“To the one who conquers…”, pt. 3: Rev. 2:17

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As the Israelites traveled in the wilderness, God gave them manna to eat to satisfy their hunger (Ex. 16). But Deut. 8:3 talks about what was hidden behind the manna that neither the Israelites nor their Fathers knew “but that [the Lord] might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” This “hidden manna” is shortly thereafter referenced (8:16) as that which “your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end”.

As we have seen, a huge theme in John’s view of conquering is how Jesus conquers, by the sword of His mouth (1:16; 2:16; 19:15, 21) or as His Word (2:12). Therefore, John recapitulates the imagery of Deut. 8 to show that the hidden manna which “nobody knew” is really the Word of God, or the sword that comes out of Jesus’ mouth. The fact that John writes that Jesus promises the one who conquers His Word shows that Jesus provides His people with the instrument that He Himself uses to conquer–His Word, the sword of His mouth. If we look at 3:21, we see that the one who conquers conquers “as [Jesus] also conquered”.

The name written that no one knows could possibly be a reference to 19:12. John is saying that the believer will receive a white stone (signifying victory, acquittal, and allowing entrance into the Messianic feast) with the name of Jesus, the one that no one knows but Himself. Thus, the one who conquers is given entrance to the Messianic feast (and thus the kingdom), given victory (by conquering), and acquitted from all sin by the name of Jesus.

“On the interpretation of the stone, L&N 2.27 states, “A number of different suggestions have been made as to the reference of ψῆφος in this context. Some scholars believe that the white ψῆφος indicates a vote of acquittal in court. Others contend that it is simply a magical amulet; still others, a token of Roman hospitality; and finally, some have suggested that it may represent a ticket to the gladiatorial games, that is to say, to martyrdom. The context, however, suggests clearly that this is something to be prized and a type of reward for those who have ‘won the victory.’ ”( Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2005. Print.)
“The meaning of the ‘white stone’ (v. 17) is uncertain: it is properly a ‘pebble’ or tessera (tablet; Gk. psēphos). These had many uses, more than one of which may be apposite here. They represented acquittal, or served as a token or ticket of many kinds. The written name here is of the individual, and marks Christ’s individual acceptance of the believer.” ( Rudwick, M. J. S., and C. J. Hemer. “Pergamum.” Ed. D. R. W. Wood et al. New Bible dictionary 1996 : 902. Print.)
“Historically, a white stone was given to victors at games for entrance to banquets (cf. the messianic banquet); such a stone was also used by jurors at trials to vote for acquittal” (Crossway Bibles. The ESV Study Bible. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008. Print.)
White stones were associated with acquittal in court and admission to special feasts for athletic victors or members of a guild; here they may suggest entrance to the Messianic feast. (Zondervan (2015-08-25). NIV Zondervan Study Bible: Built on the Truth of Scripture and Centered on the Gospel Message (Kindle Locations 294578-294580). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.)

“To the one who conquers…”, pt. 2: Rev. 2:11

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The second death is the final judgment and condemnation of the unrighteous to hell (or annihilation). The first death is the physical death that no one is exempt from, even the saints. After the first death, the righteous and the unrighteous will be judged. The righteous will go forward into new life (Rev. 20:6) while the unrighteous will die again. The second death is depicted as a lake of fire in Revelation 20:14-15, 21:8 (cf. 19:20, 20:10)whose smoke goes up “forever and ever” (14:11). It is reserved for those whose name is not in the book of life (20:15).

Here John is saying that the one who conquers (the one that washes their robes, 22:14) will be declared righteous and go forward into new life (20:6) instead of facing the second death in a lake of fire.

“To the one who conquers…”, pt. 1: Rev. 2:7

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For my Revelation class I have to write an exegetical paper on John’s usage of νικάω (conquer/overcome). I’m spending some time today collecting all my research and cramming it into a (excruciatingly short) 12-page paper, and I’m realizing that a lot of the rich fruits of my exegesis aren’t going to make it into my paper. So the next several posts leading up to the post containing my final paper are going to be some thoughts that I wrote out while doing my research. They’re pretty rough and unedited, so beware.

