Thursday, March 25, 2021

Apocalyptic? #21: Thy Kingdom Came! (Rev. 6-20)

 


“The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” (Rev. 11:15 NKJV)

 

“We give You thanks, O Lord God Almighty, The One who is and who was and who is to come, Because You have taken Your great power and reigned.” (Rev. 11:17 NKJV)

 

“Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down.” (Rev. 12:10 NKJV)

 

“Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns!” (Rev. 19:6 NKJV)

 

“And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.”  (Rev. 20:4 NKJV) 

 

Here’s the BOTTOM LINE thrust of Revelation:  The Kingdom of Heaven has come!


Have you ever noticed the primary message of John the Baptist before Jesus came on the scene?  “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven/God is at hand” (Mt. 3:2).  Did you also notice the message of Jesus during his earthly ministry?  “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven/God is at hand” (Mt. 4:17, Mk. 1:15, Lk. 11:20).  Did you also notice the message of Jesus’ disciples in the Gospels?  “The Kingdom of Heaven/God is at hand” (Mt. 10:7, Lk. 10:9 & 11).  Several of his parables begin with the words, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like . . . .”  Virtually all Christians know the Lord’s Prayer, sometimes called the Model Prayer or the Our Father.  Did you ever notice that we seem to be praying for a “future” event—the future coming of the Kingdom of God/Heaven?  “Your kingdom come” (Mt. 6:10, Lk. 11:12).  It was certainly a future event at the time John the Baptist, Jesus, and his disciples preached it and prayed it, but is it still future?

Why, following the death and resurrection of Jesus, does NO ONE ever refer to the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven as a future event again?  After Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus tells his disciples: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth (Mt 28:18 NKJV).  Was he proclaiming the BEGINNING of the Kingdom of God/Heaven at that point? Before Jesus ascended into Heaven, “He also presented Himself alive after His suffering [to his apostles} . . . during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3).  Later, the deacon “Philip . . . preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” to the Samaritans (Acts 8:12).  In Acts 19:8 plus 20:25 plus 28:23 and 31, Luke reports that Paul preached about Jesus and the Kingdom of God throughout his journeys, but nowhere does Paul’s teaching suggest a “future” kingdom.

 


There is, however, something about “inheriting the kingdom” in Paul’s teachings.  I Cor. 6:9-10 and 15:50, Gal. 5:21, Eph. 5:5, and I Thes. 2:12 (along with James 2:5 and II Pet. 1:11).  In his clearest exposition of this “future inheritance of the kingdom,” Paul explains in I Cor. 15:50-53 (NKJV): 

 

Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.

Paul does not suggest, here, that the Kingdom of God was not in existence at the time he wrote these words—only that mortal bodies could not inherit the Kingdom.  Jesus corroborated Paul’s assertion in John 18:36-37 (NKJV): 

Jesus answered (Pilate), “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.”  Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are You a king then?” Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king.”

Jesus is already reigning.  Paul is pointing forward to a time when Christians would join him in reigning (at his Parousia), as John describes in the Revelation 20:4 citation quoted at the first of this blogpost. Just as Jesus was, in Paul’s time, currently reigning from an immortal/incorruptible location, John and Paul were predicting that Christ’s followers (or, at least, the “souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands”) would “inherit” the kingdom.  For John, that Parousia (Paul’s “twinkling of an eye”) and, as both Paul and John are agreed, “at the last [7th] trumpet (Rev. 11:15-17),” would occur “soon” after John’s Revelation was written.


This is not rocket science.  This is precisely what Jesus predicted in the gospels—that his Parousia would occur within one generation from his prophecy.  Those who try to twist Jesus’ words into some other meaning—to make his Parousia promise point to later in time are contorting the scriptures.  Other Christians are clearly seeing this, simply from their own personal Bible study, apart from theological commentaries.  Here’s an example from a website, appropriately titled
http://www.thykingdomcame.com , from Don K. Preston, D.Div., a preterist:

The biblical views I have come to hold are shared by a growing number of very conservative brothers and sisters in the body of Christ who have also studied these things long and hard and have come to the same conclusions. The Bible very clearly declares that Christ and his disciples prophesied and expected his return in their generation in the 1st century. To suggest otherwise is to hold Christ to be both a liar and a false prophet not to be believed. Like R.C. Sproul, I am willing to accept that someone, a lot of someones, got it wrong for 2000 years. I am not willing to accept that Christ and his inspired apostles got any of it wrong.

Incidentally, I am not borrowing someone else’s phrase.  I discovered this website comment, just today, after I had already titled this blogpost.  I and others (many of them preterist) have independently reached the same conclusion.  I am not personally a preterist—I subscribe to what R. H. Charles called the Contemporary Historical approach, as do most critical scholars.  I have personally held these views for decades.

