What I Believe: The Book of Revelation

The Book of Revelation began its existence being thought of as an apocalypse, a revelation from God, and turned out to be a mystery. It continues to cause problems for interpreters and commentators. I have two commentaries that have over 1,000 pages each. They are both written by respected academics yet both are entirely different in their approach to and understanding of Revelation. And this begins with the translation of the Greek text.

As for myself I have read the two commentaries, other books on Revelation, the book of Revelation with various study guides and still do not think I have it all figured out. There is one thing though that I have found in my efforts. It came to me when I asked myself “Why is the Second Coming described at the end of chapter 11?”

I think the answer to my question is that Revelation consists of two very different accounts of events. Chapters 1 through 11 begin with John on the island of Patmos and end, as I said, with the Second Coming. In this first section, events on earth are described in literal, figurative and symbolic ways. The second half of the book is a spiritual account of events that impact people all the way from the formation of the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai until the believers are united with God in the New Jerusalem, and evil spirits and unbelievers have ceased to exist.

The rest of what I think I have learned about the book of Revelation is on the Revelation page of my blog as “Revelation: A Short Version.”

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What I Believe: Eschatology

Eschatology is the study of the “end times.” There are many opinions about the end times. For myself, I think the world entered the end times with the Incarnation of Jesus. At that time a new reality of human history began and everything that has happened since and will happen until history is long past is founded on that event.

If my thinking about the end times is right, the whole Christian period on earth is part of the end times and all that is in Scripture concerning this period may apply to us or to Christians who have come before us, and after us. The four gospels and the Book of Acts tell us the history of the beginnings of Christianity. The book of Revelation tells us the rest of the story. It is a very complex book because that is the way history is. Another difficulty is that we cannot know where we are on the time-line if there is one. A third problem arises from the fact that John had to describe spiritual entities in terms of physical images.

All in all, I believe the end times we live in are complex mixture of physical and spiritual events of which most occur outside the realm of our human understanding unless their meaning is revealed to us by God.

What I Believe: Church Government and Discipline

What am I to believe about church government and discipline? I believe that those people who are appointed, anointed or elected to leadership in a local church bear a heavy responsibility for maintaining the strength and holiness of their portion of the body of Christ.

The seven churches of Revelation show that local churches have a number of serious responsibilities if they are to keep their “lamp stand.” These include not only removing people who practice a sinful life style or teach false doctrine but also keeping their witness to the community burning bright in spite of persecutions and temptations to conform to cultural influences.

Just as the Shekinah glory was not in the temples built by Zerubbabel and Herod, I believe that Christ’s glory is not present in every local church. I think it is a sad thing for Christians to be in a church where the glory has departed and all that is left is the operation of an institution.

What I Believe: Local Churches

After almost 2,000 years the local churches that started out as geographically based entities have become many faceted things. I do not have to tell you how many varieties of Christianity, and what purports to be Christianity, there are.

At this time, there may even be local churches that are worldwide thanks to the Internet. Jesus told us that where as few as two or three believers are gathered in his Name he will be with them. He did not seem to limit his promise to any particular mode of being together.

Despite the many differences there have come to be in local churches, I believe the role of churches in Christianity has not really changed. I think they exist not for their own selves but to serve the people who are the body of Christ. We believers need to be supported, built up, comforted, loved, given opportunities to utilize our gifts, and receive much, much more of benefits to believers that can best be done in the context of a local church.

Near the beginning of the book of Revelation John is given a prophetic vision in the context of seven actual churches in Asia Minor. Great blessings are promised to people in the churches who persevere in their faith in Jesus Christ until the end of their lives on earth. However, the churches are told their light and lamp stand (there are various understandings of the symbolism) will be removed if they do not deal with various problems present in their churches.

It seems we have an obligation both to maintain our own faith in Jesus through adversity in our lives and corruption in our culture while also seeing to it that our churches remain holy and, to use an old expression “as pure as the driven snow.”

What I Believe: Clarity

Clarity, to me, involves more than reading the words as we read ordinary passages. Let me illustrate what I mean by using the account of Philip and the Ethiopian as found in Acts 8:26-40. It took a long string of providences to bring the Ethiopian to where he was and doing what he was doing. It took a special revelation to bring Philip up to his chariot just as he was complaining about not being able to understand Isaiah 53:7-8.

Clarifying the passage for the Ethiopian meant taking him on a long psychological, intellectual and spiritual trip until he came to saving faith in Jesus Christ, was baptized, and went home rejoicing. Philip then moved on to Azotus having done Christ’s work with the Ethiopian and continued his preaching.

Clarity in our understanding of Scripture, I believe, can come to us in various, though less dramatic, ways. Examples are reading the Bible, listening to teaching and preaching, going to Bible studies, using study Bibles and commentaries to see what other people think of a passage, talking to fellow Christians, and meditating on God’s Word. I believe when these things are superintended by the Holy Spirit we will receive the level of understanding of Scripture that Christ intends us to have.

What I Believe: General Revelation

Modern people think that they know how everything works and do not find God in any of it. Post-moderns do not care how anything works—as long as the battery is charged. Both philosophies discard any idea of general revelation, which is God showing his power and nature to humanity.

 

I believe that God’s reveals his existence and purposes in such things as physical reality, history, and human nature. Paul wrote that nobody had any excuse for not acknowledging the existence of God because of what was revealed to us in his creation of physical reality. The Old Testament shows God working in human history to show us what we are to do collectively as members of nations. God reveals his framework for human communities by providing everyone (with a few possible exceptions) a sense of right and wrong.

 

Any or all of these three aspects of general revelation can be denied or ignored by individuals and/or societies. Proverbs 1:20-33 describes this very situation. Wisdom (God’s voice) calls out in public places and is rejected by people given various derogatory names by the writer of Proverbs. These will suffer great harm because of their foolishness. At the end of the passage, a blessing is pronounced on those who listen.

 

Sometime time ago Time magazine had a cover which asked the question, “Is God Dead?” The April 3, 2017 issue asks “Is Truth Dead?” I believe there is an inevitable trajectory between those two issues. A society that pushes God away cannot maintain its hold on truth. After all Jesus told us that he is truth and people who reject him are not only turning against him but all the blessings that come with belief in him.

 

General revelation is a great blessing to humanity but it is not sufficient to bring people to righteousness. People are given the ability to blind themselves to any learning from general revelation and to make their selves deaf to the voice of God, which is one aspect of special revelation. The possession of these abilities does not excuse them for making use of them to refuse to seek and obey God.

 

Creation: Its Causes, Essence and End

“For myself I wanted to know nature after another fashion in its causes, in its essence, in its end.” (Cited in review of We Have Been Friends Together & Adventures in Grace by Raїssa Maritain, First Things, May 2016, p. 63)

What we call nature is the creation of God but only part of his creative activity. If we are to broaden the six days of creation to six stages, as it takes the complete Bible to tell us, we might say these are: (1) Conception of existence, (2) Physical creation, (3) Creation of minds, (4) Creation of human spirits, (5) Regeneration of our spirits (rebirth) and, (6) Re-creation of human bodies (resurrection). And then God presumably rests from creation for eternity, although there may be room in eternity for types of creation we have not been told about.

Causes of Creation

Creation is a product of both the mind and the power of an infinite being. It is so complex in its six manifestations that it requires not only an infinite deity to accomplish it but one that has three persons. The Father is the source of all creation. The Son is the active agent who serves the purposes of the Father and who both shapes creation and takes into own being a human person. The Holy Spirit accomplishes the spiritual parts of creation in accordance with the purposes of the Father and the Son.

Essence of Creation

The essence of creation is the bringing into existence of something that did not exist before. When we think about physical creation these can be objects as large as the universe or as small as the Higgs boson. We can note that none of these physical entities has either mind or spirit. This fact escapes the minds of the materialists who think their thoughts and everything else can be explained by what is only one part of creation.

Before there was any physical creation there was a planning session in heaven. This brought into being a literally cosmic plan for something that had never existed before. After physical creation came the creation of minds. This, of course, required the coming into existence of something else that was new—life.

There are various opinions about the role of the twenty-four elders described in the book of Revelation. They appear to be rather robotic but one of them does impart wisdom to John during one of his experiences in heaven. My own opinion is that they were created to advise the Trinity on what it is like to be finite. Before the Incarnation none of the Godhead had any experience with the limits of finite being. This may be why there appear to be some “kinks’ in the timeline of creation.

The wisdom of the elders is shown by their continual praise of the Father and Son. This is what our kind of finite beings would be doing if we were wise enough.

Back to our own reality, when our ancestors reached a certain level of physical and mental development they were ready to be given a living soul. This is something that had not existed before. It did not come from physical creation although its existence was part of God’s planning of creation. Since our souls are not part of physical creation they cannot be detected by physical means. This inability to be detected means that belief in their existence requires what is called faith. In other words, an action of our minds not our bodies.

End of Creation

The end of creation is not when the space-time continuum tears and time and space no longer exist. The ultimate end, meaning its defining purpose, is in the vast number of glorified humans who are to live with and praise their Creator forever. The end of creation would have been at the conclusion of a far straighter train of events if God had not introduced contingency and probability into his creative efforts. As it is, all the stages of creation involve vast complexities that continue to challenge the best of our human understanding.