Zechariah’s Horsemen

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

In my last post, I made a rather bold claim, an audacious claim. I suggested that in one very important and well-known passage from the Book of Revelation our English Bible translators have misled many generations of readers. No, not that our translators intentionally misled us, but their choice of one little word in Revelation 6:4 has misled generations of their readers all the same. In retrospect, the translators could have and should have chosen a better word, I argued. But they didn’t know any better then, so we need to cut them some slack.   

Which word did they mistranslate? Our translators gave us the word earth where they should have given us the word land. In a lexical vacuum, the nuance between the two words may seem quite small, rather insignificant, and merely worthy of a “whatever” shrug. But practically speaking, when readers of Revelation 6:4 first imagine and then interpret the passage, the difference between the two words carries immense consequence. That is because English speakers today automatically imagine “the Earth” in global terms, whereas otherwise they might have imagined “the land” as a more confined geographic locality, which is the correct image, actually. Revelation 6:4 makes better sense if the setting is considered a limited geographic region or locality (that is, the land of Israel), and not the entire planet. Thus the claim of a probable misleading translation error was the opening premise in my last post.

From there, I went on to assert what I believe to be the correct identity of the second Horseman of the Apocalypse: The Red Rider, otherwise known as the Crimson Swordsman, is textually identifiable as… drumroll… Edom, Edom the nation. The Red Rider in Revelation 6:3-4 symbolically represents the historical, biblical nation of Edom, the next-door neighbor and sometime arch-enemy of Israel. In this post, I hope to further establish the claim that the Red Rider actually equals Edom by looking into the Old Testament Book of Zechariah, because the Book of Zechariah is where the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse first make their debut in the Bible. But before I look into Zechariah, maybe I ought to correct something…

After publishing my previous post, a bit of a doubt came to mind — a doubt about the precision of my opening premise. The doubt eventually solidified into a couple of questions: “What if the mistranslation of Revelation 6:4 began even earlier? What if our English translators simply passed along an earlier mistranslation or misconception from another language?” For the sake accuracy, I realized I ought to go research the possibility. But in which language might the mistake have originated? “Ah yes,” I thought, “I should see how Revelation 6:4 is translated in Latin.” And why Latin? The answer is because Saint Jerome’s Vulgate Latin translation became the official (and effectively the only) version of the Bible in western Europe for over a thousand years. Yep, true story: look it up, if you doubt me. Perhaps then the mistranslation misconception about earth versus land goes way, way further back in time.

And for you Latin readers out there, here is Revelation 6:4 per the Vulgate, followed by the Roman Catholic 1899 Douay-Rheims English translation:

Et exivit alius equus rufus, et qui sedebat super illum datum est ei ut sumeret pacem de terra, et ut invicem se interficiant, et datus est illi gladius magnus.

Revelation 6:4 in the Latin Vulgate Translation

And there went out another horse that was red: and to him that sat thereon, it was given that he should take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another, and a great sword was given to him.

Revelation 6:4, from the 1899 Douay-Rheims Translation

Like me, you may not read much Latin; nonetheless, like me, you might recognize the above underlined word terra as meaning earth or land or ground. For example, terra firma (i.e., solid ground) or terra incognito (i.e., land unknown) are Latin expressions that are sometimes used today by English speakers. Admittedly, I cannot claim any real expertise in Latin. But I wonder if by means of the “stretch-able” Latin word terra we eventually inherited the somewhat more rigid English word earth. Perhaps our current (mis)understanding of Revelation 6:4 had its origins long before English became English. Perhaps our present-day “earth-must-mean-the-entire-planet” presumption was inadvertently conceived back when the Saint Jerome Bible Translation Committee first translated the Apocalypse into Latin in the decades just before 400AD/CE. The real issue, then, would be how the meaning of just two words — the earth — became more fixed and inflexible in English. Perhaps it all boils down to the ascent of science and, especially, to 20th century space exploration. If such is the case, then NASA may be part of the reason we now misread Revelation 6:4. When it comes to Bible translation and interpretation, stranger things have happened. If any of my readers really do read Latin, please let me know if my speculative supposition here has any validity.

