Does It Belong?

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Does It Belong? – Audio Version

Does the Book of Revelation actually belong in the Bible? 

For a while, the canonical status of the Book of Revelation was debated. From the second century to the early fourth century of the Church, Christian leaders were divided on whether the Book of Revelation truly belonged in the New Testament. Revelation was suspect back then for the same reason it is suspect now. The Book of Revelation confuses people. It is hard to understand, and thus lends itself to conjecture and attracts overly-enthusiastic ecclesiastical loony birds. It took a while for a general consensus to emerge that yes, weird though it may be, the Book of Revelation is an authentic prophecy. It is a genuine word from Christ, legitimately inspired by the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ himself really did appear in an authoritative canon-closing vision to an apostle named John while he was in exile on the Island of Patmos.

The fact, though, that some prominent early Christian Bishops were uncertain and hesitant about accepting the legitimacy of the Book of Revelation might prompt latter-day skeptics to second-guess its legitimacy anew. A question quietly crystalizes: “What if they got it wrong? What if those old Churchmen erred when they recognized Revelation as canonical?”

In response to that doubt, I think it is necessary to start by pushing back with a simple assertion: They were not wrong when they gave the Book of Revelation canonical status. They were right. The prophecy rightfully belongs in the New Testament.    

Okay… but my pious opinion and bland assertion will probably not convince anybody. Why should anyone take an unknown blogger’s word for it? So perhaps I ought to do a bit more work to convince my readers.

The first and most obvious test of its legitimacy is its historicity. As a piece of literature, is the Book of Revelation historically accurate? Or does it betray historical inaccuracies? The answer to that is yes, it is entirely historically accurate, and to a degree that does away with any doubt. The more a serious scholar researches the Book of Revelation, the more she or he realizes that it fits exactly in the time and place it claims for itself. No imposter came along later and wrote a bit of fiction that was spuriously spun as legitimate. A skeptic will look in vain for historical inaccuracies. There aren’t any. Go ahead and look into the archeology and cross-reference all the historical records. The Book of Revelation passes the test of historicity with flying colors. It is historical.  

Someone could reply, “Well, maybe so. Maybe it is historical legit; but just because the Book of Revelation is historical does not necessarily mean that John the Exile really had a genuine and authoritative vision of Jesus Christ. He might have just been delusional or tripping. Other than its historicity, on what basis should the Book of Revelation be accepted as canonical?”

Theology. The intricate and nuanced theology of the Book of Revelation establishes it as orthodox and legitimate. This is precisely the point where those crusty old Churchmen had a distinct advantage over many latter-day skeptics. Most of them knew the Bible very well. And their thorough knowledge of the Bible gave them the ability to detect theological deviations. 

Here I will turn to an illustration: Years ago I heard a sermon in which a preacher addressed the question of spiritual counterfeits. How can someone recognize a fake, a counterfeit? As an analogy, he claimed that the people who specialize in currency — in bank notes — are so familiar with the design and construction of authentic bank notes that they can spot the mistakes of counterfeits, and usually with ease. I do not actually know if the preacher was right about that, given that stores here now routinely test bank notes with special ink (and it annoys me when they do), but whatever. His intended point is valid and insightful all the same: Extended and habitual familiarity with the authentic makes it far easier to detect what is inauthentic. Those old Churchmen had extended and habitual familiarity with the content of the Bible. And by virtue of their extended and habitual familiarity with the other 65 books of the Bible they were able to come to a consensus: The Book of Revelation is indeed authentic prophecy. It passes the test of scrupulous theological scrutiny.

How can you be confident of that for yourself, though? Honestly, this point is where determined homework is simply unavoidable. You cannot know with any degree of confidence that the Book of Revelation is actually theologically sound unless you first know the other 65 canonical books of the Bible. This time I will confidently assert that point on the authority of my own extended and habitual familiarity with the Bible. The Book of Revelation definitely belongs in the canon of Scripture. I believe you will come to exactly the same conclusion as you grow in your own knowledge of the Bible.                         

Am I done? I thought I was. But I realize that I need to add one more point.

Academic knowledge, while necessary, is not enough. Academic knowledge is necessary, but not sufficient. There is an intuitive, subjective aspect to spiritual discernment that must be recognized and acknowledged. A theologian named Karl Barth once spoke about hearing the voice of God in Scripture. He said that one can know that the Bible is truly God’s word because God speaks through scripture. Barth even acknowledged that his claim could be called circular reasoning: “I know that the Bible is God’s word because I hear the word of God in the Bible.” Yes, that is a circular argument. But experientially, it is true. I do subjectively hear God speak through the Bible. No, I do not hear God speak audibly; but somehow I do discern the living word of God through Scripture. And it must be said to be subjective, because it only happens on a person-to-person basis. It happens to me, as an individual person, as I delve into Scripture. 

Those crusty old Churchmen had exactly that experience as they read the Book of Revelation, I dare suggest. Individually, they each experienced a nod from God. “Yes, this is the real thing. This is actually Jesus speaking, speaking to each one of us through this document.” Moreover, what validated each one’s subjective experience was the subsequent discovery that others had had the same subjective experience. And that is exactly how the Holy Spirit works — back and forth, individually and corporately, within a believer and in between believers. I hope and pray you have the same subjective experience as you read and listen to the Book of Revelation and the other 65 books of the Bible.  

Propeller Beanie

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Propeller Beanie – Audio Version

The Book of Revelation matters. It matters more than most people realize. The Book of Revelation matters more than most people realize because some of the key events which it describes are current events. Revelation symbolically describes events that you are likely to watch on television today, or read about on your digital device today. Significant portions of the Book of Revelation are not locked in the distant past nor safely set in the distant future, but are instead happening as you read this.

Yep, to make that claim might make me a propeller-beanie wacko. Or it might make me someone with genuine interpretive insight. Take your pick. Actually, don’t take your pick quite yet, because if you decide too quickly you are likely to come to the wrong conclusion. Hear me out instead, please.  

Revelation depicts a lewd prostitute that it calls Babylon, otherwise known as the Great Whore of Babylon. That wealth-obsessed prostitute was actually symbolic of the economically exploitive Roman Empire, back when the Book of Revelation was first written. But that same prostitute is also symbolic of an exploitive economic system that continues to this day. If that is indeed a correct interpretation, then Babylon is in the news every day, and may be soliciting you in your mailbox or inbox.    

Not Exactly a Beanie

Revelation also depicts an overreaching autocrat that it calls the Beast from the Sea, who is known elsewhere in the New Testament as Antichrist. At the time the Book of Revelation was first written that autocrat was personified in the Roman Emperor Domitian. But the Beast from the Sea is also “reincarnated” or reoccurring (figuratively, not literally) as the various self-aggrandizing dictators who have popped up again and again throughout history, including recent history, right up until the present day. If that is indeed a correct interpretation, then the Beast of the Sea is in the news (and potentially eavesdropping on his/her citizens) every single day. The Book of Revelation refers to the ultimate Beast from the Sea as the Beast from the Abyss, who is known elsewhere in the New Testament as the Man of Lawlessness.

Revelation also depicts a quasi-religious entity that it calls the Beast from the Earth, otherwise known as the False Prophet. Back when the Book of Revelation was first written, that False Prophet was especially manifest in the Roman Emperor Cult. But that same False Prophet has been “reincarnated” (figuratively, not literally) as the various quasi-religious institutions and individuals intent on making the populace bow in homage and submission to the Supreme Leader — whichever Supreme Leader, wherever, whenever. If this is indeed a correct interpretation, then the Beast from the Earth works especially in academia and the news media. It can be found throughout the cultural milieu every single day.      

In other words, the Book of Revelation symbolically portrays the world we live in, and is thus much, much more relevant than you might initially realize.

Discern the Days

Monday, January 25th, 2021

Discern the Days – Audio Version

Yesterday I went to a nearby church to hear a twenty-something-year-old pastor preach. His message ranks as one of the best I have heard in a long time. He preached about the urgent necessity of self-disciplined discernment — discernment pertaining to various news sources, including both broadcast news companies and social media. Although I think he may have avoided the actual word gullible, in effect he urged his congregants not to be gullible news recipients. He encouraged them to seek out the most-factual, least-biased news reporting possible, while insisting that there is no such thing as a completely objective source. He also suggested they choose to listen to diverse and contrarian voices, lest they only hear one bias on a given narrative. It was all very timely and wise advice, especially coming from such a young pastor. I thought he was quite courageous to wade into such a potentially volatile topic from the pulpit. My chief regret about his message had nothing to do with him. I mostly regret that more people were not present to hear his message. He spoke to a very small crowd.

If I had been tasked with giving the same message, I would have toyed with whether to talk about how we are to discern the times in which we live. His concern and mine do overlap somewhat, but are not one and the same. In his message, my young pastor friend was concerned about how we hear the news, that is, about what we perceive to be true and accurate news. I am concerned about that, as well. Doubtless, getting our facts straight is crucially important. Yet I am even more concerned about the grander, broader narrative in which we insert the various factoids which we glean from the daily or weekly news. 

To make my point here, I will use a river analogy. Imagine you are kayaking or canoeing on an unfamiliar river. Various people along the way shout bits of information to you about your immediate situation or your immediately-impending situation. One somewhat-suspicious character yells out, “Beware! There are lots of hungry alligators just ahead!” Another equally-suspicious person counters with, “The fishing hole just around the bend is absolutely fantastic! You should stop a while and fish there.” Whom do you believe? Should you pause to do some fishing or hurry along to avoid voracious alligators? Obviously, it matters greatly whom you choose to believe. But another, even more important consideration would be the anticipated end of the river itself. What if there are treacherous rapids and a dangerous waterfall ahead? Or what if the river empties soon into a placid lake or a beautiful ocean? Knowing that either scenario is true (or at least likely) will change your kayaking calculus quite a bit. 

If the first scenario were believed to be true — if you suspected that treacherous rapids and a dangerous waterfall were soon ahead of you — it might be high time to get to the next dock, regardless of the voracious alligators or the prospect of fine fishing. Neither reputed fact would be as important as getting to the next dock. 

Alternatively, if the second scenario were believed to be true — if you suspected that the river soon ends in a placid lake or a beautiful ocean — your one aim might be to push ahead and push through, regardless of the alligators or the prospect of a fine fishing hole.      

In either case, your anticipated end can significantly change how you perceive your immediate situation or your immediately-impending situation. 

Does the Book of Revelation tell us anything about the end of the river? Does the Book of Revelation help us discern when the end of the river is near? Consider that question carefully. How you answer it might determine how you respond to the news reports you hear.

I argue that the Book of Revelation does help us discern when the end of the river is near. Indeed, I would assert that the Book of Revelation was given to the Church for that very reason. God wants us to be able to discern the End of the Age as it draws near. If that claim comes across as wacky or weird to you, my counter-question would simply be, “Then among the other books of the New Testament, do you believe the Book of Revelation has a unique and distinct purpose? If so, what do you believe that purpose to be?” Again, I believe that the Book of Revelation is in the Bible to help the Church discern the times, and especially to help us recognize when the End is near. To say so is by no means a claim to establish an exact date, but is instead to claim that God has done us the favor of giving the watchful a descriptive and specific heads-up. Otherwise, the Book of Revelation seems to serve little-to-no discernibly distinctive purpose in comparison to the rest of the Bible, other than to perhaps confound and perplex interpreters. If that last sentence is an overstatement, I hope it still carries my point.