I began my studies of this matter in the 1960s and, in 1971, had the privilege of studying Jewish rabbinic literature at Indiana University, with Henry A. Fischel as my major professor.  I was struck by the fact that the Jewish world of Jesus’ time was fascinated by the expectation of the arrival of the Kingdom of God/Heaven.  They even calculated how long this “kingdom” would last.  On pages 128-129 of my book Revelation:  The Human Drama, I list the major rabbinic theories concerning how long the Kingdom of God/Heaven would last: 

·         Rabbi Eli`ezer ben Hyrkanus (c. 90 CE) taught that it would last 1000 years, based on Psalm 90:15.

·         Rabbi Yehoschua (c. 90 CE), taught "2000 years," based on the same text.

·         Rabbi El`azar ben Azarja (c. 100 CE) taught "70 years," based on Joshua 23:15.

·         Rabbi Akiba (c. 135 CE) taught "40 years," based on Deuteronomy 8:3 and Psalm 90:15, or on Micah 7:15 and Psalm 95:10.

·         Other proposals by rabbinic sources were:  60 years, 600 years,

400 years, 100 years, 365 years, 365,000 years, 354 years, 4000 years, and 7000 years. 

 

They all used scripture texts to support their various views.


Most rabbis based their calculations and views upon the 90th Psalm, as I related in my blogpost Apocalyptic? #4. I report in my book Revelation:  The Human Drama, page 24:

The school [of Elias] based its interpretation of history partly upon the Biblical formula found in Psalm 90:4 that "a thousand years in [God's] sight are like a day that has just gone by."  According to the various calculations of the school, the Jewish people had been punished by God (i.e., had been under the domination of foreign powers) for a total of one thousand years.  . . . Rabbi Yehoschua . . . [a]long with other rabbis . . . observes that Psalm 90:15 petitions God:  "Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble."  Yehoschua finds it striking that . . . the Jewish people had been "afflicted" or had "seen trouble" for one thousand years--the formulaic "day" of the Lord.

These rabbis expected the Kingdom of God/Heaven to last at least one thousand years (just as John did, in Revelation 20), by calculating—beginning with the children of Israel becoming subject to and enslaved by Egypt and then adding Israel’s other subjugations. It makes perfect sense, then, that John in Revelation mirrors the prophets (especially, Daniel’s) chronology from the Beast (Roman Empire) backwards through the Greek Empire, the Medo-Persian Empire, and the Babylonian Empire, and culminating in the very first political power to enslave the Jews—Egypt. 


In my second-most-read blogpost of all time (
Angels & Demons 20: Jacob’s Ladder, with the Guardian Angels of Each Nation—Rising and Falling) which can be easily accessed by clicking on the link under “Popular Posts” to the right of this post, I provide an account of the rabbinic teaching concerning the Kingdom of Heaven/God.  To summarize, the rabbis taught that each nation (Rome, Greece, Media/Persia, Babylon, Assyria, Egypt, etc.) has a national guardian angel, just as Israel has Michael (see Revelation 12:7, Daniel 10:13 and 21 and 12:1).  Using Jacob’s Ladder, the rabbis suggested that these national guardian angels took turns climbing the ladder to rule the world.  However, each national guardian also experienced a descent down the ladder, as their specific nation lost power.  Specifically, the rabbinic story mentions Babylon, Media (Persia), Greece, and Rome, the same powers Daniel called the “Beasts” that would rise before God would establish an eternal kingdom that would never descend.  That would be the Kingdom of Heaven/God that THIS post is all about.  As I say in THAT blogpost (also to be found in my book Angels and Demons:  The Personification of Communication, page 130):

It is striking that Jewish scholars of the First to Fifth Centuries after the birth of Jesus who continued a tradition that suggests a plan of God to establish an eternal kingdom with a Jewish leader at the helm following the fall of the Roman Empire, failed to recognize that such a kingdom was developing.  With the Roman Empire effectively “Christianized” by Constantine, shortly after 300 A.D., this tiny sect, led by a Jewish teacher (Jesus)—a child of Israel—was finally catapulted to a position of international repute.  It was not until the Renaissance of a thousand years later that Greco-Roman literature would begin to rebound from a situation in which Judeo-Christian literature and thought dominated much of the world.  One can almost envision the scene of Jacob’s Ladder:

“The Holy One—Blessed be He—said to him (Jacob), ‘Jacob, you are ascending, too.’  In that hour, Jacob, our Father, was afraid, and he said, ‘Would you say that just like what happened to these—a descending—will also happen to me—a descending?’  The Holy One—Blessed be He—said to him, ‘You will not come down, Israel’ (Jeremiah 30:10).  If you go up, there will never be a descent for you.’”

