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I am currently working my way through Richard Bauckham’s book Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament’s Christology of Divine Identity. In it, he offers an important exegetical analysis of I Corinthians 8.6; the passage where Paul refers to Jesus as LORD in terms of the ‘Great Shema’ of Deuteronomy 6.4. Bauckham is making the broader argument that Jesus’ inclusion in the monotheistic faith of Israel is not an artificial amendment, but instead in keeping with the monolatry of the Hebrew faith and reality vis-à-vis its theology proper. Within this broader argument Bauckham offers this important development of I Cor 8.6. Let me share that for us, and allow it to stand as a future reference for my own purposes; and maybe yours.

Paul’s concern in this context is explicitly monotheistic. The issue of eating meat offered to idols and participation in temple banquets is an instance of the highly traditional Jewish monotheistic concern for loyalty to the only true God in a context of pagan polytheistic worship. What Paul does is to maintain this Jewish monotheistic concern in a Christian interpretation for which loyalty to the only true God entails loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ. He takes up from the Corinthians’ letter (at the end of verse 4) the typical Jewish monotheistic formula ‘there is no God except one’ in order to agree with it and to give, in verse 6, his own fuller monotheistic formulation, which contrasts the ‘many gods and many lords’ of the Corinthians’ pagan environment (verse 5) with the one God and one Lord to whom Christians owe exclusive allegiance.

Verse 6 is a carefully formulated statement,

(a) but for us [there is] one God, the Father,

(b) from whom [are] all things and we for him,

(c) and one Lord, Jesus Christ,

(d) through whom [are] all things and we through him.

The statement has been composed from two sources, both clearly recognizable. One is the Shema, the classic Jewish statement of the uniqueness of God, taken from the Torah itself, recited twice daily by all observant Jews, as we noticed in section 1. It is now commonly recognized that Paul has here adapted the Shema and produced, as it were, a Christian version of it. Not so widely recognized is the full significance of this. In the first and third lines of Paul’s formula (labelled a and c above), Paul has, in face, reproduced all the words of the statement about YHWH in the Shema (Deut. 6:4: ‘The LORD our God, the LORD, is one’), but Paul has rearranged the words in such a way as to produce an affirmation of both one God, the Father, and on Lord, Jesus Christ. It should be quite clear that Paul is including the Lord Jesus Christ in the unique divine identity. He is redefining monotheism as christological  monotheism. If he were understood as adding the one Lord to the one God of whom the Shema speaks, then, from the perspective of Jewish monotheism, he would certainly be producing, not christological monotheism, but outright ditheism. The addition of a unique Lord to the unique God of the Shema would flatly contradict the uniqueness of the latter. The only possible way to understand Paul as maintaining monotheism is to understand him to be including Jesus in the unique identity of the one God affirmed in the Shema. But this is, in any case, clear from the fact that the term ‘Lord’, applied here to Jesus as the ‘one Lord’, is taken from the Shema itself. Paul is not adding to the one God of the Shema a ‘Lord’ the Shema does not mention. He is identifying Jesus as the ‘Lord’ whom the Shema affirms to be one. Thus, in Paul’s quite unprecedented reformulation of the Shema, the unique identity of the one God consists of the one God, the Father, and the one Lord, his Messiah. Contrary to what many exegetes who have not sufficiently understood the way in which the unique identity of God was understood in Second Temple Judaism seem to suppose, by including Jesus in this unique identity Paul is certainly not repudiating Jewish monotheism, whereas were he merely associating Jesus with the unique God he certainly would be repudiating monotheism.[1]

Bauckham explains himself well; not much left for me to say. Other than that, it is clear that Jesus’ divinity, within a Hebraic monotheistic framework, is not incompatible, but quite coherent. For the Jew, Paul, to advocate for worship of Jesus as Lord, either makes him a proponent of rank idolatry, or instead makes him a faithful Jewish reader of Torah, who understood, along with the rest of the Jews of his day, what Jesus’s claim was, and how that ought to be understood for the Christian complex and shape as a whole.

Jesus, according to the Apostle Paul, is the ‘Great Shema’ of Israel. This should not be understood, as Bauckham argues, as an artificial imposition of some foreign category (like from the Greeks) of divinity onto the monotheistic faith of the Jews; but instead, a natural occurrence of it in keeping with the Promises of the TaNaKh.

I Cor 8.6 is one of the most important passages in the New Testament that attest to the divinity of Christ within the monotheistic framework of the Hebrews. When thinking the identity of Christ all of these types of data must be critically considered by Jesus’ detractors; or at least by those who operate under confused or abstract presentations and thus understandings of who the Christ actually is. According to the New Testament witness, and Christ’s own witness therein, he is the Holy One of Israel, who is Yaweh, One with the Father, and the One who is the Shema or Name that Israel has been chosen to bear to the world-cosmos at large.

 

[1] Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament’s Christology of Divine Identity (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), 27-8.

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Given that according to some prognosticators the world is facing certain apocalyptic and cataclysmic reorientation starting in September 23rd, 2017, I thought I would reshare something I wrote awhile ago that engages with how to interpret the book of Revelation. Since these prognosticators are tying their predictions and prognostications to their interpretation of Revelation 12, it only seems fitting to test such an approach against a critical baseline for how the book of Revelation was originally composed, and for whom. If we push into this “baseline,” I contend, that what we will find will show these modern day prognosticators for who they are; i.e. hucksters (maybe even with good intentions) who haven’t taken the proper time to understand basic hermeneutical rules when it comes to interpreting biblical literature. So in an attempt to help address this issue, I give you the following (realizing that this is only a blog post with major space limitations; so a fuller development cannot be provided here, but hopefully it will provide enough grist for the reader to have some critical hooks to hang their hats of discernment on in this evil age).

