Thursday, March 06, 2014

My Understanding of Revelation 11:1-14



There are quite a few things to discuss in Revelation 11:1-13, which unfortunately, we just won’t have time to discuss on Sunday since we lost a week to the dang-blasted ice. So, here’s my take…and it’s in print so I can’t deny any of it.
Quick summary: The chapter opens with John’s commission to measure “the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there.”  Following this, John is expressly forbidden to measure the outer courts for that will be given over to the nations who will trample the holy city for forty-two months. Also, John introduces two figures – the two witnesses – who are given authority and prophesy in sackcloth for 1,260 days. These two witnesses prophecy until their mission is completed; then, the beast makes war on them and conquers them. They lay dead for 3 ½ days while the world gloats over their bodies. After this short time, God vivifies them and beckons them to heaven while the world stands by in terror. Accompanying this resurrection is a great earthquake that destroys a tenth of the city and kills 7,ooo people.
To unpack this chapter, we need to ask and answer three big questions. First, is this temple a literal temple reconstructed in Jerusalem at some future point in history or is it a symbolic temple? Second, what’s the deal with the forty-two months and 1,260 days? And third, who are the two witnesses?

The Temple

There are some who take the temple to be a literal, reconstructed temple in Jerusalem in which sacrifices will once again be offered (based on Ezekiel 40-42). This is not my view. I think the temple here is symbolic of the church from two perspectives – the inner and the outer (or the spiritual and the physical) Here’s why:

Context within Revelation:

·        The language of the text indicates that something symbolic is going on – John is to measure the temple, the altar AND those who worship there.
·        Throughout the book of Revelation, usage of the temple is never of a restored earthly temple. See 3:12; 7:15; 11:19; 14:15, 17; 16:1, 17; 21:22. 

Broader New Testament Context

·        Jesus refers to himself as the true temple (John 2:19; Matt 12:6). It was he as the temple that would be destroyed and rebuilt in three days.
·        NT writers refer to the church as God’s temple, by virtue of their union with Christ (1 Cor. 3:16-17; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:21; also 1 Cor. 6:19, 1 Peter 2:5)
·        Hebrews 10:1-14 makes clear that Jesus puts an end to all sacrifices (that are of any meaning to God). He is the final, perfect sacrifice. To reinstitute animal sacrifices would be redemptive regression.
Looking at the prophecy regarding a rebuilt temple in the book of Ezekiel, we ought to do so through the lens of the New Testament and especially Jesus. With Jesus, the eschatological temple Ezekiel saw has broken in and we are being built into it. We go wrong when we read the NT in OT categories. We must read the OT in light of the NT.
Moreover, if we read it literally, then there are unbelievers and believers, holy and unholy, mixing and profaning the temple (The outer courts were still a part of the temple and were measured in the Ezekiel passage). This mixing seems contrary to what Ezekiel pictures in his vision.
However, if we see this as a symbolic representation of the church, the temple of God in Christ, then we do not encounter this difficulty. But still, why measure the inner court and not the outer? I believe it is to make the same point that has been made consistently throughout the Apocalypse – the spiritual life of the church (inner courts) is protected by God even while the outer/physical church may be persecuted and killed.     

42 Months/1260 Days

It is said in Revelation 11 that the outer court will be trampled for forty-two months. Also, the two witnesses (discussed below) will prophesy in sackcloth for 1,260 days.  What? Again, there are those who take this to be a literal measurement of time. I’m not one of them. 
This time measurement (42 months, 1,260 days, times + time + half a time = 3 ½ years) shows up here in 11:2, 11:3, 12:6, 12:14 as well as 13:5. Dispensationalists combine these in various ways to fit the seven year tribulation (Daniel’s seventieth week), asserting that some of them refer to the first half while other refer to the second half of this tribulation period. I believe all the references in Revelation to the 3 ½ years are parallel, referring to the same period of time, namely the church age from the destruction of temple to the time of Christ’s return. Here’s some background:

Israel’s Wanderings

It is likely that John is at least alluding to the 42 years Israel spent wandering in the wilderness after the Exodus (2 years of journey before the enforced 40 years of punishment for refusing to go into the land). There is a strong Exodus theme going on in Seven Trumpets, including this chapter (11:6-8).

Elijah’s Ministry

Also, in the background is Elijah’s ministry of judgment in which he called for a drought in the days of King Ahab that lasted for 3 ½ years (James 5:17).  Obviously there are links in this chapter to Elijah’s ministry and to the drought. 

