political power that opposes the church. We will see this developed more in chapter 13, as you might imagine. In John’s day, the Romans were the beast, the political power that opposed the church; there has always been a political power or powers that fill this role, as history shows us, and as our newspapers tell us about today. It would be a mistake in my view, if we took an image like a “beast” and insisted on tying it to one particular person, nation or empire, because at any given time, there are many such persons, nations or empires. For instance, Hitler opposed the church. At the same time, so did Stalin: what did they have in common? They fought each other to the death. In our world, there are many nations that oppose the church, but look carefully; they are different nations, and their opposition is for different reasons.

Their bodies will lie in the public square of the great city—which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt—where also their Lord was crucified. (11:8)

This is where I remind you that this is not literal; it’s a vision, thus symbolic. I remind you of this because there is a great temptation to place these events in Jerusalem when we read this verse. We must remember that the two witnesses represent the church and are not two literal individuals, as we covered last time. As a consequence, this cannot refer to a specific place. This “great city” is figuratively called “Sodom and Egypt” and they both have significant Old Testament meanings. Sodom was the ancient city that God destroyed because of its outrageous sin, as you all know. “Sodom” represents the outrageous sin of humans. Egypt, as we have already seen, represents this “world”. This is the same outrageous sin of this world that brought to pass the murder of our Lord Jesus Christ when His “time had come.” Before His time had come, they couldn’t touch him; when the time came, they nailed Him to a cross and He died as a common criminal. So likewise, the two witnesses cannot be touched while they give their testimony about His Gospel, but when their time comes, they are killed.

For three and a half days some from every people, tribe, language and nation will gaze on their bodies and refuse them burial. The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth. (11:9-10)

Their bodies lie out in the streets. All peoples refuse them burial, so great is the contempt they hold for the church and the Gospel. Their deaths are celebrated, people rejoice. The bodies begin to decay, are torn up by dogs… this is a statement of sheer hatred and contempt, but it is not literal. Why the hatred for the church?

It really isn’t the church that they hate; it is the message of the church they hate. The people of much of this world do not want to hear about Jesus, because for them to hear about Jesus means that there are implications to be dealt with, and this world for the most part, would rather not deal with those implications, for as we discussed in the last post, the Gospel of Jesus Christ has both positive and negative implications. On the positive side is God’s mercy and grace, but mercy and grace lead to repentance. On the negative side, rejecting the mercy and grace of God is an act that brings judgment upon the person who rejected mercy and grace, and therein lies the “torment” John speaks of.

The witnesses testify for 1,260 days. They lie in the street for 3 ½ days. As we have already discussed, both of these represent the entire age in which we live, from John’s day until the Lord returns.

Recently a video made the rounds on the internet. It was a video showing the beheading of 50 or so Christian men by ISIS; maybe you’ve seen it. Those responsible for this outrageous act were apparently so proud of themselves; they recorded their crime and posted it for the whole world to see. Some who saw this video mourned, while others celebrated.

The day is coming, and will come, when mourning turns to joy, and celebrating turns to terror, as we will see next time.