Thursday, May 29, 2008

When In Rome...

We return to our consideration of that truly enigmatic figure-- the whore named, Babylon. We have pieced together a skeleton built of characteristics extracted from her description in Revelation 17. Let's put some flesh and bone on that and see what we have.

She is first mentioned in Revelation 14:8 where her fall is announced by an angel. Her evil influence in the world is likened to wine and its effects. Her name comes up again in 16:19 in association with the seventh bowl in which God makes her drink the wine of his wrath, the picture of poetic justice. So important is she in understanding the unfolding of redemptive history, chapters 17 and 18 form an interlude which takes the reader aside from the flow of prophetic time just to take a deeper look at her. It's necessary, for she is a mystery that cannot be understood by man apart from divine illumination.

It has not been uncommon, since the Reformation, for the figure to be interpreted as the Roman Catholic Church, despite the fact that most of the Reformers did not take the Petrine remark as a reference to Rome. Evidently, the references within the description of the whore were clear enough to them without any other scriptural references. Exactly how clear are they?

In 95 A.D. there was only one city in the entire world that could have fit the description, and since then, no real contenders have emerged. There are only a handful of great cities renown for sitting on seven hills (or mountains): Rome and Constantinople are the most obvious, a case can be made for Jerusalem (but a lame one in my mind). Either of the capitals of the Roman Empire could be made to fit the rest of the description through chapter 18, but Jerusalem doesn't even come close. When Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453, it ceased being the center of idolatrous worship in all but name only, which leaves Rome standing unassailable as the target of the figure.

That's not the same as saying that the RCC is the whore, but there is a great deal of sense in seeing her that way, especially in light of 18:4-5. I think the whore imagery reaches far beyond the halls of the Vatican, but suffice it to say, I think she knows her way around those halls in the dark!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Even the Pimp Hates the Whore

In Revelation 17 we are introduced to the enigmatic figure of the Whore of Babylon riding on a Scarlet Beast. That seems a picture of a symbiotic relationship to me, so who are they, what do they represent and why are they joined at the hip (in a manner of speaking)? We'll explore the symbol of the whore first.

Whores are used as sexual substitutes, providers of sexual pleasures without the entanglements of a committed heterosexual relationship. God means for
those experiences to occur only within the context of marriage, prostitution short-circuits that righteous directive. How can the Bible apply that sordid concept to spiritual relationships? When people, particularly those who supposedly truly believe, substitute false gods for the real One, the prophets of old called it harlotry and adultery. Instead of a committed relationship with the living God, and satisfaction with the fulfilments derived thereby, idolaters exchange the true God for one of their own making: the God who could not be managed nor massaged, by ones that at least gave the appearance that they could. Do you wonder where they got that idea?

I believe it was part of the Devil's hijacking scheme mentioned in my last post. The Devil's plan, from the earliest times in human history, has been to subvert and steal the redemptive promises announced in the protoevangelion. There is a socio-political component to that plan, there is also a psycho-religious aspect to it. The political aspect is centered around bringing the Antichrist, the man of lawlessness, into worldwide political dominion (which I covered in part in my last post). The religious aspect is the subject of this post and revolves around the figure of the Whore. Revelation 17 shows them linked as part of one overarching strategy by displaying the figures for both together, one riding the other.

In the Devil's plan to separate humanity from God and to torpedo whatever possibility of reconciliation there might be, his prime strategy is been substitution: the Devil for God, the Antichrist for Christ. In order to achieve that ultimate objective, intermediately, he had to hijack the promise to Eve. So, deep in the past, at Babylon, the Devil hatched a substitution plot, where the Whore was offered as a displacement for Eve (or, from our perspective, Mary). Highlighting a few details concerning the Whore may help you see this:

1) She is riding on a scarlet beast, which means that even though she may seem to be in control, she is actually only being carried forth by the Devil's efforts as he wills;
2) She is of Babylon, which means that is where
the effort first found traction;
3) She is of Babylon so she will have a
Roman connection;
4) She is the mother of all harlotries (prostitution), therefore the genesis of all idolatry (substitution);
5) She is a prostitute which means she has a certain utility that will make her worthless once accomplished;
6) She is the mother, which points to a hijacking of Eve's promise;
7) She is the mother of all abominations, which means she is the genesis of practices (in the name of spirituality) that make God gag;
8) Drunk on their blood, she is a murderer of and the implacable enemy of true believers in Christ.
Point #5 comes into especially clear focus in v.16. Even though the Whore represents perhaps the most successful of the Devil's schemes through time, she actually deflects attention away from him and thereby is hated by him. It makes a lot of sense, for even in our contemporary culture, even the pimp hates the whore.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Antichrist Scheme

The one word that describes the Devil, as well as any could, is proud. Hubris led him to the conclusion that he could manage things as well as his Creator, nay, even better and he was more worthy of adulation too. That kind of role reversal is the basis behind more than one plot line in science fiction (i.e. humans create intelligence that then sees itself as more able and worthy to rule than its maker). Whereas that may be plausible when dealing with imperfect humanity as a creator, it is ludicrous when God is in view. And yet the Devil never has, indeed never could, learn from his mistakes. Pride does that: it hardens the categories and seizes the mind, and dooms one to endlessly repeat the same errors.

In the garden, God announced the first gospel message (protoevangelion) in the midst of his curse upon Eve. A glimmer of hope for humanity, it spelled the Devil's doom (yes, it was the Satan!). It was cryptic enough for the Devil not to fathom, even though I think he understood it much better than we often do. I think he grasped that it was the woman's child, not the man's, and he seemed to pick up God's subtlety in the using a collective singular noun with a singular masculine pronoun (meaning one particular son rather than offspring in general). I'm absolutely sure he picked up on it when the promise was reiterated in substance to Abraham. Why? Because it's revealed in his strategy of dealing with that promise--namely hijacking it. A flawed strategy for sure, but one that his pride causes him to repeat over and over again. In fact, by the end of time, he will have tried 8 times! I call his efforts the Antichrist Scheme.

In the 17th chapter of the Revelation we are given the summary of those efforts. Through history up to the time of the writing of the Apocalypse, the Devil had attempted this hijacking stratagem 5 times. At the time of writing, he was winding up effort number six, with efforts 7 and 8 coming in the future (and foretold in the writing). The effort centered around dispossessing or disposing of the Jews, and then offering his shill as the "God-man". The gospel promise, which was funneled through Abraham and accrued to the benefit of all mankind, had to be undermined and undone and displaced. Some schemes got farther than others, but all fail because of divine intervention. Six are recorded in scripture and attempt #8 (the last) is defeated by the physical return of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Satan's Attempts at the Antichrist Scheme

The five kings who are fallen, and the one who is:
1) Egypt under Pharaoh at the time of the Exodus (ca. 1500 BCE), which attempted to destroy the gospel promise by keeping Israel from the promised land. God raised up Moses to thwart this attempt;
2) Assyria under the dynasty of Sargon II (ca. 722 BCE), which exiled the ten northern tribes from Samaria and attempted to besiege Jerusalem and destroy Judah too (under Sennacherib, Sargon's son). God intervened in response to Hezekiah's prayer;
3) Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar (ca. 586 BCE), which destroyed Jerusalem, including the Temple and deported virtually the entire population of Judah. God intervened directly with Nebuchadnezzar in conjunction with the ministry of Daniel;
4) Persia under the influence its highest noble, Haman (ca. 475 BCE), which scheduled the slaughter and plunder of all the Jews. God raised up Esther for such a time as that and through her intervention turned the plot back on Haman's head;
5) Hellenistic Syria (the King of the North) under Antiochus Epiphanes (ca. 165 BCE), which attempted to eradicate Jewish practice and modeled the abomination of desolation. God intervened by giving the forces of the Maccabees a stunning, upset victory which resulted in independence for Israel and the purification of the Temple (which is celebrated today as Hanukkah). [BTW, this makes me wonder if the Maccabees shouldn't be part of the canon of scripture, as it is in the R.C.C.]
6) Rome under Vespasian (ca. 70 CE), which left no stone unturned in Jerusalem and started a policy of Jewish dispersion (culminated in 135 CE) which ultimately banned the Jews from the promised land (the Diaspora). God's intervention had already brought the promised seed, Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, to earth and shifted the focus of God's redeeming work to the Gentiles, so the Devil was a pound shy and a day late.