Daniel’s Seventy Weeks

This is the most important OT background, and the most challenging. Daniel’s seventy weeks are broken down into three blocks: seven weeks, sixty-two weeks, and one week. Basically, my understanding is that the first sixty-nine weeks (7+62) take us up to the time of Christ and the final week, the seventieth, is symbolic for the entire church age leading up to Christ’s return (For more, see my long, confusing blog post here).  The case for this is strengthened when you look into the next chapter, specifically at 12:5. There, the clock (1260 days) started ticking at Christ’s resurrection and ascension.

The Two Witnesses

Who are these two figures in Revelation 11? Some have understood them to be, literally, Elijah and Moses. Their case hinges upon the statement that Malachi 4:5 that Elijah will come before the Day of the Lord. This, however, seems to have been fulfilled in the person of John the Baptist (see Matt 17:10-13 and Mark 9:11-13). More typical of the dispensationalist school are those who believe these are two individuals who minister in the spirit of Moses and Elijah – prophesying, doing signs and miracles, etc.
I think it is more likely to see them as symbols for the church corporate. The role of the church as witness (Greek word martus from which we get ‘martyr’) is central to the book of Revelation. The two witnesses point to the church’s prophetic role in the world, a role which will certainly give rise to persecution. This corporate identification is warranted for the following:
·        the reference to them as lampstands, which is used elsewhere in Revelation to refer to the church (see Rev. 1:20)
·        they are also called olive trees, referring to Zechariah 4. In Zechariah, the olive trees pointed to Zerubbabel, the head of tribe of Judah and to the priest Joshua. The emphasis was on the priestly and kingly nature of Israel. Remember, the church now carries this distinction, being a kingdom of priests who reign! (5:10)
·        11:7 says the beast makes war with them and conquers them. This is connected to Daniel 7:21 where the last evil kingdom persecutes Israel (now understood to be the church, the true Israel). Moreover, in 13:5-7 the beast is given authority ‘to make war on the saints and to conquer them. The language in 11:7 and 13: 5 is nearly identical; hence, it is likely that we’re intended to link the witnesses conquered and the saints conquered.
·        In v. 9-13 the entire world witnesses their demise. While some think this refers to TV coverage of their murder and dead bodies lying in the street (i.e. Hal Lindsey), it seems more reasonable to conclude that the witnesses are visible throughout the world because the church is everywhere present.
But why two witnesses? First, two witnesses were needed to bear acceptable testimony. Also, disciples were sent out two by two.
These two witnesses carry on their prophetic activity during the forty-two months (1260 days or 3 ½ years, referring to the second half of the last week of Daniel, the church age from time of destruction of temple to the end of age – see appendix). They are protected by God until their mission of bearing witness is complete. Then, and only then, are they conquered and put to death. But the beast’s apparent victory is short lived, only 3 ½ days (compare to the 3 ½ years of faithful witness). After this, the text tells us that “a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood up on their feet” (allusion to Ezekiel 37 and the valley of dry bones). This causes a great fear among the people and then a loud voice calls the two witnesses up into heaven in a cloud. The world is struck by a great earthquake and a tenth of the city was destroyed and 7,000 killed (again, alluding to Ezekiel, this time 38:19). The rest were terrified and gave glory to God (though it’s doubtful this is a full account of conversion).
This, I believe, is a picture of the final resurrection of all the faithful believers at the end of history. They are resurrected and caught up (raptured) to heaven. The great earthquake of judgment compels fear filled praise even from God’s enemies (see Phil 2:9-11). This prepares us for the seventh trumpet, which is the end.
I know this is getting a little ahead of ourselves, but the view of the beast’s conquering of the church and the churches resurrection we are given in ch. 11 corresponds with what we’ll read later in ch. 20. The beast makes war and kills the witnesses but only after they’ve accomplished their mission and then only for a short time. This corresponds to Revelation 20:3. The witnesses (the church) achieve missional success while Satan is bound and prevented from deceiving the nations (as he is now). Then, Satan is released for a “short time” – the 3 ½ days he appears to have conquered the witnesses and gloats over them. Also, the witnesses resurrection and vindication coincides with God’s deliverance of the saints and destruction of the devil and his followers after the “short time” (Rev. 20-9-10).

Conclusion

This passage uses two images, the measurement of the temple and the story of the witnesses, to encourage the Christian with the same truths we’ve seen hammered home in other sections: God protects the church spiritually even though it may be trampled and even killed physically. In the end, God will destroy his enemies and vindicate the church through resurrection and eternal glory.

