Monday, January 2, 2012

Model Christianity

For Christmas, 2011, Lisa bought me a book from my reading wish list: Models Behaving Badly, by Emanuel Derman. If the title sends your mind wandering to the seedy side of life, the subtitle will bring you back: Why Confusing Illusion with Reality Can Lead to Disaster, on Wall Street and in Life. Derman, a physicist by training and financial engineering professor by vocation presents and illustrates a rather simple vocabulary that helps us understand our world, specifically the words Model and Theory.

Derman argues that a theory stands alone. It may be proved true or false, but it does not depend on reality as much as it tries to explain reality. A model on the other hand is always wrong since it is an over simplification of a reality. Derman uses a model airplane as an example. It may resemble an aircraft, it might even fly, but the model airplane eliminates much of the complexity of the object it resembles. Since a model is a simplification—often an oversimplification—it can help us understand reality, but it isn’t quite real. Derman contends that trusting a model as if it is reality can be a type of idolatry. Idolatry is putting faith in that which is made by humans.

Derman relies on his background as a physicist to help define what he sees as reality. He contrasts models with theories. Theories can be true whereas models are always incomplete. He summarizes QED, quantum electrodynamics, calling it the best theory in the world. He writes, “We trust it because it predicts the values of measured properties of the atom so precisely as to strain belief.” Derman trusts QED, yet when he defines the absolute, he invokes the Tetragrammaton, YHVH. He calls YHVH the “irreducible nonmetaphor”. He writes, “Yahweh is the name of something that isn’t a model of reality, but reality itself.”

Derman's reflections on models and theories, and his conviction regarding Yahweh led me to consider the Christianity as a model. Often theologians try to cast God in the image of their personal idols. They define God in ways contrary to how God defines himself and contrary to how he has revealed himself. They define God as being whom they want him to be. Yet God says of himself, “I am that which I am,” and he warns us in the Ten Commandments, “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them . . .”

Regardless of how we define God, we fall short of the truth. Our definitions of God err in both direction and scope, and must be continually be corrected by acknowledging that God is who he is. This is the purpose of worship to re-center our focus on the immutable and incomprehensible nature of God and accept him as he is through faith. As Derman says, “You can’t ask, ‘Why?’ about YHVH; you can only attest to His existence.”

Nevertheless, God has modeled himself within his creation—that is to say he has given us a means of framing our understanding of him. “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness’ . . . God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:26-27 NASB). Man is not God, but rather is made in the image of his Creator. Man is a model. With the introduction of original sin, man became a flawed model—a broken model in need of repair. Propitiation of sin, the pathway back to perfection, is the overall theme of both Old and New Testament Scripture. Man is made in the image of God. This mystery is explored in the Book of Enoch wherein we learn about, and wherefore Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man. This Son of Man is not the model, but rather the realization of God to man. He is in form what believers shall become. Paul describes the risen Christ as the firstfruit of those who believe. The Son of Man is both the prototype from which we derive and also our means to a restored relationship with our Creator.

In the wilderness, God had Moses build a model of a heavenly reality. Within this model, the Tabernacle, once a year, the high priest would sprinkle the blood of a young bull and a goat on the mercy seat which set atop the Ark of the Covenant in the holiest place. Once a year, the sins of the nation of Israel would be propitiated, or atoned, in this way.

Jewish temple worship was never the real thing; it was only the model of reality. Jesus, as the Son of Man, reveals God in his visible, even tangible, expression. The Apostle John writes of the Word of Life having been with God from the beginning, saying, “. . . what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands . . . we proclaim to you . . .”

The writer of Hebrews tells us, “When Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.” A few verses later he writes, “It was necessary for the copies of the things in heaven to be cleansed [by the sprinkling of blood], but the heavenly thing themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us . . .” (Hebrews 9:11-12, 22-24).

Although pure Christianity is by order of magnitude less ritualistic than Judaism, the New Testament does present us with the concept of models. Jesus said, for instance, “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink.” Some so-called Christians confuse what is the model and what is the object of reality in this passage. Jesus says of his discourse in John 6, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken are spirit and are life.” Jesus was not advocating the type of cannibalism that some theologies refer to as transubstantiation. Rather, he was trying to leverage a metaphor that each of us is familiar. As we cannot live without food and drink, so we cannot live eternally without Jesus Christ and his atoning work. “The flesh profits nothing.” Our daily eating and drinking is a metaphor for a spiritual reality. If we confuse what is the object and what is the model, we derive a rather perturbing theology. If we understand that our experience is the metaphor, then we can begin to realize how much we need Christ.

