Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Walking by Faith, Not Sight

Reflections on 2 Cor. 5:7 ESV - "for we walk by faith, not by sight." 

In the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indiana Jones must pass three booby traps in order to find the Holy Grail that will save his father's life.  One of these traps is a deep chasm which he must cross.  We see him here as he approaches the trap.


Unknown to Indiana Jones, a bridge stretched across the chasm though he could not see it because it blended in with the rocks on the other side.  His father had told him he had to believe the book that told him to walk across the empty chasm.  He took the step of faith into what appeared to be empty space and walked safely to the other side.  Similarly, Christians must walk by faith.  Walking by faith means that you trust God promises and live so that you will inherit them.  Walking by sight means that you believe only what you can see right now, and act in a way that satisfies present desires.  Here are some times you must choose to walk by faith rather than by sight.


Jesus said, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:19-21, NIV84).   Walking by faith means choosing a career in which you can please and glorify God. When you walk by faith, you store up treasures which cannot be destroyed in heaven.  Walking by sight means you will choose to make as much money as you can so you can have houses, cars, TV's, iPads, boats, and expensive clothes as soon as possible.  When you walk by sight, you store up earthly treasures that will perish.  Christians choose to walk by faith and store up heavenly treasures that will last for eternity. 


The writer of Hebrews says that Moses "chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward" (Hebrews 11:25-26, NIV84).  Walking by sight means that you choose to satisfy your desires as quickly as possible.  You get immediate thrills with wild partying, speeding, threatening others to get your way, intimidating others, and looking at pornography.  Sadly, those pleasures don't last very long and usually result in broken relationships, misery, and even death.  Walking by faith means that you refuse to participate in those sinful pleasures and seek God's eternal reward by doing what is right and good. 

Peer Pressure

Sometimes students will ridicule you and mistreat you because you will not join with them in sending sexually explicit messages or pictures, drinking, experimenting with drugs, stealing, or being disrespectful to authority.  If you walk by sight, you will give in so that the mistreatment and ridicule will stop.  You will join them in the evil that they are doing.  However, if you walk by faith, you will not give in but remain faithful to Jesus and obey him because the eternal glory you will experience is far greater than anything you may suffer in this life.  Paul said, "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, NIV84)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Believing the Unseen

Reflections on Hebrews 11:1

"To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see." (Hebrews 11:1, GNB)

Perhaps you've heard someone say, "I won't believe it unless I see it."  Nevertheless, they believe many things they have never seen and cannot see.  They cannot see the past, but they believe many things about the past.  They believe in George Washington even though they have never seen him.  They cannot see many things in the present, yet they believe them.  They believe that they have brains, though they have never seen them.  They cannot see the future, but they believe many things about the future. They believe that they will own a car when they grow up even though the car may not even be made yet.  They believe the sun will come up tomorrow, and their mother will make them go to school, but they have not yet seen it.  Actually, they have good reasons to believe most of those things even though they have not seen them.  They are not stupid. Similarly, Christians are not stupid for believing things they cannot see.  They have good reasons to believe them.


God is a spirit (John 4:24), so no one has ever seen him (1 John 4:12).  Nevertheless, we believe in God because "his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made" (Romans 1:20, ESV). We believe in him because "The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky displays his handiwork" (Psalm 19:1, NET). When we see what God does, we have good reason to believe in him just as we have good reason to believe in wind because we can see and feel what wind does.

People in the past

We also believe and are certain that Abraham, Moses, David, Peter, and Paul were real people who lived on this earth. We believe Jesus was a real person who lived on the earth even though none of us have seen him.  We believe he did because others saw him and wrote or told about what they saw.  Matthew became a follower of Jesus and wrote about what he saw and heard.  Peter was also a follower of Jesus who told about what he saw and heard.  Mark wrote what he learned from Peter.  Luke interviewed many people who had known Jesus, and wrote what he learned.  John was also a follower of Jesus, and he wrote a book about Jesus also.  We believe Jesus was a real person for the same reason people believe in George Washington - because people who saw him, talked to him, and touched him wrote about him.
When several people reported that they had seen Jesus after he rose from the dead, Thomas did not believe them.  He said, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it" (John 20:25, NIV84). Thomas finally did believe when Jesus actually appeared to him and showed him his wounds.  Then Jesus said to Thomas, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed" (John 20:29, NIV84).  We believe and are sure that Jesus lived and rose again, not because we have seen him, but because we have heard what those who saw him said.
Promises about the future

