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Objections to Classic Theology: God Is Immutable

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J. Feinberg writes in the introduction to his book, No One Like Him:

But even if all the propositions of a systematic theology are true, that theology would still not be equivalent to biblical revelation! It is still a human conceptualization of God and his relation to the world… But human intellect is finite, and hence there is always room for revision of systematic theology as knowledge increases.[1]

With this premise in mind, I propose to begin a series of posts entitled, Objections to Classic Theology. The purpose of such posts will be two bring out points of disagreements that I perceive within classical theology in the hopes of stimulating discussion. Consequently, I implore all who read these posts to feel free to leave their disagreements with my view in the reply with the expectation that we will have a respectful dialogue. Furthermore, I will not necessarily be publishing these posts in sequential order but as I randomly consider different aspects of classical theology. So, without further ado, let us delve into my first objection:

God is Immutable!

W. Grudem defines the immutability of God as “that perfection of God by which He is devoid of all change, not only in His Being, but also in his perfection and in his purposes and promises… and is free from all accession or diminution and from all growth and decay in His Being or perfections.”[2]

Therefore, immutability is negation of any change in God’s essential being or necessary attributes. God cannot change. This seems to line up with scripture which says God cannot lie (Num 23:19); neither does he shift like sand (Jms 1:17). However, such a view does not completely line up with totality of scripture. In fact, it is an error of logic to say that it does.

First, however, I must lay out one brief presupposition: Scripture is inerrant. My entire argument is based on that one premise. So, if you do not believe in the inerrancy of scripture we can have that discussion another time; but for the present discussion indulge me. Do so, if for no other reason than the majority of those who have taught the immutability of God have done so from the premise of scriptural inerrancy.

 

My argument is as follows:

  1. God is Spirit (Jn 4:24).
  2. The Word is God (Jn 1:1)
  3. The Word is Spirit (Jn 1:1)
  4. Jesus is the Word (entire Gospel of John)
  5. Jesus was raised to a physical bodily resurrection (Lk 24:39)
  6. Jesus is still God, so God changed from Spirit to physicality.

Therefore, God cannot be immutable.

The immutability of God cannot be upheld by the truth of the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus. Even if one holds to the kenosis of Jesus and the creeds assertion of two natures joined into one without mixture to form the GOD-MAN. Jesus would have had to have been the GOD-MAN from all of eternity past. This is simply not what the Bible teaches. The Bible teaches that at ordained period within human history, God broke in and took on flesh in the person of Jesus, who then was the GOD-MAN. This is simply an error of logic.

Nor can one say that Jesus was speaking metaphorically about God being Spirit. As G. Lewis points out concerning John 4:24, “Although some theologies consider “spirit” an attribute, grammatically in Jesus’ statement it is a substantive.”[3] In other words, spirit is the substance (or essential stuff) of God. If the essential stuff of God changes then He cannot be immutable according to the definition of immutability. God has changed within his being. God cannot be immutable.

 

Feinberg, J.S. and H.O.J. Brown. No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God. Crossway, 2006.

 

Grudem, W.A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Zondervan, 2009.

 

Lewis, G. R. God, Attributes Of. Second ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001.

 

 

[1] J.S. Feinberg and H.O.J. Brown, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God (Crossway, 2006), xxi.

[2] W.A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Zondervan, 2009), 267.

[3] G. R. Lewis, God, Attributes Of, Second ed., Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 492.

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Royal Escort: Deficiencies in Darby’s Secret Rapture Doctrine

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Introduction

Left Behind is a series of books written by Tim LaHaye and Jim Jenkins which deals with the Christian doctrine of the rapture. This account of faithful Christians simply disappearing shortly before the collapse of human civilization and the impending second coming of Christ is a work of complete fiction along the lines of Dan Brown’s DaVinci’s Code. However, the theological foundation, upon which the series’ concept rest, is indeed one of serious scholarly consideration. Furthermore, this concept is not limited to merely fringe groups and denominations within Christian fundamentalism but has spread into the culture at large. After examining the readership of the Left Behind series, Amy Johnson Frykholm notes that the rapture and dispensational theology which the series is based upon “must be understood as a fluid part of the broader culture, not as the realm of isolated believers.”[1]

Since the doctrine has permeated such a large part of both Christian and popular culture,[2] it is important for the lay-Christian and scholar alike to understand exactly what the doctrine is; whether or not it is biblical; and if so what does the Bible say about it. These are the questions I will attempt to answer by examining the history of the doctrine, the most prevalent of the three views of the doctrine and the biblical basis of the doctrine. Additionally, I will attempt to show that although a concept of the rapture may indeed be Biblical, the popular teaching and presentation of the doctrine as sort of escapism from the corrupt material world is not accurate based upon the witness of the early church fathers and biblical exegesis.

A Survey of the Doctrine of the Rapture

What Is the Rapture?

The term “rapture” is a designation by premillennialists to the talk about the event in which the church will be united with Christ at his second coming.[3] The term comes from the Latin, rapio, meaning to “snatch up.” The major Biblical passage from which this teaching emerges is found in I Thessalonians 4:15-17 which states,

Let me explain. (This is the word of the Lord I’m speaking to you!) We who are alive, who remain until the Lord is present, will not find ourselves ahead of those who fell asleep. The Lord himself will come down from heaven with a shouted order, with the voice of an archangel and the sound of God’s trumpet. The Messiah’s dead will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, will be snatched up with them among the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. And in this way we shall always be with the Lord.[4]

From the interpretation of this verse, the popular teaching of the rapture is depicted through the image of the sudden disappearance of Christians from the perspective of non-Christians; leaving non-Christians left behind to deal with the aftermath. The only real point of contention with this presentation and interpretation deals with the relationship of this “disappearing event” and the tribulation which is believed to occur at the end of the age prior to the second coming of Christ. Pretribulationlists believe the rapture is to occur before the seven-year tribulation. Mid-tribulationalists believe this event to occur after the rise of the antichrist, but before the judgements that pave the way for Christ’s return. Post-tribulationist teach that church will leave with Christ after the seven-year period. In all three views, the rapture is the escaping of the Church from the corrupt physical realm to the spiritual realm of bliss for all eternity known as Heaven. However, it is important to note as Arthur B. Whiting does, that Paul’s focus is not in the direction or the final location of the “snatching away” but rather that the church will be in the presence of Christ.[5]

The Origins of the Doctrine

Despite attempts to demonstrate otherwise, the modern presentation of the doctrine of the rapture is a relatively new concept. It isn’t until the nineteenth century, that the doctrine of the rapture becomes influential within the world of Christian thought and teaching. This is largely due to the contribution of John Nelson Darby and his pretribulation “secret rapture” teaching.

However, since it’s proposal, Darby’s teaching of the rapture has been broiled in controversy. However, many modern scholars have begun to question its validity. As Michael J. Svigel observes, “The perception among interested exegetes and theologians appears to be that rapture theology rests not on verifiable exegesis but on inferences drawn from ambiguous biblical passages and on peculiar dispensational presuppositions.”[6] In response to this, Svigel argues that Darby’s interpretation of the passage in first 1 Thessalonians 4 rests upon his exegesis of Revelations 12:1-6 as well as other passages.[7] He concludes,

In sum, four elements came together for Darby to construct his Pretribulation rapture teaching. The first was a consistent futurist interpretation of the book of Revelation. Second, he held to a strong doctrine of the mystical union between Christ and the church, found stunningly exemplified in the vision of the male child in Rev 12:5. The third element was an openness to distinguishing OT Israel from the NT Church, found envisioned in the woman (Israel) giving birth to the male child (the church) —two distinct entities with separate, but intertwined, destinies both past and future. The fourth element necessary to exegetically construct toe pretribulation rapture view was a literal understanding of the chronological indicators in Rev 11-13.[8]

Three Views of the Rapture

Pretribulation View

The pretribulation view of the rapture is the one adhered to buy most of mainstream Christianity. This view holds that the church will be “snatched up” to Heaven before the seven years of tribulation supposedly described in the biblical books of Daniel[9] and Revelations. Clouse notes the spreading of this view through the mainstream scholarship from its origins by John Darby in the nineteenth century.[10] There are several features which are key to this view.

The foremostfeature of the pretribulation view is that of immanency. Holders of this view believe that the rapture is immanent, in so far as there are no prerequisite events which need to occur before the rapture, itself. It can and will occur without warning or notice.[11] The notion of immanency is seen to be evidenced by the repeated biblical refrain of “no one knows the day or the hour.”[12] These words, spoken by Jesus, can be found in three key scriptures. These scriptures are themselves responses to questions asked by Jesus’ disciples on aspects of his teaching. Pretribulationists assert that these questions are referring to the last days, a known point of Jewish emphasis.

The second key feature is the two-stage return of Jesus. The two stages being the coming to “snatch away” the church before seven-year tribulation; the second stage being the coming for the millennial reign. The church, it is believed, will escape the entirety of the tribulation.This feature is a result of the other key features of the view, namely, the literal interpretation of Revelations and Daniel’s prophecies concerning the tribulation and the millennial reign of Christ. Pretribulationalism is the almost uncontested view of those who hold to dispensationalism.[13]

Midtribulation View

 The Midtribulation is very similar to the pretribulation. Both views take a literal view of the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation. Both view see the second coming of Christ as two-stage process. The main difference is that proponents of this view move the timing of the first stage to about halfway through the seven-year tribulation. This means that the Church will experience the beginning of the tribulation but escape the last three and half years of the tribulation.

The proponents of the midtribulation have three main points of disagreements with pretribulationist. First, they disagree with the secret nature of the rapture, the revival to be experienced during the tribulation, and the repeated mention of three and half years in both the books of Daniel and Revelation.[14] These they argue are scriptural inaccuracy which require a reworking of the pretribulationalist’s view. The major critique against this view is that there is very little direct Biblical support.

Posttribulation View

The final view of posttribulation rapture will not be discussed much in this paper, however it is beneficial to briefly note it. This view came out of the direct response to the problems of the two-stage coming of Christ. The major objection of those who champion this view are the various scriptures which suggest that the rapture will be and subsequently the second coming of Christ will be very public and visible. Additionally, there is a lot of flexibility within this line of thought. Clouse notes there are at least four schools of interpretation that are recognized by scholars within this view.[15]

 

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The Rapture and the Resurrection of the Dead

One of the major problems with the modern presentation of the rapture within evangelical circles is its relationship to another central Christian doctrine, namely, the bodily resurrection of the dead. Michael Williams highlights the issue when he writes, “When we understand the future via the rapture doctrine, we must say that the ultimate purpose of redemption is to take Christians to heaven.”[16] It argues against the idea of a physical, bodily resurrection by suggesting that the “good” of creation declared by God in Genesis 1 has become corrupted to the point that it is now worthless and needs to be escaped. This is made clear from the escapist teaching that heaven is the final goal and destination of the redeemed.

However, the Apostle Paul, seems to be squarely against this idea when writes to the Roman Church, “Creation, you see, was subjected to pointless futility, not of its own volition, but because of the one who placed it in this subjection, in the hope that creation itself would be freed from its slavery to decay, to enjoy the freedom that comes when God’s children are glorified” (Rom 8:20-21). Therefore, according to Paul, the present physical creation which is corrupt will be redeemed. This would seem to indicate then, that our own redemption will include our own physical nature. Indeed, Jesus, speaking of his own resurrection, said to his disciples, ““Why are you so disturbed?” he said. “Why do these questionings come up in your hearts? Look at my hands and feet; it really is me, myself. Touch me and see! Ghosts don’t have flesh and bones like you can see I have” (Lk 24:38-39). Furthermore, the Apostle John writes, “Beloved ones, we are now, already, God’s children; it hasn’t yet been revealed what we are going to be. We know that when he is revealed we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn 3:2). In other words, if Jesus’s resurrection was some sort of physical bodily resurrection then ours will be also. If our redemption is physical and the physical cosmos is to be redeemed as Paul claims, then it seems that the escapism that the modern presentation of the rapture teaches seems to be in error because the corrupt created universe will once again become a “good” creation.

This brings up a very important question: What about the scriptures that seem to indicate that people go to heaven when they die such as Jesus’ statement to the brigand on the cross (Lk 23:43). In his book on the resurrection, noted scholar, N. T. Wright argues for a two-stage post-mortem resurrection.[17] He argues that Jesus and the brigand did go to heaven. Jesus returns to Earth in his new physical body, while the brigand awaits his physical body at the second coming of Christ.[18] Wright suggests that when people die they go to Heaven and await Jesus second coming. It is only at the second coming that the believers receive their resurrection bodies.[19] This then would lend support to the “good” creation argument previously expounded as well as deny Heaven as the final destination. As Wright is fond of saying, “Heaven is important, but not the end of the world.”[20]

 The Witness of the Early Fathers

 As previously stated, the doctrine of the rapture is a relatively new idea. It isn’t until the Darby’s “secret rapture” teaching of the nineteenth century that any great consideration was given. As Clouse notes, “It is obvious that throughout most of the history of the church those that taught premillennialism did not have such a detailed interpretation of the endtimes.”[21] However, despite this lack of endtime interpretations, there are still clues as to what the early church fathers were thinking concerning the second coming and the events which surround it.

One such clue is to be found in the writing of Tertullian. He states,

He teaches them that they must “not sorrow concerning them that are asleep,” and at the same time explains to them the times of the resurrection, saying, For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus shall God bring with Him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of our Lord, shall not prevent them that are asleep. For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we be ever with the Lord.”[22]

Tertullian does not seem to think of the second-coming of Christ as two stage process. In the passage quoted above, the church father implies that the resurrection and the being caught up in the air happen simultaneously with Christ’s return to Earth with the saints. In other words, for Tertullian there is not one coming in which Christ gathers the saints to escape and another in which Christ returns to Earth accompanied by the saints. There is simply one second coming in which the saints meet Christ in the air and accompany him to Earth.

Another such clue is given by Cyprian. On first glance it appears that Cyprian advocates an escapist reality of the rapture. Cyprian is, in reality, dealing with his present situation of Roman persecution. He writes,

We who see that terrible things have begun, and know that still more terrible things are imminent, may regard it as the greatest advantage to depart from it as quickly as possible. Do you not give God thanks, do you not congratulate yourself, that by an early departure you are taken away, and delivered from the shipwrecks and disasters that are imminent? Let us greet the day which assigns each of us to his own home, which snatches us hence, and sets us free from the snares of the world and restores us to paradise and the kingdom.[23]

In the last line of the quoted passage Cyprian speaks of a restoration. Certainly, he knows that believers will be “snatched up” as Paul describes. However, his point is not that Christians are snatched away to escape a corrupt physical cosmos, but rather that they are saved from intense persecution. When this salvation occurs, according to Cyprian, the kingdom and paradise of the Garden will be restored. This does not speak of two-stage coming, rather it speaks of a single event. At Christ coming, the paradise and the kingdom of God will be consummated in a very real and physical sense.

 Biblical Exegesis

The crux of any theological proposition must be that it is supported by scriptural evidence. Does the scriptural evidence support the idea? Svigel argues that Darby’s exegetical treatment, which was the basis of his argument, of Revelations 12:5 and in conjunction with Daniel 7, Revelation 3 and 1 Thessalonians 4 certainly do.[24] However, there are several problems with Darby’s exegesis which need to be addressed.

Parousia

1 Thessalonians 4:16 states, “The Lord himself will come down from heaven with a shouted order, with the voice of an archangel and the sound of God’s trumpet.” The Greek word for “come” is Parousia. Parousia has the meaning of a visit by a royal dignitary.[25] This means that Paul’s intention was not to speak of some escapism from the world, but talk about the escorting of the true king into his sovereignty. St. John Chrysostom confirms this, writing,

If He is about to descend, on what account shall we be caught up? For the sake of honor. For when a king drives into a city, those who are in honor go out to meet him; but the condemned await the judge within. And upon the coming of an affectionate father, his children indeed, and those who are worthy to be his children, are taken out in a chariot, that they may see and kiss him; but those of the domestics who have offended remain within. We are carried upon the chariot of our Father. For He received Him up in the clouds, and we shall be caught up in the clouds. Acts 1:9 Do you see how great is the honor? And as He descends, we go forth to meet Him, and, what is more blessed than all, so we shall be with Him.[26]

This presents serious problems for Darby’s two-stage advent. Chrysostom is saying that the purpose of the “snatching up” is not to escape the tribulation and then return with Christ at some later time, but rather to escort Christ to his sovereign land.

Revelations 3 and 12

The key component to Darby’s “secret rapture” interpretation of scripture is the immanency of the “snatching away.” This comes primarily from the interpretation of Revelations 3:3 which states, “So remember how you received the message, how you heard it and kept it—and repent! So if you don’t keep awake, I will come like a thief, and you won’t know what time I’m coming to you.” Darby and others point to the phrase “like a thief” as support for their immanent rapture. However, this completely ignores the point that the scripture is making by it’s inherent caveat. The church at Sardis is told to repent, then the warning is issued. The implications are if you are not focused on Christ, then he will come unexpectedly. The unexpectedness is for those not focused on Christ; not believers.

This brings the discussion to Revelations 12:5. This is the Crux of Darby’s argument. It is his corporate understanding of the image of the child who is snatched away in this verse. As Svigel explains that Darby understands the verse as the “vision of the woman in heaven refers to the positional reality of the church, whose subject is Jesus Christ, while the later actions of being pursued and fleeing refer to the actual historical experiences of God’s people.”[27] Darby even has support in this view from Methodius in the fourth century[28]

This does not seem to take into account the historical context from which John’s audience would have understood the image. Radamacher et al, understand this verse to be an echo of Psalm 2:9 and therefore the snatching away as they ascension of Christ.[29] This seems to be more in line with historical context. Commenting on this verse, Keener writes,

Virgil and other Roman also extolled the birth of a divine boy who would bring deliverance to the world, glorifying the first emperor, Augustine…In the various forms of the Greco-Roman and Near Eastern myth, the divine child was sheltered until he returned to slay the dragon. Here he is kept at God’s side until he comes to destroy the dragon. In the light of Psalm 2:6-9, Isaiah 9-6-7, and Micah 5:3, the “birth” probably indicates Jesus death, resurrection and messianic enthronement, not his literal birth.[30]

The first century audience to who John was writing would have understood this to represent Jesus. They simply would not have applied it to the corporate church as Darby and his later followers had. This again presents a huge problem as it is this passage which allows Darby to place the timing of the “Secret Rapture” as pretribulation.

Matthew 24

Darby’s whole idea of a “secret rapture” hinges on the idea that certain passages within the Gospel accounts are meant for the church and others for the Jews. It has as its foundation the theology of dispensationalism. Darby argues that Matthew 24 is not intended for Christians, rather it is solely addressed to the Jews. In this manner, Darby dismisses passages such as Matthew 24:29-34 which seeming contradict his immanency and secret rapture theories.

However, Brock Bingaman highlights four deficiencies within the concept of dispensationalism. First, it sees scripture as compilation of facts rather than a narrative moving towards a specific conclusion.[31] Wright supports this view insisting that we have misunderstood the Gospel as compilation of facts rather than a narrative and thereby diminished the significance of the resurrection.[32] The second deficiency given by Bingaman is that it is hermeneutically faulty by committing too strongly to literalism. Third, he suggests that by seeing scripture as a compilation of facts, the interpreter does not give proper emphasis to the historical context. Two examples of this is Paul’s reference to the last trump and Jesus’s “no man knows the hour” references. These are probably references to the Jewish festival of Rosh Hashanah. This feast is determined by the new moon which in biblical times meant no one knew when it would come. Furthermore, it was celebrated by blowing trumpets and the last blast was known as the last trump.[33] Finally, he states it is deficient in their approach to central tenets and particular texts which are must be imposed upon the text itself.[34]

Conclusion

In sum, the rapture has it has been presented by Darby and most of main stream evangelicalism is simply deficient. The exegesis used to support the claim simply does not pass muster once a close examination of the relevant passages has been completed. Additionally, the underlying dispensational theology which underlies the doctrine is also deficient in several areas. As Benjamin Willis Newton, a contemporary of Darby, pointed out, if one were to accept the Darby’s teaching on the rapture that person would also have to accept that many of the Gospel passages as “not rightfully ours.”[35] This means that many of the promises of hope that Christians cling to do not rightfully apply to us either.

This dilemma begs the question that was asked at the beginning; is the rapture a biblical concept or not? The answer: It certainly is if one means that at the second advent of Christ the church will be “snatched up” to meet Jesus somewhere in the physical atmosphere and escort the King of Kings back to the Earth. However, if you mean the secret rapture of Darby’s imagination then the answer is unequivocally no. Jesus and Paul’s use of Jewish metaphors simply does not allow for the dispensationalism that Darby and others have expressed. There is simply too many deficiencies within the doctrine to conclude that the modern expression of the rapture is biblically valid.

Bibliography

 

“General Faq.” Tyndale House Publisher. Last modified 2008. Accessed May 11th, 2018. http://leftbehind.com/06_help_and_info/faq_general.asp.

The Sacred Writings of Saint Methodius (Annotated Edition). Jazzybee Verlag, 2012.

Allen, Joel. “Yom Teruah the Feast of Trumpets Bible Teaching.” Messianic Family Fellowship. Last modified 2015. Accessed May 1, 2018. http://messianicfamilyfellowship.com/yom-teruah-the-feast-of-trumpets-bible-teaching/.

Bingaman, Brock. “Learning from Left Behind?: A Call for Coherent Accounts of Scripture.” Anglican Theological Review 91, no. 2 (Spr 2009): 255-72. http://www.anglicantheologicalreview.org/

Brindle, Wayne A. “Biblical Evidence for the Imminence of the Rapture.” Bibliotheca sacra 158, no. 630 (2001): 138-51. http://www.dts.edu/.

Chrysostom, St. John. “Homily 8 on First Thessalonians.” Last modified Accessed April 30, 2018. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/230408.htm.

Clouse, R.G. Rapture of the Church. Second ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001.

Frykholm, Amy Johnson. Rapture Culture: Left Behind in Evangelical America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Keener, C.S. and InterVarsity Press. The Ivp Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. InterVarsity Press, 1993.

Newton, B.W. and S.P. Tregelles. Five Letters on Events Predicted in Scripture as Antecedent to the Coming of the Lord: With Preface By … S.P. Tregelles. Houlston and Sons, 1877.

Publishers, Hendrickson. The Holy Bible: King James Version. Hendrickson Publishers, 2004.

Radmacher, D., R.B. Allen, and H.W. House. Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary: Spreading the Light of God’s Word into Your Life. Thomas Nelson, 1999.

Schaff, P. Anf05. Fathers of the Third Century: Hippolytus, Cyprian, Caius, Novatian, Appendix. Ccel.

Schaff, P., A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, and A. Coxe. Ante-Nicene Fathers: Volume 3: Latin Christianity – Its Founder, Tertullian. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2018.

Svigel, Michael J. “‘What Child Is This?’: Darby’s Early Exegetical Argument for the Pretribulation Rapture of the Church.” Trinity Journal 35, no. 2 (Fall 2014): 225-51. http://trinj.com/

Whiting, Arthur B. “The Rapture of the Church.” Bibliotheca sacra 102, no. 407 (1945): 360-72. http://www.dts.edu/

Williams, Michael D. “Rapture of Resurrection.” Presbyterion 24, no. 1 (Spr 1998): 9-37. http://www.covenantseminary.edu/

Wright, N. T., “How God Became King: Why We’ve All Misunderstood the Gospels.” January Series, Calvin College, 2012.

Wright, N. T., “Cruciformed: Living in the Light of the Jesus Story.” Pepperdine Bible Lectures, Malibu, California, 2016.

Wright, N.T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Fortress Press, 2003.

Wright, N.T. Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. HarperCollins, 2008.

Wright, N.T. The Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation. HarperCollins, 2011.

 

 

[1] Amy Johnson Frykholm, Rapture Culture: Left Behind in Evangelical America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 4.