Now if the English speaking world has been misled by a (mis)translation or misconception of Revelation 6:4 for hundreds of years, that raises a whole other set of theological questions. One such question is, “Does that imply that this and other portions of Revelation are better understood now than they were in the past?” The answer to that, of course, would potentially be yes. Frankly, in my opinion the word potentially can be crossed out — potentially, and revised to definitely. Yes, diligent scholarship means we are now able to understand the Book of Revelation better than before. Current efforts to interpret the Book of Revelation do yield valuable insights that are beneficial to the Church (even if the same efforts sometimes also result in wacky theories and interpretations). After all, the Book of Revelation was given by the Triune God as a gift, and those who hear it are promised a blessing (cf. Revelation 1:3). Christ gave the Book of Revelation through John the Narrator to the Church for a reason, otherwise it would not have been given.

Without further ado, I want return to the thesis that the Second Horseman represents the nation of Edom. If I may, I have request: Please humor me here. Please just suspend a negative knee-jerk judgment and grant me the hypothetical possibility that it could be so, even if you’re not yet persuaded. I ask that of you because to persuade some of my readers I probably need to continue making my case. And what case it that? I am attempting to gradually construct an interconnected, cumulative historicist interpretation of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (an interpretation which covers the rest of Revelation Chapter 6, as well). With ample reason, I suggest that the Four Horsemen of Revelation, in order, are actually 1) Yahweh (that is, the LORD of Hosts, who was dreadfully present and active in the Exodus from Egypt), 2) Israel’s “brotherly” neighboring nation of Edom, 3) the aggressive, expansionistic, and brutal Assyrian Empire, and finally 4) the short-lived and yet historically pivotal Neo-Babylonian Empire, which destroyed the City of Jerusalem and Yahweh’s temple around the year 586BC/E. Together, these four horsemen acted as Israel’s most notable disciplinarians. By means of the four horseman, God judged the rebellious and “stiff necked” people of Israel and Judah (cf. Nehemiah 9:26-31 for a succinct retelling of Israel’s history of rebellion and God’s disciplinary reaction).

The Four Horsemen?

To establish the proposition that the Four Horsemen are whom I claim they are, it is essential to look at a few key passages in the Book of Zechariah, because, as noted previously, that is precisely where the Four Horsemen make their biblical debut. Perhaps it goes without saying, but by turning to Zechariah, I am intentionally following the hermeneutical “rule of first mention,” which is just a technical way of saying that an interpreter cannot presume to ignore the first occurrence of any given topic in the Bible. Stated a bit differently: the first mention of a topic in Scripture almost always provides essential interpretive information — information relevant to subsequent topical material. Since the Four Horsemen first appear in the Book of Zechariah, we should not overlook what Zechariah says. Curiously, though, and for whatever reason, a lot of interpreters of Revelation Chapter 6 do overlook the Prophecy of Zechariah. Indeed, this tendency to overlook the imbedded scriptural antecedents is the primary reason the Book of Revelation often gets misinterpreted. Do remember that, because it is not an insignificant point.

The second portion of Zechariah we should consider is Zechariah 1:8-17, which is where we hear Zechariah recount his vision of the Four Horsemen. But first we should glance at verse 7, so as to get ourselves oriented to the historical timing of his seven visions. In verse 7 we learn that Zechariah received his visions “on the twenty fourth day of the eleventh month, the month of Shebat during the second year of Darius.” That, then, is when these visions occurred.

Well,  umm… so what? 

Well, eventually that chronological datum might be — indeed, will be — very important. It will be important because of when it falls on the scriptural timeline. Should you triangulate it with other scriptural chronological data (such as the dates given in Haggai 1:1 and Daniel 9:2) so as to determine an exact date, you will discover that Zechariah’s visions are to be situated just after the prophesied 70-year Babylonian captivity. In Zechariah 1:7, Jeremiah’s prophesied 70 years of exile (cf. Jeremiah 29:10) have just been fulfilled and are now recent history. Yes, the fact that Jeremiah’s prophesied 70-year exile has finally slipped into history will definitely matter in our interpretation of the following vision verses.

And why is that? Why will the Babylonian Exile’s final terminus matter in these vision verses? The answer is because it means that the curse is about to be reserved. Both the vision of Zechariah 1:7-17 and the prophecy of Jeremiah 29:10 point back in unified harmony to a much earlier series of promises from God, promises (of judgment for sin, horror, loss, destruction, exile, and yet of eventual restoration) that are first listed in Leviticus 26:14-45. The very same promises are then certified as having been fulfilled in 2 Chronicles 36:15-23 (crucially, see v. 21). In the vision of Zechariah 1:7-17, the most pertinent of these promises concerns the Sabbath-rest of the Land.

The Book of Zechariah – Medieval Vulgate Manuscript/Codex Gigas

Now let’s look at the actual vision. In this first of Zechariah’s seven visions, he beholds a man at night riding a reddish horse in a wooded area; and behind the horseman are horses of various colors, including another reddish horse, a sorrel horse, and a white horse. But unlike Revelation 6:1-8, there is no black horse in this passage. Zechariah doesn’t know exactly what to make of the horseman and the horses among the myrtle trees, so he turns to someone and asks, “What are these, my lord?” In response, that someone informs him, “I will show you what they are.” And then the horseman himself says, “These are they whom the LORD has sent to patrol the earth/land.”

Okay, so thus far the vision is a bit weird. It gets weirder.        

Then the riders (plural) report in unison to the Angel of the Lord, who is presumably the individual talking to Zechariah. They say, “We have patrolled the earth/land; and behold, all the earth/land remains at rest.” 

For some reason, I imagine these night riders to speak simultaneously in stereo. Please notice that I keep on placing a slash between earth and land. That’s because the original word can be translated either way. But I want to suggest that the best rendering is land, on the assumption that this all alludes back to Leviticus 26. Were these mysterious riders commissioned as septuagenarian park rangers to keep out trespassers, tillers, and would-be squatters? Perhaps these angelic riders ensured that the land got every second of its promised seventy years of rest. I propose that these horsemen thus reported to the Angel of the LORD that they had faithfully completed their assignment. The entire land had indeed received its promised rest.

But wait, there’s more: 

Then the angel of the LORD said, “O LORD of hosts, how long will you have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which you have been angry these seventy years?”

Zechariah 1:12, English Standard Version

The mention of seventy years here must not be overlooked. This is an all-important allusion to both Jeremiah 29:10 and 2 Chronicles 36:21. The just-past Babylonian Captivity is implied in this allusion. 

The vision continues:

And the LORD answered gracious and comforting words to the Angel who talked to me. So the Angel who talked to me said, “Cry out, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts: I am exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion. And I am exceedingly angry with the nations who are at ease; for while I was angry but a little, they furthered the disaster. Therefore, thus says the LORD, I have returned to Jerusalem with mercy; my house shall be built in it, declares the LORD of hosts, and the measuring line shall be stretched out over Jerusalem. Cry out again, Thus says the LORD of hosts: My cities shall again overflow with prosperity, and the LORD will again comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem.’”

Zechariah 1:13-17, English Standard Version

All of which is to say, now that the exile is officially over, God is going to punish the nations that had destroyed Jerusalem and Judah. And God is also going to bless the rebuilding of Judah, Jerusalem, and the Temple. 

As for the Horsemen, the main takeaway from this vision passage in Zechariah is that they were there to make sure that God’s will was accomplished within the Land of Israel, even during the time of Babylonian exile. The Horsemen are thus the agents of God, even when Israel is disobedient and when Israel is absent. This will also hold true in the Book of Revelation, although the Four Horsemen will be revised significantly and might have different identities. The main point of continuity between the Horsemen in both the Book of Zechariah and the Horsemen in the Book of Revelation is that they serve as the active agents of God. They are the enforcers of God’s stated will. And their specific domain is the Promised Land, as opposed to the entire planet.

 

The Second Seal of Revelation 6

Thursday, June 30, 2022

3 When he broke the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, “Come!”

4 And another, a red horse, went out; and to him who sat on it (= the rider), it was granted to take peace from the earth/the land, and that [people] would kill one another; and a large/mighty sword was given to him.

Revelation 6:3-4
The Land, Not The Earth
No, Don’t Imagine The Planet Earth in Revelation 6:4!

To do justice to these two verses I need to walk my readers through multiple Old Testament passages. Yes really, I do. But to start, I want to focus your attention on just one word in verse 4. That would be the word earth (from the original Koiné Greek word γῆς), which I would vigorously insist should be translated as land in this present context. It matters because of what probably pops to mind when Bible students nowadays encounter the word earth. Most will immediately imagine our brilliant blue marble hanging in space: Planet Earth. But no, no, no… that is entirely misleading, an errant assumption, the wrong image. Instead, imagine the rolling, rocky hills of Israel. The correct word and most accurate image for this verse is land. Imagine a Middle Eastern landscape, not a globe. On this point, I must be emphatic because what a Revelation reader imagines will determine how these verses are interpreted. More on this point soon; but please take a brief glance at the fiery red stallion and its menacing rider. 