The king who is to come for a short time, and the eighth:
7) Germany under Adolph Hitler (ca. 1933 CE), which systematically rounded up the Jews within it's domains and killed approximately two-thirds of them. God's intervention resulted in reestablishing Palestine as the homeland of the Jews and the resurrection of the nation of Israel.
8) The Ten Horns under the Antichrist (ca. SOON!), which will desecrate the rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem, like Antiochus Epiphanes did, and kill those who will not worship him as God and take his mark (they'll be Jews).

In his pride the Devil has attempted to one-up God over and over again, only to fail over and over again in his ultimate purpose. Even at the end of time, when he knows failure awaits him, his pride will compel him to bang his head against that wall one more time. He'll get farther than he ever did before, but end in disaster just like every time before. When one has that much pride, how can he ever learn a new trick?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Can I Show You Something?

In the article I Told You So, I introduced you to one of my key hermeneutical principles in interpreting prophecy-- those things which play key roles in the unfolding of Redemptive History have been told to us by God. With this article, let me add a couple of corollaries:
1) if the prophesied event occurred within the time frame during which biblical writing was inspired, its fulfillment will be recorded in the scriptures dealing with that period; and
2) if a prophecy interprets the past (as it certainly does in the Revelation) it's fulfillment in the past will be recorded in the scriptures dealing with that period.
These may not be found in any standard, evangelical approach to hermeneutics, but then again, would I be writing this if those techniques actually produced coherent, internally consistent expositions, that successfully interpreted eschatological prophecy!

These principles are essential in properly interpreting the 7 seals (case in point), and the 8 Kings of chapter 17. If one is left scratching his or her head, trying to understand why there wasn't a word from God when a quarter of the earth's population was killed within a few short years (the Black Death), or why a frivolous book like Esther was ever recorded in scriptures, he or she should remember this hermeneutic. The Holy Spirit has inspired the recording of things for reasons, though sometimes they don't become apparent until generations later. Hopefully, they'll be apparent to you as we continue with the prophetic seals.

The Volcanic Cataclysm
The text does not mention a volcano, it just seems to describe one to me. From pyroclastic material falling from the skies (stars), to pyroclastic flows (rolling clouds), to ash choked skies (blackened sun, red moon), to moving mountains and islands, the description seems to fit. This, of course, is not your grandmother's volcano (like Krakatoa), this is something more akin to Toba or perhaps Yellowstone. People survive the cataclysm with the anticipation of the immediacy of God's wrath. If the Antichrist needs a story to cover the disappearance of the Church, this would fit the bill!

The Rapture
This is really more akin to an interlude between seals, than it is attributable to any particular seal. Nonetheless, two things occur during this "event": 1) 144,000 Jews get sealed on earth, and remain there, and 2) Gentile saints are translated out from the Tribulation to the throne room of God.

The Seventh Seal
Everything that occurs thereafter (Trumpets and Vials) in the 70th week of Daniel is the unfolding of this seal.

So there you have my take on the seven seals. I think it makes sense. When it comes to the Revelation, my firm belief is that it should make sense to any of the servants of God. Christ did not give us this vision to blur what must soon take place, but to make it known to us. Hopefully, along those lines, this series of posts is showing you something!

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Seals of the Apocalypse

In Revelation 5 we have that grand scene in the throne room of God, where no one but the Lamb was found worthy to take the scroll. He had successfully redeemed mankind by his own blood, and thereby proved his worthiness to be the heir to power, wealth, wisdom, strength, honor, glory and praise (in a nutshell, everything). The scroll represented the consummation of all redemptive history, each seal was a witness to the Lamb's legitimacy to rule and reign in that ultimate place. We know Jesus ascended to heaven shortly after his resurrection, what time frame does that impose upon his receipt of the scroll and the breaking of the seals?

Let me attempt to unpack them for you historically.

