Some time ago, I had a conversation with someone in a position of ecclesiastical authority (read: a pastor) about the relevance of Israel. He was challenging the notion of Israel’s current redemptive and prophetic relevance. His basic argument (if I understood him correctly, which I am pretty sure I do) was that Israel has lost the redemptive and prophetic position it once held, and has been replaced by the Church. He argued that both the specific nation of Israel and the Jewish people in general should no longer be considered the elect people of God, because God has made faith in Christ the basis of divine election, not a received tradition nor some generational lineage.
Now, for the sake of fairness, I should say that I am summarizing and elaborating a bit on his position here, as those were not his exact, precise words. Instead, he was reiterating a very commonly-held evangelical theological position that I have heard over and over… and over. Therefore, with this “I’m-accurately-retelling-you-the-gist-of-it” disclaimer, I’ll move on.
“Choose, Bible-believing congregants, you must choose.”
With regard to the historical Mission of God, this ecclesiastical leader quite subtly posited a stark either-or choice: either God is working (redemptively and prophetically) through Israel and the Jewish people, or God is working (redemptively and prophetically) through the Church of Jesus Christ; but God must be working one way or the other. Since it must be one or the other, a historical observer must choose.
Umm… really? Do believers really have to make that particular choice? Why can’t it be both? Why can’t God be working redemptively and prophetically through both the Jewish people and the Church? Although I know you say a choice is necessary, I’m not sure why.
From what I can surmise, the real answer to that question is not that Scripture forces such a choice, but because recent Church history makes this an area a pastoral concern — even of worry. Educated ecclesiastical leaders are well aware of how often this particular prophetic pursuit has embarrassed the Christian Church (and especially the American Christian Church).
But what do I mean by “this particular prophetic pursuit”?
As soon as someone starts seriously suggesting that the Jewish people and the nation of Israel might currently have prophetic relevance, sirens and alarms start blaring in the minds of people who have been to seminary (that is, ecclesiastical leaders). They think to themselves, “This is exactly the sort of talk you can expect from wackos and quacks.” And their unspoken internal follow up question is, “How soon does this problematic person (i.e., wacko) start identifying the Antichrist, and pinpointing the imminent date of the Rapture?” To be polite, though, the ecclesiastical leader will usually be quite careful not betray any outward contempt.
Now, such a reaction is, sadly, quite warranted. Conscientious, ecclesiastical leaders should indeed react that way, because history has paraded many such prophecy-obsessed wackos and quacks. And those wackos and quacks frequently mislead people, and in so doing, embarrass the cause of Christ, or worse. Therefore, ecclesiastical leaders will be on the lookout for such people, out of laudable zeal for the reputation of Christ and the Church.
But still, the question about Israel’s relevance remains legit. Is Israel and are the Jewish people currently prophetically relevant or irrelevant?
Again, if someone says “they are indeed relevant,” that person is immediately suspected to be a wacko or a quack. But, but, but… sometimes the Bible sure does seem to indicate that Israel and the Jewish people are redemptively and prophetically relevant; doesn’t it?
For example, a friend of mine recently pointed out a curious prophecy in Hosea. Here it is:
For the children of Israel will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or household gods. Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the Lord and to his blessings in the last days.
Alright then, ecclesiastical leaders, what do you do with such a passage? One thing that this prophetic passage kinda demands is a time-stamp; doesn’t it? When, exactly, was this so? Or when will this be so? When did or does this occur? The children of Israel will go for a long period without anything temple-rites associated (by the way, the absence of a standing Jewish temple in Jerusalem would explain this), and then eventually they will return to God and to “David their king,” who is presumably the Messiah; yes?
Okay, when did or does this occur, then? Is this past or present?
Ecclesiastical leaders might squirm (and should squirm) a bit at this point, because they know that if they say this period of exile has already occurred, it opens the question of why a subsequent second exile was necessary and thereafter occurred for a much, much longer time. And alternatively, if they say it has not been fulfilled yet, it probably and very probably means that the Jewish people and Israel are still redemptively and prophetically relevant. This is a legitimate, de facto either-or scenario, as far as I can see. An interpreter actually does have to choose one way or another here: the past or the present.
So go ahead and squirm, ecclesiastical leaders, but realize that you cannot simply ignore the question. Yes, acknowledging the potential relevance of the nation of Israel and the Jewish people does allow for the possibility of wild speculation by end-times obsessed quacks and wackos; but it does not twist Scripture. Instead, it faces the fact that such prophetically challenging passages do indeed exist in Scripture and deserve our attention and answers.
But it is easier just to ignore such passages and preach instead about easier, less controversial passages. And yes, the following sentence would betray some frustration on my part with a variety of ecclesiastical leaders, some of whom I love and respect greatly. (Hopefully, you know who you are.)
And finally, I only pointed out one such prophetic passage. There are a lot more.
Some will say that Milady Babylon’s days are long past, that yes, certainly, her days were once numbered; but those days have long since expired. They would contend that Milady Babylon is already deceased and that she has already passed from the historical scene. Milady Babylon’s days have already come and gone, they would argue. But… they would be wrong. Milady Babylon exists yet, for a while longer, at least.
Now, to call Milady Babylon “milady” might be perceived as somewhat scandalous. After all, Milady Babylon is a woman of compromised virtue, to put things politely and mildly. Older English translations of the Bible use quite strong and rather corse language in reference to Milady Babylon and her preferred occupation. Milady Babylon, you see, debases and sells herself in exchange for money and gifts. If nothing else, Milady Babylon is a material girl.
But if you are at all inclined to think that Milady Babylon might be an actual person, I should quickly correct that. Milady Babylon has the surname Babylon because Babylon was once the seat of a glorious, spectacular empire. Historically, Babylon was a wealthy, beautiful city that oversaw a much wider empire. In the Book of Revelation Milady Babylon serves as a prototype, a pseudonym, and a cipher for another, similar city that was the capital of a much wider empire. That city was Rome. And of course Rome stood as both a city and a vast empire at the time the Book of Revelation was written. Incidentally, the Romans referred to Rome as Roma; and Roma was frequently depicted as a robust, fierce lady.
But that’s not all. Somehow Milady Babylon features quite prominently in the very section of Revelation wherein the Beast of the Abyss rises to power and prominence (i.e., chapters 16-19). This coincidence must not be missed.
So who is this Beast from the Abyss? The Beast from the Abyss is one and the same as the Antichrist, although admittedly the Book of Revelation does not use that particular title. The Antichrist has various monikers in the New Testament, including the Beast, the Antichrist, and the Man of Lawlessness. But whatever his title, this individual (probably a totalitarian dictator) appears right before Jesus Christ’s triumphant final physical return to Earth. I should perhaps repeat that for emphasis. The Antichrist is on the scene when Jesus comes back. And somehow Milady Babylon persists (or perhaps reappears) long enough to see the Beast from the Abyss rise to power. If you doubt me here, please see Revelation 17:16, which says that “the Beast will hate the prostitute … and burn her with fire.”
So then, who or what is Milady Babylon? Revelation 18:21 clearly says that she is a city. Okay, if she is a city, which is she? Well, perhaps we need to recall that Babylon itself was a city and more than a city. It was an empire. Likewise, Rome was a city and more than a city. It was an empire. If a latter-day Babylon reappears at the end of history, can we thus expect it to be an empire or even a civilization?
Maybe, just maybe Milady Babylon represents a decadent, materialistic society or civilization.
If so, brace yourself, because Revelation 18:8 and 18:17 reveal that Milady Babylon goes up in flames “in a single hour.” Nuclear war, perhaps? I admit that I am inclined to see it that way.
Now, you can console yourself with the thought that maybe this is referring to Rome’s demise when it was sacked by the Visigoths many, many centuries ago. Or alternatively, you can read Revelation chapters 16-19 as a coherent sequential narrative, which would imply that Milady Babylon is an empire or a civilization that will meet its sudden fiery demise shortly before the final physical return of Jesus Christ to Earth. Either way, the Book of Revelation reveals that Milady Babylon’s decadent days are definitely numbered.
Finally, this ugly scenario is one reason I personally hope the rapture occurs beforehand, regardless of how out-of-vogue the notion of the rapture may currently be.
On a hunch, I went online to find out what the name Kyiv means in Ukrainian. It is named for someone named Kyi, one of its founders, whether legendary or historical.
More interesting to me, though, was the emblem on Kyiv’s official flag. It depicts Michael, the Archangel, holding a flaming sword in his right hand and a cross-covered shield in the other hand. Here it is:
And here are all five of the biblical passages that reference Michael the Archangel:
As I write this, there is a physical battle raging for control of the city of Kyiv.
Readers of my blog know that I will find the final reference to Michael, that is, to the Book of Revelation, particularly intriguing. The three references to Michael in the Book of Daniel are also very intriguing, especially the last one.
What do you think? Is it of any prophetic or eschatological significance that Michael the Archangel symbolically represents the City of Kyiv?
If you could assign and compel all your friends to read one hundred books, which books would make your list of required reading?
One book I would very seriously consider including on my list is the abridged version of The Gulag Archipelago, by the Russian dissident Alexandr Solzhenitzyn. Hopefully, the book sounds vaguely familiar to you. If so, it may be because Time Magazine declared it the best nonfiction book of the 20th century. And Solzenitzyn won the 1970 Nobel Prize in literature. But still, few people I know have actually sat down and read it. I had not until this year.
Currently, I am both reading it and listening to an audio version of it, read (in perfect American English) by Solzhenitzyn’s son Ignat. Ignat must have lived here in the United States for at least a while, because he speaks both Russian and English fluently. His fluency with both languages and familiarity with both cultures proves to be a big help to those of us listeners who do not speak Russian or know much recent Russian history.
Should you decide to read or listen to it, I definitely recommend the abridged version, not the unabridged version. Why? Well, the unabridged version of The Gulag Archipelago is very, very long. It requires the diligence and perseverance of a reader who has the time to devote to three volumes of some very dark and heavy material. I knew right from the start that I would only have the time to devote to a single volume; and thus I opted for the abridged version.
Incidentally (and this may come as a surprise), the book does have relevance to eschatology and the Book of Revelation. How so? Well, the most significant point of connection is the tyranny of totalitarianism. The Book of Revelation speaks of a future tyrant, a totalitarian figure known as the Beast from the Abyss.
Connectedly (in my thinking, at least), the Gulag Archipelago tells the tale of what happens to a country under the strong arm of totalitarianism. Totalitarianism occurs when a government decides it deserves the ultimate allegiance of its populace. Said slightly differently, totalitarian regimes effectively declare themselves to hold the place that only God rightfully holds. A totalitarian regime demands the absolute devotion of its citizens. In so doing, it puts itself in the place of God. By requiring and compelling all its subject to submit (i.e., bow down) in servile submission (i.e., worship), it fashions itself into an idol, a subsitute for God.
The Gulag Archipelago shows how the Soviet leadership, and especially Stalin, methodically did just that. The Soviets demanded the absolute compliance and devotion of their citizens. And to achieve their idolatrous goal, they would (and did) use any and all horrifying means to coerce it.
Based on my study and understanding of the Book of Revelation, I want to suggest that whenever you see a government tending towards totalitarianism, you may well be seeing a foreshadowing of the ultimate Beast to come, the Beast from the Abyss. I believe that the Soviet Union was a very recent case study in how that future Beast will likely behave.
