Philosophy 101, part 2: Aquinas’ Five Ways

Today, I continue the series on philosophy by briefly summarizing and responding to Thomas Aquinas’ Five Ways, a scholastic argument for the existence of God that appears in his life’s work Summa Theologica. 

Aquinas outlines five corresponding and interrelated reasons for believing in God. The actual outline in the original text is fairly straightforward, so I’ll keep it simple here too:

  1. Reason 1, “the argument from motion”: Aquinas argues that all things in this world are in motion from potentiality to actuality. He gives the example of fire and wood, stating that the hot transformation from wood to ash is only a potential until fire actually transforms the wood. Fire, in this example, is the primary cause and puts in motion the transformation, for the transformation of wood to ash could not happen without fire. In other words, everything in universe is set in motion by something else, so therefore, there must be a primary cause (i.e. God)
  2. Reason 2, “the argument of the efficient cause”: There must be something that is responsible for the initial causality of the universal movement from potentiality to actuality, and that thing must be outside of nature because nature does not have the innate ability to cause actualize itself.
  3. Reason 3, “the argument from possibility and necessity”: Here,  Aquinas states that if it is possible for anything to not exist then there must be a primary cause that caused the first thing to exist. Something exists only by something with a necessary (differing from possible) existence that allows other things to exist. That thing, Aquinas concludes, is God.
  4. Reason 4, “the argument from gradation”: There exists a universal scale by which we can measure good and less good, true and less true, noble and less noble. This scale must have two extremes, for instance the most good and the least good, or the most true or the least true. Therefore, there must exist a greatest good, which is God.
  5. Reason 5, “the argument from the governance of the world”: Culminating all five of these reasons, Aquinas concludes that all natural beings move towards a telos, or an end goal, and they do so in a way that is designed for them. However, nothing intelligent can act towards their end without direction as an arrow cannot be directed towards a target without an archer. Therefore, God is the director orchestrating all natural intelligence towards its end.

Response

I think Aquinas is onto something when he talks about the primary cause of the universe. Unless the universe is like a number line extending eternally in both directions, which is an assumption we’d have to make for all physical properties we experience are non-eternal, then the universe can essentially be traced back to its origins through a series of causes and beginning with a primary cause. Logically, this makes sense. Things have a beginning. It also makes sense that this primary cause must also be a necessary cause beyond the universe, because the universe can’t act upon itself to bring itself into existence if the universe does not exist. Nothing can’t transform into something unless acted upon by an outside force, which Aquinas concludes is God.

However, thinking through this argument like a skeptic, Aquinas’ own argument could be used against Him. Aquinas presupposes that God is both the eternal primary and necessary cause. However, this argument falls apart using Aquinas’ own logic–something can’t actualize its own existence, yet Aquinas argues that God does that very same thing. If one were to accept Aquinas’ argument at face value, one would have to believe that God is outside the boundaries of physical reality that we know of, allowing Himself to exist eternally and act upon Himself without being acted upon by an outside force.

Lastly, I think Aquinas’ postulation about the greatest good and the least good can be argued as relative. What defines good? Or great? The way that I would define the greatest good might be different than the definition given by someone in a different culture or different time. Theoretically, it’s possible that the greatest good that we can imagine is not the greatest good that actually exists because we have not progressed far enough to imagine greater things. However, taken at face value, Aquinas’ argument, as far as I’m concerned, holds up.

Philosophy 101, part 1: Anselm’s Ontological Argument

I’m beginning to do more reading in philosophy to help myself gain a better understanding of the world and the way people think. I’m going to be posting here some very brief summaries and responses to the arguments I read as I go through The Norton Introduction to Theology (2nd. Edition). Writing some of these arguments out will help me understand them and analyze their logic.

Here is a summary to Anselm’s famous Ontological Argument.

Anselm defines God to be “something than which nothing greater can be thought,” or the highest conceivable something. From this, he argues that if we can think about God in our minds, then God exists in our mind, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that God exists in reality, for it is different to exist in the mind than to exist in reality. Anselm illustrates this concept with an artist. Before an artist paints, the artist envisions in their mind the finished painting. But the painting only exists in the mind of the artist until the artist paints the picture. Then the painting exists in reality.

Key to Anselm’s argument is the belief that it is better to exist in reality than in the mind alone. And if we’re defining God as the highest conceivable something then he has to exist in reality. For God to be something than which nothing greatest can be thought, he must exist in the best form, which is in reality. Therefore, God exists in reality.

Response

Anselm’s ontological argument seems to work in theory. If God exists in our minds as the greatest being, and it is better to exist in reality than in the mind alone, then God must exist in reality. I think the danger in this argument is concluding that what exists in our minds must therefore exist in reality, but that seems to be an unfair reduction of Anselm’s argument.

In order to better understand Anselm’s argument, I think I need a better definition of “mind”. What is the nature of the mind in which God exists, and how would Anselm’s argument change given various different philosophical definitions of the mind? Also, Anselm presupposes that it’s better to exist in reality than in the mind alone. Better for whom? Better for the object in existence? Better for the one in whose mind the object exists? Better for others? Also, what does “better” mean? Better seems to be a pretty relative scale. Better living conditions for someone in a third-world country might be better to them, but not better to someone living in Bel Air. People can imagine some pretty horrific things like Ebola, racism, and genocide. So how are the existence of those things in reality better than the existence of those things in the mind alone? It would seem that it would be better for those thing to exist in the mind only, for reality would be far better without them. I therefore have to come to an understanding of what Anselm means by “better” and how existing in reality is better than existing in the mind alone.

The Difference Between Making Time and Having Time

If you’re like me, you struggle finding the time to read your Bible and pray in your day. Most of us already wake up pretty early, we work (at least) eight hours a day, and then come home to another list of thing to do around the house, people to pursue, a body to keep in shape, and kids to take care of. And even if you do find some spare time in the evenings, you want to spend it doing something enjoyable and relaxing like watching that one Office episode for the twelfth time, playing video games, or reading. Spending time reading the Bible and praying seems to be the last on the list of things to do because we 1) don’t want to make the time, and 2)don’t believe it’s as rewarding or relaxing as Netflix. I’m going to address both the first of these obstacles to our pursuit of a vibrant and fruitful relationship with Jesus.

Having Time: The state of possessing the time that is given to every single person by their Maker.

Making Time: Intentionally investing the time one already possesses in something specific that matters to you.

In spoken English, we gloss over the difference between making time and having time so effortlessly that we lost the understanding of the important distinction between them. That is, until we experience it for ourselves.

Suppose you have a best friend that has gotten quite busy and harder to hang out with. After repeated phone calls, and texts, they finally get back to you, apologize for their lack of communication, and agree that it’s time to hang out: Starbucks, 7AM, at the wobbly table next to the fountain. You’re so ecstatic that you show up early at 6:55 and wait. Finally, they show up at 7:10–a little late but not too bad, you suppose–and after you exchange excited greetings after having not seen each other for so long, they pull their laptop out of their backpack and open it up. Curious, you ask what they’re doing, to which they tell you that they have to get some work done, and then proceed to ask you about your life and attempt to reconnect with you. You begin to tell them about your life but their eyes are glued to their screen as they furiously type away, and you’re met with halfhearted nods and occasional “Oh wow”‘s. How do you feel?

We all have time. Roughly 90 years of it. It’s been given to us as a gift by a good Father. Even your rude best friend who’s more intent on working than catching up has the same amount of time that you do. And it could be argued that they’re giving it to you. It’s not in a way that does you justice as a fellow human being and especially not as their best friend, but they are giving you time. But as many people who’ve gone through similar relational distance can tell you, relationships where you give each other time you have instead of time you make don’t often bear much fruit.

Unfortunately we can’t conjure up more time for ourselves ex nihilo, from thin air. That’s not what it means to make time. Making time, as opposed to having time, indicates that you are taking time you already have and making something of it. You’re putting it to a specific, intentional use. When you make something of your time you are treating that time as an investment and putting it towards something that matters to you. It’s similar to a financial investment. You and I could both have $100, but the person that makes something of that $100 by investing it in something for a greater return instead of just putting it away will come out richer in the end (cf. Matt. 25:14-30). And just like how you handle your money determines what you value, what you make time for determines your priorities.

Because God is real and has revealed Himself to us through the person and work of Jesus (cf. Heb. 1), we are able to have a real relationship with God like we would have with another living, talking, thinking human being. And even though Jesus gave up everything for us (Philippians 2:3-11), we still go about giving God sloppy seconds from the time we have (which is time He gave to us in the first place) instead of making something of the time He has given to us by spending time with Him.

Questions:

  • With the amount of time I currently spend pursuing Jesus, am I setting aside intentional time for Him or just giving Him time?
  • Think now about your personal relationships in general. How does Genesis 1:26-27 affect how you make time for other people instead of just letting them have your time? (Hint: This is HUGE.)
  • Think about the people in your church community. Are you intentionally making time and energy for them or slipping them in when you find time?
  • Think about the people in your local community, the non-Christians that surround you on a daily basis. Are you intentionally making time and energy for them or slipping them in when you find time?

 

The Dishonor of Hope

Lauren and I are leading our Family Group (weekly small group) at church through Philippians this fall. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past several weeks reading, digesting, writing, meditating, and praying on some of Paul’s themes in Philippians. This morning, Philippians 1:20 caught my attention. To give some context, Paul’s writing his hope for deliverance from prison (1:19), whether by dying in prison as a martyr for Christ or by being released and allowed to continue his missionary efforts (1:21). In 1:20, Paul writes about his hope in Christ for deliverance, saying,

“it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body”

What does Paul mean about the relationship between hope and shame?

Very simply, hope is a “feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen,” or, “a feeling of trust” (Link). When you hope, you place your trust in a thing that you believe can bring goodness, however you believe goodness will look like. Hope can be very simple, like, “I hope this chair holds me when I sit in it.” I am placing my trust (hoping) in something (the chair) that I believe can bring goodness (give me a place to rest my fat butt). Hope can also be more complex when it’s placed in a person, like, “I hope he washes the dishes.” In this example, I am placing my trust (hoping) in someone (he) that I believe can bring goodness (clean dishes, a clean sink, and less work for myself). Whether we realize it or not, we place our hope in things and people every day.

Which can get messy pretty fast. What if I place my hope in something that I think is trustworthy when it’s actually not? For instance, I could place my hope in this chair next to me that it will hold my weight, but the chair could have a broken leg that I don’t know about and will collapse when I sit in it. In this case, my hope is misplaced. Or, I could believe that the person I’m hoping will do the dishes will actually do the dishes and not spend the entire night wasting time or prioritizing other things. If I place my hope in a person, and that person is unworthy of my trust, then my hope is misplaced. This is what Paul’s getting at. In his words, when our hope isn’t fully realized we are put to shame (cf. Rom. 5:5; Ps. 119:116). We are dishonored. Paul’s hope is placed in Christ Jesus who is working through the Spirit’s intercession in the prayers of the Philippian saints (1:19; cf. Rom. 8:29). Because Jesus is God (Heb. 1:1-14), Paul knows that the object of his hope is trustworthy and will not fail. He will not be ashamed.

This is why it’s so important to put your hope in something trustworthy so that we are not put to shame and dishonored when our hope fails. 

I’ve been convicted lately that I’m placing too much hope in finances. As Lauren and I plan for the future, it’s way too easy to obsess over the dollars flowing into bank accounts, investment accounts, and our retirement plans. I confess that I check the balances of our accounts enough that I’m embarrassed to calculate how many times within the past week I’ve logged on. And as I think through hope this morning, I know that my hope has shifted from God’s care for us in miraculously providing a terrific job for Lauren so quickly after graduation, a job with better compensation for myself within a month of my move up to Sacramento from LA, extraordinary financial support from friends and family throughout the wedding season, and relatively few expenses and financial burdens. But if I’m placing my hope in our finances and they fail us one day, I will be put to shame as Paul writes. I need to remember that it’s God who has provided for us every step of the way so that even if our finances dwindle and falter we know that He will continue to provide for us because He is a good, faithful Father.

Of Wilderness: A Life Update

There are two things that are stereotypical male interests: Guns and cars. And I lack interest in both–guns are loud and kill people and cars are boring and expensive. Admittedly, I do think it would be fun to restore an older muscle car and learn my way around a garage, but lack of money, time, and space keeps me from doing such things. And that’s why I’m writing this right now. I’m dusting off the engine, tightening the bolts, draining and refilling the gas tank, and giving my blog a nice, soapy bath.

It’s been several years since I’ve written anything–two to be exact–and I wanted to write a short life update. The last time I wrote was in 2016. It is now 2018. In the past two years I (in chronological order):

  • Preached my first real sermon.
  • Met the sweetest, most beautiful woman and promptly fell in love.
  • Traveled to Ireland and South Africa.
  • Graduated Eternity Bible College with a bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies (in absentia because I was currently chasing monkeys around the streets of Durban, South Africa)
  • Brought home a California girl to my central Pennsylvania parents for the first time.
  • Traveled to Las Vegas, NV, for the first time.
  • Moved from Los Angeles to live in Sacramento, CA, which is where my wife and I currently reside.
  • Began leading a small group at our new church, which is pastored by one of my professors from Eternity (small world, huh?)
  • Married the same sweetest, most beautiful woman mentioned above. We honeymooned in Isla Mujeres, MX, and it was an absolute dream.
  • Traveled to Salt Lake City, UT, and Portland, OR, for the first time.
  • Have read more books than I remember but less than I desire.
  • Have freed my emotions from the cage of shame and embarrassment in which I imprisoned them. Seriously, I cry often now and over the most random things. I cried over a beer once. No, I wasn’t drunk.
  • Have been gratefully two years porn-free in November.
  • Have met new people, deepened existing friendships, and suffered through loss.

And the entire way, my relationship with God has changed. I’ve wandered through the wildernesses of the deepest valleys of my life, and yet He faithfully rescued me and patiently led me out each time.

It’s time for rebirth.

“To the one who conquers”

BDAG defines νικάω in three different ways. First, νικάω could mean, “To win in the face of obstacles, be victor, conquer, overcome,” in both a militaristic and a legal sense (Arndt, 673). Second, νικάω could be paired with an accusative noun, meaning, transitively, “To overcome someone, vanquish, overcome,” or passively, “To be overcome or vanquished” (673). Here, νικάω loses the warfare imagery and instead takes on an air of common struggle between two competing forces. Lastly, νικάω could transitively juxtapose superiority and inferiority when paired with a dative noun, as in “To surpass in ability, outstrip, excel” (673). Throughout the New Testament, the first two options are the most common, with the last option most common in ancient writings. But it’s shocking to learn that νικάω only appears once in the New Testament in clearly militaristic language (Luke 11:22) and once more in legal terms (Rom. 3:4; cp. LXX Psalm 50:6). With all but one occurrence in Johannine literature (John 16:33, Rom 12:21, 1 John 2:13, 14, 4:4, 5:4, 5), the majority of the New Testament outside Revelation uses νικάω in the sense of overcoming. Most reliable modern English translations consistently translate νικάω in this sense of “overcome,” except the NRSV which favors “Conquer” (John 16:33, 1 John 2:13, 4:4, 5:4, 5:5). Conquering, or more accurately, “Overcoming”, is a biblically Johannine concept through and through. Strangely enough, English translations switch from “overcome” to “conquer” throughout Revelation, indicating that a radical shift takes place in the exegetical interpretation of νικάω between the rest of the New Testament and John’s apocalypse.

As Revelation opens, νικάω finds itself in familiar territory. Four out of the seventeen occurrences of νικάω in Revelation clearly invoke militaristic imagery (6:2, 11:7, 13:7, 17:14). Notably, in these four instances the characters doing the conquering are the white horse of the seven seals (6:2), the beast from the bottomless pit (11:7), the beast from the sea (13:7), and the Lamb (17:14). This leaves the remaining eleven appearances of νικάω in Revelation to bear the second definition (“Overcome”), consistent with the majority of the rest of the New Testament. Ten times νικάω is applied to faithful Christians (2:7, 11, 17, 26, 3:5, 12, 21, 12:11, 15:2, 21:7) and once only to the Lion of Judah (5:5). Interestingly enough, English translations vary on their interpretations. The ESV switches from the previously favored “overcome” outside of Revelation to “conquer” within Revelation, while the NASB chooses “overcome”. John makes it clear with this clear reversal that the theme of “conquering” in his apocalypse is not a violent, militaristic one. Instead, the dominant usage of νικάω demonstrates the more general sense of struggle between two opposing forces without insinuating physically warring factions. While militaristic language is involved in four passages (6:2, 11:7, 13:7, 17:14), each passage must be scrutinized to determine if John’s militaristic language implies militaristic action or if he uses this imagery as a symbol. The absence of clear bloodshed in the remaining eleven passages makes it risky at best to inject violence into νικάω universally. That is, when John uses νικάω (“conquer”), he rarely implies physical warfare. Yet conquering remains a dominant theme in Revelation. Both the reversal in translation and John’s persistent usage of νικάω hints at the importance of this word for the Christian life. Both the corporate Church and individual Christians are conquered by the wrath of the beast but participate in the result of νικάω, the victory of the conquering Lamb.

