Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Justice And Economics, Part 3

In 1964 President Lyndon Johnson launched his “War On Poverty” with the goal of bringing about a “Great Society” that would eradicate poverty and also address some of the social problems present in the early sixties. The next year Democrat New York senator, Patrick Moynihan issued a report (“The Moynihan Report”) in which he argued that the African American population (a major, but not exclusive target of the programs of the “War On Poverty”) was crumbling because of family breakdown and a burgeoning lack of fathers in the home. Thirty years after his report, Moynihan issued another report in which he argues things had become exponentially worse: “The biggest change…is that the family structure has come apart all over the North Atlantic world.”

Yet, now, over twenty years after Moynihan’s second report and after throwing $25 trillion into the “War On Poverty,” things have only become worse. Timothy S. Goeglein, “The Moynihan Report At 50,” in The City, 8, 2 (Winter 2015): 7-12, highlights that in most every ethnic group and demographic in America the family is unraveling. The result is a burgeoning poverty of different kinds.[1]

By this point in our discussion we should see at least the following problems in how the United States has approached and continues to approach its “war on poverty”: It has seen the solution as only a material one; it has not taken into consideration a full-orbed approach to the various foundational relationships humans need to consider to flourish (God; self; creation; others, not the least of which is family), and it has not understood the injustice and harm that comes when we encourage people not to work.

However, there is another problem inherent in the approach that has been taken—the ever-growing tendency of the United States to redistribute wealth to help alleviate problems. That problem is found in our fourth truth that forms a biblical view of economics.

4. God’s Moral Will Opposes Taking Away From Others What Belongs To Them. 
Yes, you read that right. Another way to say this is that forcefully taking resources from one person by another person(s), even if it is supposedly for the benefit of other people is immoral. Consider what the eighth commandment says: “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15).

You see, if a person were able to take your identity or hack into your on-line bank account and take your money, we would term this “stealing.” Yet, if that same person went to work for the IRS, demanded that you turn over your money so it can be redistributed to others for their help and then said if you do not do this, you will face greater fines or even jail time, we simply term this “taxation.”

It is not wrong for governments to tax its citizens. When Jesus was asked (Mt. 19:17), “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” he answered this way (Mt. 22:21): “…render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's….” In other words, yes, it is right to pay taxes to a government by which they govern. Paul is in agreement with his Lord when he writes (Rom. 13:6): “For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God….” Yet, we must not miss from our Lord and from Paul these two truths in context:  
·         In Jesus’ answer about taxes he added that we were not just to pay what is due to the government authorities, but also to God (Mt. 22:21): “…and to God the things that are God's.” In other words, though taxes will be owed to governing authorities, not everything should be owed to them. There should be personal wealth and resources we retain for other uses. This is a clear indication that the Bible is not favorable to socialism or communism.

·         In Paul’s teaching about the government and taxation he had earlier affirmed the purpose of government is to be very limited. He mentions the protection of its citizens from enemies within and without and, along with this, to administer justice through its laws (the rewarding of law-abiding citizens and the penalization of law-breaking citizens). There is nothing to suggest that law-abiding citizens are rewarded monetarily, but the sense most likely is they are rewarded with freedom and protection to flourish. 

Arthur Brooks, after discussing the reality that many nations around the world are flourishing and decreasing those in poverty through copying what has worked in the past here in the United States, writes the following that helps describe the economic approach to which we should return if we follow biblical wisdom:
But what about poverty right here at home? Paradoxically, here we have less reason to celebrate. To be sure, poor Americans have made material advances since I was a boy, like the rest of society. And in absolute terms, the American poor live more comfortably than poor people in the developing world. But relatively speaking, our progress in defeating poverty has been utterly substandard. While our values have been beating back poverty around the globe, the poverty rate here in America remains virtually unchanged since Lyndon Johnson’s day. While American-style free enterprise has radically reduced poverty around the world, our own progress against domestic poverty has ground to a halt.[2]

Brooks then adds: “I learned that American-style democratic capitalism was changing the world and helping billions of poor people to build their lives.”[3]

Brooks is right. And we can add, if we use current economic labels to describe the overall approach the Bible teaches we can do no better than democratic capitalism or a free enterprise system.

As such, if we want to pursue justice economically we can do no better than follow the adominition of Michael Novak: “Social justice is really the capacity to organize with others to accomplish ends that benefit the whole community. If people are to live free of state control, they must possess this new virtue of cooperation and association. This is one of the great skills of Americans and, ultimately, the best defense against statism.”[4] In other words, yes, work together for justice, but this will involved freedom and less state control, not more.

One final area we need briefly to address in regard to God’s moral will leading us away from socialism or communism, and that is equality. It is true that we want to pursue equality in the administration of laws (Lev. 19:15). We also want to pursue equal penalties for crimes committed (Ex. 21:14). And we desire a form of equality in starting lines, i.e. people having opportunities to move toward success and flourishing. What it is not wise to pursue is equality in all ways, especially suggesting that everyone has to have an equal finishing line. This denies the biblical explanations of reality that affirm outcomes are typically commensurate with inputs (Gal. 6:7) and that affirm different people have different talents and gifts, as well as different levels of talents and gifts that lead to different outcomes (Mt. 25:14-30; 1 Cor. 12). To deny this or seek to destroy this reality not only eventually hurts society, but it also encourages envy.

On explaining this latter point we can do no better than quote columnist Andree Seu Peterson at length: 
What do you get if you scratch the equality movement in America?  Answer:  envy…. No one wants to say, “I envy people who have what I don’t have, or who can go where I’m not allowed to go, or who can do what I’m not allowed to do.” They say instead, “I think everyone should be equal.” There exists a place where everyone is equal, and it is hell… (Is. 14:9-11)…. Hell’s ravenous lust for equality is echoed in the unshakable thirst for kings’ blood in the French Revolution’s egalite of results in contrast to the more felicitous fruit of the American Revolution’s equality of the pursuit of happiness…. Turns out that even after you have wrung the last drop of perceived unfair advantage out of the “haves” and handed it over to the “have nots” to quench the voracious god of Equality, there is always someone left in the room with a scintilla more than you to envy, a situation that cannot be tolerated.[5]

Any view of economics or poverty relief that denies this fourth truth or shortchanges it will be unjust.

5. God’s Moral Will Is To Help The Poor, But Not In A Way That Hurts Them Or You. 
As he addresses the myth of black inferiority, Tony Evans writes the following: “A contemporary manifestation of the myth’s impact is visibly demonstrated in the heavily dependent posture of the black community on government-based social service programs. The independent black church during slavery hewed out a community, culture, religious institution, and antislavery resistant movement with limited support from the government or broader culture.” He goes on to say that unfortunately the myth has been perpetrated in this dependence and a “victim mentality.”[6]

Evans highlights here that there are ways to attempt to help an individual or entire group of people, to alleviate poverty or right past wrongs, that can hurt them. We can even create entire systems that are unjust in this way.

Part of the challenge in helping those who are poor is, on the one hand, defining accurately what poverty is and, on the other hand, defining how best to help and in a way that remains aware of our tendency to help in arrogant and harmful ways. We must avoid hurting both the poor and ourselves in these ways.[7]

Due to the tendency for sinful humans to be deceived (Jer. 17:9; Heb. 3:12-13) and to be habituated in ways that are sinful and destructive (2 Pt. 2:14, 19), and this could include either those with material wealth being steeped in pride and God-ignoring self-dependence (James 4:1-10) or the poor being stuck in patterns of fear, hopelessness, and victimization that lead to poverty (Prov. 12:1; 17:22; 22:13), we must take very seriously this truth.

Because we have already said much that pertains to this truth in the previous two posts, we do not need to elaborate on it more. We could say that any approach to alleviating poverty that ignores the previous four truths will be one that hurts both parties.

6. God’s Moral Will Is For Us To Teach These Principles To Each Generation. 
In Genesis 1:26-28 and Psalm 8:5-6, where we read of God creating humans, we are told humans have had a commission from God from the very beginning, that includes serving as his vice-regents who bring order to the world. This would include helping other humans flourish and once humans were fallen into sin, helping them come to God.

This call to reach the next generation, to bring them to God (including those in our own family), includes teaching them to observe all that God has revealed and commanded in regard to himself (Dt. 6:4-7a; Mt. 28:20). One of the ways we know this includes the economic principles we have discussed comes from grasping the original purpose of the book of Proverbs. This was book was compiled like other similar wisdom and proverbial works from the ancient world primarily to prepare young people for leadership in Israel, that is, among the people of God, by teaching them God’s wisdom for all of life. This is evidenced in the book itself (Prov. 1:1-7; 2:1-15; 8:15; 14:28; 16:12; 20:28; 21:1; 22:6; 31:4, 10-31). And Proverbs teaches much about economics.

One of the great needs we now have is to re-insert into education and into our discipling a biblically wise view of economics, government, work, and how to help the poor. This is a matter of righteousness and justice. To do any less is to walk by on the other side of the road and ignore those being deeply hurt by destructive views and philosophies. This does involve taking sides in views, but does not have to be inordinately partisan or caustic.

7. God’s Moral Will Is For The Gospel To Shape Our Approach To Economics. 
This final truth we must take into consideration is very important, for without it we are sure to distort our approach to alleviating poverty and we are sure to encourage those we are helping to miss the most important relationship they need, and that is their relationship with God—that one that is foundational to the other foundational healthy relationships that are needed (self, creation, and others).

We must start by explaining briefly what is meant by the gospel shaping our approach to economics.

Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 that the essence of the gospel (that proclamation of good news that the king has come and delivered his people from destruction at the hands of the enemy, e.g. Is. 52:7; 61:1) is that Jesus Christ died, was buried, and was raised to save sinners. As Paul exemplifies in his epistle to the Romans, to proclaim the gospel (Rom. 1:15) involves explaining why the gospel is needed—i.e. we are separated from God by our sin and under his judgment, thus breaking and twisting our other foundational relationships (Rom. 1:18-3:20); explaining how this salvation is applied to us: We receive and rest upon Christ alone by grace alone through faith in him alone (Rom. 3:21-5:1); and what the results of that application are: We become new people who can follow God and live for his glory, empowered by his Spirit (Rom. 5:1-8:39). Responding to the truths of the gospel is the only way to salvation (Rom. 1:16) and it is the only way to be strengthen and to grow in our relationship to God (Rom. 16:25).

So, what we mean by the gospel shaping our approach to economics is that we understand as followers of Jesus Christ, the only way we can alleviate poverty or teach economics to the next generation in the ways God prescribes (the seven truths we have set forth), with the attitudes of heart God desires (with humility, love, and dependence on God, guarding against prideful deception), and for the purposes God desires (his glory as we display that our obedience is a result of his gracious work in us (Rom. 1:5; 11:36; 16:25-27), is that we must do so in dependence upon Jesus Christ in us. What is more, we understand that as we give aid to the poor and teach economic principles to others, if we are to help them find the four foundational relationships they must have, they must know why we do what we do, for whom we are doing it, and it is only through Jesus Christ they can come to know God and practice these truths themselves (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Rom. 1:16).

Now that we know what we mean by the gospel shaping our approach to economics we can set forth a few key points to guide us in how to do this. 
·         We must be engaged in advocating these economic truths and helping the poor in dependence upon Christ, because we love others, and for the glory of Christ (Rom. 1:5; Gal. 5:6; Rom. 16:25-27).

·         We must be ever dependent upon Christ and his means of transforming grace—not the least of which is having others speak into our lives—so we do not deceive ourselves and fall into pride, frustration, and anger in our advocation of these economic truths and how we seek to alleviate poverty (Gal. 2:20; 5:22-23; Heb. 3:12-13).

·         We must depend upon our good heavenly Father who knows how to and loves to give us and others of his children good gifts through his Spirit as we carry out these truths (Mt. 7:7-11; Lk. 11:9-13).

·         As much as possible we should let others know that we love because of Christ and we help ultimately for his glory (Mt. 25:31-40; 2 Cor. 9:12-15).

·         As much as possible we must help people understand that to apply these truths in their fullest degree, Jesus Christ is needed (John 15:5; Gal. 2:20).

·         We must never conclude that the difference between those of us who grasp and seek to practice these truths and those who do not is our own efforts. No, were it not for the grace of God, we would be no different (Eph. 2:1-10).

·         As we advocate for these truths in the public square, empowered by his grace and the awareness of his grace, we will do so in a gracious and merciful manner, loving those who disagree with and oppose us (Mt. 23:23-24; Luke 6:27-38), and forgiving and releasing resentment against those who seek us harm (Eph. 4:31-32).

·         Finally, though we know these seven truths are vey important to our loving others, teaching the next generation of believers, and helping people flourish, we also grasp that advocating them is not as important as helping others come to know God through Jesus Christ (Mt. 16:26). So, we are steadfast in not wanting to win the battle of advocating sound economic principles in a manner that we lose the war of people seeing whom our Savior really is and what he is like.

One of the most neglected areas of life among Christians today is economics. I pray that as you read these three posts, you have discovered the potential the church has for glorifying God, as well as loving and helping others flourish through teaching these seven truths. They are a significant part of how we do and pursue justice!

Joyfully Seeking Justice With You,

Tom

[1] I am indebted to Goeglein and his article for the information on the Moynihan Report and its sequel.

[2] Arthur C. Brooks, The Conservative Heart: How To Build A Fairer, Happier, And More Prosperous America, 2-3.

[3] Brooks, The Conservative Heart, 5.

[4] Michael Novak, “Social Justice Not What You Think It Is.” Accessed 6/17/18 at heritage.org/poverty-and-inequality/report/social-justice-not-what-you-think-it.

[5] Andree Seu Peterson, “Inequality And Envy: Ugly Motives Stand Behind The Push For Equality Of Results,” World (July 21, 2018): 63.

[6] Tony Evans, Oneness Embraced, 96.

[7] Steve Corbett, Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts: How To Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting The Poor…and Yourself (Chicago: Moody, 2012, repr.).

Monday, September 17, 2018

Watch Out For The Mark Of The Beast (Revelation 13:11-18)

One of the hallmarks of popular-level end-times belief in the United States the past century has been the conviction that during the tribulation people have to watch out that they do not get fooled into taking a mark on their body that will identify them with a beast and will seal their lost state for good. A by-product of this teaching has been the fear of bar code scanning when it was a new technology and also of any talk of forced body marks or imbedded chips for the sake of identity.

The conviction we must watch out for a mark of the beast is definitely true. However, what Christ reveals about this through John in Revelation 13:11-18 is very different than the popular picture that has been given. Let’s examine the two main points John makes about this topic.

1. In The Vision Of This Second Beast We Discover The Allies The God-Opposing World System Has Authorized To Carry Out Its Purposes. 13:11-17
Last week, as we examined in 12:17c-13:10 (the second of seven symbolic histories in this third cycle of visions) what John revealed about the first beast, we discovered that beast represents a world system full of gatekeepers who determine which thoughts, views, and allegiances are to be rewarded and which are to be penalized. It has the authority of Satan and does his work, including persecution of the church. That beast was seen rising out of the sea, which in the ancient mindset was symbolic of evil, chaos, and death.

Now, in this vision (the third symbolic history) we are introduced to “another beast rising out of the earth” (11a). That it also is a beast communicates it has similar purposes to the first beast or purposes along the same trajectory. What is more, this beast is dealing with the same situation or set of events as the first beast in 13:1-10. Additionally, that it is a beast would suggest to us that also what is in view are the gatekeepers of the world in some way. That this is “another” beast or one that is different than the first and that it arises out of the earth, rather than the sea, most likely leads us to see this beast more precisely signifies the actual people “on the ground” who carry out the work and purposes of the overall evil God-opposing world system (the first beast).

There are several additional pieces of evidence that lead us to this conclusion:
·         In v. 11, that it is “rising out of the earth,” alludes to great beasts who signify “four kings who will arise from the earth” in Daniel 7:17. This suggests actual leaders or gatekeepers who serve the interests of the entire world system.

·         In v. 11 we learn “it had two horns like a lamb.” That it had two horns reminds the reader of the ram in Daniel 8:3 which had two horns and first symbolized the Medo-Persian empire and also typified future leaders or gatekeepers who oppose God. That it is described “like a lamb” lets us know this beast views itself as a replacement for the lamb who had seven horns (Rev. 5:6), that is, as a savior in place of Jesus Christ.

·         Also, in v. 11 we read, “it spoke like a dragon.” In other words, it deceives just like or in behalf of the one it serves.

·         Given these first few bits of evidence, it seems that this beast is moving more closely to the place of influence, where people live, to deceive them to give their allegiance to the dragon/devil, rather than to Christ.

·         There is another reason for representing this beast (which later is called the “false prophet,” Rev. 16:13; 19:20; 20:10) as separate than the first one, even though it can be distinguished from the first, but not completely divided. The Dragon, first beast, and the second beast or false prophet are most likely intended in Revelation to be seen as an unholy Trinity that counters and replaces the true Trinity. So, in the visions the allies or actual persons involved as the gatekeepers are distinguished from the beastly God-opposing world system in the same way that players on the team can be distinguished from the idea of the entire team. In other words, you can talk about the Kansas City Royals baseball team or you can focus in on the individual players that make up the team. It might seem like a distinction that makes no real difference. Yet, in the larger purpose of Revelation at this point, the intent of establishing Satan, the God-opposing world system, and the actual gatekeepers who make up that system as a substitute for the true saving God, is worth the distinction.

Now, what is the function of these actual gatekeepers?  We learn this in verse 12.

To begin, this second beast “exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence.” What is emphasized in this sentence in the way it was originally worded is the possession of the first beast’s authority in the second. In other words, this beastly second entity has power, a right to act, and to sway others toward the God-opposing world system in the service of Satan. That this second beast does this “in its presence,” is intended to make the point that is often present when the Old Testament speaks of being or doing something in the presence of or before the face of a person of authority or a deity.  In other words, the second beast can work for the purpose of furthering the interests of the first beast and as its representative.

What is more, this second beast “makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast….”  The actual members of this world system and way of thinking work to influence others to believe in anything and everything other than God for their hope and happiness, their signifance and security, as well as for true life. Such idolatry is the main “calling card” of the first beast. After all, the first beast is the Christ-substitute, “whose mortal wound was healed” (see 13:1-8). 

In verses 13-14 we discover how the second beast (aka the False Prophet) deceives people into worship of the first beast. Here we read: “It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived.”

Here we discover that the second beast also puts himself forward as a Christ substitute and a prophet-figure. This seems to be the intent of envisioning the performance of great signs and the making of fire come down from heaven.  The second beast is both a counterfeit of Moses (Ex. 4:17, 30; 10:2) and Elijah (1 Kings 18:38-39; 2 Kings 1:10-14) respectively, as well as a substitute for the two witnesses in Rev. 11:3-12 (who are modeled after Moses and Elijah). To word this in another way, the actual persons who represent the world system so often located in governments and related entities seek to convince the populace that they can accomplish what Christ has accomplished and they can achieve what Christ suggests only he can achieve. In other words, Jesus Christ and Christianity are unnecessary, obsolete, not true, and certainly not necessary. They are only an unhealthy crutch to which weak and unhealthy people turn. Jesus prophesied in Matthew 24:24: “For false Christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.”

Two examples of how individuals will deceive consist of a natural and a supernatural version. First, when it comes to the natural version, the sciences can put themselves forward as the ultimate answer for all that ails us. All we need is medication, counseling, a well-researched treatment and all will be fine. Though we have long ago left behind the era of modernism, some of its effects still linger, namely that since we are only physical or biological beings, then all we need to do is address things on that level and we can find more abundant life.[1]

Second, when it comes to the supernatural version, the increased interest in the occult and astrology, especially among the Millennials, gives the promises of answers for what ills us found outside the physical realm and which promises a power that is out of this world. In this realm there can certainly be demonically-fueled and miraculous phenomena that can mimic the legitimizing miracles of our Lord. 
Daniel warns (11:30-39) that a latter-day deceiver will infiltrate the church and turn people away from God. When purported Christian teachers take their primary cues from the surrounding culture instead of from God’s word, they corrupt the covenant community spiritually by encouraging it to live by norms and a faith that ultimately oppose the reign of God and Christ [and His Word].[2]

In verse 15 we learn that the idolatry pushed by the second beast takes on a life of its own and leads to martyrdom of those Christians who do not give allegiance or worship to the government and/or false religious entities. Here we read: “And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain.”

The authorization concept or formula, “And it was allowed,” is used again. We also see this in Daniel 7:6, which is found in Daniel’s vision of four beasts. The third one, Greece, was given dominion (as the Hebrew reads). There is one version of an Old Testament Greek text that reads, “speech was given to him.” This understanding fits with the view of the Greeks and their philosophy and emphasis upon rhetoric. I would emphasize that here in Rev. 13:15 the second beast is allowed by the first beast to speak and to do the things he does, and the first beast is allowed by the dragon/devil to do what he does, and ultimately, all of them are permitted to do what they do by the decree of God. This seems to be the point of the clause, “and it was allowed.”

Next, we discover what the second beast (the false prophet) was permitted to do: “to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak…” What was the purpose of the image speaking? The final purpose clause in v. 15 answers this: “and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain.” Bottom-line, the image being set up and then speaking gives a picture of demonic power or breath breathed into idols (which are demonic) and the persuasion involved in them toward the direction of worshiping and showing allegiance to governmental and religious entities that are false teachers and prophets.

The image also most likely recalls Daniel 3 and the statue of Nebuchadnezzar before which Daniel’s three friends refused to bow. At the end of the first century there was “an emperor cult at Ephesus, marked by the erection of a colossal statue to Emperor Domitian. Citizens of towns in Asia Minor were even pressured to offer sacrifices on altars outside their own houses as festive processions passed by. Early second century evidence from Roman catacombs unveils that persecuted Christians looked to Daniel’s three friends and their fidelity as a model for how they must face such idolatry and possible persecution.

This part of the vision does not demand that every Christian die a martyr’s death. Nor does it demand that all Christians must face the same level of influence to compromise and worship false gods. It does suggest wide spread persecution for the first readers and the trans-historical nature of the chapter suggests that this kind of influence and persecution happen throughout this inter-advent age (from the first to the second coming of Christ).

In verses 16-17 it is affirmed that part of the result of the persecution of the Church is that economic penalties are levied against them, that is, those who do not express their allegiance to the actual gatekeeping individuals who are part of the God-opposing world system. This is what John writes: “Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name.” 

The “mark,” as well as the name written, comprise a parody of the seal we see in Rev. 7:3; 14:1 (which speaks of the name of the Lamb and the Father on their foreheads) with which believers are marked on the forehead so that they can be distinguished from nonbelievers in judgment, a picture and concept that originates in a vision Ezekiel was given (cf. Ezekiel 9:4). The term used for “mark” here in Rev. 13:15 was used for the emperor’s seal on business contracts and for the impress of the Roman ruler’s head on coins. If this background also is in mind, then, it enforces the metaphorical idea that the mark in Revelation 13 alludes to the state’s political and economic “stamp of approval,” given only to those who go along with their religious-like demands. As the mark of Rev. 7:3; 14:1 is figurative, so this one is figurative. It is not bar codes, scanning devices, or chips believers must beware of per se. Rather it is both governmental centralization of power (along with its over-reach) and anyone(s) calling citizens to give allegiance to others that should be given only to our triune God through the Son.

The litany of adjectives at the beginning of verse 16 are all designed to show the widespread over-reach and persecution that often takes place, impacts all kinds of people (no matter their place in life), and it also mirrors the situation in Babylon for Daniel’s three friends (Dan. 3:1-7).

In verse 17 we discover the economic impact of the forced allegiance—namely, that in many situations throughout history, centralized and evil governments have required allegiance to leaders and their policies or else people are penalized (can’t purchase goods or they are imprisoned). This has impacted Christians often. Regarding the name of the beast or the number of its name, this is the opposite of those sealed with the name of the Father and Lamb (Rev. 14:1). These two marks or seals display who the leader and lord is for the person in John’s visions. Is it the Lord or this false savior/god?

One final word of application must be made at this point. We see strong motivation in this chapter of Revelation for why Christians in those countries and times in which they have been able to have significant impact upon the government, especially in the United States, in which Christians could have a significant impact upon the founding of the government, centralized government has been opposed and they have guarded against it. Centralized government, as the British economist, F. A. Hayek, rightly argued in his seminal book, The Road To Serfdom, always will lead to the loss of freedom. This reality can be seen very clearly in our own day and the history of North Korea over the past century—going from a country that had a strong Christian influence to one in which the church must go underground due to the beastly communist regime.[3]

2. Genuine Believers Are Exhorted To Discern True From False Worship In Order To Persevere In the Faith. 13:18
The third symbolic history in this third cycle of visions that span this entire church age ends with a challenge given to true Christians: “This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.”

Regarding the first clause, “this calls for wisdom,” Greg Beale rightly explains: 
[This] admonition…teaches that believers are to beware of  compromise, not just with a historical individual such as Nero [or Domitian], but with all the facets of the state throughout the course of history, insofar as it colludes with the religious, economic, and social aspects of the idolatrous culture, all of which epitomize fallen humanity. “Wisdom” is best seen in light of the words “wise insight” and “understanding” used in Dan. 11:33 and 12:10. Here, as there, the saints are to have spiritual perception to comprehend the latter-day tribulation brought about by an evil kingly figure who deceives others into acknowledging his sovereignty. The similar admonition in 17:9…also involves interpretation of a number figuratively (see on 17:9). John is exhorting saints to spiritual and moral discernment, not intellectual ability to solve a complex mathematical problem, which unbelievers as well as spiritual Christians are mentally capable of solving. Christians must be aware that the spirit of the antichrist can express itself in the most unexpected places, even in the church (so 1 John 2:18, 22; 4:1-3; 2 John 7).[4]

The clause, “let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast,” is most likely parallel to the exhortation in Rev. 13:9, “If anyone has an ear, let him hear….” Neither one is to be taken literally as if physical ears are in view or intellectual prowess. The point seems to be that the reader, the genuine follower of Jesus Christ, needs Spirit-given wisdom to grasp what is taking place in the world when it comes to the God-opposing world system and the individual gatekeepers who do its bidding.

The clause, “for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666,” is not to be calculated to represent an actual individual. If it did, it would be inconsistent with how such numbers are used elsewhere in Revelation in general.  Additionally, the number seven refers to completeness and is repeated throughout the book. However, 666 appears only here. This suggests that the triple sixes are intended as a contrast with the divine sevens throughout the book and signify incompleteness and imperfection. [The use of six and seven through the cycles of the book bear this out.] The sixth seal, the sixth trumpet, and the sixth bowl depict God’s judgment on the followers of the beast. The seventh trumpet, by contrast, portrays the eternal kingdom of Christ, though it also includes the final judgment. The seventh seal and bowl still depict a judgment, but one which, by implication and in the broader contexts of these two passages, eventuates in the establishment of the kingdom.”

What is more, in regard to this last clause, it seems to be placed in contrast to what follows in 14:1ff., where the people of God have the name of the Lamb and God the Father on their foreheads. This affirms they belong to the true God. The mark in 13:18 is an affirmation such persons belong to the God-opposing world system and all those individuals who serve this system and its ultimate lord, the devil![5]

So, to conclude on 666, we can say the following: 
When believers successfully resist the beast’s deception, they avoid being identified with the essence of his name, which is imperfection personified, because to be identified with someone’s name is equivalent to partaking of that person’s character…. John views the apostasy, deception, and persecution prophesied by Daniel 7-12 as beginning to occur in his own day. Christians should not only be on guard against this apostasy, deception, and persecution, they should understand that God is the One who ultimately sends the beasts of deception in order to test the genuineness of their faith and to purify it….[6]


[1] A similar version of this is a centralized form of government in which those in charge (the second beast) who represent the governmental interests (the first beast) promise that they can usher in utopia and provide all the needs that people have. Such governments tend eventually to persecute the Church since the teaching of Scripture runs so counter to this kind of government, the lack of human ingenuity and responsible it engenders, and the kind of economic and labor approach it tends to engender.

[2] Beale, Campbell, Revelation, 280.

[3] See Jamie Dean, “The Campaign Against Kim,” World (August 19, 2017): 32ff.

[4] See Beale, Campbell, Revelation, 287-88. See also Dan. 11:30-39.

[5] Some other indications of the meaning of this last clause include the following (all dependent upon Beale, Campbell, Revelation):
1. “If John were using gematria [i.e. the idea the numbers are a result of the letters of a name adding up to a total], he would have alerted his readers by saying something like, ‘the number in Hebrew (or Greek) is…’ as he uses the phrases ‘in Hebrew’ or ‘in Greek’ in 9:11 and 16:16 when he wants to draw the readers’ attention to the significance of the language.”
2. Hundreds of names through the years have been proposed. It is relatively easy to make a name fit a numerical quantity in Hebrew, Greek, or Latin. However, it is difficult to determine what an intended meaning of a number is.
3. “All attempts to identify the number with the literal calculation of some individual’s name encounter difficulty because of the metaphorical manner in which language and numbers are used in the book. If the number were intended to be identified with some ruler by means of such calculation, it would be a rare exception from the way numbers are employed elsewhere in the book (e.g. the twenty-four elders, the seven seals, the 144,000, three and a half years, the two witnesses, seven heads, and ten horns). There is no evidence of any other numbers in the book being used in such a way. All the numbers have figurative significance and symbolize some spiritual reality. None involve any kind of literal gematria calculation.”
4. “This position is supported from the immediately following vision in 14:1 of saints with Christ’s and God [the Father’s] name ‘written on their foreheads.’ The direct placement of this verse shows a parallel contrast is meant between the beast’s name (=his number) and the Lord’s name. If the Lord’s name refers to a spiritual reality, which it does, then so does the former! This is true also of the beast’s number, since it is synonymous with his name.”
5. “In addition, the word ‘number’ (Greek arithmos) is always used figuratively in Revelation to connote an uncountable multitude (5:11; 7:4 [144,000 standing symbolically for all the saved], 9 [in verbal form]; 9:16 [2x]; 20:8). Neither is the number meant to be calculated here.”
6. “The number seven refers to completeness and is repeated throughout the book. However, 666 appears only here. This suggests that the triple sixes are intended as a contrast with the divine sevens throughout the book and signify incompleteness and imperfection. [The use of six and seven through the cycles of the book bear this out.] The sixth seal, the sixth trumpet, and the sixth bowl depict God’s judgment on the followers of the beast. The seventh trumpet, by contrast, portrays the eternal kingdom of Christ, though it also includes the final judgment. The seventh seal and bowl still depict a judgment, but one which, by implication and in the broader contexts of these two passages, eventuates in the establishment of the kingdom.”
7. “If the number of 144,000 saints in the following verse has the figurative force of signifying the complete number of God’s people (see on 14:1), then the intentional contrast with the number 666 in the preceding verse would refer to the beast and his people as inherently incomplete.”
8. “The number three in the Bible signifies completeness as, for example, is expressed by the completeness of the Godhead in 1:4-5, which is parodied by the dragon, beast, and false prophet here in ch. 13 and in 16:13. Therefore, 666, the repetition of six three times, indicates what might be called the ‘completeness of sinful incompleteness’ found in the beast. The beast epitomizes imperfection, while appearing to achieve divine perfection.”
9. Earlier (see on 13:7-8) we argued that there is a pattern found in Daniel 7 found also here in Revelation 13 that emphasizes the beast is a parody of the Trinity and a Christ substitute. The number 666 appears to support this. “Three sixes are a parody of the divine Trinity of three sevens. Sometimes the number seven is appropriate to apply to the devil or beast in order to emphasize their thoroughgoing evil nature, severe persecution, and universal reign of oppression (e.g. 12:3; 13:1; 17:3, 9-11). The reason for using sixes instead of seven to describe the beast here is the repeated emphasis in vv. 3-14 on the beast as a counterfeit Christ and the second beast as a counterfeit prophet.”
10. “The point of the parody in Daniel and especially in Revelation is that, though the Satanic beasts appear successfully to feign the truth in their attempts to deceive, they remain ever evil and never achieve the divine character they are mimicking.”

[6] Beale, Campbell, Revelation, 286-89.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Tribulation, Revisited

A few months ago, when we were in Revelation 7, I blogged about why I believe the Tribulation spans the entire Church Age (from the first to second comings of Christ). Since I will make the point in this coming Sunday's sermon on Revelation 13:1-10 that the "forty-two months" (3.5 years) of Revelation 13:5, a reference to the Tribulation, spans the entire Church Age, I decided to make that earlier post available again. Here it is.

In my previous blog post I stated that “the great tribulation” John alluded to in Rev. 7:14 is a tribulation (we could say a pressing in on people of trials and persecution) that spans the entire church age, from the first coming of Christ to his second coming, rather than alluding to a brief period of time (three and a half years or seven years) at the end of this age. Because the view of the tribulation I am setting forth is different than what many of us have heard and previously been taught, I want to defend this understanding in this post.

So, my task in this post is simple. I will set forth the following eleven reasons why I believe the tribulation spans the entire church age and is not merely a brief time at the end of this age. My goal is to help you see that my understanding emerges from the text of Revelation and from the text of the rest of Scripture and is not forced upon it, and then also to see why our grasp of this view of the tribulation is significant.

1. Because we have already seen that the book of Revelation signifies with a great amount of symbolism its message (1:1), we should not be surprised that the tribulation would have a symbolic nature to it—especially when it comes to those times when the numbers that so often stand behind the Tribulation (e.g. three and a half years) are used.

2. Because we have already seen that the book of Revelation has a tendency to use numbers symbolically (e.g. 1:4; 4:5; 5:6; 7:4-8), we should not be surprised that the numbers used in reference to the tribulation (e.g. forty-two months [11:2], 1,260 days [11:3], or time, times, and half a time [3.5 years, in 12:14]) are used symbolically.

3. Because we have already seen strong evidence in Revelation (from the statements in 1:3, 19 that suggest that Revelation is displaying the unfolding of the events of this current age foretold in Daniel and from the recapitulating nature of the book) that its material covers the entire church age and does not focus primarily upon a brief time at the end of this age and then beyond, it makes sense that the tribulation spoken of in Revelation covers this entire age.

4. One of the reasons that some read Revelation in a manner that tribulation deals only with trials, persecution, discipline, and judgment (the latter on unbelievers) at a brief time toward the end of this age is that they believe the church has been removed from the earth after the material of chapter 3 and so all the subsequent chapters must deal with events in the future, after a future secret rapture of the church. However, as we just demonstrated in our treatment of Revelation 7, this chapter makes the point that the true people of God (the Church!) now consists of Jew and Gentile who believe in Christ. We see this same truth over and over again throughout Revelation 6-20 and so conclude the church is still present on earth. In fact, in this present context of Revelation, what John sees in Revelation 7 precedes the final judgment (and thus the second coming of Christ), which is covered in 8:1-5. It is fallacious to read all the material of Revelation 4-20 as being sometime in the future and focusing only upon a brief time at the end of this age and beyond.

5. All of the references to tribulation in Revelation, if read in context, are spanning the entire age of the church. We have already demonstrated this for the reference in Rev. 7:14. Let’s look at the rest:
a. The word “tribulation” is used five times in Revelation (7:14 being the fifth and final use). In its first four uses, the word clearly refers to trials, discipline, persecution, judgment (the latter on unbelievers) during this entire age. In the introduction to the chapter one vision of Jesus that John received, the apostle said of his original readers that he is a partner with them in tribulation (1:9). In other words, he assumes that these seven churches (representing the church throughout the ages!) experience tribulation currently in this broken and sin-cursed world.[1] Similarly, in the messages to the seven churches in chapters 2-3, John affirms that churches currently experience tribulation, which includes trials and persecution (2:9, 10), as well as discipline and judgment (2:22). “But,” some might argue, “in Revelation 7:14 we read of ‘the great tribulation.’ Doesn’t the presence of ‘the’ and ‘great’ mark this tribulation off as being something different and worse than what the church experiences throughout most of this age?” No it does not. 
To begin, in Rev. 2:22 the discipline and/or judgment threatened against a false prophetess and her followers in Thyatira is spoken of as “great tribulation.” But, again, some might respond, “But this could refer to a ‘great tribulation,’ and still not be ‘the great’ or ‘the greatest tribulation.’” 
This is true, but when we go to Jesus’ words in the Olivet Discourse, where he talks about what this age will be like from his first coming to his second coming, he makes it clear that believers should expect to experience tribulation now (Mt. 24:9), which in context, speaks of various kinds of trials and suffering (natural disasters, wars, famine) and also persecution. He does go on to suggest that during this period there will be “great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be” (Mt. 24:21; Mk. 13:19 [Mark does not include the word “great”]). 
So, certainly, there is a great tribulation, an intensified tribulation. But when does it happen according to Jesus? The careful reader of the Olivet Discourse (Mt. 24; Mk. 13; Lk. 21) will grasp that the events Jesus speaks of occur from right away in reference to the days of himself and his disciples and span to the point just before his second coming (“immediately after the tribulation of those days”: Mt. 24:29; Mk. 13:24). There is nothing in the Olivet Discourse that locates tribulation or even a great tribulation only at the very end of this age (even though room is left for tribulation to escalate during this age, as Revelation teaches). In fact, Jesus locates “the abomination of desolation” (Mt. 24:15) that Daniel spoke of (Dan. 9:27) and which, as will be seen, forms part of the background to tribulation language during the time of the disciples to whom he is talking. This strongly suggests the tribulation begins after the death and resurrection of Jesus and spans until his second coming. There is nothing, then, about the language of “the great tribulation” that would lead us to believe it must refer only to a short period of time at the end of this age and just before or after the second coming of Jesus Christ.[2]

b. In Revelation 11:2 we find the period of “forty-two months” of suffering and persecution for the church at the hands of the unbelieving nations, which is another way of talking about a figurative three and a half years of tribulation, which finds its background in Daniel 7:25; 9:27; 12:7, 11, 12. Most likely Daniel has some reference in these passages to persecution of Jews at the hands of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (Greek king of the Seleucid Empire) in the early half of the second century, B.C. This persecution that lasted about 3.5 years was some of the worst the Jewish people ever faced and so 3.5 years became synonymous with great persecution that God also would bring to an end, as he did with that period. The persecution and destruction by Antiochus IV also prefigured what would happen in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 (cf. Mt. 24:15), which itself was a harbinger of more tribulation to come throughout the church age. What we need to see about Revelation 11:2 is that it is found in an interlude between the sixth and seventh trumpets (which is parallel to the interlude between the sixth and seventh seals). This, coupled with the vast amount of material in Rev. 11 that suggests what we are seeing in that chapter is a figurative depiction of the church during this age on mission, strongly suggests that the forty-two months is to be taken figuratively as a period of significant suffering and persecution through which God will protect his people in the ultimate sense and which he will eventually end. It is the same span of time as we see in the Chapter 7 interlude (v. 14).

c. We also see a reference to “forty-two months” of suffering and persecution in Rev. 13:5, at the hands of the beastly world-system, which wields the authority of and represents Satan himself. Again, when we get to that chapter we will discover strong evidence it is speaking of this entire age. But additionally, the reference to “forty-two months,” as we saw in 11:2 is most likely intended to make the reader equate the two references as the same period.

d. In Rev. 11:3 we find a reference to 1,260 days, which is three and a half years as calculated with a 360 day year (which many in that day and time used). In this verse the point is that the two witnesses (representing the church in this age) will prophesy (most likely the sense is tell forth God’s Word, the gospel) for that period. The background of Daniel, Antiochus IV, and the close proximity to the “forty-two months” of 11:2 strongly suggest that the period spans the entire church age.

e. In Revelation 12:6 we find another reference to 1,260 days, a period of time the people of God, those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus (12:17) are in the wilderness of this world and face persecution at the hands of the dragon, i.e. Satan, and his evil spirits (cf. 12:3, 8-10, 12, 15, 17). This chapter clearly spans the entire church age and it is another demonstration that the 1,260 days is meant to be taken figuratively to speak of a significant period of great tribulation for God’s people.

f. In Revelation 12:14 we find another way to speak of the three and a half years: “a time, times, and half a time,” which is evidently to be taken as the same as the 1,260 days in 12:6. The background for “a time, times, and a half times,” is Daniel 7:25; 12:7. Based on that background the figure is that of three and a half years that symbolizes great suffering for God’s people.

g. So, in summary, all the uses of tribulational language in Revelation seem to support my assertion that what it symbolizes is the entire span of the church age, along with the trials, suffering, discipline, persecution, and judgment (for unbelievers) that takes place.

6. The use of “tribulation” elsewhere (especially in Mt. 24; Mk. 13) supports it spanning the entire church age. Since we dealt with this thoroughly in the previous point, we need not say more here.

7. As we have already explained, the use of language that speaks of three and a half years (in all its forms), makes us lean in the direction that what is being symbolized by it is a time of suffering and persecution for the people of God, a time that is not intended as a literal three and a half year period of time. 

8. The astute reader will insert somewhere in this discussion, “Ok, if most of the tribulational numerical language speaks of three and a half years, how do we come up with the idea of seven years for the full tribulational time?  The answer to that comes from Daniel 9:24-27. We want briefly to look at this passage since it not only provides the foundation for the idea of a seven year tribulation that consists of 2 three and a half year periods, but a proper understanding of it also supports the assertion that the tribulation is to be taken figuratively to refer to the entire span of the church age.[3] In Daniel 9:24-27, as part of the angel Gabriel’s answer to the question of Daniel regarding Jeremiah’s prophecy of seventy years of captivity for Judah (and so when will the people of God be restored? See Dan. 9:2), we read the following: 
Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. 25 Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. 26 And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. 27 And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.”

Though there are many interpretations of this passage that seek to calculate the number of years and a specific timing of what Gabriel communicates (suggesting a more literal understanding), I believe the best way to understand this passage is figuratively. After all, it is found in the second half of Daniel and in the midst of apocalyptic literature that is steeped in symbolism. Since Daniel has asked about the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy (see Jeremiah 25:12) of a seventy year captivity and judgment for sin and when would Judah be restored, Gabriel offers an answer that builds off of that seventy years and also communicates something that goes well beyond merely a return to their land, but also is meant to show God’s larger purposes: “to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness” (Dan. 9:24). 
In other words, in this answer that includes the “seventy weeks,” each week envisioned as seven years (so 490 years), is meant somehow to focus upon Jesus Christ and the ultimate salvation, forgiveness, righteousness, and transformation he brings—which accomplishes what Israel never could on their own. The seventy weeks are divided up as follows: seven weeks until the decree to rebuild the temple and Jerusalem (v. 25), which deals with Daniel’s original question; sixty-two weeks that span that rebuilt city and temple—leading to a time that the city and temple are destroyed again (vv. 25-26); and then finally one week during which time an anointed one (Christ) will make a strong covenant with many, i.e. the Church, which is divided into two segements (v. 27). It is the dividing of this last week (that is seven years) into two segments that forms the foundation for seeing the tribulation as envisioning a seven year period, made up of 2 three and a half year time spans. 
It appears as a strong possibility that the reason “70 weeks” (or 490 years) was chosen as the whole period is that 490 years=10 jubilee periods. In Leviticus 25:8-55 we learn that Israel at the end of every sabbath of years (7x7 years or 49 years) was to recognize a year of jubiliee in which all debts were cancelled and slaves freed. What the angel Gabriel appears to be communicating to Daniel is that not only will God restore Judah to their land after seventy years of captivity, but he will someday bring about through a special anointed one (the Christ) the ultimate and eternal jubilee—the ultimate freedom, cancellation of debts, restortion, and transformation. 
I take all this to mean that the years are not to be calculated in a manner in which we are asking exactly when does this set of years start and when exactly does it end? Rather, we are to look at the overall picture focusing upon the idea of the ultimate jubilee in Christ. 
If this is a correct assessment, then the New Testament Church is currently in the last week of the seventy weeks—and so exists in this long tribulation period. Most likely from this text, the intent is that the first three and a half years lasted until the destruction of Jerusalem and the second three and a half years lasts for the remainder of the church age. Not only has Christ brought freedom and the cancellation of our debts, but someday all of this will be fully consummated in the new heaven and new earth, in our eternal reward (our eternal jubilee)!

9. The ninth reason for seeing the tribulation as spanning the entire church age has to do with a follow-up on #8. If we understand the entire message of the book of Daniel, it supports the understanding of Daniel 9:24-27 I just set forth and so provides another reason for seeing the tribulation as I have explained it. 
In the book of Daniel the faithful Israelites serve as a type of the ultimate faithful man/person of God who trusts him, follows him, and remains faithful even in the face of great evil and suffering. As such, they form types of Christ (even to the point of Daniel being sealed for a time in the lion’s pit, i.e. in the realm of death, and being raised and vindicated out of that [ch. 6]), foreshadowing the death and resurrection of Christ. As such, the book of Daniel depicts the faithful as suffering for a time and then being raised and vindicated (see 12:2-3). Such a paradigm looks forward to Christ, the coming Son of Man (cf. 7:13-14), with whom will come “an end to sin,” and who will “atone for iniquity” (9:24). The sense seems to be, however, that all who truly come to God in faith and who seek to follow the Son of Man’s example of living redemptively will suffer, yet will be vindicated in the future through resurrection. What this means is that the suffering of the Jews under Antiochus IV Epiphanes (the little penultimate horn [8:9]) is a type of, i.e. it looks forward to more ultimate suffering of an ultimate horn or opposition to God that precedes the end of the end (cf. 7:24-26). The fact that the saints will be given into the hands of the horn “a time, times, and half a time” (Dan. 7:25 [see also 12:7, 11-12]), most likely is paradigmatic (see also Hos. 6:2)—looking forwad to the ultimate suffering of the Son of Man in behalf of the people of God (cf. 1 Cor. 15:4), who would be under the power of death for this time, before vindication. As such, the 3 ½ times x 2 (cf. Mt. 24:21; Rev. 7:14; 11:2, 9 [3.5 days—see Hos. 6:2]; 12:6, 14; 13:5-7) most likely depicts a long time of suffering and desolation—reminiscent of the typological tribulation under Antiocus Epiphanes, as well as the fall of Jerusalem under the Roman, Titus, in AD 70 and following. All of this language, then, suggests that Jesus Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of the suffering Son of Man, the Son of God, who will be vindicated and those who are united to him also will suffer and be vindicated! Such is especially supported by the same language of Daniel being found in Revelation—to refer to times, time, and half a time, etc. When the best understanding of Daniel 9:20-27 is set forth, it also is seen that the Church is currently in the last three and a half year period of suffering, trials, discipline, and persecution.   

10. Given the ground we have covered, we also can say there is an historical reason for using three and a half years (or 3.5 x 2) to speak of tribulation. New Testament scholar, D. A. Carson explains: 
In Israel, the period of time with…mythic power was three and a half years. Two centuries before Christ, there arose one of the most grisly episodes in Jewish history, an episode foreseen by Daniel. In the book of Revelation, the crucial period of time is indicated by four synonymous expressions: forty-two months (based on the ideal month of thirty days), 1,260 days, three and a half years, and time…times…, and a half a time…. For Jewish Christian readers in the first century, this period of immense suffering instantly calls to mind the wretched reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes…. Because that three-and-a-half-year period was such a burning memory in the Jews’ mind from that point on (and they understood it in connection with their interpretation of Daniel), they came to think of three and a half years as a time of severe testing, opposition, and tribulation before God himself gave his people rest again.

And so what three and a half years would conjure up in the minds of readers steeped in the Old Testament and/or Jewish history, was something akin to our saying of someone experiencing great loss today, “This was his 9/11 moment!” We all would understand what this signifies in light of the horrific events of September 11, 2001.

11. The final reason given for seeing the tribulation in the manner I have explained in this post has to do with answering another objection by some, who have concluded the tribulation period is primarily a time in which God works with ethnic Jews, to bring them to their true Messiah. They point to Jeremiah 30:7 as proof. This verse is found in a section of Jeremiah that is promising future restoration for Israel and Judah. The verse reads: “Alas!  That day is so great there is none like it; it is a time of distress for Jacob; yet he shall be saved out of it.” The argument from some is that “a time of distress for Jacob” refers ultimately to the tribulation and, if taken literally, would suggest strongly that the tribulation is a time in which God is focusing upon ethnic Israel—and once the church is removed from the earth. The fact that the verse goes on to read, “yet he shall be saved out of it,” leaves room for the tribulation to be a time in which the distress works to bring many in Israel to trust in Jesus Christ. 
Even if we agree that this verse has reference to the future time of tribulation we are addressing in this blog post, there is no reason at all to see this reference as dealing only with ethnic Israel. After all, in Jeremiah 31:31-34, where God promises to make a new covenant with “the house of Israel and the house of Judah,” this has a larger pattern of meaning than referring merely to ethnic Israel, as the New Testament clarifies (Luke 22:20; Heb. 8:8-13). It refers to all who will be part of the true Israel and Judah, be they ethnic Jews or Gentiles! So, there is no reason to think of the tribulation as having to be merely a time of focus upon ethnic Jews.

Some of you might think, “Tom, why does this really matter? After all, as long as we know Jesus is returning, that is the main thing!” There is some truth to that statement. However, for some people, especially Americans who have experienced a significant level of wealth and comfort in a reasonably friendly environment over the past sixty to seventy years, it has been easy to conclude, “God would surely not let us go through the kind of suffering we read of connected to tribulational texts in particular and Revelation 6-20 in general.” This thinking has been the soil in which another conviction has been planted and grown, namely that if we are engaging in fruitful and effective ministry, we will have positive results almost always, and people (including the world) will like us since we are being loving and positive in our approach.

Now, what this thinking does is to skew the church in an imbalanced direction when it comes to setting out our ministry approach and philosophy. We believe we need to be so positive that all we can do is speak of God’s love, his redemption of our brokenness, and we can never (or rarely) speak of judgment, sin, church discipline, the need for correction, the need to avoid idolatry, or the need to oppose false teaching. So, on the one hand, we avoid conflict and being at odds with others. And, on the other hand, if we find that others are opposing us, we decide we need to change our ministry philosophy and approach, because we have not been “successful.”

This culture that the American church has formed has not only led to preaching a different and diluted gospel, it has also led to a weak and anemic church that is little different than unbelievers around us. And for those who have sought to remain faithful to Scripture and the undiluted gospel, it has resulted in a great wrestling match. After all, such persons can often feel they may be wrong and everyone else who remains inordinately positive and encouraging is right.

Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that everyone who believes in a tribulation in the future (be it literally seven years long or not) and/or those who believe the church will be removed before it, falls prey to this. They don’t. I am simply saying it has contributed to the formation of a way of thinking that does not appear to square with Scripture.

I believe Christians should be as winsome as we can and think hard about the best ways to teach biblical truth and the undiluted gospel. Yet, the reality is that if we are not sometimes experiencing at least push-back to our teaching and proclamation, we are probably not teaching the right gospel (or at least not the whole gospel). And, as changes take place in our society and in our own community (and they will likely continue to change), the reality of push-back and even persecution for doing the most loving thing in the world—sharing the undiluted gospel so people can know and follow Jesus—will increase. Keep in mind that the most loving and the only sinless, perfect person who ever lived in this world was rejected by most, beaten, ridiculed, and nailed to a cross!  Why do we believe that as we live by, for, and like him it will all be always positive, encouraging, and easy for us?

This is much of what the book of Revelation is about:  How to remain faithful and joyful followers of Jesus, those who live on mission, in the face of the hostile cultures around us.

This is why I have taken the time through three blog posts so we can understand Revelation 7. We need to be aware of the challenges and dangers we face. Yet, we must also be aware of the glorious promises God has made to us as well, so we can face these with courage and boldness.

Living Joyfully, Boldly, And Courageously In Tribulation With You,

Tom


[1] Consider also what Jesus told his disciples and subsequent readers about what our experience would be in this age (John 16:33): “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

[2] In fact, based upon the Olivet Discourse (esp. the versions in Mt. 24 and Mk. 13) it is very difficult to place a coming of Christ and resurrection of the Church before the tribulation. It goes against the very clear language we find!

[3] For the following summary discussion of Daniel 9:24-27 I am dependent upon Meredith Kline, “The Covenant Of The Seventieth Week,” in The Law And The Prophets: OT Studies In Honor of Oswald T. Allis, ed. John H. Skilton (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian And Reformed, 1974), 452-469, and also Sam Storms, Kingdom Come: The Amillennial Alternative (Christian Focus, Ross-Shire, Scotland, 2013), ch. 3.