Thursday, December 10, 2015

What John Really Says About Drawing and Election

The Gospel of John is easy to misinterpret, not only because it shares so little with the other gospels, but because it is filled with commentary by Jesus about his reception among the Jews. Jesus certainly had a lot to say about why folks and about which folks were able to recognize him as he walked on the face of earth. If one is not cognizant of contextual cues, things which were only definitely being said about that reception can be applied to the broader context of humans in general throughout time and result in erroneous conclusions.

When one takes what Jesus was saying about his reception among the Jews and mistakenly applies it to humans in general outside that time and place, contradictions arise with other scriptures regarding God's intentions toward humanity in general. For instance, 1 Timothy 2:1-6 and 2 Peter 3:9 seem to be at odds with statements in John if that hermeneutical error is followed. Readily evident readings have to be discarded (really, twisted) in order to align with misreadings of John. Because God was highly selective before the resurrection in who would recognize Christ, associate with him, and form the core of the church after his resurrection does not automatically mean he exercises the same prerogatives after the resurrection and through the age of the church.

I want to reference 3 key places where this problem can be seen and demonstrate a hermeneutical framework that evaporates any issues.

First, John 12:27-33...

This passage is key because it says something explicitly about God's exertion of drawing power upon the post-crucifixion population of planet Earth (see also John 8:28). It is, in fact, different than what was said to exist for the population around Christ before the crucifixion. The member of the Trinity acting changes, as does the scope of the action. This passage must been seen, it seems to me, as the basis for understanding any other statement in John concerning drawing and election to Christ which is being applied to post-resurrection populations.

Second, the last half of John 6...

As he made these statements, was Jesus referring to witnesses of his physical visitation at that time, or was he making a broader statement applicable to all people throughout time? He seemed to speak broadly (vs. 28-58) and specifically (vs. 59-71) with regard to people responding to him within the same pericope, so the question is complicated. The section which clearly refers to specific people at that specific time (i.e. his contemporaneous disciples) is reiterated conceptually in the High-Priestly Prayer in John 17, which serves to focus, I think, Jesus' comments about effectual calling in John 6 upon those who witnessed his earthly ministry. Verse 65, in explaining v. 44, constricts the context to the more specific milieu, and therefore, vs. 44 and 65 can be readily applied to those folks at that time but cannot be applied without the mitigation of John 12 to the post-crucifixion population.

Third, John 8:42-47...

Jesus comments in this section of John were addressed to those that had some sort of belief in him (see v. 31-32), and yet contended with him and were rejected by Christ as children of the devil. They were unable to understand his words, to truly believe in him, and so be saved. I would say that their condition is not out of the ordinary for people pre-crucifixion, but does their example say anything at all about people post-crucifixion? It is an extremely important consideration given Romans 10:8-9. But there is nothing contextually that relates their condition to the human race in general, or to the post-crucifixion population in particular.

When statements in John about being drawn to Christ (which, incidentally, entails enablement to believe acc. 6:44-47) and God electing followers in the pre-crucifixion population shape our understanding about the those subjects in regard to the post-crucifixion population, confusion and contradiction occur. The sad state which is Calvinism is an example of such an occurrence. When our understanding about drawing and election among the post-crucifixion population is informed primarily by the one text that deals with that subject specifically, we find that clarity and harmony between scriptures result.

Since the crucifixion, this should be clear from an accurate reading of the Bible: God is drawing all people to Christ because he genuinely wants everyone to be saved by hearing the word of Christ and responding with faith.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Twenty-four Elders

24 is a significant, symbolic number in the Apocalypse.

It's symbolic content can be understood in terms of two: two covenants and two flocks becoming one in Christ, the Good Shepherd. Twelve is an obviously significant number since there are 12 tribes in Israel and twelve apostles. 24 is merely the whole of twelve times two, and so represents the one people redeemed by Christ out of Israel and the Gentiles. That is clearly a major theme in the Apocalypse, though it leads dispensationalists and non-dispensationalists to vastly different conclusions.

This theme is visited rather dramatically for the last time in chapter 21 as the New Jerusalem which comes down out of heaven to a new earth is described. The eternal home of the saints has twelve foundations and twelve gates. The combination of 12 and 12 in the structure of the New Jerusalem (which is 24, though not explicitly mentioned) is used to encompass the entirety of God's salvivic people, and picks up the theme which streams throughout the Apocalypse. Jew and Gentile who believe in Christ, though distinctive in some ways, form one eternal people of God.

The 24 are elders (presbyters) which means, basically, they are old men who are wise and worthy of respect. I think the use of the generic term, "elders," accentuates their symbolic quality, and yet excludes seeing them as non-human living creatures, or even angels, because those things are specified in the Apocalypse when they are meant. How long they've been there, or how they got there is not mentioned, so it's either unimportant or so obvious it's assumed to be known. Could they represent the sons of Jacob and the twelve apostles?

Although John is viewing and recording the vision, not much of an objection could be raised to the 24 representing the 12 Apostles (Paul substituted for Judas). It's a bit more difficult to see them representing the actual, less than exemplary, sons of Jacob. Throughout biblical history the names of the twelve tribes was always more important than the twelve people that gave those tribes their names, so specification as to person is not so important with the twelve representing Israel, which fits well if this was merely a generic identification. They could represent some exemplary member of each of the associated tribes, but that is not actually necessary if the identification is purely generic.

They are given thrones placed in close conjunction with that of God, which, along with their victory (but not regnal) crowns, implies they are engaged in judgment and administration with him. That jives well with Matthew 19:28, which would tend to verify seeing at least twelve of them as representing Christ's Apostles. If that is the case, then it's hard to avoid the math and see the other twelve as faithful representatives from each of the twelve tribes. They are clothed in white which is always associated with purity or righteousness in the Apocalypse, so, in effect, the 24 elders are clothed in righteousness.

Aside from judgment, the 24 seem occupied with worship. They hold censers and harps. They fall to their knees (the implication of proskuneo), cast their victory crowns at the feet of God, extol the Creator's virtues, and sings songs of praise to God and the Lamb. The force of their worship is to attribute to God the action that accomplishes his salvivic and magisterial aims--God is the actor, everyone else is the benefactor.

We are told explicitly that the incense signifies the prayers of saints. That is not an endorsement for the doctrine of the Intercession of the Saints, but merely represents that the prayers of the saints rise directly before God. The elders, though themselves men and therefore representative in some fashion of all believing humans, are not the makers nor mediators of the prayers (interceders), but, really, only witnesses of such. The harps, in very similar fashion, signify the praise of those same saints.

So the prayer and praise of the saints rises to the throne of God, symbolically carried by those representative of all who follow. As they are before God in prayer and praise, symbols in the heavens, so are those they represent also before God as they praise and pray on earth.