The church itself is a model of a spiritual reality. The visible church today is not the real thing; it is a model of the real thing. Let’s call the real thing Ekklesia and what we’re accustomed to we’ll call church. Church might be a part of the real thing, but it is not the whole. Since it is a model of the whole, our church is deficient in scope and possibly direction. A church functions best when it follows the model of Ekklesia presented in Scripture. It becomes idolatrous to the extent that it departs from Ekklesia as presented in Scripture. Paul presents practices of Ekklesia in his letters; especially in 1 Corinthians, 1 Timothy, and Titus. After giving his instructions to the Corinthians, he binds these prescriptive practices to the Gospel itself, saying, “Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only? If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment.” (1 Corinthians 14:36, 37 NASB)

Most churches defend some of their practices from reading Paul, yet most churches ignore or reject most of what Paul writes. They approach Paul’s instructions with an al a carte attitude. They accept some, but they reject the whole. They oversimplify and accommodate to a model that suits them.  If bad models can cause disaster on Wall Street, just imagine the spiritual harm bad models do to lives. Actually, you don’t have to imagine. The devastation of the failed model is in the news almost daily. What we call church is a model of the real thing, but it is modeled using the wrong presuppositions.

For instance, most churches also disobey Jesus’ direct command in Matthew 23 against reverential hierarchical titles. We might not use Rabbi, Teacher, or Father, but we’ll use Reverend or we’ll interpret a functional role of pastor as a reverential title Pastor. This distortion serves the leadership well. It becomes a source of financial wellbeing and egotistical gratification to those in control, but their implementation of church dishonors Christ whose name they claim to represent. Clergy set themselves up as idols to be revered. Jesus condemned the Nicolaitans (literally, rulers of the people, e.g., the clergy) within the church in Revelation 2. They present themselves as the Vicar of Christ within their scope of influence—then some of them rape children, or commit adultery, or embezzlement, or larceny, or murder.
 
When these events hit the news, everyone close to the man is shocked. Having known predators in positions of power, I admit that I didn't always see the warning signs. Rather than continuing in a cycle of sin and cynicism, why not adopt a New Testament model of Ekklesia? By supporting the failed model, do not the clergy and their sycophants exacerbate the problem?

Ekklesia is not leaderless, but there is a distinction between those leading by example and those holding positional leadership. Paul told the Corinthians, “Be imitators of me, just as I am of Christ . . . But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man.” Paul served as an example, but he did not serve as an intermediary. He made sure the Corinthians understood that. Every man answers to Christ; they did not answer to Paul or any other man. Stop following men blindly; follow Christ! Stop delegating your family's spiritual life to the paid professional (or the professional entertainer); start leading your family!

As a result of Christianity’s departure from the prescriptive practices in the New Testament, church as most of us experience, has little or nothing to do with Ekklesia. We are in effect a model behaving badly, to borrow a phrase from Derman.

So how does one move from a bad model to a better model? How does the church become Ekklesia? Or the better question is, how does a church attendee realize Ekklesia? The Protestant Reformation began with a return to a Scriptural theology, but it retained much of the ecclesiastical error of its forebears. Reformers tried to pour the new wine of the reformation into the old wine skin of the apostate church (Mark 2:22). As a result, the Protestant Reformation, in many cases, resulted in trading one evil task master for another. Calvin’s Geneva is case in point. Calvin’s theology is not the product of Scripture; rather it spews from the vain imaginations of a bloodthirsty megalomaniac. Jesus said, by their works you shall know them, and knowing Calvin’s murderous totalitarianism is enough evidence to reject him and his theology. Calvin's theology is wrong, but applying Jesus' standard you don't even have to study it to ignore it as a matter of principle (read Matthew 7).  While Luther took a stand against false doctrines; he did not implement the practice of Ekklesia. He has an entire sect of the church named after him! Before you flaunt your denominational or theological labels read 1 Corinthians 3. Such sectarianism isn’t spiritual. It can’t be because it is based upon idolatry—putting faith is that which is of human origin.

Ekklesia doesn’t need Calvin or Luther, or for that matter John Piper or Rick Warren. Ekklesia doesn't need their ideas or their writings. In fact, the first principle of the Protestant Reformation, Sola Scriptura – or by Scripture alone, precludes dependence on such! What a great idea. Too bad church doesn't implement it. If each successive generation, each assembly, each family, each man would reexamine Christian theology and practice based upon Scripture alone, then the church would not drift so far from Ekkelsia. Instead, we fill buildings with people who don't know what they believe. They just know whom they follow.

Instead of deciding which church we're going to attend on Sunday, we should rather determine each day to be the Ekklesia based on our knowledge of Scripture and our faith in Jesus Christ. Let the head of the Ekklesia take care of the details.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Born for righteousness


When we started our Sunday morning study in Jude, Gabrielle made a comment to the effect that it should be pretty easy since it was only 25 verses long. That was several weeks ago and I’m thinking that tomorrow we’ll still be discussing Jude. Jude is only 25 verses long, and Jude’s message is direct. He calls on believers to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once delivered to the saints.” Jude makes it clear that the faith for which we are to contend has already been delivered at the time of his writing. But Jude warns that ungodly men had already infiltrated the church; men who turned God’s grace into license and by their behavior denied God and the Lord Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, reading Jude requires a lot of background knowledge. If you don't know the background, you can spend a lot of time in remedial reading. Gabrielle couldn't anticipate that our Sunday morning studies would digress into a lot of Biblical history.

Jude spends about half of his letter reminding his readers that such were always punished and for whom “the infernal region of darkness is being kept into the eon.” Jude 1:13 (ABP) Jude reminds his reader of several accounts from the Old Testament: Cain, Sodom and Gomorrah, unbelieving Israel, Korah, and Balaam. All of these were judged by God as our assurance that the infiltrators would also be judged. But Jude makes an allusion to an event not fully elaborated in the Old Testament as we know it. In Genesis 5:2-4, it mentions the “sons of God” who married the daughters of men and their offspring who were giants. God destroyed the world by water in Genesis 6, but Genesis never deals with the hereafter much less the disposition of the angels who sinned. Yet Jude expects his readers to remember:

Also angels not keeping their own sovereignty, but leaving their own dwelling-place, he keeps in everlasting bonds under the infernal region for a day of great judgment.
Jude 1:6 (ABP)
Jude also makes two direct references to Apocryphal works. He contrasts the infiltrators of the church with Michael, the archangel. The infiltrators blaspheme spiritual entities which do not understand, but Michael would not bring a railing accusation against the devil, choosing instead to say, “May the Lord reproach you.” Michael, whom Daniel describes as a great ruler, contested with the devil over the body of Moses. We do not know this from Deuteronomy or from any Old Testament book. Rather we know this from the Apocryphal book, The Book of Moses. So Jude assumes that his readers would know the Book of Moses as well as they would know Old Testament Scripture.

Jude also quotes directly from The Book of Enoch, saying,

And also Enoch the seventh from Adam prophesied to these saying, “Behold, the Lord came with his holy myriads executing judgment against all, and to reprove all the impious of them concerning all the works of their impiety with they were impious; and concerning all the hard things which impious sinner spoke against him.
Jude 1:14, 15 (ABP)
Richard Laurence’s 19th Century translation of Enoch 2 reads:

Behold, he comes with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon them, and destroy the wicked, and reprove all the carnal for everything which the sinful and ungodly have done, and committed against him.

Of all the possible Old Testament prophecies regarding judgment, Jude pulls a prophecy from a book the church now neglects to teach. Yet Jude doesn’t just borrow from Enoch once.  We do not know that the angels who sinned are kept in eternal chains in the infernal regions because our Old Testament tells us so. We know this because of The Book of Enoch chapters 7—22. 

My casual read through the Book of Enoch this week indicated that Daniel was enlightened by the Enoch. Daniel is the only Old Testament writer to refer to God as the Ancient of Days. Enoch uses this name for God, ten times. Other than three prophetic utterances in Psalm 8, 80, and 144, which the Psalmist probably did not regard as Messianic, Daniel is the only Old Testament writer to refer to the Messiah as the Son of Man. 

I view in a vision of the night, and behold, with the clouds of the heaven, and one as son of man was coming. And he came unto the old one of days, and he was brought before him.
Daniel 7:14 (ABP)
Daniel describing the Son of Man in the presence of the Ancient of Days recalls Enoch chapters 46 and 48. Likewise, New Testament writers including, Luke, Paul, Peter, and the writer of Hebrews all borrow from Enoch. Paul’s famous declaration in 1 Corinthians 15:51, “Behold, I speak to you a mystery; we shall not all indeed sleep, but all shall be changed,” echoes Enoch 49:1, “In those days the saints and the chosen shall undergo a change. The light of day shall rest upon them; and the splendor and glory of the saints shall be changed.” 

No reference to Enoch is as compelling as the Gospel references to the Son of Man.

Chapter 46

There I beheld the Ancient of days, whose head was like white wool, and with him another, whose countenance resembled that of man. His countenance was full of grace, like that of one of the holy angels. Then I inquired of one of the angels, who went with me, and who showed me every secret thing, concerning this Son of man; who he was; whence he was and why he accompanied the Ancient of days.
He answered and said to me, This is the Son of man, to whom righteousness belongs; with whom righteousness has dwelt; and who will reveal all the treasures of that which is concealed: for the Lord of spirits has chosen him; and his portion has surpassed all before the Lord of spirits in everlasting uprightness.
This Son of man, whom you behold, shall raise up kings and the mighty from their dwelling places, and the powerful from their thrones; shall loosen the bridles of the powerful, and break in pieces the teeth of sinners.
He shall hurl kings from their thrones and their dominions; because they will not exalt and praise him, nor humble themselves before him, by whom their kingdoms were granted to them. The countenance likewise of the mighty shall He cast down, filling them with confusion. Darkness shall be their habitation, and worms shall be their bed; nor from that their bed shall they hope to be again raised, because they exalted not the name of the Lord of spirits.
They shall condemn the stars of heaven, shall lift up their hands against the Most High, shall tread upon and inhabit the earth, exhibiting all their acts of iniquity, even their works of iniquity. Their strength shall be in their riches, and their faith in the gods whom they have formed with their own hands. They shall deny the name of the Lord of spirits, and shall expel him from the temples, in which they assemble;
And with him the faithful, who suffer in the name of the Lord of spirits.

Chapter 48

In that place I beheld a fountain of righteousness, which never failed, encircled by many springs of wisdom. Of these all the thirsty drank, and were filled with wisdom, having their habitation with the righteous, the elect, and the holy.
In that hour was this Son of man invoked before the Lord of spirits, and his name in the presence of the Ancient of days.
Before the sun and the signs were created, before the stars of heaven were formed, his name was invoked in the presence of the Lord of spirits. A support shall he be for the righteous and the holy to lean upon, without falling; and he shall be the light of nations.
He shall be the hope of those whose hearts are troubled. All, who dwell on earth, shall fall down and worship before him; shall bless and glorify him, and sing praises to the name of the Lord of spirits.
Therefore the Elect and the Concealed One existed in his presence, before the world was created, and forever.
In his presence he existed, and has revealed to the saints and to the righteous the wisdom of the Lord of spirits; for he has preserved the lot of the righteous, because they have hated and rejected this world of iniquity, and have detested all its works and ways, in the name of the Lord of spirits.
When we see Enoch use the term, Son of Man, we are reminded that the New Testament uses this name for Jesus nearly 90 times across all four Gospels, Acts, Hebrews, and Revelation. In fact, Jesus referred to himself as the Son of Man nearly 80 times! Why did Jesus use this name for himself? He used it because it conveyed his meaning to his audience. Enoch writes,

In that hour was this Son of man invoked before the Lord of spirits, and his name in the presence of the Ancient of days.
Before the sun and the signs were created, before the stars of heaven were formed, his name was invoked in the presence of the Lord of spirits.
If a New Testament theologian was looking for a definitive declaration of Jesus Christ’s eternal preexistence, he would have to shop no further than Enoch 48, “Therefore the Elect and the Concealed One existed in his presence, before the world was created, and forever.”

