Saturday, October 27, 2012

Antipas, the Antedater

Who was Antipas? With a name so rife with meaning, perhaps he was more symbol than substance. The name commonly was a contraction which meant "in place of father", but if uncontracted, it meant "against everything" (which could be taken to mean "against the world"). Certainly, such a meaningful name could be metaphorical rather than refer to a singular, actual person. And yet church tradition does record the story of one martyred Antipas in Pergamum, which makes me wonder if Antipas is not the key to dating the writing of the prophecy.

Bishop Antipas of Pergamon was supposedly martyred by local pagan priests in a brazen bull. Irenaeus mentions this as occurring during the reign of Domitian (81-96 CE), Eusebius concurs, citing Irenaeus. The Orthodox Church outside of America (a movement both ancient and very reliant on tradition) pegs the date in 92 CE, but the Orthodox Church in America places the event within the reign of Nero, sometime in 68 CE. The difference is irreconciliable. Who's right?

By my own prophetic hermeneutic, my first impulse in understanding who a named individual in prophecy is and what significance he or she may have in fulfillment would be finding that one referenced in the rest of scripture. Unfortunately, we have no such record within the scriptures that aids us in identifying Antipas, even though his martyrdom is spoken of in the past tense in the Apocalypse. That occurrence, however, may be telling in itself. It implies that he came to prominence and was martyred after everything was written in the NT other than the prophecy mentioning him.

If John's epistles were actually written in the earlier part of the range conservative scholars suggest for their writing, let's say by 90 CE, but before the Apocalypse, which is suspected to have been written ~95 CE, then a past tense reference to Antipas' martyrdom in Revelation and an absence of reference to him in the rest of scripture makes perfect sense. At least by my hermeneutic! That tradition which points to 92 CE for Antipas' death would be harmonious with what is found (and not found) in scripture. That's a lot of ifs, I understand, but it does makes sense.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Letter to the Struggling Church, Part II

In his letter to the Angel of the church in Smyrna within the Apocalypse, the Lord Jesus Christ comforts a body of believers that are getting it handed to them on three fronts. They are suffering tribulation and poverty, they are suffering human opposition and persecution, and they are being acted against by the Devil himself. Rather than any of those conditions being used as evidence that the church needed correction, rebuke, or instructions about getting it right, Christ speaks empathetically concerning them with encouragement. A similar observation could be made in the case of the church in Philadelphia.

Apparently being a suffering, struggling church was not a mark of disfavor or disobedience.

Jesus' approach strikes a discordant note with much of what is offered as appropriate church evaluation today. Now, when finance, influence and size of constituency mean so much, churches are measured on the scales of name recognition, market infiltration, traffic through the door, and cash flow. Is it possible that we are judging church differently critically than does Christ? We would have no trouble saying no if this modern approach actually made disciples, but then, has anyone ever had a felt need for repentance!

The church in Smyrna was experiencing tribulation--the situation of being between a rock and a hard place without viable alternatives. They were in poverty as well. The combination of being without and having no way out is very distressing indeed. Perhaps we hope that such a condition would never be visited upon faithful Christians, but that is exactly the condition these faithful Christians were in. Christ was fully aware of it, and yet he neither rebuked them for being in it nor promised them that he would alter it.

The church in Smyrna was subjected to blasphemy from those who said they were Jews but were not. It seems to me that this blasphemy would have been twofold: folk were reviling Christ, and they were reviling those in Christ. I don't like being subjected to abusive language, and it makes me cringe when I hear some one so much as using the Lord's name in vain, so it is evident to me that more than sticks and stones can cause injury. That the source was Jews not believing in their own messiah puts me in mind of the some of the rot that comes out of Sam Harris or Sigmund Freud.

The church in Smyrna was about to be attacked by the Devil himself. Whether or not the Devil was going to use physical prison or spiritual prison is hard to tell. Christians have been thrown in jail at times, that much has precedent in history--was it the Devil? Maybe. Could the Devil spiritually hem Christians in and set "guards" on them? I think so. Regardless, Jesus' counsel was to not fear what was about to be suffered. That may be easier said than done, but it is the necessity of faith, even today.

There is much speculation about the nature of the 10 days tribulation. The suggestion that it refers to Polycarp and a long since elapsed historical period is much bantied about. Even though periods of time throughout the Apocalypse tend to be literal (according to my interpretation), the seven churches are representative and symbolic. Therefore, all that this needs to be understood as communicating is that at some point, churches like that in Smyrna are bound to experience momentary, intense periods (ten days) of oppression instigated by the Devil.

What does a suffering church need to know? Well, beyond not interpreting their suffering as the disfavor of Christ or the misapplication of methodology, the suffering, struggling church must recognize that enduring suffering is part of being faithful to Christ. There is a crown of life awaiting for those who do endure, so be faithful unto death. Those who overcome will be eternally blessed.

Part I

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Alpha and Omega

Was Jesus a mere man? His self-description, particularly as found throughout the Apocalypse, says absolutely not! Whether describing himself as the Alpha and Omega (basically, the A and Z) or the first and last, or the beginning and the end the effect is the same--Jesus possesses the all-encompassing nature of God. Human history, really all of creation, is encapsulated by him. He was there before there was a here; he has been there throughout time when there was a here; and when time is done and here is no more, he will still be there.