The Gulag Archipelago should be required reading, if only to make a relatively free people realize what can (and will) happen when they lose their freedom to a totalitarian regime.
In the Book of Revelation, death is often not death.
Regrettably though, even the best interpreters have failed to notice this twist. Instead, they usually just assume that references to death must mean literal, physical death. But the unquestioned assumption that Apocalyptic death must be the equivalent of physical death results in gross distortions and vast misunderstanding of an important section of the text and thus its message. Many readers conclude that the Book of Revelation is disturbingly macabre and not very New Testament-like because of the mass violence, death, and killing depicted therein. That prima facie impression changes dramatically if “all the death and violence” is not read literally, but understood… baptismally. Apocalyptic death should often be read as a baptismal reference in Revelation. And that dramatically changes things.
Yes, baptismal is the best possible word here. The New Testament teaches that when a convert to Christianity submits to baptism that person dies. Oh my! Does the baptized person physically die? Of course not. Typically, ecclesiastical officiants do their utmost to prevent fatal slips or pours that might result in accidental drowning deaths. A high baptism fatality rate would probably discourage most people from participating in the sacrament.
Nonetheless, the New Testament teaches that someone who submits to baptism somehow dies. Obviously, this cannot be understood as physical death. It must be understood as another kind of death, call it metaphorical or symbolic. Egotistical death, perhaps?
My contention is that the author of Revelation takes this non-physical understanding of death and runs with it imaginatively — and quite counter-intuitively. Consequently, much (or at least some) of the violence, killing, and death in Revelation refers not to the automatically assumed horrors of human history, but instead to the triumph of the Cross through evangelism and conversion. In particular, this observation holds true with the Seven Trumpets series, and especially in the incremental, fractional, twelve-thirds of fire, blood, and violence symbolically presented in Revelation chapters eight and nine.
My guess is that many readers/listeners are thoroughly unconvinced by my proposal at this point. One question I anticipate is rather straightforward and simple: “But why? Why would the author of Revelation present evangelism and conversion as violence and death?”
My initial response to that question involves pointing back to the Old Testament — as the Book of Revelation itself so often does. In the Old Testament God is a militant and sometimes violent God. That is an indisputable claim, as anyone who has read the Old Testament knows. The Old Testament God can and does go to war. The Old Testament God can and does shed blood. But then Jesus arrives. At the beginning of the New Testament Jesus comes along and talks a lot about his Father as a loving, patient, merciful, and forgiving God.
So… which is it? Is God jealous, wrathful, militant, and violent? Or is God gracious, kind, compassionate, and forgiving?
My suggestion here is that much of Revelation’s militant and violent imagery serves as a subversive, radical re-interpretation of “the battle plan” — the modus operandi — of the jealous, wrathful, militant God of the Old Testament.
Paradoxically, this is one and the same God, before the incarnation of Christ and after. Yes, this jealous, gracious God is indeed thoroughly intent on the death of all his enemies; but this jealous, gracious God much prefers that his enemies die baptismally through conversion, rather than die physically and spiritually.
With that said, in this post I have not actually carefully examined particular and relevant verses from the Book of Revelation. What I have done instead is provide a suggested approach — that is, a unique hermeneutic — for reading through Revelation. I suggest you re-read Revelation (especially chapters eight, nine, and eleven) with this hermeneutic of divinely-sanctioned non-physical warfare. This suggested hermeneutic regards some Apocalyptic instances of death as conversion. Here baptismal death is God’s preferred means of bringing an end to human self-idolatry and sinful rebellion.
If you do use that approach, you will find certain passages in Revelation make much more sense than before. But other passages (usually later passages) might remain confusing. Your potential confusion is because in the end, especially with the Seven Bowls of Wrath series, God does deal more heavy-handedly with those human opponents who refuse his provision for repentance and conversion.
A “dead man walking” mournfully foretold the forthcoming doom of his onlookers, their children, and the entire city. His prophecy of eventual doom might have come as a surprise to those who overheard it, because it seemed to contradict what another prominent prophet had once promised regarding the Promised Land and the City of Jerusalem. Who was right about the city’s future, then — the Prophet Ezekiel, or the condemned Nazarene, dripping blood and staggering on the way to his gruesome crucifixion?
From someone else, it might have come across as a condemned man’s final vindictive, bitter curse. But his gloomy comments were not directed against his persecutors. He was instead speaking to a group of women who might have included some of his loyal supporters. They were there to observe and weep at his horrifying fate. While being led to his crucifixion, on the Via Dolorosa to Golgotha, Jesus told those women not to weep for him, but to weep instead for themselves and their children (Luke 23:28-31). Quoting the final sentence of Hosea 10:8, Jesus then informed his sympathizers that when the time of destruction arrived “They [that is, the residents of Jerusalem] will say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’”
Again, this gloomy, terrifying Via Dolorosa Prophecy seemed to contradict a much rosier civic and national future, as prophesied by the Prophet Ezekiel centuries before. The whole of Ezekiel Chapter 36 describes the wonderful, permanent (see Ezekiel 36:13-15) restoration and exaltation of the exiled House of Israel within their hereditary homeland. And in the first century AD/CE (that is, the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry), the restoration and exaltation promised by Ezekiel appeared to be a likely, imminent possibility, especially since it had already been partially fulfilled. Many of the Jewish people had already returned to their hereditary homeland. Furthermore, when he first began his public ministry, Jesus spoke a lot about the Kingdom of God, and about it being “at hand.” Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God’s imminence only encouraged the thought that the exaltation part of Ezekiel’s wonderful prophecy was about to transpire. But no, the exaltation of the House of Israel was not about to transpire. Instead, Jesus’ Via Dolorosa Prophecy proved grimly accurate.