Why do we believe that our parents will make us go to school tomorrow?  Because that is what they usually do.  Why do we believe them when they promise us something for our birthday?  Because our parents keep their promises to us.  Similarly, we believe the promises God and Jesus have made about the future.  We believe that Jesus will return to this earth, that he will raise the dead, and that he will judge all the people in the world, that he will send the wicked to a place of eternal punishment, and that he will take the righteous to live with him in a new heavens and a new earth. We have not seen any of these things, but we are sure of the things that we hope for because we have learned that God keeps his promises. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Faith; It's Not About You

"And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." (Hebrews 11:6, NIV84)

Faith is not merely confidence that you can do what you want or have what you desire.  Faith is not about God making it possible to do what you want or giving you what you ask for.  When people don't understand this, they may get angry with God.  A young girl may get angry with God when she prays and prays that God will help her get all A's on her report card, but she gets a C in one class.  A boy may even question whether there is a God after he has prayed that God won't let his parents get a divorce, but then his dad files for divorce and leaves.  But faith is not about you.

Faith is about being able to do the things that please God.  Without faith, you cannot please God.  It is impossible to please Him without faith.  But you may ask, "Why would I want to please God?  What is in it for me?"  That is a little like asking, "Why would I want to please my father?  What's in it for me?"

We love our fathers, assuming they are not negligent dope heads or abusive drunkards, because they loved us even before we knew to love them.  They protect us from danger.  Sometimes they may even refuse to let us do or have something we want because they know it is dangerous.  If we have not yet learned that it is dangerous, we might become angry with them, but they don't change their minds because they know what is best for us.  Fathers also comfort us and fix our wounds when things go wrong.  We may not understand why they can't or don't prevent what goes wrong, but they are always there to help us.
When we understand that our fathers love us, protect us from danger, and help us when things go wrong, our faith in them grows and we can please them.  In the same way, when we understand that our Heavenly Father loves us and wants the best for us, our faith in him grows and we can please him.  Here are some ways you can put faith in your Heavenly Father.

Put more faith in His purposes than your own

Paul was very zealous for God and had plans to arrest and to persecute all who called on the name of Jesus.  He thought his plans were good, but God had different plans.  God planned that Paul would suffer much for the name of Jesus and proclaim salvation to the nations in his name.
You may have plans that you think are good.  You may want to go to college, play football, become a doctor, take the gospel to a foreign land, or build a business.  You may pray and ask God's blessing on your plans.  God may bless your plans, but if he doesn't, don't become angry with God.  If God has different plans for you, you must put more confidence, more trust, in what He gives you to do than in what you wanted to do.  Faith is all about trusting God.

Put more faith in His promises than your desires

You may want popularity and fame.  You may want your name in record books or your picture on the front cover of Sports Illustrated, but God doesn't promise you those things.  You may want riches.  You may want a big house, an SUV in the drive, and a boat and cabin on the lake, but God doesn't promise those things either.  Instead, He promises you victory over sin, opportunities to let your light shine for him, the food and clothing necessary for life, and a dwelling with Him in the New Jerusalem for eternity.

You may think what you want is good, and you may ask God to give you what you want.  God may give you some of what you want, but he may withhold that which merely satisfies selfish desires or does not accomplish his purposes for you.  If he withholds something, don't get angry or question God's existence.  Put your trust in God's promises, in the things that He has promised to give you.  Faith is not about you; it is about trusting God.

Put more faith in His power than your own

When Moses saw Israel's cruel slavery in Egypt, he tried to free his people by his own power.  However, when he killed an Egyptian slave master, he had to flee Egypt.  Forty years later when Moses was eighty years old, God sent Moses back with only a shepherd's staff in his hand and words in his mouth.  God humbled the Egyptians with ten plagues, and destroyed the Egyptian army in the sea without Moses lifting a sword.  God's power was greater than the power of Moses.

You may think you are young and strong.  You may think that you can do anything you want to do, but eventually you will fail.  Someone will defeat you, someone will rob you, disaster will overtake you, or you will die and leave it all behind.  Your power is nothing compared to the power of God.  Put your faith in His power.  Faith is not about you; it is about trusting God.