[2] According to the official website, Left Behind has sold over 63 million and the first book has been turned into a major motion picture staring Nicolas Cage. “General Faq,” Tyndale House Publisher, accessed May 11th, 2018. http://leftbehind.com/06_help_and_info/faq_general.asp.

[3] R.G. Clouse, Rapture of the Church, Second ed., Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001).

[4] Unless otherwise noted, all New Testament scripture references are N.T. Wright, The Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation (HarperCollins, 2011).

[5] Arthur B. Whiting, “The Rapture of the Church,” Bibliotheca sacra 102, no. 407 (1945): 370-72, http://www.dts.edu/

[6] Michael J. Svigel, “‘What Child Is This?’: Darby’s Early Exegetical Argument for the Pretribulation Rapture of the Church,” Trinity Journal 35, no. 2 (Fall 2014): 226, http://trinj.com/

[7] Ibid., 234.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Unless otherwise noted, all Old Testament scripture references are Hendrickson Publishers, The Holy Bible: King James Version (Hendrickson Publishers, 2004).

[10] Clouse.

[11] Wayne A. Brindle, “Biblical Evidence for the Imminence of the Rapture,” Bibliotheca sacra 158, no. 630 (2001): 138, http://www.dts.edu/.

[12] Whiting,  497.

[13] Clouse.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Michael D. Williams, “Rapture of Resurrection,” Presbyterion 24, no. 1 (Spr 1998): 11, http://www.covenantseminary.edu/

[17] N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Fortress Press, 2003).

[18] Ibid.

[19] N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (HarperCollins, 2008).

[20] N. T. Wright, “Cruciformed: Living in the Light of the Jesus Story” (paper presented at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures, Malibu, California2016).

[21] Clouse.

[22] P. Schaff et al., Ante-Nicene Fathers: Volume 3: Latin Christianity – Its Founder, Tertullian (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2018).

[23] P. Schaff, Anf05. Fathers of the Third Century: Hippolytus, Cyprian, Caius, Novatian, Appendix (Ccel).

[24] Svigel.

[25] Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, 128.

[26] St. John Chrysostom, “Homily 8 on First Thessalonians,” accessed April 30, 2018. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/230408.htm.

[27]Svigel,  237.

[28] The Sacred Writings of Saint Methodius (Annotated Edition) (Jazzybee Verlag, 2012).

[29] D. Radmacher, R.B. Allen, and H.W. House, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary: Spreading the Light of God’s Word into Your Life (Thomas Nelson, 1999), 1751.

[30] C.S. Keener and InterVarsity Press, The Ivp Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (InterVarsity Press, 1993).

[31] Brock Bingaman, “Learning from Left Behind?: A Call for Coherent Accounts of Scripture,” Anglican Theological Review 91, no. 2 (Spr 2009): 264, http://www.anglicantheologicalreview.org/

[32] N. T. Wright, “How God Became King: Why We’ve All Misunderstood the Gospels” (paper presented at the January Series, Calvin College2012).

[33] Joel Allen, “Yom Teruah the Feast of Trumpets Bible Teaching,” Messianic Family Fellowship, accessed May 1, 2018. http://messianicfamilyfellowship.com/yom-teruah-the-feast-of-trumpets-bible-teaching/.

[34] Bingaman,  264-65.

[35] B.W. Newton and S.P. Tregelles, Five Letters on Events Predicted in Scripture as Antecedent to the Coming of the Lord: With Preface By … S.P. Tregelles (Houlston and Sons, 1877), 73.

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A Theology of Mission

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Introduction

 

Global mission is central to the Christian worldview. Since the Garden of Eden, mission has been a part of the plans and purposes of God. However, the theology of mission has been skewed within the Western Church by the Platonian split level view of Heaven and Earth. In this view Heaven has been seen as another realm in another reality and has had led two dire consequences in terms of church mission. On the one hand, it has transformed missions into merely a “soul-harvesting” endeavor. The purpose of which seems to be to collect as many souls as possible before the second advent of Christ. On the hand, it has made missions irrelevant since we are all escaping this Earth at the supposed rapture. In this view, Christianity needs to be nothing more than individual experience.

Neither of these views of express the Biblical theology of missions. Indeed, Jesus’s earthly ministry and his subsequent death and resurrection.denounce such a view. As the source and prototype for the “new creation,” Jesus insists that missions are to be the Spirit empowered work of reclaiming the cosmos for God’s kingdom by the reclaimed image bearing creatures known as human beings.[1] If this is then the Biblical purpose of mission, it is incumbent upon the people of God to announce the good news that Jesus has been inaugurated as king of the whole created order (both Heaven and Earth) and that God’s future kingdom has burst in upon the present by installing wise,  divine-image bearing stewards to reclaim the entire space, time and matter universe. This, as will be discussed, is the unanimous cry of both the Old and New Testaments. This cry has a profound impact of the theology and the life of the Christian believer. But first, the cry must be heard; so, it is to the scriptural witness the discussion will now turn.

Scriptural Witness

The sheer number of scriptural passages which deal with the theology of mission is too vast deal with in a paper such as this. As a result, only selected passages will be chosen, however these selected passages ought to be sufficient enough to demonstrate the continuity of the purpose of mission throughout the entirety of scripture. They will include selections from both Testaments with the purpose of developing the Biblical narrative of the plans and purposes of God and how the theology of missions fits within those purposes. As with any theological study of scripture, it wise to begin with Jesus as your starting point. Therefore, it is now to the book of Acts, and the ascension scene this paper will now turn.

 

An Unexpected Answer

 

In the first chapter of the sequel to his Gospel account, Luke records the following exchange between the resurrected Jesus and his disciples:

So when the apostles came together, they put this question to Jesus. “Master,” they said, “is this the time when you are going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” “It’s not your business to know about times and dates,” he replied. “The father has placed all that under his own direct authority. What will happen, though, is that you will receive power when the holy spirit comes upon you. Then you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judaea and Samaria, and to the very ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:6-8).[2]

There is very little doubt that this passage contains a command of mission from Jesus. There is even a mission strategy built into his response. The disciples mission was to begin in Jerusalem so that as a major cultural hub, the message would then spread to the surrounding areas and eventually the entire known world. However, whether mission is a requirement, as a follower of Jesus or not, is not the question posed by this passage. The actual question is: Was Jesus’s response to the disciples question a positive or negative one?

Many scholars take the view that Jesus’s response is a rebuke towards asking the question. Ajith Fernando, commenting on this passage, sums up this interpretation:

The question that the disciples asked about the time of restoring the kingdom of Israel elicits two explicit rebukes from Christ (vv. 6-8): about eschatological inquisitiveness and about parochialism. Despite his earlier statements about the time of end time events, they still ask him about it. And when Jesus is thinking about the “kingdom of God” (v. 3) and “the ends of the earth” (v.8), they are thinking of their own nation.[3]

While this negative response is common among interpreters and commentators, it simply will not suffice as it does not take into proper account of how the disciples would have heard Jesus’s words. Since Acts is a sequel to Luke’s gospel, it is helpful to look back at what is recorded there. Luke writes the words of Jesus to his disciples shortly after his resurrection, “This is what I was talking to you about when I was still with you. Everything written about me in the law of Moses, and in the prophets and the Psalms, had to be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Bible.” (Lk 24:44-45). The Old Testament narrative is clear that the nation of Israel would be restored at the coming of the Messiah. This statement recorded at the end of Luke’s gospel, that Jesus taught the disciples that his resurrection meant the Messiah had come. Naturally, their question in Acts 1 stems from this teaching. Jesus’s response to that question is a positive one. He says, “Yes, but it’s not the way you think. Now go and announce that I am Lord and Caesar is not.” This positive interpretation is strengthened when one notices the deliberate way in which Luke divides the book of Acts. It is this arrangement that must be looked at next.

 

 

 

Luke’s Arrangement of Acts

 

Scholars have offered various suggestions as to the purpose for Luke’s authoring the book of Acts. Radmacher, et al, suggest “Luke wrote the Book of Acts to show the fulfillment of Jesus’s words, “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt16:18).”[4] Craig Keener, on the other hand sees Luke’s purpose as presenting a legal defense and apologetic: “to argue that Christianity should enjoy continued legal protection within the empire.[5] While these most certainly were secondary considerations, Luke’s primary intent was to demonstrate that the Church was faithful to the commission statements commanded by Jesus (cf. Mt 28:18-20; Lk 24:46-47; Acts 1:8) through the announcement of Jesus as Lord and the breaking in of God’s kingdom. Luke’s entire narrative through Acts highlights this theme.

Luke’s arrangement of Acts can be split roughly in half, dividing the narrative into two distinct but coherent parts. Part one begins with the ascension of Jesus includes two watershed moments. The first water shed moment is the stoning of Stephen (7). In his encounter with the Jewish religious council, Stephen announces Jesus as Lord to the people who should the have been able to recognize the fact most readily, the High Priest. His stoning is Luke’s transition into the Gospel (Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not, remember) and the Kingdom reaching the faux-king of the Jew, Herod (8-12). Still, Luke does not let his readers forget that Jesus is the true king by anticipating the world-wide kingdom through the narrative of the conversion of Paul (9) and the Gentile convert, Cornelius (10).

Luke’s second watershed moment of the first part of his book is the death of King Herod. Here is the parody king killing one messenger (James) and arresting another messenger (Peter) of the true king, Jesus (12:1-5). To make matters worse, Herod allows his subjects to ascribe attributes of divinity (v.20-22). As a result, God simply deposes him through death (v. 23). There has never been another human being to hold the royal title of king in Judea since – except of course Jesus!

Luke, then, turns his attention to the events of Paul. He describes Paul’s missionary efforts with gusto. He highlights Paul’s frustration with his own people, the Jews (18:4-6). He includes, as Keener, rightly noticed, the vindication of Paul by different Roman courts (16-17:1-4; 18:12-17; 24-25). He records Paul’s mixed results with sharing the Gospel in Greece (17:22-34).  Luke writes all these events with the express purpose of building to his crescendo, the watershed moment of the second half of the book. This moment comes in the form of the final words penned by Luke, “He announced the kingdom of God and taught the things about the Lord Jesus the Messiah with all boldness, and with no one stopping him” (28:31).

What an anticlimactic ending to the narrative of the man who risked prison, floggings, and shipwrecks to spread the gospel. Luke had diligently recorded all these catastrophes to leave Paul under house arrest receiving visitors and awaiting an audience with the Emperor. What a let-down. Unless… Luke’s purpose for writing had nothing to do with the narrative of the church or Paul except that they fit within his primary narrative. What if Luke’s narrative was simply that Jesus was announced as Lord because through his death and resurrection the kingdom of God had been inaugurated? In that case Paul announcing the kingdom of God unhindered under the Emperor’s nose in Rome is the only ending there could be.

Good Creation

Augustine is paraphrased as saying, “What was concealed in the Old Testament is now revealed in the New.” This holds true for any theology of missions as well. Indeed, the announcement of Jesus as Lord so the cosmos is redeemed only make sense under the understanding that a creator God has created a good creation (Gen 1:31)[6]. In fact, the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus is only necessary because of the cosmic redemption.

The narrative highlights the necessity of the work of Jesus’s and the church’s command to missions throughout its entirety; however, it can be seen most clearly by looking at the narratives of the Garden and the narrative of Abraham. These two narratives form the backbone of the purposes of God. Since missions are a command from God, it is wise to look at the purpose of such commands.

The second chapter of Genesis records, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die”” (vs. 15-17). It must be noted that this command was given before God creates woman (vs. 18-25). Therefore, the seeds of sharing the words and promises of God are planted at the beginning.

Yet, it appears that Adam did not perform his task of sharing God’s word in a very clear manner because Eve adds to God’s promise when answering the serpent’s inquiries (3:2). This failure to communicate opens the door for the serpent to deceive Eve into idolatry, who in turn, enticed Adam (3:6). This idolatry led to some dire consequences for the created cosmos, namely the cursing of the good creation and exile from the land (vs. 14-24).