Rather than being restored and exalted within their hereditary homeland, the opposite occurred. In 70AD/CE, after rebelling against the Romans, the Jewish people were subjected to a crushing, almost absolute defeat. The City of Jerusalem was destroyed. Its marvelous Temple was demolished. And the few Jewish people who remained alive were sent off into exile yet again. The Jewish people would not return from exile en masse to their hereditary homeland until the mid Twentieth Century, after the Nazi’s attempted genocide of them during World War Two.
All of which is to say, Ezekiel Chapter 36 appears to be an aborted prophecy. It was once apparently on its way to fulfillment. But then something cataclysmic occurred. The hopes of the Jewish people were dashed, or, at very least, seriously delayed.
However, I am not suggesting for a moment that Ezekiel’s prophecy was wrong. I believe that it will still be fulfilled. The question I pose to anyone who takes Ezekiel Chapter 36 seriously (as legitimate prophecy) is whether it can be meaningfully fulfilled unless it is fulfilled quite literally, within Israel, the hereditary homeland of the Jewish people. A lot of my fellow Christians seem to believe the prophecy can be (and already has been) fulfilled figuratively and/or spiritually, and that it therefore simply does not apply to the physical descendants of Abraham, the Jewish people. Personally, I have a hard time squaring what Ezekiel prophesies in Chapter 36 with anything but a literal, physical fulfillment.
The implications of how an interpreter understands Ezekiel Chapter 36 (and similar passages, like Zechariah Chapter 12 and the entire Book of Zephaniah) are very significant. This is not to say that I will not argue for a figurative reading of some prophetic material, because I certainly will; and I do. But it is to say that some of these prophetic passages seem to become altogether meaningless unless they are read literally. The interpretive issue, as I see it, is whether the relevant prophetic passages themselves give good reason to take a figurative approach or a literal approach. If a given prophetic passage presents itself as literal, should it not be read as literal? I think so, unless there is an extremely compelling reason not to. In my estimation, Ezekiel Chapter 36 presents itself as altogether literal, and therefore should be read that way. And because we know for certain that it has not been fulfilled yet, we can and should await its literal future fulfillment. Now with that said, I encourage you to go read Ezekiel Chapter 36.
Back in April 1945, Vice President Harry S. Truman received a phone call. He was told to come “quickly and quietly” to the White House. Without being explicitly told, Truman realized that the frail and ailing president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, must have just died. When he hung up the phone, Truman reacted with the exclamation, “Jesus Christ and General Jackson!” Truman was jolted with the realization that all the responsibility of the presidency was about to become his.
When I first read that, I did wonder how often Harry S. Truman heard that exact exclamation — “Jesus Christ and General Jackson” — while he was growing up. It sounds like a regional Southern-ism one of his parents might have said in a moment of exasperation. The phrase might-could have been original to Harry himself; but it has such an alliterative, poetic ring to it that I do wonder and sort of suspect that he picked it up secondhand somewhere. To me, it sounds like something a midcentury Southerner would have said and heard with some frequency. And yes, Truman can be considered somewhat of a Southerner — close enough, at least. Truman’s home state of Missouri was a border state and divided battle ground during the American Civil War, the war between the North and the South. The American Civil War was within a long lifetime and living memory of 1945. Harry S. Truman himself was only a generation removed from it, having been born in Lamar, Missouri, in the year 1884 (if Wikipedia has all that information right).
Incidentally and for those who might be interested, I first came across Truman’s “Jesus-and-General Jackson” exclamation last summer while reading or listening to an online preview of Countdown 1945, a historical book by FOX newsman Chris Wallace. Wallace also served as the moderator of one the 2020 presidential debates between then-president Donald J. Trump and now-president Joseph R. Biden. During that debate, former President Trump memorably and repeatedly interrupted and spoke over both Biden and Wallace. It was quite an interaction and quite the televised spectacle. To his credit, and although clearly exasperated, Chris Wallace had the self-composure not to react to Trump with any unseemly exclamations. That said, I do wonder how Wallace privately reflects upon and retells his back-and-forth with Trump during that debate. What would Wallace say about it in private, unfiltered?
Our uncensored exclamations and unfiltered reactions — such are my immediate interest here. What do you exclaim when you are exasperated? What do you say when you are shocked? What comes out of your mind and out of your mouth when your only company is you yourself?
Truman’s reaction to his fateful phone call in April 1945 can be perceived as something quite negative or something quite positive. Negatively, Truman might have been casually dropping the name of Jesus as a cus word. Or positively, he might have been issuing a quasi-prayer. It would have been a very unorthodox prayer, admittedly, which is why I call it a quasi-prayer. But still, it could have been a prayer. If, in a moment of great consequence, the first thing that comes from the lips of a stunned someone is the name of Jesus, it could well be a prayer. Truman may have been thinking, “Lord Jesus Christ, I am suddenly the President. Please help me.” And even the “General Jackson” addendum can be interpreted charitably. Truman may have been in the habit of playing off his knee-jerk prayers as mere Southern-isms for secular political society.
Not convinced? Okay yes, I do realize that I am probably being way too generous with the late Harry S. Truman. And no, I have not researched his life well enough to know how pious and prayerful he may have been as a person. It would be interesting to do some homework and find out. Maybe someday I will.
The Book of Exodus 20:7 is where the third of the Ten Commandments can be found. In that verse God declares: “Thou shall not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.”
Consequently and on the Christian assumption that Jesus Christ is indeed divine, after receiving that phone call, Harry S. Truman was either praying or taking the name of the LORD in vain. Whichever. I suppose when God replays it for us someday we will find out which one it was.
There is nothing covered that will not be uncovered, nothing hidden that will not be made known. Therefore, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in an ear in private rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops.
Jesus, remarking to his disciples, as recorded in the Gospel of Luke 12:2-3
Yes, I do read that literally (sort of). And yes, I believe it to be true. Someday, all of our laundry will be aired, no matter how dirty. Someday, our most private conversations and exclamations will be made public.
Jesus Christ! That’s totally terrifying!
Jesus Christ, I do hope that everything I have said and done is covered by your cleansing blood on that day.
To start, I should probably give credit where credit is due. The term Eschatological Exodus does not originate with me, but, as far as I know, with (the now semi-retired) Professor Richard Bauckham from Her Majesty’s United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Personally, I consider Professor Bauckham to be the most important recent and living interpreter of the Book of Revelation. Professor Bauckham may even eventually rank as the single most insightful and influential interpreter of the Book of Revelation (and similar biblical literature) in the last several centuries. Yes, centuries. I know, I know: That’s quite a big claim to make. Yet it may be both apt and true.
Although it has a rather generic title, way back in the early 1990s a younger Dr. Professor Baukham wrote a refreshingly brief, catchingly brilliant, and now-absolutely-essential scriptural study of Revelation called… drumroll… The Theology of the Book of Revelation, which will be abbreviated from hence as TBR. In TBR, Professor Bauckham identifies three primary symbolic themes that recur throughout the Book of Revelation: 1) The Messianic War, 2) The Eschatological Exodus, and 3) The Witness of Jesus. Nowhere is the second symbolic theme, the Eschatological Exodus, more prominent within the Book of Revelation than Chapter Fifteen. To quote Dr. Bauckham regarding that theme:
In 15:2-4 the Christian Martyrs, victorious in heaven, are seen as the people of the new exodus, standing beside a heavenly Red Sea, through which they have passed, and singing a version of the song of praise to God which Moses and the people of Israel sang after their deliverance from Pharaoh at the Red Sea (Exodus 15).
Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, p. 71.
To be something of a fastidious stickler, I will mention here that while Professor Bauckham identifies the triumphant throng as “Christian Martyrs,” Revelation Chapter Fifteen itself does not use either descriptor. Those who have triumphed over the Beast, its Image, and the Number of its Name are called neither Christians nor Martyrs in Chapter Fifteen. Dr. Bauckham is making a slight interpretive move (quite understandably) when he designates the heavenly throng as Christian Martyrs. I will explain why I am taking issue with his subtle interpretive move in a few paragraphs. But as it is, I am getting ahead of myself. We ought to start at the beginning of the chapter with Verse One.
Here in Verse One we are put on notice of utterly terrifying things to come. John, the narrator, sees a sign in Heaven: He sees seven angels with seven final plagues. The Wrath of God is about to be dispensed in seven sequential measures upon the Earth. Hitherto in the Book of Revelation the Wrath of God has not been dispensed on the Earth.
For those who harbor doubts as to whether the Wrath of God has been withheld prior to this point in the Book of Revelation, a quick word study of Wrath and God will yield the following seven references in the Book of Revelation: 14:10; 14:19; 15:1; 15:7; 16:1; 16: 19; and 19:15. I interpret the two references to the Wrath of God in Chapter Fourteen as synchronous with (happening at the same time as) the terrifying events that come with the outpouring of the Bowls of Wrath in Revelation Chapter Sixteen. I would encourage the especially studious to read through those seven wrathful references; and will boldly suggest that if they do so, they will most likely come to the same conclusion: The Wrath of God only begins when the Bowls are poured out, one by one.
Verse One, therefore, lets the reader know that the outpouring of the Wrath of God is about to commence upon the Earth. But nonetheless, our vantage point is still up in Heaven. We are witnesses to what is happening in Heaven Above immediately before all Hell breaks out on Earth Below. Remind me then: What is happening in Heaven? Verse Two gives us the scene and tells the tale.
A celebration is happening. A concert is happening in Heaven Above. There is singing and rejoicing. It is a time of Triumph, an occasion of celebration.
Does that not strike you as somewhat strange? I mean, although all Hell is about to be unleashed on Earth, the seaside throng in Heaven is celebrating some sort of victory. Why is that? What is going on? Who are these triumphant harpists in Heaven?
We are told that the celebrants in Heaven are those who have triumphed over the Beast, its Image, and the Number of its Name. From henceforth I will refer to that nefarious trio as the Notorious B.I.N.N.
Bauckham says that these triumphant celebrants are Christian Martyrs. He is only kind of right about that. The problem is that you might misunderstand what he means with those two words. Christians are not necessarily those who loosely self-identify as such, but those who are really redeemed, the truly faithful, the steadfast Saints throughout the centuries and millenia. And the Martyrs are not necessarily those who have died for their faith, but include all those who have kept the faith and maintained their witness for Christ Jesus. That is because the word martyr originally just meant a witness. In contradiction to the very esteemed Professor Baukham, then, I want to suggest that in Chapter Fifteen we are seeing an even bigger crowd. The throng of triumphant celebrants in Heaven includes not just Christian Martyrs in a narrow sense, but all the Saints through the centuries, right up until the Second Coming or Advent of Jesus Christ. I do mean all of them, every single one, including you and me, hopefully.
To identify the size and compostion of the throng, the Notorious B.I.N.N. serve as perhaps the most important clue. One reason why the Notorious B.I.N.N. are mentioned here is because they will appear in their ultimate and worst incarnations right at the very end of this current common era.
For the sake of clarity, I need to explain what I mean by “the end of this current common era.” When I was a child, the historical timeline was usually divided according to the abbreviations of B.C. and A.D. But for better or worse, that chronological division has since changed. Now the abbreviations B.C.E. and C.E. are used more commonly to divide the timeline. And what do those abbreviations stand for? B.C. once abbreviated “Before Christ”; and A.D. once abbreviated Anno Domini, which translates from Latin to “in the year of the Lord.” To avoid the implicit Christian chronological assumptions of B.C. and A.D., sensitive souls in Academia made a switch to B.C.E. and C.E. over the last 35 years or so. As you may know, B.C.E. abbreviates Before the Common Era, while C.E. abbreviates the Common Era. So now, with this timeline revisionism explained, I will hereby assert and solemnly affirm that according to Revelation Chapter Fifteen this Common Era will come to an abrupt end with the return of Christ, the return of Christ for the Church. When Christ comes back for the Church this current Common Era will end ubruptly. Perhaps, then, the loss of the B.C. and A.D. abbreviations was not actually a loss, theologically speaking. One might argue that Anno Domini, the year of our Lord, actually begins when Christ returns for the Church.
So then, Revelation Chapter Fifteen shows us the scene in Heaven Above immediately after the current Common Era ends. In Chapter Fifteen, Christ has come. The Church has been lifted from Earth and has arrived triumphantly in Heaven. The throng beside the Sea of Glass is celebrating their escape from and Triumph over the Notorious B.I.N.N. and all their persecutors on Earth Below. Just as the Children of Israel were miraculously delivered from their Egyptian enemies through the Red Sea, so all the Saints of God will someday be miraculously delivered from their enemies through Resurrection and Rapture, when Christ himself returns to claim his Church.
And so, moving along to Verse Three, the Trimphant Celebrants are said to sing a particular song of deliverance – the Song of Moses, the Servant of God, and the Song of the Lamb.
If you were to cross-reference Revelation’s Deliverance Song with the original Song of Moses in the Book of Exodus Chapter 15, you might be struck by the comparative similarities and the differences. While both songs celebrate the amazing saving deeds of God, the Original Exodus Song is almost entirely ethnocentric and expresses hostility towards neighboring nations, whereas Revelation’s Exodus Song refers to God as the King of the Nations, and affirms that all the nations will ultimately come and worship God. Given its Anno Domini timing and its heavenly setting, this affirmation is intriguing, because it might allow some measure of hope for eventual salvation, even for those who have been left behind, the inhabitants of the Earth who are about to endure the Wrath of God.
And yes, with the phrase “left behind” I am affirming the reality of the Rapture here. The Eschatological Exodus is the Rapture. They are one and the same event. Revelation Chapter Fifteen show us the scene in Heaven Above immediately after all the Saints, and the entire Church, leave Earth Below. To be honest and fair to Professor Bauckham, I think he would not concur with me here. In TBR and his other books, Dr. Bauckham does not equate the Eschatological Exodus with the Rapture. He just says that those who are beside the Sea of Glass in Heaven are Christian Martyrs (as opposed to all the redeemed Saints and the entire Church throughout history). My question for him and for those who follow him would be how Chapter Fifteen fits in its wider narrative context. As I see it, the reason for our disagreement is because he does not see a sequential, chronological progression from the Series of Seven Trumpets (Revelation 8:6-11:19) to the Series Seven Bowls of Wrath (Revelation 15:1-16:21). I do. I see a clear sequential and chronological progression. There is an important topical excursus between the two series (from Revelation 12:1 through 14:20); but otherwise they follow each other sequentially and chronologically.
Interpretive decisions about how to divide and how to connect the flow of the narrative and the various scenes within Revelation are necessary and inescapable. Whether an interpreter sees a sequential, chronological progression from the Series of Seven Trumpets to the Series of Seven Bowls of Wrath will determine whether Revelation allows for and depicts a Rapture or not, in my estimation.
Plus, I believe that what Paul teaches in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 absolutely requires the Rapture be taken literally and seriously. It is simply what immediately follows the general resurrection of the redeemed. We ascend to meet Christ in the air. We ascend to Heaven, just as Christ himself was resurrected and ascended. We follow the same pattern set by Christ. And Revelation Chapter Fifteen gives us a brief glimpse of their/our celebration upon our arrival in glory.
But back to the passage at hand. In Verses Three and Four, we read the lyrics of the New Exodus Song. The Triumphant Celebrants in Heaven give praise to God for His marvelous deeds, question the folly of not fearing and glorifying the Lord, and affirm both God’s Holiness and the inevitability of His universal acclamation. All of this is of course fitting for what Christ accomplished through his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. It would be all the more fitting for what Christ accomplishes if and when he delivers us, the Church, from the final persecution of the Notorious B.I.N.N.
Now we move on the Verse Five. I cannot recall ever hearing someone teach or preach from the pulpit about this particular verse. John the Narrator sees the Temple of the Tabernacle of Testimony in Heaven opened. The Temple of the Tabernacle of Testimony has a nice alliterative ring, with its triple Ts, an alternative translation being the Sanctuary of the Tabernacle of Witness. Significantly, the Church is often called a Temple or a Sanctuary in the New Testament. And I do suggest that the Temple of the Tabernacle of Testimony in Heaven is the Resurrected Church while it resides in Heaven. Here John the Narrator sees the Raptured Church as a Temple or Sanctuary. He witnesses its inaugural opening in Heaven. Based on Old Testament passages regarding the inaugural opening of the Tabernacle and the Temple (see Leviticus 9:22-24; 1 Kings 8:11; and 2 Chronicles 7:1-3), we ought to anticipate something awesome is about to occur. And so something does.
At the Sanctuary Church’s inaugural opening in Heaven, seven angels resembling priests emerge, dressed in their Sabbath finest. They have business to attend to.
The angel-priests are dressed immaculately in clean linen and golden sashes. You might even say that the seven angel-priests are dressed to kill. One of Heaven’s Four Living Creatures gives each of the seven angels a bowl, each full of the Wrath of God. The angels are about to visit Earth, where they will execute divine vengence on the Notorious B.I.N.N. and the pitiful Inhabitants of the Earth.
And though the Sanctuary Church in Heaven is open for the seven exiting angels, the Glory of God makes it entirely impossible for the anyone to enter from the outside (again, this refers back to Leviticus 9:22-24; 1 Kings 8:11; and 2 Chronicles 7:1-3) until after the Seven Bowls of Wrath are dispensed, each in turn. The Sanctuary Church in Heaven is thus temporarily closed to any incoming traffic. Any repentant Inhabitants on Earth must wait until the Wrath of God is entirely spent.
To me, the scenario presented in Chapter Fifteen only makes coherent sense narratively and historically if the Rapture occurs. With the Church off the scene, the Current Common Era comes to a close. Then the truly scary stuff commences.
Thanks to Horrible Hal (Hal Lindsey, that is, whom I honestly do not regard as highly horrible) — thanks to Horrible Hal and other End-Times Enthusiasts, no one takes the idea of the Rapture seriously any more. Okay, yes, that is a wee bit of an overstatement. But as overstatements go, it holds true more often than not. Practically speaking, the rejection of the Rapture is a widespread reality that must serve as any theologian’s operational assumption within contemporary Anglo-American Christian Academia. And the same assumption also applies at most self-respecting, liturgically-formal churches. As a doctrinal and eschatological scenario, the Rapture is widely regarded as rather ridiculous, even embarrassing. Nowadays, the Rapture is usually held in derision by those who are convinced they know better.
But I do believe in the Rapture. When Rapture-skeptics realize that I do in fact believe the Rapture will occur, they usually respond with comments like, “So… do you mean you seriously believe in the Rapture? As in, the sudden disappearance of all true Christians, past and present, from around the globe, upward from Planet Earth? Beam me up, Jesus! Seriously? You do know the word rapture doesn’t even appear in the Bible, right? You really ought to go read what N.T. Wright has to say about that.”
And yada, yada. The (usually polite) ridicule just featured is what the Rapture skeptics will often rehash.
And as I quietly endure the skeptics’ very predictable, polite ridicule, babies jettisoned along with their bathwater come to mind, as do diamonds discarded with dirt. To the dismissive (and potentially smug) skeptics who still might be reading or listening to this, I want to request that you hear me out. Please consider the Rapture again, and try to set any knee-jerk prejudice aside. Please do not immediately reject what might in fact be a valuable interpretive insight just because it has been poorly packaged. Just because the Rapture has often been misrepresented over the last 50 years does not mean it should be rejected without careful scriptural study. I mean, as a kind of parallel, just because zombie movies often make the resurrection look like a freakish scenario does not mean that we should dispense with the doctrine of the resurrection. Similarly, just because the Rapture has been portrayed poorly in low-budget movies does not mean it ought to be discarded. The truly important thing to consider is whether Scripture teaches it will happen.
To repeat and rephrase somewhat, the really important issue is whether Scripture presents the Rapture as a future event that will occur.
So please grab your Bibles, ye studious People of the Book. If you will, look up Revelation Chapter 15. Read it and re-read it. You might not recognize it at first as the thorough-going Rapture passage that it is.
1 Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and amazing, seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished.
2 And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire—and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. 3 And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,
“Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!
4 Who will not fear you, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy.
All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.”
5 After this I looked, and the sanctuary of the tent of witness in heaven was opened, 6 and out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, clothed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes around their chests. 7 And one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever, 8 and the sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished.
Revelation 15:1-8 ESV
At the risk of being harsh, I have a few questions for you. When was the last time you heard a sermon about this passage? When was the last time you heard anything coherent taught about this particular passage? If you yourself were asked to interpret this passage in its narrative context, how would you do? Could you present it coherently, or would you and your listeners walk away completely confused?
These probing questions I do ask because I am willing to bet that the vast majority of skeptics who ridicule the Rapture cannot make much sense of this passage in its broader context, that is, immediately after the events of Chapter Fourteen, and immediately before the Seven Bowls of Wrath are dispensed. However, please realize that these eight verses make perfect sense to those who take the Rapture of the Church seriously. With the Rapture in mind and in place, this passage is completely coherent within the overall contextual flow of the Book of Revelation. It is like a puzzle piece that fits exactly where it ought. And that clean, orderly coherence should give y’all pause, especially because alternate explanations are almost always messy and incoherent.
Please allow me to interpret and explain this passage.
Those who have conquered the Beast, and its image, and the number of its name — who are they, exactly? Most interpreters would agree that these conquerers are true Christians, Faithful Witnesses for Christ. And while that interpretation is not wrong, it is not precise enough. Yes, these are Christ’s Faithful Witnesses, true enough. But more exactly, they are all the Faithful Witnesses who have persevered and thus prevailed through to a particular point in Church History — to its final terminus, to the end of the present age or era. The Beast, its Image, and the Number of its Name (referred to hereafter as the Notorious BINN) will not appear in their final, ultimate, and most fearsome manifestations until the end of this era. Therefore, the Faithful Witnesses who persevere and who thereby manage to conquer the Notorious BINN must necessarily include all of those who live through (and perhaps die during) the very end of this current era.
By the way, and very importantly, please do notice that I do not mean to exclude any of the Faithful Witnesses who died in the centuries and decades before the final days — not at all. Instead, I simply mean to include those who have lived through (and those who may die during) the final tumultuous period of time. The Faithful who prevail over the Notorious BINN include all the faithful throughout the entirety of the age. Chapter Fifteen depicts all the Faithful Saints, from the beginning to the utter end of the Church Age.