Notice that the rider on the red horse carries a sword. While the archer on the white horse in verse 2 carries a bow, the Red Rider receives another weapon: a sword — a large sword, a great sword, or perhaps, a mighty sword. At first glance the adjective large might seem superfluous, but it matters because the word serves as a subtle hint. It points readers back to a passage in the Old Testament: Isaiah 27:1, where the “mighty sword” is the LORD’s own sword with which he slays the serpent Leviathan, the monster of the sea. But discussion of that particular passage I will postpone for now. At present our focus is on the blade presented to the Red Rider. Not just any regular sword, this one is mighty. And now, with mighty sword in hand the Red Riding Swordsman has been given license to take peace from the… what? He takes away peace from the land. No, the swordsman on the fiery red horse was not granted permission to take peace from the entire planet. The Crimson Riding Swordsman was only granted permission to take peace from the land of Israel. ’Tis a big, big difference, a crucial difference, actually.

The relevant entry from a Greek-English Lexicon (BDAG, Third Edition): This shows the potential variations of γῆ/γῆς.

But you’re not yet convinced that I’m right about changing the word earth to land; are you? Granted, most, if not all, of the current English translations render the Greek word γῆς as earth, so your reluctance to cede the point is to be expected. You might well wonder on what basis or authority I make the claim — the rather audacious claim — that almost all Bible translators got this particular word wrong. That is a good question. That is indeed the right question to ask here. And so, with trepidation I now cautiously submit my response: I do so on basis of carefully-studied biblical theology. I am a (wanna be) theologian, while they are translators. Their gig is primarily linguistics; mine is primarily in-depth Bible study. Linguistically, the translators made a predictable decision, a decision perhaps by default, because it has a long-standing precedent, even a four-hundred year precedent. Furthermore, they’re not wrong, per se. Yes, the word γῆς does mean earth. Notice though that in both English and Greek the word earth can have several different connotations, one of which is land. Moreover, most of the translators were probably not considering the implicit Old Testament references when they made their translation decision. But if an interpreter does carefully consider the implicit Old Testament references in this passage, it conclusively tips the scales in favor of the translation land (implying something local) and against earth (implying something global), as I aspire to convince you now. 

Let’s look at the relevant Old Testament passages. We will need to figuratively walk through the following passages: Leviticus 26:31-35; Daniel 9:2; 2 Chronicles 36:15-21; and eventually, Zechariah 1:7-13.

To start, here is Leviticus 26:31-35:

31 I will reduce your cities to ruins and devastate your sanctuaries. I will not smell the pleasing aroma of your sacrifices. 32 I also will devastate the land, so that your enemies who come to live there will be appalled by it. 33 But I will scatter you among the nations, and I will draw a sword to chase after you. So your land will become desolate, and your cities will become ruins.

34 Then the land will make up for its Sabbath years during the time it lies desolate, while you are in the land of your enemies. At that time the land will rest and make up for its Sabbaths. 35 As long as it lies desolate, it will have the rest it did not have during your Sabbaths when you lived there.

God, in Leviticus 26:31-35

If I have counted correctly, there are a total of one, two, three, four references to “the land” or “your land” in these verses, or, more accurately, seven references — should the pronoun “it” also be counted (as it ought to be). Now, if Revelation 6:3-4 does indeed allude to (or point back to) this particular Levitical passage, then which geographical domain does the passage have in view? Is it Planet Earth in its global entirety or just the Land of Israel? The correct answer is, ding, ding, just the Land of Israel. Therefore “land” might be the better translation in Revelation 6:4. But hang on… does the Revelation passage actually point back to Leviticus 26:31-35? Or am I just jumping to conclusions because it happens to suit my argument? Perhaps we should revisit and contemplate more closely what this Leviticus passage says.

In Leviticus 26:31-35 God is speaking to, or more exactly, threatening someone. God threatens to “devastate the land,” (which land?) and to “draw a sword to chase after you” (which you?); in so doing, God will give the land a period of much-needed rest. By the way, later in Israel’s history, God carries through on this threat, as we shall see. 

Oh my, I almost forgot to mention the sword! As with Revelation 6:3-4, there just happens to be a sword in Leviticus 26:33! What a coincidence! But it is not a coincidence. References back to a combination of recurring key words is how Revelation works, and how Revelation provides crucial hints for its own interpretation. Admittedly, the mere mention of a sword in Leviticus 26: 33 does not clinch this as a definite, intentional intertextual connection; but it does serve to make it more likely. What makes for an even stronger case is the combination of the word land and the word sword together in both passages.

Eventually, the glue that will bring this all cohesively together is the historical identity of the Red Rider with the mighty sword (who, like his brother Israel, was first an individual person and then a nation). And with regard to my overall thesis (i.e., that the Red Rider/Crimson Swordsman represents one particular eponymous historical person-nation), the most convincing passage of all is found in the Book of Zechariah. For now, please just be aware of the desolation and exile foretold in this present Levitical passage regarding the land and people of Israel.

The second passage to consider is Daniel 9:2:

2 In the first year of his [Darius of Persia’s] reign, I, Daniel, understood from the books according to the word of the Lord to the Prophet Jeremiah that the number of years for the desolation of Jerusalem would be seventy.

Daniel, in the Book of Daniel 9:2

Based on a prophecy in the writings of the Jeremiah (cf. Jeremiah 29:10), Daniel realized that the designated time of Babylonian exile (that is, 70 years) had been fulfilled. Daniel, a Jewish exile working as a government official in several foreign administrations, realized that it was time for his own Jewish people to potentially return to their ancestral homeland. Thus Daniel turned to the LORD in prayer, requesting that God would forgive the Jewish people for their obstinate disobedience. Daniel also prayed for God to restore the desolate City of Jerusalem. In his plea for their forgiveness, Daniel either knowingly or unknowingly fulfills a key stipulation for the return and restoration of Israel, a stipulation that is laid out immediately after our previously discussed passage: that is, in Leviticus 26:40-45. God then answered Daniel’s prayer by giving him what he requested and even more. God gave Daniel several symbolic visions of future events pertinent to the land and people of Israel. The Book of Revelation noticeably makes use of much of the imagery from Daniel’s symbolic visions. I provide all this information to provide feasible “Land of Israel” narrative links from Leviticus 26 through Jeremiah 29 and Daniel 9 to Revelation 6.    

As for the Crimson Swordsman, Daniel may have just barely missed him. While still young, Daniel was one of the Jewish captives that had been sent off to Babylon. Daniel was probably taken away to captivity before the final devastating destruction of Jerusalem and its temple. During that final devastating destruction of Jerusalem, the Babylonian conquerers had some enthusiastic supporters. Those enthusiastic fans (or rather, allies) of Babylon were a neighboring nation of Israel, the Edomites, the descendants of Israel’s twin brother Esau (cf. Genesis 36:8). Not for nothing, scripture makes a point of this Edom and Babylon tag-team connection at the time of Jerusalem’s destruction around 586BC/E (cf. Psalm 137:7). In my view, the nation of Edom best qualifies as Revelation’s own Red Rider, the Crimson Swordsman. But I need to tighten up my proposed connection of three words from Revelation 6: red, land, sword.

Screen Shot from Haaretz Newspaper, featuring an article published on June 13, 2021 about Edom’s likely role in the destruction of Jerusalem.

Etymologically, in Hebrew the words for red and Edom derive from the same root. For all practical purposes, we can think of red and Edom as virtual equivalents. Therefore, I want to suggest that whenever Edom appears in the Old Testament, we just might be reading about Revelation’s Red Rider.      

Now we turn to 2 Chronicles 36:15-21:

15 But the LORD, the God of their ancestors sent word against them by the hand of his messengers, sending them time and time again, for he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. 16 But they kept ridiculing God’s messengers, despising his words, and scoffing at his prophets, until the Lord’s wrath was so stirred up against his people that there was no remedy. 17 So he brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans, who killed their fit young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary. He had no pity on young men or young women, elderly or aged; he handed them all over to him. 18 He took everything to Babylon—all the articles of God’s temple, large and small, the treasures of the Lord’s temple, and the treasures of the king and his officials. 19 Then the Chaldeans burned God’s temple. They tore down Jerusalem’s wall, burned all its palaces, and destroyed all its valuable articles.