Daniel's Seventy Weeks (not for the faint of heart)

This is a very brief overview of my understanding of Daniel 9:24-27. I do not mean to caricature dispensationists, but probably have as I've tried to represent their view but haven't provided much detail as to how they reach their conclusions. Sorry to my dispensational brothers!
Before we get into Christian interpretation of Daniel’s 70 weeks and the 42 months, we should note how Jewish writings interpreted it. Here there were three overlapping understandings. First, that the 3 ½ years stands for a general time of trial for faithful Jews, or that it was to be associated with the Babylonian captivity, or as the period that Israel must pass through before its final redemption.
Without going into too much detail, dispensationalists believe the sixty-nine weeks (7+62) leads up to Christ. The last week is the final period of history, the seven year tribulation. Dispensationalists insert an indeterminate gap of great length (now approaching 2000 years) between the end of the sixty-ninth week and the beginning of the seventieth week.  Consequently, the events of v. 26 happen after week sixty-nine but before week seventy, in this indeterminate parenthesis. And, the events of v. 27 happen after the parenthesis (the church age) in the final seven years of tribulation. So, at the end of the sixty-ninth week, during this gap, the Messiah will be cut off, the ‘people of the ruler’ will destroy the city (70AD). The gap continues for 2000 years (and counting) until Christ’s second coming (rapture) when the seventieth week will start and the events of v. 27 will unfold. The ‘he’ of v. 27 is taken to be the AntiChrist who will confirm a covenant (a political/military treaty) for this week (7 years). In the middle of this seven years (3 ½ years into the tribulation), he’ll put an end to temple sacrifice and set up an “abomination that causes desolation”. Obviously, this requires a rebuilt temple and a reconstitution of sacrifices in the last days. This takes us to the end.
My understanding is vastly different. Looking at Daniel I believe the seventy-weeks (literally translated as seventy sevens) are symbolic of fullness. For example, when Jesus is asked how many times to forgive, seven or seventy, he replies ‘seventy times seven’. Of course, this is symbolic - I should forgive Lynn for being bossy on the 491st time just as much as the 490th time! In the context of Daniel, this seventy-sevens is similar – the seventy years of exile (a symbolic, round number) isn’t enough to change people’s hearts. Seventy sevens are needed to “finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy” (Daniel 9:24). Like Peter’s scale of forgiveness was too small, so was Daniel’s timescale for restoration and salvation.
This complete restoration, which is what Daniel is asking God about in his prayer preceding and precipitating the vision, involves in all three stages. The first seven sevens (forty-nine years) begins with God’s decree to rebuild the temple (in response to Daniel’s prayer in v. 23) and continues till its completion. This time and the sixty-two sevens that follow are times of trouble (fitting well with what we know of the struggles to rebuild and the intra-testamental period).  So, the restoration has begun, but isn’t the full idyllic restoration hoped for.  A Messiah is needed for that. The sixty-two sevens take us from the rebuilding of the city to the time of Jesus and the cutting off of the Messiah. So far, dispensationalists would agree with most of this paragraph.  We will disagree radically (understatement) when it comes to the final week and how this plays out. Daniel 9:26-27 reads,
“25 Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. 26 And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. 27 And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.”(ESV)
As noted above, dispensationalists read a gap between v. 25 & 27. This gap is necessitated because they read the account as strictly chronological. I think it’s more natural to see v. 26 & 27 in parallel, not chronological, both describing what happens in the seventieth week. In other words, at the end of the sixty-ninth week (sixty-two weeks which were preceded by seven weeks) the seventieth week starts. This seventieth week takes us from the time of Christ till the end of history. It is a symbolic week covering the entire church age.
I mentioned that I disagree radically with the dispensationalist interpretation of these verses. It’s hard to imagine a more radical disagreement, for where they see Antichrist, I see Christ himself. The ‘anointed one’ introduced in v. 25 is also a ‘prince’. He makes his appearance at the end of the sixty-ninth week, but not triumphantly as Daniel and his fellow Jews in exile would expect. He will be cut off and have nothing – surely a reference to crucifixion. The anointed one and prince in v. 25 is the anointed one in v. 26 and also the prince of v. 26. No new antichrist figure is introduced here as dispensationalists assert. The ‘people of the prince’, the Jews, destroy the city and the sanctuary. This is a foretelling of the destruction of the temple and the city in 70AD, not a still future destruction of a rebuilt temple by antichrist. It is the ‘people of the prince’, the Jews, who are responsible for this, and that is true on two levels. The ‘people of the prince’ brought this judgment upon themselves in their rejection of Christ (see Luke 19:41-44; Matt 23:37-24:2 & 27:25).  Moreover, it was Jewish rebellion against Rome that brought on the siege and destruction in 70AD. The destruction of Jerusalem was not so much the work of Roman armies and General Titus as it was the work of God’s judgment in response to Israel’s transgression.
Furthermore, it is Christ who makes a strong covenant with many, referring to the new covenant in his blood, not a political treaty made by antichrist and many people. The context of Daniel 9 is covenantal. Daniel acknowledges God’s covenant faithfulness (Daniel 9:4) and pleads for mercy despite Israel’s failings. In response, Gabriel gives him this vision and tells of a coming Anointed Prince (Messiah) who will make a strong covenant for one week (i.e. the entire seventieth week, symbolic of the church age).
The second half of verse 27 is incredibly hard not only to interpret, but to translate. The words are simple enough, but hard to put into a coherent sentence. The best scholars disagree not just on interpretation, but translation. Taking the text as it stands above, it is possible to see ‘makes an end to sacrifices’ positively referring to Christ making sacrifices obsolete. More than likely though, it’s a negative reference to the destruction of the temple and the resultant cessation of the sacrificial system. This happens at some point in the middle of this symbolic week which began with Christ. And, in conjunction with this is “the abomination that causes desolation” (see Matt 24:15), probably referring to Titus, the Roman general, bringing his legionary standards with the symbol of Caesar and an eagle into the temple and offering sacrifices there (though other links to events of 70AD are also possible).
Having said that this refers to events around 70AD, I should clarify: I don’t think those historical events necessarily exhaust the references. The “abomination that makes desolate” in Daniel 12 most likely refers to the sacrifice of a pig on the altar by Anitochus Epiphanes IV in 168BC. Yet, Jesus doesn’t see this as the fulfillment that exhausts all fulfillments. With that precedent, it’s possible to look for further abominations surrounding the end, though not requiring a rebuilt, physical temple.
As mentioned above, this is likely one of the hardest passages in all of Scripture. There are aspects of my interpretation (taken from others, of course) that aren’t wholly satisfying. Yet, I find this interpretation to be the most compelling of all the proposed options, each having aspects that are less than satisfying. 