Notice where these conquering Saints are said to be standing. They are standing beside the Sea of Glass, otherwise and alternatively known as the Crystal Sea. And where, pray tell, is the Crystal Sea? If I am not mistaken, the Crystal Sea is not on Earth, but is up there in Heaven. Yep, according to Revelation 4:6, the Crystal Sea is situated before the very Throne of God, up in Heaven. (This matters because those who deny the Rapture will often claim that after Christ’s Second Coming his Saints do not go to up heaven, but instead stay on Earth.) So, based on Revelation 15, is it safe to assume that all the conquering Saints have somehow made their way up to Heaven? Personally, I am altogether willing to assume just that. The Saints got there somehow. In Revelation 15:2 all the Faithful, Conquering Saints throughout the entire Church Age are seen standing beside the Sea of Crystal in Heaven. Rapture skeptics need to explain how this is true.
Okay then, exactly how did those conquering Saints get up there to Heaven?
They either made it up to Heaven through Death or through the Rapture. As far as I can tell, the Bible offers human beings no alternative means of transport to Heaven. Death or Resurrected Rapture — those are the only two viable transit options to Heaven. And be very careful before you easily opt for Death as their sole means of transit. In 1 Thessalonians 4:17 Paul claims that some very blessed Christians will escape death altogether. Those Christians will be physically transformed in an instant (for that, see 1 Corinthians 15:51-52), and will meet the Lord Jesus in the air. I would like to suggest that from their meeting place in the air they will (or hopefully, we will) continue to ascend to Heaven, where they/we will find ourselves besides the Sea of Crystal, before the Throne of God. While we are there, absent from Earth, the Seven Bowls of Wrath will be poured out upon the unrepentant upon the Earth. And notice that exact sequential scenario follows the narrative flow of Revelation Chapters 14, 15, and 16, neatly, cleanly, and coherently. Uh huh, it really does.
If this is the correct contextual interpretation of Revelation 15, then the Resurrected Rapture can and should be understood as one and the same as the Eschatological Exodus. That simply means that just as the Children of Israel were once delivered from Egypt by means of the Miraculous Parting of the Red Sea, so the the Church of God will be instantaneously delivered from out of the fiefdoms of this world by means of a miraculous Parting of the Time-Space Fabric. The Eschatological Exodus is the Resurrected Rapture of the Church; and its immediate aftermath is the scene presented in Revelation Chapter 15.
When the roll is called up yonder, will you be there? I do hope to see you beside the Sea of Crystal in Heaven someday, perhaps even someday soon.
Its precise latitude and longitude coordinates criss-cross at 31 degrees, 46 minutes, 41.2176 seconds north of the equator; and 35 degrees, 14 minutes, 9.5748 seconds east of the prime meridian. Many years ago, long before those coordinates had any meaning at all, heaven and earth intersected there, at that very location, give or take a few fractions of a second north or south, east or west. According to the Bible, the Presence and Glory of the LORD God Almighty once dwelt at those coordinates precisely, inside a magnificent temple, in an inner chamber known as the Holy of Holies. But the Glory of God has long since vacated that location, and abandoned those geographic coordinates. In the language of the Old Testament, it might now be called Ichabod. As the Prophecy of Ezekiel depicts using very evocative imagery (see, for example, Ezekiel Chapter 10), it is a God-forsaken place.
Even though the Glory is long, long gone, that same geographic spot is hotly and sometimes violently contested turf, even today, and especially today. If you happen to keep an eye on the international news, you are aware that the Israelis and some of the Palestinian politico-military factions have been firing volleys of rockets and missiles at each other over the last several days. This latest round of renewed claim-staking and blood-letting began last Friday, just a few days ago. And the back-and-forth retaliatory strikes seem likely to escalate into the foreseeable future. Alarmingly, the fighting could ripple into a wider regional war.
Why are they fighting, yet again? Primarily, the two sides are fighting about who controls that once God-forsaken geographic location. And they have even been fighting each other face-to-face, man-to-man on top of that spot, on top of the blocks of stone that cover that geographic location. This past weekend, they were sometimes literally physically fighting each other inside the hilltop complex that now stands where the temple once stood.
But who cares? Why should we care? Does it matter to anyone besides them? Does the fact that the Israelis and the Palestinians are once again fighting at that location — at the place where the Glory of God once dwelt on Planet Earth — does it have any special significance? Or is it much ado about nothing?
It might matter a lot. Whether it matters entirely depends on whether those spatial coordinates and that geographic location continue to have any special significance to the God who once dwelt there in Glory, only to abandon it later. Asked most simply: Has God forsaken that location forever?
It nearly goes without saying that I am here implicitly affirming that the God who once dwelt there is actually the LORD God Almighty, the actual Creator and Sustainer of heaven and earth, and not just a fictional, mythological being. But I will hereby make the implicit explicit. I am assuming and affirming just that. I do believe that the Creator once dwelt in Glory in a gilded chamber on a hilltop in ancient Jerusalem. Indeed, the historical events that transpired on and near that particular hilltop make that claim much more believable, when they are given careful attention and close examination. Prophecies have been made and fulfilled there, repeatedly over the centuries.
If that is indeed so — if prophecies were made and fulfilled there in the past — could it be that prophecies are continuing to be fulfilled there in the present and in the future?
In the Gospel of Luke 21:24, Jesus is recorded as prophesying this about the Jewish citizens of first-century Jerusalem:
They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
And guess what? History has proven Jesus right. It happened just as he once said. They did fall by the edge of the sword, and horribly so. They were led captive among all nations, and for almost two thousand years. And Jerusalem has been trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, and continues to be, especially at the very coordinates where the Glory of God once dwelt.
But when I hear the news reports and watch the Jewish citizens of Jerusalem literally physically fighting with their Gentile neighbors over that God-forsaken location, I do have to wonder if the times of the Gentiles are nearly fulfilled. Time will tell, I suppose.