The Tree of Life first shows up in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:9), which John here describes as the “paradise of God”. This tree is one that God does not directly prohibit Adam and Eve from eating from, only the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen. 2:17). God banished Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden before they could eat of the tree of life (Gen. 3:22), and he set a cherubim with a flaming sword to guard this tree (Gen. 3:24). In Proverbs 3:18, wisdom is compared to the tree of life. Proverbs 11:30 identifies the fruit of righteousness as its own tree of life. Proverbs 13:12 shows that fulfilled desires are like a tree of life, and 15:4 shows that a gentle tongue is like a tree of life. Psalm 1:3 depicts the righteous man as a lush tree by a stream of water In all of this, we can summarize that the tree of life is “that which gives life” or life-giving in the same way that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil exposed humanity to the full knowledge of right and wrong. Because wrong (sin) leads to death, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is life-taking.

The tree of life shows up again in Rev. 22:2 in the new kingdom on both sides of the river of the water of life (22:1) which flows directly from the throne of God and the Lamb through the city (cf. Ezekiel 47:12). The benefits of the tree of life are given to those who wash their robes (in the blood of the Lamb?; 22:14) but the benefits are taken away from those who detracts from the word of God or John’s revelation (22:19). 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 this way, the Church as THE lampstand is to resemble the Tree of Life and be life-giving rather than life-taking. Human history is therefore one continual movement from the tree of death to the tree of life.

The paradise of God is clearly a reference back to Eden as the Garden of God (cf. Ezek. 28:13, 31:8-9). Here, God is saying that the one who conquers will be brought back to Eden to the source of life, the presence of God as represented by the Tree of Life.

 

Restored LA Update

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I helped launch a church today. We had close to 300 people show up. I couldn’t help but think about how awkward and alone some people must feel coming into a church for the first time, hardly knowing anyone, singing a few songs you don’t know, listening to a guy preach a gospel you’ve never heard before, and being drawn into a new family that wants to love you. If they only knew my secrets. If there’s a vulnerable time in life, that’s it. Christianity is scary. It requires people to do life together, to serve one another, and to dig deep into those abysmal chasms within us where we shamefully hide our darkest sins and deepest fears like rotting bodies. But the gospel is beautiful because it’s in those terrifying places that Jesus washes our feet and loves us unconditionally while commanding us to do the same with one another. I recently read Donald Miller’s Scary Close, which I highly recommend. In it, he proposed a theory of our insecurity as three concentric circles. First we have our “Self”, which is who we really are. But somewhere in life we began to believe things about ourselves that bring “Shame”, which we cover ourselves with. Lastly, we hide our shame with a “Show”, a personality mask that we’ve created to bridge the gap from who we are to who we want to be. But true love can only be between two “Self”s, not two “Show”s. The gospel cuts through our “Show” and peels back layer after layer of “Shame” to expose our “Self”, and Jesus loves us despite our sinful natures. In this, we are fully known for being totally depraved yet fully loved as children of God. We are wholly renewed when we are wholly exposed.

Let’s be vulnerable together.

Revelation 7 and the Mission of God

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In Revelation 7, the 144,00 that are sealed as servants of God are Jews “from every tribe of the sons of Israel” (7:4), 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes. In light of this, it’s difficult to see how Christians can (1) reject their Jewish roots by distancing themselves from the Jewish people and (2) value nationalism over the multinational people of God.

As I saw last semester in Historical Theology I, the Christian Church has progressively distanced themselves from their Jewish heritage. Jesus and His disciples were the first Messianic Jewish community. But early Gentile churches extrapolated Jesus’ harsh words against Pharisaical Judaism to cover all of Judaism. That is, while Jesus came to establish a new community of Messianic Jews that included a new Gentilian “sheepfold” (John 10:16), the early Church considered themselves the immediate recipients of the New Covenant and condemned all Jews for murdering their covenantal leader. In effect, the Christian Church stole Israel’s bridal veil and pushed Israel out as the unwise bridesmaids who could not wait for their groom (Matt. 25). Throughout Church history, especially evident in early writings like as The Didache and events like the ecumenical councils and the Christianization of Rome under Constantine, the Church has harbored a stance of, dare I say, contempt towards the Jewish people and claimed themselves as the recipients of the promise. Revelation 7 destroys Christian anti-Semitic arrogance. The 144,000 Israelites are sealed first and surround the Lamb in an inner circle while the multinational multitude (7:9) surrounds the inner circle and the Lamb. Furthermore, Revelation closes with the Lamb and the bride (those sealed from Israel) beckoning Christians who persevered through the apocalyptic slaughter to “come” and enter the new Kingdom (22:17).