20 He deported those who escaped from the sword to Babylon, and they became servants to him and his sons until the rise of the Persian kingdom. 21 This fulfilled the word of the Lord through Jeremiah, and the land enjoyed its Sabbath rest all the days of the desolation until seventy years were fulfilled.

The Chronicler, in 2 Chronicles 36:15-21

Although there is no specific mention of Edom in this important summary passage regarding the destruction of Jerusalem, from other biblical sources we know that Edom played some memorable antagonistic role. Like a bad neighbor, Edom left a very negative impression upon the few Jews who survived the destruction of Jerusalem. In passages like Psalm 83:1-8, Psalm 137:7, Isaiah 34:5-10, Ezekiel 35, Amos 1:6-12, and the entire Book of Obadiah we read that the people of Edom enthusiastically allied themselves with the enemies of Israel and Judah. Therefore, God promised to judge Edom severely. In fact, God pronounced an edict of utter destruction against the nation of Edom, specifically because they had betrayed his people in Israel and Judah.

Nevertheless, although this passage from 2 Chronicles 36 does not mention Edom, it still matters theologically. It matters because it shows that destruction of Jerusalem was not merely another tragic historical event. Rather, it was God’s own decree and God’s act of judgment against his own people. Babylon and its allies may have been the human instruments, but God takes responsibility for what happened. This needs to be kept in mind as we consider the Red Rider and the other horsemen of the apocalypse in Revelation 6. 

Very importantly, Edom played the role of God’s means of judgment (i.e., the sword of God) at least four times in Israel’s history. 

For example, in Numbers 20:14-20 Edom denied the sojourning people of Israel permission to pass through their land. Significantly, in Numbers 20:18 Edom threatened to attack Israel with a particular weapon: “with the sword.” This refusal-of-passage occurred immediately after Moses the man of God sinned. And it is noteworthy that unlike other times, God did not come to Israel’s aid. Edom withstood Israel on this occasion.

Centuries later, after King Solomon sinned by allowing his pagan foreign wives to coax him into idolatry, God raised up an active adversary against him. That adversary was Hadad the Edomite (cf. 1 Kings 11:14). The text is crystal clear that it was God’s own doing: “God raised up against Solomon an adversary.” 

Later, in 2 Kings 8:16-22 Edom successfully rebelled against Judah during the reign of Jehoram, the wayward son of the good King Jehoshaphat.

And finally, as we have already noted, Edom allied itself with Babylon during the siege and destruction Jerusalem around 586BC/E. Babylon was God’s own prophesied means of judgment.    

From the Book of Amos

So we see that over and over in its history, Israel and Judah found Edom to be a problematic neighbor — a neighbor that sometimes became an outright enemy. And yet, God takes at least partial responsibility for Edom’s periodic belligerence. Edom served as the instrument of divine judgment — “the sword of God” — at key times in Israel’s history. And Revelation 6:3-4 symbolizes Edom in that historical role as the Red Rider, the Crimson Swordsman.

To be continued…

The First Seal of Revelation 6

Monday, June 27, 2022

1 Then I saw when the Lamb broke one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures (one of the cherubim, per Ezekiel 10:20) saying as with a voice of thunder, “Come!”

I looked, and behold, a white horse (cf. Revelation 19:11), and the one who sat on it (= the rider) had a bow (ergo, was a mounted archer); and a crown was given to him (note the passive tense here), and he went out conquering and to conquer (cf. Psalm 45:4-5? Habakkuk 3:3-18?).

Revelation 6:1-2
http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/466572

In Revelation 6:1, John the Narrator watches as the uniquely worthy Lamb breaks open the first of the seven seals to the scroll (but which scroll?). Presumably, the attentive reader/listener realizes that the Lion-Lamb is none other than Jesus Christ himself. Throughout most of Chapter Five and continuing into Chapter Six, our narrator John refers to Christ simply as “the Lamb,” thus placing his metaphorical emphasis on the crucified Jesus. This is actually an allusion to a statement by John the Baptist, who introduced Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (cf. John 1:29, 36). In Revelation 6:1, Christ, by virtue of being the Lamb, is worthy to “take the scroll and open its seals.” What specifically and exactly qualifies him to be worthy of such an honor? His own shed blood. He is said to be worthy because he was slain (as a sacrifice for sin), and by means of his shed blood he ransomed people for God. The Church of Christ is purchased with blood, the precious blood of the Lamb. 

But what is Christ the Lamb worthy of? What is he worthy to receive? Backtracking ever-so briefly here, according to Revelation 5:9, by virtue of his self-sacrifice the Lamb is worthy to “take the scroll and open its seals.” But whatever might that mean? What is this scroll exactly? And why was it sealed that it now needs to be unsealed? We can presume that the answers to these questions may be a prerequisite to correctly interpreting the imagery and the apocalyptic events of Chapter Six. 

Here I want to suggest that the scroll is simply the Torah itself, which served at Mount Sinai as a ketubah (that is, a covenantal pre-nuptial agreement) between the LORD and the nation of Israel. I owe the ketubah/scroll connection to the late, great (and very eccentric) Bible teacher Chuck Missler. But I take Missler’s insight a step further by identifying the ketubah/scroll as the Torah itself (a quick online search confirms that at least one other blogger has taken exactly the same step of identifying the Torah as a sealed ketubah scroll). If this interpretation is correct, then the slain, now triumphant Lamb unseals the Torah. And according to Revelation Chapter Five, the fact that the Lamb is worthy to unseal the Torah scroll gives occasion in Heaven for celebration, even worship.

Chapter Five ends in heavenly worship directed towards the Lamb. What else can Heaven’s celebration be called other than worship? Selah. Selah means pause. Pause and consider that! Not only is the Lamb worthy to take the scroll and open its seals, he is also worthy of Heaven’s adulation and worship. He is worthy to receive what God alone is worthy to receive. The Lamb is worthy to receive 1) power, and 2) wealth, and 3) wisdom, and 4) might, and 5) honor, and 6) glory, and 7) blessing. Which, as enumerated, elicits a couple of questions: Why a list of seven? Why this sevenfold benediction? What significance might be implicit in a sevenfold benediction? Because it is sevenfold, this benediction signifies something complete, something in its entirety. Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, is worthy to receive our utter devotion, and all of our worship, even all of Heaven’s worship. Ergo, Jesus must be divine.     

On we go to Chapter Six, and the progressive unsealing of the (Torah) scroll. The passage says that when the Lamb opened the first one of the seven Torah seals, one of the living creatures/cherubim called out, “Come!” with a voice like thunder, whereupon John the Narrator beheld a white horse, with its rider holding a bow and wearing a crown — a crown which had been given to him. The archer on the white horse heeds the cherub’s summons and comes out conquering and to conquer. 

So, who is this mounted archer on a white horse? Is this Jesus Christ himself or someone else? Is this perhaps an imposter? From the immediate context, we cannot determine the answer to that question. We don’t have enough information from these two brief verses alone. We will need to press further and glean additional data. For now, we can only note that this mounted archer seems in some ways to resemble Christ (given the white stallion and the crown), and thus might potentially be Christ. Alternatively, if this mounted archer is an imposter and a fraud, he might very well be an antichrist. A decisive answer will have to wait until we have more information. 

Personally, I used to think that the mounted archer must be an antichrist figure. Back then, I reasoned that the author would simply identify the archer as Jesus if he is indeed Jesus. But further study of Chapter Six as a whole has convinced me that the mounted archer is in fact Christ Jesus himself — more specifically, the pre-incarnate Old Testament Christ. Why then, doesn’t the author simply say that the archer is Christ? There is a sound scriptural reason for why the mounted archer is not immediately identified as Jesus. And that is because the Old Testament itself keeps the identity of Christ a veiled mystery. But I am getting somewhat ahead of myself by divulging that I believe Revelation chapter six represents the unfolding of the Old Testament, and its scary curses upon the disobedient.      

Verse 2 does not say who gave the crown to the mounted archer. It avoids identifying the crown-giver by using what grammarians call the passive voice. Who, then, gave a crown to the mounted archer? Is the crown-giver God? Is the crown-giver Satan? Could the crown-giver be anyone other than God or Satan? If the crown-giver is in fact God, then the passive voice has a technical theological term. It is called the divine passive. A working assumption I employ is that whenever the passive voice appears in the Book of Revelation, it is always (or at least almost always) the divine passive. If that assumption is correct, then the crown-giver must necessarily be God. If I were asked why I think the passive voice in Revelation is (almost) always the divine passive, my response is because the Book of Revelation everywhere asserts the ultimate, supreme sovereignty of God; and because the passive voice deliberately obscures the actor behind an action, the divine passive alludes indirectly to the unrecognized and yet absolute sovereignty of God. Ultimately, if something — if anything occurs — it occurs because God allows it. Nothing occurs except that which God allows. Some find this claim disturbing, others comforting. 