Now, to be very specific about the time in which we find ourselves, I wonder if (and even strongly suspect that) we are living in a prophesied period in which the Church appears to be defeated and done. Does Revelation actually teach that the Church will appear to be defeated? That is exactly how I read Revelation 11:1-10. And if it matters to my readers or listeners, a lot of other well-respected interpreters read this passage precisely the same way, which is to say that my interpretation here is not obscure, nor lightly dismissed. Major interpreters understand the Two Witnesses figuratively, just like me. They say the Two Witnesses must be the Church. Immediately before the Two Witnesses are resurrected and taken to heaven, the Witnesses are somehow conquered and killed by the Beast from the Abyss. Do not misunderstand me here. I am not saying that we should all expect to be killed. This is a figurative interpretation, and not a literal interpretation. Not every Christian dies; we know that from other passages in the New Testament, such as 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 and 1 Corinthians 15:51-53. But the Church of Christ will appear so defeated to its enemies that they will exult in celebration over their triumph, and even exchange gifts with one another. The more I see the Church persecuted around the world — persecuted both politically and culturally — the more I wonder if this is all happening right before our eyes. But to come to such a conclusion does require a figurative reading of Revelation 11:1-10, not a literal reading.

If my readers and listeners are willing to entertain the possibility that my suggested reading of Revelation 11 might be correct and may fit our current time, then I would suggest that the practical implications are straightforward. We need to be calling people to repentance, while there is still time for them to repent. Granted, if anyone does run with this interpretation, she or he might come across as “a bit much” to those around them. Therefore, one has to decide how to approach others. I choose to blog about it.     

Audacity

Friday, January 22nd, 2021

Audacity – Audio Version

Sometimes you should not show your cards. Sometimes you should. Most of the time you only show the select cards that you believe will benefit you. But both my amateur observations and this card-shark analogy hinge on the presumption that you, the player, are completely invested in your preferred game — that you’re in it to win it. But what if you’re not? What if you’re only in the game for the sake of another player? And what if you do not care if you lose?

When playing games, sometimes I do not care if I win. Sometimes I even want the other player to win. That is true especially if and when I am playing against a child. However, there are times I dearly want to win, so much so that I will go to great lengths to achieve victory. Years ago, my wife beat me in chess — not once, but multiple times. This was entirely unacceptable. My ego was badly bruised. I needed to find a way to beat her. Finally, I managed to pull out a victory. Somehow I did win one game. To this day, I cannot be sure whether I really won outright, or whether she let her childish, overly-invested husband win.

Anyway, I deliberately embarrass myself here because honest introspection is good for the haughty soul. Sometimes ego gets the best of me. When it does, some form of humiliation usually follows shortly thereafter, if not immediately. And we witness that same predictable theme play out repeatedly on the stage of history. In the King James’ idiom, “Pride cometh before a fall.” Yes, it does, again and again.

But the line between pride and due confidence is not always obvious. Sometimes we believe someone to be proud or arrogant when that person is not, but is instead duly confident. For example, my wife is quite good at chess. She really is. And she has ample reason for self-confidence, when it comes to the game of chess (among other things). Yet she is never arrogant about it, nor boastful. If, however, she were to say to you, “I stand a very good chance of beating most people in a game of chess,” she would be right, IMHO. She will not say that, though, so I will say it for her here. You’re welcome, my Dear.

Why am I talking about this? You may be wondering that, at this point. I am talking about this because this blog sometimes gets me in trouble with people I know. Most people are too polite to say so outright, but they believe there is a certain amount of audacity for anyone to claim what I claim. And what is it I claim? I claim that my readers or listeners can learn relevant and important information about very, very controversial sections of Scripture from audacious me. The simple act of posting what I routinely post shows a lot of audacity, perhaps even hubris. Who do I think that I am? A fair question, actually. But most people are too polite and too conflict-avoidant to directly ask that question. That’s okay: If I were in their shoes, I would not ask it either, so I will ask it for them. 

The straight answer to that (usually unspoken) question is this: Rightly or wrongly, I honestly believe that I must blog what I blog. Writing what I do gets me nowhere professionally (at least, not thus far). Nonetheless, the spread of the dread virus affords me the opportunity and time to blog, so blog I will. And my understanding of Scripture is what I sincerely believe I have to offer my readers and listeners, as I have given a lot of time to the pursuit.

That said, there is only one way for anyone to know if what I have to say is actually worthwhile. You have to read it and take the time to consider it. Some people do, for which I am quite grateful. And if you have read or listened to me thus far, thank you. 

Now I am going to show a few of my key cards. I am going to point out exactly where I know most of the experts are likely to disagree with me. And when I say the experts, I mean it. I have read most of the esteemed interpreters of Revelation. Perhaps I should say most of the esteemed interpreters who are published in English (as opposed to German; but most of the German interpreters and theologians eventually get translated into English). Here’s a big card: Most of the esteemed experts would either be uncertain or dismissive of how I interpret the Seven Trumpets, a section of Revelation stretching from the beginning of Chapter 8 to the end of Chapter 11. Yet I will contend that the Seven Trumpets are where I have important insights to offer. And I hope that I can convince some of my readers and listeners to recognize the value of those insights. Yes, I need to be more specific. But I need to take a step back first.

In terms of organization, the Book of Revelation has four sets of seven scenes. The first Set of Seven has to do with the Seven Churches of Asia. This is the least controversial of the four sets. I follow most Evangelical interpreters closely regarding this first set, except that I claim that the respective angel of each of the churches is actually the pastor or bishop. That is a minor point, though. And most of the big interpreters will recognize that my observation might have validity.

Four Sets of Seven Scenes

The second Set of Seven has to do with the Seven Seals of the Scroll, which are broken in succession by the worthy sacrificed Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. Interpreters are all over the place in explaining this set of seven. I understand it as having to do with the progressive historical fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.