Second, the picture in Revelation 7 gives the Church an international mandate to welcome people of all nations into both their physical and spiritual families. Evangelizing the nations is not limited to people’s spiritual needs only. So it is not enough to go into the nations, pray for people, and return to our daily lives. Evangelizing the nations includes meeting people’s physical needs as well. Incidentally, it’s often through sacrificially meeting people’s physical needs that their hearts are receptive to the gospel. The Church’s mandate, therefore, includes welcoming all without discrimination to partake in both the practical physical and spiritual blessings that we have been blessed with. In this way, we inhabit the Abrahamic promise of being “blessed to be a blessing” (Gen. 12, 15). It’s devastating when Christians waste more energy excluding the Syrian refugees because of their supposed “terroristic danger” than humbling themselves to wash the immigrant’s feet, for this is exactly what Christ commands us to do. Furthermore, it’s terrifying that we may have a president in 8 months who’s nationalistic fervor excludes the alien and the foreigner. One can only guess the full ramifications of Trump’s foreign and internal policies, but they can only be harmful to the missio Dei (Mission of God) in uniting a people from all tribes and nations as a community of sealed children.

“One like the Son of Man…”

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Apologies for having not blogged lately. I had good intentions at the beginning of the year, honestly. But life got way too busy to keep up a healthy schedule. In lieu of my absence, here’s a short thing I wrote for school on Revelation 1:

The first terms that John refers to Jesus as are “the faithful witness”, “the firstborn of the dead”, and “the ruler of kings on earth” (1:5). By designating Jesus as “the faithful witness”, John is showing that Jesus was faithful to the testimony (cf. 1:2) of the Father even in death. By implication, Jesus’ followers are commanded to also be faithful in death to receive eternal life (cf. 2:12). By designating Jesus as “the firstborn of the dead”, John is showing that Jesus was the first one among those dead unto the Law who would receive eternal life by believing in His death and resurrection (cf. John 3:36). John comforts his readers by reminding them that Jesus is the one that conquered death; Christians do not have to fear what happens to them in the last days. By designating Jesus as “the ruler of kings on earth”, John is showing the churches that Jesus has already conquered the civil empire and imperial religion that daily threatens to conquer them. As supreme and sovereign king, Jesus rules over all Gentile governments (e.g. the Roman government). The implications are twofold: (1) Christians are again reminded to not fear what man can do against them because Jesus has defeated death and rules over the pagan world, and (2) all pagan authority will ultimately have to answer to Jesus for whatever they do to extinguish Christianity.

Continuing in 1:5b-7, John shows that Jesus has all eternal glory and dominion by sanctifying a kingdom of priests with His blood (cf. 5:9-10). When he returns to this earth, every eye will see him and all people will wail on account of Him. Those outside of Jesus’ kingdom will mourn for their judgment is near, and the faithful kingdom of priests will be joyful at their rescue.

John identifies himself in 1:9 as a “brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus…on Patmos on account of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” Here, John shows that Jesus holds all things. First, the tribulation that John will soon prophesy about is held in Jesus’ sovereign hands. Second, the church has the comforting assurance of salvation in knowing that Jesus also guards His kingdom of priests and His eternal kingdom. Therefore, John urges his fellow Christians to endure the end times patiently until Jesus returns to earth to judge sinners and reap the righteous. Jesus is the comforter and has provided John in his exile on Patmos to suffer alongside fellow Christians.

