Fourth Sunday of Advent 2022

Isaiah 7:10-16 God Is with Us

This Old Testament account concerns the meeting King Ahaz has agreed to have with the Prophet Isaiah. Ahaz really does not want to have this meeting. Ahaz was not faithful to God and in fact openly practice idolatry.  The nation was in trouble. Both Damascus and Samaria were threatening Judah. God set Isaiah to comfort Ahaz and let the King know God would protect them. Ahaz did not believe. God tells Isaiah that Ahaz can ask for any sign. Ahaz refused God’s offer on the hypocritical ground, “I will not ask, neither will I tempt Yahweh”.

God tells Isaiah that God will give a sign anyway. A young woman will have a child who will be called Emmanuel, God is with us. Before the child knows good from evil, the two kings that threaten Ahaz will be destroyed.  However, Ahaz still tries to do things his own way and through his foolishness puts the nation under the dominance of Assyria, led by Tiglath-pileser.  This dominance does not last long. Within a short time, Isaiah’s prophesy comes true.

Had Isaiah’s counsel been followed, Tiglath-pileser would have, in his own interests and been compelled to crush the coalition of Damascus and Samaria anyway and Judah would have retained her freedom. Failure to listen to God never turns out well for those who make such a choice.

God’s desire has always been the best for us. God always works to the human advantage. We might not see it and that is the key part of the problem, we cannot always see what God sees and knows. We make decisions from a finite, limited, nearsighted perspective that we have no power to control.

Why is it so hard for human beings to trust God? Why is it so easy for human beings to either engage in self-deception and think we can solve any problem on our own or turn to false gods that seem to provide perceived solutions which usually turn out to make things worse in the long run? Reflect for a moment on what I just said. Is it not true. Is this something you have experienced?

Some say, “Well, if God would just become a visible, tangible, testable object, then it would be easier for us to believe. If God did not call upon us to rely on faith so much, then perhaps human beings would trust God more!”

No, we would not! Human beings create idols (physical, mental, or conceptual) with the thinking that they can influence a god or gods, gain mystical magic or power, in a way which they (we human beings) want things to go.”

What we human beings seek is a means of certainty, of predictability, of control. This is our big mistake. This is wanting to be as God. This is a relational ruse that is our finite flaw, our egotistical error, that is played upon and used to degrade us, debase us, darken our thinking, and eventually destroy us spiritually.

Faith, on the other hand, is a relational revealing, a developing trust that offers an awakening awareness to a God who is there and who wants to be known not as an object, but is ἀγάπη -agape (deep, intimate, caring, available, active love) the verb that is the reality of God. A reality that gives wisdom and knowledge much more real than certainty.

“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For 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. So they are without excuse.” (Rom. 1:19-20 ESV)

But God does understand us. God does give us signs. God even, from time to time, allows us to test God. In our world, I am afraid many people will not give God the chance.

God makes promises all the time. Seek and you will find. I will never leave you nor forsake you. I will be with you always. Why would God give these promises if they were not true?

God even gets very practical. God puts it on the line. I know this is a verse many people do not like because it can and does prove God’s word, but it also makes us realize by its being a proving test that we may need to change our lives.

Malachi 3:10 states, “Bring the whole tenth part to the storage house so there might be food in my house. Please test me in this, says the LORD of heavenly forces. See whether I do not open all the windows of the heavens for you and empty out a blessing until there is enough.”

Ours is not a blind call to faith, but an experiential one. And as far as God being distant or invisible, just not so. “God made the nations so they would seek him, perhaps even reach out to him and find him. In fact, God isn’t far away from any of us. In God we live, move, and exist. “(Acts 17:27-28)

In fact, God not only made us in order to see God, but God also became human in order to seek us, in order to offer us a relationship that begins with God’s loving grace and then matures into a true faith. This is what Jesus came to do and is still doing today.  The Gospel of Luke, on the accounts of Jesus’s life given to us to help us have faith, tells us that Jesus, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Lk. 19:10 ESV)

At the time, the fullness of time, at just the right time, God again gives humanity a sign. God again speaks through the prophet Isaiah, to a people alive 700 years after he had spoken to Ahaz. These too are stressful times. These also are days when the people are oppressed, not just by human political power, but by a rise in the influence of the powers and principalities that seemed to feel there was weakness in faith and hope amongst God’s chosen that would bring about their total destruction and in doing so, defeat God.

God would not let this happen. However, this time, God did not send a prophet, God showed up personally. Matthew, one of Jesus’s apostles, writes in his gospel, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). (Matt. 1:23 ESV)

Even better yet, God is with us. This was the sign. This was the fulfillment of the promise of one who would come, one who would be the Messiah, the Christ, the anointed of God who would save us from the darkness.

In Jesus, we see God living the faith we are called to have. God as a baby was vulnerable, weak, and needy, was trusting, dependent, and needed to be cared for and taught about life. God was born to a young girl named Mary. Do you want to see God? You can through the life of Jesus. Jesus reveals God in every way.

One of Jesus’s disciples Philip said to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (Jn. 14:8-9 ESV)

Emmanuel, God is with us, came. Jesus came as light and life. Jesus came as the Word of God incarnate. John, another apostle who gives a Gospel in which to see Emmanuel, writes, “The true light that shines on all people was coming into the world. The light was in the world, and the world came into being through the light, but the world didn’t recognize the light.

The light came to his own people, and his own people didn’t welcome him. But those who did welcome him, those who believed in his name, he authorized to become God’s children, born not from blood nor from human desire or passion but born from God.

The Word became flesh and made his home among us. We have seen his glory, glory like that of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (Jn. 1:9-14)

Third Sunday of Advent 2022

Isaiah 35: 1-10 Look, Can You See

In the Bible, there is a story of a faithful follower of Jesus named Stephen. The Bible tells us, “And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people.” (Acts 6:8 ESV)

This irritated some of those who opposed those who believed in Jesus. So they told lies about Stephen and turned the people against him. Yet, in spite of what they were doing and saying, Stephen kept his cool and remained steadfast in his faith and witness. This so outraged Stephen’s critics that they dragged him out of the city and stoned him to death.

While he was being pelted with rocks that were breaking his bones he cried out, not in pain but in joy, “Look! I can see heaven on display and Jesus standing at God’s right side!” (Acts 7:56) This is where faith can take you. Some see death and defeat, others salvation and success.

What a stunning scene. In the midst of evil, hatred, violence, injustice, and suffering, a man is able to see the glory of God. A man was able to see beyond the limits of this life into the reality that his faith would bring him. Stephen experienced the truth of the promise Jesus made, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:20-1:1 ESV) This is a gift of grace; this is a gift of God. Jesus is with us and will not leave us and will take us to and through the end of the age.

But wait a second. We are celebrating Advent. Is not Advent about waiting for Jesus to return? How can Jesus be with us and at the same time we are waiting for Jesus to return? Isn’t this a contradiction? No, it is not.

In the Old Testament God promises to never abandon or leave God’s chosen people, even when the people would abandon God. As I read the Prophets, I see how the people really did hurt God deeply, continually, and often without remorse.

In the book of Psalms, it states, “Yet he, being compassionate, atoned for their iniquity and did not destroy them; he restrained his anger often and did not stir up all his wrath. He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and comes not again. How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness and grieved him in the desert! They tested God again and again and provoked the Holy One of Israel. (Ps. 78:38-41 ESV)

Still, God made a promise, “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” (Deut. 31:6 ESV)

Even though God was with God’s chosen, God also promised a messiah, a savior, who would be God with us. And so, the people waited, with anticipation for this promise to be fulfilled.  Jesus was the fulfillment of this promise. Jesus came into a world of darkness, a wilderness of spiritual blindness to bring us light, bring us understanding, to give us a glimpse of God, God’s love, and God’s plan for humanity. Jesus provides the opportunity for a restored relationship with God.

Hear our Lord’s own words, “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”” (Jn. 8:12 ESV)

And so, Jesus is still with us. Jesus is still the light, but God’s ultimate purpose is to restore all of creation and to the reality of the beginning. We are waiting for a new reality in which darkness, evil, depravity, violence, hatred, prejudice, lies, and deceptions are no more. A reality in which the wilderness, the desert becomes a garden, a garden of joy. This is the Advent we are waiting and anticipating as God’s faithful.

When Isaiah writes these words of our passage, the people who hear them are surrounded by a darkness, a wilderness, a situational desert filled with fear and uncertainty. Their economy is in trouble. There are menacing nations that want to destroy them. There are false prophets that are telling them everything will be fine only to set them up for greater hardship when the enemy comes to their house.

Within their own culture, there is injustice and moral degradation. There is not a lot of trust in the institutions of government or religion. Compromise, corruption, and complacency had dried and damaged their relationship with God and left their souls barren, but God awaits their awakening. Please hear that God awaits their awakening. God will not abandon those whom God loves. And this includes us as well.

Isaiah gives the people a word of hope, a word from God. God is faithful. God is in charge whether we realize it or not. God does have a plan. God gives a promise. God will transform the wilderness, the desert. God will bring light to the darkness. God will provide a way, a highway, a Holy way which will bring God’s people to this place. That highway, that Holy way, is the way of Jesus. A way you and I are invited to travel.

I wonder, in the age in which we live, do we need such a word of hope? Does the vision given to Isaiah have anything to say to us? Do we need to be told, “Strengthen the weak hands, and support the unsteady knees. Say to those who are panicking: “Be strong! Don’t fear!” If not now, there will be a time, not might be, but will be, we will.

When we are in the grip of grief because of a loss we can barely endure, we will need to be told, “Be strong! Don’t fear!”. When we are facing a painful situation, one we cannot avoid or escape, we will need to be told, “Be strong! Don’t fear!” When darkness surrounds us, when depression and doubts come toward us like a flood when we encounter evil or tragedy we cannot understand, we will need to be told, “Be strong! Don’t fear!” But why would we believe? Why would we hear? Why would we listen?

Why, because this is our only hope. This is the only choice with a chance. This is the only way out. This is the only way we can keep from being overcome if for God to be our overcomer. God has given us a way. God has provided us the means in which to be strengthened, supported, secured, and safe. Jesus is the means; Jesus is the way.

Jesus tells us, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (Jn. 14:6 ESV) It is through faith we find the way. It is through grace that the Way comes to seek us.

Just as the prophet spoke to an anxious and fearful people, we also live in such a time. We live in a time of fragmented and unsatisfied lives, a time of fractured and hurting families, of broken hearts, crushed dreams, and an uncertain future. We never know when this world will turn on us and seek to stone us.

What can we do to prepare? We can seek the way. We can turn our eyes to Jesus. We can draw close to him as he wants to draw too close to us. We can gain a heart filled with anticipation and hope that come with walking with God. We can see with our hearts the promise of God, “And the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isa. 35:10 ESV) This is what we are waiting for and yet can already possess. God gives us this choice. What are we doing with it?

Second Sunday of Advent 2022

Isaiah 11:1-10

This Advent season comes in the midst of worldwide tensions that could end up resulting in the death of millions, made even billions of people. Are we hoping for Jesus’s return?

We have just gone through a pandemic, and several major disasters that are the result of poor stewardship of this planet we live on. Is there a desire in your heart that the Lord would return soon?

We are waiting, well, we are supposed to be waiting if we are to believe in the promise our Lord gave to us.  We are to be waiting and alert. We are to be waiting and alert for Jesus to return. But how, how do we do this? Do you realize it has been close to 2000 years ago that Jesus made the promise to return? How does a hope continue for 2000 years?

Truthfully, the Christian life is not an easy life if we never move beyond our initial trust in the story, the Gospel that first brings us to Jesus. We come to the Lord believing that Jesus gave his life for us. We are told by Jesus himself that he will return. Jesus to whom the title, root of Jesse, is applied. We need to move from introduction to intimacy. We need to seek to be in a relationship that can allow us to pray, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.”

I look at this passage in the context of the prophecy of Isaiah as a whole. This was difficult this time around. This time I found an angry prophecy, a violent prophecy in which God expresses very extreme emotions. The prophecy is full of how God has been mistreated. The words of anger are also words of pain. It is clear that God is not a happy camper with God’s own chosen people. The people have ignored God and thus are paying a price. Yet, I struggle with the violence. Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.

Chapter 11 has war-like language, “and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.” Yet, along with this hard language of killing and destruction, there are words of hope that offer a peace this world cannot give.

God speaks of one who will bring about the end of the cycle of death and violence. It is a future that is not based on one of God’s creations killing another to preserve its life. No longer will survival be an issue. Isaiah tells us we are waiting on one to come who will bring about this change.

This is the image of peace, of life, of being beyond what is now. “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. This is so fantasy full. It could not possibly ever happen.

True, in a fallen world, living in the time of death’s power, and under the judgment of God, this could never be. But the reality we now live in will change. The world we now live in is going to be redeemed as well. “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Rom. 8:22-23 ESV) Isaiah tells us that this time will come, “They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.”

Isaiah’s prophecy is a call to wait, to wait for what is wonderful. To wait for God even when there are so many seeming threats and worries. Remember Isaiah writes to people who are defeated, detained, and deported. These are people facing real life and death possibilities.

Isaiah tells the people and thus tells us that God will/would send someone, someone human like us, who would bring about this wonderful time to come when the natural order no longer has the factor of violence. The creature will not depend upon another creature for food, but the Creator will provide.

While we are waiting, the One who promised to return is waiting as well. The One who came, “And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.” He came from the branch of the root of Jesse. He came and was crucified, yet he rose from the grave and ascended to the Father, where he, waits.

Remember, “And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.” Was this not what Jesus offers us? Is it not Jesus who taught us God is our Father, a Father who loves us. Delight is such a wonderful word. To move beyond the simple cycle of an unfocused Christian life to a state of delight in all, in the fear of the Lord. What a paradox, fear of the Lord, when the Lord is love.

Isaiah goes on to tell us, “He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness, he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.” Is this not what we know about Jesus? Isaiah did not know Jesus as we know Jesus, but Isaiah knew God and accepted God as God wanted to be.

I am troubled by the suffering I see around me. I see it in the eyes of the homeless, in the altars set up by the road in memory of those killed at that spot, and in every broadcast on TV and every notice of news on the internet. Sometimes I do wish the Lord would hurry back.

Yes, the Lord will come. He will either come for us at death or at the end of time, but God will come. The One the prophecy speaks of did come, the root of Jesse did arrive, and the people were not ready. Will we be ready when he comes again?

“Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.” The One coming knows what is right and he is faithful to those who are waiting on his return. “In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples– of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.”  (Isa. 11:1-10 ESV)

Jesus told us to watch for the signs. Jesus said we do not know the hour, but we can read the seasons. As love grows colder on earth, the signs of the coming of the root of Jesse to bring about the new creation are growing strong. We need to be waiting, alert, and aware of delightful, and wonderful future lies for those who are ready.

Awaiting the Last Things Final Lecture

Eschatology Study Lecture Six

(The Millennium)

First, right up front, I know the Millennium is not mentioned in the New or Old Testament. The term “thousand years” is found six times (including Apocrypha) outside of the twentieth chapter of the Book of Revelation. The symbolism of the Number 1000 is that it symbolizes “immensity,” “fullness of quantity,” or “multitude.” In a vision in which numeric symbolism is obvious and rampant, this factor should not be ignored.

The Millennium, 1000 years mentioned in the Revelation written by the Apostle John is perhaps one of the most controversial terms used in theological discussions. There is no mention of it in any creed, yet Christians have been known to label, villainize, and separate over how this term is interpreted within Scripture.

So, the challenge for us is, “How are we to approach this subject that is so controversial without either making a straw man of one position to try to prove another?” Also, is there an approach to discussing the millennium that can be embraced in our understanding of personal eschatology, or is it limited to general eschatology?

I believe the approach I take toward more of a teleological orientation rather than an event-centered eschatological orientation offers a new way to consider in facing the “millennium dilemma?”

To begin, however, I believe we need more background information. For a good portion of the debate on this issue of the millennium, there have been three primary positions: pre-millennial, post-millennial, amillennial. I will assume there is prior knowledge of these positions.

In my research, it is the overall acceptance of scholars that the early church, up until the 4th century was primarily pre-millennial in their interpretation due to the influence of the Jewish apocalyptic writings of the time and from the teaching of those church fathers’ highly influence by the Apostle John. However, the concept of the millennium was not a major concern in the earliest days of the church. I deeply appreciate the quote from Hans Schwartz who writes, “The emerging Christian community was not about speculation but preparedness, not about out-guessing the Lord but being faithful to the call.”[1] The early church felt the Lord was coming back soon, so their eschatological focus was more in line with a personal imminent eschatology than a general, long-term-focused eschatology.

With Augustine’s influence, the church then move more toward an amillennial stance which has been prominent in the church until late in the 19th century saw a strong movement in Protestantism toward the premillennial position based on a theological system known as dispensationalism popularized by the Scofield Bible.

In chapter twenty of Revelation, looks at the events, but also looks for a purpose for this chapter in line with a teleological orientation. This chapter is part of John’s vision, and he uses a testimony approach to his experience. John gives us a detail of events, but John also uses the vision to point out blessings and to offer instruction and explanation of the facts he relates.

I believe what John may be giving us is a dual-dimension witness, a mystical/material witness to an actual experiential vision (like Paul’s in the body/out of the body unknown – 2 Corinthians 12:2) in which John includes prophecy and future history that demonstrates God’s sovereignty over time and space even while allowing human beings to have the power of free will/choice that determines our destiny. In this, we still exercise the image and reality of God.

We always need to remember that John writes for those who first read this letter and would do so from and out of his experience. Taking John’s descriptive language and trying to apply it to our context is a mistaken use of the Scripture and leads only to speculative error. I cannot stress this emphasis enough.

Chapter twenty comes after a description of an attempted struggle on earth between the unholy trinity, the evil that does not love nor god, comprised of Satan, the Anti-Christ (beast), and the False Prophet. The attempt is in total defeat (future history) and the beast and false prophet are cast into a lake of fire.

In verses 1 & 2 John gives witness to the easy detention of the dragon identified by two of his names (Devil meaning the accuser, and Satan, meaning the adversary). I need to make a point here, he is not God’s accuser or adversary, he is our accuser and adversary. The Enemy comes at us out of hatred for God.

The dragon is bound and put into a pit that already exists in a dimension or part of reality we cannot physically with our senses perceive (Found in Job – the Pit is seeming different that Sheol). This designation is also found in Psalms, Proverbs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Jonah, Revelation, Sirach, and 4 Esdras and is mostly referred to as a place for those who have defied or opposed God by their behavior. It is identified as not the last place of Judgement.

In Luke chapter 8, the demons beg not to be sent into the abyss (Pit) which is the same place the dragon will now be bound. The Pit, the abyss is shown in Revelation to be a place where horrible evil is currently bound but will be released as an event of the last days. This evil, however, does not have the power to harm the faithful.

It is the binding of the dragon and the sentence (imprisonment) of 1000 years that provides the framework for the time known as the Millennium. John explains the purpose of this confinement is to prevent the dragon from continuing his work within the political realm, (The dragon has this power implied by the temptation of Jesus in Luke, “And the devil took him up, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you, I will give all this authority and their glory; for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will.” (Lk. 4:5-6 RSV) Jesus did not dispute the Devil’s authority. John reports that the dragon will be released (for a little while) at the end of the thousand years.

The account of Satan’s binding and imprisonment for the 1000 years is a tie between the struggles faced in life between our own sinful nature and the forces attempting to influence it and oppose those who are working out their salvation with fear and trembling. As an instrument of instruction, it points out that not all the evil we face is from without. This evil resides in our own fallen nature as well. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9 RSV) It is only through the gift of faith that comes from revealed grace by the Holy Spirit is a human being able to enter the process of salvation through new birth.

Next, John gives an eyewitness account of thrones and individuals who are given the authority to judge. We are not told where these thrones are located or given the identity of the individuals. They are not told what the nature of their authority is. Perhaps with the binding of Satan, these individuals now are given the authority to influence the kingdoms of this world. This would make these thrones a position of trust like that which was given to Adam before the Fall. The overall purpose of God is not destruction but redemption and transformation. This would make a key aspect of the millennium to be part of the teleological purpose of God and not just another event of the ending of the age of the Fall.

John then witnesses and reports on the bringing to life those who had been killed (beheaded) and did not worship the beast nor take its mark. John then states they reign with Christ, the 1000 years (Millennium). It is implied that the rest of human life is still going on during these 1000 years.  This would seem to indicate a continuance of the current reality of the creation of human souls by God and humanity (our co-creation with God) and the potential for additions to the eternal community God is creating. This would appear to be a higher position than those who will sit on the thrones if indeed they are different. We cannot make this discernment from the text, however, in those who seek the contemplative life, the goal is to be in the presence of God in worship and adoration as much as possible.

Then John states this is the first resurrection. The rest of the dead will not come back to life until after these thousand years. Here I need to refer to a passage from Paul:

But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this, we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord, himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thess. 4:13-18 RSV)

This makes it difficult to speak of a “rapture” before the end of the Millennium. (Rapture, not in the sense of ecstasy but the idea of living Christians being taken up into heaven at some point before, during, or at the end of the tribulation spoken of in John’s vision). The word from which this concept is taken is the word Parousia, a word meaning the coming presence. It is a word found in Matthew 24:3 when the disciples are asking about Jesus’s coming. It is also used in 2 Thessalonians 2:9 in reference to the coming of the antichrist.

In the second resurrection, the souls of those who have died will rise with their new bodies as those remaining on earth (in Christ) will be transformed. Once we die, if we are in Christ, we are with Christ. At death (personal eschatology) Christ comes for us. At the second resurrection, Jesus comes to earth not as the lamb, but as the Lion (victor).

*It seems in heaven there is a sense of time by those who have died (“they cried out with a loud voice, “Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?” (Rev. 6:10 NRS) Also, the twelfth chapter of Hebrews indicates they are aware of what is happening. Still, I do not think they are bound in time like we are. They are not yet in their resurrected state in which we will have a body like Jesus, unbound by our current physical time/space limitations. They could, since they are with the Lord, also be experiencing an insight that transcends time/space as we currently know it. (For now, we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. (1 Cor. 13:12 RSV).

Those in heaven are more teleological aware of the coming last days.

Verse six is a beatitude, a blessing, promise. Those who reign with Christ shall be priests to God and to Christ. Christ is the word for Messiah. Using the concept/title of priest (one who officiates at or performs sacred rites) for God and (Christ) Messiah for 1000 years is an interesting testimony by John. Obviously, these words would be of encouragement to individuals who were put in the position of facing such martyrdom during the chaos and evil John gives witness and perhaps this is the only purpose, but it also lets us know that there is much that is still a mystery in this mystical/material millennial process. However, it does give an indication of the teleological/relational process of humanity learning to love God as God loves humanity.

What is implied by verses 7-9 and perhaps by the existence of the thrones of authority is that human life is continuing through this 1000-year period still under the effects of the Fall. Even after Satan (Adversary) is released from prison, human beings are still willing to follow his insanity and seek to destroy those who are identified with God. The adversary still believes in the possibility of an impossible event, the defeat of God. To accomplish this the Enemy has a  continuing desire to inflict pain upon God through the destruction of human beings.

There is no battle (God does not fight battles- God decrees and it is), just the destruction of these bazaar attempts to destroy those who are identified with God. This is just a grand view of the everyday reality that surrounds us in the mystical/spiritual world. We are in a struggle, God is not. The more we can draw near to God, the less influence the enemy has on us. Spiritual maturation is a strengthening of faith. Faith is our shield. Spiritual maturation is a strengthening of our salvation as we become more assured in our relationship and more committed to that relationship.

Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Eph. 6:13-17 RSV)

John then reports Satan is then thrown into a place that exists for his final punishment. It is spoken of by John as a yet-to-be-future place of eternal suffering.

John continues by speaking of the white throne and both heaven and earth (all souls) trying to flee, the scrolls (books) being opened for responsibility and accountability. This would seem to indicate there are still living beings on earth as well as beings who have died that will face final judgment.

Why would God need a book? God doesn’t, we do. John is giving us a written record that Jesus determined we need. Part of that record is a reminder that all actions/acts are recorded. We get our life from the Word. We are known, a record is kept, and we are not simply items in a cosmic struggle, we are the reason for the struggle. We are key characters in a drama written for us. It is our certificate of belonging. If we are in the book, there is no question about our having found our purpose. If we are not, it proves God is love and allows the choice of our life to be what we decided without faith despite grace.

In closing, John speaks of two places identified with the dead as also being judged, Death and Hades. They are identified as enemies. They are personified. This implies the existence of other sentient actors. Perhaps they of those whom Paul writes, “For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12 RSV) and, “He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him.” (Col. 2:15 RSV)

So, what we see from this examination of chapter 20 is that the 1000 years has a priestly function (mystical) in the changing reality of the final last things contained within the past/present/future history of the Fall, a history of death and deception.

In the language of the mystical, time is but a part of creation, and is not definitively defined for God or God’s acts.

The following Scriptures are profitable for meditation and contemplation:

For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night. (Ps. 90:4 NRS)

But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. (2 Pet. 3:8 NRS)

This is the Lord’s judgment for all beings: Why should you reject the good pleasure of the Most High? Whether ten or one hundred or one thousand years, there’s no arguing about life in the grave. (Sir. 41:4 CEB)

This is the Lord’s decree for all flesh; why then should you reject the will of the Most High? Whether life lasts for ten years or a hundred or a thousand, there are no questions asked in Hades. (Sir. 41:4 NRS)

4 Esdras 10:45 And as for her telling you that she was barren for thirty years, the reason is that there were three thousand years in the world before any offering was offered in it.

4 Es. 10:45 NRS) And after three thousand years Solomon built the city, and offered offerings; then it was that the barren woman bore a son. (4 Es. 10:46 NRS)

1000 years is representative of an extended period in human thought. This revelation is given likely around 60-69 AD. John is revealing the final end of the current human dilemma is not just around the corner. Materially, the 1000 years is a reminder of God does set time limitations on the Fall and its certain eventual end.

Tribulation, suffering, deception, violence, and human-AI (arrogance and ignorance) are a constant. They have been, are, and will be until God’s teleos in this stage of eternity reaches its purpose and then will continue beyond what we can comprehend in our non-resurrected state. I believe instead of seeking to define our view of this 1000-year period in the light of any of the theological constructs that are current, it should be defined in the light of purpose rather than event.  I believe there is much to be gained from the Revelation of Jesus written by John as the beatitude at the end of the book states. I believe this blessing comes from finding guidance for our own personal eschatology while always having in mind the promise of Jesus’s return, our own limitations by our human AI, and the overall directives of a disciplined life to be alert, aware, and prepared at all times while our battle with the evil without and within continues until the Lord’s return.

[1] Schwartz, H. Eschatologv. p. 321.2000. Grand Rapids. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Whence Comes the Night

The night comes and so do the fears 

The memory has weakened as many are the years

The confusion and doubts makes illusions seem real

The losses and aloneness is the sadness they feel

Such is the power of dementia's dark hold

An unrelenting force so uncaring and so cold.

I pray for their saftey and for their hope

For I cannot imagine how they are able to cope.

I can see the pain as they try to remember and the regret

I wish they also could remember that God will not

Awaiting the Last Things lecture 5

Eschatology lecture 5 Theology of death

It often is our understanding of death that determines how we live our lives. Many people deny death. Some harden themselves in order to ignore it. People create fantasies that mythologize death. People engage in a consumer-driven culture that demands instant gratification and promises of extended health and youth to occupy our minds in place of facing reality.

There was a popular song (decades ago) written by the group, Blood Sweat & Tears called, “And When I Die.” The lyrics are;

In My Feelings

I’m not scared of dying

And I don’t really care

If it’s peace you find in dying

Well, then let the time be near

If it’s peace you find in dying

And if dying time is here just bundle up my coffin

‘Cause it’s cold way down there

I hear that it’s cold way down there

Yeah, crazy cold way down there

Now troubles are many, they’re as deep as a well

I can swear there ain’t no heaven but I pray there ain’t no hell

Swear there ain’t no heaven and I pray there ain’t no hell

But I’ll never know by living, only my dying will tell

Yes, only my dying will tell, yeah, only my dying will tell

Give me my freedom for as long as I be

All I ask of living is to have no chains on me

All I ask of living is to have no chains on me

And all I ask of dying is to go naturally

Oh, I want to go naturally

Here I go, hey hey

Here comes the devil right behind

Look out children

Here he comes, here he comes, hey

Don’t want to go by the devil

Don’t want to go by demon

Don’t want to go by Satan

Don’t want to die uneasy

Just let me go naturally

Maybe it was a good song, but not a very good understanding of death, and yes, you can, “pray there ain’t no hell” but that will not change reality. And when death comes, we try to spin it as something it is not. Some even use death as an excuse to be mad at God. If they cannot get at God they take it out on a pastor or a church. God did not heal my wife, my mother, or my daughter when I prayed so I refuse to believe in God (I refuse to forgive God).

The early church lived differently. Their focus was upon being prepared to walk through the veil of death and active in hope for the Lord’s return or second coming, being a return for us for all who belong to the Lord.

A prayer was developed in the church called, The Litany of the Saints. This prayer expresses the attitude of Christian faith vis-a-vis death in the petition, “A subitanea morte, libero nos, oomine”, meaning “from a death that is sudden and unprepared for, deliver us, o Lord.” To be taken away suddenly, without being able to make oneself ready, without having had time to prepare, this was the supreme danger from which man wants to be saved. It is a reality that denies us certainty.

Now, if one were to formulate today a Litany of the Unbelievers the petition would, no doubt, be just the opposite. It would be a desire for, “A sudden and unprovided death grant to us, O Lord.”

In the modern secular world, when finally facing that physical immortality is not a reality, then human beings hope that death really should happen instantly with no time for reflection or suffering. Let me die quickly after a night of fun and pleasure and may I be remembered for what I obtained. Selfish, delusional, deceived thinking and living.

This is the personal eschatology of our world that does not walk with God. If it must happen, then let it be an intrusion into my hedonistic existence that happens quickly, painlessly, and without any real warning. People what to remain the consumer of their lives and have the power and control of choice even in the ignored reality of their own mortality. The mindset of entitled continues.

The issue of euthanasia is becoming increasingly important because people wish to avoid death as something which happens to them and replace it with a technical cessation of function which I do not need to carry out myself. The purpose is to slam the door on metaphysics before it has a chance to come in. I want to be in charge so I will choose when I die. Suicide takes the same approach. Little do we understand the reality that by seeking to avoid or ignore or rationalize the reality of our own personal eschatology we enter the clutches of an enemy we may not be able to escape.

The Greek understanding of death was decisively shaped by Plato, and was idealistic and dualistic. The latter was looked upon as in itself a bad thing. Only spirit and idea count as genuinely positive, God-like, the real reality. This is why Socrates spoke of his death as a transformation ridding itself of the prison of the body. Only the body dies and decays. The spirit continues. However, this is not the Hebrew understanding of death.

For this reason, the biblical authors do not submit death to an idealistic transfiguration in their descriptions of it, but present it, rather, in its full, unvarnished reality as the destroying enemy of life. Only Jesus’ resurrection brings new hope. However, this hope in no way softens the stark reality of death in which not the body alone but the entire human being dies.

The full extent of Sheol’s abyss of nothingness is seen in the fact that a soul cannot be aware of Yahweh for Yahweh is not there, nor is he praised there. (But one is not hidden from Yahweh there:  If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. -Ps. 139:8 NRS)

In relation to other human beings, there is a complete lack of communication in Sheol. Death is thus unending imprisonment. It is simultaneously being and nonbeing, somehow still existent and yet no longer having the life God offers.

Some would say that the Hebrews believed in the destruction of the soul, but this is not true. The book of Job indicates God’s power over death and suffering even though there will be times we cannot understand the love of God in the midst of our suffering.  Job, as an act of faith, declares:

“O that my words were written down! O that they were inscribed in a book! O that with an iron pen and with lead they were engraved on a rock forever! For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me! (Job 19:23-27 NRS)

In the book of Job, the book’s climax appears to be the appeal to God as Redeemer over against the God of senseless destruction found in ordinary experience. Job puts his hope in the God of faith over against the God of such experience, entrusting himself to the One who is unknown.

So even in the Old Testament, one’s own personal eschatology is founded upon hope in faith in the nature of God.

Suffering for God’s sake and that of other people can be the highest form of allowing God to be present and placing oneself at the service of life. This lesson, often ignored, is paramount to being truly human in a cursed world occupied with forces hostile to God and God’s love for us.

Next, Psalm 16 gives us insight. This is a Psalm of Personal eschatology. Also, Psalm 73 gives such insight. These Psalms lead us to grasp communion with God is the true reality and by comparison with it everything, no matter how massively it asserts itself, is a phantom, a nothing. In the OT, looking on God, being with God: this is recognized as the point from which the ever·present, the all-devouring menace of Sheol may be overcome.

In the seventy-third psalm death is shown to be the dark destiny. In this situation, the believer comes to recognize that Yahweh’s righteousness is greater than his own biologically conditioned presence in life. He who dies into the righteousness of God does not die into nothingness but enters upon authentic reality, life itself. It becomes clear that God’s truth and justice are not just ideas or ideals but realities, but is the truth of an authentic being. Though such patterns are indeed drawn on to fill the picture, the real point lies deeper, in the experience that communion with God means a life stronger than death.

We hear the same note sounded in First Corinthians 15. Death, the “last enemy,” is conquered. Its destruction signifies the definitive and exclusive rule of God, the victory of life invincible, where the shadow of death cannot fall.

Here is the reality that makes us much of humanity’s day-to-day living. It is for the most part merely a shadow existence, a form of Hades, in which we have only the most occasional inkling of what life should truly be. We live in a history of death. It is history because it is overcome and is being overcome. Death is doomed.

The phenomenon of death makes itself known in three very different dimensions.

first, death is present as the nothingness of an empty existence that ends up in a mere semblance of living.

Second, death is present as the physical process of disintegration which accompanies life.

Third, death met with in the daring of that love which leaves self behind, giving itself to the other.

The struggle with suffering is the place of human decision-making par excellence. Here the human project becomes flesh and blood. Here man is forced to face the fact that existence is not at his disposal, nor is his life his own property.

The God who personally died in Jesus Christ fulfilled the pattern of love beyond all expectation, and in so doing justified that human confidence which in the last re·sort is the only alternative to self-destruction. The Christian dies into the death of Christ himself.

The uncontrollable Power that everywhere sets limits to life is not a blind law of nature. It is a love that puts itself at our disposal by dying for us and with us. The Christian is the one who knows that he can unite the constantly experienced dispossession of self with the fundamental attitude of a being created for love, a being that knows itself to be safe precisely when it trusts in the unexacted gift of love.

Man’s enemy, death, that would waylay him to steal his life, is conquered at the point where one meets the thievery of death with the attitude of trusting love, and so transforms the theft into an increase of life. The sting of death is extinguished in Christ in whom the victory was gained through the plenary power of love unlimited.

The doctrinal assertion that justification is by faith and not by works means that justification happens through sharing in the death of Christ, that is, by walking in the way of martyrdom, the daily drama by which we prefer what is right and true to the claims of sheer existence, through the spirit of love which faith makes possible.

Turning to truth, to rightness, and to love, precisely as a process of receiving is at the same time the highest human activity of which we are capable.

Christian faith favors life, it believes that God is the God of the living. Its goal is life, and so it assents to life on all its levels as a gift and reflection of the God who is Life itself. The meaning of life comes from God who is love and who has created us for love.

While faith does not deliberately seek out suffering, it knows that without the Passion life does not discover its own wholeness but closes the door on its own potential. If life at its highest demands the Passion, then faith must reject apatheia (without passion), the attempt to avoid suffering, as contrary to human nature.

Christ’s teleological goal requires an eschatological death with the scope of our sin-induced separation. This is the alienated human destiny of death. He dies in tears. On his lips was the bitter taste of abandonment and isolation in all its honor. Here the hubris that would be the equal of God is contrasted with an acceptance of the cup of being human, down to its last dregs.”

As long as there is love in a fallen world there will be suffering, but not the telos of death.

First Sunday of Advent 2022

Isaiah 2:1-5

Today is the first Sunday of Advent. For those of us who pay attention to the Church calendar, Advent is the beginning of the Church year. The church from the times of the Apostles begins a new year not on January first, but on the first Sunday of advent.

Why, does the church follow a different calendar than the twelve-month calendar? The reason is to remind, teach, and to build our faith because the church is founded on the promise fulfilled and the promise yet to come. Jesus Christ, the son of God, became God with us, God incarnate, God with flesh and blood and feelings and the greatest love for humanity ever to have walked the face of this earth. This is the promise God made through the prophets and the promise was fulfilled. Jesus himself made a promise, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you1 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (Jn. 14:2-3 ESV) This is the promise to come.

When the crowd gathered on the side of a mountain to watch Jesus ascend into heaven after the resurrection, two witnesses, (likely angels) said, “While he was going away and as they were staring toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood next to them. They said, “And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, a “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:10-11 ESV).

This is what advent is about. It is about hope and anticipation of the promise. Just as it was foretold that Jesus would come we await his promised return.

Today, to help us with our waiting, we look back to one of the prophets who foretold Jesus coming, the prophet Isaiah. Prophets were not magical men. Prophets were ordinary people who God used in an extraordinary way to be God’s voice to the people. Prophets were not future tellers of doom. Prophets were broadcasters of opportunity and possibility. Prophets spoke out of divine decrees and out of the mystery of grace.

Prophets could be described as soul welders. And what is a soul welder? A welder joins (bonds) metals together to become one piece. Welding requires elements that are able to bond. Prophets were used to strive to bond the purpose of humanity with the desire of God with the result of making the two into one.

The prophet’s task was not easy. Often the people allowed the world to so corrupt them that the words of the prophet had no place to produce a weld. There was no place to join God and the people. The results were never good for those involved.

It was the desire of Isaiah to be an instrument through which lives could be bonded together with a bond of hope and of anticipation. A hope that would hold when the world around us breaks down. A hope welded to of the coming Kingdom of God. It is a hope that seeks to relocate our happiness, our joy, and our confidence not in the certainty of what is to come, not in the precariousness of the now but in Jesus’s love and promise.

In the passage today, the prophet Isaiah speaks about a future, a future promised to God’s chosen people. And while the promise is addressed to Judah and Jerusalem, its intent is much more inclusive. For the prophet is giving a promise in which all who seek God, all who understand their need for God, and all who hope for the peace that only God can bring to humanity are included. This means we are included.

Listen again to verse two, “The Lord’s mountain.” Mountains can be some of the most impressive and beautiful places on this earth. From the top of some of the largest mountains in the US, you can see over 150 miles. In Anchorage, Alaska you can see Mt. Denali from 160 miles away.

Isaiah is letting us know that looking toward the Lord’s mountain, you can see beyond the extent of time, beyond the threshold of human folly and failure. You can see the future that Advent awaits.

Throughout the Scripture, mountains have had a profound spiritual influence. It was upon a mountain that Abraham demonstrated his faith, offering his son in complete trust in God. It was upon a mountain that Moses encountered the burning bush through which God, the great I AM spoke. It was upon Mt. Sinai that God gave the Ten Commandments to the chosen people. It was on a mountaintop that Elijah challenged and defeated the false prophets and their false God, Baal. It was in a cave on a mountain that Elijah fled out of fear of Queen Jezebel and where God spoke to him in a still small voice. As a physical place, mountains have more than their share of sacred sites.

In the New Testament where we are given the story of Jesus, of how Angels come to shepherds on a mountainside to tell of Jesus’s birth. It is upon a mountain where Satan takes Jesus to tempt him. It is on the side of a mountain where Jesus gives the sermon that gives us insight into being blessed and on another mountainside where he feeds the thousands from a few loaves and fishes.  It was on a mountaintop where Jesus was transfigured before three of his disciples and walked with Moses and Elijah. And then, there is Mt. Calvary where Jesus gave his life for us on the cross followed by the Mt. of Ascension where Jesus returned to heaven to prepare a place for us and from where he will return for us. Yes, there is no doubt mountains play a significant role in the human/divine drama.

Mountain-top experiences can give us insight, direction, understanding, and hope. But climbing to the top of a mountain is not easy. It can be an exhausting; painful, and testing experience for even people in the best of shape. I believe this is why God has Isaiah use this imagery for the promise that is to come.

The work of waiting is not easy for most of us. The practice of spiritual preparation is not always a human priority. To go against the slope of our culture is not convenient. So why would this vision of a prophet who lived so long ago matter to us?

If you have not noticed, our world is becoming a more hostile, volatile, uncivil, depraved, and depersonalized place every year, every cycle of the calendar. Perhaps you have noticed the world is pushing people more and more toward an existence of consumption, addiction, perversion, and lack of direction. Many, many people live their lives trying simply to avoid pain, seek pleasure, and try to escape the reality that time is against us and the unexpected to strike at any time. Death is the house and the house always wins.

Maybe you have noticed changes in your own life. Perhaps you have come to realize that you cannot always avoid pain and illness, the anxiety of trouble. Perhaps you thought, even if just briefly that you are mortal and death is coming. Many try hard to avoid such thoughts by ignoring them, denying them, or finding a way to escape from them. But the time will come.  Maybe, you have discovered the truth every human being comes to experience, if you base your happiness on this world and what it offers you will face disappointment, loss, and sorrow.

We don’t have to live in this deception. We can choose to climb the mountain. Yes, it is hard.

The Psalmist asks the question, Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false, and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive a blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation.

Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.1 Selah (Ps. 24:3-6 ESV) We cannot do this alone, but we don’t have to.

Listen again to verse 5, “come, let us walk in the light of the LORD. (Isa. 2:5 ESV) We can walk with God. God who has come and lived with us. God who wants to dwell in our hearts. The God who is the prince of peace, who will end the strife and sorrow and suffering of humanity once and for all.

George Burns, the long-lived comedian, once said, “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring close-knit family, who lives in another city.”

No, happiness is the experience of a mountain-top experience with Jesus who brings us into the forever family of God. It is worth the wait, the preparation, the challenges and embracing the promise of Advent. This is the time, this is the season

Awaiting the Last Things lecture 4

Eschatology lecture 4

A Study of the Olivet Discourse

Background:  During the time of Jesus, the Judean people were under occupation by Rome. Since the time of the exile in Babylon, there existed the idea of future hope in the light of current circumstances. The prophets were looked to for a vision of freedom in the future.

Because God’s covenant people had now been exiled, their view of history became more apocalyptic in their thinking. Daniel was the first to write in apocalyptic language. His writing was viewed as more historical than prophetic, so in the Jewish canon, the book of Daniel is listed as a book of writings rather than a book of prophecy.

The main theme in the popular theology of the day was that there was a battle going on between good and evil, between the good God of the covenant and the other gods of the world.

By the time of Jesus’s incarnation, the people had been liberated from Babylon, had come under the rule of Alexander, had been liberated again by the Maccabees, and had now fallen un the control of Rome. What the people were looking for was a new Jewish savior, a Messiah, to liberate them from this situation.

Their view was that their struggle was against both flesh and blood as well as trying to avoid offending God so that their liberation would come. Even though they gave lip service to loving God, the faith structure was mostly a system of rules creating a system of merit righteousness. The ultimate symbol of this system was the temple.

In chapters 22 & 23 of Matthew, Jesus is at the temple criticizing the keepers of this system of legalist merit. He has been pointing out their failures. When he and the disciples leave the temple, those with Jesus point out how magnificent the temple and its grounds are. It is during this time that Jesus tells the disciples that this magnificent structure, this symbol of their centrist, legalistic, merit-based faith, will not last. It will be destroyed.

This would have created feelings of uncertainty, confusion, and likely fear among the disciples. So, we are told they come to him privately. They ask for an explanation.

This account, called the Olivet Discourse because it takes place on the Mount of Olives, is found in all three of what we call the synoptic Gospels: Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. I am going to focus on Luke because some of the material it contains is not found in the other Gospels.

What we are going to begin to do now is merge personal eschatology with general eschatology. 

What we will find as we look at this discourse it that much of what Jesus said would happen, did happen within 40 years of his death and resurrection. Some even believe all of it has already taken place. The term used for these views is the word preterist. Preterist means; one who favors the past.

There are two types of preterists: Extreme (who believe all of this discourse has already taken place and moderate preterists who accept some as having happened but believe some still must take place. I fall into the latter category.

The preterist view of Eschatology was the result of the rejection of extreme liberalism and the radical theological speculation that developed in the 1800-1900s.

The liberal view tried to disprove any supernatural aspects to the scripture and used the words of Jesus to prove it was a trustable witness.  On the other end of the spectrum were those who divided their eschatological views into systems based on individual theories that were not part of the tradition of the church.

I will not go into the history of the developments in what is known as reductionism or critical deconstruction of Scripture for if this was your interest, you would not be attending this class.

But we do need to look at the preterist viewpoint.

When Jesus is asked when the temple will be destroyed, only Matthew also includes the time of Jesus coming and the close of the age.

Jesus then begins to explain:

1. There will be a time of false christs. (There were many “messiahs” who followed Jesus and eventually provoke Rome to destroy Jerusalem.)

2. There will be wars and rumors of wars. (Rome was continually at war and eventually in 70 AD came against Judea – destroying the temple.

3. There will be famines and earthquakes (there were)

4. And there were earthquakes and famines.

5. There would be persecution for those who followed Jesus

Then there is a break with only Matthew talking about apostasy, false prophets, and lawlessness. Most significantly, Matthew speaks of a time in which people’s love will grow cold. A loss of the love of God leads to a loss of love in general. 

Matthew and Mark then address the worldwide preaching of the Gospel and then all three accounts share: In this context both Matthew and Mark relate this to the purpose (telos) end. This is not a final completion but a process.

Then all three Gospels speak to these items:

1. Abomination of desolation

2. Great tribulation

3. Astronomical events

All three relate to the parable of the fig tree.

All three talk about how these things will take place before the end of the generation.

*Key- remember the initial question, “When will the temple be destroyed?”

In 70 AD the Roman general Titus completely destroyed Jerusalem and the temple. There was not one stone left standing. This, in effect, ended the age of the Jewish covenant that God’s people had not fulfilled.

The abomination of desolation: Daniel has to do with replacing the commitment to the covenant with a commitment of another God. (Antiochus Epiphanies sacrificed pigs on the altar)

It is primarily an attack on worship. (I relate this to Matthew 24:12)

I see this as a future event. The more cultures abandon the belief in Scripture, the more we are told religion is irrelevant, the more we abandon the faith given to the Apostles, the less likely people will worship – the love of God will decrease, and soon human love will simply be defined through human lust and social need.

The great tribulation: is this just the reality of living in a cursed world hostile to humanity and to God?

Now some hold that this is a seven-year period beginning with the rise of the antichrist and then moving to a time in which Satan is released to do with the kingdoms of this world as he will (wilderness temptation).

Prophesy is always process-oriented rather than time-event-oriented.  I don’t think God wears a watch or punches a clock.

The two words for time are Kairos and Kronos. Kairos has to do with the moment, and Kronos has to do with measurement.

We can measure the amount of time Kronos.

We can only experience or reflect upon an event which is Kairos.

It may be possible, according to the covenant, that as the covenant is violated within the context of Kronos, a Kairos event or events may be triggered. In the event of God withdrawing the relative safety of prevenient grace, cataclysmic events may occur. However, this will not just be a persecution of the church-likely the church will be blamed, but for a true Christian, this is to be expected and not feared.

Probably the most difficult passage is Matthew 24:34, Mark 13:30, and Luke 21:32

This generation will not pass away. Which generation is this? It cannot be just the generation Jesus is speaking, however many of the events of the unveiling do occur. But Jesus has not returned.

Perhaps it is the memory of the generation that will not pass away. Perhaps it is the generation when the final events pass away. A generation is considered 40 years. The temple was destroyed at the time of Jesus’s generation. Still, there are eschatological events spoken of in this discourse that seemingly has not taken place.

However, to dwell on them would be speculative. Instead, perhaps our time could be better spent now with what we have covered by turning to a theology of death. Next lecture.

Mean-ness and Ministry

I awoke this morning in pain. This is my normal. I have chronic back pain from being forced to move out of their parsonage. I also suffer from the ongoing effects of being in such pain, physically, emotionally, and spiritually from a self-inflicted gunshot to the brain.  I had been falsely accused (by a person they paid) of sexual impropriety. No evidence, all hearsay, and the actions/inaction of a district supervisor who wanted her friend to replace me. I was a perfect storm. Enough of that narrative.

The church tortured me while the Church sustained me. For over forty years of my life, I have sought to serve the Church by being a pastor/prophet to the people of the church. The Church is the called-out people of God who seek to Holy Spirit and live in the light of their baptism. I love the Church. I do not love the local church in this country. My experience of the pain and torture the church has caused me was worth it for the Church.

The social institution we call the local church is a beacon to mean, hateful people who love challenging anyone in charge or who has an education. Everything will always be your fault. You will be continually reminded that they are your boss and you had better say “how high” when they say jump.

Does God not know what is going on? Of course, God does. Why then, does God not act? God does act, and God continues to work with those local institutions hoping at least a few (the narrow road) will enter the Kingdom of God. The call to ministry (a true call) is a call to pain and suffering. If you carry out your calling as God intends, you are going to upset some people. Over a period of time, the number of antagonists will grow. Eventually, those who you have offended will exceed those you have helped, and when that balance is reached the sorrow and suffering of ministry will begin.

I am very aware that I was not the perfect pastor. I am very aware that the stances I took did make some people mad. Yet I can truthfully say that I gave those churches my best whether it was good enough for church members or not. I am aware I make mistakes, but I am willing to acknowledge them (this is a big mistake for a pastor to make). I have had church members steal money out of my desk and my wife’s purse. I have been cussed out in the middle of a service. I have had death threats and other physical threats. And when I was at my lowest, all support, all help, all peace abandoned me. Thus enters the .45 caliber pistol.

I do not remember anything after I pulled the trigger. Except for talking with God who ask me if I would go back? I said yes (why, why did I say yes, perhaps I realized that my death would be painful to a few people I cared about. A month later I was released from the hospital and sent home humiliated by the failure of my suicide. I was contacted by a few members of the Church. Mostly though, I have been forgotten.

Would I serve a mean church again? Yes, if it was what God wanted. So far though I have not found a church within the Church that would want for a pastor a 68-year-old male who survived a suicide attempt. Not really the type of stuff that stands out on a resume. No matter that I have 40 years of experience and a doctorate in my field.

So I serve the Church by writing sermons for the church to be used by individuals who likely are suffering as much as I am. To those, I say, “Remember, this is not our home, this is not our end.

Awaiting the Last thing of this World Lecture 3

The church leader most well-known for taking on the Gnostic eschatology that was being promoted was Irenaeus. (130 – c. 202 AD) A Greek bishop noted for his role in guiding and expanding Christian communities in what is now the south of France and, more widely, for the development of Christian theology by combatting heresy and defining orthodoxy.

During the persecution of Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor from 161–180, Irenaeus was a priest of the Church of Lyon. The clergy of that city, many of whom were suffering imprisonment for the faith, sent him in 177 to Rome with a letter to Pope Eleutherius concerning the heresy Montanism, and that occasion bore emphatic testimony to his merits. While Irenaeus was in Rome, persecution took place in Lyon. Returning to Gaul, Irenaeus succeeded the martyr Saint Pothinus and became the second Bishop of Lyon

Irenaeus- stresses unities: the unity of God as creator and savior, in contrast to the Marcionite and Gnostic tendency to see in the world continuing conflict between warring supercosmic forces; the personal unity of Christ, as both the eternal Word, the agent of creation, and a full participant in our fleshly, human life; the unity of every person, as a single composite of spirit and flesh who is called, as such, to salvation through Christ: and the unity and continuity of all human history, which begins in its creation by a loving God, endures the temporary defeat of sin and is now – thanks to the Incarnation of the Word – drawing near to the lasting union of the human race with God that was history’s goal from the start. P. 28 (The Hope of the Early Church)

Irenaeus returns the church to a primary view of personal eschatology that focuses on the process of spiritual growth leading to unity with the purpose of God.

In our age (an event-oriented age – i.e. the most recent news) with so many social pressures and the influence of postmodern thought that challenges all authority, many individuals are again turning to the idea of a universal struggle of good and evil (Star Wars – Avengers) and the idea of our being in a cultural war with non-Christians have to lead to a distraction from a personal process oriented eschatology and push us again into a speculative event oriented general eschatology.

Eschatology from 200 AD on – a struggle with event-driven eschatology versus a personal eschatology has gone on in the church.

Beginning after 235 AD (with the death of Alexander Severus) the Roman Empire was thrown into chaos. So, not only were Christians persecuted for their faith, but their whole culture was also in turmoil. Again, in times of turmoil, masses of people are looking for a reason, excuse, or scapegoat for their situation. Theologically, a millennium (event-oriented) theology once again gained hold of the church.

Tertullian was a lawyer who had been part of the Catholic communion (orthodox) and joined the Montanist sect (207 AD). Tertullian advocated an event-oriented eschatology in which the battle between good and evil would be fought out, good would win and then be rewarded while the evil would lose and face punishment.

The evil (non-believer in Jesus) would be punished. Tertullian believed there would be a resurrection in which the evil would be given bodies because for there to be real punishment, a body that could be made to suffer was required. For Tertullian, part of the joy of blessed would be their ability to watch with joy the torture and suffering of these souls.

Even though he had left the church, his writing would have an effect on how the Latin church would develop its view of eschatology (i.e. Dante).

Cyprian (Bishop of Carthage) 248-258 AD was convinced by the events of his day that the world was in the end times. He warned Christians that, as bad as it seemed then, worse was yet to come and so their hope must be placed in “the peace of the church.”

To be in “the peace of the church,” one had to be in communion with the legitimately recognized Christian community, to gain the kingdom. Even a martyr who dies outside of the Church’s community will not be “crowned.”

Even though Cyprian was event-oriented, he also urged Christians to look beyond this world for their security in difficult times, (“since being a Christian is, for us, essentially a matter of faith and hope.”

Clement of Alexandria – His eschatological views include a school for souls in which human beings, after death, would be trained by angels to become like angels. He taught a personal eschatology that focuses on being prepared so that death would never be an unwelcome surprise for a Christian. He taught a form of gnostic belief that was not secret knowledge but orthodox in content but was focused on the life to come should be our primary focus. He was very platonic in his views, looking for our being perfect in our escape from the cares of this world.

Punishment (in this life and in the life to come) is about purification to develop an understanding with certainty that produces restoration.  Clement is the one who paves the way for the church to develop a doctrine of purgatory.

Origen used this thinking in developing his eschatological views as well. Origen was also more event-oriented in his thinking even though He viewed the concept of last things as a means (process) of purification. Origen did not believe in eternal punishment. He believed that eventually all people would be saved (universalism). Fear of eternal punishment was a good social control device but in reality, a loving God would not condemn someone forever.

(Remember, the Scriptural cannon had not been accepted. (Council of Nicea in 325 AD)

Augustine of Hippo moved the direction of eschatology back toward a process-thinking mode. The fall of Rome had brought a mindset of fear back into the Church. Augustine wrote to quell these fears. Augustine look at the church as the KOG on earth. Christ did not abandon the church. Christ lives in the church. So will there be a time in which Jesus returns physically, right now, he is with us in spirit and in the Eucharist.

Two types of people: those of self-love whose focus is the world and those who love God whose focus is the incarnate Word. Augustine believed there was the visible church with its institution and the invisible church which is the spiritual community.

We would differ by saying there is only the church visible. Not a spiritual force but called out people.

Augustine also divided the church up into three categories: the church militant-those who are living, the church dormant – those who have died, and the church triumphant – the church resurrected.

We would argue with Augustine on this, especially the church dormant – for we believe in the advocation of the saints on our behalf. This is primarily a time-bound oriented understanding of eschatology in terms of a linear view of past present and future. A triune God is not time-bound. Yes, we are the church militant as we are the salt and light living in the process of the last days, but we are also the church triumphant because Christ is triumphant. It is the process we live through that determines our status. This is why some will say, “Lord, Lord I did this or that,” and the Lord will reply, “I never knew you.”

With Augustine, we move again into an eschatology that is primarily process-oriented (teleological). It is the development of the believer in spiritual maturity that prepares on for service in the Kingdom now and prepares for what God has intended next.

From these church fathers, we can see that there is some interaction or overlap in those who hold to an event orientation and those who are process-oriented and vis-versa.

In eschatological studies today, there are three approaches to understanding last things. There is the millennial approach, the pastoral approach, and the social approach.