Monday, March 04, 2013

Baptism and Mother Kirk

I've written four posts now on the church, making the case that the visible church is far more important to the Christian's life, even their salvation, than most evangelicals assume. But who is in the visible church? Those who go through a membership class? Those who attend on Sunday? What serves to connect someone to the visible church?

Baptism.

I believe it is baptism that inducts us into membership in the church visible and thereby connects us to the visible body of Christ.

I'll make a case for this over the next few posts, but let me start here quoting several important confessions of faith on baptism, union with Christ, and membership in the church.

Scottish Confession of Faith: We assuredly believe that by baptism we are engrafted in Christ Jesus, to be made partakers of his justice, by the which our sins are covered and remitted; and also, that in the supper, rightly used, Christ Jesus is so joined with us, that he becomes the very nourishment and food of our souls

Westminster Confession of Faith, 28.1: Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church; but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life.Which sacrament is, by Christ's own appointment, to be continued in His Church until the end of the world.

39 Articles, Article XXVII: Baptism is not only a sign of profession, and mark of difference, whereby Christian men are discerned from others that be not christened, but it is also a sign of Regeneration or New-Birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive Baptism rightly are grafted into the Church; the promises of the forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God by the Holy Ghost, are visibly signed and sealed, Faith is confirmed, and Grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God. The Baptism of young Children is in any wise to be retained in the Church, as most agreeable with the institution of Christ.

Heidelberg Catechsim Question 74: Are infants also to be baptized? Answer: Yes: for since they, as well as the adult, are included in the covenant and church of God; and since redemption from sin by the blood of Christ, and the Holy Ghost, the author of faith, is promised to them no less than to the adult; they must therefore by baptism, as a sign of the covenant, be also admitted into the christian church; and be distinguished from the children of unbelievers as was done in the old covenant or testament by circumcision, instead of which baptism is instituted in the new covenant.