Richard Bauckham’s books The Theology of the Book of Revelation & The Climax of Prophecy are resources that all Christians should avail themselves of. Let me provide an introduction, of sorts, into the basic argument of Bauckham’s book[s].  And of course, given the nature of my blogging pattern and style, I will also be reflecting upon the theological and exegetical issues that Bauckham’s writing is touching upon—as well as the more applied and correlative issues that Bauckham’s work only implicates, that is, the popular issues of dispensationalism, amillennialism, premillennialism, & postmillennialism. That said, let me wade us into what Bauckham thinks constitutes the basic trajectory and original purpose for writing the book of Revelation (which will implicate all kinds of things). Here is what Bauckham writes on the original audience and purpose of the ‘Epistle of Revelation’, and then a bit on how Bauckham thinks this reality cashes out in application (theologically and pastorally):

Thus it would be a serious mistake to understand the images of Revelation as timeless symbols. Their character conforms to the contextuality of Revelation as timeless symbols. Their character conforms to the contextuality of Revelation as a letter to the seven churches of Asia. Their resonances in the specific social, political, cultural and religious world of their first readers need to be understood if their meaning is to be appropriated today. They do not create a purely self-contained aesthetic world with no reference outside itself, but intend to relate to the world in which the readers live in order to reform and to redirect the readers’ response to that world. However, if the images are not timeless symbols, but relate to the ‘real’ world, we need also to avoid the opposite mistake of taking them too literally as descriptive of the ‘real’ world and of predicted events in the ‘real’ world. They are not just a system of codes waiting to be translated into matter-of-fact references to people and events. Once we begin to appreciate their sources and their rich symbolic associations, we realized that they cannot be read either as literal descriptions or as encoded literal descriptions, but must be read for their theological meaning and their power to evoke response.[1]

We leave off from Bauckham with a bit of a teaser; he goes on and provides some examples of what he describes in the quote paragraph of above. Suffice it to say, it can readily be observed that Bauckham, even in the small notation above (the quote), is getting at two popular, and I would say, erroneous, ways of reading the book of Revelation. Bauckham is getting at a naked idealism way of interpreting Revelation (as it has been in the history) which usually involves a presupposition of dualism; meaning that the book of Revelation is often construed as an ethereal book that depicts a cosmic struggle between good and evil. While there is an aspect where this is true for Bauckham, we can obviously see that he sees much more particularity, unity, and concreteness to the message and theology and history that make up this book than the classic idealism approach does. And then in the next breath, we also see Bauckham challenging what I will call the futurist, premillennial, dispensational reading of Revelation (the kind given popular expression in ‘The Left Behind’ series of books by Lahaye and Jenkins). He thinks it is in error to read Revelation as if its primary semantic and conceptual pool is predictive in nature; in other words, he sees it as highly problematic to read current events (like ours) into the book of Revelation, as if this was what John and the Holy Spirit had in mind when it was originally penned. Bauckham does not see the book of Revelation as a secret code book awaiting the decoder key (current events) to, in fact, decode it. No, he sees all of the events, people, and picturesque language of Revelation as grounded in a labyrinth of inter-related complexities that bubble up from the Old Testament apocalyptic genre (like that found in Daniel, Isaiah, Ezekiel, etc.); and then he sees this context being applied to the ‘current’ events of the Roman empire of which the seven churches addressed in the Revelation are located.

There is much more to Bauckham’s thesis about the book of Revelation; like he sees the point of the book of Revelation as most pertinent to the Christians in the Roman empire who were suffering great tribulation and suffering, to the point of martyrdom. He sees the point of the book as primarily something to provide comfort and perspective for those being killed by the Roman persecution of the Christians. He sees the vindication of the Christian martyrs as the crux for understanding the composition of Revelation; and all of the apocalyptic language in the book, as providing God’s perspective over against the secular, mundane Roman perspective which these Christians were inhabiting. Bauckham sees the book of Revelation as predictive, in the sense that God’s people (all of us) will be vindicated at his coming (the second time, based on the first), as he crushes the powers of the nations, but not as the world would think, but as ‘the lamb slain before the foundations of the world’. So we see Bauckham’s vision of Revelation as correlative with the trajectory already set throughout the canon of the Old Testament apocalyptic literature; something like Daniel 2 comes to my mind:

44 “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. 45 This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands —a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces.

“The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future. The dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy.”

It is this kind of motif that Bauckham thinks shapes the book of Revelation, but not in light of its promise (like we leave it in the book of Daniel), but in light of its fulfillment, and thus reinterpretation ‘in Christ’. There is much more to say (and I will), but this should be enough for now.

 

[1] Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, 19-20.

 

If you’re an American, and unless you live in a corner, something that cannot escape you at the moment is the intensity of the presidential election (as I write this only two days away). Like many of you, I have been involved in various discussions and debates about who the best candidate is or isn’t; my conclusion is that there is no better candidate (between Trump or Clinton). They are both going to promote policies and aims that are anti-thetical to the Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ, and as such it is impossible for me to vote for either one of them (from an ethical perspective as trumphillarya Christian). The reality is, is that they both have more in common than not. They both promote a horizontal vision of society and the world, whether that be an absolute form of nationalism (Trump), or an absolute form of anglo-globalism (Clinton). They both endorse policies that involve racism— whether that be informed by an inward obsession with Americana, and certain conceptions of what it means to be an American (Trump); or whether that be informed by supporting the House of Saud, radical Muslims in Syria, and elite globalists (Clinton). They both, like Israel, as the prophet Isaiah noted about Israel, have a covenant with death (Is. 29); Clinton, in this regard, more so than Trump, in some ways. They both are continuing the vision of ancient Babylon which is one of empire, and self-promotion (whether that be focused on the homeland [Trump], or globally [Clinton]).

What this presidential race has illustrated to me is how corrupt human government and politics are. It has concretely shown me that this world has been placed under a curse which it longs to be relieved of by the revealing of the sons of God (Rom. 8). Both Trump’s and Clinton’s visions of reality are purely informed by horizontal paradigms of thought, and have appeal only to the base impulses of natural humanity wherein the individual and its self-preservation is elevated to god-like status. But the good news is that there is hope; hope to come, and hope in-breaking currently.

Richard Bauckham, in his little book, The Theology of the Book of Revelation provides prescient insight into the emphases and themes of that often misunderstood book. As he works through the theology of the book of Revelation what he unveils is a vision and hope for the world that is other-worldly, while being radically this worldly. He masterfully shows how the book of Revelation is a book precisely for moments like we are currently experiencing here in the States as we, as Christians, are attempting to maintain perspective relative to the “choices” we have in front of us for our leadership.