After generations of idolatry, that is worshiping that which was created rather than the creator, God performs the first missionary act. Enter the pagan Abram, later to called Abraham. God says to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you;

I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (12:1-3).

In this command and promise, two specific points need to be highlighted. First, the command to “go to the land I will show you” is to be understood as a reversal of the exile from the Garden. God is redeeming the idolatrous man and placing him back into the God-given land to work (cf. 2:15). The other noteworthy point is that Abram will be a blessing to all peoples on earth.” This can only occur because Jesus will redeem all of creation including those image-bearing creatures known as human beings. Therefore, the gospel was preached by God to Abraham in the first evangelistic mission (Gal 3:8). And that gospel message was simply this: I will redeem what was lost in the garden through your seed. Who was Abraham’s seed that redeemed what was lost? Answer: Jesus Christ.

Mission and the Nature of God

The idea that a creator God would want to redeem his image-bearing creatures and through them redeem the whole of the created space, time and matter cosmos is clear from simply from the nature of God. John tells us that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). This means that all creation was made out of, though, and by love. God’s love permeates everything that was created. Therefore, it simply makes sense that God would want to redeem that which he loves.

Additionally, Since God is love it makes sense that God would want those creatures whom he created and redeemed to be in fellowship with to be apart of the redemption process of the rest of creation. God would desire the redemption process to begin with him and flow through those created beings who were made in his image (Gen 1:26) so as to reflect the plans and purposes of God into the created universe. If, then, redemption is the plan and purpose of God then mission-focused image bearers are exactly what are in order. Indeed, it has already been demonstrated that God performed the first act of mission to Abraham. This was done to set the example of how the redemption of the creation was to take place – through the missionary efforts of those who were redeemed by the announcement of the Lordship of Jesus. This is a plan that only a God, who is love, could develop and execute.

Mission and the Rest of Theology

Missions are not an isolated aspect of the Christian life. It is deeply integrated in to the Christian theology as a whole. Missions, simultaneously, impact and are impacted by the other areas of theology. This paper will discuss two of these areas, Christology and Eschatology, as these are the two areas in which missions is most integrated.

Christology

In his first letter to the church at Corinth, Paul writes, “So, my dear family, be firmly fixed, unshakable, always full to overflowing with the Lord’s work. In the Lord, as you know, the work you’re doing will not be worthless.” (1 Cor 15:58). Read out of context, this line seems to be merely another exhortation to mission. And certainly, it is. However, this is only the surface purpose behind the statement. Only by looking at the rest of the chapter where this Pauline command is located does the reader understand the true significance.

This statement from Paul comes at the end of the chapter in which Paul has spent explaining the meaning, implications, and nature of resurrection. He begins by arguing that the resurrection of Jesus is the first of a two-stage resurrection (vs. 1-20). He, then, relates how the resurrection of Jesus and our future resurrection should direct the moral and ethical behaviors of Christian lives. Paul continues by painting a picture about the nature of resurrection, both of Jesus’s and our future one. After all this, he says, now sit back and wait to be with resurrected with me in heaven.

No! what Paul concludes is that because there is a resurrection, Jesus is king, and Caesar is not! Therefore, it is the responsibility of the people of God to go out announce this. Why are Christians responsible for announcing this because of the resurrection? Paul answer this in the preceding two verses, “The “sting” of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thank God! He gives us the victory, through our Lord Jesus the Messiah” (56-57). Jesus resurrection inaugurated his Lordship; declared his victory of death; and fulfilled the requirements of the law.  As a result, human beings have been redeemed by God, ensuring their freedom. Those who have recognized this and live under this new freedom ought to be shouting the truth from the rooftops as Jesus commanded (Matt 10:27).

Eschatology

Perhaps there is no greater theological relationship with missions than that of the area of eschatology. What a Christian believes about the end times will directly affect what message their missions will convey. On the flipside, what message a person conveys will express what their eschatology is. The two subjects cannot be separated from each other. They are inextricably linked to each other, part and parcel.

If a follower of Jesus believes that the future resurrection means some disembodied experience in which they escape the corrupt and fallen nature of the material, space and time created universe to be in the presence of God in heaven; then inevitably their missionary message will be that non-believers need to repent in order to escape the eternal torment of divine judgement on sinners. In this scenario, the present problems of the creation such as social and political injustice, illness, and even death are problems to be survived. Indeed, the daily life of the Christian becomes akin to that of P.O.W. who is imprisoned by an enemy foreign nation. The Christian hope becomes to simply survive this present reality without incurring any long-lasting mental and physical damage. Unfortunately, this has been the message of the church for the last few hundred years.[7] Is it any wonder that non-believers have found that message irrelevant?

However, if the missionary’s message is that God’s future kingdom has burst in to the present space, time, and material creation through the death and resurrection of Jesus. And that same Jesus is now firmly on the throne orchestrating the redemption of that creation through his redeemed creatures, faithful human beings; then hope is expanded. In the present, freedom is announced; healings are expected; And death has lost its sting. For in the culmination of the kingdom, the resurrection is not disembodied spirits floating in the presence of God but transformed material beings who are wisely stewarding the created cosmos. This means that what you do to advance this agenda in the present matters. The advancement of social and political justice, the curing of diseases, and the release from mental addictions matter; they matter immediately not as some future hope.

Themes of Mission

Everything discussed up until this point has been to develop two specific themes which act as the foundational framework for the theology of mission. The first theme is the that of Jesus as Lord of both Heaven and Earth.  Any other message than “Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not!” is simply not the biblical gospel. Jesus confirms this when He tells his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me!” (Matt 28:18). As a matter of fact, Jesus offers this as a reason for the Great Commission in the very next verse (v.19-20). Therefore, because Jesus is Lord his followers have the responsibility of claiming the created universe in the name of Jesus. This is the end game of all mission.

The other foundational theme is that of the resurrection. It is only because of the resurrection that there is hope for the present age. Resurrection is the means by which God redeems his image-bearing creatures so that through them he can redeem the entire space, time, material universe. Paul tells the Roman church,

Yes: creation itself is on tiptoe with expectation, eagerly awaiting the moment when God’s children will be revealed. Creation, you see, was subjected to pointless futility, not of its own volition, but because of the one who placed it in this subjection, in the hope that creation itself would be freed from its slavery to decay, to enjoy the freedom that comes when God’s children are glorified (Rom 8:19-21).

What Paul is telling his audience in Rome is simply this, the resurrection of Jesus was the first installment of God’s kingdom being inaugurated. This inauguration has begun so that in the final culmination when Jesus will turn all things over to the Father (1 Cor 15:24), the faithful will be glorified and all of creation, both heavenly and material, will be redeemed into the kingdom of God. However, this does not mean that Christians should not be claiming the present reality now for the future kingdom. This is the purpose of mission.

Conclusion

Summing up: There is no debate that mission is a necessary, vital, and required part of the Christian daily walk. Scriptures such as those found in the Acts 1 and 1 Corinthians 15, along with Matthew’s Great Commission passage make it clear that mission is a biblical mandate. Christians must be willing to spread the Gospel to the ends of the Earth. However, what the Gospel message is that they spread is of vital significance. If the message is anything other than “Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not!” then it is not the Gospel which is presented throughout scripture. Paul understood this clearly enough when he told the Galatians,

I’m astonished that you are turning away so quickly from the one who called you by grace and going after another gospel— not that it is another gospel, it’s just that there are some people stirring up trouble for you and wanting to pervert the gospel of the Messiah. But even if we—or an angel from heaven! —should announce a gospel other than the one we announced to you, let such a person be accursed. I said it before and I now say it again: if anyone offers you a gospel other than the one you received, let that person be accursed. (Gal 1:6-9).

The power of the Biblical Gospel to bring hope lies not in some future eschatology; rather it is God’s eschatology bursting into the present through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As result of this “bursting in,” the New Testament authors tell us the followers of Jesus need to be proclaiming Jesus as Lord as they work to redeem all of creation for the kingdom. This working for the kingdom demonstrates itself in three practical ways.

First it requires the universal church to embrace politics rather than shy away from it. This may mean running for public office or simply watching and holding secular governments accountable for any injustices the regime might be imposing. Next, it requires social programs to work for wholistic, curative measures rather than band aid solutions. Feeding hungry people is a good work, eliminating the causes of hunger is kingdom work. Finally, it requires that church leadership “give God’s people the equipment they need for their work of service, and so to build up the king’s body” (Eph 4:12). This requires that pastors and church leaders instill the Gospel message into their followers and provide support in any area of kingdom work in which those followers are called. This is what the Biblical theology of mission is all about.

 

Bibliography

 

Fernando, A. Acts. Zondervan, 2010.

 

Keener, C.S. and InterVarsity Press. The Ivp Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. InterVarsity Press, 1993.

 

Radmacher, D., R.B. Allen, and H.W. House. Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary: Spreading the Light of God’s Word into Your Life. Thomas Nelson, 1999.

 

Version, N.I. Niv Bible Ebook (New International Version). Hodder & Stoughton, 2011.

 

Wright, N.T. Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. HarperCollins, 2008.

 

Wright, N.T. The Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation. HarperCollins, 2011.

 

 

[1] N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (HarperCollins, 2008).

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all New Testament scripture references are N.T. Wright, The Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation (HarperCollins, 2011).

[3] A. Fernando, Acts (Zondervan, 2010).

[4] D. Radmacher, R.B. Allen, and H.W. House, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary: Spreading the Light of God’s Word into Your Life (Thomas Nelson, 1999), 1362.

[5] C.S. Keener and InterVarsity Press, The Ivp Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 316.

[6] All Old Testament references are, unless otherwise noted, N.I. Version, Niv Bible Ebook (New International Version) (Hodder & Stoughton, 2011).

[7] Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church.

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Personal Thought: Easter

No Easter bunny

My posts are typically some deeply theological ideology in which I offer my perspective on what the Bible teaches. This post, however, is intended to be different. This post is simply my feelings and emotions about a practice I noticed occurring in some churches. I want to stress that I am in no way intending to apply that what I am about to discuss is in anyway happening in all churches. However, I know for certain, that some churches are engaging in this practice frankly it bothers me deeply.

What is this practice? It is the inclusion of the Easter Bunny during the church’s Easter celebration. Even my own home church participated in this by having the bunny available for pictures before the Easter service. When I saw this when I walked in the doors, I was severely bothered this. Easter is “prototype and source of the New Creation”[1] It is and should be the most important day of the Christian year. As the Apostle Paul said, “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Cor 15:14).

Now I am believer in Grace, so I can totally understand the notion that the Bunny is imaginary fiction. I also understand the desire to connect with people of the culture. Yet it seems to me that this is a compromise that church just should not be making. I believe it goes against some basic principals laid out in scripture.

The first scripture I would like to highlight is in 1 Cor 8. Here Paul is discussing meat sacrificed to idols and whether or not it is acceptable to eat. Paul concludes that both sides of the argument are correct: idols are not real and therefore the meat is acceptable to be eaten and the meat is tainted because the Christian believes that it is tainted and therefore should not be eaten. Paul, then says however if it is offensive to someone then to do it is to cause them to sin and that would make the one who caused the offense worse than the offender.

In terms of the Easter Bunny at an Easter worship service, should we be doing anything that might trip up a new-comer to the faith? What if that new comer is trying to follow Jesus and remove himself from his worldly culture and lifestyle? Should we be projecting anything that might distract from Jesus, especially on this day (although I would make the same argument for Santa on Christmas)?

The Second scripture is found in John’s Gospel, Jesus prays that we are not to be taken out of the world but that we are not of the world. (17:15-16) There have been many writers who have pointed out this not a passage of isolation but of engagement through our differences. Jesus resurrection is so important that is should be the focus of Easter. It is the means of faith, hope, and love. It is the security of our salvation. It is the evidence that Jesus is not some mere failed revolutionary or protester, but that He is the Lord of Lords, King of Kings, the Messiah, God in the flesh. Why then are we condescending on this day of all days to the whim of culture? Jesus came to challenge the culture and announce the inauguration of his Kingdom.

 

Then again, perhaps I am making a mountain out of a mole hill. I would gladly take in your own thoughts and opinions. Feel free to comment below.

[1] N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (HarperCollins, 2008).

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Exegesis of Revelation 1:12-20

Passage[1]

12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

19 “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. 20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels[b] of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

Outline

  1. The voice and the lampstands (v12)
  2. The image of the voice (vs.13-16)
    1. Like the son of man (v.13)
    2. White robe and Golden sash (v.13)
    3. White hair (v.14)
    4. Eyes of fire (v.14)
    5. Feet of bronze (v.15)
    6. Roaring voice (v.15)
    7. Holding seven stars (v.16)
    8. Double edge sword coming out of his mouth (v. 16)
    9. Shining face (v.16)
  • Reassurance
    1. John’s response (v.17)
    2. Jesus’s assurance (v.17)
  1. Jesus’s self-identifications
    1. First and last (v.17)
    2. Living One (v. 18)
    3. Dead and alive (v.18)
    4. Holding the keys of death and Hades (v.18)
  2. Instructions
    1. Write (v.19)
  3. God’s interpretation
    1. Stars (v.20)
    2. Lampstands (v.20)

Introduction

Regardless of your religious orientation, it can hardly be argued that no single piece of text has left a larger cultural footprint in the Western Hemisphere than that of the Book of Revelation. This final text in the Christian canon has been the inspiration behind such Hollywood movies as The Prophecy, Constantine, and Devil’s Advocate; not to mention Stephen King’s book and movie The Stand. It has been used as the justification for real-life tragedies as the Manson Family murders[2] and the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco Texas.[3] Furthermore, it has been the subject of countless sermons and the impetus for numerous cult groups. With such a plethora of interpretations running rampant among the culture; is it any wonder that many people approach the writing with trepidation or avoid it all together?

Admittedly, the study of the book of Revelation presents many challenges in terms of an exegesis of the text. Perhaps, one of the biggest challenges the exegetist faces in his/her attempt to interpret the text is that for centuries the book, itself, has been broiled in controversy for centuries even among the Christian academics. As Elaine Pagels notes, “Controversy about the book is nothing new: Ever since it was written, Christians have argued heatedly for it or against it, especially from the second century till the fourth when it barely squeezed into the Canon to become the final book of the New Testament.”[4]

Still, it has been Canonized by both orthodox and protestant Christian groups. It has become nearly universally accepted as being “God breathed” (2 Tim 3:16). It, therefore, falls upon Christians and Christian leaders to offer sound exegesis of the text. This paper aims to do just that by offering an interpretation of the passage of Revelations 1:12-20, in which John sees an incredible vision of Jesus as the sovereign Lord of New Creation. This will be done by examining the historical and literary contexts as well as performing word studies. By these methods, the daunting task of exegesis may be confidently undertaken.

Cultural-Historical Context

As previously, stated presents the exegetists with several challenges. Steve Gregg advises,

“Attempting to understand the Book of Revelation presents special challenges unique to its case. This is due to the fact that, among the New Testament writings, Revelation is unique in its genre, its purpose, and its method of communicating its message. It would be naïve to assume that one can do justice to the interpretation of this book without responsibly dealing with some of the special interpretive considerations that apply uniquely to it.”[5]

While the original readers probably instinctively understood some of these issues; present day readers are far removed from the time and circumstances requiring introductory explanations of the issues faced.

Author

The author of the Book of Revelation simply identifies himself as John. There is no record of the apostolic fathers ever discussing the authorship of the book. Additionally, the earliest church fathers seemed to agree that the author is John, the disciple who was the author behind the Gospel of his namesake. However, in the mid-third century, Dionysius of Alexander did not believe that John, the disciple, was the writer. Eusebius also suggested that the disciple was not the author, but someone known simply as the John, presbyter. He makes this claim on a vague statement from a writer known as Papias from the second century:

“For I have never, like many, delighted to hear those that tell many things, but those that teach the truth… But if I met with anyone who had been a follower of the elders anywhere, I made it a point to inquire what were the declarations of the elders. What was said by Andrew, Peter, or Phillip. What by Thomas, James, John, Matthew or any other disciple of our Lord. What was said by Aristion, and the presbyter John, disciples of the Lord.[6]

There are a couple of challenges facing the evidence of Eusebius. Most significantly, there are no surviving copies of Papias’s work. Our only record are the quotes used by Eusebius. Furthermore, there is no academic consensus as to whether John, the presbyter, is a different person than John, the beloved disciple.

In reality, the strongest evidence for the book of Revelation is the different grammatical styles of Greek between the other writings of the disciple of John and the book of Revelation. A. T. Robertson noted that “there numerous grammatical laxities in the Apocalypse, termed by Charles a veritable grammar of its own.”[7] The unpolished style of Greek within the text have led some commentators to conclude that another John wrote the book.

In response to this Gregg offers three rebuttals. First, he points out the Luke refers to the disciple John as “unschooled” (Acts 4:13). He suggests that John used a scribal secretary known as an amanuensis, a widespread practice at the time, to write his Gospel and three epistles. However, since John was exiled to the island of Patmos, such a person would not have been available (Rev 1:9). Additionally, he notes that it seems highly unlikely that any other person within the church at the time would have the name recognition to identify himself as John. Finally, he notes other internal similarities between Revelations and John’s other supposed writings. For instance, there are words and phrases which are only found in Johannine writings, such as the use of the word Logos or Word (Jn 1:1; Rev 19:13) and the use of “the Lamb” as a messianic title (Jn 1:29,36; Rev 22:17). F. F. Bruce agrees with this assessment, writing,

Revelation certainly comes from the same environment as the other Johannine writings. Whatever differences there are between this book and the Fourth Gospel, both present one who is called the ‘Word of God’ and ‘the Lamb of God’ saying to his followers, ‘In this world you have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world’ (Jn 16:33); whatever differences there are between it and the First Letter of John, both encourage the people of Christ with the assurance: ‘This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith’ (1Jn 5:4)[8]

Given the weight of the evidence in support of the disciple John to have written Revelation, it is this author’s opinion that there is not sufficient data to overturn the original church father’s conclusion. Still, the idea that another John has written the book cannot be entirely ruled out.

Date and Historical Setting

The book of Revelation was written during a period of widespread church persecution. Indeed, John, himself, had been exiled to the island of Patmos, where he received his vision. Most commentators point to the scope of persecution described within the text to suggest that John’s writing occurred during the time of Roman Imperial persecution. The letter seems to have been written as a way of encouraging its recipients that all though their faith may require suffering and possibly even death, their vindication was not very far off.

Although, scholars identify ten Roman emperors which subjugated the church to persecution only two falls during the Apostle John’s lifetime: Nero (A.D. 54-68) and Domitian (A.D. 81-96). Scholars are separated into two camps those who believe in an early Neron date; and those who favor a later Domitian date. Those who favor a later date tend take a futurist view of Revelation. Futurists believe that the events which John recorded are yet to be fulfilled, especially everything after chapter three. Those who favor an early date usually follow a preterist view of the book. Preterist believe that the prophecy was fulfilled shortly after John’s writing with the fall of Jerusalem and the dispersion of the Jews.

Late Date Argument

The late date argument relies on the words of Irenaeus as well as supporting internal evidence. The crux of the late date argument is the consensus of several church fathers who base their conclusion on the testimony of Irenaeus, who wrote,

Now since this so, and since this number [666] is found in all the good and ancient copies, and since those who have John face to face testify, and reason teaches us that the number of the name of the beast appears according to the numeration of the Greeks by the letters in it…We will not, however, incur the risk of pronouncing  positively as the name of the Antichrist; for if it were necessary that his name should be distinctly revealed in this present time, it would have been announced by him who beheld the apocalyptic vision. For that was seen no very long time since, but almost in our day, towards the end of Domitian’s reign.[9]

The question here is what was seen towards Domitian’s reign? As Gregg observes, “If Irenaeus saying that the vision was seen at this late date, then his witness carries great weight. As previously stated several of the church fathers understood the words in this manner lending credence to the late date theory.

Bolstering Irenaeus’ words are apparent proofs which the book contains internally. First many commentators suggest that the emperor worship alluded to in the thirteenth chapter was not enforced until the time of Domitian. Furthermore, it is argued that Nero’s persecution of Christians never extended beyond the city of Rome. In addition, it is suggested that the spiritual decline of the churches remarked upon in chapter three did not have time to take root if written in the time of Nero as his reign was approximately a decade or so after their founding.  This, along with Irenaeus’ testimony, most modern commentators suggest, makes Domitian the best candidate to be ruling at the time of John’s writing.

Late Date Rebuttals and Early Date Argument

On the surface, the late daters seem to have some very convincing arguments. However, it must be noted the credibility of Irenaeus’ testimony must be questioned. In the same text of Irenaeus as the one upon which the church fathers based their conclusion, Irenaeus states that Jesus lived to be in excess of fifty years old.[10] Can Irenaeus’ testimony be trusted in light of such a glaring error?

A second challenge to Irenaeus comes from Dr. Kenneth Gentry. He notes that Irenaeus states that all the copies of Revelation at the time are ‘ancient copies.’ He further observes that Domitian reign was relatively recent, indeed, ‘but almost in our own day, towards the end of Domitian’s reign.’ Gentry reasonably asks the question, if the copies are ancient, is not the original older still? He, then, concludes if Domitian was recent history then what was seen in the time of Domitian was John, himself, and not the vision.[11]

Lending even more credence to Gentry’s position is the critique the translators of Irenaeus’ manuscripts, who wrote,

The great work of Irenaeus, now for the first time translated into English, is unfortunately no longer extant in the original. It has come down to us only in an ancient Latin version, with the exception of the greater part of the first book, which has been preserved in the original Greek, through the means of copious quotations made by Hippolytus and Epiphanius. The text, both in Latin and Greek, is often most uncertain.[12]

The translators themselves were uncertain in both the Greek and Latin in several places, and the passage quoted is from a Latin copy, the degree to which one can be certain of the reading of Irenaeus is minimal.

The internal evidence without the crux of Irenaeus is suggestive at best. Since, John was admittedly writing a prophetic book (Rev 1:3); then, any reference to Domitian’s reign could have been written years our even centuries before. Additionally, while Nero’s official persecution was limited to Rome, it is not hard to imagine that regional authorities would have followed Nero’s example. Finally, spiritual decline is not necessarily a slow process. Today’s modern churches with their hundreds in attendance can experience such declines within decade. How much quicker could the house churches in Roman times with only a few people decline?

While the late date theory is merely suggestive, the early date theory is far from conclusive. Early daters rely primarily on internal evidence. They suggest that the apparent existence of the temple in Jerusalem in chapter eleven, and the description of conflict between Jews and Christian (2:9; 3:9) would describe a pre-diaspora environment. They claim that since these conditions would not have existed after the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the prophetic nature of the book implies an early writing date.

Perhaps the most important argument for the early date theory is the passage in Revelation 17:10 which states, “They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for only a little while.” Early daters note that Nero was the sixth emperor to take the throne. While both the early date and the late date are possible, it seems most likely that John wrote his vision during the reign of Nero.

Literary Context

In the preceding passage John tells his audiences that the reason he is told to write is because he is a witness. This sentiment is consistent with other Johannine writings especially, the Fourth Gospel (Jn 21:24, Jn 1:2). John’s eyewitness status is a constant theme within his writings and lends credibility to his status even though he is exiled.

There have been several suggestions for examining the literary context of the book. One approach centers on outlining the book based on John’s use of the phrase “in the Spirit.” Since the phrase occurs at strategic points in the text to shift John’s locale in the vision. Another approach focuses on 1:19 as the key, outlining “what you have seen” (the death and resurrection of Jesus); “What is now” (the message to the seven churches); and “what will take place later (the future prophetic statements). Alan Hawkins, senior pastor of New Life City Church in the Albuquerque, New Mexico Area, suggested a third outline in a series of bible studies in early 2000’s. He proposed there are seven overlapping cycles of history within the text each cycles expands on the one before it to include not only historical events but also ever further into future events until the ultimate consummation of the “New Heaven and Earth” of chapter twenty-one.[13]

Since John’s flow of thought is to encourage the persecuted believers by demonstrating their eventual vindication through the second coming of Christ, Hawkins suggestion is a valid one. Therefore, the passage under consideration contributes to this flow by demonstrating Christ as both the Lord of Lords and as the genuine human being, the first of the “new creation” (Cf. Col 1:15, KNT).[14]

Content

The Voice and The Lampstands

 

12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands…

John first hears a voice (v. 10). The Greek word for speaking implies to use words in order to declare one’s mind and disclose one’s thoughts.[15] By using this word and his description of the one who spoke (vs. 13-16), John wants his audience to know that Jesus is his disclosing His thoughts. These thoughts were not of human origin.

As for the lampstands we are told that they represent the seven churches to whom the book was intended (vs. 4,20). In John’s time lampstands held the fire by which people saw. The use of this symbol represents the indwelling of the Holy Spirit who is pictured as fire consistently throughout the New Testament (Cf. Acts 2:3; Rev 4:5). Therefore, these churches are filled with the Holy Spirit as believers. Commenting on this verse, Tim Lahaye writes, “This vision of Christ is graphically descriptive not only of Christ in his glory, but of His relationship to the churches of his day and churches of all ages.”[16] This would have been a comfort to the believers in times of persecution.

The Image of the Voice

and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

John continues by describing the originator of the voice. His first description is “one like a son of man” (v.13). This description refers to Jesus state of human “new creation.” The phrase son of man is an echo of Daniel 7:3 and was Jesus favorite self-designation during his earthly ministry.

The second description is that of the long white robe and the golden sash (Cf. Ex 28:4). John is reminding his readers of Jesus role as high priest (Cf. Heb 4:14-16).

Next his hair is white as snow (v.14). This is an echo of the ancient of days whom the “son of man” ascends to in Dan 7:9. This represents the unity of the Father and The Son. Jesus has unified the Father with humanity, by being the genuine human. It is also reminiscent of the transfiguration of Jesus (Matt 17:2) in which God was well pleased.

The eyes which are like blazing fire continues the trinitarian unity of God theme for John (Rev 1:14). Jesus is indwelt by the Holy Spirit in fullness. He sees everything through the Spirit. As the new creation, Jesus is dependent on the Spirit for discernment. This would be significant given the message to the seven churches which begin in chapter three. The Greek construction is literally “his eyes shot fire.”[17] This also could refer to Jesus’ authority to purify the churches, he was about to convict.

Next, His feet were like bronze glowing in furnace. Once Jesus truthfully judged with righteous discernment, next Jesus would bring judgement by pouring out his wrath in the great wine press of God and trampling the grapes under foot (Rev 14:19).

John then describes the sound of the voice as rushing waters (1:15). John is reminding his readers that Jesus words are rivers of life which will flow from their hearts (Cf. Jn 7:9). However, this is not simply life, but abundant life as evidenced by the rushing water (Cf. 10:10).

Jesus is depicted as holding seven stars (Rev 1:16). Verse twenty tells us these are the angels of the seven churches. The word in Greek translated angels simply means messenger. This term can be a designation for a human messenger or spiritual beings. Both have been used in this passage by interpreters. The main objection to it being a spiritual being is that the angels seemingly failed to prevent the spiritual decline of their churches. Responding to this objection, Lahaye writes,

However, in answer to that, even angels, though supernatural, are not divine. Nor can they supersede the human will, because this is a liberty given by God. If Christ has subjected Himself to the position of being on the outside of the door of the church knocking for entrance (Rev 3:20), we can scarcely imagine the angels doing more. If a church has failed in its mission, its in because its angel has been irresponsible, but because the church has rejected the Holy Spirit’s teaching.[18]

The two-edged sword coming out of the mouth is next described by John (1:16). This is picture of the Word of God (Cf. Eph 6:17; Heb 4:12). This ties in to the rushing waters of verse fifteen. All though Jesus’ words bring abundant life, the rejection of those words brings abundant death.

Finally, John says that His face shone like the son in all its brilliance (Rev 1:16). This is an echo of the transfiguration in which Jesus is described in the exact same way. Jesus is present in his full divine glory.

Reassurance

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid.

At the sight of this vision of Jesus John falls unconscious (v. 17). Apparently, when God acts in his full presence, man in its carnal state cannot witness this work of God. Adam fell into a deep sleep (Gen 2:21). Abraham did not witness the self-covenant of God (Gen 15:12). The soldiers fall unconscious at the resurrection of Jesus (Matt 28:4). John was no exception.

Jesus comforts John (Rev 1:17a). He uses the phrase, “Don’t be afraid.” Some variation of this phrase is used 365 times throughout the Bible. Jesus does not want us to live in fear but in the courage of peace.

Jesus’s Self-Identification

I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

Jesus first identifies himself as the first and the last (v17b). This speaks of the eternal nature of Jesus. He was the Word who was with God in the beginning (Jn 1). He is the last Word on all things.

.

Finally, Jesus is the holder of the keys of death and Hades (18b). He holds the keys to something controls access to whatever is locked. The word Hades means grave. Jesus controls the access of the physically dead. He died so that we might live (2 Cor 5:15). Jesus has the authority to release people from death or permanently keep them in death if they reject Him.

Instructions

19“Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later”

John is to write what he has seen referring to the vision of Jesus. This may also include his witness of the death and resurrection of Jesus. He is also to write of what is now. This probably refers to the seven messages to the seven churches. Finally, he is to write what will take place later. This is a reference to the prophetic nature of the revelation.

God’s Interpretation

20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

All interpretation of scripture belongs to God. It is the Holy Spirit which will guide people into all truth (Jn 16:13). Under the influence of the Spirit (Rev 1:10), John is given the meanings of the stars and lampstands.

Application

John was writing to encourage believers of his day who were suffering persecution. Yet, by the providence of God, John was also writing encouragement for today’s believers as well. Believers of any age should take fact Jesus is who He says He is. It should be a comfort that Jesus did not remain a baby in a manger, nor was he simply a martyred rabbi. He was the Son of God as evidenced by His resurrection (Rom 1). Jesus depiction here is one of Godly authority who has come to protect and purify his people. He is shown as the High Priest who intercedes on our behalf (Heb 4:15). Jesus does not want his followers to fear suffering or even death but to walk confidently through life knowing that He sees all things with true discernment by way of the Holy Spirit. This courage comes from the reality that Jesus is unified with the Father in his humanity so that we can “come boldly to the throne of Grace” (v.16). John certainly experienced an incredible vision of Jesus Christ, one in which all Christians should take comfort and courage from no matter their circumstances or environment. Jesus is victorious; He has conquered the grave. What then can be feared when Jesus, the Lord of Lords is sovereign and at the Father’s right hand?

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

 

“Thayer’s Greek Lexicon.” Biblesoft. Last modified 2011. Accessed. http://biblehub.com/greek/2980.htm.

 

Bruce, F. F. “Revelation.” In The International Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, Rev. 1986.

 

Bugliosi, V. and C. Gentry. Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders. W. W. Norton, 2001.

 

Eusebius. Ecclesiastical History.

 

Gentry, K.L. Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation. Victorious Hope Publishing, 2010.

 

Gregg, S. Revelation, Four Views: A Parallel Commentary. Thomas Nelson, 2013.

 

Irenaeus. Against Heresies.

 

LaHaye, T. Revelation Unveiled. Zondervan, 2010.

 

Linedecker, C.L. Massacre at Waco: The Shocking True Story of Cult Leader David Koresh and the Branch Davidians. True Crime, 1993.

 

Pagels, E.H. Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation. Penguin Books, 2013.

 

Roberts, A. The Writings. Clark, 1868.

 

Robertson, A.T. Word Pictures in the New Testament: Volume 6 – the General Espitles and the Revelation of John. Baker Book House, 1930.

 

 

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all scripture reference is Holy Bible (Niv) (Zondervan, 2008).

[2] V. Bugliosi and C. Gentry, Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders (W. W. Norton, 2001).

[3] C.L. Linedecker, Massacre at Waco: The Shocking True Story of Cult Leader David Koresh and the Branch Davidians (True Crime, 1993).

[4] E.H. Pagels, Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation (Penguin Books, 2013), 2.

[5] S. Gregg, Revelation, Four Views: A Parallel Commentary (Thomas Nelson, 2013), 9.

[6] Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 3:39:4.

[7] A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament: Volume 6 – the General Espitles and the Revelation of John (Baker Book House, 1930), 273.

[8] F. F. Bruce, “Revelation,” in The International Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, Rev. 1986).

[9] Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5:30:1, 3.

[10] See ibid., 2:22:5.

[11] K.L. Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation (Victorious Hope Publishing, 2010).

[12] A. Roberts, The Writings (Clark, 1868), xvii. Emphasis mine.

[13] As far as I am aware Pastor Hawkins has never published any scholarly work on the subject. My knowledge of the teaching comes from an audio recording of the bible study.

[14] N.T. Wright, The Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation (HarperCollins, 2011).

[15] “Thayer’s Greek Lexicon,” Biblesoft, accessed. http://biblehub.com/greek/2980.htm.

[16] T. LaHaye, Revelation Unveiled (Zondervan, 2010), 38.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid., 39.

Chat

The Significance of Adam Through the Lens of Temple Theology

Introduction

Biblical scholarship has undergone a transformation in the last few decades. The emergence of the so-called “Third Quest for the Historical Jesus” has challenged the Western Church’s traditional view of how the canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John have portrayed Jesus. Third Quest scholars such as Ed Sanders have argued that Jesus must be a historical figure which squarely fits within first century Judaism.[1] This historical approach to the canonical gospels presentation of Jesus has been picked up by other scholars and applied to the rest of the scripture.

wrightOne such scholar is highly respected New Testament scholar, N. T Wright. He has challenged the traditional Calvinist view of the doctrine of justification.[2] He has suggested that Paul’s understanding of justification derived more from his Jewish temple theology rather than a law court setting. He has suggested that modern biblical scholarship has failed to correct traditional errors because it has offered “Twentieth Century answers to Eighteenth Century questions.”[3] However, Wright does not simply offer temple theology as merely a Pauline theme of justification, he expands it to encompass all Biblical theology. He sees it as a thematic entirety of the biblical metanarrative.[4] Biblical scholar, Ben Meyer agrees with Wright’s assessment, noting, “The indispensability of the temple, an institution increasingly laden with functions, meanings, values basic to national life, is evident from the fierce drive to rebuild it in the late sixth century.”[5]

If scholars like Meyer and Wright are correct in asserting an overarching theme of temple theology throughout the whole of scripture, then, it is necessary to revisit all theological concepts considering this temple theology. The most obvious place to begin such an endeavor would be to understand the significance of humanity within a temple theology perspective. However, this would be a large undertaking in and of itself, therefore this paper aims to revisit the significance of Adam from the correct framework. Namely, the significance of Adam is properly understood when the concepts of “Imago Dei,” and the implications by way of “The Fall” and the “Kenosis of Jesus” are viewed through the perspective of temple theology.

ImagoDei

No biblical or systematic theology can be considered whole and complete without the study of man. “As a matter of fact, the two anchor points of theology, like the two foundations of a cable bridge, are the doctrine of God and the doctrine of man.”[6] Biblically, the doctrine of man begins during the creation scene when God says, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground” (Gen 1:26).[7] The key terms in this verse are the Hebrew terms image (tselem) and likeness (demuth). This “image” and “likeness” is known as Imago Dei

Meaning of “Image” and “Likeness”

Scholars have differed as to what these two terms of the Imago Dei mean. Some scholars have attempted to separate these terms in their meanings; while others simply see them as parallelism within the Hebraic writing style. Louis Berkhof comments on these two words,

The terms “image” and “likeness” have been distinguished in numerous ways. Some believed “image” had reference to the body, and “likeness” to the soul. Augustine held that the former referred to the intellectual, and the latter, to the moral faculties of the soul. Bellarmin regarded “image” as a designation of the natural gifts of man, and “likeness” as a designation of that which was supernaturally added to man. Still others asserted that “image” denoted inborn, and “likeness,” the acquired conformity to God.[8]

Towns cites Stevens, who also examines the same issue,

The Hebrew words “image” (tselem) and “likeness” (demuth) mean nothing more nor less in the context than their English equivalents. The LXX translates tselem with the corresponding Greek word eikon, and demuth with the corresponding word homoisis. Whereas there is literally a distinction between an image and a likeness, the latter word being broader and more inclusive one, yet it is futile to attempt to make any precise distinctions between the two words as they are found in this context. Parallel words to give essentially the same thought are a familiar Hebrew mode of expression. The meaning of the passage obviously is that man is created to resemble God in some important ways.[9]

Whether the scholar understands the “image” and “likeness” to be distinct or not, the concept of this anthropology cannot be understated. Since the first man, Adam, is described in the Bible as being made in the “image” of God (v.27), “[he] cannot in every respect be likened to the whole of creation.”[10]

This significant difference of the first man, Adam, from the rest of creation begs a question: In what way does Adam and therefore humanity reflect the image of God? Henry suggests that how one answers the question of “the imago-inquiry soon becomes determinative for the entire gamut of doctrinal affirmation.”[11] The traditional view within biblical scholarship is that the image of God is “limited to immaterial nature and serves to simply reflect specific attributes of God” while distinguishing between essential and nonessential elements in God.[12] For the majority of scholars the image of God does not include any physical or substantive properties. Davis sums up most scholars in this way, “Both terms, therefore, point to spiritual qualities shared by both God and man. It is this image and likeness that completely distinguishes man from the animal kingdom.”[13]

However, a couple of challenges to this view arises. First, it implies a reading of the Old Testament text which the Old Testament itself does not support. Commenting on this issue Von Rad writes,

The interpretations, therefore, are to be rejected which proceed from anthropology strange to the Old Testament and one-sidedly limit God’s image to man’s spiritual nature relating it to man’s “dignity,” his “personality,” or “ability for moral reason,” etc. The marvel of man’s appearance is not to be excepted from God’s image. This was the original notion, and we have no reason to believe that it gave way… to a spiritualizing and intellectualizing tendency.”[14]

The second challenge arises from the resurrection of Jesus. This challenge arises from in what manner was Jesus resurrected. If Jesus was resurrected into a body containing physical properties, and if one affirms that Jesus is the full representation of God (Heb 1:3) then it must be affirmed that physicality properties must be attributed to God. Therefore, any hermeneutical suggestion as to what the image of God is must be able to account for both the physical and spiritual attributes of man.

imago dei

Image Dei from the Perspective of Temple Theology

John Walton has argued that Israelite temple tradition, as well as the Old Testament, has been heavily influenced by Near Eastern thought.[15] Walton notes, “From the standpoint of the deity, the temple is his/her estate and residence. The earthly temple was a symbol, an echo, a shadow of the heavenly residence.”[16] The temple therefore was the place where heaven and earth intersected. While Walton examines several aspects of temple theology, two of them bare significant relevance to the current discourse: 1. Iconism, and 2. Sacred Spaces.

Iconism

No temple is complete without an idol. The idol is the image of the god and signifies the divine presence residing in the temple. According to Walker and Dick, it is on the shoulders of the god being represented to approve and initiate the manufacturing of the idol.[17] Once manufactured, certain rituals where performed to bring about the transference of the divine presence from the spiritual world to the physical one in a process referred to as “actualizing the presence of the god in the temple.”[18] Walton likens this process to the Christian doctrine of inspiration of scripture, in as much as the process was not viewed as a human contrivance, but rather a miraculous act of the god.[19]

Another aspect of the idol was that it did not merely represent the deity but was the means by which the deity manifested its presence. This manifestation would include revelatory and mediation practices.[20] In terms of temple theology, the idol could be said to have been animated by the process of actualization. However, this must not be confused into a thinking which identifies the idol with the deity, itself. [21] Walker and Dick compare it to the Aristotelian philosophical concept of body and soul.[22]

Sacred Spaces

Sacred spaces were the specific locations where ancient peoples believed the gods traversed. Sacred spaces, therefore, were chosen by the gods before the building of the temple. One common type of sacred space was a garden. These locales were chosen, built upon, and sculpted to preserve and signify the sanctity of the sacred place. They were filled with images of the deity to endorse the sanctification of the chosen location.[23]

Revisiting the Creation Narrative

Looking at the creation narrative of Genesis 1 through the lenses of “Iconism” and “Sacred Spaces,” there are some striking similarities. First, it may be shown that God initiated the idol making process through the creation of the first man, Adam (vs.26-27). By imbuing Adam with his own “image” and “likeness,” God created an analogous idol of himself. This explains, the later cultic prohibition of graven images (Ex 20:4), since God had done so through the creation of Adam.

The next striking similarity is the “actualization of the idol” through ritual. Once again, God does not leave it up to the creation to provide the means of transference but does it on his own as a miraculous act of Deity. Towns suggests, “Life is a part of the nature of God, and when God gives life to something; He gives part of his nature to it.”[24] In Genesis 2, the Bible says, “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (v. 7). In this ritual act of resuscitation, God animates Adam through the transference of his nature.

Additionally, Adam is given revelation by God. He is told that all the fruit of the trees are his to eat except the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (vs. 16-17). This also fits with the idea, that man is the idol of God. He is to receive revelation from his Deity, through which his actions are to be governed.

Finally, there is the sacred space. God places his idol (Adam) into a garden which He planted himself (v.8). This effectively establishes the garden as God’s sacred space. The place where he will traverse. However, God is not content with a mere plot of ground. God tells Adam to be fruitful and multiply (1:28). This multiplication was to increase the number of idols until they covered the whole earth, thereby, designating all of the earth as God’s sacred space.

The Fall

T. Wright has suggested that the Western Church is in danger of moralizing its anthropology.[25] This seems to be due to the idea that the incident related in the third chapter of Genesis commonly known as “The Fall” is the dominate feature of God’s purposes. “The Fall” also known as original sin) is the biblical narrative of the origination of evil in the world. Many scholars and laypersons, alike, have approached the biblical narrative from the point of view that the removal of sin and its effects on human beings by redeeming the marred imago dei and whisking humanity into the heavenly residence of God as the sole purpose of God’s redemptive act. Ascribing to this view, Towns writes,

“According to its largest meaning as used in the Scriptures, the word salvation represents the whole work of God by which He rescues man from the eternal ruin and doom of sin and bestows on him the riches of His grace, even eternal life now and eternal glory in Heaven…Therefore it is in every aspect a work of God in behalf of man, and is in no sense a work of man in behalf of God.”[26]

From this traditional view is the implied exaltation of the character of man. This presents a serious challenge for scholars to explain, “how Adam and Eve, endowed with original righteousness and no hindering force of sin, were seduced into committing sin.”[27] Yet, if one understands the fall from the perspective of Adam as an idol, then, there is no need to presume some original righteousness. Therefore, Adam (and subsequently Eve) were status neutral. In other words, Adam was neither righteous, nor unrighteous; in as much as a statue, in and of itself, is sacred or common.

One additional point of importance must be mentioned concerning “the fall” of mankind; that is its nature. This aspect cannot be overlooked as Davis notes, “Needless to say, it is impossible to understand the rest of the Bible without understanding Genesis 3.”[28] Therefore, in order to understand what God has been and is doing; it is important to understand precisely what occurred. Paul tells Timothy, “And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner” (2:14). Yet to the Roman Church, Paul would write, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—” (Rom 5:12). Two very pertinent questions come up when one looks at these two passages: 1) Why the separation between Adam and Eve in relation to deception. 2) What exactly is the nature of the sin committed.

The answer to both these questions lay in understanding the event through the lens of temple theology. Since it has been argued that primary purpose and function of human beings was to be the God created idol through which God traversed his created reality; then the nature of “the fall” is simply this: What was purposed for worship of the creator denied such a vocation and worshiped the creation itself. In simplified language, the living idol did not worship the creator and as such did not reflect the image of God into the creation. Instead, he reflected the sin-marred creation (the serpent) into himself (Gen 3).

As a result, death entered into the world, not because Eve was deceived, but rather because Adam, who was not, did not impart God’s justice into the creation. Such justice actions were seen to be the responsibility of the idol of the god it represented. As Walton notes, “In Egypt of the Early First Millennium, for instance, court cases being tried were set before god Amun.”[29] It may also be argued that Adam failed to properly communicate the divine revelation as the medium through which God had spoken.

Kenosis of Jesus Christ

The final concept in which Adam bears theological significance is upon the kenosis of Jesus. The word itself is taken from the Greek in the Philippian 2:7 passage which reads, “Rather, he made (Gk. kenoó) himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. Kenoó, from which we get kenosis, has the meaning of emptying.[30] In the context in which Paul uses the word, he seems to be saying that the second person of the Triune God, emptied himself of his Godly attributes. In other words, God became man.

Exactly what Godly attributes were emptied and how this was accomplished is debated among Biblical scholars. However, for the purposes of this paper, the concentration will be focused upon the result of the kenosis. The traditional understanding of the result is known as the doctrine of hypostatic union. C. Blaising defines this union, stating, “In the incarnation of the Son of God, a human nature was inseparably united with forever with the divine nature in the one person of Jesus Christ, yet with the two natures remaining whole, and unchanged, without mixture or confusion.”[31]

This doctrine is not without its difficulties. As Blaising also notes, “Admittedly, the doctrine leaves many metaphorical questions unanswered.” Temple theology does little to answer those questions. However, what it does do is hold in unity the anthropology of God with anthropology of man.

Jesus tells the woman at the well, “God is Spirit.” (Jn 4:24). Yet, we know from scripture that Jesus was worshiped as God from very early on in the church’s history (Cf. Matt 2:11, 28:9; Jn 20:28, etc.) Yet, we also find in Jesus that God became a physical being. (Jn 1:1-18). So then, if God is Spirit, how does a physical being come to be worshiped?

Temple theology suggests a very strange and unique occurrence happened. This occurrence, however, is the exception to the rule rather than its affirmation. Sometimes, the exceptions can be more significant than the rule itself as is the case here. It has already been argued that Adam was created by God to be his idol. This idol received the transference of Godly attributes in a process referred to as “actualization.” Yet, it has been maintained that the idol was never identified as the god it represented. Jesus breaks this rule. The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus is the “express image” of God (Hebrews 1:3).[32] The Greek word used for image here is charaktér, which carries the connotation of graven image. This connotation brings us back to the temple theology of an idol. God becomes the idol of himself through the person of Jesus by the interlocking of the divine nature with the physical nature in such a way that each nature remains separate yet are interlocked with each other so there is no distinguishing between the end of one with the start of the other—The hypostatic union.

New Testament Scholar N. T. Wright has argued for a bodily resurrection on the grounds of what he has called “transphysicality”. He uses the word in order to put “a label on the demonstrable fact that the early Christians envisaged a body that was robustly physical but also significantly different from the present one.”[33] It must be noted that Wright’s context is dealing with the resurrected body and not the pre-crucifixion body. Still, it is not too difficult to imagine that if Jesus could maintain such a body post-resurrection, then his pre-crucifixion body would be of the same nature. Temple theology would suggest that this is true. Indeed, the first chapter of John is riddled with temple theology from his allusion to the creation narrative (Jn 1:1); to the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us (v.14).

Conclusion

The Significance of Adam does not lie in the narratives historic authenticity or lack thereof. It does not lie in its explanation for the problem of evil. No, it lies in the way it tells the reader who he or she is; and the way it reveals who God is. The significance of Adam is his iconistic vocation as the created idol of God meant to act as the corridor from the heavenly (spiritual, if you like) planes to the physical one. These are not two separate planes of existence but rather one large, immeasurable reality. The significance of Adam is that we are corrupted idols that have blasphemed the temple of creation by marring our representation of the creator God. As a result, God, himself took on flesh, to restore his image and sanctify his temple redeeming the marred idols in the process. This is evidenced throughout the scripture as “New Creation” (Cf. Rev 20; 2 Cor 5). [34] It is only when one peers at the scripture through the lens of temple theology that the whole of Biblical narrative can be understood. Therefore, when John was given his great vision of the future, he says, “The Lord God almighty and the lamb are its temple (Rev. 21:22).” For God will live in the creation and the creation will live in God.