But wait, there’s more! When Jesus gave the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, he was speaking in a context of hell that his listeners understood. How would they know about a place of comfort and a place of torment? How would they know about the great gulf that was fixed between them? The answer resides in Enoch chapter 22. The Christian belief in eternal punishment for the wicked is better elaborated in Enoch than in the New Testament and Jude and Peter quote Enoch to lend authority to their belief in eternal punishment.

When Jesus spoke of himself as the Son of Man, he was claiming to be the eternally pre-existing one—the one chosen before the heaven and earth were even created. Below is a sampling of Jesus' words:
For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.
(Matthew 16:27)

Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.
(Mark 8:38)

For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father's, and of the holy angels.
(Luke 9:26)

Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.
(John 6:27)

Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.
(John 8:28)
The Book of Enoch does not only refer to the Messiah as the Son of Man. Angels address Enoch also as son of man. God addresses the prophet Ezekiel as “son of man” over 90 times. In Psalm 8 and 144, son of man, refers immediately to mankind and prophetically to the Christ as Hebrews 2 reconciles.

While Jesus identified himself as the Son of Man in allusion to his eternal preexistence in the presence of the Ancient of Days, Jesus also used the term to make his identification with all of mankind. He was both eternally existent God, one with his Father, and he was man, born of women through Enoch’s lineage.

The term, Son of Man, applies aptly to Christ and to believers because it is through Christ that we are reconciled to our Creator. Only in Christ, can we realize the righteousness for which man was created. Enoch writes in chapter 69:16-24, 

The Ancient of days came with Michael and Gabriel, 
Raphael and Phanuel, 
with thousands of thousands, and myriads and myriads,
which could not be numbered.

Then that angel came to me, and with his voice saluted me, saying,  
You are the Son of man, who art born for righteousness
and righteousness has rested upon you.

The righteousness of the Ancient of days shall not forsake you.
He said, On you shall he confer peace in the name of the existing world;
for from thence has peace gone forth since the world was created.

And thus shall it happen to you forever and ever.
All who shall exist, and who shall walk in your path of righteousness, 
shall not forsake you forever.

With you shall be their habitations, with you their lot; 
nor from you shall they be separated forever and ever.

And thus shall length of days be with the Son of man.
Peace shall be to the righteous; 
and the path of integrity shall the righteous pursue, 
in the name of the Lord of spirits,
forever and ever.

Jude is probably most famous for his similar benediction:
Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling,
and to present you faultless 
before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy,

To the only wise God our Saviour, 
be glory and majesty, 
dominion and power, 
both now and ever. 
Amen.


Saturday, May 21, 2011

The (not so) end of the world

I've been reading a lot of asinine news lately: Girls Scouts are dissing their own cookies, parking lots are being blamed for flooding on the lower Mississippi, and the federal government thinks that borrowing money excessively is a means of paying its debts. With such insanity you might think the world is coming to an end. In fact, reputable news organizations are giving air time to an old man who says believes just that. If irrationality is a predictor of the end of days, maybe we should stand in our front yards and streamline.

Here are my thoughts:

Regarding the Girl Scouts: Surely two privileged American children know more about how to run national economies in Asia than the respective governments! Perhaps a palm orchard might displace an orangutan. It also might feed a family or a village in Thailand. It might pay for Thai children's education. It might even provide an alternative income to growing opium. Maybe some disillusioned Girl Scout troop will be forced, as a matter of principle, to sell heroin instead of cookies to raise money for their council. Of course, if the Girl Scouts hadn't taken a moral stand against partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, then the orangutan would have never concerned themselves with Girl Scout cookies. By my accounting, the little Girl Scouts' distasteful protest will save me $14 next year and perhaps $300 or more for the rest of my life. I'm done with Girl Scout cookies, but not for the sake of orangutang.

Regarding the cause of the Mississippi flooding: I wonder whether the reporter concerned about driveways and parking lots contributing to the flooding Mississippi ever considered that rain and the Army Corps of Engineers might be the real culprits. After all, the rains in 1927 and 1937 predated most of our parking lots. If the ACE geniuses hadn't tried to confine the river between levies, then perhaps this year's flooding might be minimal though widespread. I wonder if the oh-too-smart reporter compared the acre-feet holding capacity of man-made reservoirs ( not to mention the ACE lock and dam network ) in the Mississippi valley with the annual runoff from parking lots and driveways. I imagine we hold back more water for recreation than we add to the river from pavement drainage. However, this reporter thought this quote was newsworthy, "Every time someone builds a shopping mall in Illinois or Missouri, water drains to the river that would have formerly filtered into the groundwater locally." It's like rivers never existed before we built parking lots. Maybe it just rains a lot in the spring. I wonder if this environmental reporter considered that?

Regarding the federal deficit: Perhaps the US government buys into the "end of days" hoax and figures it might as well spend as much as it can borrow while there's still time! Maybe next week Congress truly humbled by their gullibility will for once seriously consider how to curtail wasteful spending.

Regarding the "end of days": A couple months ago, a good friend asked me for my opinion on the May 21 rapture hoax that Harold Camping is perpetrating once again. I told him that I would weigh in with my opinion by May 22. Considering Camping's age, I doubt that he's long for this world, but unlike the other asinine news, I don't find Camping very funny.

First of all, for disclosure, I haven't purchased nor read any of Camping's publications. I imagine they'll be on the burn table at the local Christian bookstore come Monday.

What isn't funny about Camping is that he makes a mockery of truth by using it as a premise for his lie. No one should take Camping seriously. Deuteronomy 18:22 says, "When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him." Camping's perpetrated his first Rapture hoax in 1994. It didn't come to pass, so Camping speaks, not from God, but presumptuously. We can safely ignore him.

In my opinion, the media gives Camping a voice because they see an opportunity to hold Christians in derision. Some people have obviously been deceived and deceived again by this man--that might be funny in a sad sort of way--but Camping isn't the only one selling a Rapture hoax. Over the years, Peretti and LaHaye have made a decent living by producing fictional accounts of an non-biblical eschatology. Ironically, they use fiction to promulgate their fiction--"Inception" fans might call it a lie within a lie.

Unfortunately, many Evangelicals consider Peretti's eschatology to be settled. They never evaluate what Scripture truly says. Some churches incorporate this non-biblical view into their statement of faith--as if believing in Peretti and LaHaye is the basis of salvation or true spirituality. Many churches teach what they call a pre-tribulation rapture, but in so doing they ignore or distort the words of Jesus.

Jesus will come again, but it won't be on Harold Camping's time schedule. Jesus' disciples asked him in Matthew 24, "What is the sign of your coming, and the end of the age?" And Jesus' answer contradicts Harold Camping's prophecy.
 4 Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. 6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains.
   9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
   15So when you see standing in the holy place the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. 18 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. 19 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 20 Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again.
   22 “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. 23 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you ahead of time.
   26 “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.
   29Immediately after the distress of those days
   “‘the sun will be darkened,
   and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
   and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’
   30 “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. 31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.
   32 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 33 Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. (Matthew 24:4-33, New International Version)
While much of what Jesus reveals in this prophecy cannot be resolved without speculation, there are some important disagreements with the pre-tribulation rapture crowd. First of all, their is an important event, "So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains." Some Christians believe this indicates a future event. Others believe this prophecy correlates to the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of sacrifice.

If the event is historical, then we're currently living in what is referred to as the Great Tribulation. If the event is yet to come, then the world has has yet to see the "great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again." Jesus spoke of the days of distress being shortened. If the world has been experiencing the Great Tribulation for nearly 2000 years, then this seems contradictory.

Nevertheless, there is a common problem with both interpretations. Firstly, Daniel prophesied "seventy weeks", or seventy periods of time. Seven weeks (49 years), Daniel prophesied from the command to rebuild the temple to the completion of the wall of Jerusalem. Following the rebuilding of Jerusalem, Daniel prophesied 62 weeks, 432 years, until the "anointing shall be utterly destroyed" or "the Messiah shall be cut off." This time span correlates to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. These account for 69 of Daniel's 70 weeks. Regardless of whether you view the "abomination that causes desolation" to be the destruction of the temple or some future event, there is a delay in Daniel's time line.

Daniel prophesied three periods of time for a total of 70 years for Israel and the "holy city, to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the Most Holy Place." (Daniel 9:24, New International Version) While the first two periods were contiguous. Daniel does not specify a starting time for the last seven years. Daniel's prophecy, unlike Camping's 1994 rapture hoax, is still pending. Camping has been proven presumptuous; we can disregard him. However, Jesus affirmed in Matthew 24 that Daniel's last seven years were yet to be seen. The question for us, is whether or not they are still pending.

Those who believe Jesus' and Daniel's prophecy of the abomination that causes desolation to be a future event look to Revelation 11 and 13 where John prophesies 2 periods of 42 months. Many believe that these 84 months comprise Daniel's last seven (84 months is 7 years). Revelation 11 prophesies the rebuilding of the temple, and Revelation 13 prophesies a 42 month war against believers by the anti-Christ. Revelation was inked by John after the destruction of Jerusalem, and both Daniel and John prophesy a re-establishment of the covenant. While it is reasonable to assume that while the destruction of the temple in AD 70 was a foreshadowing of the "abomination that makes desolate", the event is yet to come.

If the "abomination that causes desolation" is yet come, then the subsequent events outlined in Matthew 24 cannot have yet occurred. Paul told the Thessalonians,
 1 Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, 2 not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. 3 Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4 He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. (2 Thessalonians 2:1-4 , New International Version)
Paul assured the Thessalonians that believers would not be gathered to Christ until after the "man of lawlessness" is revealed. Furthermore, Paul said that this man would set "himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God." This correlates to the prophesies of Daniel, Jesus, and John. After this abomination that causes desolation there will be many false messiahs performing convincing miracles.

John prophesies 42 months of war against believers. Jesus says his followers will be betrayed and killed and hated by all nations. Daniel prophesies 3 1/2 years of desolation. Jesus says that nine things will happen immediately at the end of this period. We might not understand what they all mean, but they mean something:
  1. The sun will be darkened
  2. The moon will not give off its light
  3. The stars will fall from the sky
  4. The heavenly bodies will be shaken
  5. The sign of the Son of Man will appear in the heavens
  6. All the nations of the earth will mourn
  7. They will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory
  8. He will send his angels with a loud trumpet call
  9. They will gather the elect from the four winds.
We can speculate what Jesus means about the signs in the sky: the sun and moon darkened, the stars falling from the sky, and the heavenly bodies being shaken. We do know that we don't have to apply modern scientific definitions to Jesus words. When he says stars will fall from the sky, we can envision lights of some sort falling from the sky. But Jesus' words might have metaphorical meaning such as Isaiah's discourse on Satan in Isaiah 14. Regardless, we know that there will be an observable phenomenon just prior to Jesus' return.

I believe that Jesus is coming again, but from my reading in Daniel 9, Matthew 24, 2 Thessalonians 2, and Revelation 9 and 13 we're waiting for the restoration of Jewish temple worship followed by the revelation of the "man of lawlessness" or "the beast" or " the anti-Christ." We're looking for 42 months of the re-establishment of temple worship in Jerusalem followed by 42 months of extreme distress unlike anything the world has seen. When we see all this come to pass, then we can know that Jesus' return is imminent.

Some teach that Jesus returns in iterations; that is he comes for believers before he comes to set up his kingdom. Paul says in 2 Thessalonians that our gathering together to Christ is predicated on the events yet to unfold. Nowhere in Scripture does it talk about 2 returns. Camping, et al, believe that Jesus intends to rescue them from any real test of their faith. In contrast Jesus says, "the one who stands firm to the end will be saved." We can look forward to Jesus' return without disparaging the truth with unfounded speculation.

In the mean time, opportunistic teachers will continue to sell promote themselves above the authority of Scripture. We can safely dismiss them as if they're merely stupid news stories.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Welcome home, Dad

Moving day finally arrived, today. We drove up to Dad’s stopping at Foster’s Shoes (est. 1946 and still operating from the same small metal building that I remember from the 1960’s). Lisa purchased a couple pairs of shoes. Who knows when she’ll have a chance to go bargain hunting there again. We stopped again at H&M Country Store where Lisa bought some cannas to plant in our front yard. We laughed at the treacherous sounding Amish canna bulbs.

Dad had already loaded his van when we pulled up in his driveway, but we went through the house finding little useful items that should not be left behind. We did leave the can of Folgers coffee that has been in the kitchen since Mom was alive (Dad is not a coffee drinker). In Granny’s old bedroom, Gabby found a small photo album containing pictures of Mom. She was laughing in the photos. I remember that she was nearly always laughing. If she knew that we left behind her Folgers, she’d be laughing now.

As moving days go, today was perhaps anticlimactic. We’ve spent weeks preparing for Dad to come, and all that work made today flow smoothly. Most of Dad’s furniture has been in our garage since snow was still falling, but we recently repaired the traces and glides in dresser drawers and applied Restore-a-Finish to every surface. Earlier this week, we vacated the master bedroom for the guest bedroom upstairs. We placed Dad’s old furniture in our old room. It looked nice there waiting for him to come home.

Tonight after dinner, and after running a few errands, we helped Dad settle in. By 9 PM we’d hung his pictures on his walls. The room looks as if Dad has been living with us for a long time.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Aroma of life unto life

According to John chapter 12, on the day before Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, a large crowd of Jews came to Bethany to see Jesus and Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead. The night before, Mary, the sister of Lazarus anointed Jesus feet with nard. The value of the nard was 300 denarii or a year’s wages. She didn’t use it all. After Judas complained (because he was a thief), Jesus told him, “Let her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial.”

In the Gospels there are three accounts of Jesus’ anointing by women. The first in Luke 7, a sinful woman washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, anointed them with perfume, and wiped them with her hair. If we witnessed such behavior today, we would probably sign the woman up for a psych evaluation. Jesus explained, “. . . her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” No doubt, Mary, sister of Lazarus, loved much, too, for she received her brother back from the dead. Likewise, the woman who on Tuesday evening of the Passion Week anointed Jesus head with perfume did something Jesus commended. He said, “When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly, I say to you, whenever this gospel is preached in the world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.”

The circumstances of the three anointings of Jesus by women are as follows:
  • The first occurred early in Jesus’ ministry in the hill country of Galilee and recalls Isaiah 52:7:
    How beautiful upon the mountains
    are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings,
    that publisheth peace;
    that bringeth good tidings of good,
    that publisheth salvation;
    that saith unto Zion,
    Thy God reigneth!
  • The second anointing occurred at the Sabbath meal before the Triumphal Entry. Again, this seems to reflect Isaiah 52:7. Jesus feet were anointed before he descended the Mount of Olives and climbed Mount Zion to the temple in Jerusalem.
  • The third anointing, which happened on Tuesday evening, Jesus’ last evening in Bethany before his crucifixion, a woman anointed his head (not his feet this time) with perfume. This, of course, recalls Psalm 133 a Psalm of Ascent that was sung as worshipers approached the temple:

    Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
    for brethren to dwell together in unity!

    It is like the precious ointment upon the head,
    that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard:
    that went down to the skirts of his garments;

    As the dew of Hermon,
    and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion:
    for there the LORD commanded the blessing,
    even life for evermore.

This week, I received invitations from two churches for Easter egg hunts with promised appearances of the Easter Bunny. On the day when we should be commemorating the love which bought our propitiation churches may teach a Christ crucified and risen again, but they’ll use the Easter Bunny for a mendacious bait and switch. They’ll muddy the message of the Gospel with Jelly Bellies and chocolate. They’ll prove that they’ve so lost sight of the beauty of the Gospel, that they have to resort to fiction and gimmicks. They’ll say it is an evangelistic outreach, but in reality they are ashamed of the Gospel.

Unlike the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, anointed them with perfume, and wiped them with her hair; unlike Mary who also anointed Jesus feet with nard and wiped them with her hair after receiving Lazarus back from the grave; and unlike the woman who poured perfume on Jesus’ head in the house of Simon the leper; churches today just don’t love too much. They certainly don’t love enough to proclaim the truth in purity. Do they love little because they have been forgiven little? Perhaps they have been forgiven not at all.

The Gospel will always be offensive to some. Paul said that we are the fragrance of Christ. Imagine Jesus after his anointings. John says, “The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” As the fragrance of Christ, Paul says that to some we are an aroma of death to death, but to the ones being saved we are an aroma of life unto life. (Read 2 Corinthians 2)

Why should churches try to accommodate those likely to be offended by the Gospel at the expense of those who might find it an aroma of “life forevermore?”