Saturday, June 28, 2014

A Letter to the Satisfied Church, Part II

Continuing our look at the Letter to the Church in Laodicea...

What did Jesus mean by calling himself the beginning of God's creation? The Koine word arche  could refer to a preeminence in time (i.e. "beginning" as in many English translations) or preeminence in rank (i.e. "ruler" as in the NIV). Though "the Beginning" is an important titular designation for Christ in the Revelation, when it is used as such, it is always coupled with "the end", and within the immediate context of the letters the parallel designation, "first and last", is used (on a related note, see this). Given these considerations, and the fact that Christ's authority is the general theme of all his introductions in the letters, I think that "ruler" is the preferred sense in which the word is used here as is attested by the choice of NIV translators.

What I think is undoubtedly not  meant by the use of arche is that Christ was the first creation of God as heretical movements past and present have asserted (e.g. Arianism, Jehovah's Witnesses). Even if it may be that the Son is "eternally generated", he is not created--he is, in fact, part of the nature of the Godhead. God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, which is what he always was and will be always what he is. There is distinctiveness within the Godhead, but always unity as well, and even though there is no way to tell the divinity of one member apart from the other two, it is always possible to tell their personhood apart.

Despite my earlier statements, there was at least one use for lukewarm water commonly held in the day of John the Revelator. Even today, particularly in home remedies, tepid water can be used as an emetic in conjunction with salt or mustard or a finger to the back of the throat. So it was particularly fitting that Jesus threatened to spew the Laodiceans out of his mouth. When we consider that the word translated spew doesn't mean merely to spit, but instead to vomit, we see the clarity and fittingness with which Christ expressed his disapproval of these folks for their indifference.

"Be zealous and repent" was the response Jesus called for to his rebuke. The word translated zealous (zeleue) means to boil with fervent passion, as in jealousy or desire. That, of course, plays upon his earlier statement that the Laodiceans were neither hot (zestos) nor cold. The issue there was not their temperature but their usefulness: cold water was useful for refreshment, hot water for baths and washing, lukewarm water was good for nothing (except a purgative). In this rebuke Jesus tossed aside the idea of refreshing (cold water) because the Laodiceans did not need refreshment--they needed to be passionate in action (heat).

If there ever was an antithesis to Jesus' key authority"Behold I stand at the door and knock," would be it! Despite the use of this text in evangelistic tracts and presentations, this text actually has nothing to do with evangelism (an appeal to the unsaved) because it was written to the church. Nonetheless, it does fly in the face of both the concepts of irresistible grace and the perseverance of the saints. After all, Jesus isn't just unlocking the door because he's made an election by predetermination, but he's making an honest invitation for which the implication is that it could be accepted or it could be turned down. 

Those who open that door get to dine with Christ, and those repentant souls who overcome get sit down with Christ on his throne. Truly, his rebukes, even if seemingly harsh, come from love.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Three Horns Popping Up?

Events this past week in the Middle East are interesting to say the least. I have mentioned the entanglements of Turkey in the Syrian situation before, but now Iraq joins the equation. If this escalates to the point that Turkey sends troops into Iraq through Syria, we could be watching the three horns prophecy being fulfilled before our eyes.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Sign of the End

What could possibly signal the end of the world? The only clearly discernible sign that Jesus gave his disciples was the Abomination spoken of by Daniel. Earthquakes, famines, wars, and even the fulfillment of the Great Commission are all signs Jesus cited, but they all lack the precision of Daniel's sign. When an event which occurs repetitively in a series, or is the accumulation of a running total, how can we know if any particular occurrence or addition was the last one without some telling detail?

For instance, what marks the conclusion of the Great Commission? Is it possible to discern when the last one who needs to be reached in order for it to be completed has been reached? The Abomination of Desolation, in contrast, is well defined, and even though occurring twice, is distinctive enough not to be confused between one occurrence and the other. Though it has already been modeled for us, as it was for Christ, by Antiochus Epiphanes, there will be no way to miss its ultimate fulfillment in the days of the Antichrist.

The description of this event, as recorded in Daniel 11, starts with the advent of Antiochus Epiphanes at verse 21, but ends with the actions of the Antichrist starting with verse 36 and moving into chapter 12. In effect, the actual, specific occurrence of the Abomination of Desolation (v. 31) is the fulcrum of a prophetic teeter-totter. On one end is the antetype, Antiochus Epiphanes, and how he relates to the prophecy. On the other end, is the antitype, the Antichrist and how he relates to the prophecy, and the middle references both of their involvements.

It's almost as if Daniel 11 was a preview trailer tracking at normal historical speed until the fulcrum was reached. At that point the reel was fast-forwarded until the time of its secondary and ultimate fulfillment occurred, then normal speed resumed. If that sounds a bit stretched to you, I understand your reticence. However, Jesus said there was still life in the prophecy, despite being fully familiar with the history of Antiochus, the Maccabees, and the battles between the Ptolemies and Seleucids. It seems to me, to understand something of this nature one has to invoke the concept of dual fulfillment.

John, the Revelator, saw the same event from the isle of Patmos millenia before its ultimate fulfillment. Strangely enough, even his insight was presaged by antetype within the Book of Daniel. God must have wanted to get the point across unmistakably to repeat it so many times from so many different vantage points. No wonder when asked what would be the sign of the end, Jesus said this would be it, and yet we still seem, by and large, to be in the dark about what definitively signals the end.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Israel Proves Who God Is

I find Israel absolutely amazing: not the geographical location (I've never been there and have never wanted to go), but the people. It's not that their customs or their cooking are interesting to me in the least, but I find the bare fact of their existence just astonishing! Just by surviving, thriving, and eventually arriving back in their homeland, Israel has proved itself the most unusual of nations. That they are not relegated to the realm of myth and fable is mindboggling.

Let's review what they've been through: there has been seven attempts by world powers to annihilate, dispossess or exterminate this people throughout human history. These were not attempts by nasty tribal neighbors (as in the book of Judges or as in pogroms in the Diaspora), but by cream-of-the-crop, world-class empires, amongst the mightiest of their day. Yet, despite slavery, murder, pillage, rape, deportation, dispersion, and attempts at assimilation by the strongest in the heavy weight division, Israel survived as a people. A notable feat on its own, certainly, but Israel transcended mere survival and returned to their homeland as a nation after thousands of years away.

Imagine the U.S. or any nation surviving such a history. Despite Paul Revere and the Raiders' sentiment in song, there's no way I could see the Cherokee Nation returning even after one such brush with genocide and ethnic cleansing. Why did Israel come back from the dead seven times? Well apart from numerological concerns, the answer, the only answer is divine intervention.

Nature points, it seems to me, to the existence of a Creator. Given its remarkable history, Israel has to be a sign of who that Creator is. If we're at all perceptive, we'd have to see that the Creator is not the god(s) of the Hindus, the Buddhists, the animists, the pagans, and certainly not the Muslims, but the God of Israel. For Israel itself is a sign from God that proves that Yahweh, the God of Israel, is God, and that he is God alone.