The Poet’s Hidden Treasure

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

The Poet’s Hidden Treasure – Audio Version

Within the last few days, I came across an online article about a poem that serves as a treasure-hunters’ guide. The poem contains a variety of clues about where a buried treasure can be found. Doubtless, a number of people will be motivated to decipher the poem and go diligently hunt for the treasure chest. That will be the reaction of some. 

And just how did I react? I read it, and immediately dismissed it. I never even seriously considered it. I deemed the undertaking to be curious, kind of fun, and somewhat interesting… but definitely not for me. No, I am not going to join this particular prospective treasure hunt.

Now, for a moment, imagine a scenario. Imagine that whoever buried the treasure actually wants me to be the one who finds it. For the purposes of our hypothetic scenario, let’s call the one who hid the treasure The Poet. Again, imagine that the Poet wants me to be the one to find the buried treasure. How would the Poet react upon learning of my dismissive attitude? How would the Poet feel about my indifference?

To start and obviously, the Poet would not be pleased. The Poet would be disappointed. The Poet would probably try to contact me and persuade me to reconsider. The Poet would suggest I at least read the Poem. The Poet would attempt to encourage me. The Poet would urge me to go search for the treasure. That is exactly what the Poet would do.

But as it is, hypothetical scenario aside, I will not go looking for treasure. And why not? Here are some reasons why I will not go search for the treasure:

First of all, I have other, more pressing things going on in my life. I have responsibilities that I consider more urgent and important than this prospective treasure hunt, this wild goose chase.

Secondly, I rather doubt myself. I believe it is highly likely that someone else will win. I think someone else is likely to find it before me. So why would I bother with the effort?

Thirdly, I know neither the Poet nor the Poem. And because I do not know the Poet, I am a bit suspicious about the whole proposition. The Poet might not be reliable.

Fourthly and finally, it sounds like it might require a lot of work. If my chances of finding the treasure are as low as I suspect, I am not sure it is worth my time.

As you may have realized by now, I am using this treasure hunt as an analogy. No, I am not making this all up. I really did recently read about a poem and a prospective treasure hunt. And I really did immediately dismiss the possibility. But eventually I realized I could use it here as an analogy, an instructive similarity.

In the Gospel of Matthew (13:44), Jesus referenced the discovery of a buried treasure in a very brief parable. Jesus said, 

The Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy, he goes and sells all that he has and buys the field.

Jesus, comparing eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven to hidden treasure

In just two sentences, Jesus is saying a lot. By comparing the Kingdom of Heaven to hidden treasure, Jesus wants us to understand that a lot of people — most people — will never even notice it. And by drawing our attention to the man’s thrilled reaction, Jesus wants us to understand just how invaluable the Kingdom of Heaven actually is. The man who found the treasure rightly recognized that it was worth selling everything he owned to obtain.  

This parable is something I grew up hearing and reading. As a result, when now I hear about buried treasures, I do not just think about pirates and hand-drawn maps and wooden treasure chests; I also recall this parable.

Moreover, I will take a bit of creative liberty here. I will suggest that we can use the same buried treasure motif to talk instructively about Scripture itself. Scripture can be compared to buried treasure — not just treasure, but treasures, plural. God is the Poet, and Scripture is the Poem. God wants you to find the treasures that are there, just waiting to be found. God wants you to put forth diligent effort. Yet most people will not bother. They will not put forth the effort. They will not do so because of the reasons I have listed above. But as a consequence of their dismissiveness, they will miss out on what might otherwise have been theirs.

And in particular, this can be used as an analogy for Scriptural analogies, such as Jesus’ parables and the Book of Revelation. Scriptural analogies require even more diligent effort than the rest of the Bible. Therefore, perhaps they are like treasure boxes contained within a treasure chest. 

If the comparison is apt, I think it is safe to assume that the treasure boxes must contain true treasures, even if they are especially hard to open. The reason I write this blog is to present what I consider to be rare and valuable treasures. I do hope some of you will concur with me, or at least be motivated to go treasure-hunting for yourselves.

Hearsay

Friday, June 25, 2021

Hearsay – Audio Version

After a worship service a few weeks ago, I deliberately lingered in the pews to socialize for a while. An attorney friend approached me, as he occasionally does. He always makes for an interesting conversation partner. Sometimes, though, we disagree about this or that.

A few weeks ago, we found ourselves discussing a brief passage in a very old and often forgotten text. Almost immediately, we disagreed about its relevance. I said (and still say) that, yes, the passage matters and carries significant authority. He said (and still says) that, no, it does not matter much and carries no particular authority.

You might wonder if by “old and obscure text” I actually mean the Bible. That sneaky approach could have served as a means of surprising you, my listeners. However, I am not attempting to be sneaky here. By “old and obscure text,” the Bible is not what I mean. Instead, my attorney friend and I were discussing a passage from a nearly nineteen hundred year-old doctrinal treatise entitled Against Heresies (aka Adversus Hæreses). 

Against Heresies was written by a Græco-Franco guy named Irenæus. Græco-Franco should give you an easy (if somewhat inaccurate) handle on how to categorize Irenæus. He was kind of Greek and kind of French — Greek, because an older variant of Greek was his native tongue; and French, because Lyons, France is where Irenæus eventually settled and served. Except, the coordinates were in Roman Gaul back then, as France was yet to be.  

Irenæus of Lyon

Anyway, why would anyone get into an argument after church about something Old Irenæus wrote nearly nineteen hundred years ago? Well, because Old Irenæus was just one generation — a single lifetime — removed from John the Narrator of the Book of Revelation. 

Okay. So what? Why is that important?

Well, because by virtue of his proximity, Irenæus probably would have known how John the Narrator of the Book of Revelation understood the Book of Revelation. Right?

I think so. And I said so. I told my attorney friend that. He said, “Sorry, but I don’t think it matters that much. As a trained attorney, I can tell you that your argument would not hold up in court. Irenæus himself was not a direct witness of John. Irenæus’ second-hand account of what John said is merely hearsay. In court, an opposing lawyer would respond to your line of reasoning and shout, ‘Objection! Hearsay!’ And the judge would lower the gavel and say, ‘Sustained.’”

Okay, ouch. So I guess I would lose if I were a lawyer in a court case dedicated to this question. But does Irenæus’ secondhand testimony actually carry no weight? I mean, if someone were to use the same exacting standard of personal proximity and apply it to the Bible, entire books of the New Testament would completely lose their historical value. The Gospel of Luke was not written by an eyewitness to Jesus, but by a careful writer who had access to eyewitnesses of Jesus. The same thing is true of the Gospel of Mark. Do we reject the reliability of the Gospels of Luke and Mark because they were not written by direct eyewitnesses?

In fact and to the contrary, by virtue of their immediate proximity to eyewitnesses and by virtue of their careful re-telling, Mark and Luke are considered highly reliable historical accounts. That is because they were motivated to re-tell the accounts of Jesus’ words and deeds accurately. They strove to be accurate in their hearsay historical accounts. And like Mark and Luke, maybe Old Irenæus was also very careful to be accurate in his hearsay historical account.    

Basically, I am arguing that the hearsay of some is far more reliable than the hearsay of others. At some point, hearsay becomes an expert historical account. Such is the case when adequate diligence is applied in researching the relevant material.

And I will make a further, even more important point: Secondhand hearsay does indeed have value when it can be cross-referenced with other corroborating evidence. The secondhand accounts of Mark and Luke can be cross-referenced with the firsthand accounts Matthew and John, as well as with other historical witnesses and evidence. The same can also be said of Old Irenæus. What Irenæus says about John the Narrator can be cross-referenced with other corroborating witnesses from the same era, such as Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and the Didaché.

And guess what? All four more or less line up, in terms of chronological events. Their respective accounts regarding John the Narrator and of the chronology of the Book of Revelation can be aligned. Irenæus and his near contemporaries broadly agree.  

But later Christian writers did not agree with Irenænus and his contemporaries regarding the chronology of Revelation. Irenæus had taught with the Second Advent of Christ there would be a Rapture of the Church (that is, a resurrection and immediate ascension) and thereafter a Millennial Reign of Christ. However, later Christian writers like Eusebius and Augustine regarded Irenæus and his contemporaries as theological simpletons who were not sophisticated enough to interpret the Book of Revelation correctly. They rejected the Rapture and significantly adjusted the chronology and substance of the Millennial Reign of Christ.  

Therefore, with regard to the Rapture of the Church and the Millennial Reign of Christ, every knowledgable interpreter of Revelation has had to decide whether to align with the chronology that Irenæus and his theological contemporaries assumed, or align with the revised chronology that Eusebius and Augustine taught later. In general, the early Christian Church believed it to be one way (that is, took a pre-millennial position), whereas the latter Christian Church believed it to be something other. This is a well documented and easily demonstrable matter of fact. 

A Screenshot of Irenæus’ Against Heresies from EarlyChristianWritings.com

In my estimation, generational proximity matters immensely here. Irenæus was only a lifetime removed from John the Narrator. I think Irenæus was far more likely to have heard how John the Narrator himself interpreted the Book of Revelation, and how he understood its chronology of events.

God Cannot

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

God Cannot – Audio Version

Although He strongly desires to do so, sometimes God will not intervene in a situation unless a mediator — an intercessor —approaches the Throne to request His intervention. And although it may sound unorthodox (and perhaps even heretical), it may even be accurate to say that in some situations God Almighty cannot intervene unless a mediator requests intervention from Him.

Yeah, I know: The word cannot sounds wrong. It sounds unorthodox and seems suspect because it implies that Almighty God is somehow deficient and incapable of acting. Nevertheless, Scripture does indeed speak of constraints upon God. For example, in Titus 1:2 we are told that God does not lie. In some English translations, it reads “cannot lie.” Scripture does not merely say that God chooses not to lie. Scripture teaches that God never lies. Does this mean God is wholly incapable of lying? Yes, I would argue it means just that, because God’s holiness precludes it. By virtue of His holiness, the God of Truth never, ever lies. Therefore, it is both scriptural and accurate to say that there is something that Almighty God cannot do. God Almighty cannot lie. Much of great consequence can be extrapolated from this divine incapability. The holy integrity of the Almighty God means He is self-constrained, constrained by His own character.

“… in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago…”

The Apostle Paul, mid sentence in The Epistle to Titus 1:2, as translated in the NASB 2020 Edition

Moreover, because of His holiness, His integrity, God will never break His promises. This is a particularly pertinent point, when we consider approaching God with our requests in prayer. If God has said He will do something, He will do it. If God has said He will not do something, He will not do it. God will perform His Word, as promised, guaranteed.

We procure the promises of God through prayer.

Just as it scriptural to say that God cannot lie, I want to suggest that it is also scripturally and theologically sound to say that God cannot break His promises. That is because here we have two effectively equivalent statements. To say that God cannot break a promise is no different than to say that God cannot lie. In practice, it is effectively the same thing, said twice, only slightly differently each time. God cannot lie; and God cannot break His promises: functionally equivalent statements. Numbers 23:19 lends scriptural support for this.

God is not a man, that He would lie, Nor a son of man, that He would change His mind; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?

Balaam in The Book of Numbers 23:19

We can flip this notion over and speak positively where we were just speaking negatively. If we were to flip that-which-God-cannot-do over, positively it becomes that-which-God-always-and-invariably-does. God’s incapability for lying can be flipped into an affirmation that God always and forever speaks the truth, and that God always and invariably keeps His Word. Much of great consequence can be extrapolated from this characteristic, from the fact of divine consistency.

From Psalm 31:5

For example, here we have a rock-solid, absolutely steady premise for our prayers. God is a God who keeps His promises. So if you hear of a promise in Scripture, you ought to pause and give it some careful consideration. If it indeed applies to you, it might be useful to you — maybe even very useful. Seriously. You might be able to bring that promise back to God in prayer and lay hold of it with confidence. Furthermore, if the God of Scripture is indeed the God of Truth, this is a tremendously big deal.

Now at this point, someone might wonder, “But if God has promised to do something, why do we even need to bother approaching Him with prayer?” A skeptic might even slide into ridicule here, and taunt, “What, is God forgetful? Does God need us to remind Him of His promises?”

The answer to those objections and to that mockery is simply, “No, God is not forgetful at all. You have it wrong. He is instead relational. God’s promises are made to those with whom He has an ongoing, mutually cultivated, covenantal relationship. And God makes good on His promises when He is approached appropriately, on the terms He has set. However, God is not otherwise obliged. He may or may not answer the prayers of other supplicants.”