 

 

 


Bibliography

Holy Bible: New King James Version : New Testament. Thomas Nelson Incorporated, 1979.

Holy Bible (Niv). Zondervan, 2008.

Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1932.

Blaising, C. “Hypostatic Union.” In Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, edited by Walter A. Elwell. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001.

Davis, J.J. Paradise to Prison: Studies in Genesis. Sheffield Publishing Company, 1998.

Henry, C. F. H. “Image of God.” In Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, edited by Walter A. Elwell. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001.

Jacobsen, T. “Graven Image.” In Ancient Israelite Religion: Essays in Honor of Frank Moore Cross, edited by P. D. Hanson P. D. Miller, S. D. Mcbride. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1987.

Meyer, Ben F. “The Temple: Symbol Central to Biblical Theology.” Gregorianum 74, no. 2 (1993): 223-40. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23578885.

Sanders, E.P. Jesus and Judaism. Fortress Press, 1985.

Stevens, W.W. Doctrines of the Christian Religion. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967.

Strong, J. and W. Baker. Strong’s Complete Word Study Concordance. AMG Publishers, 2004.

Towns, E.L. Theology for Today. Wadsworth Publishing Company, 2001.

Von Rad, G. Genesis: A Commentary. Westminster John Knox Press, 1973.

Walker, C.B.F. and M. Dick. The Induction of the Cult Image in Ancient Mesopotamia: The Mesopotamian Mīs Pî Ritual. Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project, Institute for Asian and African Studies, University of Helsinki, 2001.

Walton, J.H. Ancient near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible. Baker Publishing Group, 2006.

Winter, I.J. &Apos;Idols of the King&Apos;: Royal Images as Recipients of Ritual Action in Ancient Mesopotamia. On Art in the Ancient Near East Volume II: Brill, 2009.

Wright, N. T., “How God Became King: Why We’ve All Misunderstood the Gospels.” January Series, Calvin College, 2012.

Wright, N. T., “Cruciformed: Living in the Light of the Jesus Story.” Pepperdine Bible Lectures, Malibu, California, 2016.

Wright, N. T., “Jesus at the Crossroads of History.” N. T. Wright at Perkins, Perkins School of Theology, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BgOzZJodlyA.

Wright, N.T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Fortress Press, 2003.

Wright, N.T. Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. HarperCollins, 2008.

Wright, N.T. Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision. InterVarsity Press, 2009.

Notes

[1] E.P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (Fortress Press, 1985), 113.

[2] N.T. Wright, Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision (InterVarsity Press, 2009).

[3] N. T. Wright, “How God Became King: Why We’ve All Misunderstood the Gospels” (paper presented at the January Series, Calvin College2012).

[4] N. T. Wright, “Jesus at the Crossroads of History” (paper presented at the N. T. Wright at Perkins, Perkins School of Theology2016), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BgOzZJodlyA.

[5] Ben F. Meyer, “The Temple: Symbol Central to Biblical Theology,” Gregorianum 74, no. 2 (1993): 229, http://www.jstor.org/stable/23578885.

[6] E.L. Towns, Theology for Today (Wadsworth Publishing Company, 2001), 555.

[7] Unless otherwise noted, all scripture references are Holy Bible (Niv) (Zondervan, 2008).

[8] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1932), 191.

[9] W.W. Stevens, Doctrines of the Christian Religion (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967).in Towns, 571.

[10] Towns, 564.

[11] C. F. H. Henry, “Image of God,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 592.

[12] Towns, 572.

[13] J.J. Davis, Paradise to Prison: Studies in Genesis (Sheffield Publishing Company, 1998), 81.

[14] G. Von Rad, Genesis: A Commentary (Westminster John Knox Press, 1973), 58.

[15] J.H. Walton, Ancient near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible (Baker Publishing Group, 2006).

[16] Ibid., 113.

[17] C.B.F. Walker and M. Dick, The Induction of the Cult Image in Ancient Mesopotamia: The Mesopotamian Mīs Pî Ritual (Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project, Institute for Asian and African Studies, University of Helsinki, 2001), 8.

[18] Ibid., 4.

[19] Walton, 114.

[20] I.J. Winter, &Apos;Idols of the King&Apos;: Royal Images as Recipients of Ritual Action in Ancient Mesopotamia, On Art in the Ancient Near East Volume II (Brill, 2009), 13.

[21] T. Jacobsen, “Graven Image,” in Ancient Israelite Religion: Essays in Honor of Frank Moore Cross, ed. P. D. Hanson P. D. Miller, S. D. Mcbride (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1987), 22.

[22] Walker and Dick, 6.

[23] Walton, 118-19.

[24] Towns, 104.

[25] N. T. Wright, “Cruciformed: Living in the Light of the Jesus Story” (paper presented at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures, Malibu, California2016).

[26] Towns, 420-21.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Davis, 85.

[29] Walton, 115.

[30] J. Strong and W. Baker, Strong’s Complete Word Study Concordance (AMG Publishers, 2004).

[31] C. Blaising, “Hypostatic Union,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 583.

[32] Holy Bible: New King James Version : New Testament (Thomas Nelson Incorporated, 1979).

[33] N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Fortress Press, 2003), 539-40.

[34] Cf. N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (HarperCollins, 2008).

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Ponderings on the BIGNESS of God

In this post, I would like to pose a simple question and receive your thoughts and insights. So please feel free to respond with your answer. So here it goes:

Paul tells the Corinthians, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:13). Hebrews tells us, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Heb 11:1). Finally, Paul tells us, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known (1 Cor 13:12).

Now then it is clear from the Corinthian context, Paul is talking about our state after the return of Christ. So the question I pose is simply this: If we are in the fullness of God’s presence, what will there be to hope for? Since Paul tells us,  “For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?” (Rom 8:24). 

I would appreciate your thoughts on what we might be hoping for once Christ comes back and we are changed. Please leave a reply.

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Irrelevance of the American Church: Community

I would like to say one thing before I proceed with my intended posts. The things in which I am stating as reasons for the American Church’s lack of relevance are merely my opinions which are based upon my experiences. I only offer areas where I think the American Church can improve and more effectively fulfill the Great Commission which we are called to.

The next reason, I would like to propose for the declining relevance of the American Church is the loss of sense of a community within a community. This partly is the result of the divided message which I discussed in my last post. The Church is supposed to be a community that was an example community of the Kingdom. A community that interacts with the outside community by challenging injustices. This community is political. It is social. It is personal. It challenges the status quo, not by overthrowing but through love. This is what Jesus meant when He said, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. (Jn 17:15-19).

Additionally, Luke records the following:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47, emphasis mine).

Did you notice that God added daily; not weekly; not monthly; not once in a while, but daily! Unless we believe that God is not able to do things like that any more we must look at what God responded to that the church was doing. They were living in a sense of community. What affected one person, deeply and personally affected the other. They lived life together. They didn’t do their own thing throughout the week meeting only a couple of times a week at prearranged times. The early church lived life daily together. They got together daily. They prayed together daily. They ate meals together. They lived together. Unfortunately, the democratic and personal mindset of the American culture has all but destroyed this concept. Sure people pray for others in their church, but as James points out that is not community (Jm 2:16). In many cases the person next to you has no idea what you are going through. They might if they are on the local prayer team and you put in a prayer request, but the average church member doesn’t. There is no sense of collective empathy.

The result of this is that the rest of world sees the Church as just another good works non-profit group. Sure people care, but they don’t see much difference between us and any other charitable organization. We have no relevance because we aren’t being the light to the world we need to be. We aren’t even truly being a light to ourselves because we aren’t unified in to a Kingdom Community.

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Irrelevance of the American Church: The Message

his-response-was-remarkable-for-its-irrelevance-if-for-nothing-else-quote-1In my last post, I suggested that the American Church had lost relevance with the culture. I promised that in the subsequent postings I would give what I considered to be the reasons this irrelevance has occurred.

 

First up: The Message.

 

The first reason the church has lost relevance is because our message has been watered down to an Epicurean, Platonic escapist salvation message. This message is not only watered down, it is not even the Gospel.

 

Romans 1:16 tells us that the Gospel is the power which brings about salvation. This means that it cannot be salvation, itself. A thing cannot both be the result of a power and be the power itself. This means that escaping to Heaven cannot be the Gospel. So, what is the Gospel Message?

 

Romans 1:3-5 tells us that “the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.”

 

So, the message is that Jesus is Lord, and no one else is. The Church has surrendered the Earth over to the enemy awaiting some miraculous escape, when the Bible tells us the exact opposite. Jesus has become Lord and inherited all things from the Father (Matt 28:18). The Kingdom has been inaugurated and is here. The crown of thorns, the scarlet robe, the broken reed his ordination. Jesus is King! Jesus is Lord! Not in some future, but now. We are his advance team announcing his reign.

 

However, in this age of personal Jesus’s and separation of Church and State the church has become timid in the political arena. Instead of working towards proper setting the world right justice, they have become more concerned about whether evolution or creationism is taught. Whether prayer should be allowed in school. They should be concerned about how they are going to find a permanent solution to homelessness, hunger, and lack of educational opportunities, ect…
Does the Church want to be relevant again? Start by bringing the Gospel which challenges the status quo. Start by announcing Jesus as Lord and not an escape pod. Start by saying Jesus in Lord!

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The Irrelevance of the American Church

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Look at the following statistics: [1]

 

  • 33% percent of Americans accept the idea of absolute moral truth.
  • Only 49% of Born-again Christians accept the idea of absolute moral truth.
  • 31% percent of Born-again Christians agree with the statement, “A good person can earn his/her way into heaven.”

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Shocking, isn’t it?

 

Barna describes three kinds of Christians:

 

Evangelicals “say they have made “a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today,” that their faith is very important in their life today; believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior; strongly believe they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians; firmly believe that Satan exists; strongly believe that eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works; strong agree that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; strong assert that the Bible is accurate in all the principles it teaches; and describing God as the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today.”[2]

 

Non-Evangelicals “say they have made “a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today” and believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior. However, they do not accept all of the remaining seven conditions that categorize someone as an evangelical.”[3]

 

Barna identifies a third group which are known as Notional Christians. However one would be hard pressed to find anything which one could use to identify them as Christian. According to Barna, this group “are people who consider themselves to be Christian but they have not made “a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today” or believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior.”[4]

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Ready for more disturbing statistics?

  • Only 6% of Americans are Evangelical
  • 25% of Americans are Non-Evangelical
  • 40% of Americans are Notional

 

Can we honestly say that the Church is relevant in America today? I think one would be hard pressed to make such an assertion. It is my aim over the next few posts to identify what I believe to be the biggest areas in which the American Church has failed and to offer proposed solutions to these failures. The irrelevancy of the Church must not become just accepted part of life. We must and can do something. Jesus was single most important figure in human history. It’s a shame to think he is being reduced to nothing more than an academic exercise in spirituality. I pray that over the next few posts that God will wake some of the Evangelicals up and revival of Christian relevance will explode. In Jesus Name, Amen.

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Feel Welcome to Download the free e-book on marriage.

 

 

 

 

Group, Barna. “How We Got Here: Spiritual and Political Profiles of America.” Barna Group. Last modified 2017. Accessed September 10, 2017. https://www.barna.com/research/got-spiritual-political-profiles-america/.

 

Moreau, A.S., G.R. Corwin, and G.B. McGee. Introducing World Missions (Encountering Mission): A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey. Baker Publishing Group, 2015.

 

 

[1] Cited in A.S. Moreau, G.R. Corwin, and G.B. McGee, Introducing World Missions (Encountering Mission): A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey (Baker Publishing Group, 2015), 14-15.

[2] Barna Group, “How We Got Here: Spiritual and Political Profiles of America,” Barna Group, accessed September 10, 2017. https://www.barna.com/research/got-spiritual-political-profiles-america/.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.