Is there a contradiction between the calculation (in both Revelation and the rabbinic sources) that says that the messiah should reign (i.e., the Kingdom of God/Heaven should last) for 1000 years and the clear indication (in both Revelation and the rabbinic sources) that the messiah would reign “forever and ever” (“If you go up, there will never be a descent for you [Israel]”)?  No.  Revelation 20:2-3 indicates only that the Dragon/Devil/Satan (the entity who raised up other “Beasts”—the one who deceived “nations,” such as Babylon, Media (Persia), Greece, and Rome) would be bound and sealed for a thousand years, not that the messiah’s reign would stop at the end of the thousand years.  Even though the Dragon will “deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years should be finished,” the Lord and His Christ (as the Kingdom of God/Heaven) will reign forever and ever (Revelation 11:15—the Hallelujah Chorus).  This promise of the Lord and His Christ reigning “forever and ever” is repeated in the last chapter of Revelation (22:5), so, therefore, AFTER the heavens and earth have passed away (Revelation 21:1). 


Amazing, isn’t it!  Two thousand years after the great Roman Empire, not a soul on earth worships Roman gods!  Two thousand three hundred years after the great Greek Empire of Alexander the Great, not a soul on earth worships Greek gods!  Two thousand five hundred years after the great Persian Empire, not a soul on earth worships Persian gods!  Three thousand years after the great Babylonian Empire, not a soul on earth worships Babylonian gods!  Four thousand years after the great Egyptian Empire, not a soul on earth worships Egyptian gods!  Yet, the deity long associated with people whom the Egyptians enslaved, who occupied a tiny little strip of land in the Middle East, not much bigger than the State of Rhode Island, who were progressively subjugated by Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome is now worshiped by Egyptians, Babylonians (Iraq), Persians (Iran), Greeks, and Italians/Romans.  The God of Abraham is the King of the World!  Even when humans world-wide take the word “God” in vain, there is that subtle consciousness in the back of their minds that it is He to whom they are referring.  His Kingdom came!


Returning to the Lord’s Prayer, parallel to the words “Thy Kingdom come!” are the words “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”  His Kingdom is not “OF this world (i.e., not based in this world)” (John 18:36), but his rule is OVER this world/earth.  If you have been praying “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven,” it is time for you to look around and see whose will is governing the world.  The Christian, Jewish, and Muslim laws (with some admitted interpretive mistakes) govern most of the world.  People still “break the laws,” but world-wide the “laws” are largely set by the Law of Moses.  Revelation 15:4 (NKJV) states: “Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name?
  . . . For all nations shall come and worship before You.”  This is precisely what the Old Testament prophets predicted concerning the Kingdom of God/Heaven:

Psalm 22:7, 86:9, and Isaiah 66:23, predict that all nations of earth will bow down/worship God.  Daniel 7:27 (NKJV) says:

Then the kingdom and dominion,
And the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven,
Shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High.
His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
And all dominions shall serve and obey Him.’

Micah 4:1 (NKJV) says:

Now it shall come to pass in the latter days
That the mountain of the Lord’s house

Shall be established on the top of the mountains,
And shall be exalted above the hills;
And peoples shall flow to it.

Isaiah 2:2-3 (NKJV) says:

Now it shall come to pass in the latter days
That the mountain of the Lord’s house

Shall be established on the top of the mountains,
And shall be exalted above the hills;
And all nations shall flow to it.
Many people shall come and say,
“Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
He will teach us His ways,
And we shall walk in His paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

God is NOT JUST ruling in Heaven.  He and Jesus are ALSO RULING ON EARTH!  They began their earthly reign about 2000 years ago.  When I pray the Lord’s Prayer, I sometimes make adjustments:

“Our Father who reigns in Heaven, Your Name is holy.  Your Kingdom has come.  Your will is being done on Earth as it is in Heaven.  You give us each day our daily bread.  You forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.  You do not lead us into temptation, but you deliver us from our own Evil inclinations.  Because Yours is the KINGDOM, and the power, and the glory, FOREVER.  Amen.”

With Jesus’ ascent into Heaven and his enthronement at the right hand of God, we proceed in the next several chapters of Revelation to see how his Kingdom came into existence—by mirroring the prophets—how it became a reality on Earth.  I’m looking forward to this adventure.  I hope you are, as well.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Apocalyptic? #20: Mirroring the Gospels: Jesus in Heaven! (Rev. 4-5)

 

After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven.(Rev. 4:1 NKJV)

(The full text of Revelation 4-5 is printed in the RSV at the conclusion of this blogpost.)

 


It is now, finally, time to take the second step “back to the future” into the mirror (John’s mirror-image history/prophecy concerning the thousands of years of the human drama on earth).  In Chapter 1 of Revelation, John introduces his book by mirroring the age of the epistles.  In 1:4 (NIV), he begins: “John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia:  Grace and peace to you,” just as Paul would have begun his epistles to each of his churches.  In 1:11 (NIV), John stipulates that it is Jesus who wants him to write epistles to the seven churches: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.”  In Chapters 2 and 3, John writes those seven specific epistles to the churches. 

What is remarkable is that (after Chapter 3) John, in Revelation, NEVER AGAIN mentions those churches.  Instead, beginning with Chapter 4, John takes a second step into a mirror.  Now, John is stepping into a mirror image of the Gospels—the life of Jesus.  This time, however, he is picking up where the Gospels left off (after Jesus’ ascension, after his resurrection) and, for two chapters, he is focused upon the next phase in Jesus’ life—his existence in heaven. Beginning in chapter 6, John will take a third step into the mirror and begin to mirror the age of the prophets, as they promised that God would divorce Israel.  Jesus is given a “divorce scroll” with seven seals. 