It’s impossible to understand how John expects Christians to conquer without letting his letters to the seven churches around the Roman Empire in chapters 2-3 lay the foundation (Bauckham, 91). First, John encourages the Ephesians that the one who conquers will “to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (2:7). The immediate context implies that the conqueror will experience the gifts of the tree of life in the New Jerusalem. These gifts are the twelve fruits for twelve seasons and “healing of the nations” in 22:2 given to those who wash their robes in the blood of the lamb (22:14). In Old Testament context, the tree of life resembled the presence of God in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:9). In the same way that the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is life-taking (Gen. 2:17), the Tree of Life is life-giving (cf. Prov. 3:18, 11:30, 13:12, 15:4; Ps. 1:3). It’s no coincidence that the tabernacle lampstands that John uses earlier to describe the Church (Rev. 1:12, 20) represent Yahweh’s presence in the tabernacle (Num. 8:1-4; Ex. 25:30-31) and resemble the tree of life (cf. “flowers”, Ex. 25:31; “branches”, 25:32; “almond blossoms”, 25:33) (Beale, 1093). For Ephesus, the conqueror will partake in the divine, life-giving presence of God in the New Jerusalem, the paradise of God (cf. Ezek. 28:13, 31:8-9) and will be life-giving themselves by shining light on the son of man “in the midst of the lampstands” (Rev. 1:13) through their love for one another (Gorman, 92). This is the Church’s true calling.

Second, to the church in Smyrna John writes that the one who conquers “will not be hurt by the second death” (Rev. 2:11). The second death is the eternal condemnation that John depicts as an eternally smoking lake of fire (14:11, 19:20, 20:10-15, 21:8) reserved for those whose name is absent from the Book of Life (20:15). While all people endure the first death, which is a physical one, no faithful Christian who conquers will face the second death. Instead, conquerors will be declared righteous and go forward into new life (20:6) (Beale 1093-1094).

Third, to the church in Pergamum John writes that Jesus will give the conqueror “some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it” (2:17). In the Old Testament, the hidden lesson behind the manna (Ex. 16) humbles, tests, and uplifts Israel by teaching them that they cannot live without “every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deut. 8:3, 16). In Revelation, John writes of the Lord’s word (Rev. 2:12) as a sword (1:16; 2:16; 19:15, 21). By recapitulating the imagery of Deuteronomy, John shows that the hidden manna the overcomer receives is really the word of God, the sword of Jesus’ mouth that acts as a faithful and true testimony (cf. Heb. 4:12, Eph. 6:17). Furthermore, just as white stones bearing the name of the reigning emperor or one of the gods were given to gladiatorial victors or as tickets of admission to ceremonial feasts (Wright 24), the conqueror will receive victory in death and entrance to the Messianic wedding feast of the Lamb (19:6-10). Instead of bearing the name of emperor or pagan deity, these stones will bear the hidden name of Jesus (cf. 19:12), the true deity.

Fourth, John tells the church in Thyatira that conquerors will be given “authority over the nations” to “rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as [Jesus received] authority from [His] Father,” and they will be given “the morning star” (2:26-28). In the most Messianic Psalm, David similarly pens that God’s anointed king will rule all the nations as his heritage with a rod of iron, dashing the nations to pieces like pottery (Ps. 2:8-9). The ruler in the immediate context is David himself but the ruler is eschatologically Messianic (cf. Rev. 12:5, 19:15). John reverses this imagery to state that the conqueror will rule alongside Jesus as Jesus Himself received authority from His Father as to co-rule side by side (3:21, 20:4; cf. Dan. 7:18, 22) . No rule comes without conquering; if the faithful Christian will rule like Jesus they must also conquer like Jesus. Additionally, faithful Christians receive the “morning star” (22:16) which is Jesus Himself–an interpretation directly from Balaam’s prophecy over Israel in Numbers 24:17 (cp. “scepter” with “rod of iron”, Ps. 2:8-9; Rev. 2:27, 12:5, 19:15) (Beale 1095-1096).

Fifth, John writes to the church in Sardis that the conqueror “will be clothed thus in white garments, and [Jesus] will never blot his name out of the book of life. [Jesus] will confess his name before [the] Father and before his angels” (3:5). As opposed to the Laodicean church—typically painted as the unfaithful church of John’s letters—whom John tells to buy white garments (3:18), the white garments are given to the church in Sardis. Faithful Christians will be made holy and pure through refinement (2 Esdr 2:40-41; cf. Dan. 11:35, 12:10) represented by white royal garments received upon entrance to the New Jerusalem (cf. 3:18; 4:4; 6:11; 7:9, 13, 14; 19:14). Additionally, the names of faithful Christians who conquer are recorded in the book of life (cf. Ps. 56:8, 69:28; Dan. 12:1-2, Ex. 32:32-33; Phil. 4:3) and Jesus, as The Faithful and True Witness (1:5, 3:14, 19:11) promises to confess their names before the Father (cf. Matt. 10:32-33, Lk. 12:8, Mk. 8:38, 1 John 2:23). The names of those who follow the beast, however, are excluded from the book (Rev. 13:7; 17:18; 20:12, 15).

Sixth, John writes to the Philadelphians that Jesus will make the conqueror “a pillar in the temple of my God…and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the New Jerusalem…and my own new name” (3:12). In the ancient Near East (ANE), pillars were used commemoratively, ritually, and legally as signs highlighting the significance of prior events, e.g. the pillar Joshua set up to commemorate the covenant between Yahweh and Israel as a witness against Israel’s disobedience to the covenant (Josh. 24:26-27). They were often inscribed with the names, deities, or places they represented (cf. 2 Sam. 18:18, Gen. 28:18-22, 31:45-54, 35:13-15) (Millard, “Pillar”). For John, the overcomer will become a living commemorative pillar in the New Jerusalem inscribed with the name of God the Father, the New Jerusalem, and Jesus’ own name (cf. 19:12) to bear witness as a sign pointing to the full glory and majesty of God.

Lastly, and arguably bearing the most hermeneutical weight of all the letters to the seven churches, John writes to the Laodiceans that Jesus will grant conquerors “to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (3:21, emphasis added). The conqueror is expected to conquer like Jesus conquered so that they may sit with Jesus on His throne just as Jesus sits with the Father on His throne (2:26, 3:26-27, 20:4; cf. Matt. 19:28). If the Church desires a seat on the throne with Jesus, then the Church must be like Jesus by conquering like Jesus conquered. This message to the Laodicean church serves as a summary of all seven ecclesiastical letters: Because all blessings flow from the throne of God (cf. 22:1), rewards of eternal life (2:7, 11; 3:5), entrance into the new Kingdom (2:17, 3:12), and co-authority (2:26-27, 3:21) are given to Christians who conform to both the actions and the identity of the fully revealed image of God Himself, the cruciform Son of God and paschal Lamb, the True and Faithful Witness, Jesus the Messiah. Shortly after the ecclesiastical letters, John pens the hermeneutical key concerning νικάω and the means by which faithful Christians conquer: “And they conquered [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death” (12:11). The twin means by which Christians conquer are by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their own testimony. The seven ecclesiastical letters show the rewards given to conquerors who endure faithfully to the end in light of socio-political pressures. In his immensely accessible introduction to Revelation, Dr. Michael Gorman contends that John confronts “the reality of various kinds of persecution, and the strong temptation to accommodate, with accommodation perhaps being seen by some as the way to avoid or stop persecution” (Gorman 90). Faithful Christians conquer by enduring the wrath of the beast for their nonviolent subversion to the imperial empire and uncompromising citizenship to the virtues and principles of the heavenly kingdom, the kingdom of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God.

In John the apostle’s gospel, John the Baptist identifies Jesus as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29, 36). John’s imagery of the lamb is pulled directly from Exodus 12 where God instructs the Israelites to sacrifice a year-old lamb “without blemish” (Ex. 12:5) and cover their doorframes with its blood. The sacrificial lamb’s blood simultaneously saved the Israelites from the wrath of the Angel of Death (Ex. 12:12-13, 29) and condemned the rest of Egypt. The Passover lamb was not the first occurrence of sacrifice in the Old Testament (i.e. Gen. 22:13), but nevertheless the Passover set the stage for the rest of the sacrificial law in the Pentateuch. When Isaiah later prophesies that the Messiah will be like a “lamb led to the slaughter and like a sheep before its shearers remains silent” (Isa. 53:7; cf. Jer. 11:19), he asserts that the promised Messiah will be like a Passover lamb. The perfect Messianic lamb does what the Passover lamb cannot do by taking on the transgressions and iniquities of God’s people (Isa. 53:5). The apostle Philip correctly applies imagery of a lamb to Jesus while evangelizing the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:32. Similarly, Paul refers to Jesus as “our Passover lamb” in 1 Cor. 5:7, and Peter later likens Christ’s blood to “that of a lamb without blemish” (1 Pet. 1:19). When John writes to the Church in Revelation that “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David” (cf. Gen. 49:9, Isaiah 11:1-10, Matthew 1:2-3, Rom. 15:12 Heb. 7:14) can open the seals because He conquered, his readers without a doubt would have connected this back to Jesus also. But Jesus did not conquer like a roaring, flesh-ripping lion, and in John’s vision a lion never appears. Paradoxically, a slain lamb arrives (Rev. 5:6) like a powerful lion, showing that Jesus conquered as a lamb, sacrificially. Because Revelation is a call for saints to conform to the pattern of Christ, Christians likewise do not conquer as lions but as lambs. As Jesus, the Lamb of God, conquered evil by being conquered on a cross, Christians too conquer by the blood of the Lamb. For John, saints conquer by being conquered (Sprinkle 179).

The second means by which Christians conquer is by the word of their testimony (Rev. 12:11). The implications of John’s apocalypse for the life of the Church centers around two peculiar visions both relating to the Church’s testimony: The vision of the witnesses in chapter 11:1-14 and the vision of the harvests in 14:14-20. Both visions display the Church bearing witness to the testimony of the Lamb, sealing their eternal security, by being conquered. In chapter 11, John envisions a man measuring two areas, the temple of God (11:1) and the outer temple courts (11:2). Drawing on imagery from Dan. 8:13 and Isa. 63:18, John shows that what the man measures will be protected while what remains unmeasured remains unprotected (cf. Ezkek. 40-48). The presence of God dwelt inside the temple in the Old Testament, but in the New Testament the presence of God dwells inside His people (Eph. 2:22, 3:17; 1 Cor. 3:16, 2 Cor. 6:16) through the Spirit. In John’s vision, the protected temple is the security of eternal salvation from the second death (2:11, 14:11, 19:20, 20:10-15, 21:8) for the Church while the unprotected temple courts are the Church’s external witness that will be trampled for a symbolic 42 years (Dan. 7, 9, 12; Israel’s 42 years in the wilderness). Furthermore, the two witnesses John sees are clearly a reinterpretation of the two witnesses necessary in the Israelite legal process (Deut. 17:6, 19:15; cf. Zech. 4:11-14). John labels these two faithful witnesses as lampstands (11:4) which he formerly identified as the Church (1:20). The two witnesses, the Church, will be killed by the beast for bearing witness to the Lamb (11:7), but the resurrection of the two witnesses, which is the Church’s final rescue from persecution and the second death, will bring all but a symbolic 7,000 to repentance (11:13, 14:7, 15:4, 16:9; cf. 1 Kings 19:18, Rom. 11:4) (Beale 1118-1122). Likewise, in Revelation 14, John mirrors the vision of Revelation 11 with different images. The harvest of the grain, which John draws from Joel 3:13 and various New Testament manuscripts (Matt. 9:37-38, 13:30-39; Mark 4:29; Luke 10:2; John 4:35), depicts the eternal security of the saints (11:1). With the vintage harvest (14:17-20) John shows that the Church will be trampled in the winepress of God’s wrath just like the outer courts of the temple in 11:2. Notably, this trampling occurs outside the holy city Jerusalem like Jesus’ crucifixion (Heb. 13:12) rather than inside the city walls (Rev. 14:20), indicating the pattern of Jesus’ death for the saints and once again the contrasting images of eternal security and external endangerment. Even as the Church suffers in the winepress of God’s wrath, the blood of their suffering is the instrument of God’s wrath (15:7, 16:1) that is then poured out on the world in judgment (Rev. 16-19) like aged wine (1133).

Nowhere here does the Church conquer with the sword or with beastly violence. Even though the sword appears in Revelation roughly ten times, the Church is never the one holding the hilt. Those who brandish the sword are Jesus (1:16; 2:12, 16; 19:15, 21), the rider on the red horse (6:4), the rider on the pale horse (6:8), the first beast (13:10, 14), and the second beast (13:14). It’s very possible that swords in the hands of Revelation’s antagonists are figurative for physical violence. But in all five instances, Jesus’ sword protrudes from His mouth. This sword is an image John employs to refer to the Word of God which “pierces to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and [discerns] the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12; cf. Eph. 6:17). Rather than take up the physical sword against their enemies, John commands his readers to wield the sword like Jesus, through their testimony as faithful witnesses. In this, they are faithful and true witnesses (2:13, 17:14) to The Faithful and True Witness (1:5, 3:14, 19:11). The testimony of the Church is perfectly fulfilled in their sacrificial death which will bring about their enemies’ salvation (11:13) and the nations’ judgment (Rev. 16-19). In summation, John calls the Church to conquer (2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21) with the Lamb (7:14, 12:11; cf. 3:21) by being conquered like the Lamb (5:6, 9, 12; 13:8) for their testimony and witness to the Lamb (11:1-14, 14:14-20) (Bauckham 87).

But like Paul, John does not envision a physical struggle against flesh and blood (Eph. 6:12). Rather, the main antagonist throughout Revelation is Satan, whose power is manifested through his two lackeys: The beast of the sea and the beast of the land. Writes Gorman, “Chapter 12 presents the central conflict narrative in cosmic perspective, chapter 13 in political perspective” (Gorman 123). As the curtains on this pagan trinity are pealed back for the first time, its goal is revealed to be the persecution of God’s saints (Rev. 11:7). First, John draws upon serpentine imagery in Genesis 3 to depict Satan as a dragon (12:9) who wages war against a woman, her child, and heavenly angels (12:1-17). Here, the pregnant woman crowned with twelve stars and dressed in garments reminiscent of priests (12: 1; cf. Exod. 28; 39) is none other than the priestly kingdom of Israel (1:6, 5:10). From her womb comes the Messiah, a male child who rules all the nations with a rod of iron (2:27, 19:15; cf. Ps. 2:9). These two images John fuses together to create a new picture of The Church as the woman and the witness they bear, like a child, concerning the Lamb. While she gives birth, Satan tries to devour the baby, pushing the woman and her child into the wilderness for 1,260 days, or three and a half years (42 months; cf. 11:2, 13:5). Though they are driven into barren wilderness, this wasteland is paradoxically God’s protective sanctuary (Dan. 8:11-13, 9:27;cf. 1 Macc. 1). Satan is here pictured in the Old Testament picture of a red, seven-headed (cf. Dan. 7:6-7), ten-horned (13:1), crowned dragon who represents pagan kingdoms opposed to the plan of God coming to fruition through Israel (cf. Ps. 74:13-14, 89:10; Ezek. 29:3, 32:2-3; Hab. 3:8-15) (Beale 1122). In this, Satan is the ultimate enemy of God’s people, and he manifests himself through polities opposing God’s people. In the most important verse in Revelation, as the battle between angels and the dragon over the woman and her child commences, the saints conquer Satan, plus the political empires Satan represents, “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death” (12:11). Unable to defeat Israel or the Messiah, Satan employs twin weapons, the beast from the land and the beast from the sea, to defeat the rest of the woman’s offspring (12:17) (Bauckham 90).

The beast that rises out of the sea’s chaos (13:1) is taken directly from Daniel 7:1-7, 20, 24. In Daniel’s interpretation of Belshazzar’s vision, the four beasts are interpreted as four political powers, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome, respectively. The first three beasts are identified as a lion, bear, and leopard, but the fourth beast remains unknown (cf. 13:2). In Revelation, John splices all four beasts in Daniel into one composite image of empire. The beasts’ ten horns are identified in Daniel as ten different kings (Dan. 7:24), and the ten crowns show that this beast is satanically empowered (12:3). As such, this thalassic beast embodies Satan’s prerogative to “make war on the saints and to conquer them” (13:7) through pagan empires opposed to God’s kingdom (Gorman 124). In this context, νικάω certainly implies militaristic violence.

The second beast completes the satanic trinity and rises from the earth (13:11). Unlike the first, this terrestrial beast is a parody of the lamb and has two horns (cf. Dan. 8:3), again indicating political power. As the true Lamb is a faithful and true witness (19:11), this second beast is a demonic witness to the satanic power of the first beast (13:12, 15). Because the first beast represents empire as a whole, this second beast represents the pagan civil religions of imperialism through drawing all people to worship the first beast (13:12) and forcing all people to submit themselves to the empire by bearing the marks of the empire (13:16-17) rather than the seal of God (Exod. 13:9, 16; Deut. 6:8, 11:18; Rev. 7:2-8) (Gorman 124). In Rome, emperors deified themselves and demanded worship from their subjects. Here, John uses gematria, a numerological system of assigning mathematical values to letters, to bring to mind Nero, the first in a long line of violently anti-Christian emperors. Using gematria, the Greek letters in “nerōn kaisar” total 666 (127). But this depiction is not limited to Nero. Rather, the true beast is simply any political leader opposed to the kingdom of God. Therefore, this demonic parody of the Christian trinity is made up of the dragon (Satan), the thalassic beast (empire), and the terrestrial beast (civil religion) in political subversion to the kingdom of God and violently conquering the people of God.

Revelation’s message can be summarized by John’s encouraging words in 13:10, as a “call for the endurance and faith of the saints”. John’s visions demonstrate how Christians are to live in these last days since Christ’s ascension aimed toward the coming of the fullness of God’s kingdom in the New Jerusalem. Enemies of the saints are plentiful, indeed, but they are best represented by the sum of their parts, as satanically empowered political empires that oppose the Lamb’s empire through the socio-political religion of the state. John’s pleads with Christians to “come out of” their Babylons (18:4) as in the Exodus (Ex. 12:33-42) by aligning themselves without compromise to the virtues of the kingdom of the Lamb. This radical call to become aliens and foreigners is so other-worldly that it creates an “upside-down kingdom” of saints who are persecuted violently to the point of death by the world for their faithful witness to God’s kingdom. The saints’ persecution for their nonviolent political subversion and their final vindication when God’s extracts judgment on all people opposed to Him is the very definition of testimony, and it’s through the saints’ testimony in death that the nations find life in the slain Lamb. Like the Lamb, saints conquer by being conquered.

In conclusion, John’s imperative is for Christians in all ages of the Church to apply Revelation’s message to their own socio-political situation. In Rome, John called Christians to reject all forms of emperor worship, even if it brought social, financial, or economic ruin. While Roman soil gulped the blood of gladiators, slaves, and martyrs at the coliseum, John’s call to Christians in Revelation is of nonviolent submission in the gentle form of the crucified Lamb of God who was led to His death in silence (Isa. 53:7). And when Rome’s economy exploited slavery (human souls; 18:13) and helped the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, Christians in the Roman Empire were commanded to speak with their money and not take part of the sins of Rome’s economy.

Modern American Christians are not the direct recipients of Revelation. Nevertheless, as the eternal word of God, Revelation was written for American Christians, and Revelation has vast implications on the way American Christians nonviolently oppose beastly socio-political empires. Revelation clearly speaks to the idolatrous socio-political self-exaltation of imperial nations like Japan, whose “manifest destiny” led them to commit the “forgotten holocaust of World War II” during the horrific Rape of Nanking (Chang, 27), and Germany, whose national ethnocentrism led to the actualization of Nietzsche’s Übermensch in the holocaust that spread the ashes of 6 million Jews across Europe. While it’s easy to point fingers at obvious examples of beastly empires, it’s harder to self-examine the motives and practices of our own nation. In a culture of consumerism emphasizing the “I” over the “we”, American Christians align themselves to God’s kingdom by participating in the cruciform image of God that looks “to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4). American Christians do this by serving their local churches, understanding that every financial and material possession are not their own but are gifts to be shared, and removing themselves from political establishments and functions that promote the prideful exaltation of America (the “I”) at the expense of those in other nations around the world (the “we”). In a culture inebriated by the wine of violence and self-defense—whether in the various branches of the national military, the rigid affirmation of the second amendment, or its glorification in popular media—American Christians model their lives after the non-violent resistance of their Savior, the slain Lamb, who willingly delivered Himself into the hands of His enemies to be brutally and wrongfully murdered for the salvation of His people by the ransom of His blood. American Christians do this by dissociating themselves with all branches of military that promote the American agenda of national security through violence, and by responding to all forms of personal attack in love by serving their attackers (Matt. 5:39, 6:29). In a greedy culture whose imperialistic colonialism crushes global economies and creates an “us vs. them” mentality in order to satisfy the empty cisterns of self-indulgence (Jer. 2:13), American Christians come out of broken socio-economic systems that promote greed by the way they spend their money and the purchases they make. American Christians realize that economic luxuries like coffee, chocolate, petrol, clothing, and beef, all carry global significance and propagate exploitative eco-structures that leave second- and third-world counties desolate and ruined, and American Christians adjust their financial and economic habits to accommodate fair-trade companies anti-sweatshop organizations so that they no longer participate in the American economy that often demolishes families in global economies. In an American culture that promotes a distortion of Godly sexuality to the extent that humans are sold as commodities to appease the wayward carnal pleasures of self-aggrandizement through pornography, human trafficking, personal relationships, and popular media, American Christians see every human with a soul minted in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27) with inherent worth and beauty that penetrates deeper than the flesh. American Christians give up all forms of sexually pornographic materials, cultivate personal relationships based on Jesus’ redefinition of love as self-sacrificial at the cross, and seek the amelioration of souls through the proclamation of the soul’s invaluable worth in the economy of God’s heavenly kingdom (DeSilva 97-103). In these ways, and others, the Jesus’ message through John in Revelation is fully realized in the life of the modern American Church as faithful witnesses to the promised kingdom of the Lamb over earthly kingdoms. Witnesses they are and lamblike they will be in the spilling of their blood. Come, Lord Jesus.

Arndt, William, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer. A Greek-English lexicon of the New       Testament and other early Christian literature 2000 : n. pag. Print.

Bauckham, Richard. The Theology of the Book of Revelation. Cambridge: Cambridge UP,             1993. Print.

Beale, G. K., and D. A. Carson. Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old           Testament. Grand Rapids, MI;  Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic;  Apollos, 2007.      Print.

Chang, Iris. The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II. New York,   NY: Basic, 1997. Print.

DeSilva, David Arthur. Unholy Allegiances: Heeding Revelation’s Warning. Peabody, MA:           Hendrickson Publishsers. 2013. Print.

Gorman, Michael J. Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness:            Following the Lamb into the New Creation. Eugene, Or.: Cascade, 2011. Print

Millard, A. R. “Pillar.” Ed. D. R. W. Wood et al. New Bible dictionary 1996 : n. pag. Print.

Sprinkle, Preston M., and Andrew Rillera. Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence.           Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2013. Print.

Wright, Tom. Revelation for Everyone. London; Louisville, KY: SPCK; Westminster John            Knox, 2011. Print. For Everyone Bible Study Guides.

Revelation’s Imagery, pt. 2: Sword

In Revelation, the sword is a weapon depicted in nine different places (1:16; 2:12, 16; 6:4, 8; 13:10, 14; 19:15, 21). The subjects who use the sword are Jesus (1:16; 2:12; 2:16, 19:15, 21), the rider of the red horse (6:4), the rider of the pale horse (6:8), the first beast (13:10, who is wounded by the sword, 13:14), the second beast (13:14 – He does not use the sword but preaches about the one wounded by the sword, the first beast). Out of all of these instances, Jesus is the only one who John specifies as the sword coming from His mouth (1:16; 2:16; 19:15, 21) or as His Word (2:12). This is in accordance with other NT writings such as Hebrews 4:12 and Eph. 6:17, which both liken the Word of God to a sword. Therefore, Jesus’ sword is not a literal sword, but an image that John uses to describe Jesus’ Word, which “pierces to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).

Revelation’s Imagery, pt. 1: Lampstand

Here’s some more of my scattered research while preparing for my final Revelation paper. Again, don’t judge how unedited and raw this is.

The lampstand in the Old Testament was a symbol in the tabernacle of Yahweh’s presence among His people (Num. 8:1-4; Ex. 25:30-31, reference to the lampstand right after reference to the Bread of the Presence). Incidentally enough, the tabernacle lampstands (symbolic for the Church in Revelation) are designed in such a way as to bring back memories of Eden’s Tree of Life (“flowers”, Ex. 25:31; “branches”, 25:32; “cups like almond blossoms”, 25:33). As God’s presence was represented as the Tree of Life in Eden (that which gives perfect life), so the Lampstand represents God’s presence in the tabernacle ( In the same way, the lampstand represented the mission of all of Israel to be a light to the nations (Isa. 42:6, 49:6, 51:4, 60:3) vis a vis a kingdom of priests (Ex. 19:6). Incidentally, when Babylon falls in 18:23 the “light of the lamp” (the witness of the Church; Matt. 5:14-15; Eph. 5:8; Phil. 2:15) will shine no longer. Important to note is that the voice of the bridegroom and the bride (the voice of God and His Church) will also no longer be heard. In the new city in Rev. 21, the Lamb as a lamp gives off the light of God’s glory, and there is no more need for earthly lights.

The lampstands (seven, plural) represent the universal, Church of all time, which is here depicted as seven Churches around the Roman empire (2:1-3:22). Their mission is depicted by the lampstand. As in Israel in the Old Testament, the Church as a lampstand is supposed to be representatives of Christ by letting the light of Christ shine through them as the light of the world (Matt. 5:14-15). Through the witness of the Church is the presence of Christ shone throughout the earth. Just as the presence of Yahweh inhabited the tabernacle through the lampstand, now the presence of Jesus inhabits the world through the Church as the body of Christ (Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 12:27; Eph. 1:23; 4:12; 5:30; Col. 1:24). In this way, Christians, both individually and corporately, mimic Jesus, for His light cannot shine though them in ways that it does not emanate from Him. More specifically, in this context, the only sword that Christians can pick up is the only one that Jesus Himself carries, the one that protrudes from His mouth. Thus, the warfare that Christians participate in is the same warfare that Jesus participates in, nonviolent warfare in which the greatest weapon on the side of the God’s army is His piercing Word. This is a spiritual reality that manifests itself physically.

“To the one who conquers…”, pt. 7: Rev. 3:21

This is perhaps the most important word of conquering in John’s seven messages to the churches because the Christian conqueror is called to participate in the same way that Jesus Himself conquered. There’s a pattern to this promise:
Christian: Conquering –> Sitting on the throne AS
Jesus: Conquered –> Sits on the throne with His father.

The Christian conquers and sits on the throne just as Jesus conquers and sits on the throne with His Father. For the Christian to conquer differently would break the pattern:
Christian: Conquering 1 –> Sitting on the throne AS
Jesus: Conquered 2 –> Sitting on the throne with His father.

The implications are that Christians must conquer in the same way that Jesus conquered so that they sit on the throne with Jesus in the same way that Jesus sits on the throne with His Father. To conquer differently than Jesus is to relinquish one’s inheritance to the throne of Jesus. It’s to break the pattern that John sets up. The conjunction John uses here (hos; “as I also conquered”) is used to compare two things in the fashion of a simile. Many examples could be used but a few are Rev 1:14 (“hairs…were white like wool”), Rev. 2:18 (“Eyes like a flame of fire”), and 18:6 (“Pay her back as she herself has paid back others”). This conjunction connects two ideas and describes one thing in terms of another. The Ancient of Days hair is not unlike wool in 1:14. His eyes are not unlike flames of fire in 2:18. And Babylon is paid back in the same way as she has paid back others in 18:6. Therefore, it would be impossible for John to use this conjunction to create a contrast. That is, he’s saying the Christian conquer must conquer in the same way as Jesus. He is not divorcing the two characters conquering nor the methods by which they conquer.

The reward to those who conquer will be to sit on the throne with Jesus (cf. 2:26; 20:4; Matt; 19:28)

“To the one who conquers…”, pt. 6: Rev. 3:12

In Revelation, the temple is the heavenly kingdom (21:22). Pillars are probably of more importance here. In the ANE, pillars were used commemoratively, ritually, legally, and memorially. Religiously, they were often used as cultic symbols of specific deities, sometimes bearing the name of the specific deity that they represent. In some sense, pillars are signs pointing the significance of something else. For instance, Absalom names a pillar after himself (2 Sam. 18:18), Jacob sets up a stone and which he calls “God’s house” (Gen. 28:18-22), or Bethel (35:13-15), Jacob and Laban set up a pillar to commemorate their covenant of peace (Gen. 31:45-54), and Joshua set up a pillar to commemorate the covenant between Yahweh and Israel as a witness against Israel (Josh. 24:26-27). Therefore, when John incorporates this language in Revelation he says that the one who conquers will become a commemorative pillar. As the Old Testament heroes named their pillars as monuments that pointed to something significantly greater than the pillar itself, so Jesus promises that He will write the name and city of God and His own name on these “living pillars”, making them commemorative testimonies that bear significance to that which they are named for. In the same way that an Israelite would have seen Joshua’s pillar (Josh 24:26-27) and been reminded of the covenant between Yahweh and Israel, so Christians who conquer are set up as living (or dead) witnesses that demonstrate the full glory and presence of the Lord.

The inscription on these living pillars will be “the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem…and my own new name”. In Ezekiel 48:35, the name of the city of the new Jerusalem will be “The Lord is There”. This puts flesh on the bones of God’s presence dwelling among His people in their city (cf. Jer. 3:17; Zech. 2:10). These visions foresee what John sees towards the end of Revelation in 21:3, 22-26. Conquerors will be living commemorative pillars in the temple of God, God’s very presence, as He dwells with His people.

Millard, A. R. “Pillar.” Ed. D. R. W. Wood et al. New Bible dictionary 1996 : n. pag. Print.