Lastly, John records the vision that he has of Jesus. The very first thing that John sees in his vision is Jesus standing amidst seven golden lampstands (1:12). We know from 1:20 that these lampstands are the seven churches. This is important because it shows that Jesus has not removed His presence from the suffering churches in the Roman empire (cf. Matt 28:20, John 14:18). As the one that suffered unto death for the sake of many, Jesus suffers with His people as the slaughtered Lamb (5:6-14). Jesus reveals Himself to John as “one like a son of man” (1:13). Here, John borrows imagery from Daniel 7:13. In Daniel, the son of man represents the “holy ones/saints of the Most High” (7:18, 22, 25, 27). In Daniel’s context, the son of man is contrasted with the violent and chaotic beastly kingdoms to emphasize that the heavenly kingdom of God is the true fulfillment and expression of genuine humanity. Although sin now mars humanity by ruling it, God (the Ancient of Days; 7:9, 13, 22) will upright our upside down kingdom by restoring humanity to their fullness as images of God Himself (cf. Gen. 1:26-27). In Revelation, John distinguishes between the Son of Man (Jesus) and the saints, but sets them both within the context of the tribulation. The saints will have to be conquered in the same way the Son of man was conquered. Being conquered like the Son of Man is the only way for the saints to conquer like the Son of Man (cf. 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21). Furthermore, Jesus is going to encourage the seven churches to perseverance by sending seven angels to them (cf. “seven stars” in 1:16 w/ 1:20). Out of Jesus’ mouth comes a sharp two-edged sword, which elsewhere designates the authoritative Word of God (Heb. 4:12; Rev 2:12). As the bearer of God’s Word, Jesus shows that He is God Himself. John concludes his vision by recording Jesus’ words that He is eternal (“first and the last”; cf. 1:8) and who lived, died, and lives again, showing again that Jesus’ followers do not have to fear death because Jesus already defeated death.

God’s Story, Day 9: Genesis 12-15

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Genesis 156 [widescreen]

Image copyrighted by Logos Bible Software

Who is God?

Genesis 14-16 affirms what we’ve seen in God’s character thus far. Through the conflict of the nine kings (14:9) and Abram’s rescuing of Lot (14:13-16), we’re able to see that God is a God of blessing. When Abram rescues Lot from Chedorlaomer, God gives Abram the spoils of war (14:16) which further extends Abram’s wealth he gained from the Egyptians (12:16). For this blessing, and through the prayers of the mysterious Melchizedek, “priest of God Most High” (14:18), we see that God is worthy of praise. Melchizedek prays, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand” (14:19-20). Melchizedek’s actions here earned him a place in Jewish and Christian theology. He’s connected to God’s promises to king David in Psalm 110:4 and he helps connects the person of Christ with the job of a priest in Hebrews 5-7. Melchizedek acts as a priest by bringing Abram into Yahweh’s presence in his prayer (4:19-20), and as a king of Salem. As a priest-king, Melchizedek typifies Christ who would later come and act as man’s high priest by making a way for man to approach the holiness of God through his substitutionary death on a cross. God is also shown to be a gracious God, entering into a covenant (Gen. 15) and making promises to people who don’t deserve them (Gen. 16). In the ritualistic establishment of the Abrahamic Covenant, God reaffirms His promises to Abram in Genesis 12. Abram is promised offspring and land (12:1) and blessing (12:2-3). To look forward into God’s Story a little, Abram’s descendants would become the nation of Israel who would go down to Egypt, become enslaved, be led out by Moses and enter into a covenant relationship with God, enter and possess the land of Canaan, be exiled out of their home, be reestablished, and finally experience God’s gracious goodness through Jesus. Through an Ancient Near East custom (15:9-21) God establishes a covenant with Abram to bring this promise to completion. In the story of Sarai, Hagar, and Abram, God is seen as merciful. Hagar, an Egyptian servant, is undeservedly included into God’s story when Sarai and Abram display their distrust in God’s promises (16:2-4). Even when Hagar flees Sarai’s wrath, God coaxes her back and makes promises to Hagar similar to those He made with Abram (16:12-13).

What has He done?

God is doing so much in these three chapters, that it would be hard to give each passage the full  justice it deserves. But the main emphasis is on God’s sovereign plan and mercy. The solution to the problem of sin is beginning to come through fruiting through the Abrahamic covenant in Genesis 15. Through God’s promise of descendants to Abraham would come the snake-crusher promised in Genesis 3:15, the one who would conquer Satan and right all wrongs, Jesus. And it’s through Jesus, thus through Abram, that all the world would be able to experience God’s grace and love instead of death by His wrath. Commentator Derek Kidner writes, “this, rather than Sinai’s, was the fundamental covenant, and it spoke of grace and not law (Gal. 3:17–22). To honour this promise God would bring his people out of Egypt (Exod. 2:24), and his Son into the world (Luke 1:72, 73)” (TOTC, 133). The implications of the covenant ritual performed in Genesis 15 cannot be overstated. In the Ancient Near East, ceremonies such as the one described here would occur between two parties entering into covenant with each other. The action of cutting the animals in two and walking between them symbolized that if either party failed to keep their end of the covenant in full then they would suffer a similar fate to the animals (cf. Jeremiah 34:18). If you read the story, however, it’s noticeable that God makes Abram fall asleep instead of walking the path between the animals (15:12). Instead, God–here represented by “a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch” (17)–alone passes between the animals. No penalty falls on Abram’s shoulders, for the covenant is strictly God’s. Theologian R.C. Sproul writes, “God invokes a self-maledictory oath or curse upon Himself should He fail to keep His covenant. Because He can swear by no higher authority, God swears by Himself to keep the covenantal terms” (Reformation Study Bible, 34) God forces that He alone would suffer for both parties. And he does through Jesus. This is grace, unfiltered, pure, and clear.

Who are we in light of what God has done?

The Abrahamic Covenant is extended to us. While we may not be direct descendants of Abram himself, God promises that in [Abram] all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (12:3). Both Jews and Gentiles are blessed through Abram, and this could only happen through Jesus. In Genesis 15 we begin to see an inkling of the salvation that will be given to us in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Through the covenant, God promised that He alone would suffer, that man would not suffer the penalty of breaking the covenant with God. We are, therefore, saved from suffering the penalty of death because of the suffering of Jesus. This is the glorious exchange Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “He became sin who knew no sin that we might become the righteousness of God”. German theologian Jürgen Moltmann describes it this way:

God suffered in the suffering of Jesus, God died on the cross of Christ, says Christian faith, so that we might live and rise again in his future. Thus at the level of the psychology of religion, Christian faith effects liberation from the childish projections of human needs for the riches of God; liberation from human impotence for the omnipotence of God; from human helplessness for the omnipotence of God; from human helplessness for the responsibility of God. It brings liberation from the divinized father-figures by which men seek to sustain their childhood. It brings liberation from fear in the ideas of political omnipotence with which the powers on earth legitimate their rule and give inferiority complexes to the impotent, and with which the impotent compensate their impotence in dreams. It brings liberation from the determination and direction from outside which anxious souls love and at the same time hate. This God of the cross is not the ‘great huntsman’ (Cardonnel), who sits over man’s conscience like a fist on the neck. Anyone who understands God in this way misuses his name and is far from the cross. (The Crucified God, 216)

How should we live?

Abram’s response to God’s goodness is described in 15:6, “And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (cf. Rom. 4:9, 22; Gal. 3:6; James 2:23). Similarly, Hagar’s response to God wooing her back into his good promises was to call on the name of the Lord and declare, ‘”You are a God of seeing,’ for she said, ‘Truly here I have seen him who looks after me'” (16:13; some texts read, “You are a God who sees me”). In these chapters, God isn’t portrayed deistically–removed from human affairs and unflinching in Abram and Sarai’s want for offspring or Hagar’s suffering as a fugitive in the desert. He isn’t portrayed as a God with a hair-trigger, blazing temper that sparks retributive punishment on Sarai and Abram for their disobedience. He isn’t even described in pagan terms that typified Abram’s contemporaries as “one of the gods,” or “a god”. Instead, God is described as majestically as “dreadful and great” (15:12) and as intimately as “a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch” (17). Our response is nothing but awe at a God who continues to bring about His plan of salvation despite man’s stubborn refusal. What God would continue chasing after the human heart even after sin plunges within us to unknown depths and tarnishes His good creation? When human hands are broken from tirelessly digging further into the full extent of depravity and we have the audacity to stubbornly shake our bloody fists at God in anger when our ruinous pleasure leaves us shattered and empty, drunk on our own shame and self-vindication, what God would love us then? Answer: The same God that covenants Himself to Abram and promises to take the full penalty for human sin upon Himself and bear it as an unrecognizable corpse on a gruesome cross. The same God that buried our sins with Himself, but like a seed burst forth into new glory. This is a God worthy of every fiber of our lives.

FURTHER READING: