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.