God does care about you, and when you seek him diligently in faith trusting him in all things, he will reward you. Scripture says, "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Corinthians 2:9, NIV84). Trust God completely.  Faith is not about you; it's about trusting God.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The King's Slave

Reflections on Romans 1:1
Rom. 1:1 (NIV84) Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God
When we introduce a speaker at a conference, we usually try to impress the audience with the qualifications and accomplishments of the person they are about to hear. If someone were introducing Saul as a young man, he might refer to him as a Hebrew of the Hebrews from the tribe of Benjamin (one of only two which remained loyal to the line of David), a natural-born citizen of Tarsus but raised in Jerusalem, educated by Gamaliel, living according to the strictest sect of the Jews, and advanced in his religion beyond many his own age.

As an older man, Paul, as he was known when he wrote to the Christians in Rome, mentioned none of those things. His former status and accomplishments had become rubbish to him. Instead, he introduced himself as a servant, not a paid servant, but a bond-servant, a slave, one wholly owned and subject to a master. His master was King (Christ/Messiah) Jesus. Paul was not a free man, and he was not writing to the Roman Christians to promote himself or his own agenda. He had no will but the will of King Jesus.

Although he was a slave, his message was important because he was an apostle (messenger, ambassador, envoy) of the King. To this he had been called on the road to Damascus. He had been called not merely to salvation but primarily to service. Jesus said he was his chosen instrument to carry his name to nations, kings, and the people of Israel (Acts 9:15). Paul had been called by Jesus himself (Gal. 1:1) and appointed an apostle to the nations (Acts 22:14-15; 1 Tim. 2:7) so his service or ministry was of great importance (Rom. 11:13) though he himself was a slave.

Paul's service as an apostle or envoy was important because he had been set apart or designated as one to carry the good news (gospel) from God. As a minister of King Jesus, he had the "duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles (nations) might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 15:16 NIV84). The victorious King had appeared, and he was offering gracious terms of peace and countless blessings to those who served him. They could not afford to ignore the message he sent through his slave and envoy Paul.

Like Paul, all Christians are slaves of King Jesus.  We are not our own because we have been bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:19-20). We were called, not merely to salvation, but also to serve the one we confessed as Lord (Col. 3:24). We are set apart to live the gospel, to do heaven's will on earth (Matt. 6:10) so that our King may be made known to all and so that our God may be glorified (Matt. 5:16). For Americans who value individualism and freedom, it may be difficult to live as slaves of our Lord, but Paul said quite clearly, "He who was a free man when he was called is Christ's slave" (1 Cor. 7:22)

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Prophet on the Mountain

Reflections on Matthew 5:1

ἀνέβη εἰς τὸ ὄρος - "he went up into the mountain" is the exact phrase used of Moses in Exodus 19:3 (LXX; also 24:18; 34:4) when he received the Law from God and gave it to Israel.  Jesus is presented as the "prophet like Moses" to whom the people were to give heed (Deut. 18:18-19) for his words were also from God.  In fact, his words fulfill and supersede the words of Moses.  In both cases, a multitude of people surrounded God's prophet on the mountain.  May we be more than one in that crowd that Jesus saw.  May we be one of those disciples or learners who come to him and give heed to his words.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Army of the Lord

Reflections on 1 Chron. 12:23-40

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.
-- 1 Cor. 16:13
TRIBES. All twelve tribes and the Levites were present to make David king over all Israel. Two tribes (Judah and Simeon) were present from the south. Seven and a half tribes (Benjamin, Ephraim, half Manasseh, Issachar, Zebulun, Naphtali, Dan, and Asher) were present from the north. Two and a half tribes (Reuben, Gad, and half Manasseh) were present from the east. In addition to the twelve tribes, the Levites also sent representatives to make David king. Just as all the tribes made David their king, so today all who come to Jesus make him their Lord (Rom. 10:9).

NUMBERS. The soldiers who came under David’s command at Hebron numbered 340,800 men. (Some have suggested that only the officers, commanders of thousands and hundreds, were present for the anointing in which case a total of 398 officers from the twelve tribes are enumerated in text; see Payne, 1988, p. 378). This number under David’s command were about a quarter of all the men of fighting age in David’s kingdom at the time he took the census toward the end of his reign. All of these, however, were the core of the army which would give Israel victory over the people of the land and the surrounding nations. Today, God gives us victory over all the power of Satan through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:57).

READINESS. These soldiers were experienced and equipped for battle. They bore “shield and spear,” and they were “equipped for battle with all the weapons of war.” They were “mighty men of valor,” troops “seasoned” and “ready for battle.” Some were men who had “understanding of the time, to know what Israel ought to do,” but all came with singleness of purpose to make David king. Today, Christians are soldiers called to serve Jesus, the son of David. We who given our lives to Christ should have a single of purpose – to please the one who enlisted us (2 Tim. 2:4). We should be equipped having taken up the whole armor of God. Being equipped, we should be ready to engage the enemy standing firm in our opposition to all evil spiritual forces (Eph. 6:13).

Confessing Their Sins

Reflections on Mark 1:5

In the Old Testament, there are three great prayers of national confession and repentance (Daniel 9, Ezra 9, and Nehemiah 9). All of them sought the Lord's favor as Israel returned from Babylonian captivity and the reestablished their nation. Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah turned their hearts toward God. Their nation was restored, but not their king. The nation still looked forward to the time God would send his Messiah, his anointed one, to rule over them.

John was sent to prepare the way for the Messiah. His preaching turned the hearts of the people toward God. The people responded, not just a few leaders. All Judea and all Jerusalem went out to hear John and were baptized confessing their sins. The people were prepared to receive their Messiah. Sadly, this time most of the leaders did not prepare their own hearts with repentance and confession of sin. Most of them would reject the Messiah.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Baptism of Repentance

Reflections on Mark 1:4

John's baptism was a baptism of repentance which made it different from Jewish washings in a second way. 

Jewish washings were prompted by a desire to purify oneself from uncleanness caused by contact with unclean animals, unclean objects, unclean people, or dead bodies. Even cups and pots and copper vessels, which make no moral choices, could become "unclean" and need to be washed according to Jewish traditions (Mark 7:4). Jewish washings were intended to purify them from any uncleanness in the environment which may have defiled them.

John's baptism had nothing to do with things which defiled a person from without, but with sin which defiled a person from within. It was prompted by a recognition of one's sinfulness and a desire for cleansing from that sin. Hence, John's baptism was a baptism based on repentance or prompted by repentance. Those who came to John sought God's mercy by confessing their sin and moral bankruptcy.  Again, this made John's baptism unique, different from Jewish washings which preceded it.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

John the Baptist

Reflections on Mark 1:4

The messenger God sent to prepare the way for Jesus the Messiah appeared in a most unusual way - baptizing in the wilderness. The baptism he preached was not Jewish baptism for Jews did not baptize others but only themselves. Rather, John was sent by the God of heaven to baptize those who came to him in repentance (John 1:33; Luke 7:29). Because people did not baptize themselves, they could not imagine that it was their own efficacy which obtained whatever benefits resulted from baptism. The efficacy was of God who was working through his messenger whom he had sent to prepare them for the coming of the Messiah.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Preparations for a Presidential Visit

Reflections on Mark 1:2-3

When the President of the United States travels to a city, extensive preparations must be made before his arrival. All commercial and private flights into the airport must be diverted to other airports from before his arrival until his departure from the airport. The President's route through town must be identified, all garbage cans and mailboxes removed, and every manhole examined. Every building he will enter must be inspected and spaces provided for meetings, photo ops, travel companions, and his own personal privacy. Rooms must be completely cleared and inspected to insure safety and security from electronic eavesdropping. Rooms and communication networks for the White House press core must be provided. People who will be permitted to see the President must be identified, checked, and issued tickets. Preparations are extensive so that the President can be assured that he will accomplish his goals during his visit.

God's plans for the arrival of his Son on the earth were no less extensive. He sent his Son to Judea and Galilee in the "fullness of time" (Galatians 4:4) so that he might accomplish God's eternal purpose. Before his Son's arrival, He sent a messenger ahead to prepare his way and enlist others in making straight paths for him. The appearance of his Son was a big event. The success of his mission had to be insured.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Jesus Christ, Son of God

Reflections on Mark 1:1

Where does the good news begin?  It begins in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  

Good news, salvation has come.  Jesus is a name which means “Jehovah is salvation” or “Jehovah saves.” The one who saves his people from their sins has come (Matthew 1:21).  