And from a couple theologians I appreciate:
Edmond Clowney: "Baptism is recognized as the mark of membership in Christ's church by those outside it...in baptism we are numbered amongst the children of God, receiving the name of our Father, written, as it were, on our foreheads. To be sure, the washing of God's regenerating grace is accomplished by the water of the Spirit, no that of the font, but the outward sign functions precisely because it is outward; it is the Lord's visible seal of his invisible grace."

John Frame: "It is baptism that gives us the right to be recognized as Christians, unless or until we are excommunicated. Thus, it gives us the right to be part of the great work God is doing through his church"

More soon.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Learning about Mystical Union from a Leadership Book

The staff is reading a book called A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, by Friedman . It's a leadership book.

But I read this today, "In any age, concept of leadership must square with the latest understanding of the relationship between brain and body…Recent findings suggest that to a large extent we have a liquid nervous system. The brain turns out to function like a gland. It is the largest organ of secretion, communicating simultaneously with various parts of the body, both near and far, through the reciprocal transmission of substances known as neurotransmitters. In other words, the head is present in the body!” - Friedman

You better believe that's showin up in my discussion of our mystical union with Christ. One of the metaphors Paul uses to describe this union most often is that of the body. We are members of the body united to Christ our head.

While it's clear the head is distinct from the body (and remains Lord over the body), the life of the head pulsates through the body. "The head is present in the body."

So awesome.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Mother Kirk 4

Last week I said I'd continue this stream on the church and the importance of the visible church. This will be the last post in this till I round the bend and begin to think about how baptism relates to the visible church and how all this connects to the issue of apostasy.

Two main points became clear in my last post (at least to me). First, God has given us the church, the visible church, and all her ministries because we absolutely need them. We need preaching. We need discipline. We need the church as an anchor for our doctrine. We need the spiritual food we receive at the Table. Without them, there is little hope we'll survive in the faith. Second, Paul threatens those who persist in error - whether teaching lies or living in persistent sin - with excommunication. This is cutting off from the people of God, the visible church, is tantamount to 'handing them over to Satan'. The Church is Christ's spiritual kingdom. For the time being, the world outside is Satan's realm.

I want to push this discussion in a slightly different direction - a more Christocentric one. So far, I've argued the church is necessary for us. But I think there's more to it.

Nevin approaches the necessity of the visible church differently. He writes, “The life of Christ in the Church, is in the first place inward and invisible. But to be real, it must also become outward…the Church must be visible as well as invisible. In no other way can the idea become real.” He draws a parallel between man and the church: a man’s body is not the sum total of the man – there is a soul to be considered also; yet, without a body there is no real man. “Humanity,” writes Nevin, “is not a corpse on the one hand, nor a phantom on the other.” So, the inward life of the church and the outward form must go hand in hand – “Religion must have forms, as well as an inward living force.”  Nevin contends that the church outwardly manifests the inward life of Christ which animates her, and apart from this outward manifestation, no life can truly be said to exist. The invisible church, argued Nevin, can have no proper existence apart from the visible. DG Hart explains, The church, in other words, was the manifestation in the natural world of the resurrected Christ, literally and supernaturally the body of Christ.”

Our first, knee-jerk response may be that Nevin is pushing the body image too far. I don't think so. Schweitzer writes, "Thy Mystical Body of Christ is for Paul not a pictorial expression  nor a conception which has arisen out of symbolical and ethical reflections, but an actual entity." Certainly the body image with all its members is metaphor, but it's metaphor based on an ontological reality - Christ's life manifested outwardly in the church.

What does this mean to us practically?

First, to cut oneself off from the visible church is to cut oneself off from the church, from the people of God. As members of the body, we are connected to the life that flows from our head ONLY by being connected to the body. Self amputation is not a good idea.

Second, we ought to consider carefully the easy abandonment of one body in favor of another. Calvin writes convincingly (and convictingly - is that a word?), "there is no excuse for him who spontaneously abandons the external communion of a church in which the Word is preached and the sacraments are administered." Among these non-excuses he included minor doctrinal differences (though, when the gospel is destroyed a church ceases to exist), hypocrisy, and sin in the church (even by large portions of the church). Those things don't mean the church ceases to exist or isn't still worthy of our reverence. Only when those doctrines that are central to the gospel are perverted.  How radical does this sound to us who live in a church culture where people leave because they were offended by a joke, don't like the song selection, find a better kids thing somewhere, etc.

In summary, the visible church matters - on so many levels, for so many reasons, it matters. But who belongs to the visible church? That's where we're going next in the upcoming posts about baptism.