Just as the priests of John’s age gave their sinful wives seven chances to repent before they were divorced, Jesus is giving “the inhabitants of the land” of Israel seven warnings (chances to repent) before he consummates the divorce at the opening of the seventh seal (at the end of Chapter 11).  To look at it a slightly different way, chapters 1 through 3 are addressed to the concerns of the Christians in Asia Minor (the seven churches).  Chapters 4 and 5 are concerned with the new status of Jesus, now alongside God in Heaven. Chapters 6 through 11 (and, in another step, from the age of the prophets to the period of the plagues of Exodus in chapters 15 through 19) are concerned with the Jewish people who had rejected Jesus.  As one can detect by the greater number of chapters John devotes to this concern with the Jewish people who had rejected Jesus, this concern is the primary focus of the Book of Revelation.


It surprises many people to learn that the word “heaven” does not mean what they think it means.  Many think that heaven is the utopian destination to which we go when we die.  Not so.  Heaven is the term used to indicate the throne of God.  Often, in the Bible, the terms God and Heaven are interchangeable.  For those acquainted with synecdoche, this happens as the “container” represents the “thing contained.”  To speak of the “Kingdom of God” is the same thing as to speak of the “Kingdom of Heaven.”  Similarly, we say the White House and the Kremlin agreed on an arms treaty, although we really mean that the U.S. President and the Russian President (and, frankly, the most influential of their advisors) agreed.  If you are searching the book of Revelation to find the utopian destination to which we go when we die, you will find a somewhat better depiction in chapters 21 and 22, but even then, the symbolism prevails and you must not interpret the chapters completely literally.


Just as the gospels set the scene for Jesus’ earthly life—Nazareth, Bethlehem, Egypt, Galilee, Samaria, Jerusalem, the temple, etc.—so, Revelation chapter 4 sets the scene for the next phase of Jesus’ life—the throne room in Heaven.  Everything we see in chapter 4 is exactly what ANY JEW might expect to see in Heaven:  God’s throne framed by a rainbow, as in Ezekiel 1:26-28 and elsewhere, with God Almighty sitting on it (verses 2-3), twenty-four seats surrounding the throne of God with twenty-four elders, reminiscent of I Chronicles 24, Leviticus 26, and elsewhere, seated therein (verse 4), with seven lamps of fire, such as the seven lamps of the menorah of the ancient temple and the tabernacle of God (verse 5), four living creatures, representing all of God’s animated creation—lion representing wild beasts, calf representing domesticated beasts, eagle representing fowl, man representing the human race, all resembling the cherubim of Ezekiel 1 with an allusion to the seraphim of Isaiah 6, and the sea of glass representing animated creation in the sea (verse 6), with all attendants to the throne worshiping the “holy” Lord God Almighty because He had “created” all things (verses 6-11).  No Jew would object to this picture, so far.  All are agreed that all creation should “worship” the Lord God Almighty because of his creation of all things.  The Baruch Atah prayer of the Jews from the time of the Mishnah unto the present time attests to that. The Shema of Israel attests that the Lord our God is One.


Then comes Jesus, in chapter 5.  This chapter, disclosing the next phase of Jesus’ existence following the Gospels, is the great stumbling block for many Jews.  Chapter 5 has the gall to explain how Jesus, like the Lord God Almighty, is now also “worthy” of praise and worship and blessing.  That’s the problem:  Jews allow themselves to worship only one individual:  the Lord God Almighty.  Nevertheless, in this chapter, Christians (along with “every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea” [Revelation 5:13]) say: “Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto him that sits upon the throne, AND TO THE LAMB forever and ever” (KJV). 


How did this new development occur?  As I described in an earlier post (Apocalyptic? #6), the dilemma in chapter 5 revolves around God holding a book sealed with seven seals (verse 1).  An angel asks, “Who is worthy to open the book and to loose[n] the seals thereof?” (verse 2, KJV).  However, “no man in heaven, nor on earth, neither under the earth, was able [understand: worthy] to open the book” and look inside (verse 3).  J. M. Ford identified the kind of book it was: 


The Hebrew document . . . the get mequssar, the tied (folded and sealed) deed . . . originated with priests who wished to divorce their wives, as in Baba Bathra 160b (Epstein):

What is the reason why the Rabbis instituted a folded (deed)?—They were [in] a place [inhabited] by priests, who were very hot-tempered and they divorced their wives (for the slightest provocation). Consequently, the Rabbis made [this] provision, so that in the meantime they might cool down.

The book [Greek: biblion] is a bill of divorce.  The term.biblion is used for a bill of divorce in LXX Deut 24:1,3, Isa 50:1, Jer 3:8, Mark 10:4, Matt 19:7. (J. Massyngberde Ford, Revelation, vol. 38 of The Anchor Bible [Garden City, New York:  Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1975], 92-94.)

