Responding to the Christian Despisers of All That Was Good About Notre Dame Cathedral

The burning of Notre Dame is tragic, as I noted earlier on my Facebook account: The burning of Notre Dame Cathedral is emblematic of the Church’s pervasive loss of historical Christianity in the main. There is no sense of the transcendent, or the layered reality of historical teaching (sacra doctrina) found within the halls of the ancient Church. All things have been domesticated, and essentially burned to the ground of our own subjective and culturally conditioned desires as Christians.” And it is out of this overly-domesticated sense of the Gospel that I don’t think many evangelical (and other) Christians appreciate just what something like Notre Dame symbolizes.

But why don’t many Christians appreciate what Notre Dame symbolizes? The branch of Christianity I grew up in is shaped by a commitment to a dispensationalist hermeneutic. This hermeneutic, as many of us know, operates from a dualistic (even Platonic) conception of eternity and time. One impact this has is that ‘this world’ is viewed as a shadowy existence that only shadows forth the really real existence back up in eternal form. The ultimate goal for this perspective is to gnostically escape this world, and start the eternal state [cf. Rev. 21–22] (but only after the Great Tribulation and Millennium). So, if this is the case, we can see why some Christians would have an indifference to ‘these worldly’ sorts of concrete realities; such as we have in the architectural masterpiece of something like the Notre Dame Cathedral. If this world, and all it contains, is ‘going to hell-in-a-handbasket,’ then who really cares if a structure like Notre Dame burns to the ground; as long as no souls are lost in the process, that’s all that matters.

But what if that isn’t the biblical view? What if the biblical view, on the analogy of the incarnation, thinks that ‘this world’ is in fact a good? What if the Christian perspective actually maintains that there is a continuity between this creation and the next? I would argue that based upon the analogy of the incarnation, where “eternity” and time are united in the hypostatic union of Divinity and humanity in the person of Jesus Christ, that this creation is good and redeemable. I would argue further, based on the analogy of the incarnation, that there is a continuity between this current iteration of creation and the one to come in the consummate re-creation that will be realized in the eschaton of God’s life in Christ. So, I would argue that Christians need to operate with a doctrine of creation that thinks from the eschatological reality it has in Christ. In other words, I would argue that creation’s ultimate purpose has always already been to be redeemed and recreated in the Christ event. The implication of this, one of many, is that there is purposiveness to this creation—inclusive of art, architectural feats, culture, industry so on and so forth—that finds continuous reality in and through the grace of God in Christ. Meaning that even something like the Notre Dame Cathedral carries forth the ingenuity that God has placed in His good and renewed creation as those who constructed it did so from the resources that God gave them to bear witness to His beauty through the artistry they participated in and from as they sought to glorify God in this architectural wonder. In other words, Notre Dame typifies the sort of good that will be carried into the eschaton, precisely because it is a work of artistry that finds its genesis in image-of the image bearers who did what they did from participatio Christi and as they were seeking to please and magnify the living God.

Just to drive this point home further, let me point us to the biblical text itself. Here is what the Revelator thinks about the continuity between this creation and the one to come:

22 But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. 24 And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. 25 Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). 26 And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it. 27 But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.[1]

In particular notice verse 24. ‘The kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it.’ What do you think that entails? Might the glory of the kings kingdom entail the works of art, architecture, industriousness their respective cultures produced as they participated in and from the glory or weightiness of God’s life for them in Christ? If we were to do a study of just exactly what ‘their glory and honor’ entailed in the Second Temple Judaism that this book was written in, I’d be willing to bet a lot that this honor and glory entailed just exactly what I just noted (indeed, just read the Old Testament, and see what sort of stuff shaped the glory of the various kingdoms therein).

This is what I am getting at. So next time you want to de-emphasize the value of something like Notre Dame Cathedral, and other like realities, think about these things from a genuinely Christian perspective. God in Christ came to redeem not just ghostly souls, but embodied persons who create things as they operate as images of the image of God in Christ. Do people matter more than buildings, ultimately? Yes. But that is a rather weighted and relative scale vis-à-vis God. The ingenuity and work that went into building something like Notre Dame Cathedral didn’t come from empty suits, it came from flesh and blood people working as unto God rather than unto men. As such, it reflects a work of art that magnifies and bears witness to the living God. As such, it has redemptive characteristics that God came to save not destroy. If this is so we ought to ache as God aches when death and destruction rather than life and shalom seem to reign.

There are other ways to look at all of this as well. But this represents one way.

 

[1] Revelation 21, NKJV.

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The Book of Revelation

Here is a great little video (25 minutes, wish it was longer) that Brian LePort has over at his blog. It is Ian Paul on the book of Revelation. Paul offers a great little introduction on how we ought to read and approach the book of Revelation. He emphasizes something that is lost on so many American readers of the book of Revelation; he emphasizes the importance that genre ought to have on the expectations we have when we interpret this book. Anyway, watch the video, you will be informed:

My Blog has the ‘Mark of the Beast’: 666 Followers

I don’t know how to take this, my blog has taken the ‘Mark of the Beast’; it needs to repent before it is too late.

I take the ‘Mark of the Beast’ to be the number that is representative of those who align themselves with the purposes of the ‘kind’ of power and posture that Rome represented in the 1st century (and some following), and then of those who, even today, continue to live in and from this kind of kingdom; the kind that as the Apostle has written, that is of the ‘kingdom of darkness’ rather than the ‘kingdom of the Son of his love’.

So an implication of my view is that the ‘Mark of the Beast’ is not sequestered to some future literal fulfillment (e.g. that people will take this mark in the form of a micro-chip or bar-code embedded in their hand or forehead), but instead I see it as something that is a present reality of any and all who are not for Christ, but against him (just as this was the case when the book of Revelation was originally written in the Graeco-Roman period).

PS. Of course as soon as I posted this my blog decided to repent and is now down to 665 followers.

The ‘Harlot’ that rides the ‘Beast’

As some of you know I have been working and re-working my view on eschatological biblical hermeneutics (biblical interpretation) for quite a few years. I grew up dispy, was trained as a progressive dispy (pretrib, premil), converted to historic premil and post-trib; but now I am a convinced amillennialist, thanks in no small part to Richard Bauckham (who I have been in personal correspondence with over the last week) and his writings on the book of Revelation. I don’t want you to think that I just changed my view on a dime; this has been long and coming, and Bauckham has simply provided a way to be amil without also having to be a Federal-Covenantal Calvinist [Bauckham himself doesn’t commit to either an amil or postmil position; he remains open on that continuum].

I open this way to get us into what I really want to write about; that is what Bauckham has to say about Revelation 18 as an economic critique of the Beast [Rome], and any other empires that imbibe this kind of empiric mantle. Let me quote a bit from Bauckham on this issue, and then I will provide further elaboration of my own afterwards.

[F]inally, the portrait of the harlot in Revelation 17:1-6 ends with a fresh and even more sinister use of the image of drunkeness: she who made the earth drunk with her seductive wiles is herself ‘drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of the witnesses of Jesus’ (17:6). The accusation recurs, this time with a judicial image, in 18:24: ‘in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all who have been slain on earth’. Here the prophets and saints are the Christian martyrs, and many commentators understand ‘all who have been slain on earth’ also as Christian martyrs, but this is not the natural sense, and it robs the verse of its climax. Rome is indicted not only for the martyrdom of Christians, but also for the slaughter of all the innocent victims of its muderous policies. The verse expresses  a sense of solidarity between the Christian martyrs and all whose lives were the price of Rome’s acquisition and maintenance of power. John has not forgotten that Babylon rides on the beast with its bear’s hug and its lion’s teeth (13:2). He knows that the Pax Romana was, in Tacitus’s phrase, ‘peace with bloodshed,’ established by violent conquest, maintained by continual war on the frontiers, and requiring repression of dissent. Like every society which absolutizes its own power and prosperity, the Roman empire could not exist without victims. Thus John sees a connexion between Rome’s economic affluence, Rome’s idolatrous self-deification, and Rome’s military and political brutality. The power of his critique of Rome—perhaps the most thoroughgoing critique from the period of the early empire—lies in the connexion it portrays between these various facets of Rome’s evil.

Thus it is a serious mistake to suppose that John opposes Rome only because of the imperial cult and the persecution of Christians. Rather this issue serves to bring to the surface evils which were deeply rooted in the whole system of Roman power. In John’s perspective, the evils of Rome came to a head in her persecution of Christians, because here Rome’s self-deification clashed with the lordship of the Lamb to which the Christian martyrs bore witness and so what was implicit in all of Rome’s imperial policies here became explicit. Hence Revelation most often portrays the fall of Rome as vengeance for the death of the Christian martyrs (16:6; 18:24; 19:2; cf. 18:6). But this is certainly not the whole story: God’s judgment of Rome is also attributed to her slaughter of the innocent in general (18:24; cf. 18:6), her idolatrous arrogance (18:8), and her self-indulgent luxury at the expense of her empire (18:7). [Richard Bauckham, “The Climax of Prophecy: Studies on the Book of Revelation,” 350-51]

Theological Implications

This has immediate application for our current situation, as Americans and Westerners in particular. What Bauckham argues is that the book of Revelation was primarily intended for the seven churches he wrote it too (what a novel idea). Then the apocalyptic language, and prophetic genre of the book take on new character, we no longer ought to read it through a purely ‘futuristic’ lens; as so many do, at least in my orbit of contacts. While the book was initially written to first century Graceo-Roman Christians; its prophetic reach comes into our present and into the future yet to come. Bauckham is arguing that the harlot who rides the ‘Beast’ is the economic affluence of Rome, and then any empire following that walks in the same footsteps as Rome. That society is the Beast; the kingdom of the world that would seek to exalt itself against the kingdom of the Lamb.