The White Horse
Where in the Bible, and especially in the Revelation, was white used symbolically for anything other than good? The white horse represents the church turned loose on the Great Commission, ca. 30 AD.

The Red Horse
The color invokes the thought of blood, fittingly, the rider is tasked with taking peace away from the earth. To understand this image, we cannot overlook the "world" in which John, the early church, and Palestine existed (and the world that becomes important again in the end). It was a Roman world that rested comfortably in the Pax Romana. Into that tranquility dropped the Emperor Commodus, and then everything went down the commode (HT: Gordon Anderson for that mnemonic device). The red horse represents the loss of the Pax Romana, ca. 192 AD.

The Black Horse
Grain was effected by the famine unleashed by this rider, but not oil and wine. Why? The crops that produce oil and wine were grown in more southerly climes than was grain. The implication is that this broken seal effected northerly climes more than southerly ones. Factor in the color, which (at least to me) speaks of the loss of sunlight and warmth, and out pops the Little Ice Age as the proximate cause of the shortage. The black horse represents the Great Famine, ca. 1315 AD.

The Jaundiced Horse
Even though this rider has the power to kill by sword and famine, like the two before it, its unique claim to fame is the decimation of one fourth of earth's population by the added means of pestilence and wild beasts. The combination of details could not describe better in condensed, artistic language the outcome of the bubonic plague. It was world-wide, borne by rats, and caused enough chaos in its wake to produce war, anarchy and famine. Most importantly, it killed a fourth of the population of the entire earth. The jaundiced horse represents the Black Death, ca. 1347 AD.

The Martyrs
Often, the assumption is that martyrdom was a phenomenon of the early church, but point in fact, their numbers were not large then. That changed with the advent of Protestantism in the sixteenth century, when a sudden uptick in the numbers of martyrs rose relatively quickly to become a flood of multiplied thousands. The rate is still escalating today-- it must be getting downright crowded under that altar! Why doesn't God step in and put an end to it? It's a full number deal again. Suffice it to say, this seal represents the increase in martyrdom that began with the Reformation, ca. 1520 AD.

These five seals are historical to us. Their initial breaking unleashed something, that still reverberates in the warp and woof of current events. For instance, the church is still actively engaged, and more successfully than ever, in winning the world to Christ; the world has never been as peaceful again as it was before the unleashing of the red horse; severe grain famines have occurred over and over again since the black horse went riding; frightful pandemics seem to cycle through regularly since the pale horse first clip-clopped over planet Earth; and martyrs are being killed today at record pace though that "seal was broken" 500 years ago.

The rest of the seals, which remain prophetic rather than historical will be covered in my next posting.

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Broken Seal in the Apocalypse

The key to understanding the Apocalypse is to read it with the assumption that it simply means what it says. If one imposes a very subjective symbolic template upon the text, meaning becomes whatever one wants it to be. By that approach the text ends up meaning nothing at all. The first sentence of the book states it’s purpose in rather straightforward language and grammar; needless to say, causing confusion is not why it was written.

The prophecy declares that it is about things which will take place soon (in relation to 95 A.D.), in fact, it behooves them to, they must. Therefore, any approach attempting to jam virtually all the events foretold in this book into the last 7 years of history is a fool's errand. Only chapters 8 through 18 deal with that period, the rest either deals with what's historical from our perspective or the millennium and eternity to come.

Some have suggested
the letters to the seven churches fulfill that purpose by describing, symbolically, seven epochs of the Church Age. Whereas that approach at least understands the historical implications of the prophecy, there's nothing in the text or context that demands interpreting it that way. These were churches extant at the time of writing, all at once in real time and were addressed for more transparent reasons, it seems to me, than as symbols for epochs unhinted at in the text.

A simpler (and thereby, generally bound to be better) approach is to take them as representing the totality of the church at any given time. The number seven is associated scripturally with completeness, or entirety, and today one will find churches existing together in the same space and time, which would fit rather neatly into the general categories limned out by those seven churches. I think that has always been true, and so take the overall effect of their mention to be symbolic of the church universal throughout time, facing the end of time, and representing the diversity in the character of its individual congregations.

So, that brings us to
the seven seals on the scroll only the Lamb could break open. The imagery comes right out of Roman testate law-- under that regimen, wills were sealed with seven wax seals only broken in the presence of the heir. The Lamb, being the first-born from among the dead, had earned the inheritance of creation and mankind: breaking the seals was the formality that had to occur to bring the will into ultimate enactment. Therefore, each broken seal represents a witness to the authority of the Son of Man and unfolds as an ongoing stage in history leading up to the coronation of the coming King.

In coming posts, each seal will be identified by its antecedent historical event!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

I'm Out of My Head

Things are about to get loopy around here, and what I'm about to tell you, I'd wager you've never heard anywhere else. No doubt, some of you will think I'm out of my head! So before we get on with the zaniness, while we're all still sane, let's define an important term: RAPTURE. As I've said before, rapture is not a biblical term, but does it do justice to biblical thought? According to (see definitions 3 and 5), I suppose it does. For the sake of accurate communication, let me define rapture in this way: an event in which God translates the body of a believer not only from its earthly location to a heavenly one, but also from its earthly form to its eternal one. It includes both the living and the dead. The fullest treatment of this event is found in 1 Corinthians 15:50-57.

If you've been a Christian for a minimum of 5 minutes, you've probably been assaulted by the arguments as to the timing of this event. The ultimate eschatological question is, "when?" There are pre-, mid-, and post-tribulationists. There are even pan-tribulationists, those cheeky monkeys who care less, figuring it will all pan out in the end. All that I can say in regard to this question is that they are all right (of course if one is an a- or a post-millenialist, he or she is way out on the rough)!

But haven't I said that the Gentile church was raptured out at the beginning of the 70th week? Shouldn't I pick a side and stick to it? Let me say, each of the viewpoints (pre, mid and post) can cite solid scriptural references to back up their viewpoints. Unfortunately for each, the other views can shoot holes in their arguments. Why? They all right, they just don't realize it. The Bible teaches that the rapture has a pre-, mid-, and post-tribulational component! What!!! Yep, all three premillenial rapture theories are correct. I've already laid out the pretribulational rapture of the Gentile church, so let me lay out the rest for you.

We are introduced to 144,000 Jews who believed in Christ at the beginning of the 70th week in Revelation 7. They are sealed and protected from the wrathful events falling upon earth for three and a half years. Their time on earth during the 70th week runs concurrently with the two prophetic witnesses mentioned in Revelation 11. Those witnesses are killed at the midpoint of the tribulation and left unburied on the streets of Jerusalem for three and a half days. At that point, God calls for them from heaven, they rise from the dead and ascend into heaven. That, most certainly, is a rapture! The next time we see the 144,000 (in Revelation 14), their location can no longer be said to be clearly on earth. They're with the Lamb, singing a special song before the throne and the elders. How did they get there? They were raptured, as far as I can tell, with the two witnesses.

What about the last component? That's found in Revelation 20. There we discover that those (they will be Jews) who were executed in the last three and a half years of the 70th week, rather than buy into THE lie and take the mark of the beast, will be raised from the dead and join the ranks of those ruling and reigning with Christ. That is a rapture! And there we have it, the completion of the first resurrection, which is in actuality, the three components of the rapture. Perhaps at this juncture, the lesson I should take from this last group of saints is that it may well turn out just fine, in the end, if I'm out of my head.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Secret's Out

The notion of a secret gathering of the Gentile church in the air with Christ, while the world descends into tribulation, is a difficult one for many. The idea is relatively new to the church, first proposed, as near I can tell, in 1812 and not popularized until about 1830 (by Irving and Darby). My own sense, in all matters spiritual, is that we can never trust what someone has said about the Word, regardless of how long ago they lived and wrote. The issue is whether or not the prophecies of the Bible actually bear out this teaching, not whether or not Calvin or Augustine nor even Irenaeus taught it.