In Deuteronomy 24:1 and 3, the very same term for “bill” of divorce (biblion) is used when God gave Israel the law concerning divorce as when in Isaiah 50:1 and Jeremiah 3:8 prophesied that God would divorce Israel—would give her a bill of divorcement.  The document actually resembled a pamphlet or brochure, rather than a scroll.  It was sealed at every fold.  Jesus (the Lamb) was the only Israelite deemed “worthy” to break the seals and open the biblion.  Jesus was the victim of Israel’s greatest sin—demanding his crucifixion.  Each time a seal was broken, there was an opportunity for God’s wife—Israel—to repent and be forgiven. 


Who is “worthy” to condemn a woman taken in the act of (even spiritual) adultery (as was the case with the Balaamites, Nicolaitans, and Jezebel in the earlier addressed seven churches and the Harlot Jerusalem:  the porneia/pornē/Great Harlot Babylon)?  Although the Greek text of John 7:53-8:11 does not appear in any existing Greek New Testament texts or other language versions until the 5th century A.D., and, therefore, may not be an inspired text from the Bible, it does give us some insight into what may be happening here in Revelation.  John’s gospel account is the account of a woman taken in the very act of adultery—indicating that she must have been married to someone else.  She is brought to Jesus to see if she should appropriately be stoned to death (not just divorced).  Jesus responds that whoever among her accusers is “without sin” may indeed “cast the first stone,” thus commencing the execution of the woman.  Apparently, none of her accusers considered themselves “worthy” to cast the first stone, by Jesus’ standards.  Then, Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”  By the standards of this account, an accuser must himself/herself be “without sin” in order to be “worthy” to execute judgment on an adulterer/adulteress.  Hence, the dilemma in Revelation 5:  no man was worthy to open the seals of the divorce scroll.  All had sinned.

But, wait!  After John wept because of this dilemma, in verse 4, an elder told him, in verse 5, “Weep not; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the book and to loosen the seven seals.”  Who is this Lion of Judah?  The Lamb that had been slain (verse 6).  His coming and taking the book from the hand of God (verse 7) prompted the outpouring of worship from the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders (verse 8), because he was “worthy” to open the seals (verse 9). What made him worthy?  He “was slain and . . . redeemed us to God by [his] blood out of every kindred and tongue and people and nation” (verse 9).  Therefore, ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands of angels, living creatures, and elders (verse 11) proclaimed: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing” (verse 12). 

Jesus and God are, thus, now both worthy of worship.  This is what Jews stumble over.  Christians worship BOTH God and Christ, His Son.

 

Revelation 4 and 5 (RSV):

1 After this I looked, and lo, in heaven an open door! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, "Come up hither, and I will show you what must take place after this." 

2 At once I was in the Spirit, and lo, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne! 

3 And he who sat there appeared like jasper and carnelian, and round the throne was a rainbow that looked like an emerald. 

4 Round the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clad in white garments, with golden crowns upon their heads. 

5 From the throne issue flashes of lightning, and voices and peals of thunder, and before the throne burn seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God; 

6 and before the throne there is as it were a sea of glass, like crystal. And round the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: 

7 the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle. 

8 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all round and within, and day and night they never cease to sing, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!" 

9 And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives for ever and ever, 

10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing, 

11 "Worthy art thou, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for thou didst create all things, and by thy will they existed and were created."

 

1 And I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals; 

2 and I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, "Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?" 

3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, 

4 and I wept much that no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to into into it. 

5 Then one of the elders said to me, "Weep not; lo, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals." 

6 And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth; 

7 and he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. 

8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints; 

9 and they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy art thou to take the scroll and to open its seals, for thou wast slain and by thy blood didst ransom men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, 

10 and hast made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on earth." 

11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 

12 saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!" 

13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all therein, saying, "To him who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might for ever and ever!" 

14 And the four living creatures said, "Amen!" and the elders fell down and worshiped.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Apocalyptic? #19: Does Absolute Truth Exist? (Rev. 3:14)

 

These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God:(Rev. 3:14 NKJV)


Here, in one-half of a single sentence, John records Jesus’ self-introduction with THREE words that carry the meaning of “truth”:  Amen, Faithful, and True.  But, does absolute truth exist?  Not according to Postmodernism.    On pages 2-3 of my book ArguMentor, I observe:


[I]n the Postmodern world in which we live, philosophers are skeptical of the notion that it is even possible to find “absolute” truth.  These Postmodern philosophers might even make the claim that there is NO TRUTH!  Kenneth Burke, himself a Postmodernist, counters that we cannot make a reasonable claim that there is no truth, because the only way our claim would make sense is if we believed that the claim were true.  Yet, if there is NO TRUTH, that claim could NOT BE TRUE!  Burke helps us out of this conundrum by suggesting neither that there is ABSOLUTE TRUTH, nor that there is NO TRUTH.  Rather, he suggests that there is PROBABLE TRUTH.  This probable truth is what Aristotle points to as the goal of testing and maintaining an argument in rhetoric.  Rhetoric was not originally considered for use in the field of science (as . . . dialectic [was]). Rhetoric supplies arguments that point to probable truth, not absolute truth. 

 


True

So, why does Jesus claim the mantle of “truth”?  In John 14:6, (NKJV), Jesus states: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me.”  In John 8:31-32 (NKJV), he encourages: “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.  And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”  Jesus tells Pilate in John 18:37 (NKJV): “For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”  To which, Pilate responds: “What is truth?”  In all of these passages from the Gospel of John, the Greek noun John uses for “truth” is ALĒTHIA, a word that is not found in Revelation, but John’s Gospel uses it twenty-six times (more than any other New Testament book). Incidentally, this is an example of why I do not think the writer of the Gospel of John and the writer of Revelation are one and the same.  They do not share the same vocabulary.  The Gospel of John also uses the adjective ALĒTHĒS (“true”) fifteen times (more than any other New Testament book) and the adverb ALĒTHŌS seven times (more than any other New Testament book).  Revelation uses neither term, but speaks often of truth.

In the 3:14 passage, cited at the first of this post, Revelation has Jesus introducing himself to the Laodiceans with the Greek adjective ALĒTHINOS, meaning “true.”  Jesus, likewise, introduces himself to the Church at Philadelphia (3:7) as the “true” one (ALĒTHINOS).  John in Revelation uses this Greek adjective more than does any other New Testament book—13 times (always describing either Jesus or God or their words or judgments), although the Gospel of John is second, using the term 10 times (again, almost always describing either Jesus or God).  The answer to the question posed by the title of this post (Does Absolute Truth Exist?) is a resounding ABSOLUTELY, for John.  And the location of that “truth” is to be found in God and Jesus. 


Amen

As I stated in my earlier post (Apocalyptic? #9):

Although John writes in Greek, he thinks in Hebrew.  His language shows that dual-language mind, throughout the book.  Therefore, correspondence between Greek and Hebrew terms often points to and resolves important issues. 

 

I further stated in my earlier post (Apocalyptic? #10):

 

This John writes in Greek, but thinks in Hebrew.  Not so for the writer of the fourth Gospel, who writes in very clear Greek, or any of the three letters attributed to John.

 

The Hebrew word ‘AMĒN and its cognates have definite “truth” implications.  Therefore, John in Revelation does not appear to be satisfied with a Greek translation.  It is for this reason that John in Revelation uses the Hebrew term ‘AMĒN more than does any other New Testament writer (other than in the “verily [AMĒN], I say to you” phrase that Jesus constantly used to introduce his teachings).  The synoptic gospels quote Jesus saying “verily [AMĒN], I say to you” more than fifty times.  In the Gospel of John, the phrase is changed to “verily, verily [AMĒN, AMĒN], I say to you,” thus repeating the AMĒN, each time.  John’s Gospel uses the term in that fashion (doubling the AMĒN) twenty-four times.  In Revelation, AMĒN is never used with either of the two variations of “verily [AMĒN], I say to you” constructions, but the Hebrew term AMĒN is still used ten times in Revelation. 

 


It is extremely helpful to me that my brother, Dennis Lindsay, wrote his doctoral thesis at the University of Tuebingen on the subject of the Hebrew word ‘AMĒN and, subsequently, published a book on the subject of how the Septuagint and other later Jewish writings translated ‘AMĒN and its cognates from the Old Testament Hebrew into the Greek word PISTIS (usually, translated by the English word “faith”) and its cognates, one of which (PISTOS) appears in the text cited at the first of this blog (translated, here, as “faithful” 3:14).  Dennis was kind enough to send me a free copy of his text (actually, his own original copy!), Josephus and Faith: Pistis and Pisteuein As Faith Terminology in the Writings of Flavius Josephus and in the New Testament (Arbeiten Zur Geschichte).  The book currently sells on Amazon for $437.35, so getting a free copy was fantastic!  He has written an (easier-read) book, Believing in Jesus:  Studies in the Gospel of John, that is available on Amazon in paperback for $19.95 or Kindle for $9.95, but I found the $400 text extremely interesting for those who can handle German, Greek, and Hebrew.

                                                                                                                                                                             


Jesus, in Revelation, introduces himself, in 3:14, as “The AMĒN.”  Dennis alerted me to the connection between the concept of “holding fast,” discussed in my last blog post, and the Hebrew term ‘AMĒN.  According to Dennis, in an email dated January 21, 2021: 

The concept of “holding fast” is much akin to what I argue as the ground concept of a biblical theology of faith, based on the LXX (and subsequently NT) appropriation of the pistis terminology for the ‘aman vocabulary of the Hebrew text (where ‘aman, particularly in the hiphil form, routinely has the meaning of “standing firm” in the face of adversity; cf. Gen. 15:6; Ex. 14:31; et al.).

In his book (p. 18), he states:

It is obvious that the [‘AMĒN/’MN] root in the OT is not restricted to the sense of an action-motivating faith/trust in God.  The idea of truth [ALĒTHIA] is one important nuance of the Hebrew [‘AMĒN/’MN]; also the idea of “standing firm.”

On page 21, he cites Bultmann’s statistic that ALĒTHIA “is used 87 times . . . and 22 times” by the Septuagint as a Greek translation for forms of the same root as ‘AMĒN.  On page 29, he cites Weiser: “There is an ‘exclusiveness of the reciprocal relation between God and man’ which is to be found in the religious use of” the hiphil of the root of ‘AMĒN.  This indicates that humans who stand firm in trusting God as the true one have a relationship with God that is “the divinely established basis of the community of God.”  In the footnotes of page 29, Dennis notes: “It is significant here that [the hiphil of the root of ‘AMĒN] is never used for the relationship to other gods and idols.”  Hence, one might understand that relationship between the “true” God and his people is the only relationship actually based upon “truth.”  Dennis states (p. 35) that even the word PISTIS in Classical Greek “could not fully express the idea of ‘truth’ which is inherent in [cognates of ‘AMĒN] so [ALĒTHIA] had to be adopted in many instances.”  Nor did PISTIS “necessarily have the base meaning of ‘to stand firm,’ which is extremely important in” the hiphil of the root of ‘AMĒN.  When the New Testament, written in Greek, finds it necessary to translate the Hebrew concept of ‘AMĒN into Greek, it uses cognates of PISTIS. Dennis places PISTIS in the LXX and New Testament into the classification of words borrowed from another language, but with the meaning carrying over from the original language (p. 16).  This is precisely what I meant when I commented: “John writes in Greek, but thinks in Hebrew.”  If, therefore, the location of “truth” [ALĒTHIA] is to be found in God and Jesus and, as The ‘AMĒN, Jesus represents absolute truth, the proper response of humans to Jesus and God is a response of absolute trust and “faith” that causes them to “stand/hold fast” (PISTIS).  Dennis (p. 18) writes: “The idea of truth [ALĒTHIA] is one important nuance of the Hebrew [cognates of ‘AMĒN]; also the idea of ‘standing firm,’” and the Hebrew connotations of cognates of ‘AMĒN transfer over to cognates of PISTIS, in the New Testament.  Furthermore, Dennis (p. 29) citing Weiser, states that the Hiphil of ‘AMĒN is used by the Old Testament “only for the personal relation, for behind the word which one believes is the [one] whom one trusts.”  The Hiphil of ‘AMĒN is never used by the Old Testament “for the relation to other gods and idols.”  Other gods and idols, of course, would not be true or trustworthy.  On page 31, Dennis points out the absolute use of the Hiphil of ‘AMĒN in Isaiah 28:16:  It “denot[es] an attitude and manner of steadfastness, confidence and trust in the midst of a life-threatening situation.”  This sounds very much like the situation in which John’s audience in Revelation in 69 A.D. found themselves.

 

 




Faithful/PISTOS

Revelation uses the Greek noun PISTIS only four times, but in two of those instances (2:13 and 14:12), it refers to the faith/PISTIS of Christ.  There are three Greek ways of understanding this “faith of Christ” construction:  1.  Jesus is the one who has faith (subjective genitive), 2.  Jesus is the object of others’ faith, i.e., they believe Jesus (objective genitive), and  3. What Dennis (pp. 105-106), following Hultgren, calls “Christic faith,” “the faith of the believer which comes forth as Christ is proclaimed in the gospel” (genitive of quality), “an instance of Semitic [Hebrew] syntax underlying the Greek.” In the other two instances of PISTIS in Revelation, Jesus in 2:19 compliments the church at Thyatira for their faith—probably, referring to that “Christic faith” mentioned 6 verses earlier—and in 13:10, John describes that “faith of the saints”: “He who leads into captivity shall go into captivity; he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.”  It is a patient faith that surely implies the possibility of captivity and death. 

 

In the passage cited at the first of this blog post (3:14), plus 1:5 and 22:6, the adjective PISTOS is used instead of the noun PISTIS.  PISTOS, translated “faithful,” is used to describe Jesus as a “faithful witness/MARTYS.”  As we considered in my previous post, MARTYS in Revelation, generally means one who has been killed for the faith.  Jesus, certainly fits the description.  Also, Antipas (who was killed) is called Jesus’ faithful/PISTOS witness in 2:13.  Therefore, both the PISTIS connotation and the MARTYS connotation carry the concept of being killed. Indeed, Jesus tells the church at Smyrna (2:10 NKJV), “Be faithful [PISTOS] until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” In 17:14, the Christians who are “conquerors” with Christ are called faithful/PISTOS.  As we will see later, the term “conquerors” also carries the connotation in Revelation of one who has been slain.  In 19:11, Jesus is called “Faithful/PISTOS and True/ ALĒTHINOS.” Actually, the combination “Faithful/PISTOS and True/ ALĒTHINOS” occurs four times, twice (3:14 and 19:11) referring to Jesus as Faithful/PISTOS and True/ ALĒTHINOS, and twice (21:5 and 22:6) referring to the words of the Book of Revelation as Faithful/PISTOS and True/ ALĒTHINOS.

Having classified PISTIS as a word “borrowed from another language, but with the meaning carrying over from the original language,” I have been transitioning from Dennis’s area of expertise into my own.  Holding a Ph.D. in Rhetoric from Purdue University and having completed all coursework for a second Ph.D. in Rhetoric from the University of Illinois, I understand well the distinction Aristotle makes between “absolute truth” and “probable truth.”  Specifically, the term faith/PISTIS is a basic term in Rhetoric, as the goal of finding “probable truth.”  But, before we get to Aristotle, we must first briefly consider the Jewish historian Josephus (a contemporary of John the Revelator, born a few years after Jesus’ resurrection), and one of Plato’s Jewish advocates Philo (a Jew who lived contemporaneously with Jesus and who, some scholars have suggested, had an impact on John’s Gospel).  As Dennis (p. 188) correctly sees, “the line of distinction should be properly seen between the biblical kind of faith and the secular Greek kind of faith.”  For all practical purposes, Aristotle, Plato, Philo, and Josephus were all using “the secular Greek kind of faith.”  On page 82, Dennis states: “Josephus often uses [PISTIS] to mean “proof, evidence.”  Dennis (p. 80) cites David M. Hay to the effect that PISTIS in Josephus “refers to that which inspires faith or trust.” This is certainly an Aristotelian use of PISTIS.  Aristotle uses the plural of PISTIS (PISTEIS), to identify those “proofs” that produce faith/PISTIS. On page 57, Dennis acknowledges that PISTIS, “as . . . proof, appears quite frequently in the plural in Philo.”  This is also an Aristotelian use of PISTIS.

 


So, what does Aristotle say about faith/PISTIS? As I explained in my post Apocalyptic? #15, “Aristotle suggests that there are three primary [artistic] means of persuasion that humans develop” in the realm of Rhetoric.  These are ethos, pathos, and logos.  Aristotle calls all three of these means of persuasion “proofs/PISTEIS.” Logic/LOGOS, trustworthiness/ETHOS, and emotion/PATHOS are all “proofs” used to “prove” that something that was otherwise “unprovable” given the limitations of human knowledge was “probably” true.  A logical reason why the New Testament, as Dennis indicates (p. 188), must make “the line of distinction . . .  between the biblical kind of faith and the secular Greek kind of faith” is that the New Testament CANNOT adopt a stance that “Christic Faith” could be only “probable” truth.  Instead, if faith/PISTIS “denot[es] an attitude and manner of steadfastness, confidence and trust in the midst of a life-threatening situation,” one’s faith must be an absolute faith.  One must believe that Jesus and God are “absolutely true.”

 


This link in the syllogistic chain (see my book The Logic of Christianity:  A Syllogistic Chain) brings us to a stunning conclusion:  If Jesus and God both know “absolute truth,” there is no room for debate between them on ANY ISSUE.  There is no need for Rhetoric between God and Jesus, because both individuals KNOW “Absolute Truth.”  The “issues” concerning which humans debate, using argumentation and rhetoric do not exist between God and Jesus.  They do not differ in perspective concerning which candidate fairly won the election.  They both know for certain.  They do not argue whether abortion is murder or not.  They both know for certain.  They do not disagree about what will happen in the future.  They both know for certain.    They do not argue whether the Chinese Communist Party intentionally released the COVID19 virus on the world.  They both know for certain.  They do not argue whether greenhouse gasses are dangerous to the Earth.  They both know for certain.  Even in areas of “science,” they both know for certain much more than the scientists know. They both know whether there is life on Mars or any other location in the universe.  They both know for certain, at any given point in time, the number of ever-decreasing hairs on my head. 

 


If, therefore, both God and Jesus know absolute truth, concerning everything, there is no point of disagreement between them concerning anything.  People do not disagree about things that are considered “fact.”  People have trouble understanding how God and Jesus can BOTH rule the universe, without any conflict.  It is because they never argue; they never disagree, they don’t have differing opinions, because they both know “absolute truth” for certain.  Therefore, as we approach two of the most interesting chapters in Revelation—Chapter 4 where God is “worth-shipped” (understand, worshipped) by all creation and Chapter 5 where the Lamb is “worth-shipped” (understand, worshipped) by all creation—we can see that there is absolutely no conflict between these two individuals.  They do not argue (Rhetoric) about anything.  They both know everything for certain.  As John 10:30 states: “I and My Father are one." Even though my wife, Linda, and I are "one flesh," we still argue at times.  Because, for humans, there is only probable truth.  There is no “probable truth” for them.  All is “absolute truth.”  So, does absolute truth exist?  Absolutely!