Practically, I think Jesus was also trying to get across the idea that he is the source of life and living, that there is no life but in him, he is the life. The additional descriptor in the letter to the church at Smyrna, "who was dead and came back to life," which was appended to the first and the last  brings this particular into focus. In demonstrating his mastery over life and death his claim to be the all-encompassing God acquired significant validation. Clearly, he was claiming something more than just being a man, even an extremely holy one.

Believers can take heart and be bolstered knowing that this Jesus, to whom we cede fealty, is no mere man, but is demonstrably very God of very God. To know Jesus is to know God. To be his, to be given life by him is blessing beyond the measure of this present world. In Christ is a wealth that crosses the threshold of death and is unaffected by time. In this world we may have tribulation, and poverty, but in Christ we are actually rich beyond the endpoint of measuring whether alpha or omega.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Is Christianity Falsifiable?

Atheists, frustrated at times by the intransigence of Christians in debate, wonder if there is any evidence sufficient to make Christians question their faith. I've witnessed them asking, after throwing the kitchen sink at a stubborn Christian, if there was something that could falsify Christianity? Yes, there is, and it's quite simple--find the body of Christ, undeniably. If the body of Jesus were found, myself and all other Christians would have to recant (or be treated as lunatics) and our apologetics would fall like a house of cards.

The Romans couldn't find that body and the Jews couldn't produce it. Both had vested interests in doing so, and more than adequate power to exert to find that body if it could have been found. Persecution and oppression never motivated anyone involved in what would have to have been a large conspiracy, if there was a body, to betray the cabal and come clean. I would think the likelihood that archeology would ever come upon that body, if it existed, all these years later is next to nothing. Even if a body was found tomorrow would there be some way to positively identify it?

No, if the resurrection of Christ was to be undermined, it would have had to have been undermined in its day, it seems to me. Of course, Christians don't anticipate that body being found, ever, because it doesn't exist, at least not as a corpse or skeletal remains. Jesus is no longer dead: he came back to life and then left for heaven--his body is in use (although elsewhere), alive and well, as we shall soon see upon his return. It's true that one could destroy Christianity by producing that corpse, but that one is much more likely to produce that body by praying a writ of habeas corpus to the heavenly Father, namely, "Maranatha!"

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Never Be Ashamed of God's Testimony

Christianity is predicated upon the belief that a dead guy rose, unaided, from the dead on the third day after buying the farm. That is the most ridiculous, patently absurd, demonstrably false (the dead have never risen unaided, before or since) event ever to have supposedly occurred in history. And yet myself, and every other true Christian who has ever lived believe it to be absolute truth--historically, physically, bodily. I cannot wrap my mind around people buying into this basic fundamental of Christianity, but then balking at some of the surrounding issues or other repercussions of the faith.

For instance: why would someone actually believe in Christ, but then balk at the infallibility and inerrancy of the scriptures? Jesus, the one whom they believe rose from the dead and then ascended to the height of all power, believed the Old Testament lock, stock and barrel. If one is basing their confidence in life and in life hereafter on the more than unlikely occurrence of this credulous guy rising from the dead, why so much as blink at inerrancy? To believe in the former while not believing the latter seems, minimally, inconsistent.

The same can be said concerning creation and evolution. Jesus believed in Adam and Eve and Noah's flood (and for that matter, Jonah's fish)--he cited their occurrences as factual back-up in his public disputations and teachings. How can one embrace the outrageousness of the gospel, but then hedge when it comes to instantaneous creation of kinds and Noah's flood (or any of the supernatural interventions of the Old Testament)? I truly cannot apprehend someone believing in Christ for salvation and simultaneously believing in evolution. It's a case of trying to have one's cake and eat it too.

What motivates those who believe in Christ but hesitate at believing in what Christ believed? Perhaps they bow down at the altar of their own intellects, all too willing to cede authority to human reasoning rather than Jesus' testimony. Maybe they would be embarrassed to believe such things and are unwilling to be thought a fool for Christ. It could be that they are merely ashamed of Christ before men. Regardless, what they need to remember is that Christ's resurrection is true or false with no shades of color in between, and if you're in it for a penny, you're in for a pound.

Come on, pick a side, make up your mind. It's not rocket science that gets anyone to eternal bliss in the hereafter with God, but Christ. You who believe in Christ, stop catering to the unbelieving and to your natural mind. The only good side that anyone needs to be on is the good side of Christ! He who is not with him is against him, so go "all in" for Jesus and stop hedging your bets. Never be ashamed of God's testimony.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Birthday Tale

22 years ago today, my wife woke me at 3 am and said it was time to go to the hospital. Within fifteen minutes our baby sitter was in place and we were on the road to the maternity ward. Not three miles out, just as we were crossing some RR tracks, Wendy screamed, "The baby is here, the baby is here!" 

She was right, so I whipped the car over to the shoulder, ran around to her side, opened the door in got into position just in time to catch my baby daughter popping into the world with all the aplomb and impatience she would display over and over again through the rest of her life. What can I say? The kid's got style. So a "Happy Birthday" to my one and only daughter, Rachel Lyn--I'm sure glad I didn't drop her!