Easter 2019: Mark 16:1-8

Mark 16:1-8


He is Risen!

In Mark’s account, we have only the women going to the tomb. They bore witness to his death, they alone bore witness to his burial, so it stands to reason that they alone go to attend to the body and act as first witnesses to his resurrection. As they were walking along they wondered how they will possibly be able to get into the tomb. Perhaps a Roman soldier would help them. Perhaps a disciple would be there to greet them. Perhaps they could work together to move the large stone. Perhaps they could find someone else there to render aid. And so they went on their journey, walking and wondering.

The sight that greeted them was not one they had expected. “Jesus…has risen!” the messenger’s of God declared! He is not here.

Mark concludes his gospel with the words “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”

Textual Criticism

If you are reading the King James Version, the text continues on without note. If you are reading any other modern translation, you will encounter a note about what follows. Let’s talk about that a minute (the remainder of this paragraph will discuss textual criticism). First things, first. Jesus did not speak in King James English. Nor did he speak in Greek. Jesus spoke in either Aramaic or Hebrew or (more likely) a combination of the two. The gospels are written in Greek in large part because that was the most widely read and spoken language (moreso than Latin) in present day Palestine and Northern Africa at the time. The other thing to note is that we do not possess the original writing of any part of the bible. This does not mean you cannot have confidence in the bible. In fact you can have a high degree of confidence in it. Higher than any other ancient text. Instead, a series of copies happened. The gospel message was so wonderful that, early on, several people decided to make copies of it so that others could read it. In fact we have more copies of the gospel than any other text from antiquity. Over time, individuals may have felt the need to insert explanatory bits. Sometimes these were notes, other times they may have been traditions, at times they may have even been imagined pieces that were missing or confusion brought on by awareness of other gospel accounts. Whatever the case, eventually extra bits made their way (often by mistake) into some of these copies. Once they entered a copy, they were likely to be copied by others again and again. So when you have a copy of a copy of a copy, all done by hand, this is the result. This is why textual criticism tends to heavily favor earlier copies over later ones. This is also why the integrity of a source (because some copies were clearly made more carefully than others) also matters. That is what lies behind the note in most modern translations. It also means, that with almost certainty, the Gospel of Mark ends at verse 8. Abruptly. So why?

The Markan Secret

Throughout the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is constantly telling people not to say anything. Don’t tell anyone who I am, he seems to say to people, to demons, to everyone. He’s holding it in secret. This ending is a continuation of that. The women, the only witnesses Mark records, said nothing. So what’s really going on here. Well Mark himself was not a direct witness to these events. He’s telling them because someone told him. That’s kind of the point. Clearly, at some point, someone said something to someone else. The women didn’t keep the secret forever. The angels absolve anyone of ever keeping their secret with their command to “go and tell.” So someone said something. And that’s kind of the point.

By demonstrating the opposite, the author is calling us to engage more actively with the text. Clearly it can’t be the case that the secret was kept, that the women never spoke again. I’ve heard this story. Here I am reading it. Exactly! You can’t leave it up to someone else. The word must get out. He is alive! Go tell someone.

marketing man person communication
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Lent 2019 Day 32: Mark 11:12-25

Mark 11:12-25

Withering Trees

Around the retelling of Jesus overturning the tables in the temple (a warning to those who seek to use the gospel solely for commercial gain) we have the interesting episode of the fig tree. Jesus comes to a fig tree, finds out it doesn’t have any figs (and it’s not yet time for the figs), curses it, and the tree withers up. What?

I don’t purport to have the only or best understanding of this passage, but a few things should be noted.

  1. It’s not about the fig tree. This was clearly a symbolic gesture, akin to the prophetic drama enacted by Ezekiel. The fig tree, both in its history and by the narrative being divided by an episode in Jerusalem, is clearly meant to be a reference to Jerusalem. Jerusalem itself continuing to have significance for the Christian well beyond the New Testament.
  2. Fig leaves were used after the first sin. In Genesis 3, after the man and the woman became aware of their nakedness, they used fig leaves to cover themselves.
  3. The leaves indicated something. Several commenters note that fig trees produce figs before they produce leaves. That is sometimes the case, but not necessarily so, especially if this is not the first season for the tree. That said, older fig trees do tend to have a lot of leaves and no fruit.

Again we don’t know entirely what is going on. The gospel writer makes a point of noting that Jesus looked for figs and didn’t find any because it wasn’t time for figs. Understanding this in the context of an allegory (of sorts) for Jerusalem, we might say that Jerusalem always looks promising, but never produces true sustenance. Perhaps, Jesus is declaring that the time of Jerusalem, with its Passover festivities every year, is over. It will never again produce fruit. This is the final Passover. Jesus is inaugurating a new fruit, one that is given once (and will be referenced in the upper room dinner) and not needed again.

The first fruit of the fig, in the garden, brought with it evil and sin. The next fruit needed to be revisited year after year and could only provide the inadequate covering as did the fig leaves for the man and the woman in the Garden. A greater sacrifice would need to be made. But unlike the first sacrifice, which would provide a more adequate covering, this new sacrifice would cause a fruit to grow within (the Fruit of the Spirit), forever satisfying, healing and nourishing a people. The tree is cursed so people stop running to the tree. There is a tree of life in a new Jerusalem that Christ is planting.

gray trunk green leaf tree beside body of water
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Confusion, Nearness, and beginning to look at the text of Revelation


So over the past few weeks, I’ve done a lot of background for studying the book of Revelation as part of my Difficult Passages series. Below I’ll briefly list out what I’ve covered before looking at the actual text this week.

First, I gave a brief introductory note, where I described the overarching views of the book.

Then, I looked at different views of history, most of which fit in the “futurist” view, which led to

Different views on the Millennial reign of Christ.

Next I noted that the book of Revelation fits in the style of literature known as Apocalyptic, which…

I noted is the style of the book of Daniel.

Finally, last week, I talked about how John, and other Christian Apocalyptic writers, use language like some rappers, including Jay-Z.

A word of warning

Revelation, even with all this background, can get confusing. What I am going to offer over the next few weeks is my particular interpretation. It is by no means undisputed. It is, however, one that does justice to the book of Revelation within its own particular genre, something which many interpretations fail to fully consider. I happen to think it is correct, but I am not so arrogant as to believe that it must be correct, and agree that, within certain limits, it is something we can (and possibly should) debate (respectfully) about.

With that said there is a helpful graph, done by someone else, for understanding Revelation, available here.

Into the text: Soon is not soon

Today, I’m going to be very brief (as it is something of a re-introduction) with my examination. In chapter 1, John says, in verse 1, that the things he describes “must soon take place,” and, in verse 3, that “the time is near.” What? I though this was about the future. Well, there is the option to take a preterist, or partial preterist view, which I describe in this post, but that isn’t particularly satisfactory, particularly when you look at the last few chapters which can only be describing the end of the world, which would not be close to John’s time. So what does he mean?

I think we need to understand how time worked for the early church. We tend to think of time as a straight linear progression, and I can already hear the Dr Who references coming in, but resist the urge.

I’m apparently failing to take my own advice

Instead, the early church saw time in two distinct ways: chronos, which is how we tend to think of time, and kairos, which is usually interpreted as “opportune time.” However even “opportune time” misses the point a bit. To be sure kairos is the word used in verse 3. Really, it has less to do with “time” as a set of cause and effect events, and more to do with a period characterized by some aspect.

So, for instance, when I am recalling the time I started dating my wife, I could say “oh, back in 2002…” but even then, my timing isn’t precise. I mean I met her in 2001, I did go on an awkward non-date date in September of 2002, we actually started dating shortly thereafter, but I didn’t really date her as my future spouse until 2003 (I mean I was intentional in dating before, but really intentional then). And we were engaged the following year, so she really was externally my future spouse, and we kept dating after we were married the following year. Now at which point could I say I started dating my wife? In chronos time I would need to make some decision was to what counted as “Dating as my wife” and what didn’t. Then I could pin point it. However, all of that occurred when I was in college. So, I usually just say “back when we started dating, when I was at OBU….” Now, precision isn’t as strong here, but accuracy is. Even then, though, I don’t use that language for accuracy’s sake. I just don’t think of the years as much as I do the period of time I was there. That was my “in college” time. We do this frequently, such as referring to when we lived at “that” house, or dating time “BC” and “AC” (Before Children, After Children). Our time was characterized in a specific way, by certain overarching events.

That is how to understand kairos. John is saying these eschatological (that word means “end of time”, and I’ll be using it a lot), things are near, and Christ’s reign is near. He’s not confused or mistaken about the intervening (almost) 2000 years. He’s talking about a different time that is running counter to the time of this world. The kingdom of God is near and will soon occur, and, because it is characterized by Jesus’ resurrection, it is an end of the world (eschatological) sort of Kingdom. Thus Christ’s reign and the end of the world are always “near” in that sense. In many ways, then, Revelation is a call to shift your kairos from “this present evil age” to “the Kingdom of God.” It is near, and not far from you. For you to overcome, these things must soon take place.


Side note: Not every week will be so focused (here only on 3 verses), but I will try to hit the highlights and the overarching trajectory of the book, as well as address most of the more troubling or difficult bits.

Jay-Z aint got nothing on me: Revelation’s use of language

Two weeks ago, I said that Revelation was written in an already dominate style of Jewish apocalyptic, which we see in Daniel, and last week I briefly highlighted those distinguishing characteristics. I didn’t mention nationalism, which is true of Daniel, because it’s not true for Revelation, which is concerned with a nation not [‘ek tos’] out of this world. However, despite taking up most of the other aspects of Jewish apocalyptic, Christian apocalyptic literature also adds its own flair: they use language differently; and I’m not talking about Greek versus Hebrew.

Throwing off oppression

If you don’t recall, one of the key elements of apocalyptic literature is that it is from the perspective of the oppressed. In many ways it seeks to throw off oppression. The ones who seem defeated are actually triumphant. Those who are weak now will be lifted up. Those being persecuted will overcome and endure, if they remain faithful. All oppression will be overthrown (and is, in a very real sense, already overthrown). One of the most interesting examples of this is how the book of Revelation uses its language.

It is no secret that the Greek of Revelation is some of the most difficult in the New Testament. What is surprising to many, though, is that many of the words in Revelation don’t show up anywhere else in the bible, many of them don’t even show up in the written record we have other than here or there (and often times only in other Christian apocalyptic literature). This kind of thing happened in the apocalyptic sections of Joel (we are guessing on the different types of locusts), but there, most scholars are pretty sure Joel is drawing on seldom used words. In Revelation, it seems like some of the words are just made up. In the early copies of the book, many of the words are misspelled. It’s not that the copyists and scribes were lazy or careless. They are intentionally misspelled. Not only is the language used symbolically, it is used to quite literally throw off oppression. The dominate language of the Roman Empire, the Empire that, with Nero, had begun to oppress Christians was being “flung off” through its intentional misuse. Even when they use standard language, though, these writers (including John) change what the words mean. Words of derision or things to be despised become badges of honor, or names they use in their community.

It’s like old school rap

A professor in college made this analogy once (Bobby Kelley), I was a bit incredulous, until he made me aware of the music of a group like public enemy (if you want to avoid offensive lyrics, stop the video at 1:30 because it starts the song “fight the power” which does contain some “course” language):

Now if we look at that we see a few things. Sirens blaring, a voice saying “this time the revolution will not be televised.” What revolution? People coming out in military uniforms. In 2008 it may be nostalgia for their older album, in the 70s, 80s and early 90s, (and in some places even today), this was an oppressed group (the African American population) taking back power. Even the next song is politically charged from a group who saw themselves as part of a struggle against those who would beat a man for being black (Rodney King). That’s why they “fight the power.”

In the same way, the members of Public Enemy (despite the behavior of Flavor Flav), are incredibly intelligent. They don’t use language in its nontraditional sense because they don’t know any better, but specifically because they refuse to talk like their white oppressors (this coming from a WASP). It is a power move. Giving power to the powerless. While later groups would take a more explicitly violent turn (the so-called “gangsta rap”) the early pioneers were more about gaining power now through rhetoric and political mobilization. Even the use of different words, like the N-word, a terrible insult in its initial intent, suddenly is adopted by some rappers and becomes “their word.” I can’t use it anymore (not that I ever did) because they’ve taken control of it. Let’s bring this more up to date.


While a lot of modern rappers don’t fit this same mode of giving power to the powerless, I think Jay-Z perhaps does so best (at least some times). Let’s take a few examples.

In his song “Brush your shoulders off,” Jay-Z takes the word “pimp” a derisive term referring to criminal activity and often used tovia Wikimedia Commons via Flickr by ThaCreator [mm.art] from Chicago and NYC, USA demean the style of clothes some African Americans wore, and redefines it (or builds on earlier redefinitions):

If you’re feelin’ like a pimp,

Go on brush your shoulders off.

Ladies is pimps too.

Go on brush your shoulders off.

This is crazy baby, don’t forget that Jay told ya

Get/ that/ dirt off your shoulders.

In the song, he is telling people to stand tall. To let the insults and problems of the world roll off because they are a “pimp” which has suddenly (or rather, over the years) become a positive term. One more example, but I won’t quote the lyrics.

In “99 problems,” Jay-Z relays a variety of problems he is having, mostly related to being poor, young, or black. The tag line, which is catchy, is in effect that despite these problems he feels bad for those whose “girl problems” are so bad they feel they need to insult and demean the women in their life.

His point is not to say that he has his woman in line (like a dog), or has no girlfriend, but to say that he doesn’t view his relationship as a problem. It’s a wake-up call to say, in effect, “quit complaining about minor things, or insulting each other, we have real genuine problems that need addressing,” though delivered in a much more catchy way than that.

The Point

This is how Revelation should be read. As though you are a young black man in the early 80s listening to a rap record for the first time. Revelation was written to and for an oppressed people group (Christians) to show them that they weren’t really oppressed, they needed to stay together, and that they were winning the fight (which is not against flesh and blood). The analogy doesn’t carry all the way, but it does at key points.

Disclaimer: If you look up the lyrics to these songs, be warned they are very crass and use a lot of foul language. I am not saying they are “Christian” musicians, per se, but trying to give a more contemporary example of how a medium was used in order to help give a better picture of what John’s intent was with the book of Revelation.

What do I mean by “apocalyptic”? Revelation (Difficult Passages)

Quick Review

Last week, I stated that the book of Revelation (like other Christian Apocalyptic literature, which is not in the biblical canon) is actually an attempt, in many ways, to imitate the earlier Jewish form of apocalyptic. The reason I am taking the time to talk about the genre of Revelation is that it can too easily be misunderstood or misinterpreted if we don’t take that into account. To be sure there are other examples of Jewish Apocalyptic, also non-canonical, that help us to see the characteristics of the genre. Next week I’ll talk about the uniquely Christian contribution to the genre, but this week I want to focus on the characteristics of Jewish apocalyptic, most of which we find in Daniel and Revelation. (Well, not the first one)

The Characteristics

  1. Pseudonymous: This one really doesn’t apply to either Revelation or Daniel in my opinion (I explain in a sec). Most Apocalyptic literature is written under an assumed name (such as “The book of Enoch” for Jewish literature, or “The Apocalypse of Peter” for Christian Literature). Usually the idea was that it had been written long ago and was only just now being discovered. Because it deals with events at the end of the world, this gives it an additional sense of urgency because the end could be closer at hand. The fact that the authorship was false (and usually known to be false) is likely why other examples were excluded from the canon. However, usually there is a phrase where the writer is supposedly told to “seal these things up” until the time is much closer. No such phrase appears in either Daniel or Revelation. In fact, John is specifically told not to seal them up because they will soon take place.
  2. It is something hidden now revealed: This is accomplished by some of the rejected apocalyptic literature by claiming the message was sealed until now (while in Revelation it’s very heavily against “sealing” things, often breaking seals). The point is that the message is so beyond the speaker/author it could only come by supernatural means. One could not look around and see that this was the case (while other prophets often condemn the people for not already knowing the content of their message from what God had previously told them).
  3. Future orientation: Isn’t this just prophecy? Well yes and no. Prophecy technically refers to someone with a message for a people right then and there, and the prophet is just the person who relays the message from God. Sometimes this includes a future element, but usually there isn’t one at all. (For instance, in Jonah where is the future element?). Even when there is a future element, though, it is usually very vague and can easily be applied to the present situation of the author/prophet as well. The one exception is Isaiah who, after chapter 40 delivers a message to Israel in exile (though it applied to his audience then), and eventually gives a specific message relaying the identity of the historical redeemer (Cyrus/Darius). However, his reason for doing so is not to give a message about the future. Rather, he is demonstrating how the God of Israel (Yahweh) is the only genuine god and that other gods and idols are silly. Thus the specific future is offered as evidence (because only the true God could do that). Contrast that with Daniel and Revelation, though, who talk about future events, for the sake of talking about future events. They want to relay what will happen.
  4. The future is set: While the intervening history may be a little more open, in both Jewish and Christian apocalyptic there is a sense that certain key events, particularly those at the end of the world, are set in stone. They are going to happen. God, Yahweh, is going to come back and establish his throne. It is inescapable.
  5. The message is mediated: In contrast to the prophets who receive their message direct from Yahweh, the writer of Apocalyptic literature receives his message indirectly. While this may come in the form of a vision, it also occurs via an Angel, something not previously seen as a bearer of a lengthy message. While Ezekiel, in particular, utilizes the concept of vision, in the book it is clear that the vision is direct from God (and other times, Yahweh speaks directly to Ezekiel). On the other hand Daniel either receives his vision from an Angel or just says he had a vision, without relaying the source.
  6. Use of fantastical imagery: There is imagery that seems to clearly not belong to this world. Animals of a kind never seen before. Statues too massive to be real. This is common place in apocalyptic literature. Again Ezekiel shares some of this (which has led some to argue sections of Ezekiel should be apocalyptic not prophetic), but on the whole it doesn’t fit the genre.
  7. Contrasting “Present” with “The End”: There is a sense of a huge disparity between now and then (the end of the world). What is happening now will be destroyed (often violently) and give way to what happens at the end, usually God acting as King in a more explicit visual than is seen throughout the rest of the bible.
  8. Intentional obscuring of the message: The use of symbolism is not meant to convey multiple connotations necessarily (though it may do that), as in other biblical literature, but is intentionally done to obscure the meaning. There are a few reasons for this: 1) To intentionally give a sense of uncertainty to the reader so they don’t rely exclusively on that writing, but look to other literature (Gospels and Torah). 2) To add to the otherworldly sense of the writing. 3) To ensure it could only be completely understood by those who were part of the “in crowd.” That is, only the community to which it was intended would have the necessary information to understand what was being written. This was important because…
  9. It is written from the perspective of the oppressed: The writers are generally writing from a position of powerlessness, and speaking to a time when God will reign in power. There is coming a great upheaval. This perspective of oppression is likely the most important feature. Think about Daniel, which was written from those in the exile. Revelation was written either in the reign of Nero (early date) or Domitian (later date) both of whom began a massive campaign against Christians. This will also play into the unique features of Christian Apocalyptic I’ll get into next week.

Defining the genre of Revelation (Difficult passages)

I’m currently in a series within my difficult passages post on the book of Revelation.

After defining some of the major viewpoints on Revelation last week and the week before, this week I’d actually like to talk about what genre Revelation is (which is important for understanding what, exactly, Revelation is trying to say).

Some have argued that Revelation is prophecy. The problem with that view is that “prophetic” books are not the same as books that talk about the future. Just so I am clear, prophecy is not defined upon whether or not something tells the future (how is Jonah prophetic?). Rather, prophecy is a message from the LORD that speaks to a situation contemporary with the prophet, and which may possibly, but not necessarily, have something to say directly to future groups of people (Yahweh). Yet prophetic books seem to conform to certain styles of writing including, but not limited to, receiving a message direct from the LORD (YHWH). Revelation is distinct from that because the message is not direct from God, but is mediated to John through an angel. Instead it has something in common with another Hebrew genre, of which there is only one book represented in the Old Testament. Here’s a hint: the book gets really really weird.

It’s Daniel. Sorry to those who picked Ezekiel (which is pretty weird, but definitely a prophecy book). Daniel, despite often being grouped with prophecy, is Jewish Apocalyptic. The biggest shift between prophecy (some of whose elements carry over) and apocalyptic is that it is delivered by an angel, which for Daniel starts about halfway through the book. Other characteristics: more frequent use of animal imagery, much broader in focus (i.e. the whole world and all of time, not just Israel), much more fantastical imagery (though Ezekiel approaches this at times), and similar things.

How do we know this is a separate genre? Well there are other writings, which were rejected for canonicity, that meet these criteria (and sound quite a bit like Daniel). Revelation also fits well with this genre in many of its elements, and was labeled early on in the church as the Apocalypse of John (there are other Apocalyptic books also). So to understand something about how John works we need to also understand something about how Daniel, and similar books, work.

Unfortunately for this post, I am pretty worn out from preaching this past weekend (a 40min bit on the 2 chapter of 1 John), so I’m leaving it at that. But I’ll pick up again next week.

Different views on the Millenium

Last week, I talked about the different views on the book of Revelation generally. This week, I’m going to expand the “futurist” view and talk about what are known as the main “Millennial” views (or Millennarianism). That is, how do we understand the relationship between Christ’s return and his 1000 year reign on earth.

I’d like to start out by noted that, in the early centuries of the church (from about the 3rd century to the 5th century) Millennariansim, or “Chilliaism” (from the Greek for 1000) were considered borderline heretical in many Christian groups. Now, they are all but standard. Still, one can be  “futurist” and not hold any of these views. I’ll outline them as they historically developed.

  1. Historic Pre-millennialism: The earliest systematic view. Really it only said that Christ would return and then begin his reign on earth, they weren’t even that specific on the 1000 years being literal (in fact, it’s not until the last group when the number begins to be taken more literally). The view is that the world will continually get worse until Christ returns to end that.
  2. Amillennialism: This was almost certainly Augustine’s view, though he likely wouldn’t have used that language. This is the view that the book of Revelation should be taken much more metaphorically. While Christ is still likely to return visibly again, he is reigning now. However the kingdoms of this world are not gone, and so the two are in conflict. This has a lot in common with the view of the Kingdom of God as it appears in the gospel, which likely explains its appeal. It is not really a millennial view, but gets grouped with them anyway.
  3. Post-millennialism: This is the view that the world will continue to get better (or more and more people will get saved) until Christ’s Kingdom is established on earth, at which point, Jesus returns. This is a much more optimistic view of humanity and history than most other views. It also tends to only find large followings during widespread revivals, which makes sense considering what is happening. Notably, Jonathan Edwards likely held this view.
  4. Pre-millennial Dispensationalism: The clear favorite among evangelicals today. Like the “historic pre-millenialism” it states that Christ will return in order to (prior to) establish his reign on earth. However, there is the added “dispensational” element. Now dispensational theology has a lot of different interpolations, but the basics of it is this: there are different dispensations of God’s grace upon earth, generally identified as discrete covenants in the Old Testament. (For instance, Adamic dispensation, Noahian dispensation, the Abrahamic dispensation, etc.). The exact differentiation between these varies, particularly on whether the apostolic dispensation is different from the current dispensation of grace (which is really a question about whether one is a cessationist about spiritual gifts, or more charismatic/pentecostal). At any rate, the final dispensation is the millennial reign of Christ. Dispensational Pre-millennialists argue that, although the bible only speaks of one return of Christ, there are really 2 returns: one visible and public, one invisible and secret. The invisible and secret coming happens first and is usually called the “rapture.” Even if people don’t phrase it in those terms, the discussion of anything involving a rapture distinct from the visible return of Christ is based in disepensational theology. There are other commonalities as well. In generally they argue that literal (i.e. ethnic or political) Israel plays a key role (and in particular an exact 144,000 Jews), that there is one identifiable and historic anti-Christ yet to have come, that there will be a literal war on earth, and that there will be a seven year period that is exactly seven years known as the tribulation. There may be disputes over whether the rapture occurs before, during or after the tribulation (pre-, mid-, or post- trib). In general they think along he same lines, though. Think Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth or the ever popular Left Behind books.

The last option seems to be the current dominate option, particularly among evangelical Christians. The reasons for this are debatable, but it perhaps lies in part with the history of the late 19th and early 20th century. Dispensationalism as an organized systematic theology did not exist prior to the end of the 19th century, when J. N. Darby gave a series of lectures (in 1840 actually)

John Nelson Darby (I can see how this guy could lead to Left Behind)

in Geneva that were later published in English translation at the end of the 19th century. While not initially popular, the creator of the first study bible (Cyrus Scofield) liked the ideas so much he included them in his notes. As a result of this, the ideas became popular and were included as one of the (some say the) fundamentals during the fundamentalist controversy that hit most denominations in the early-mid twentieth Century, and hit Southern Baptists in the 70s and 80s.


Next week, I’ll start actually looking at the book of Revelation (well sort of).


4 (or 5) Different Views of the Revelation’s message regarding history

Ok, so let’s jump right in with the different views of where the message of Revelation belongs.

What do I mean by that, first of all? Well, no one disputes, really, that the first three chapters comprise letters to genuine, historical churches. Where the disagreement begins is with how to treat chapters 4 through 21. Here I’m going to outline the major camps involved in how to interpret this:

  1. Preterist view: This view states that everything described (or almost everything), including the return of Christ is metaphorical language and describes events that happened near the time of its writing. This time frame is either prior to 70AD (the destruction of the temple), prior to 150AD (the height of Domitian’s persecution of the church) or prior to 250 (on a much later date for writing). This means everything can be traced to an historical occurrence. This is considered heretical in many circles, in large part because it claims that Christ has already returned in a “spiritual” sense. There are very few advocates of this today.
  2. Allegoricist view: This view states that the message is really “timeless” and one cannot identify anything in the book with specific events or people in history past, present or future.
  3. Historicist view: This view claims that Revelation recounts the whole of history in metaphorical language. For instance: they may try to identify certain types of locusts with certain military weapons throughout history (from long bows, to guns, to tanks, to helicopters, etc.)
  4. Futurist view: By far the most popular claims that all, or almost all of the events following chapter 4 refer to things that have not yet occurred (or have only recently occurred) and generally believe that the timeline for these events is fairly short.
  5. The option view is called Partial-preterist: This is a view that states that significant portions of the book of Revelation occurred near the time of writing, but advocates are very careful to say other parts, in particular the return of Christ, have not yet occurred.

It should be noted that, with the exception of option 1, these views are not mutually exclusive, and often combined together. The

St John on Patmos by Hieronymus Bosch (obtained via Wikicommons)

most frequent combination involves 2, 5, and a little of 4. I think I’ll stop there for now, but next week, I’ll further divide option 4 and talk about the different views within that option for the book of revelation. For the time being though, I’m trying to keep things fairly simple.

Do you gravitate toward one or more of these?

Diving into Revelation (Part 1): Difficult Passages

Alright, so this was suggested a while back, and I’ve avoided it until now, but I’m going to go ahead and dive into the book of Revelation, one of the most confusing, argued about, misunderstood, misread, questioned books of the bible. Today I’m going to offer something of an introduction to what I intend to do with the series (which I suspect will be long running), and, if this doesn’t get too long, a brief introduction to the book.

First, the disclaimer. It seems pretty arrogant at the outset to give what is the interpretation of the book of Revelation. John Calvin was so bothered by the possibility of grossly divergent readings of the book that he thought that while it is good for Christians to read the entire bible, it might be better if they read everything except the book of Revelation, leaving that for trained scholars and elders to teach them (incidentally, he wrote a full commentary on every biblical book except revelation). So let me get one thing out there. I am not purporting to give the possible reading. Instead, what I will hope and try to do is give some of the general possibilities for looking at Revelation before following my own guide.

I should also note that I am not a New Testament Scholar. While I am familiar with the bible and have taken a lot of Greek, my graduate studies have not focused on Greek nor on the New Testament in the same way that a degree in “Bible” or “New Testament” would. Instead, I am trained as a theologian. Therefore, when I do get to my own commentary, it will be a (biblically informed and grounded) theological commentary on Revelation.

Let me also list some other disclaimers:

  1. I really don’t like Tim LaHay’s Revelation: Illustrated and Made Plain (Published in the mid-70s). I’ll try to hold my bias in check, but LaHay assumes quite a bit of superior knowledge about the book that he has no place to assume. The bible
    Hagee at Christians United for Israel [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons (Where are the giant posters?)
    should always, and Revelation in particular, be approached with a certain level of humility and a genuine acknowledgment that not only could I be wrong, but on some non-essential points, I probably am wrong (or at least have failed to grasp the full meaning).
  2. I will not be doing any John Hagee style Midrash. I’m not one for giant billboards or TV cameras. Plus see point 1). If youwant John Hagee, go find John Hagee, I’m sure there’s something online right now.
  3. When I talk about the variety of views that one can take for reading the book of Revelation, I will certainly give and try to explain some views I do not hold nor agree with in any sense. Still, I want to be fair to those with whom I disagree and so I will try to remain impartial when I explain those views. If I fail to do so in future posts, please call me out on it.
  4. There is a lot of Old Testament imagery and references in Revelation. I will go back into the Old Testament in an effort to see how the images are being used in the book of Revelation.
  5. If you comment (and please feel free to comment), please don’t call it “Revelations”. There is no “s” on the end of the book. I know it’s silly, but it’s a pet peeve of mine. This is the record of a single vision of John, it was one revelation by one person. (I realize I may have just invited lots of comments composed entirely of “Revelations”, but oh well).
  6. Let me preface this point by saying I don’t have a vendetta against Christian fiction (at least not all Christian fiction). I think C. S. Lewis has some great stuff (Space Trilogy anyone?). I think Francine Rivers is an exceptionally gifted writer (I’m secure enough in my masculinity to admit reading some of her books). Max Lucado’s children’s books are great. But, forgive me, I cannot stand the Left Behind series. I know it’s one of the best selling fictions books of my lifetime, and yes I read the first three, but I just don’t like it. I even saw the Kirk Cameron movies on it (yes that’s movies, plural), but didn’t like them. So, if you are wanting Christian apocalyptic fiction to feature in this blog. I’m
    Sorry Hal Lindsey, you’re playing second fiddle now in the hot Christian-Apocalyptic-but-what-happens-to-those-still-on-earth-after-the-rapture sub-sub-sub genre of books

    sorry to disappoint you. Maybe I’ll change my mind once the Nicholas Cage remakes come out (yes that’s really a thing).

  7. Let’s always keep in mind that, regardless of your view of Revelations ( ;D ), it is independent of your status before God. Unless you get really crazy (like saying Jesus is actually one of the beasts), having differing views of Revelation does not make you a heretic. This a book whose interpretation is one of the most disagreed things that there is. So let’s have a conversation about it (seriously in the comments), but let’s keep it a civil one.
  8. If you join the conversation (which, really, please do), remember the words of Martin Luther: “Sin boldly!”
  9. As will often be the case, and is here, I will likely go on for too long with one section. If the pace gets too plodding, I may leave the series for a while and do something else before coming back, but I’m only posting things in this series on Mondays, so I don’t think variety will be an issue.

Martin Luther King, JR day

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr Day. Also, it being a Monday, I have in the past addressed “difficult passages” in the bible. Today, in light of the day it is, I offer a passage that we likely understand in thought, but fail to put in practice.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28 (KJV)

How do we as Christians reconcile this with the quote often attributed to the Rev Martin Luther King, JR:

The most segregated hour in America is eleven o’clock, Sunday morning.

It was true then and its true now. The two should not be. Think on this and how we, the Church, should be one as Christ is one with the Father.

By Phil Stanziola, NYWT&S staff photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons