Monthly Archives: August 2018

THE TORTURE TREE & SINGING CRICKETS

The late vehement atheist Christopher Hitchens didn’t at all mind saying that the liked the poetry of GK Chesterton. I like that though I’m certain that Hitchens wouldn’t have cared whether I did or didn’t. Hitchens (who was shaped by more experiences than even he knew) marched to the drumbeat he heard. I don’t know how many streams feed our human convictions—life is all too complex to pretend we know a LOT about it—but there was something about the bitter Hitchens that I found appealing. I had the same experience with Carl Sagan, atheist and astronomer. I don’t find Dennett or Harris or Dawkins appealing—I wonder how many streams feed my distaste for them?

I know this, and I like it: Hitchens and I like Chesterton’s poetry and though I have no grounds whatever to support what I think, I like to think that Hitchens knew this poem and liked the gallantry he saw in it. Yes, even the unselfish gallantry in it! Hitchens had little patience for people like me because his convictions differed so radically from my own and because he looked for the wrong kind of “proof” for my faith. The kind of “proof” he sought from believers like me wouldn’t support his own faith. But that’s another discussion and besides, atheist or not, I think that the gospel about God blessed Christopher Hitchens with qualities I’d like to have in me or more marked in me than they are. Without going into a long discussion about how God does that I just wish to claim that Hitchens’ liking of GK’s poetry is one of the “proofs” that He did.

It appears beyond doubt that Lord Byron lived a truly libertine life though some like Richard Edgcumbe disputed it. Still, there were things about him that must be admired—well things I can’t help but admire. Will Durant the noted historian (and agnostic) quotes Leslie Marchand who has Byron’s chief physician say, right close to the end, that the poet said he did not know what to believe in this world. Then, “I heard him say, ‘Shall I sue for mercy?’ “and after a long pause, ‘Come, come; no weakness! Let’s be a man to the end.’ ” I wish to believe that Byron at that point was telling himself that he should take what was coming to him. Being an accomplished literary man Hitchens would know of that and it would appeal to him as the kind of thing one should do—live and die by one’s convictions. Hitchens’ bitter anger and anguish-bringing disease would add bitterness to his long-held atheistic convictions. He was only 62! So young. (Bless me, I can hardly believe that Hitchens died late in 2011, where did those nearly seven years go?)

Chesterton had only just left 62 behind when he died in 1936 (the year before I was born). The poem that follows is the gallantry of a firm believer in God and a very fine man but I find it easy to believe that the confrontational Hitchens would have admired the unselfish nature of the gallantry Chesterton expresses in the poem. There is so much in the poem but I want to focus on the non-whimpering message in it—not as a rebuke, but as an inspiration. I want to be like this myself and I can’t but believe that others wish it also. Staying with the same thought but making it clear that Chesterton and Hitchens were light years apart there’s this in GK’s poem, The Deluge. Noah is in the middle of planetary chaos (by which God made Himself present against moral evil that was worldwide) standing upright in unremitting storm and tsunamis with a cup of wine in his hand and looking skyward and saying:

Though giant rains put out the sun,
Here stand I for a sign.
Though earth be filled with waters dark,
My cup is filled with wine.
Tell to the trembling priests that here
Under the deluge rod,
One nameless, tattered, broken man
Stood up, and drank to God.

I took my cue from the poem and wrote a little book that Random House picked up. I called it Celebrating the Wrath of God. You might think it worth reading. Okay, that’s the commercial over. I didn’t intend to mention the book when I began writing this piece. It just happened.

I admire gallantry where I think I see it (don’t we all?) whether it’s in a heretic or an atheist—whoever! But I particularly admire it when I see those who’ve trusted their lives to God and won’t back away from it even in the middle of personal chaos when they’re sharing pain along with the human family—they don’t negotiate for exemption from hurt and they don’t get it. To truly commit to Him in faith against all the powers of unbelief, cruelty and utter selfishness and do it cheerfully and without apology is heroic! I was going to offer some help to you who are reading this with the poem but I’ve changed my mind. Read this superb thing that follows. Work at it if you need to—it’s worth it. And if you wish to, write me at holywoodjk@aol.com giving me your response and/or interpretation. Line 8 is wondrous and the last 2 lines can leave you happily dazed for a good while.

This much, O heaven—if I should brood or rave,
Pity me not; but let the world be fed,
Yea, in my madness if I strike me dead,
Heed you the grass that grows upon my grave.
If I dare snarl between this sun and sod,
Whimper and clamor, give me grace to own,
In sun and rain and fruit in season shown,
The shining silence of the scorn of God.
Thank God the stars are set beyond my power,
If I must travail in a night of wrath,
Thank God my tears will never vex a moth,
Nor any curse of mine cut down a flower.
Men say the sun was darkened: yet I had
Thought it beat brightly, even on—Calvary:
And He that hung upon the Torturing Tree
Heard all the crickets singing, and was glad.

(Holy Father bring us and keep us close to your heart and expect much of us for you have given us much to give—each in our own way and all of us as one. This prayer in the One who hanging on a Torture Tree could still hear the crickets sing.)

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS,  CHESTERTON,  GALLANTRY

 

 

BOOK OF REVELATION STORYLINE

This is a brief overview of how the book of Revelation hangs together. There are some additional remarks in other pieces I mean to put up (God enabling) that offer some support for some of the assumptions that are made in what follows. SIBI in Lubbock TX puts out a commentary on Revelation that I wrote a long time ago. I think it’s worth reading. Whatever its flaws it’s as good as others I’ve read. Here we go with this (too) hurried survey.

Revelation speaks eternal truths in a temporal setting. It is a letter written to seven churches that existed during the Roman Empire. These seven specific congregations represent what was and is true about all the churches that go to make up the Body of Christ. They live in a world of corruption and oppression and they themselves are infected to more or less degree by the world in which they live.

But they have this: they belong to God and have been called to live to the glory of God and rehearse the truth about the God who has revealed himself to the world in and as Jesus Christ, the Lord of a new creation and Lord of all.
In this book, the Christ who abides in the church (chapter 1) is seen in conflict with the Dragon who abides in the Roman Empire (chapter 13 and elsewhere). The specific historical events in which that conflict is focused are to come to pass shortly because the time for them is near (1:1,3 and 22:6,10, compared with Daniel 8:26). John chooses out (or rather, is given) a specific slice of history and that slice is invested with meaning and significance. What is that meaning and significance? John is told something like: “See in it and tell to the church, ‘Your enemy is ruthless and powerful and satanic but I am all-powerful and your enemy rises only to go to his doom’.”
Other events were going on in other distant parts of the world; events just as tumultuous in their social and political consequences as those going on in the Roman Empire. But it is the slice of history that John and his contemporaries are acquainted with that God chooses to declare eternal and assuring truth. God reigns!

The eternal and assuring truth is not told in prose (as it is, say, in Mark or 1 Samuel or Kings) but in images, pictures. Many of the images are borrowed from the OT and, among other things, they serve to give visible and earthly events a spiritual and cosmic dimension. There’s more in what you see than what you see.
In chapter 1 the living Christ reveals himself to John as the faithful witness and ruler of the kings of the earth and as the redeemer and the one that lives in the church. He commissions John to record everything he has seen—even the initial vision and the commission to write.
Chapters 2–3. He then turns to the seven churches and addresses their needs (commendation and encouragement, rebuke and consolation, warning and assurance). He prepares them for the coming conflict. Throughout the book there is constant comfort and assurance offered precisely because the enemy is so powerful and cruel and frightening.
Chapters 4 and 5 lay down the truth that sets the tone for the whole book. This truth is meant to shape the response of the church in the totality of its life. It will remind the church who alone is worthy of worship and who governs all the powers that exist in the world. Chapter 4 shows that the throne that rules the world is not in Rome, Italy but in heaven and chapter 5 shows that at the center of that throne is a Lamb that has been slain (by Rome, no less). It is not lying down but standing alive again.
There is a little book in chapter 5 (the immediate destiny of the saints) that is completely sealed (with seven seals) and which can be opened only by Jesus Christ for He alone is worthy. Seals conceal and protect from tampering.
In chapter 6 six of the seals are torn off, revealing the conquering Christ, God’s four sore judgments (war, famine, pestilence and wild animals—a common list in the OT—Ezekiel 14:21, and chapter, then the appeal of the slaughtered righteous and the judgment coming against the oppressive world.
Chapter 7 gives the assurance that in this judgment the people of God (pictured as 144,000 Jews) are exempted from the judgment. (Not exempted from suffering but from God’s wrath against the dragon and Rome his instrument on this occasion). The Lamb’s followers are sealed against the judgment (see Ezekiel 9:1-6). But does the sealing work? The last half of the chapter says it does and we see the 144,000 under a different image coming through the tribulation. They are now described in terms of the celebration at a Jewish Tabernacle Feast. The Feast of Tabernacles was the most joyous of all Jewish feasts. It was a celebration of God protecting and sustaining Israel through their awful wilderness journeys and it was a promise of future providence.
Chapters 8 & 9. With the tearing off of the seventh seal we’re introduced to the seven trumpets. In the OT, trumpets called the nation to attention and were sounded as warnings. This was common throughout the ancient world. The trumpets are warning judgments and not the full outpouring of God’s wrath on the impenitent and oppressive world. As imaged the warning judgments are modeled on the OT plagues on Egypt. Certain portions of the earth, waters and heavens are affected but we’re told that the worshipers of evil are unrepentant and like Pharaoh and his cronies they refuse to give God glory.
Chapters 10-12 are more comfort since we’re told that the enemy still fiercely resists God’s judgments. John’s commission is renewed and the church is pictured in chapter 11 under the image of two witnesses. The OT has numerous illustrations of two witnesses (Moses & Aaron, Elijah & Elisha, Zerubbabel & Joshua) and the church in 11 do the wonders that they can do while holding forth the word of God as they did. The picture of these witnesses reminds us that even during troubled times they are unstoppable and that even when it appears they are defeated they really are not. In chapter 12 the people of God are seen under two images: a glorious Woman (the corporate whole) and her children (the individual members). She is driven into the wilderness and there protected (as Israel and Elijah were).
Chapter 13. The chapters of assurance and call to faithful commitment are needed because the enemy is indeed power-filled, savage and satanic. Chapter 13 introduces us to two bestial images of the Roman Empire. The first is Rome as a military power (the sea beast) and instead of honoring God they choose to submit to and extend the authority of the Dragon, the Serpent and the Devil. The second (earth) beast is Rome as a perverted religious power that serves to bind all the nations to Rome in a way that goes beyond what mere force can accomplish. The religious structures of Rome are another way of expressing her power and that power is satanic. A third image of Rome is presented in chapters 17 and 18 where Rome is both a woman and a city. There it is Rome as the world’s leading commercial power that is supported by the military might of the sea beast.
Chapters 4—12 and 14—19 have huge chunks of praise to God and these sections sandwich chapter 13 where the world worships the Roman beast. This is a central truth hammered home again and again: worship God and God alone. See 19:10 and 22:8!
Chapters 14—15. In light of the frightening images that reflect the beasts and the world that worships the beast, chapters 14—15 speak comfort and courage again. And in a series of announcements (like newspaper headlines) they proclaim assurance to the people of God that Rome and all its allies are to be destroyed. These chapters preview what will happen in later chapters (like the battle of Armageddon, the destruction of the great city and the like).
As the seventh seal contained the seven trumpets so the seventh trumpet contains the seven bowls of wrath. Taken in their entirety the seven bowls complete the outpouring of God’s wrath on the satanic kingdom and all that support it. The description of the battle of Armageddon (remember 1:1,3 and 22:6,10) is between those that come from the sunrise and cross water on dry ground and the two beast and the armies that support them. This is another way to describe the people of God against Rome. No one in scripture crosses water on dry ground but the people of God (see other pieces on this). The outpouring of the seven bowls are briefly described and remind us of the plagues against Egypt when they were the power that oppressed God’s people and opposed God’s purposes in the world. Aspects of what the seven bowls cover are developed in chapters 18—20. (See the notes on the identity of the woman and the heads and kings in chapter 17.)
Chapter 17—18 speak of Rome as a great Prostitute that all the kings and merchants of the world commit fornication with. She is the city on seven hills that rules the world in John’s day and she is supported by her military might. Her commercial nature is demonstrated in the almost tedious description of her as the world’s warehouse. Like so many other nations she destroys herself by inner division and she goes does in flames (chapter 18). This is Rome’s destruction as viewed by one set of images.
Just prior to the description of the battle of Armageddon the Lamb and his people have a celebration under the image of marriage feast. In a marriage feast both parties fully identify with one another and rejoice in one another. All this is in chapter 19 where the battle is then fought between the satanic empowered beasts and their allies and the Christ and His white-horsed followers. In chapter 16 where the battle was previewed it was between the beasts and their armies and those from the sunrise that crossed water on dry ground. Here is it between the beasts and their armies and Christ and his people.
The battle ends with the utter destruction of the two beasts, the death of their allies and the imprisonment of the dragon.
Chapter 20 describes the defeat of the Dragon. It is described as a 1,000-year imprisonment. This 1,000-year relates only to his use of Rome and it describes his defeat in that venture as utter and complete.
John now sees a great battlefield with a host of dead people scattered over it. In the war against the beasts many had been faithful to Christ until death. John sees many of the dead on the battlefield come to life and take their places with others and reign with Christ. Not all on the battlefield come to life—only those who have died for Christ. The rest of the dead had been allies of Rome and they remain dead. John sees what he calls a “first” resurrection and that’s a resurrection to life. He speaks of another resurrection that is not unto life but unto a second death.
The entire 1,000-year series of images refer to Rome and its allies and the Dragon that inspired the anti-God venture. The Dragon is bound a thousand years, the allies of the beasts lie dead for a thousand years and the righteous reign in triumph for a thousand years. Those all relate to the conflict with Rome and describe it from different angles. (Do those who die for Christ in the conflict lose? No! How are we told that? In an image, they resurrect and reign in triumph with Christ.)
Now assured that Rome loses, the question arises: “Can we always be assured of triumph?” That is answered (as it is in Ezekiel 38—39) with another image. Satan is given another chance, raises an army from the four corners of the earth, comes against God’s people and is utterly destroyed. The immediate future is secure (Rome is going down) and the entire future is secure (any enemy, however huge, will go down).
Chapters 21-22 Now that we know that Rome and the world she shaped has been overcome, in chapters 21—22 we have a picture of a new world, a new heaven and earth. The people of God are described as a glorious and indestructible city (not a wreck) and a bride glorious dressed (not in tattered clothing). The Roman world of oppression and evil has been destroyed and a new world where God’s righteousness has been vindicated fills out the entire drama.

                                 Triumph & Loss in Revelation

The future victory of the redeemed is described in numerous images. Marriage suppers, a City 1,4000 miles high, wide and broad, made of jewels and precious things. There is an Edenic garden with lines of Trees of Life with leaves that heal the diseases of the nations, enthronement for 1,000 years and access to a River of Life (and numerous other images in the book).
The fate of the defeated armies of the Dragon and his Beasts is to be trampled in a winepress until the blood is a river six feet deep and one hundred and eighty miles long (14:17-20). Their fate is death, resurrection to a second death, ceaseless burning in a lake of fire (which in 14:9-11 is located in the presence of the Lamb) and various other things. Speech borrowed from Isaiah 34 & 66.

To take either of these two composite pictures as the actual description of what is yet ahead and build a doctrine on it that people must receive or be called heretics makes no sense to me. I don’t think the Revelation passages that speak of a lake of fire should be used to support the doctrine of eternal conscious torture of the unforgiven. I think that the battle in Revelation is Christ and the Church against the Dragon and Rome. The extended picture of Rome’s defeat, which includes warning plagues, followed by a full outpouring of wrath, wasn’t meant to be understood in any literal fashion. I don’t think we’re supposed to take the judgment scenes literally either. These are all images of how an anti-God, anti-holiness, anti-life tyrannical kingdom was to go down before a God of holiness, life and power. It spoke to the church in the first century and speaks to every generation that follows.

To build a picture of heavenly bliss or hellish torture in the future on the details given in these images is to miss the mark completely.

Book of Revelation     Battle of Armageddon

THIS WE CAN BE SURE OF

It wasn’t limitless power that moved Him to create; it was love!
Limitless wisdom wasn’t what moved Him to create. It was love!
It wasn’t indisputable sovereignty that moved Him to empty Himself. It was love!
His personal need didn’t move Him to seek friendship. Our need did!
If in Jesus’ life here we truly saw God, it wasn’t punishing that was on His mind.
If on the cross we saw God’s heart we saw what it always was and always will be!
God didn’t punish us with alienation. Sin is alienation—we chose alienation!
In love He came to end it! He never wanted it and He doesn’t want it now!
Almighty God seeks our friendship!

 

AND I SAW A NEW HEAVEN…

The book of Revelation is: GOD against the Dragon
It is: The Lord Jesus and His Church (City) against Rome (city of 17 & 18)
Revelation is about worlds in collision!
The saints are “those that dwell in heaven” and the Dragon’s people are those “that dwell on earth.” Revelation 3:10; 6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 12:12; 13:14, twice; 14:6; 17:2;—12:8, 12; 13:6; 19:1, 14.
The Dragon gives power to Rome (13:4) and it shapes the world (by armies, false religion and commerce (13:7, 11-16; 17:1-7; 18:9-19). The sea beast is Rome from a military perspective that supports the whore of 17 which is Rome as the world’s trading center and the earth beast which is Rome from a religious perspective (it’s called the false prophet (19:20). Since it dominates and shapes the world the world becomes “a world of the ungodly.” Compare 2 Peter 2:5
Rome claimed to be unstoppable and took the name of the eternal city and like boasting  Assyria, and Babylon, Persia and Greece in Daniel they “proved” the world was theirs by domination and the nations bowing to them. (See Isaiah 10:5-11 & chapter 36.)
TOLD IN PICTURES: Rev in chapters 16 & 19, the battle of Armageddon—(Megiddo, where so many ancient battles were fought) has Christ and His followers on white horses defeating Rome and its allies and therefore defeating Satan. The vision has Rome destroyed. So in his use of Rome Satan is thoroughly, utterly defeated (he doesn’t suffer a set-back). Chapter 20:1-3 has him locked away in the abyss rather going into the fire. His thousand year imprisonment images his total defeat in Rome’s defeat.
STILL IN IMAGES: The next scene is the battlefield. John sees mass of corpses, then he sees many of them rise from the dead to sit on thrones with others and with Jesus Christ.  They reign a thousand years while Satan is imprisoned 1,000 years. It has nothing to do with length of time. It is a way of stressing his utter defeat and their utter triumph.
This is “the first” resurrection John sees and it is only for those who have died in the service of the Lamb (20:4-6). To die in Christ is to triumph, the image says. The picture of a resurrection is not new. See Ezekiel 37:1-14 and the glory and unity that follows in the rest of the chapter under “David”.
STILL IN IMAGES: Then John sees the rest of the dead who lay dead for 1,000 years coming to life only to be judged and die again (20:5, 12). That is the 2nd resurrection implied by the words “the first resurrection”. Those in the 2nd are those who made themselves allies of the Dragon and they die again and join the beasts in a lake of fire–a 2nd death. (See Isaiah 34:8-10 for the image of a lake of fire; God’s judgment on Edom and enemies of Israel. See also Isaiah 66:22-24 and note carefully the imaged context AND what they see! See also Daniel 7:1-11.THESE ARE ALL PICTURES and John uses them in Revelation to tell of Rome’s fate in coming against the Church. (Note how he made use of the Egyptian plagues throughout the book and note how he makes them even worse but they cannot be actual historical occurrences. They speak of Rome in bizarre dress the way they spoke to God’s enemy Egypt in historical occurrence. And carefully notice 22:18-19 along with 22:6-10.
Satan is utterly defeated in using Rome! The picture of his being locked down for a 1,000 says that. Those who died in Christ IN THE PICTURE reign 1,000 years, those who died in the Dragon IN THE PICTURE lie dead 1,000, then rise and perish forever. Three uses of 1,000 years to tell three distinct but immediately related truths. Satan is not utterly destroyed after Rome’s defeat so he can be used to give a final word from God.
But might there be other enemies after Rome?  IN ANOTHER PICTURE: Satan is released to get an unbeatable army that is annihilated without even a battle(20:7-10). That says he can never win, no matter how big the army. See Ezekiel 38-39 where John gets his PICTURE from. He uses it for the same purpose.
Israel had plenty of fierce enemies but God brought them safely through (Ezekiel 37). Yes, but what of the future? The future us secure! Gog & Magog is numberless but see chapters 38–39. So it is in Revelation. God defeats Rome and assures the Church that the future is secure. Gog & Magog are destroyed & Satan enters the lake of obliteration.
Rome’s world is shredded (see Isaiah 13, 34, Jeremiah 4, Zephaniah 1 and elsewhere and see evil worlds uncreated) and a new world appears IN PICTURES. In chapter Rev. 21:1. The Roman “world” has been destroyed and Rome (city) is burned in chapter 18. Now IN A PICTURE John sees the persecuted city (the Church) comes down from heaven (not up from the earth) looking like a bride (21:2). The angel says he wants to show John THE BRIDE, THE WIFE OF THE LAMB (21:9) and he does that by taking him to see THE GLORIOUS CITY. (21:10-21). THAT’S A PICTURE of the triumphant Church that John gets from Isaiah The city four-square is not heaven! It’s an image of a glorious city with walls 1400 miles high; it’s NOT heaven. It’s the triumphant Church (under Christ) living in a “new creation”. See Isaiah 11 & 66 and the closing of Ezekiel 40–end. These are images of a secure and glorious future painted in terms that speak to people in ways people would think of as glorious.
These images tell of worlds in collision. again and again and again they’re given to us in Holy Scripture only we don’t “get it”. It’s only when we get a new and enriched vision of God and who we humans are meant to be that we begin to see our tragic state. The 1st WW ended, joy, joy. We provoked a 2nd WW, it ended with Hitler’s defeat, joy, joy….Korea,  Viet Nam, Berlin Wall comes down, joy, joy…….. Evil worlds are brought down (by God, in all the complex ways He does this) and a new world appears (Revelation 21, “there was no more sea”—which is where the sea beast rose from and see Daniel 7). And then because we don’t see it as the work of God we humans glorify our tanks, bombs, planes, wisdom, economy, sanctions, forms of government and such and we create another “world”.
Jesus said to one of Rome’s powerful representatives: “My kingdom is not of this world. It’s not like yours. I don’t wade through blood or ‘make a desert and call it peace’. “
But there’s a new world coming! We may not know what is coming but we know WHO is coming so we don’t need to know what is coming!
BOOK OF REVELATION     FIRST RESURRECTION