The sobering reality of what Bauckham is getting at is that America, and the West (and much of the East) could be the ‘Beast’. I will pick on America since I am American. We feature all of the characteristics that Bauckham notes as features of the Roman empire, or the ‘Beastly empire.’ We have absolutized our power (American exceptionalism), we have indulged our affluence, we have ‘self-deified’ ourselves by synthesizing Christianity with a certain set of Americana and her Judeo-Christian values, and we have established all of this through our overpowering military might and political maneurvering. We have swallowed up the world to the point now that we are feeding on ourselves, and we don’t even realize it (given the global nature of things, it could be aruged that the nations of the world have come together to take her stand against the King of kings and Lord of lords).

It seems to me that the blood of the martyrs, the cries of the saints who have gone before us is crying out louder than ever before. In light of these things how then should we live?

The ‘Beast’ in the Book of Revelation, He’s Here

I have been reading Richard Bauckham’s The Climax of Prophecy: Studies on the Book of Revelation; I was spurned to read this because I read his smaller book The Theology of the Book of Revelation a few months ago, which was excellent and a must read. In fact I would say that if you haven’t read either of these books you haven’t really ever studied the book of Revelation. What I want to highlight is a bit of Bauckham’s discussion and identification of the Beast in the book of Revelation. Now, if your reading this as a dispensationalist you will be challenged (to say the least); but I think if you read Bauckham’s development in full you would be hard pressed to refute what he has to say. He looks at the internal structure of the book, and really presses the ‘Epistle’ genre of the book (then also the ‘Apocalyptic’ and ‘Prophetic’); resulting in taking seriously that John was writing for the seven churches he is speaking to in 1st century Graeco-Rome. Bauckham is at his best as he situates the apocalyptic genre of Revelation in its proper literary context. Meaning that he identifies how all of the picteresque and emotive language of Revelation was understood within its historical context, and what the prophetic significance would have been for these 1st century Christians; and then what it means for us today (by way of application). I uphold what Bauckham here communicates about the ‘Beast’, and I want to commend it to you for your consideration. What he brings out on the Beast and Empire presents a paradigm shifting proposition in the way that most Evangelical Christians have understood this amazing book. I am going to share this quote on the Beast and Empire from Bauckham, and then I will close with a few parting comments.

[T]he images of the beast will probably become most easily accessible to us as we realise that it was primarily in developing the theme of christological parody that John found the Nero legend useful. It enabled him to construct a history of the beast as paralleling the death, the resurrection and the parousia of Jesus Christ. Some interpretation of Revelation has made the theme of christological parody seem a mere creative fantasy which John projects onto the Roman Empire, which of course had no intention of aping the Christian story of Jesus. In fact, as we have seen, the christological parody corresponds to real features of history of the empire, to the character of the imperial cult, and to contemporary expectations of the future of the empire. It is a profound prophetic interpretation of the contemporary religio-political image of the empire, both in Rome’s own propaganda and in its subjects’ profoundest responses to Roman rule. This religio-political ideology, which John sees as a parody of the Christian claims about Christ, was no mere cover for the hard political realities: it entered deeply into the contemporary dynamics of power as they affected the lives of John’s contemporaries. He sees it as a deification of power. The empire’s success is founded on military might and people’s adulation of military might. By these standards Christ and the martyrs are the unsuccessful victims of the empire. Instead of worshipping the risen Christ who has won his victory by suffering witness to the truth, the world worships the beast whose ‘resurrection’ is the proof that this military might is invincible. The parallel between the ‘death’ and ‘resurrection’ of the beast and the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ poses the issue of what is truly divine. Is it the beast’s apparent success which is worthy of religious trust and worship? Or is the apparent failure of Christ and the martyrs the true witness to the God who can be ultimately trusted and may alone be worshipped?

The ambiguity of the period of the beast’s reign, in which to earthly appearances the beast’s ‘resurrection’ has established his eternal kingdom, while those who acknowledge God’s rule are slaughtered by the beast, cannot be permanent. God’s kingdom must come. The parallel between the beast’s ‘parousia’ and Christ’s poses the issue of what will turn out ultimately to be divine, whose kingdom will prevail in the end. The cult of military power contains its own contradiction: the city which lived by military conquest will fall by military conquest. But beyond that, military power which aims only at its own absolute supremacy must prove a false messiah. It overreaches itself because it is the merely human grasping for what is truly only divine. It is only the parousia of Christ that can establish an eternal kingdom, because it is truly the coming of the eternal God who alone can be trusted with absolute supremacy.

The riddle of the number of the beast pointed specifically to Nero as the figure whose history and legend displayed, to those who had wisdom, the nature of the Roman Empire’s attempt to rival God. Any contemporary reappropriation of Revelation’s images that aims to expose the dynamics of power in the contemporary world in the light of the Gospel would also have to be specific. [Richard Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy, 451-52]

Theological Implications

The first thing I want to draw our attention to is Bauckham’s last paragraph. What he is doing with this is delimiting the application of the book of Revelation to a particular set of boundaries. In other words, he is using its original audience and shape as determinative for how we can appropriate and apply it to our own context and situation today (just as in principle we should interpret the so called Minor Prophets or Book of the Twelve). What this does, by implication, is that it disallows the Dispensationalist interpretation of the book of Revelation. It won’t allow for providing the kind of the nitty-gritty detail that Dispensational exegesis of this book is known for. There is a general understanding of end time events revealed in this book (as it pertains to the end of the current world system), and only a more particular understanding of the consummate age or heaven. In other words, to read stuff into Revelation (like identifying the European union as the ten headed beast, or taking the “Mark of the Beast” as a literal mark or bar code embedded on your hand or forehead) will not work; and this is convincingly revealed as the exegete studies the background context and Jewish-Christian apocalyptic tradition from which John wrote and received the revelation of Jesus.

Bauckham’s prior development, to the quote above, has highlighted how the history in the 1st century (second Temple Judaism) supplies all the historical referents for which John’s apocalyptic language finds a referent. In other words, the language of “Beast” was common moniker for the Roman Empire, and its gone wild military power. The ‘Mark of the Beast’ was required in order to buy and sell in the Roman Empire (or allegiance to Nero and the Caesars). So as Bauckham notes, if true, then the application of this (prophetically for the future) is that the power of the Beast (represented by empires who have their strength through military might and power) will not last (which was immediately realized in the Roman context as ultimately the Roman empire collapsed, but this kind of “power” has continued to persist into the present). Also there is an interesting note, historically in regards to the language of the Beast receiving a fatal blow to the head, and then his resurrection (which was also common apocalyptic language directed toward the Roman empire and the Nero legend by other apocalyptic writings during this period like the Ascension of Isaiah etc.); Bauckham identifies how this was something that had already happened in reference to the Beast (in particular Nero legend, whom the number 666 through Gematria [the common usage of Greek letters that have numeric value to identify people or places, in this instance, the Greek letters for Nero add up to 666]); that after Nero committed suicide, it appeared that the Roman empire was doomed, but at the time of 70 AD Titus Vespasian resurrected and coalesced the empire through the sacking of Jerusalem and the military might of the Rome. It appeared that the Beast had died, but within a short period of time he rose again to excessive power. These are just a few examples of how Bauckham reorientates the book of Revelation through providing a thick account of the context in which the book of Revelation was written. The exegete, if genuine, cannot simply over-look what Bauckham has provided if he or she is going to honestly engage the book of Revelation. Which leads to my last implication.

For all too long, personally, folks I have been around who want to continue holding onto their particular interpretive schema of things (especially dispensationalists) will caricature other interpretive approaches to the book of Revelation in particular. There usually is a sketch of the other positions (like historist, idealist, preterist), but then this is only used to relativize the interpretive situation (or confuse); at which point the dispensationalist steps in and offers his clarity of interpreting the book of Revelation through a futurist lens alone. This is not good practice, and it ultimately turns people like me off. True, each one of us has to make our own decisions when it comes to principles of interpretation; but I would like to think that that involves being honest, and taking all the evidence (we are aware of) into account. That we are not so locked into particular denominations and their distinctives that we are afraid to change our minds, and allow our preunderstandings that we bring to the text to change in accordance with the relative weight of the evidence on the ground that we are confronted with through the kind of rigorous study that Paul admonishes us to (cf. II Tim. 2.15). [I am of course not talking about essential things here, I am talking about so called secondary things like this issue entails]

One more implication. If what Bauckham writes is true, then this has paradigmatic consequences for how we view our current situation, especially as Westerners and Americans in particular. We should not conflate being a Christian with being a Patriot, a Republican-Democrat-Independent, or simply with being an American. In fact insofar as America’s strength is rooted in her military might, then she exemplifies the features of the ‘Beast’ and not the City on the Hill that Ronald Reagan attributed to her. What the book of Revelation does is that it places any empire (like, really the emerging Global Empire we inhabit) on notice; that its time is short, and that all of its wanton desires are coming to an end. You can kill the Christians (and the ‘Beast’ has, statistically more so in the 20th century by itself than the previous 19 added together), but it is through the martyrs blood that the Beast only proves his own demise; the blood of the martyrs cries out, and signals that the Lion-Lamb’s kingdom has come and will finally come at the last trumpet. What Bauckham’s insights implies is that the Beast (or Anti-Christ) is not necessarily embodied in a single person; instead Nero and the Roman empire exemplifies or symbolizes the kind of power that is embodied by empires or empire in the world. There will be, according to the unfolding of the judgments in Revelation (the Seal, Trumpet, Bowl) an intensification of the Beast and empire just prior to the return of Christ (where the Danielic ‘Stone’ will crush the kingdoms of this world cf. Daniel 2). In other words, Jesus could come at any moment!

Dispensational ‘Pre-Tribulationism’: An “American Theology”

A caveat: The following post is not intended to slam or deface Evangelical Christians who are ‘Classic’ or ‘Progressive’ Dispensational, Premillennial; and as the focal point of this post, Pre-Tribulational. Instead, this post is intended to throw out somewhat suggestive reasons for why I have come to disavow the Pre-Tribulational view in particular, and the Dispensational framework in general. I attend a church where this kind of teaching is taught; I attended a Bible College and Seminary where (for the most part) this kind of thought was communicated; and I grew up as the son of a Baptist pastor where I was weened on this kind of theology as sure as I suckled on my mother’s milk (TMI 😉 ). Thus I am no foreigner to the sub-culture and theological and exegetical assumptions that go into developing and cultivating this kind of thinking; I, in fact, up and until probably the last 6 years was as ardent of a defender of this kind of theological tap that you might ever hope to cross-paths with. I provide all of this back-story in order to let you know, the reader, that my intention is not to be one of those kind of guys who once was this, and now that I am no longer this (and instead am that); that my goal is to destroy, belittle, and beat-up my former belief (and thus all those who still hold to it) in order to make my new belief more stable and secure — and also to make my new belief more credible, while making my old belief incredible and part of my immature theological years. This is not my intention with this post; you know, like someone who grew up as a Fundamentalist Christian, who ended up attending university, becoming an atheist professor, now bent on destroying any and all Fundamentalist or Evangelical Christians who might happen upon their cross-hairs . . . you get my point by now, I gather? Good! Let’s proceed.

Today I had a great time of fellowship and discussion with my pastor, and a fellow (and awesome) brother in Christ at our local Star Bucks (where else? we live in the Pac NW). One of the topics of discussion, brief as it may have been (on this particular issue), had to do with my proclamation that I am no longer a “Pre-Tribber” (or Dispensationalist for that matter). All along, as I made this known, I am well aware that both my pastor (and I believe brother in Christ) are both dispensational and pre-trib in orientation. I simply want to expand upon ‘why’ I am no longer pre-trib . . . (for those who don’t know ‘Pre-Tribulational’ has to do with the belief that certain Christians believe that we are facing a 7 year period [Jacob’s Trouble] that will come upon this earth that will involve upheaval and global “tribulation” that the earth has never known before [cf. Mt. 24] — in particular this is tied into the dispensational teaching on Daniel’s 70th Week found in Daniel 9 — this is where the 7 year number comes from. This period is one where God’s Wrath [as ‘The Day of the LORD’] will be focused in particularly on the Jewish nation for their rejection of the Messiah — while this “wrath” is pin-pointed on the nation of Israel, it will have global implications in which the nations of the world will rise up to destroy Israel [and they will get close], ultimately seeking battle with the God of the Bible. Since according to Pre-Tribbers, this period has to do with God’s Wrath being poured out on an unbelieving world [to the Jew first, see this principle in Rom. 2.11 for example], and since Christians have not been appointed to wrath but salvation in Christ [cf. I Thess. 5.9]; the pre-tribber argues that there is no reason for us [as the Church, part of the Church-Age] to be here. It is at this point that God’s focus is turned back onto His original prophetic plan [and that has to do with the nation of Israel, the Church—according to Dispensationalists—is simply a parenthesis in God’s original prophetic plan, which was to save Israel]. And so this, then, serves as another argument for why pre-tribbers believe that we won’t be here—it serves as an alleviation of a pressure valve of sorts—the pre-trib rapture [which says that Jesus will secretly remove His Church from this earth prior to the 7 year Tribulation period] serves as a necessary mechanism which removes the Church [a ‘Mystery Kingdom’ of sorts pace Charles Ryrie] from the scene [as a subsidiary story line in the larger plot line of God’s salvation story—again, according to pre-tribbers, as having to do originally with the nation of Israel] so that God can get back to the business of dealing with Israel—sorry for this aside, but I thought I should include this for someone who might not know what Pre-Tribulationism is about.).

. . . I am no longer pre-trib because I reject the hard and fast distinction between Israel and the Church (as does the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 2.11ff). Thus, I no longer need to have a mechanism in place that needs to somehow have the Church out of the picture so that God can supposedly deal with His real aim in salvation history; that is to save the nation of Israel. 2) I am no longer pre-trib because I believe that Paul argues against the idea—in first and second Thessalonians—that there will be a removal of the Church prior to the Lawless one, being revealed (Dispies take the ‘Lawless one’ to be the Anti-Christ); he hadn’t been revealed in the first century, and as I gather he hasn’t as of yet been revealed in our context either. This is a significant point. According to the pre-trib understanding, we will be off the scene prior to the Anti-Christ revealing himself to be someone who ought to be venerated (like God). Yet, according to Paul’s argument, in II Thessalonians (if we take all of his referents to be correlative to how pre-tribbers take them) the man of Lawlessness (or the ‘Anti-Christ’) will be revealed while the Church is present. According to pre-tribbers, the Anti-Christ will not reveal himself in the way that II Thessalonians 2 says, until the middle of the Tribulation period (at the start of the last 3.5 years of ‘Jacob’s Trouble’); this is a fatal blow (in my opinion) to the pre-trib chronology and basic argumentation (and this, granting their supposition that the Church will not experience the ‘Great Tribulation’ since they make this synonymous with ‘God’s/Lamb’s Wrath). 3) I am no longer a pre-tribber because I believe that it represents a privileged understanding of reality; or, that it is an American-exceptionalist theology. What I mean is that the pre-trib position fits well with a society who has been, relatively, pampered in her ‘American’ (Western) experience; it fits well with a society that is escapist and shaped by amusement in orientation. Go and preach pre-trib theology in the Sudan, Indonesia, or any other place in the world where Christians have been suffering ‘Great Tribulation’ on the kind of scale that one would imagine the book of Revelation to be describing. This point is not so much of an argument, but more of a call to pause and think about what ‘Tribulation’ might mean within various contexts throughout the globe—Pre-Tribulationism, in light of this, could only have taken shape in a society that, at all costs, wants to avoid any persecution, suffering, or martyrdom (this all makes sense psychologically). 4) I am no longer pre-trib because I believe the exegesis, especially the exegesis of the pre-tribber’s locus classicus—I Thessalonians 4 and I Corinthians 15—to be artificial and contrived (I could never make sense of this, even as a trained pre-tribber who understood ‘how’ they were ‘trying’ to make this work). 5) I am no longer a pre-tribber because I do not believe that either Jesus or the Apostle Paul or Peter (amongst others) presupposed this kind of theology as part of their theological oeuvre’s. 6) I am no longer pre-trib because I reject the hermeneutics that one must presuppose in order to get all the way to the pre-trib position (through dispensationalism).

I have other reasons, and concerns; but ultimately I believe that the pre-trib position, in particular, is reflective of an American Theology. While I do not believe that chronological arguments are good ones; I do think that the absence of both dispensationalism and thus pre-tribism in church history is a significant point. I could say much more, with more detail; but this post is already approx. 1500 words, and so I will close. This is obviously more of a vent, and off the top, and so take it as such.

Revelation’s Eschatological Exodus

Richard Bauckham continues to develop a brilliant picture of the theology embedded in the book of Revelation. In fact the way that he elucidates this Epistle is in such a way that is providing insights, for me, that I never really thought possible when reading Revelation. I am now in chapter 4, and here he is hitting on the theme of The Victory of the Lamb and His followers. The first theme he notes in this regard is the one that John picks up as a Jewish Christian follower of Jesus. The theme that all Jews expected of their son of David, Messiah; that the Messiah would be a conquering king who would bring liberation for the Jewish nation from the oppressing nations who had plundered them. Bauckham notes how John re-interprets this theme, as a Christian Jew, and applies it to Jesus at his second coming. Only for John Jesus is not bringing national independence for the nation of Israel, but he is bringing eschatological salvific freedom for the international cast of his people, the Church! With this I heartedly say, Amen! But this is not the theme I wanted to highlight here, instead it is the second theme hit upon by Bauckham. That theme is what he labels, “eschatological exodus.” This theme, of course, is appealing to Israel’s exodus from Egypt; and this becomes the matrix through which John reinterprets, eschatologically and Christianly, what happens in a ultimate sense as Jesus returns and leads his people into the Heavenly Zion, the New Heavens and Earth. Here is what Bauckham writes (at length):

The second of the three major symbolic themes is that of the eschatological exodus. Since the exodus was the key salvation event in the history of Israel, in which God liberated his people from oppression in Egypt, destroyed their oppressors, made them his own people and led them to theocratic independence in a land of their own, it was naturally the model for prophetic and apocalyptic hopes of another great salvation event in the future. In some Jewish apocalyptic the eschatological intervention of God in which he will finally judge the evil powers and bring definitive salvation to his people was conceived as an eschatological exodus, surpassing the first exodus as eschatology surpasses history. Traces of an interpretation of the saving work of Jesus Christ as bringing about the eschatological exodus can be found in many parts of the New Testament, but it is Revelation that develops the idea most fully.

The central image in this complex is that of Jesus himself as the Passover Lamb (first introduced at 5:6, 9–10). That Revelation’s image of the Lamb refers to the lamb sacrificed at the Passover is clear especially from 5:9-10. There it is said that by his blood the Lamb has ‘ransomed’ a people and made them ‘a kingdom and priests serving our God’. The latter phrase echoes the well-known words of the Sinai covenant (Exod. 19:5-6), by which God made the people he had brought out of Egypt his own people. God’s liberation of his people from Egypt was often referred to as his ransoming them from slavery to be his own people (e.g. Deut. 7:8; 13:5), and the same image could be used of the new exodus of the future (Isa. 35:10; 51:11). When Revelation treats the blood of the Lamb as the price of redemption, this really goes beyond the role which the blood  of the Passover Lamb played in the exodus (cf. Exod. 12:12, 23). Moreover, the Passover Lamb played no role in Jewish expectation of a new exodus. But it is likely that in Revelation 5:6, 9 John alludes not only to the Passover lamb, but also to Isaiah 53:7, where the Suffering Servant is portrayed as a sacrificial lamb. He may well have connected this verse with the new exodus language of Deutero-Isaiah and seen the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 as the Passover lamb of the new exodus. In any case, it is the central role which the death of Jesus played in the Christian understanding of redemption which accounts for the centrality of the Lamb to Revelation’s use of the new exodus motif.

In 15:2-4 the Christian martyrs, victorious in heaven, are seen as the people of the new exodus, standing beside a heavenly Red Sea, through which they have passed, and singing a version of the song of praise to God which Moses and the people of Israel sang after their deliverance from Pharoah at the Red Sea (Exod. 15). Moreover, the plagues which are God’s judgment on their enemies in this context (15:1, 5-16:21) are modelled on the plagues of Egypt at the time of the exodus. We have already noticed, in chapter 2 above, that the final judgment of this series is linked to a reminiscence of the Sinai theophany (16:18). Other allusions to the exodus narratives are in 11:6, where the activity of the two witnesses is in part modelled on Moses and the plagues of Egypt, and 11:8, where one of the prophetic names of the great city where the witnesses are martyred is Egypt. Already in 2:14, the false teachers in Pergamum, who are persuading Christians to compromise with paganism, are compared with Balaam, the false prophet who was responsible for the seduction of the Israelites into idolatry, as a result of which they failed to reach the goal of the exodus entry into the promised land.

As with the messianic war, John’s use of the new exodus imagery shows that for him the decisive eschatological event has already occurred: the new Passover Lamb has been slaughtered and he has ransomed a people for God. The goal of the new exodus is still to be attained, when Christ’s people will reign with him as priests on earth (20:4-6; 22:3-5), attaining their theocratic independence in the promised land. But revelation’s new exodus does not consistently follow the sequence of the Old Testament narrative. The imagery is used flexibly — in literal terms, inconsistently — to characterize all three stages of the work of Christ as Revelation portrays it. (Richard Bauckham, The Theology Of The Book Of Revelation, 71-2)

That was a lengthy quote, but I wanted you to get the full context of what Bauckham is sketching in regards to this idea of an “eschatological exodus.” It is these kinds of theological themes that get flattened out if you try and read Revelation from a dispensational model. If you ask me, Revelation is a rich treasure trove of God’s Word to his people that we ought to come to on its own terms. If we do, we stand to be blessed immensely by the rich imagery and hope that it brings for those of us looking forward to the day that we, God’s people, are finally able to exodus from the nations of the world who seek to fight against God’s call to let his people go! I think the ‘eschatological exodus’ is close, myself; come quickly Jesus!

Chapter 1, Bauckham and the Apocalyptic Prophetic Epistle of Revelation

I just finished the first chapter of Bauckham’s The Theology Of The Book Of Revelation, entitled “Reading the book of Revelation.” He sketches quite a few helpful things about Revelation’s structure, one of which is the three genres of literature that make up Revelation — Apocalypse, Prophetic, & Epistle. The latter genre is quite central in providing the structure through which we should read and understand the whole book of Revelation, according to Bauckham. In other words, the book should be understood as a letter written to these seven churches; and thus this presupposes that the primary milieu that John is targeting is that of the late first century. His goal was to, in continuity with the Jewish apocalyptic/prophetic tradition familiar to them from the Old Testament, was to use evocative language to transpose their perspectives into an Christian apocalyptic world; over and against the pagan secular world (of Rome) which they were currently inhabiting. John’s goal was to give them “eyes to see, and ears to hear” so that they would understand that the current situation and persecution they were enduring—and also the lusty temptations that others in some of the churches were participating in (e.g. Laodicea et al.)—would soon be coming to an end, and was all under God’s judgment. Bauckham writes:

[T]he world seen from this transcendent perspective, in apocalyptic vision, is a kind of new symbolic world into which John’s readers are taken as his artistry creates it for them. But really it is not another world. It is John’s readers’ concrete, day-to-day world seen in heavenly and eschatological perspective. As such its function, as we shall notice in more detail later, is to counter the Roman imperial view of the world, which was the dominant ideological perception of their situation that John’s readers naturally tended to share. Revelation counters that false view of all reality by opening the world to divine transcendence. All that it shares with the apocalyptic literature by way of the motifs of visionary transportation to heaven, visions of God’s throne-room in heaven, angelic mediators of revelation, symbolic visions of political powers, coming judgment and new creation — all this serves the purpose of revealing the world in which John’s readers live in the perspective of the transcendent divine purpose. (Richard Bauckham, “The Theology Of The Book Of Revelation,” 8 )

This, contends Bauckham, is the primary purpose of the book of Revelation. It is to provide a theological gloss through which these first century churches could understand their self-identity relative to God’s eschatological purposes juxtaposed with the kingdom of man. Consequently, this rubs against reading Revelation the way I grew up reading it; as a futurist predictive template of end times scenarios that involve mother Russia and Red China rushing in on the nation of Israel, along with the rest of the world. While, according to Bauckham’s presuppositions, John’s book is Jewish in genesis, it is a Christian reinterpretation of things; wherein Jesus and thus His people, Christians (both Jew and Gentile cf. Eph. 2) are those who are being opposed by the kingdom of darkness and the sons of men. So certainly there is futurist appropriation possible, and intended by Revelation; it is not to predict the “details,” instead it is to predict the certainty of God’s eschatological (proleptic-future) judgment that is coming on this past, present, future world system. This is John’s intent; to comfort the afflicted (churches in chapters 2–3), and afflict the comfortable and immoral (churches). This, just like we read Old Testament apocalyptic-prophetic books (even dispensationalists usually do, in principle), is how we should appropriate the Epistle of Revelation; according to Bauckham.

What do you think?

Reading Revelation with Bauckham

I plan on reading this book: The Theology Of The Book Of Revelation by Richard Bauckham. I’ll let you know how that goes, since this is a blog, and that’s what we do with blogs. Here’s the Table of Contents:

1.Reading the Book of Revelation 1
2. The One who is and who was and who is to come 23
3. The Lamb on the throne 54
4. The victory of the Lamb and his followers 66
5. The Spirit of prophecy 109
6. The New Jerusalem 126
7. Revelation for today 144

This is a book in the Bible that always has, and will intrigue me. My former years as a dispensationalist had me reading this book one way; my latter years, relatively speaking of course, have me reading Revelation another way (primarily as Christian Apocalyptic literature). My views have shifted from an premil dispy to an “historic premil” person. I sense that Bauckham’s insights will be more amenable with my newer persuasion versus my older one (I am positive that Bauckham is amil, but historic premil can read Revelation just like an amil until we get to chapters 19 & 20). Anyway, I look forward to reading this book. One of the pluses of this book is that it is relatively short; I always like relatively short books!

PS. I am in desperate need of employment. If anyone has any leads or tips, please won’t you let me know; it’s not healthy to be unemployed for this long, esp. when the bank account is about dried up, and unemployment just doesn’t cut it by itself. Thanks!