Good news, the Messiah reigns.  Christ is the Greek word for the Hebrew word Messiah, the title worn by Israel's king indicating that God had designated and consecrated him to be the king by anointing him with sacred oil.  For centuries, no king had reigned in Israel, but now God has anointed a king whom he strengthens and establishes as he did David (Psalm 89:19-29). The anointed king shepherds God’s people by binding up the broken hearted, proclaiming liberty to captives, and comforting those who mourn (Isaiah 61:1-4).  

Good news, God is with us.  Jesus is not merely a human who is subject to all the weaknesses of sinful flesh.  Instead, he is “God with us,” or “Immanuel” (Matthew 1:23).  He does not fail to deliver and comfort his people.  Even though he was tested even to the point of death, he arose victorious over death and lives to deliver and to comfort his people.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Good News

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
-- Mark 1:1 (my translation)

Good news brings hope to the despairing, joy to the sorrowful, peace to the anxious, freedom to the prisoner, forgiveness to the guilty, justice to the maligned, friendship to the forgotten, and rest to the weary. The origins of that good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, are recorded in this book. Listen (read) with anticipation and excitement. You will not be disappointed.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Kingdoms of This World and the Kingdom of Christ

Reflections on Matthew 4:8-9

In Matthew 4:8-9, Satan showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and all their glory. Then he said he would give those kingdoms to Jesus if he would fall down and worship him. How would he give those kingdoms to Jesus? He would give them by the same methods of deception and violence that he used to give empires to Nebuchadnezzar, Alexander the Great, and Caesar Augustus. It was an arrogant and audacious plan, but the Son of God would have no part of it. Jesus was born to be king, but his kingdom was not of this world, and his servants would not fight (John 18:36). The good news of his kingdom would "conquer" the nations. His truth would set men free from the dominion of Satan (John 8:31-36) and transfer them to the kingdom of God's beloved Son (Colossians 1:13).

A great crowd from the chief priests and elders of the people went to arrest Jesus with swords and clubs, but Jesus did not resort to violence. At the end of the age, it appears that the Beast and False Prophet will persuade many kings to attack the Lord and his people (Revelation 16:12-13; 17:12-14) with every weapon imaginable, but the one riding on the white horse, whose name is the Word of God, will defeat them with the sword of his mouth (Revelation 19:11 ff.). He will need no physical weapons, and his army which follows him will need no physical weapons. His word, which was powerful enough to create the worlds, will be powerful enough to defeat Satan and all the enemies of God's people.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Children of the Devil

Reflections on John 8:44

In John 8:44, Jesus told the Jewish leaders that they were the children of their father the devil, who was a murderer and liar from the beginning. Since the Fall in the Garden when Satan deceived Eve and brought death on mankind, there has been continual enmity between the woman’s seed and the Serpent’s seed. The Serpent has convinced his seed that the way to exercise dominion over the world and subdue the woman’s seed is by deception and violence. Within a short time, the leaders to whom Jesus was talking would confirm that the devil was their father by bringing false charges against the Jesus and crucifying him.

From Cain and Lamech to Nebuchadnezzar, and from Caesar to Napoleon and Hitler, men and governments have sought to extend their power using deception and violence. That is why abusive world powers in Revelation are pictured as a Beast which is the mirror image of the Ancient Serpent, the devil. No ruler or nation is immune to this temptation. Great Britain abused its power with deception and violence during the Opium Wars in China. The founders of our nation understood the danger of this abuse of power so they limited the power of the Commander-in-Chief by reserving for Congress the power to declare war. Nevertheless, even our nation used deception and violence to displace the native tribes of North America, and in recent years has allowed several Commanders-in-Chief to conduct war without a declaration of war from Congress.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Freedom to Worship

Reflections on Hebrews 2:14-15

The death and resurrection of Jesus grants and guarantees us the freedom to worship and serve God without fear of death. That freedom never has been nor ever will be guaranteed by the right to bear arms. It was won by one who volunteered to die that those who executed him might live. That freedom is exercised by those willing to show the same unmerited love to those who would kill them. That freedom is guaranteed by the power that raised Jesus from the grave. 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Shocking Statement in Bible Commentary

 Reflections on 1 Samuel 16:1-2

Walter Brueggemann makes a shocking statement on p. 121 of his commentary on 1 & 2 Samuel when he says, “Yahweh will lie, if necessary, in order to move the kingship toward David.” He says this despite noting that Samuel had affirmed just a few verses earlier that the “Glory of Israel will not lie” (1 Samuel 15:29).

So what prompted Brueggemann’s assertion? It was that God told Samuel to take a heifer to Bethlehem for a sacrifice so that he wouldn’t have to tell Saul he was going there to anoint a new king (1 Samuel 16:2). Brueggemann admits this may not be a “blatant lie,” but he says it is “clearly an authorized deception” and that Yahweh is “very close to falsehood.” Between those two statements, Brueggemann says that “Yahweh will lie, if necessary.”

First note that when Samuel said that the “Glory of Israel will not lie,” he was undoubtedly referring to Numbers 23:19 where it notes that God is not man “that he should lie.” Second, note that Paul affirms in Titus 1:2 that God “never lies,” and the writer of Hebrews 6:18 says that it is “impossible for God to lie.” Withholding a secret is not in itself a lie. As J. E. Smith notes in The Books of History, “The animal was not a subterfuge, but a means of verifying his sacrificial intentions should he be challenged by Saul’s agents.” Samuel was not obligated to tell everything he knew, but only answer the question he was asked.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Internal Evidence for Time of Nero Unconvincing

Attempts to show from internal evidence that Revelation must have been written before the destruction of Jerusalem (70 AD) and shortly after the reign of Nero (54-68 AD) are not convincing.

1. The command for John to measure the temple in Revelation 11:1 is sometimes seen as evidence that the temple in Jerusalem was still standing. The problem here is that what John sees in a vision is visionary, not necessarily a physical reality. Throughout the visions, temple furnishings such as the golden altar and incense offered up by angels are used symbolically. Therefore, making this a reference to the physical temple is not consistent with the context.

2. The reference to Jerusalem in Revelation 11:8 is sometimes seen as evidence that Jerusalem had not yet been destroyed. Again this is part of a vision. Although it is said to be the city "where they Lord was crucified," it is also said to be "the great city," which later is called "Babylon" (Revelation 16:19). John uses Old Testament language describing Tyre, Babylon, and Jerusalem to describe the great city in Revelation. John appears to be describing an archetypical city, a world system, rather than the pre-70 AD city of Jerusalem.

3. Some say that the mark of the beast in Revelation 13:18 refers to Nero. The number 666, however, can only be obtained by transliterating Nero's name from Greek to Hebrew and then leaving out one letter.[22]

4. Finally, some say that the explanation of the seven heads of the beast in Revelation 17:9-10 points to a time of writing immediately after the death of Nero. The seven heads are said to be seven kings. Of those seven, five had fallen, one was, and one was yet to come. Nero was the fifth emperor following Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, and Claudius. If the kings refer to the Roman emperors, then John would have been writing immediately after Nero's death. The problem here is that four more emperors ruled before a year and a half elapsed after the death of Nero and there is nothing significant about either the seventh or eighth emperor.

[22] "The calculation is based on the defective Hebrew spelling of qsr without a yodh after the qoph." G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999). 719.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Time of Writing: External Evidence for the Reign of Domitian

External evidence confirms the internal evidence suggesting that John wrote to the churches of Asia during the reign of Domitian. Irenaeus (130-202 AD) writes that the Revelation "was seen no very long time since, but almost in our day, towards the end of Domitian's reign"[18] and that John, the "disciple of the Lord," lived among the Christians in Ephesus "until the times of Trajan."[19]   Domitian ruled from 81 to 96 AD, and Trajan from 98 to 117 AD. Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD), says that after "the tyrant's (Domitian's) death, he (the apostle John) returned to Ephesus from the isle of Patmos."[20] Eusebius reports that "the apostle and evangelist John … was condemned to dwell on the island of Patmos in consequence of his testimony to the divine word" during the persecution of Domitian.[21] Hence, the external evidence suggests that Revelation was written from Patmos to seven churches in the Roman province of Asia toward the end of the first century during the reign of Domitian.

[18] Irenaeus, Against Heresies, V, xxxv, 3.
[19] Irenaeus, Against Heresies, III, iii, 4.
[20] Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, 42.
[21] Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, III, xviii. 1.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Time of Writing: Internal Evidence for the Reign of Domitian

The conditions in Asia Minor during the reign of Nero (54-68 AD) and before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD do not fit this picture. Until the end of Nero's reign and the fall of Jerusalem, persecution arose primarily from the Jews who tried to stir up Gentiles crowds against those who proclaimed Christ (Acts 13:50; 14:2; 17:13). While it is true that emperors from the very beginning took divine names, that temples were built in many eastern cities in honor of Augustus, there is no evidence that Christians were asked to give divine honors to the emperor before 70 AD. Nero's persecution was limited to Rome, and he did not accuse Christians in Rome of impiety but of arson. Furthermore, Paul's epistles show an emphasis on converts leaving their pagan lifestyles, but he is more concerned that they not be seduced by Judaizers than by Jezebels seeking luxuries and social status in a pagan world.

Revelation's picture of conditions in Asia Minor is more appropriate for the reign of Domitian (81-96 AD). During his reign, Domitian became obsessed with his divinity and required that he always be referred to in writing and speech as "our Lord and God."[10] Domitian executed Flavius Clemens and banished his wife Flavia Domitilla on the charge of "atheism, a charge on which many others who drifted into Jewish ways were condemned."[11] This was the same charge brought against many Christians who died for their faith, and Christian tradition held that Domitilla was a Christian,[12] though her husband was not. While it cannot be proven that Domitian pressed this charge in the provinces, provincial authorities may have used the precedent to bring the charge against Christians at the time Revelation was written. Hence, the death of Antipas in connection with the throne of Satan (worship of the emperor) appears to be closer to the time of Domitian than the time of Nero. In 111 AD, approximately fifteen years after the reign of Domitian, Pliny wrote to Emperor Trajan from northern Asia Minor, noting that he attempted to get those accused of being Christians to repeat "an invocation to the gods" and offer "religious rites with wine and incense before your statue."[13] In 155 AD, approximately sixty years after the reign of Domitian, Polycarp, an aged bishop in Smyrna, was martyred because he refused to say, "Caesar is Lord," and offer incense to him.[14]

Domitian's policies affected Christians in other ways. During his reign, Domitian extended a tax Vespasian had imposed on all Jews (men, women, and children) throughout the empire as a way for them to show their loyalty to the empire. Domitian extended the tax, which initially paid for reconstruction of the Temple of Capitoline Jupiter, to those who concealed their Jewish origins and to Gentiles who had adopted Jewish customs.[15] This extension would have included Christians. Jewish Christians appeared to be trying to avoid the tax or showing loyalty to the empire by adopting Christianity. Gentile Christians appeared to adopt Jewish customs without paying the tax. Domitian's policy became an occasion for many false accusations against people, including Christians. An inscription on a coin indicates that Emperor Nerva (96-98 AD) rescinded Domitian's extension of the tax to end those false accusations.[16] About the same time that Nerva rescinded the tax on groups which may have included Christians, Papias says that Nerva permitted the Apostle John to return to Ephesus from Patmos.[17]

Not only was Domitian's reign a time of increased economic hardship and pressure to give divine honors to the emperor, it was a time when large numbers of Gentiles had become Christians. Unlike the Jewish Christians and God-fearing Gentiles of earlier decades for whom pagan social status and luxuries had little allure, these Gentile Christians were more easily seduced by the opportunities and luxuries available in the pagan world. For this reason, the false teachers described in Revelation are not Judaizers, but false prophets like Balaam and Jezebel who advocated compromise with pagan culture.

[10] Suetonius, The Lives of the Twelve Caesars; Domitian, xiii.
[11] Dio Cassius, Roman History 67, 14.
[12] Eusebius, Church History III, xviii, 5. Eusebius says Domitilla was a niece of Flavius Clemens.
[13] Pliny, Letters 10.96 (a letter to Trajan).
[14] The Letter of the Smyrneans on the Martyrdom of Polycarp, viii.
[15] Suetonius: The Lives of the Twelve Caesars; Domitian, xii.
[16] Marius Heemstra, The Fiscus Judaicus and the Parting of Ways (Tubington, Germany: Siebeck Mohr, 2010), 69 ff.
[17] Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, Updated ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 573.