In the following Bauckham works through three themes that he sees at play in the book of Revelation; it will be the first theme that we will highlight in this post. This theme gives me much perspective as the reality of how messy of a thing humanward politics actually are in this present evil age. The victory has already been won by Jesus Christ; the victory over evil, horizontal conceptions of human government, and how that gets expressed in the world. As we will see, Bauckham underscores how the theme of messianic war in the book of Revelation functions, or should, as a place of hope and perspective for the Christian attempting to navigate through this evil age. What is presumed, of course, is that as Christians we do indeed live in a violent world, under the control of violent governments who we ought to take a militant posture towards. Note I said ‘militant,’ not violent. The only violence that has any purchase in the Kingdom of the Lamb of God is the violence the Lion of the Tribe of Judah already endured for the world at his cross. It is this reality wherein we as Christians, according to the Revelator, can take a militant stand against this world system. We stand in the power of God, which is the power of the Gospel (Rom. 1:16), and this is the victory we have to proclaim to the world. It is a prophetic word that God’s judgment has already come, and been realized for us in Jesus Christ on the cross; that the heart of human self-destruction and violence has been crushed with Jesus as he put it to death with him (Rom. 8:3) at the cross. And that there is good news of final victory, wherein the final enemy, death, will finally be put under Jesus’s feet as he comes again in his second advent (I Cor. 15). By proclaiming and living out this reality we participate in the victory of the Messiah by capturing the hearts of men and women, boys and girls, of every race, tongue, and nation inhabiting this world. We also bear witness to the fact that indeed a violent, but final end is coming, the final realization of the death of death (cf. John Owen), when the Lamb of God comes with the sword of his mouth (Rev. 19) finally crushing the kingdoms of this world (Dan. 2) by the Stone of his Kingdom; which is the Kingdom of kingdoms. It is this posture and place that we as Christians, according to the book of Revelation, have in this current world system. It is one of fighting, and the church militant; and our weapons of warfare are not fleshly but spiritual (II Cor. 10) through both word and deed, by proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all who will.

Here is what Bauckham has to say:

The first is the theme of the messianic war. This takes up the Jewish hope for a Messiah who is to be a descendant of David, anointed by God as king and military leader of his people. He is to fight a war against the Gentile oppressors, liberating Israel and establishing the rule of God, which is also the rule of God’s Messiah and God’s people Israel, over the nations of the world. Essential to this notion, it should be noted, is that the Messiah does not wage war alone: he leads the army of Israel against the enemies of Israel. Many Old Testament prophecies were commonly interpreted by first-century Jews as referring to this expected Messiah of David. The identification of Jesus with the Davidic Messiah was, of course, very common in early Christianity. It is very important in Revelation, partly because for John, as a Jewish Christian prophet, it is one of the ways in which he can gather up the hopes of the Old Testament prophetic tradition into his own eschatological vision centred on Jesus. But it is important also because it portrays a figure who is to establish God’s kingdom on earth by defeating the pagan powers who contest God’s rule. As we shall see, John carefully reinterprets the tradition. His Messiah Jesus does not win his victory by military conquest, and those who share his victory and his rule are not national Israel, but the international people of God. But still it is a victory over evil, won not only in the spiritual but also in the political sphere against worldly powers in order to establish God’s kingdom on earth. Insofar as the hope for the Davidic Messiah was for such a victory of God over evil Revelation portrays Christ’s work in continuity with that traditional Jewish hope.

The prominence of Davidic messianism in Revelation can be gauged from the fact that, as well as the two self-declarations by Christ that we have already considered (1: 17– 18; 22: 13), there is a third: ‘I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star’ (22: 16). The first of these two titles comes from Isaiah 11: 10 (‘ the root of Jesse’) and is used of the Davidic Messiah (‘descendant’ interprets the meaning of ‘root’, rightly giving it the same sense as the ‘branch’ or ‘shoot’ of Isa. 11: 1, which was more commonly used as a messianic designation). The second title refers to the star of Numbers 24: 17, which (in the context of 24: 17– 19) was commonly understood to be a symbol of the Messiah of David who would conquer the enemies of Israel. ‘The root of David’ is found also in Revelation 5: 1, alongside another title evoking the image of the royal Messiah who will defeat the nations by military violence: ‘the Lion of Judah’ (cf. Gen. 49: 9; 4 Ezra 12: 31– 2). Further allusions to the Messiah of Isaiah 11, a favourite passage for Davidic messianism, are the sword that comes from Christ’s mouth (1: 16; 2: 12, 16; 19: 21) with which he strikes down the nations (19: 15; cf. Isa. 11: 4; 49: 2) and the statement that he judges with righteousness (19: 11; cf. Isa. 11: 4).

One of John’s key Old Testament texts, allusions to which run throughout Revelation, is Psalm 2, which depicts ‘the nations’ and ‘the kings of the earth’ conspiring to rebel against ‘the LORD and his Messiah’ (verses 1– 2). The Messiah is God’s Son (verse 7), whom he sets as king on mount Zion (verse 6), there to resist and overcome the rebellious nations. God promises to give this royal Messiah the nations for his inheritance (verse 8) and that he will violently subdue them with a rod of iron (verse 9). Allusions to this account of the Messiah’s victory over the nations are found in Revelation 2: 18, 26– 8; 11: 15, 18; 12: 5, 10; 14: 1; 16: 14, 16; 19: 15. To what is explicit in the psalm it is notable that John adds the Messiah’s army (with him on Mount Zion in 14: 1) who will share his victory (2: 26– 7). Probably also from the psalm is John’s use of the phrase ‘the kings of the earth’ as his standard term for the political powers opposed to God which Christ will subdue (1: 5; 6: 15; 17: 2, 18; 18: 3, 9; 19: 19; 21: 24; cf. 16: 14).