Having said that, humility requires that I admit on this particular point I stand opposed to one of the very best New Testament interpreters, that is, Dr. Gordon D. Fee. When it comes to biblical interpretation, Dr. Fee would be a very formidable somebody indeed. Among many other writings, Fee co-authored the best-selling guide How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth. Fee believes that the mounted archer on the white horse cannot be Christ, because the Lamb opening the scrolls is already Christ. How then could Christ the Lamb be releasing himself as a mounted archer? 

Dr. Gordon D. Fee – Screenshot

To quote Fee: 

Christ is the Lamb who opens the seals, and therefore even in apocalyptic literature cannot at the same time be this horseman. Moreover, this horseman belongs to a sequence that finally ends in death and leads to the martyrs’ cry in verses 9-10. But if not Christ, who then? The best answer seems to be that John intends this figure to be a demonic parody of Christ, just as the beast in chapter 12 is presented as a parody of the Lamb. 

From p. 93 of Gordon D. Fee’s Revelation, in the New Covenant Commentary Series

In response to the esteemed Dr. Fee (my esteem is sincere; this is not meant to sound sarcastic), I want to observe that he does not actually take issue with my divine-passive claim, per se. In fact, I think he would probably admit that it is an interpretive point in my favor. Rather than address the divine-passive question, Fee rejects the idea that the mounted archer is Christ on a jumbled-and-blended symbolic basis. Fee thinks the notion of Christ the Lamb unveiling an image of Christ the Mounted Archer stretches and confuses the passage’s symbolism too much; and on that basis just doesn’t work. Okay, I understand, Dr. Fee, but what if you’re making an erroneous assumption about the timing of the two depictions? For example, I can show you a photo of myself as a small child dressed in a costume; and I can still be myself, even if the photo of little costumed me only vaguely resembles the middle-aged me of today. The same exact idea may be in play here. In Chapter Six, the New Testament Jesus presents John our Narrator with an image of himself from back in his Old Testament days.

Here are the scriptural references to God as an archer.

Moreover, it is not at all a problem that the seals sequence ends in death, because that is exactly what the Torah itself foretold would happen. At the end of Deuteronomy, the people of Israel are told in very exacting and terrifying terms what the result of covenant disobedience would be. Christ’s opening of the seals in Revelation Chapter Six just graphically portrays what once Deuteronomy foretold. Dr. Fee’s primary mistake, in my estimation, is that he does not realize that the unsealing of the seals refers backward in time to the Old Testament. But it does, as I shall attempt to continue to prove.

Israel’s Relevance or Irrelevance

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Is Israel currently relevant or irrelevant?

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. 

Hosea 3:4-5

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.  

The Demise of Milady Babylon

Friday, March 11, 2022

A piece in an art contest.

Milady Babylon’s days are numbered. 

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.

A painting from an art museum in California.

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.

According to Revelation 13:2, the Dragon (that is, Satan) empowers the Beast.

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.

Have a nice day. 🙂

City of Kyiv, Official Flag

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

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:

City of Kyiv, Ukraine – Official Flag

And here are all five of the biblical passages that reference Michael the Archangel:

Screen Shot from BibleGateway.Com

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.

Screen Shot – Statue of Michael the Archangel in Kyiv

What do you think? Is it of any prophetic or eschatological significance that Michael the Archangel symbolically represents the City of Kyiv?

A Reading Recommendation

Saturday, February 19, 2022

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.  

Sceen Shot

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.    

A Militant, Jealous, Gracious God

January 8, 2022

In the Book of Revelation, death is often not death.

Not What It Seems?

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.

Baptism Saves: 1 Peter 3:21

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? 

Conversion to Christ = A Death to Self

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.

The First of Seven Trumpets – Revelation 8:7

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? 


A Deadly Fire Breather from Revelation 9:17-18: One of the Good Guys or Bad Guys?

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.   

Ezekiel Versus Jesus

December 17, 2021

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. 

Jesus Christ and General Jackson

Thursday, June 10, 2021

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.