This all makes perfect sense when marriage is used as an analogy. Spouses are bound and obliged to each other by their covenantal commitment. And spouses are most likely to make good on their promises when they remain on good terms. Alternatively, spouses are most definitely not obliged to anyone else. Speaking personally, if I make a promise to my wife, I am obligated, like it or not, to eventually keep that promise; and I am most inclined to keep that promise quickly when we are happy with each other. Of course, this applies only to our marriage and is only true of my wife. I am by no means obligated to fulfill that particular promise to anyone else, no matter how trivial it is. Only the designated recipient of a given promise can rightfully claim it. Again, and for emphasis: Only the designated recipient of a given promise can rightfully claim it.

It works exactly the same way with God and obtaining His promises in prayer. The God of the Bible is nothing if not intensely relational. Like a jealous spouse, God fully expects and requires relationship and loyal commitment. Furthermore, it is only within the bounds of relationship and loyal covenantal commitment that God makes and faithfully keeps his promises. God is only bound to keep His promises to those who are ready and willing make a resolute commitment to Him.

Okay then, if that is so, how does someone make such a commitment to God, and thereby become a recipient of all the personally relevant scriptural promises?  

Well, strange as it may sound, this is exactly the reason why Jesus Christ went to the cross. He endured an agonizing, horrible death on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins; and in so doing he established a new covenant (or testament), a covenant in which God has made enduring, eternal, and incomparable promises, such as eternal life.

“A New Covenant in His Blood”

Consequently, you do wisely and well to make a binding, covenantal commitment to the God of Truth. You do so by confessing your sinfulness, by acknowledging the significance of the price that Jesus Christ paid for you (you personally) on the cross, and by pledging yourself to resolutely follow Christ from henceforth, so help you God.

As controversial as the claim may be in certain circles, the cross of Christ is the prescribed way to be reconciled with God. Indeed, the New Testament teaches that the cross of Christ is the one and only way to be completely and eternally reconciled to God Almighty. Perhaps then we have here another example of God cannot, another divine incapability. Apart from the covenant which Christ established in his blood at the cross, God cannot be reconciled to us, since our sinfulness otherwise renders us too offensive to God. And, try as we may, we cannot set ourselves right by determined good behavior, either. We need (and have) a mediator provided and accepted by God. We have a court-appointed advocate, an intercessor: Jesus Christ.

For if a law had been given that was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. But the Scripture has confined everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

The Apostle Paul, in The Epistle to the Galatians 3:21b-22

This final God cannot claim is an altogether imperative claim to prayerfully consider, to be sure. Rest assured, though, that God promises to receive sincere prayers of commitment and contrition.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, God, You will not despise.

King David of Ancient Israel, as recorded in Psalm 51:17


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The 72 Hour Sign of Jonah

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

If you happened to read or listen to my last post, you may remember that I promised to write a post about “the duration of internalization.” In case you do not recall what I meant by that very catchy, rhyming phrase — “the duration of internalization” — please let me recap and explain. Jesus once said that he would be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights, just as Jonah spent three days and three nights in the belly of a humongous fish (think whale). By the way, the passage I am referencing here is Matthew 12:38-42. Go check it out, if you’re so inclined. In saying what he said about the three days and three nights, Jesus was prophesying that though he would indeed die, he would not be dead and buried for long — not long at all. Jesus referred to this “duration of internalization” as the Sign of the Prophet Jonah. And Jesus made a big deal about this promised sign. It was to be the one and only validating sign for that “evil and adulterous generation.” His foretold death, his brief burial, and his resurrection would be the sign or validation that Jesus was whom he claimed to be.

Alright, and if you’re familiar with the accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, you know that after Jesus was crucified, his corpse was interred in a donated grave for about two days. But on the morning of the third day, Jesus rose again bodily from the dead. Therefore, the promised Sign of the Prophet Jonah came to pass, just as Jesus foretold.

But hang on. More detail-oriented people might notice a discrepancy. They might notice that Jesus was technically not in the grave for a total of three days and three nights. He was only in the grave for two nights (which we would refer to as Friday night and Saturday night) and just one complete day (Saturday), plus the latter portion of Friday and a few early hours on Sunday. So, what are we to make of the discrepancy? A stickler might insist that for the prophecy and the sign to be true, Jesus must have been interred for around 72 hours, not roughly 36 hours. 

A lot of people will just shrug and say, “Whatever, close enough.” But Jesus did say three days and three nights. Mathematically, that is 24+24+24 hours, which equals 72 hours. And 72 is definitely not equal to 36. So, again, what are we to make of the glaring discrepancy?

An Idiom? A Synecdoche? Or Literal?

What does it matter? Well, it does not matter to a lot of people. The non-sticklers don’t really worry about it, since they can easily point to a Friday, a Saturday, and a Sunday, so close enough. But the sticklers and literalists do worry about it. They want accuracy, especially since Jesus seemed to be so exact and specific.

It is on basis of this 72 hour Sign of Jonah in Matthew 12:40 that some Bible scholars have suggested that maybe, just maybe Jesus was not crucified on a Friday after all, but on a Wednesday or a Thursday. However, they are demonstrably wrong about that. Still, you can understand why they suggest what they suggest. They want the 72 hours to be accurate. Understandably, they want Jesus’ duration-of-internalization prophecy to be precise. And it bothers them that the traditional timeline just does not fit. 

Why, then, do I insist that the traditional timeline is correct? Well, because 1) Friday is Friday (the day of preparation before the Sabbath) and Sunday is Sunday (the first day of the week) — and in saying that I am quite serious and not sarcastic; and because 2) biblical and extra-biblical historical details about the Roman Procurator Pontius Pilate help nail down a narrow time frame and only a handful of possible dates for the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ; and 3) astronomy in rewind shows that there was a lunar eclipse (that is, a blood moon) over the City of Jerusalem on the evening of Friday, April 3rd 33AD/CE.       

In elaboration on my first point, that Friday is Friday and Sunday is Sunday, the real issue is whether a close study of the four Gospel accounts yields a coherent and convincing timeline of Jesus’ final week, and especially of the pivotal events of the Passover celebrated that Thursday and Friday. The short answer is, upon close examination, yes. Here are two excellent and exhaustive studies: Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ by Harold W. Hoehner (first published in 1973), and Jesus and the Last Supper by Brant Pitre (published in 2015).

Harold W. Hoehner’s book also explains my second point about Pontius Pilate. Said succinctly, due a massive shift in the Roman political scene, in 33 AD/CE Pontius Pilate was much, much more inclined to appease the insistent, bellicose Jewish religious leaders than he had been previously. A friend of his named Sejanus had fallen out of favor with Caesar and had been executed, so Pilate was very afraid of being deemed disloyal to Caesar. Therefore, when the Jewish religious leaders insinuated that Pilate would not be Caesar’s friend if he acquitted Jesus (see John 18:12), he gave into their demands and had Jesus crucified. It was politically expedient to sacrifice Jesus, and thus avoid any accusations of disloyalty to Tiberius Caesar.

As for the final point about the lunar eclipse, Colin J. Humphreys and W.G. Waddington argue in an article from 1992 entitled The Jewish Calendar, A Lunar Eclipse, and the Date of Christ’s Crucifixion that a lunar eclipse over Jerusalem on the evening of Friday, April 3rd 33AD/CE,  was seen and thereafter interpreted as a fulfillment of a prophecy in Joel 2:31. 

Lunar Eclipse

So if Jesus was indeed crucified on Friday, April 3rd 33AD/CE and resurrected on Sunday, April 5th, what about the duration-of-internalization, the Sign of Jonah, the 72 hours?

Some scholars have suggested that the phrase “three days and three nights” was a merely an idiomatic expression. As an idiom, it was not meant to be understood precisely and literally. That may be so. But Jesus could have just said “three days” if he wanted to be a bit vague.  

An explanation I personally find more convincing is that the 72 hours may be precise, but the location of Christ’s confinement be spiritual. The designated location for the duration-of-internalization is the “heart of the earth.” Most interpreters presume that “the heart of the earth” must mean the burial of his crucified corpse in the grave. But what if Jesus’ spiritual experience of hell is actually what is meant instead? What if “the heart of the earth” is a spiritual location instead of a spatial location? Could it be that Jesus meant that he would descend to hell spiritually while he was yet alive on earth physically? After all, Jesus did endure the agonies of hell while on the cross. He may have even begun to experience the agonies of hell while he prayed for a way to escape the cross in the Garden of Gethsemane. Significantly, that would put his experience of the netherworld much, much closer to three days and three nights: Thursday, Friday, and Saturday in hell, 72 hours total.

Descensus ad Inferos

Interestingly, the New Testament, the early Church Fathers, and the Apostles’ Creed all give a measure of assent to this particular interpretation. Jesus Christ was not just buried in a tomb. “He descended into hell.”

But what does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower parts of the earth?

Ephesians 4:9

If this is correct, it is interesting that Jesus’ time in hell was not completely a time of anguished suffering. Upon his physical death, Jesus had triumphed over the powers of darkness. When he declared from the cross, “It is finished,” Christ Jesus had completed his mission. He had triumphed. Thereafter, his time in hell was not a time of more agony and suffering, but a time of conquest. It was his triumphal procession, his occasion to proclaim hell’s defeat and his victory.

Glory. 

The BBC & Jonah

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Last night while browsing the BBC news, I came across an article about a scuba diver who was momentarily “swallowed” by a Humpback whale off the coast of Massachusetts. This morning, after handing her a cup of coffee, I told my wife about the article. How did she react? She gasped in delight and said…

“Jonah!”

Which is exactly how I reacted when I noticed the article. And, my goodness, who wouldn’t? Who would not immediately think of Jonah in the belly of the whale?

Curiously, the author of the BBC article nowhere mentions the name of Jonah, although the clear connection was made immediately by me and my wife. For the sake of fairness and accuracy, I should say that the BBC writer does refer to Michael Packard’s brief Humpback enveloping as a “Biblical ordeal,” and does refer to the whale as “the leviathan,” and thus demonstrates some level of familiarity with the Bible. However, no mention is made in the article of the name of Jonah. Again, I find that curious. Why not make a clear and obvious point of connection explicit?    

One is left to speculate on why the author or the editor of the article declined to make the connection. Whatever the reason, I will say that the account of Jonah (and his 72-hour ordeal inside the “great fish”) has been received with a lot of skepticism, at least by a lot of adults. Moreover, Michael Packard’s brief scare does not exactly compare, in terms of duration, since, by his own estimation, it lasted less than a minute, whereas Jonah was in the belly of the whale for three days and three nights. Significantly, Jesus once made a prophetic point of that 72 hour period.

For as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.

Jesus of Nazareth, as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, 12:40

Three days and three nights inside of a marine creature is a very long time. It is a wonder that Jonah was not digested. It is a wonder that Jonah had enough oxygen to breathe. It is a wonder that Jonah could somehow survive that. More than a wonder, it would have been a miracle. As for Jesus’ comment, a resurrection from the dead is also a miracle, indeed even more of a miracle. But Jesus’ point had to do with the duration of internalization, those 72 hours. I will speak to that duration in my next blog post.

For now, though, I will affirm that Christians do believe that the God of the Bible is sovereign over the course of history, even over curious events off the coast of Massachusetts. When a scuba diver is momentarily swallowed by and then spat up by a Humpback whale, I would suggest that the obvious biblical connection is supposed to be made.  Upon hearing about it, people are supposed to react with a gasp of delight and exclaim “Jonah!”     

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. 

Sacrificial Love

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

The true measure of how much someone loves us is the extent to which they will embrace genuine sacrifice for us. We know that intuitively. We know that someone loves us if and when that person will sacrifice of their time, their resources, their attention, and their agenda for us. But us is the wrong pronoun here. We want that personally. You want that personally. I want that personally. You want someone who will voluntarily embrace sacrifice for just you, yourself. At a deep, deep level that is precisely what each one of us wants. We each want to be loved individually by someone who considers just me and me alone worthy of sacrifice. 

At the same time, many of us doubt our worth, because we know too much about ourselves. I know myself. I know my faults and my failures, my tendencies and my desires. I also have an idea of how I am regarded by others. And you know yourself. You know your faults and failures, your tendencies and your desires. You also have an idea of how you are regarded by others. Since we know what we know about ourselves, we sometimes doubt whether we actually are worthy of sacrificial love. We hope we are. We would like to think that we might be, maybe. But we doubt it, at times.

At the heart of the Christian message is the Cross of Christ. The message is that Jesus Christ was willing to sacrifice himself because he considered us worthy of the cost. He was willing to endure the extreme agony of the brutal, awful cross because he wanted to make reconciliation possible. He loved us. He considered us worth it.

But this only makes sense if Jesus Christ was more than a mere human being. If Jesus was just a historical figure who was executed by the Romans years ago, it makes no sense whatsoever to say that he did what he did because he loves us. It only makes sense if Jesus was somehow more than a mere human. It only makes sense if he was divine, the Son of God. Jesus died for us because he knows us, and knows us in some capacity as God. As part of the eternal Godhead, Jesus loved us and loves us still. And as part of the eternal Godhead, he was was willing to embrace unimaginable sacrifice for us.

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Jesus, speaking of himself in Mark 10:45

Are you worthy of that kind of love? Well, yes and no. Or more accurately, no and yes.

We certainly do not deserve that kind of love. We really are flawed. We really are tainted. We really are guilty. God knows us better than we know ourselves. And that should not necessarily encourage us. God actually knows how vile we can be. God actually knows how crumby our thoughts and intentions are. God knows our worst faults and failures, our ugliest tendencies and our basest desires. He does not sugarcoat or excuse the wrong we have done. He recognizes that we deserve judgment and punishment. God is offended at our failures, even highly offended. Our sin defiles us before God.

But nonetheless, God does not want to punish us. He would rather withhold punishment. Our failures and wrongs put God in a bind. On one hand, we ought to be judged. On the other hand, He wants to show mercy. He wants to show you mercy because He considers you worth the sacrifice. Otherwise, He would not have bothered stooping so low.

Since God loves us, and since His mercy triumphs over judgment, God made a way for us out of our predicament. He shared in our humanity so as to take our punishment. He became a man for our sake. He became mortal and sacrificed himself. God the Father and God the Son agreed to the horror and agony of the Cross. Jesus Christ would sacrifice himself on our behalf, because the justice of God required it, and because God loves us that much.

He gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people for his own possession, eager to do good works.

The Apostle Paul, regarding Jesus, in Titus 2:14.

But there is a catch, a requirement. The catch is that you have to accept Christ’s self-sacrifice as a gift, and give your allegiance to him. He did not die simply because he wants to show you how nice he is. He wants you in return. He wants your love and allegiance in return for the love He showed you. And that is an entirely reasonable expectation and offer. Indeed, that is the best offer you will ever get, bar none.

… and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has set us free from our sins by his blood … to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

From the introductory benediction in the Book of Revelation 1:5-6

Parrot Polycarp

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Parrot Polycarp – Audio Version

Bishop Polycarp of Smyrna was a mere middle man. Polycarp stuck slavishly to Paul. Polycarp demonstrated little to no originality. For the most part, he just parroted whatever the Apostle Paul once said. When he wrote his pastoral epistle to the Church in Philippi, Bishop Polycarp essentially cut and pasted. He could have saved himself a lot of time by simply re-gifting a copy of one of Paul’s old epistles. 

Am I fabricating or exaggerating? If you do not believe me or simply want to see if I am exaggerating a bit, go online to EarlyChristianWritings.com and find the Epistle of Polycarp under the Church Fathers tab. Feel free to let me know what you find there.  

Why do I bother to inform you of this, you ask? Well, because Polycarp’s parroting of Paul demonstrates an extremely high view of Paul’s authority. It shows that Polycarp considered Paul’s writing to be indisputably binding and unquestionably authoritative. Within one generation of their production, Paul’s epistles were considered scripture on par with the Old Testament scripture. Bishop Polycarp considered Paul’s pastoral epistles to be the very Word of God, so he treated them as such. He copied them slavishly and transmitted them exactly.

Safe to say that Polycarp had an MO, a modus operandi. The sacred writ is to be treated as sacred writ. You must stick to it. You quote it. You defer to it. You teach others to do the same. And you must never, ever alter it. It is never to be violated nor compromised. 

Bishop Polycarp must have harped on that point. “You have been entrusted with the Word of Truth, my disciples. Pass it along faithfully and without deviance.” I can imagine Polycarp said something much like that. Alright then, you get it; don’t you? Polycarp was a parrot.

Polycarp’s parroting MO was very probably passed along to his underlings and after-lings (if I may coin a word). I think that is entirely safe to assume. And if it is so, they might have been similarly jealous for the doctrines that they received, since the scriptures and their derivative doctrines cannot be separated.

Therefore, if one of Polycarp’s after-lings claims a received doctrine to be true, perhaps we should be hesitant to think that it is not true.

Screenshot of EarlyChristianWritings.com

One of Polycarp’s after-lings was a Greek guy named Irenaeus. Irenaeus became a Bishop himself, the Bishop of Lyons. Irenaeus believed in the Rapture and says so in his book Against Heresies, Book Five, Chapter 29, paragraph 1, in the penultimate sentence. You can find that online at EarlyChristianWritings.com, as well.

If Irenaeus learned the doctrine of the Rapture from Polycarp, you should know that Polycarp also knew John the Beloved/Elder — the narrator of Revelation. Polycarp knew him personally. The train of transmission was from John the Elder to Bishop Polycarp to Bishop Irenaeus. That is a very short train of transmission. And the implications of that are worth mulling over. Perhaps we should not be too quick to dismiss the Rapture as ridiculous.

Safe Assumptions

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Safe Assumptions – Audio Version
“I am the First and the Last.”

By its very nature, the Book of Revelation is cryptic. Like a secret code, it is meant to be progressively figured out. Like a jig-saw puzzle, it is meant to be pieced together until it slowly coalesces into an increasingly coherent whole. That should be somewhat self-evident.

Here are some safe assumptions about the Book of Revelation:

Since the Author has a vested interest in the integrity of the text, and since the Author has the ability to safeguard its integrity, you can assume that every single received word of the text is actually meant to be there. Besides conjunctions (perhaps), no word is merely incidental or superfluous. And even some of the conjunctions can be very important. Every word in the Book of Revelation counts. Some count considerably more than others; but every word does indeed count. 

“And from the seven spirits which are before his throne…”

You can assume that identifiable word groupings — phrases — are even more important and meaningful than single words alone. This is true even of very short phrases, such as those comprised of two words. For example, if a noun has an adjective, that adjective definitely matters and must not be overlooked. Furthermore, the phrase must be held together when an effort is made to decode the meaning of a particular passage. As pedantic as it may sound, this is a highly and hugely important exegetical insight. Every phrase counts. And phrases count even more than single words.

You can assume that the symbolism within the Book of Revelation will be used consistently throughout. Know this, because it is important. Symbolism, once established, remains consistent throughout the text. It means the same thing whenever it reappears. However, that is not to say that a symbol cannot be developed through the narrative. Individual symbols can be developed, and sometimes are. Sometimes symbols are developed so that they take on additional layers of meaning. But each established symbol has a single consistent meaning at its core. If this were not so, the Book of Revelation would be completely indecipherable.     

Per Revelation 1:20, Lamp-stands or Menorahs symbolize Churches.

You can assume that the narrator will drop interpretive hints throughout the text. Indeed, he does just that. He drops hints and even gives straightforward interpretations. That is because the Author wants the text to be deciphered, even if it takes centuries for the Church to complete the task. The Author would not have revealed the Revelation if He did not want it deciphered.

You can assume that the text, when interpreted correctly, will communicate a coherent, necessary, and edifying message. Not only that, you can assume that the message will not contradict the rest of Scripture. That is because the ultimate Author of the Book of Revelation is the same ultimate Author of the rest of the Bible. If not, the Book of Revelation is a spurious, misleading prophecy, and thus does not belong in the Bible. But the Church has long since accepted the Book of Revelation as legitimate and canonical, and with good reason.

You can assume that the rest of Scripture will help a diligent interpreter unlock the symbolism in Revelation. I cannot overstate this. I cannot overstate this. Can I overstate this? No, I cannot. I cannot overstate this. Please do understand how important this point is. It is crucial. Catching and pondering the many, many scriptural references and allusions is vital, vital, vital. It will unlock the Book of Revelation like nothing else. I cannot overstate this. Missing this is precisely how most interpreters go wrong.

You can assume that knowledge of its immediate geographical and historical context will help unlock the meaning of the Book of Revelation. I have a degree in history and have read much about the historical situation in which Revelation was written. It really, really helps make sense of the text. I would go so far as to say that you cannot effectively understand the Book of Revelation without studying its original historical context. Knowledge of the Roman Empire will help you.

You can assume that typology will help an interpreter make sense of the Book of Revelation. History does not repeat itself; but it does rhyme. Typology takes that insight seriously. What happened way back when will happen again — not exactly, but similarly. 

You can assume that Almighty God is truly behind the Book of Revelation and that Jesus Christ really did appear to the narrator, John the Elder. It is prophecy, after all. And only God can preordain future events. Oh yeah — you can assume it foretells future events, even future events from our vantage point in history.

Those, then, are what I consider safe assumptions for someone who would interpret this particular text.