Also derived from this militant messianism is Revelation’s key concept of conquering. It is applied both to the Messiah himself (3: 21; 5: 5; 17: 14) and to his people, who share his victory (2: 7, 11, 17, 28; 3: 5, 12, 21; 12: 11; 15: 2; 21: 7). Once again we note the importance in Revelation of the Messiah’s army. That the image of conquering is a militaristic one should be unmistakable, although interpreters of Revelation do not always do justice to this. It is closely connected with language of battle (11: 7; 12: 7– 8, 17; 13: 7; 16: 14; 17: 14; 19: 11, 19) and it is notable that not only do Christ’s followers defeat the beast (15: 2), but also the beast defeats them (11: 7; 13: 7), so that this is evidently a war in which Christ’s enemies have their victories, though the final victory is his. We should note also that the language of conquering is used of all the three stages of Christ’s work: he conquered in his death and resurrection (3: 21; 5: 5), his followers conquer in the time before the end (12: 11; 15: 2), and he will conquer at the parousia (17: 14). Thus it is clear that the image of the messianic war describes the whole process of the establishment of God’s kingdom as Revelation depicts it. Revelation’s use of this image incorporates the fundamental shift of temporal perspective from Jewish to Jewish Christian eschatology. The messianic war is not purely future. The decisive victory has in fact already been won by Christ. His followers are called to continue the battle in the present. The final victory still lies in the future.[1]

Conclusion

In light of the perversion and corruption attendant to this presidential election, I hope this perspective, indeed, provides perspective. I see too many Christians settling, or even compromising for what they shouldn’t be compromising for; for the kingdom of man rather than the kingdom of Christ. The reality is, as the book of Revelation makes very clear, is that being human means being political; the issue is where we are going to get our politics from. Are we going to get them from the horizontal, or instead are we going to get them from the vertical? It is clear that the politics of heaven intersect with the politics of this fallen earth, just as God’s person in Christ intersects with our humanity in his assumption of ours. As such it is important, I would contend, for us to remember that we are at war; not with people, per se, but with the principalities and powers which inform the politics of man. We need to bear this in mind as we, as Christians, attempt to negotiate our ways through the muck of this world system. We need to keep in mind that earthly policy-makers all work from a vision of the world, at this point, that is informed by impulses that are indeed anti-thetical to the aims of the Kingdom of God. Thus it behooves us, as soldiers in Christ, to take a stand, and engage this political system with the weapons of our warfare which is to proclaim the Gospel of peace and hope for all who will hear.

It is always tempting to begin to conflate the Kingdom of God with the kingdom of man, we see Israel engaging in this type of syncretizing activity over and again with the nations that surrounded them. But again, as the book of Revelation makes clear, we are part of another nation, a heavenly Zion (Heb. 12), which thinks from heaven rather than earth; it thinks from other-worldly and even foolish norms relative to the policies and “ethics” of this world system (I Cor. 1). Let’s remember that we are ambassadors for Christ (II Cor. 5; Eph. 6), and that our primary job as Christians is to bear witness prophetically that Jesus is King, that he has won the victory through his shed blood (I Cor. 6:18,19; Acts 20:28). Let’s not compromise the integrity of our positions as ambassadors for Christ by fighting for a kingdom, this world system, that has already been put to death by the cross of Jesus Christ. Let’s remind this world system that there is real power and real hope available in and from the One who was dead, but now lives (Rev. 1). Let’s remind our politicians that God wants us to choose life, not death (Ez. 32). As far as I can tell, neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton have chosen Life, instead they have both chosen death; as such their political policies and practices will only portend that. Policies that Christians, as part of God’s Kingdom, ought to be at war with, not in bed with.

[1] Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation  (Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition), 68-70.

 

Eschatology in the realm of systematic theology often means something different from eschatology within a biblical exegetical frame of things. Maybe it isn’t that it means something different, per se, but its focus is broader and more hermeneutical; i.e. it doesn’t necessarily get into the nitty gritty exegetical minutiae of trying to figure out what millennial scheme we should hold (i.e.
leoxpremillennial, postmillennial, amillennial, etc.), or who the anti-Christ might be, so on and so forth. Richard Bauckham summarizes this different emphasis well when he writes:

Traditionally, eschatology comprised the ‘four last things’ that Christian faith expects to be the destiny of humans at the end of time: resurrection, last judgement, heaven, and hell. They formed the last section of a dogmatics or a systematic theology, a position they still usually occupy. But in the twentieth century, eschatology ceased to be merely one doctrinal topic among others to be treated after the others; it became something more like a dimension of the whole subject matter of theology. Karl Barth famously claimed in 1921, ‘If Christianity be not altogether thoroughgoing eschatology, there remains in it no relationship whatever with Christ’ (Barth 1968: 314; cf 1957: 634-5). While the content given to the term ‘eschatology’ has varied considerably over the subsequent period, in which Barth’s claim has become a favourite quotation in discussions of eschatology (e.g., Moltmann 1967:39; Pannenberg 1991-8: iii. 532), the indispensable role it attributes to eschatology has been widely endorsed. Moltmann writes, ‘From first to last, and not merely in the epilogue, Christianity is eschatology…. The eschatological is not one element of Christianity, but it is the medium of Christian faith as such, the key in which everything is set, the glow that suffuses everything here in the dawn of an expected new day’ (Moltmann 1967:16).[1]

I largely subscribe to Barth’s view that Christianity is eschatology through and through. I subscribe to the cosmic nature of Christianity, of the reality that all of creation has its telos from, in, and for Christ. I affirm the reality that this world is God’s world, and this world is the theater wherein God breaks into it through the Son, Jesus Christ, and sets to right all things according to the order of His Kingdom come.

But because I am an evangelical I have grown up in a Christian sub-culture that has given (and continues to give, in some sectors) an inordinate amount of focus to working meticulously through the details of the books of the Bible such as Revelation, I&II Thessalonians, and other prophetic books with a gaze towards answering all of the various “bible prophecy” questions (you know what I mean). This exegetical approach, funded in many instances by an overly wooden-literalistic engagement with the text, has attempted to provide exegetical conclusion to a variety of interpretive questions in regard to such things as: the millennium, who the anti-Christ is, if there is such a thing as the rapture (within the dispensational approach), how current events relate to biblical prophecy and its fulfillment (within the dispensational approach), and many other like foci. To be honest, as much as I have moved away from much of that, it still interests me at some level; even if that interest, at points, is at the level of social-curiosity.

Given my curiosity, I found it very interesting to run across how Richard Muller defines what the Latin language for anti-Christ, antichristus, entailed in the Post Reformation Reformed orthodox period (i.e. 16th and 17th centuries). Muller writes at length:

antichristus (from the Greek, ντίχριστος): antichrist; scriptural use of the word is confined to the Joannine Epistles (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 7) where a distinction is made between (1) the many antichrists now in the world, who work to deceive the godly and who do not confess Christ, and (2) the Antichrist who is to come who will deny Christ and, in so doing, deny both the Father and the Son. John also speaks (1 John 4:3) of the “spirit … of the antichrist” which “even now … is in the world.” Following the fathers, the medieval doctors, and the Reformers, the Protestant orthodox identify the final Antichrist of the Johannine passages with the “man of sin” or “son of perdition who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God” foretold by Paul in 2 Thess. 2:3-4. The orthodox can therefore distinguish between (1) the antichrist considered generally (generaliter), as indicated by the plural use of the word in 1 John and by the “spirit of antichrist” now in the world, and (2) the Antichrist considered specially (specialiter et kat’ exochen), as indicated by singular usage. The former term indicates all heretics and vicious opponents of the doctrine of Christ; the latter, the great adversary of Christ who will appear in the last days. Of the latter, the Antichristus properly so called, the orthodox note several characteristics. (1) He arises from within the church and sets himself against the church and its doctrine, since his sin is described as apostasia (q.v.), or falling away. (2) He will sit in temple Dei, in the temple of God, which is to say, in the church. (3) He will rule as the head of the church. (4) From his seat in templo Dei and his position as caput ecclesiae, he will exalt himself above the true God and identify himself as God. (5) He will cause a great defection from the truth so that many will join him in his apostasy. (6) He will exhibit great power and cause many “lying wonders,” founded upon the power of Satan, in a rule that will endure until the end of time. On the basis of these characteristics the orthodox generally identify the Antichrist as the papacy, the pontifex Romanus. Some attempted to argue a distinction between an Antichristus orientalis and an Antichristus occidentalis, an Eastern and a Western Antichrist, the former title belonging to Muhammad, the latter to the papacy; but the difficulty in viewing Islam, or any form of paganism, as an apostasy, strictly so-called, led the orthodox to identify Rome alone as Antichrist. They also reject the identification of Antichrist with the imperium Romanum, the Roman Empire, on the ground that the Antichrist is not a secular power or a result of pagan history. Finally, they also reject the identification of any single pope as Antichrist on the ground that Antichrist’s rule and power extend farther and endure longer than the rule and power of any one man. Thus, Antichrist is the institution of the papacy which has arisen within the church and which assumes religious supremacy over all Christians, seats itself in the temple of God, and builds its power on lies, wonders, and apostasy.[2]

Clearly, for the Post Reformed orthodox, the papacy as an institution represents the office of the eschatological Antichrist. I would imagine that this still holds true today, particularly for Orthodox Presbyterians, and maybe the Presbyterian Church of America; i.e. that the papal seat and Vatican city, and what they represent, serve as emblematic and as the embodiment of the personal Antichrist. It isn’t just the Post Reformed orthodox, and the Reformed in general who held, and may continue to hold this view; we once attended a Lutheran church (Wisconsin synod) that made a point to emphasize that they see the Roman See as the embodiment of Antichrist. More sensationalistic than this, evangelicals, of the dispensational sort (like Dave Hunt, Chick tracts, etc.), have also seen the papacy as a potential candidate for fulfilling the role of the Antichrist.

Attempting to answer this question, of the identity of the Antichrist, is not a bad thing in my view; it reflects a people who take the Bible and its various teachings seriously. I may have given the impression, earlier, that I find such things pedantic; I don’t. What I do find pedantic is when people become consumed by the sensationalistic aspects of all of this, and fail to miss the bigger picture of eschatology, theologically and hermeneutically, and what that is all about. It is about God’s Kingdom, come, and coming every day. We live in a world that needs to hear and know that good news. Within that framework, we can attempt to work through the exegetical questions and various biblical foci; but never losing sight that we ought to be living as those who are simply looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

[1] Richard Bauckham, “Eschatology,” in John Webster, Kathryn Tanner, and Iain Torrance eds., The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 306.

[2] Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1985), 39-40.

What this current season of political carnival has worked into me is a sense of loss, of hopelessness. But this sense isn’t discordant with what I’ve already felt for a long time in regard to human government and institutions; indeed, this loss is associated with the human condition in general. This condition noted by the Apostle Paul in his own struggle when he asks: “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”[1] Humanity lives in a ‘fallen’ state, whether it recognizes it or not; that is God’s conclusion about humanity, and His ‘judgment’ is given in the
hillaryincarnation of His Son, Jesus Christ; the judgment, that indeed humanity is in a situation, left to itself: where there is no hope!

The fact that the two candidates we have before us, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, as a  fact is rather horrifying. But at the end of the day they seem to be types of a logical conclusion to the human condition, and so their arrival at just this time seems fitting relative to the extent to which the human condition has “flourished” in itself. A “flourishing” of humanity that is fitting with its own self-determined self-possessed path of homo incurvatus in se or narcissism; a path where liars are free to be liars, and larceny gets to run unabated. I know we all like to blame the elites for all of this, but in reality we are all at fault; the human condition, the fallen one, has so cultivated a society[s] such that it gives blossom to what we see in the “elites” of our world—something like self-expressions of our inner-selves projected outward and personified in the so called establishment.

Has the picture I’ve been painting caused enough despair yet? It has for me. Despair to the point that I can no longer handle looking inward; I can no longer sustain any hope in human institutions or personages who embody those institutions of self-aggrandizement and self-glorification. My eyes look elsewhere for hope; my hope is eschatological. It is the hope of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the Christian hope of Second Advent; that Jesus, as He promised, is coming again (the parousia). I don’t hear enough Christians speaking about this in North America, but you would think that would be all we were looking to these days. It is what Jesus Himself comforted and reproved the many churches in Ephesus with through his letter to them found in the book of Revelation. Unfortunately things like Left Behind, and Dispensational theology have made many Christians reticent to even speak of eschatological hope when it comes to facing real life crises; such as we face in this current political season. But this shouldn’t be the case, Christians should boldly hope as Jesus wants us to and look to the heavens from whence, as the King James says, ‘our redemption draws nigh’.

To my encouragement this morning as I was doing some reading I came across something very edifying and hope-filled, especially in light of our two options (Donald and Hillary) as reminders of the human condition. I was reading an essay by Richard Bauckham called The future of Jesus Christ. As Bauckham usually does[2], especially when it comes to things eschatological, he provides prescient words for the weary Christian soul; he writes of the genuine hope that we have for the future, and how that hope breaks in on us trumpcurrently afresh and anew, and how that ought to offer us, as Christians, hope eternal and perspective for the moment that allows us to fulfill our vocation as witnesses for Jesus Christ. Here is Bauckham in extenso:

A powerful Jewish objection to the Christian identification of Jesus as the Messiah is that, when the Messiah comes, the world will be freed from evil, suffering and death. As Walter Molberly puts it, in chapter 12 above: ‘The heart of the Jewish critique is simple: if Jesus is the redeemer, why is the world still unredeemed?’ One form of Christian response, and unfortunate one, has been to ‘spiritualise’ redemption in a way that is alien to the Jewish religious tradition. Salvation is reduced to what Christian believers experience as forgiveness of sins, personal justification before God, and virtuous living, with spiritual immortality in heaven after death. But the Christian tradition at its most authentic has realised that the promise of God made in the bodily resurrection of Christ is holistic and all-encompassing: for whole person, body and soul, for all the networks of relationship in human society that are integral to being human, and for the rest of creation also, from which humans in their bodiliness are not to be detached. In other words, it is God’s creative renewal of his whole creation. Here and now such salvation is experienced in fragmentary and partial anticipations of the new creation, and these are only properly appreciated as anticipations of the fullness of new creation to come. But even these anticipations are not limited to a ‘spiritual’ sphere artificially distinguished from the embodiment and sociality of human being in this world. Significantly, what has most kept the holistic understanding of salvation alive in the church, when tempted by Platonic and Cartesian dualisms to reduce it, have been the resurrection of Jesus in its inescapable bodiliness and the hope of his coming to raise the dead and to judge, which makes all individual salvation provisional, incomplete until the final redemption of all things. Hope for the future coming of the crucified and risen Christ has continually served to counter Christian tendencies to pietism and quitetism, spiritualization and privitisation, because it has opened the church to the world and the future, to the universal scope of God’s purposes in Jesus the Messiah.

It has also been a corrective to absolutising the status quo in state or society: either the transformation of Christianity into a civil religion uncritically allied to a political regime or form of society, or the church’s own pretensions to be the kingdom of God virtually already realised on earth. In such contexts the Christ who reigns now on the divine throne has been envisaged as the heavenly sanction for the rule of his political or ecclesiastical deputies on earth. Resistance to ideological christology of this kind can come from the hope of the Christ who is still to come in his kingdom. The expectation of the parousia relativises all the powers of the present world, exposing their imperfections and partialities. This is why it has often been more enthusiastically embraced by the wretched and the dispossessed than by the powerful and the affluent. It embodies the hope that the world will be different, contradicting every complacent or resigned acceptance of the way things are. It offers an eschatological provisio and a utopian excess that keep us from pronouncing a premature end to history, as a tradition of Enlightenment thought from Hegel and Comte to Francis Fukuyama has encouraged people to do and as totalitarian politics is often minded to do in justification for repressing dissent. Thus the Jewish messianic critique of Christian messianism is a necessary one whenever the church’s faith in the Christ who is still to come falters.[3]

maranatha.

[1] NRSV, Romans 7.24.

[2] See Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation; and Climax of Prophecy: Studies in the Book of Revelation.

[3] Richard Bauckham, “The Future of Jesus Christ,” in The Cambridge Companion To Jesus, ed. Markus Bockmuehl (Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 268-69.

I just came across a mini-paper written by Richard Bauckham which provides a survey of Christian universalism (the belief that all people will eventually be “saved” through Christ, and hell will be emptied of at least its human occupants). Here is what he wrote of Karl Barth and Emil Brunner under this foci:

Barth and Brunner

Neither Karl Barth nor Emil Brunner was strictly a universalist, but both regarded the final salvation of all mankind as a possibility which cannot be denied (though it cannot be dogmatically asserted either). This grunewald_crucifixionis a significant step beyond traditional theology, which always asserted not only that final condemnation is a real possibility but also that some men will actually be lost. It is also a position which has probably had more appeal to conservative Christians (including Roman Catholic theologians) than dogmatic universalism; it allows us to hope for the salvation of all men without presuming to know something which God has not revealed.

Barth refashioned the Reformed doctrine of predestination by making it fully Christological. It is Jesus Christ who is both rejected and elected. The rejection which sinful man deserves, God has taken upon Himself in Jesus Christ, and in Jesus Christ all men are elected to salvation. He is therefore in the true sense the only rejected one. Predestination thus becomes not an equivocal doctrine of God’s Yes and No, but a fully evangelical doctrine of mood’s unqualified Yes to man. The reality of man – of all men – is that in Jesus Christ the reconciliation of all men has taken place. The Gospel brings to men the knowledge of what is already true of them:

[p.53]

that in Jesus Christ they are already elect, justified, reconciled.

It might be thought that this line of thought logically entails universalism, much as Schleiermacher’s doctrine of universal election did, but Barth refuses to follow this logic. There remains an irresolvable tension between the election of all men in Jesus Christ and the phenomenon of unbelief. The unbeliever’s true reality is that he is elect, but he denies that reality and attempts to change it, to be instead the rejected man. In this perverse attempt (it is no more than an attempt) he lives under the threat of final condemnation, which would be God’s acquiescence in its refusal to be the reconciled man he really is.

Will this threat be carried out? Barth does not here appeal to man’s freedom to continue in unbelief: he is committed to the sovereignty of God’s grace. The reason why universal salvation cannot be dogmatically expected lies in God’s Freedom: ‘To the man who persistently tries to change the truth into untruth, God does not owe eternal patience and therefore deliverance…. We should be denying or disarming that evil attempt and our own participation in it if, in relation to ourselves or others or all men, we were to permit ourselves to postulate a withdrawal of that threat end in this sense expect or maintain an apokalastasis or universal reconciliation as the goal and end of all things…. Even though theological consistency might seem to lead our thoughts and utterances most clearly in this direction, we must not arrogate to ourselves that which can be given and received only as a free gift.'[39] But universal salvation remains an open possibility for which we may hope.[40]

That universal salvation must remain an open question is also the conclusion that Brunner reaches by a different route.[41] He stresses that we must take quite seriously the two categories of NT texts: those which speak of a final decisive division of men at the Last Judgment, and those which speak of God’s single unqualified will for the salvation of all men. The two are logically incompatible and are not to be artificially reconciled by attributing to God a dual will (double predestination) or by eliminating the finality of judgment. The texts are logically incompatible because they are not intended to give theoretical information. To the question ‘Is there such a thing as final loss or is there a universal salvation?’ there is no answer, because the Word of God ‘is a Word of challenge, not of doctrine’.[42] It addresses us and involves us. Its truth is not the objective truth available to the neutral observer, but the subjective truth of existential encounter. The message of judgment, then, is not a prediction that some will be lost; it is a challenge to me to come out of perdition to salvation. The message of universal salvation is not a prediction that all men will be saved; it is an invitation to me to make the decision of faith which accepts mood’s will to save me. The Gospel holds the two together in proclamation. Theology may not objectify either. [read full essay here]

And here is what I once concluded at the end of an article I wrote on this topic for the blog in the past:

No matter what, in the end, the conclusion must be that Jesus did teach what some would call the Traditional view of hell as ‘eternal conscious torment’. How one places that, in its ‘universal scope’ is what still needs to be contended with (MacDonald has, I’m still working on it).

My personal conclusion, at the moment, is that Jesus’ teaching on hell should serve as the standard; I see it with ‘universal force’ and thus am not willing, as of yet, to annex it, or particularize it to his specific audience in the 1st century (which would be what MacDonald does, amongst others). I continue to hold to the trad teaching, but I also am willing to hold out that once we are present with the LORD in the consummation that he could surprise us in keeping with his life of grace and love. [You can read the full article here]

As you can see, then, I am somewhat in the Barth, Brunner tradition of a Christian hopeful universalism, but with the strong caveat that I believe that Jesus taught the doctrine of Eternal Conscious Torment, in regard to hell (or Gehenna, if the culturally prevalent language of hell bothers you); and so I currently believe that people outside of having a personal union with Jesus Christ, at their death, that they are eternally lost.

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 markofthebeastwas 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!

*repost

Here’s a different kind of post for me (at least it has been awhile)—this is a post I posted at a blog I recently attempted to start, but is now defunct; I don’t think anyone ever read this post there, so I brought it over here.

Simon the ‘Zealot’

Here is something new I just learned about Simon the ‘Zealot’, and I bet it will be something new for you; unless of course you have read Richard Bauckham on this, or maybe other critical New Testament historians. I am currently reading Bauckham’s book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, and in particular I am currently reading his chapter 12 entitled The Twelve. Here Bauckham is discussing the names of the Twelve and how they have come to be and function in the Gospel narratives; in the particular instance I am going to quote, Bauckham is talking about Simon the Zealot, and what in fact would have characterized Simon’s kind of zealotry situated as he was in his historical context (this point is contrary to how I have been taught, in the past, to think of Simon’s zealotry, and thus represents something new that I have learned about Simon the Zealot). Here is Bauckham:

[…] It is now widely recognized that, since a specific political party with the name Zealots does not appear in our sources until after the outbreak of the Jewish revolt in 66 CE, the term applied to Simon here must have the broader sense, current in this period, of “zealot for the law” (cf. Acts 21:20; 22:3, 19), often implying that such a person would take violent action to punish flagrant violation of the Torah. Such violence, however, would normally be aimed against fellow Jews rather than the Romans. We should probably presume that Simon already bore this nickname before becoming a disciple of Jesus. Meir points out that “the only instance in prerabbinic Judaism of an individual Israelite bearing the additional name of ‘the Zealot’  is found in 4 Macc 18:12, where Phinehas (the grandson of Aaron) is called ‘the Zealot of Phinehas’ (ton zeloten Phinees). Perhaps Simon’s nickname amounts to calling him “a new Phinehas.” However, although Phinheas was indeed, for Jews of this period, the archetypal “zealot,” the usage in 4 Maccabees 18:12 is probably a description rather than strictly a nickname. Another possible parallel that has not previously been noticed is the name of the owner inscribed on a stone jar from Masada. The two words (yhwsp qny) can be translated either as “Joseph (the) zealot” (qannay) or as “Joseph (the) silversmith” (qenay). [Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, 104-05.]

This is an interesting tid bit of historical insight that helps me to re-think what kind of zealotry characterized Simon’s, Jesus’ disciple, and one of the Twelve Apostles. This would, interpretively, be significant to me in the sense that it would make even more sense for Simon to align with Jesus; only if he (Simon) believed that Jesus was the meaning and fulfillment of the ‘Torah’ in a very depth dimension kind of way. Such that Jesus’ person would finally make sense of the Torah in ways that Simon the ‘Zealot’ had never considered before; providing a Zealotry filled with a true knowledge of the God and Yahweh of the Torah which he felt he must defend with utter stridency.

For those unclear, the typical way of understanding Zealotry in relation to Simon, has usually been to think of him as someone who was looking for a Messianic figure to come in and overthrow the Roman empire (so an anti-Imperialist) [which Bauckham highlights as well in the quote above]. But in point of case, if Bauckham is correct, to be a zealot in the period that Simon, Jesus, and the others inhabited, would mean to be a vigorous defender of a text; God’s text given to the Jewish people. This insight, from Bauckham, definitely re-situates Simon’s person and aspirations; and it helps me, at least, to think about Simon in ways differently than I had been taught to, heretofore.

This is not the first, and I am sure it won’t be the last, but I am stealing a whole post (quote) from the venerable Jason Goroncy. I am sure some of you don’t venture over to Jason’s (which you should), and so I will reproduce a councilquote about theology that he has offered over at his blog (awhile ago). Here is the quote and my reflection afterwords:

‘Liberals are right that the language we use as Christians is not “literally” true; rather, it is figurative, poetic, imaginative language. But the orthodox are right in a more profound way: for the language of imagination – which is to say, biblical language – is the only language we have for thinking and speaking of God, and we receive it as the gift of the Holy Spirit. Theology deceives itself if it conceives of its task as translating the figurative language of scripture and piety into some more nearly literal discourse about God. The theologian’s job is not to tell fellow believers what they really mean; rather, it is to help the church speak more faithfully the language of the Christian imagination. The theologian is not a translator but a grammarian’. – Richard Bauckham and Trevor Hart, ‘The Shape of Time’ in The Future as God’s Gift: Explorations in Christian Eschatology (ed. David Fergusson and Marcel Sarot; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2000), 86. [Quote stolen from here]

I first came to think about what happened, for example, at the ecumenical councils as simply a matter of providing a right and proximate grammar for the demands of scripture’s theo-logic and God’s Self-revelation in Christ by way of Thomas F. Torrance (maybe six years ago). There are many people out in the world (usually cults like: Jehovah’s Witnesses, Unitary-Oneness Apostolic Pentecostal churches, etc.) who argue or are prone to believe that doctrines like the Trinity, and Hypostatic Union of the Divine and Human in the person of Jesus Christ have come to be as a result of inventive violation of the pure text of Scripture; with the result being that these later articulations of the Patristic church ended up hybriding Scripture and God’s life by foisting fabricated and artificial concepts upon God in Christ that Scripture does not allow for.

What Bauckham and Hart helpfully highlight is that this is a misperception. The early church, and theologians even today, are not supposed to be creating doctrines and interpretations that supersede Scripture and its Reality; instead they are tasked with the privilege of inventing grammar to help the Church of Christ better think and talk about the Triune God who they worship, and in ways that make most sense as we grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. That is why the work of the theologian is never done, he or she is involved in the constant spiraling process of engendering grammar that is faithful to Scripture’s witness and Reality, Jesus Christ; and as the Church continues to grow into that knowledge the grammar needs to expand and build upon the faithful grammar provided in the yesteryears of our past.

I liked this quote, and I hope you find it encouraging as well.

I just finished watching the last (thank goodness!) presidential debate between Romney and Obama. This post will be somewhat of a response to it. My method in this post will be to frame the predominate theme of the debate tonight (supposedly, and for the most part it was), “foreign policy,” through the critique that the Apostle John provides of the Roman Empire’s foreign policy in the 1st century A.D.

As both of the candidates went back and forth tonight, something that stood out quite dominantly was that they didn’t really go back and forth with each other. Instead, they basically agreed with each other (at least Romney did with Obama) on the policies that have been being employed by Obama’s administration across the globe. Both men, then, in general affirm a posture towards other nations that ultimately stands against others with unrelenting military might and force; with the end result of sustaining our way of life, and imposing our mode of being (as consumers)  on the rest of the world. The bottom line is that for us to be secure and prosperous and to maintain “peace” in the world — both candidates would affirm — that we need to maintain a strong, police like force in the world in order to ensure that this continues to be the status quo. And all of this without any talk about the humanitarian impact that this is having on our trade partners (like China, Saudi Arabia, etc.) in the world. The end goal is to ensure that Americans remain rich and prosperous on the backs, often times, of slave labor (relative to American standards of living) and brutality that our trade partners employ on their own citizenry.

This kind of American “foreign policy” for the “Revelator” is the kind that God in Christ is coming to finally judge and put an end to at his second coming. Here is what Richard Bauckham writes in regard to how God viewed this kind of foreign policy in Rome, and by corollary, how he then would view this kind of foreign and domestic policy in and for America (Bauckham is commenting quite a bit here, on Revelation 17–19):

[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]

It is this kind of commentary and prophetic/apocalyptic exhortation from the book of  Revelation that has really convicted me in regard to being able to vote for either American candidate this voting cycle. If John the revelator is to be taken seriously, his indictment (the “Lamb’s indictment) is that the power of the “beast” is equivalent (symbolically and in reality) to the usage of military clout and might to ensure the sustainability of a society that is primarily shaped by self indulgence, entertainment, and basic hedonism. I cannot help but look at the United States, in general, and its (my) government, and but see us as fitting the same type of “right by might” posture that Jesus condemns in the book of Revelation as the power of the beast (in that immediate context in reference to the Roman Empire).

I understand that this is a complex thing, and I don’t want to oversimplify this. I am thankful to live in a country that has the kinds of freedoms we enjoy in the United States. But I am afraid that that kind of golden age belief (that we are an innocent country of liberty and freedom) is now being used, in sentimental ways, to paper over the fact that the United States, in many ways, has become an oppressor in the world and not a liberator. I think this is tied into our primary interest of ensuring that the petrodollar system (the system that continues to make our dollar the reserve currency of the world — although this reality seems to be shifting) stays in tact at all costs (I will have to address this point, “the petrodollar point” in another post). Ultimately, I don’t care if I am on the right side of history; I just want to live from the life of Christ in this world system, which means standing up (somehow) for the downtrodden and oppressed.

Welcome

Hello my name is Bobby Grow, and I author this blog, The Evangelical Calvinist. Feel free to peruse the posts, and comment at your leisure. I look forward to the exchange we might have here, and hope you are provoked to love Jesus even more as a result. Pax Christi!

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A Little Thomas Torrance

“God loves you so utterly and completely that he has given himself for you in Jesus Christ his beloved Son, and has thereby pledged his very being as God for your salvation. In Jesus Christ God has actualised his unconditional love for you in your human nature in such a once for all way, that he cannot go back upon it without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross and thereby denying himself. Jesus Christ died for you precisely because you are sinful and utterly unworthy of him, and has thereby already made you his own before and apart from your ever believing in him. He has bound you to himself by his love in a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell his love will never cease. Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour.” -T. F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ, 94.

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