The third Set of Seven is the Seven Trumpets. This is where I believe I can make an important interpretive contribution. As with the Seven Seals, the esteemed interpreters are all over the place in explaining the Seven Trumpets. I understand the Seven Trumpets as having to do with the progressive historical fulfillment of New Testament prophecy, specifically prophecy concerning the Church and its mission. If you were to go read the Seven Trumpets now, there is a very good chance you will think I am crazy to say what I do. But you will probably miss the symbolism, because you will probably be thinking too literally. Each of the Seven Trumpets is symbolic; and the symbolism is only to be deciphered by looking back to Old Testament references, and, to a certain extent, to portions of the New Testament. Everything I claim here depends on a symbolic, cross-referential reading of the Seven Trumpets. That bears repeating: It all depends upon a symbolic, cross-referential reading of the Seven Trumpets. Yes, I do need to flesh that out for you. And I have fleshed it out in a previous blog post; see Eighteen Interpretive Insights, dated September 8th 2020. 

The fourth Set of Seven in the Book of Revelation is the Seven Bowls of Wrath, which is found in Revelation Chapters 15 and 16. I understand the Seven Bowls of Wrath pertain to the awful events that occur in a fearsome period of time after Christ has returned for the Church, but before Christ has returned with the Church. Notice the wording and the distinction there: returned for versus returned with. I believe Christ does take the Church away for a brief time.       

Of course, there is much more material in Revelation to explain. But this should be a helpful introductory overview for any reader of Revelation. You should know that these four sets of seven are there, and that they each need to be interpreted. The last three sets of seven are sequential in historical chronology, in my reading: first the Old Testament, then the New Testament, and then a very brief, very intense, very terrifying period of time before Christ himself comes to visibly and physically establish the Kingdom of God on Earth. In a nutshell, that is how I understand the bulk of the Book of Revelation.    

The Château Apocalypto

The Château Apocalypto and its Four Grand Pavilions

The Château Apocalypto, Audio Version

Welcome to the Château Apocalypto, where time and space stand as no impediment whatsoever to your reliable and knowledgable extraterrestrial guide.

At the Château Apocalypto, your extraterrestrial guide will take you on a breathtaking tour of not just one, not just two, not three, but all four of our Grand Pavilions, each pavilion in its proper sevenfold sequence, one pavilion after the other. 

In the first Grand Pavilion of the Château Apocalypto our reliable and knowledgable guide will spirit you and your fellow travelers back in time nineteen centuries, where you go from city to city a total of seven times, in a diagnostic tour of the Seven Luminary Churches of Græco-Roman Asia. During your tour, you will be asked this most challenging and introspective question, “Of these seven luminary churches, which is most like me and my own community?”

In the second Grand Pavilion of the Château Apocalypto our guide will deliver you and yours straight up to highest Heaven — narratively, that is — where you will witness the indescribable beauty of the Throne of the Almighty and there behold a most worthy sacrificial Lamb, a Lamb who progressively breaks open the shocking and somewhat disturbing seven seals to an entirely important, yea, wholly determinative document — a document that unfurls before you in the telling form of an Ancient Scroll. Reassuringly for you, the sacrificial Lamb asserts his hard-won authority over the seven somewhat disturbing seals of the scroll and its exacting contents.    

Worthy is the Lamb.

In the third Grand Pavilion of the Château Apocalypto our guide will direct you and the rest our guests to gaze downward from your heavenly vantage point upon the earth below. You will be given Heaven’s own perspective on seven of the most significant events in all of human history, each of which is heralded with a Conqueror’s trumpet blast. These seven chronological events unfold during the Church’s wilderness sojourn, beginning shortly after the ascension of the Messiah and ending with his second advent or Parousia. This advent coincides with the resurrection and immediate ascension of the Church herself, an event otherwise known as the Rapture. As it so happens, you are currently living during the midst of the sixth, penultimate trumpet event — an exciting time indeed to follow the Lamb and participate in His conquests!     

Between the third and the fourth pavilions, your guide will prepare you for a difficult and troublesome period. He will personally escort you and your fellow travelers through that difficult and dark season ahead. Your guide will give you an up-close-and-personal preview of the sinister characters and the intense hardships that the followers of the Lamb must endure during the period immediately preceding and immediately following the seventh and final trumpet blast. Although this is an extremely difficult transitional period, it is necessary to endure it, if you desire to make it safely to the Coming Kingdom. And please believe us, you definitely do want to have a place in that Kingdom! Its rewards far outweigh any temporary hardship someone may have to endure.

In the fourth and final Grand Pavilion of the Château Apocalypto, you and your fellow guests will again watch from the safety of Heaven as the deceptive Beast from the Abyss and the pitiful Inhabitants of the Earth are subjected sequentially to the seven bowls of the wrath of God. This is every bit as terrifying a spectacle as it sounds. And yet it is God’s way of demonstrating his righteousness to the Inhabitants of the Earth and of vindicating his faithful followers.

However, the fourth and final Grand Pavilion is not our travelers’ final destination in the Château Apocalypto. Beyond the final Grand Pavilion, the Kingdom of God and a great Eternal City await you, where the Lamb will rule with his saints, and the Almighty will forever reside with those who have faithfully followed God.     

A Sad Old Commentary

Audio Version of A Sad Old Commentary

The word commentary — what does it mean to you? What comes to mind when someone mentions that word? Do you think of a thick, old, rarely-opened reference book that stands unnoticed on a library shelf somewhere, alongside others of its kind, waiting, waiting, waiting, indefinitely waiting in tedious silence, gathering dust, feeling ever sadder and unfulfilled? I do. When I think of a commentary, that is exactly what comes to mind. And although I have been told that books have no feelings nor longings nor pangs of forlorn grief, I am nonetheless inclined to feel pity for sad, neglected, unnoticed commentaries. The months, the years of waiting for a reader must be nigh to insufferable.

Sympathies aside, however, perhaps commentaries go unnoticed for a reason. Most library browsers do not see the particular pertinence of said commentaries, I would venture to say. Otherwise, they would not go neglected. What is a sad, dry, aging commentary even good for? Why bother paging through a commentary? More often than not, commentaries are just books about other books. Sometimes commentaries are even books about books about books. I beg you: Try not to let that confuse you. I will make that concept of bookish regress less abstract in just a few sentences. Though it is not a book, this here blog post is about a particular commentary, which, in turn, is about a New Testament book, yea, the 27th and terminal book. In other words, what you are reading is my own commentary, about a very old commentary, about an even older book.

Hang it there, please. Thinking it through backwards might help. The book at the terminus is the Book of Revelation. The commentary in the middle is Andreas of Caesarea’s Commentary on the Apocalypse. And the blog post most immediate is what you have before you. Simple enough; yes?

Okay then: Now why should you care about what some old, old churchman from Caesarea of Cappadocia said nearly 1400 years ago? And where in the world is this Caesarea of Cappadocia? Starting with the last question first, the city of Caesarea was located not too far from the seven cities mentioned at the beginning of Revelation. Today it is known as Kayseri, Turkey. And as for why should you care about what Andreas of Caesarea had to say about the Book of Revelation, that is a fair question; and I am glad you asked. Many of my readers/listeners probably have never even heard of Andreas of Caesarea before, I suppose. Andreas is otherwise known in the English speaking world as Andrew. The most concise answer as to why you should care about what Andreas-Andrew of Caesarea had to say is this: Andreas-Andrew of Caesarea wrote the first, good, complete, surviving commentary about the Book of Revelation ever, in all of commentary history. Again, Andrew’s Commentary on the Apocalypse was the first, good, complete, surviving commentary.

Yes, I had to write it exactly that way. His commentary is not really the first known commentary on Revelation in history. It is the first good commentary. It is also complete, insofar as it covers the entire Book of Revelation from its first verse to its last. And somewhat surprisingly, it has survived nearly fifteen hundred years. If those four factors are taken together — its age, its quality, its complete-ness, and its having-survived-ness — Andreas of Caesarea’s Commentary on the Apocalypse understandably prompts interest among Book of Revelation aficionados and scholars, even wannabe scholars, like yours truly.

Put another way and summarized a bit, Andreas of Caesarea gives us an open window into how the Book of Revelation was read early-on and understood by Christians very long ago. How, then, did people long ago make sense of the Book of Revelation? Given that they lived much closer to when it was written, did Andreas and the Christians of his day understand the Book of Revelation any better than us today? Or did they understand it worse than us today?  

The answer to that question really depends on whom you count as us today, because we have a wide variety of interpretations circulating today, as you may be aware. Some of our current interpretations are pretty good, while others, not so much.   

Until recently, English speakers did not have immediate lingual access to Andreas-Andrew’s commentary. But about five years ago (that is, in 2015) a good translation from the original Greek was published. The translator’s name is Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou. She is now a professor of New Testament at a seminary in beautiful San Diego, California.  

Within the last 12 days, I acquired Constantinou’s translation of Andreas’s commentary in an electronic format and began to read it. In particular, I wanted to learn how Andreas interprets some of the more controversial and difficult passages in Revelation. (Incidentally, I also want to know how his working manuscript of Revelation compares with what we now have.) Thus far, I have found what he says insightful and intriguing. That’s not to say that I think he is frequently right. He is not; and one reason he is not frequently right is because he commits himself early on to a particular chronology or textual timeline. Andreas believes that after the first three chapters the rest of the Book of Revelation must necessarily reference the future, and not the past. Because of his commitment to a futurist understanding, Andreas misreads entire sections of the book, IMHO. But then again, a lot interpreters do the same thing today: They commit themselves to a futurist chronology (or alternatively, to a long past chronology), and then attempt to force everything in Revelation to fit that pre-selected chronology. Alas, if an interpreter’s assumed chronology is faulty or skewed it will always distort how the Book of Revelation is read and understood. Yet choosing a chronology is unavoidable, as Revelation by its very nature does require chronological decisions from any would-be interpreter. 

Although I disagree with his chronological scheme, I must say that Andreas’s reading is theologically sophisticated, and surprisingly so. In his favor, Andrew-Andreas understands that much of the Book of Revelation must be read symbolically. And he constantly endeavors to explain the various symbols. I am not surprised by that, though. He was (probably) a native Greek speaker; and knowledge of Greek makes the symbolic nature of Revelation all the more obvious. Sadly, English and English translations often stand in our way of understanding aspects of the Book of Revelation. Sad, but true.    

Finally and to be fair, Andrew-Andreas does get some very important things right. For example, he correctly explains that the introductory benediction in 1:4-5 can be understood as trinitarian, noting that “the One who is, and was, and is to come” can be understood in verse four to refer specifically to the Father, and that the Seven Spirits can be understood as “the activity of the Live-Giving Spirit,” and that Jesus Christ “became a man for our sake,” by which Andreas implies Jesus’ pre-existent divinity. Andreas thus interprets the book’s introductory benediction as a person-by-person-by-person depiction of the Trinity, which is exactly right and how it ought to be understood. Andreas nails the benediction.    

Screenshot of the Commentary

All of these are just a few of my initial reading observations, though. I do look forward to learning more about Andrew-Andreas of Caesarea (Caesarea in Cappadocia, that is) and reading more of the English translation of his Commentary on the Apocalypse.

In conclusion, even very old commentaries should be appreciated, picked up, and read. It makes them feel purposeful, appreciated, and far less lonely. They also have more to offer than you might assume.

Dual Recipients

Audio Version


What do a distasteful beverage, a clueless customer, an immature child, an impolite host, a triumphant conqueror, and an attentive listener all have in common? Not much, except that through John, Jesus used all six of these illustrations in quick succession to depict, correct, and inspire the Church of Laodicea and its Messenger (see Revelation 3:14-22).

The Messenger of the Church of Laodicea is like a distasteful, disgusting beverage, neither hot nor cold, which (or who) is at real risk of being spat out. 

The Messenger of the Church of Laodicea is like a completely clueless customer who must first be informed of his or her embarrassing lack of discernment, and then be advised as to what he or she actually needs to acquire. 

The Messenger of the Church of Laodicea is like an immature (and perhaps naughty) child in need of firm correction and discipline from a loving disciplinarian. 

The Messenger of the Church of Laodicea is like an impolite host who leaves an invited (and very important!) dinner guest waiting and knocking at the front door. 

The Messenger of the Church of Laodicea might eventually be a triumphant conqueror.

And anyone hearing Jesus’ message to the Church of Laodicea and its Messenger should be an especially attentive listener. 

Suffice to say, to deliver his message to the Church of Laodicea and its Messenger, Jesus used a lot of short sermon illustrations. 

But I ought to make an aside. Why do I insist on being so wordy? Why do I keep referring to the Messenger of the Church of Laodicea, when I could cut out the extra three words and simplify it to just the Church of Laodicea? Good question. And the answer is this: I want my readers and listeners to catch what gets otherwise omitted, almost every time, in English-speaking settings. Grammatically, it is very clear that Jesus is not addressing the whole congregation of believers at Laodicea — at least, not immediately and directly. Jesus is not speaking directly to the Laodicean church en masse. He is instead speaking first and foremost to someone who is the individual messenger of the church.

But why does that matter?

It matters because the grammatical onus of the passage is clearly on an individual, on the individual messenger, who must personally make necessary personal and corporate changes. This messenger is probably otherwise and more commonly known as the pastor. When the messenger or pastor makes necessary personal and corporate changes, the whole congregation will be better as a result. Thus Jesus’ message indicates that good church leadership matters, and that church leaders sometimes need words of correction — even public correction.

Alternatively and admittedly, the messenger could possibly be understood as a collective singular. While this is a more abstract concept, it basically means that the collective church is personified as a single individual. Maybe this is how we are supposed to understand it. Maybe. But it begs the crucial question of why the singular-collective ambiguity would be used there in the text at all. Jesus could just have spoken to the churches using plural pronouns and plural grammatical forms in general. It is easy to do and would have been much simpler, if indeed the whole church is intended. But no, singular pronouns and singular forms are always used, as if Jesus is speaking to an individual person (which I contend, he is). Therefore, the consistent use of singular grammatical forms points to an intended individual recipient, who is best understood as the leader of the church. (Yes, I do wonder why this grammatical point is so hard for English speakers to accept. It is there for the finding.)

But then again, there is an even better and more nuanced way to understand Jesus’ message to the Messenger at the Church of Laodicea. We can and should read it as applicable to both the individual messenger and the entire congregation. Jesus’ message is meant for both an individual leader and for an entire congregation. Yes, Jesus is speaking most immediately and primarily to an individual messenger, who holds a position of ecclesiastical leadership. But Jesus is also speaking indirectly to the whole congregation. Since the message is supposed to be read publicly, the congregation is meant to overhear it, and take it to heart as far as it applies. If the shoe fits… the listeners should each wear it together. Thus the onus is not entirely on the individual leader. It is also on the congregation, personally and corporately. When we hear and read the Message to the Church of Laodicea in particular, and the Messages to the Seven Churches in general, we do well to keep this intended duality in mind. With each of Jesus’ messages, two recipients per church are intended: the individual leader and the whole congregation. We should strive to keep each of the recipients in view, without forfeiting one for the other.  

Perhaps another time we can look at Jesus’ interesting illustration of an impolite host, who leaves an important dinner guest (that is, Jesus himself) waiting and knocking at the front door.

Why Frogs?

Why Frogs? Audio Version

In Revelation 16:13-15, our vision narrator John sees three unclean spirits like frogs jump, or perhaps, ooze out of the mouths of the abysmal, evil pseudo-trinity. Whether they emerge simultaneously or each in turn, these three unclean frog-like spirits slip from the mouth of the serpentine Dragon, from the mouth of the despotic Beast, and from the mouth of the pretentious Pseudo-Prophet.

Revelation’s listeners are informed that the three unclean frog-like spirits are demonic spirits who perform something called signs. But exactly what sort of signs do they perform? We are not told, so we are left to wonder and to speculate. Their signs will probably seem astonishing and even miraculous. At the very least, they will be persuasively compelling. The three sign-performing frog-like unclean spirits will go out and abroad to summon, beguile, and gather a massive military coalition from here, there, and everywhere, on orders from the world’s mesmerized political leaders. And thus, having been persuaded, beguiled, and lured by the three frog-like spirits, the Kings of the Earth, along with their minions and massive armies, will assemble for the renown Battle of Armageddon, the fearsome climatic battle of battles to end the age. The Battle of Armageddon coincides with the Great Day of God, the Almighty. 

And then, a sudden, unexpected parenthetical interruption in Chapter Sixteen occurs. A Voice interrupts this sweeping, bewildering, awesome narrative to forewarn Revelation’s readers and listeners, “Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be seen, shamefully exposed.” 

Huh?

Question, questions, questions — for inquisitive interpreters, this passage prompts not only awe and bewilderment, but also a bunch of questions.  

So where do we even start? What are we to make of all the elements in this passage? How are we to comprehend it?

For my purposes in this blog-cast, I want to focus narrowly on the frog-like unclean spirits. The most immediate question I wish to address is this: Why are the unclean spirits said to resemble frogs? I ask that on the assumption that no details go wasted in the Book of Revelation. If a detail is there in the text, it is never incidental or unimportant. Every detail in Revelation is intentional and has meaning. Every detail in Revelation conveys part of a message. Of that, I am thoroughly convinced.

Why, then, are these three unclean spirits said to resemble frogs? 

One possible reason why these unclean spirits are likened to frogs is because frogs are noisy nocturnal creatures. Frogs are croaking creatures of the night. Frogs become especially noisy as daylight fades and darkness falls. Similarly, these three unclean spirits will be especially active and clamorous at the end of the age. I find this reason somewhat persuasive.

A second reason why these three unclean spirits might be likened to frogs is because of the role that frogs play in the pagan mythologies of both Greece and Egypt. In ancient Egyptian mythology, frogs were associated with fertility and with the afterlife. In Hellenistic mythology, frogs were associated with the underworld and Hades. Consequently, the link between frogs and evil spirits would have come as no surprise to Revelation’s first listeners, most of whom were very familiar with pagan mythologies. While interesting, this reason is not satisfactory in and of itself, because other mythological creatures could have been referenced just as readily. However, it does lend persuasive weight to some other reasons.

A third reason why the three unclean spirits are likened to frogs is because of how frogs are featured in the account of the Ten Plagues on Egypt. The Plague of the Invasive Frogs is the second of the ten plagues (see Exodus 8:1-15). Very significantly, by means of their secret arts, the Egyptian magicians could somehow replicate the Plague of the Invasive Frogs. Using demonic sorcery, they could fabricate the same sign. They fabricated frogs, or, more likely, coaxed them from the Nile’s swamps, irrigation canals, and fields. The magicians matched Moses with the same miraculous sign, or something very, very similar. But then they were done. That was it. The fabrication of frogs was the grand finale of their imitative ability. After the plague of the frogs, the Egyptian magicians could replicate no more. Instead, when they attempted to replicate the third plague, the Plague of the Pesky Gnats, the Egyptian magicians had to admit defeat, and informed Pharaoh (in Exodus 8:19), “This is the finger of God!”

This, I believe, is the key interpretive connection we are supposed to make. By means of their unclean frog-like spirits, the abysmal satanic pseudo-trinity will fabricate miraculous signs that will be very, very convincing. They will sway and persuade people — including very important people in high government positions — with displays of astonishing power. Yet like the Egyptian magicians of old, the satanic pseudo-trinity will actually be limited in their powers.

If this is indeed the correct interpretation, I should mention that you might not be present here on Earth when all this occurs. I hope not to be here. I hope you won’t be here, either. Do you remember the Voice in Revelation 16:15 that says, “Behold, I am coming like a thief…”? That voice is Jesus speaking. One way to make sense of his out-of-nowhere narrative interruption is to interpret it as an urgent forewarning to his listeners and readers. It is a forewarning that includes the prospect of an escape. He is coming like a thief. Many people will not anticipate his coming and will not be ready. They will be (to use a dread phrase) left behind. But those who are ready and waiting — those who are awake and dressed — they will escape all the horrors, the deception, and the suffering that will occur during the tumultuous period of the Seven Bowls of Wrath. 

All of this assumes that the Seven Trumpets and the Seven Bowls of Wrath are distinct and successive periods of time, with the Seven Trumpets of Conquest coming first and the Seven Bowls of Wrath following. In my interpretation of Revelation, I do go with that assumption. And I will argue that what separates the Seven Trumpets from the Seven Bowls is the return of Christ and the resurrection/rapture of the Church. But to explain that particular chronology requires a blog-cast (or two or three), and thus must wait for another time.

Mouth, Twenty Two Times Over

Audio Version

In the Book of Revelation, you can distinguish the godly from the ungodly by what comes out of their mouth, or goes into it. Do not take my word for it, though. Study it out for yourself.

Matters of the Mouth

But I will help you. You might do a book-wide word study. As you might expect, one key word you need to study is mouth. In Revelation, the word mouth appears twenty-two times. To save you a lot of time, I will list every instance now:

1:16 2:16 3:16 9:17 9:18 9:19 10:9 10:10 11:5 12:15 12:16 (twice)

13:2 (twice) 13:5 13:6 14:5 16:13 (three times) 19:15 19:21

Here is the word in Greek.

Now I will list in narrative order whose mouth is referenced, and what is said or done:

1. Christ – who has a two-edged sword coming from his mouth.

2. Christ – who will fight against the heretic Nicolaitans with the sword of his mouth, unless they repent.

3. Christ – who might vomit out the lukewarm messenger from the Church of Laodicea.

4. The Chimæra Cavalry – from the mouths of whom come fire, smoke, and sulfur (reminiscent of and probably referential to the judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah – see Genesis 19:24-29).

5. The Chimæra Cavalry – who slay a third of humanity with the fire, smoke, and sulfur that comes from their mouths.

6. The Chimæra Cavalry – who have power in their mouth and in their serpent-like tails.

7. John, the Narrator – in whose mouth the small scroll will be as sweet as honey.

8. John, the Narrator – in whose mouth the small scroll was as sweet as honey.

9. The Two Martyr-Witnesses – from whose mouth comes fire, which devours their enemies.

10. The Dragon-Serpent Satan – who hurls water like a river from his mouth, in order to sweep away the woman, the mother of the male child Christ.

11. The Earth – which opens its mouth to swallow the river hurled from the mouth of the dragon.

12. The Dragon – whose mouth-hurled river of water is swallowed by the mouth of the Earth.

13. The Beast from the Sea – whose mouth was like a lion’s mouth.

14. The Beast from the Sea – who has a mouth like a lion.

15. The Beast from the Sea – who was given a mouth to utter arrogant words and blasphemies.

16. The Beast from the Sea – who opens his mouth in blasphemies against God, his name, and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven.

17. The 144,00 Soldier-Saints — in whose mouth no lie is found, for they are blameless.

18. The Dragon – from whose mouth three unclean frog-like spirits proceed.

19. The Beast – from whose mouth three unclean frog-like spirits proceed.

20. The False Prophet – from whose mouth three unclean frog-like spirits proceed.

21. Christ – from whose mouth extends a sharp sword, with which he strikes the nations.

22. Christ, the Rider on the White Horse – who slays the armies of the Beast and the Kings of the Earth with the sword from his mouth.

In Revelation the Dragon does not emit fire.

Here are some of my observations and interpretations:

Notice that a sharp double-edged sword comes from Jesus’ mouth. A reference to Isaiah 49:2 and Hebrews 4:12, the sharp double-edged sword is the Word of God, and is alternatively a surgical tool or a lethal weapon.

Fire comes from the mouths of the Chimæra Cavalry and from the mouth of the Two Martyr Witnesses. Fire most often symbolizes the Holy Spirit of God in Revelation. The fiery imagery probably references Deuteronomy 4:24 and Hebrews 12:29, both of which say that God is a Consuming Fire. Thus the Holy Spirit might well be the deadly, devouring fire that issues from both the Chimæra Cavalry and the Martyr Witnesses. If so, the Cavalry and the Witnesses could be one and the same entity, that is, the Church. That which issues from the mouth of the Church consumes or devours its enemies. This notion definitely does not work if taken literally: The Church does not and should not go around physically incinerating its opponents with fire. However, it does work if taken figuratively: When we are faithful witnesses, we do bring an ego-exterminating, life-transforming, Spirit-empowered message. Yes, we do. At least, we ought to.

The small scroll is the unique revelation contained in the Book of Revelation. This, in particular, is what John was given to internalize, to write, and to narrate. The small scroll reveals what the end of Daniel conceals, that is, important details about and instructions regarding the eschaton, the end of the age.

The dragon-serpent Satan does not breathe fire. On the contrary, he spews or, more literally, hurls water from his mouth. Is that because the dragon wants to extinguish transformative flame of the Spirit? Yes, I believe so. The dragon-serpent wants to quench the fire of the Spirit.

The Earth opens its mouth and swallows the river of water from the dragon-serpent. Historically, Satan’s attempts to silence and to kill the servants of God has often been frustrated by obedient, courageous acts of earthly concealment. Sometimes the scriptures have been buried or hidden away. Sometimes the messengers of God have hidden themselves in the wilderness or underground. Sometimes innocents have similarly been protected from would-be assailants.

The Beast from the Sea has a mouth like a lion. He utters arrogant boasts and blasphemies. This hubris means that the evil political autocrat of the hour will invariably resort to deception, coercion, violence, and destruction. Every generation has at least one such antichrist. An ultimate antichrist, known in Revelation as the Beast from the Abyss, will be someday be revealed. This antichrist will be particularly intent upon and adept at silencing the Church.

The 144,00 soldier-saints are shown to be blameless by what comes from their mouths. This is the Church at rest in heaven and in victory. These are the elect saints who have already completed their course. These are those who have overcome the Dragon by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony, and by loving not their lives, even unto death (see 12:11). These are the same victorious saints who will return to Earth someday with Christ.

The Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet comprise an end-times pseudo-trinity. In chorus and conjunction, the three will somehow emit three unclean frog-like spirits from their mouths. I have to admit that I do not understand exactly what this means, other than to say that this pseudo-trinity seems to deliver a particularly potent, deceptive final message or call.

And finally, we circle back to the conquering King of Kings, Jesus Christ, who ultimately overcomes and slays his enemies with the sharp sword from his mouth (19:20-21). The fact that Christ removes his enemies ought not surprise us. And given Christ’s actual and utter righteousness, that fact should not even bother us. It is as it ought to be. He is entirely good and deserving. Therefore, no one should stand in opposition against him. As the King of Kings, Christ must eventually rid his kingdom of all would-be rivals, and eliminate all his enemies. The only question is how a rebel meets his or her end. Will an individual rebel die in submission to Christ’s word or die in defiance to it? Will you voluntarily die to yourself in contrite surrender to the Word of God? Or will you go down asserting your own righteousness in defiance to Christ? The first sort of death, though it does indeed entail death to the ego, turns out to be not much of a death at all. The one who dies in voluntary submission to the Word of Christ does not suffer complete personal annihilation, but instead emerges a transformed person. Those who have yielded to Christ will testify that their submission to his authoritative word was well worth the temporary pangs of death. Alternatively, the second sort of death — the unyielding, defiant death — is a much deeper death, where no hope of escape is mentioned, and the certainty of exacting punishment is assured. In the end, no one will oppose Christ any longer. If Christ were in any way unrighteous or unworthy, that claim would be entirely disturbing and unnerving. But Christ is altogether good and righteous. He is wholly deserving of our allegiance and of our ready submission. Someday Christ will subdue and eliminate all his enemies. That is very good news.

Wonder Woman

Audio Version
Interpretive Minds Want to Know: Who is this Wondrous Woman?

As a rule and whenever possible, I use Scripture to interpret Scripture. That’s especially true with the Book of Revelation. Revelation is constantly referencing prior Scripture. Once an interpreter gets a hold of that fact, interpretation of Revelation becomes a matter of looking back to the scriptural allusions and references, and then connecting the dots into a coherent design. 

Following Galatians 4:21-31, the Astronomical Wonder Woman in Revelation Chapter Twelve should be interpreted as the Covenant of Promise. In Galatians 4 the Apostle Paul is arguing for the primacy and superiority of the Covenant of Promise over against the Law of Moses. God’s covenant with Abraham comes before and is better than God’s covenant with the Nation of Israel. Both Christ and the Church are born from the Covenant of Promise. As Christians, we are not Children of the Law of Moses, but Children of the Covenant of Promise. Allegorically, She is our Mother. We are the seed of one covenant, not the other. We are children of promise. We are children of The Promise — the ancient promise to elderly Abraham and Sarah (see Genesis 15:5-6; Genesis 18:10-15). Therefore, Revelation Chapter Twelve draws directly upon Paul here.

Am I wrong to suggest that Revelation Twelve might be alluding the a Pauline illustration? No. In fact, it is quite likely that Revelation would draw upon a known New Testament allegory. Galatia was not far from the Roman Province of Asia. By the time Revelation was written and circulating, the Churches of Asia were familiar with all of Paul’s epistles. Moreover, I believe Revelation also alludes to the Book of Ephesians and the Book of Colossians.

Galatia was right next to the province of Asia.

So, that’s how I interpret the Woman of Revelation 12: She is the Covenant of Promise, which ultimately becomes the New Testament.