Posts tagged ‘Apocalypse’

The Scandals Keep Coming

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It’s far better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust any human. It’s far better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust any human leader. (Psalm 118:8-9)

If there were ever words we needed to read, re-read, and take to heart in the chaos of our heady political milieu, it would be these.  Our human leaders fail us again and again – time after time, leader after leader, politician after politician.

The latest political failures come conveniently in both a left and a right form – a liberal scandal and a conservative one.  On the liberal side, there is U.S. Senator Al Franken from Minnesota, who was revealed to have groped a radio newscaster during a 2006 U.S.O. tour.  The senator has issued an apology, but there are already questions boiling under the surface as to whether or not this kind of behavior was common for him.

On the conservative side, there is the candidate for the U.S. Senate, Judge Roy Moore from Alabama, who stands accused making unwanted advances at female teenagers in the early 80s and, according to the two most serious allegations, sexually assaulting one girl who, at the time, was 14 and attacking another girl who, at the time, was 16, by squeezing her neck and attempting to force her head into his groin.  Judge Moore was in his 30s when the alleged assaults took place and he has denied the allegations.

Senators Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer have called for an investigation of Senator Franken by the Senate Ethics Committee, a move which Senator Franken himself supports.  Politicians on both sides of the aisle have called on Judge Moore to drop out of the Alabama Senate race, with some interesting exceptions.  Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler defended the judge’s alleged actions using what can only be described as a tortured – and, it must be added, an incorrect and incoherent –theological logic, saying:

Take the Bible – Zechariah and Elizabeth, for instance.  Zechariah was extremely old to marry Elizabeth and they became the parents of John the Baptist.  Also, take Joseph and Mary.  Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter.  They became parents of Jesus.  There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here.  Maybe just a little bit unusual.

Alabama Representative Mo Brooks defended Judge Moore more straightforwardly by calculating the political cost of electing a Democrat to the Senate instead of a firebrand conservative like the judge.  He said:

America faces huge challenges that are vastly more important than contested sexual allegations from four decades ago … Who will vote in America’s best interests on Supreme Court justices, deficit and debt, economic growth, border security, national defense, and the like?  Socialist Democrat Doug Jones will vote wrong.  Roy Moore will vote right.  Hence, I will vote for Roy Moore.

Whether among Democrats or Republicans, it seems as though the stakes on every election, every seat, every position, and every appointment – yea, every scrap of political power – have become sky high.  A national apocalypse, it can feel like, is only one political loss away.

New York Times columnist David Brooks recently bemoaned how our perceived astronomical political stakes have turned politics itself into an idol for many in our society.  He wrote:

People on the left and on the right who try to use politics to find their moral meaning are turning politics into an idol.  Idolatry is what happens when people give ultimate allegiance to something that should be serving only an intermediate purpose, whether it is money, technology, alcohol, success or politics.

In his column, Mr. Brooks quotes Andy Crouch, who is the executive editor at Christianity Today, and his excellent description of what idols do in his book Playing God:

All idols begin by offering great things for a very small price.  All idols then fail, more and more consistently, to deliver on their original promises, while ratcheting up their demands, which initially seemed so reasonable, for worship and sacrifice.  In the end they fail completely, even as they make categorical demands.  In the memorable phrase of the psychiatrist Jeffrey Satinover, idols ask for more and more, while giving less and less, until eventually they demand everything and give nothing.[1]

This is most certainly true.  All idols fail.  This means that if we fancy our politicians to be saviors who can rescue us from the wiles of our political opponents and some looming national apocalypse, those for whom we vote will inevitably fail – sometimes modestly by an inability to pass key legislation, and other times spectacularly in some grave moral collapse.  Senator Franken and Judge Moore are just the latest examples of this.

David French, in a recent article for National Review concerning the Judge Moore scandal, wrote simply, “There is no way around dependence on God.”  These scandals serve to remind us of this profound truth.  The fact that our politicians fail should grieve us, as sin always should, but it should not scare us.  After all, even if a national apocalypse should come, it is still no match for the Apocalypse, when, instead of a politician, a perfect Potentate will appear to set the world right.  That’s not an apocalypse of which to be scared; that’s an apocalypse by which to be comforted. I hope you are.

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[1] Andy Crouch, Playing God:  Redeeming the Gift of Power (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press), 56

November 20, 2017 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Predictions Come and Predictions Go

Schnorr_von_Carolsfeld,_Ludwig_Ferdinand_-_Apocalypse

Ludwig Ferdinand Schnorr von Carolsfeld, Apocalypse, 1831

Well, things are still here.

There was some doubt as to whether or not they would be, at least in the mind of one man named David Meade.  Mr. Meade is a self-styled “Christian numerologist” who believed this past Saturday would bring a super-sign that would mark the beginning of the end of the world.  He based his prediction on the number 33:

“Jesus lived for 33 years. The name Elohim, which is the name of God to the Jews, was mentioned 33 times [in the Bible],” Meade told The Washington Post. “It’s a very biblically significant, numerologically significant number. I’m talking astronomy. I’m talking the Bible…and merging the two.”

And September 23 is 33 days since the August 21 total solar eclipse, which Meade believes is an omen.

Mr. Meade also pointed to a mythical planet named Nibiru, which he said would pass by the earth, causing all sorts of calamities.

The difficulties with Mr. Meade’s odd eschatologizing are legion.  For starters, by one count, the Hebrew word for “God,” Elohim, doesn’t appear in the Bible 33 times, but in the Old Testament 2,570 times!  Mr. Meade’s count isn’t even close.  And the planet Nibiru, which was supposed to be central to his apocalyptic super sign, according to NASA scientists, doesn’t even exist.

Of course, whenever anyone – even if they are someone as obscure as Mr. Meade – makes this kind of sensationalistic prediction, reporters rush to interview Christian leaders to ask for their take on the prediction.  In this instance, thankfully, the leaders who they interviewed responded, to paraphrase, “Give me a break.”

Unfortunately, implausible apocalyptic predictions have become something of a matter of course for some who love to traffic in the dramatic.  In 2011, it was Harold Camping who predicted that the rapture would occur on May 21.  But predictions like these go back much further than that.  One of the earliest ballyhooed apocalyptic predictions dates all the way back to the end of the fourth century, when the church father Martin of Tours announced that the Antichrist had already been born and that the world would end by 400.  1,617 years later, we’re still waiting.

One problem with predictions like these is that they have the effect of discrediting the Christian message because those who trumpet them attach them to the Christian message.  And when these predictions inevitably fail, other parts of Christianity begin to look suspect.

Another problem with predictions like these is how they tend to portray the end times.  These predictions tend to focus so much on the destruction of earth that they forget about the return of Christ.  Mr. Meade, in his prediction, highlighted things like “volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, and earthquakes,” but he seemed to overlook the thrilling trumpet call, the breathtaking new Jerusalem, and the joyous resurrection to everlasting life.

The return of Christ, for those who trust in Him, is not meant to terrifying, but encouraging.  In one way, then, we should feel a twinge of disappointment that Mr. Meade wasn’t right.  For when Christ returns, all the depravity, devastation, despair, and death will be set right, which, for all the charms of this world, makes what comes next something I am looking forward to and praying for.

So, although I would never be so bold as to try to chronologize the end times, I do pray that Jesus will come.  Mr. Meade’s prediction doesn’t have to be right for that prayer to be good.

Maranatha!

September 25, 2017 at 5:15 am 1 comment

We’ve Only Just Begun

Empty Tomb 1As a kid, I remember a song my mom used to play from the 70’s by the Carpenters called  “We’ve Only Just Begun.”  The song is about a couple’s wedding day and imagines all the things still to come in their relationship.  “We’ve only just begun to live,” the song muses.

The message of this golden oldie is a message I often share with the soon-to-be-wedded couples I counsel.  “The wedding day is a big day,” I will say, “but it is only one day.  Don’t just plan for your wedding day.  Plan for all the days that come after your wedding day.  After all, when you walk down that aisle and make your vows, you’ve only just begun.”

Yesterday, we celebrated the resurrection of Christ.  The apostle Paul summarizes Christ’s resurrection thusly:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

For Paul, Christ’s death for our sins and resurrection three days later is “of first importance.”  The Greek word for this phrase is protos, from which we get our word “prototype.”  A prototype, of course, is a first run of a product or procedure meant to be a test for what comes after it.  And this is precisely what Christ’s resurrection is.  For, according to Paul, Christ’s resurrection – glorious as it is – is only the beginning.  Paul explains:

Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:20-22)

Paul argues that in Christ’s resurrection on Easter Day, God was doing a test run for our resurrections on the Last Day.  As glorious as Easter is, then, it is only a foretaste of what is to come.  It is only a prototype for the big roll out of resurrection and life that will burst forth at Christ’s return.  God has “only just begun” to raise people from death.  An even bigger Easter is still on its way – an Easter when we will not only shout, “Christ has risen,” but, “We have risen!”

April 21, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – Seven Tips for Reading Revelation Realistically

In light of recent predictions that the rapture would take place on May 21 at 6 pm eastern time, Pastor Tucker and I thought it would be helpful to address what the Bible truly teaches about the last days and Christ’s Second Coming in worship and ABC yesterday.  After all, there are clearly many unbiblical views of this age’s last days floating around, the May 21 rapture date being one of them.  Pastor Tucker and I had a great time addressing head on the lies of this world with the truth of the Bible.  In an effort to further cut through some of the confusion, I wanted republish an article I wrote a couple of years back for our church body concerning the Bible’s preeminent apocalyptic book:  the book of Revelation.

Revelation is truly one of the most difficult books in Scripture to read and understand.  If you’ve ever tried to read Revelation, you’ve encountered everything from dragons to beasts to horsemen, oh my!  Saint John, who wrote revelation, has imagery that is overwhelming.  He has metaphors which are befuddling.  And his numerology is harder to crack than your college calculus course.  So how in the world could we ever read, much less understand, such a confusing book?

Yesterday in ABC, I offered two tips to help you wade through Revelation’s mysteries.  I figured that if two tips for reading Revelation are good, then seven tips must be even better.  What follows, then, is what I like to call, “Zach’s Seven Tips for Reading Revelation Realistically.”  I arrived at these tips after writing a series of daily blogs on the book of Revelation.

It is important to note that these tips are not meant to offer a full-fledged interpretation of Revelation as a commentary might do; rather, they are meant to offer a hermeneutic – that is, a method of interpretation – to assist you as you read Revelation for yourself.  They are, in some sense, meant to “teach a man how to fish” so that he can properly read John’s mysterious opus.  So, with this in mind, remember these tips when you engage in eschatological inquiry with Saint John.

Tip #1:  If it didn’t mean that in John’s day, it doesn’t mean that in our day.

Many interpretations of Revelation get real weird real quick. The Christian theologian and humorist G.K. Chesterton once quipped, “Though St. John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creature so wild as one of his own commentators.”[1] The reason so many people find so many wild things in Revelation is because rather than asking, “What was John actually thinking about when he wrote Revelation?” they instead try to arbitrarily connect John’s visions to all sorts of current events. Whenever we read Scripture, however, we should first try to understand the author’s own intended meaning rather than making up our own meanings.  Old Testament professor Tremper Longman III explains cogently:  “If literature is an act of communication, then meaning resides in the intention of the author.  The author encoded a message for the readers.  Interpretation then has as its goal the recovery of the author’s purpose in writing.”[2] When we read Revelation, we should first try to decipher John’s purposes in his imagery rather than our own.  Sadly, many people fail to do this.  For instance, some people actually think the infamous Mark of the Beast, 666 (13:18), is a code contained on computer chips which will one day be implanted by our government in our foreheads in a conspiracy to make us all lobotomized Satanists. The problem is, there were no computer chips in John’s day. Thus, John is probably not talking about computer chips here.  And to say that he was is to claim that we understand John’s revelation better than John himself.  This constitutes the height of arrogance and ought to be avoided.

Tip #2:  Know your Bible.

John employs countless biblical allusions in Revelation that we can miss and misinterpret if we don’t know the rest of our Bible. For example, in Revelation 16, John writes, “Then I saw three evil spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon” (16:13). Huh? Frogs coming out of a dragon? Well, a “dragon” is John’s image for Satan (12:9) and “frogs” are classified as unclean animals in Leviticus 11:10. John seems to be saying, then, that Satan will speak unclean, deceiving, and blasphemous things about the Gospel. Now it makes sense! But you have to know the rest of your Bible in order to catch John’s point.

Tip #3:  Know your history.

John wrote Revelation while exiled on the island of Patmos (1:9), a Roman penal settlement in the Aegean Sea. During John’s exile, Domitian was emperor of Rome. According to the ancient Roman historian Suetonius, Domitian demanded that the subjects of the empire worship him and even call him “lord and god.”[3] The German theologian and numismatist Ethelbert Stauffer writes of this emperor: “Domitian loved to hear…the cry of ‘Hail to the Lord!’…Other forms of acclamation…were the following: Hail, Victory, Lord of the earth, Invincible, Power, Glory, Honour, Peace, Security, Holy, Blessed, Great, Unequalled, Thou Alone, Worthy art Thou, Worthy is he to inherit the Kingdom, Come, come, do not delay, Come again.”[4] In Revelation 4:11, Jesus receives this acclamation: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they were created and have their being.” Many scholars believe that John is parodying the praises sung to Domitian in that day, saying that these praises to the emperor really belong to Jesus. But we only know this by knowing history.

Tip #4:  If you feel like you’ve seen this before, it’s because you have.

Revelation tends to be more thematic rather than chronological in its organization.  Indeed, when reading Revelation, you find that the world ends no fewer than four times (6:12-17, 11:15-19, 14:14-20, 16:17-21)!  Following these four apocalypses, John then offers a detailed account of history’s conclusion in chapters 17-19.  It is vital to recognize that all of these “endings” describe the same time period from different perspectives.  It is not unusual, then, the get a case of déjà vu when reading Revelation.  This is important to keep in mind Revelation’s thematic arrangement because if you try to read this book as a strictly chronological document, you can wind up with charts, diagrams, and maps detailing multiple returns and judgments of Christ that are so complicated, even Stephen Hawking can’t understand them.  There is only one second coming of Christ.  There are no third and fourth and fifth returns.

Tip #5:  Don’t balance your checkbook using John’s math.

John’s numerology is meant to be interpreted symbolically, not literally. For example, in Revelation 7, John talks about a group of 144,000, sealed for salvation (7:4). 144,000 is 12x12x1000. The number 12 is associated with the church in Revelation (e.g., 21:14) and the number 1,000 is a Scriptural number for completeness (e.g., Psalm 50:10, 2 Peter 3:8). John’s point, then, is simply this: All who trust in Jesus are sealed for salvation! And just in case we miss his point, John continues by saying, “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb” (7:9). John’s 144,000 turns out to be innumerable.

Tip #6:  John’s imagery is polyvalent.

Yes, I just used the word “polyvalent.” It’s a word I learned in seminary describing something that has more than one interpretation or meaning. And much of John’s imagery certainly has more than one interpretation or meaning. One example comes with the frogs spewing from the dragon’s mouth in Revelation 16:13, referenced previously under tip number two. In the interpretation proffered above, I mentioned that frogs are unclean animals according to Levitical law. Therefore, John is positing that Satan will speak unclean, deceiving, and blasphemous things about the Gospel. But that’s not all that John is positing. This plague of frogs, along with the other plagues in Revelation 16, parrot the plagues against Egypt in the story of the exodus (cf. Exodus 7:14-11:10). Thus, while the enemies of God are crushed by plagues of frogs (16:13), blood (16:3-4), sun and darkness (16:8-10), and hail (16:21), the people of God remain “blessed” (16:15). Thus, this chapter is also a chapter of comfort for God’s people as they are protected through terrible plagues. One symbol – more than one interpretation. John’s images, then, are not meant to be precise predictions, but general descriptions of both the sad state of wickedness in this world as well as the glorious promise of salvation we have in Christ. One image can have more than one referent. So even if you’ve cracked one code, there may be another lurking behind that same image.

Tip #7:  Do not be afraid.

Too many people look at the second coming of Christ with fear instead of faith. They are scared of bloodshed, doom, gloom, and demise. But as John’s vision opens, he hears Jesus speak these words: “Do not be afraid” (1:17). In spite of a world full of trouble, Revelation is meant to offer us hope and comfort because it reminds us that Jesus wins over evil, as an elder in one of John’s visions says: “See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed” (5:5)!  If Jesus wins, we have nothing of which to be afraid.

So there you have it:  Seven simple tips to help navigate the labyrinth of mystery that is our final biblical book.  Are you ready to take it on?  If so, remember Revelation’s promise:  “Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near” (1:3).  Reading Revelation results in blessing.  It will bless you. And that, at least for me, is reason enough to read it and, yes, even enjoy it.  I hope you’ll read and enjoy it too.

Want to learn more? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!


[1] G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (New York:  John Lane Company, 1909) 29.

[2] Tremper Longman III, Literary Approaches to Biblical Interpretation, in Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation, Moises Silva, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 1996) 135.

[3] Suetonius, The Lives of the Caesars, H.M. Byrd, trans. (Wordsworth Editions, 1997) 358.

[4] Ethelbert Stauffer, Christ and the Caesars (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1952) 155.

May 23, 2011 at 5:15 am 1 comment


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