So, does the Bible bear out this teaching? My answer, for what it's worth, is yes. Let me give you an annotated list of scriptural citations which support the thought:

1) Revelation 7: note that the 144,000 are described in earthly terms, whereas the Gentile saints are described in heavenly ones;
Matthew 24:32-51: note that despite referencing the signs of the end, Jesus teaches the sudden, unexpected taking away of those that were ready;
Luke 21:36: note that the "escape out from all these things" is associated with standing before the Son of man;
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5: note that the Thessalonians had thought they missed it all, not only the gathering of the saints to Christ, but the coming of our Lord. The reference only makes sense if they were expecting a "secret rapture." Paul reassures them by reiterating that the coming will not be secret [even if the gathering is];
Revelation 3:7-13: note that there is a Jewish/Gentile divergence referenced and that the church in Philadelphia was promised to be kept out from the hour (a short period) of trial coming upon the whole earth;
Luke 17:26-36: Note that the rescue in the ark was followed by wrath on the earth, which makes perfect sense in light of 1 Thessalonians 5:9;
Revelation 12:1-6: this will actually take some words to develop, so please read on.
Perhaps no chapter of scripture is more helpful eschatologically than Revelation 12. Once one properly understands the symbols, the end-time scenario clarifies and the timing of end-time events settles into place. The imagery of the woman clearly hearkens back to Joseph's dream, the figure is obviously Jewish. That she was pregnant brings into focus two thoughts: 1) she would give birth to something like her, and 2) while in the womb that something was expected but hidden. If ones sees the woman as a corporate symbol (like the nation of Israel), rather than an individual (like Mary), then the infant must taken the same way.

The woman is the messianic Jewish community, the baby in her womb is the Gentile church. The church is in the womb because it was hidden from sight from the former prophets (between Daniel's 69th and 70th week), even though the Jews were prophesied to have an affect on all nations. Though hidden, it grows and develops until it has attained its full number (remember Romans 11:25), at which point, gestation is complete and the baby born. Immediately the child is translated to the heavenlies (remember the church is the body of Christ and that we will rule and reign with him), but the Jewish mother is left, protected on earth for three and a half years.

There you have it. There is a sudden and escaping translation of the Gentile church to heaven at the turn from the Age of the Gentiles to the 70th Week of Daniel. Regardless of how the clandestine nature of this event has been described in the past, I guess we can say now, the secret's out!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Lost in Delusion

I've stated that during the 70th Week of Daniel (or the Tribulation, if you prefer) no Gentiles will be coming to Christ (nor holding on to him for that matter). The period only exists, redemptively, for the Jews and Jerusalem. Some may be wondering about the mechanics of such a thing, I think Paul explains it quite well in 2 Thessalonians 2.

What we learn from that passage, among other things, is this:
1) Even now, during the Age of the Gentiles, there is a generally imperceptible effort being made to produce lawlessness in people (i.e. an unwillingness to accept restraint).

2) That effort is being held down (hindered) by someone Paul assumed the average Christian in Thessaloniki understood the identity of from his prior talks with them.
3) At some point in time, that restraining influence would be moved out of the midst of the people, which would in turn loose (send) that which would produce the effect of wandering (i.e. a delusion).
4) The delusion would culminate in ALL the unbelievers in the world believing THE lie.
5) The lie is that the man of lawlessness (the Antichrist) is god.

The Devil is at work as I type and as you read this article. His work can be summed up succinctly as murder, marauding, and mayhem. His tools are fear and deception. He seeks to alienate and destroy what God has made for his own pleasure. His efforts are opposed by the active work of the Holy Spirit, the servants of Christ and the finitude of his own limits. Ultimately, he seeks to personally replace God as the rightful object of mankind's worship through a carefully prepared human shill called the Antichrist.

If the Holy Spirit was no longer poured out on all flesh, and God's servants (the church with its angels) were moved out from the midst of people and gathered together unto Christ (the so called Rapture), how long would it take the Devil to succeed in this plot? Just about three and a half years is the biblical answer.

The Devil's efforts from the beginning of time have been directed at getting people to cast off the restraint of God over us. In such lawlessness we are estranged from God and easy pawns for the Devil's wiles. Lawlessness (iniquity) will increase amongst mankind as we near the end of time, but Christians must not let that disillusion us. There is coming a day when we will be gathered unto Christ in glory, while the world that refused to believe the gospel will be lost in delusion.