Opus Alienum Dei

Monday, July 19, 2021

Opus Alienum Dei – Audio Version

Opus Alienum Dei translates from Latin as the “alien works of God” or the “strange works of God.” Here I use the phrase in an interpretive sense, where and when it is applied to five pivotal historcial events which, at first glance, hardly seem like God’s own doing, but mysteriously are claimed by God. Since these events were altogether horrifying, they qualify precisely as Opus Alienum Dei. If the Bible were to be set aside or left out of consideration, these five horrifying historical events might not be obviously attributable to God. However, the Bible says otherwise. In the Bible, God unexpectedly assumes at least some degree of responsibility for these terrible events Himself. And that comes as something of a surprise.

The five events to which I refer include 1) the recurring conflict between two neighboring nations that descended from twin brothers named Jacob and Esau, 2) the Assyrian invasion and dismemberment of the Kingdom of Israel, 3) the Babylonian invasion and decimation of Kingdom of Judah, 4) the perpetually unheeded pleas and warnings of genuine prophets, and 5) the brutal and total destruction of the temple complex in Jerusalem by the Romans. Although this is a blog post and not an academic paper, I have a thesis regarding these five historical events: These five events constitute five of the Seven Seals described in the Book of Revelation.

Two of the Seven Seals are non-horrifying exceptions, maybe, probably. The two Seals that might not qualify as Opus Alienum Dei, as strange works of God, are the First Seal and the last, the Seventh Seal, because they are not altogether horrifying in character. They are awe-inspiring, certainly, but not horrifying. So let’s consider all of the Seven Seals in order, except for the last one, which deserves its own (future) post.

With the opening of the First Seal in Revelation 6:2 comes a Conquering Archer on a White Stallion, otherwise and more simply known as the Rider on the White Horse. Whereas once I thought that the Rider on the White Horse might be any of the many false messiahs — yet another political pretender — now I think that the Rider on the White Horse must be the pre-incarnate, occasionally-appearing, Old Testament Divine Warrior. However, I only came to that conclusion in retrospect, by considering the Seven Seals in a mostly-reversed order, from the penultimate Sixth Seal backwards to the first.

On what exact basis did I come to flip my previously held conclusion? On basis of subtle scriptural allusions, and short, yet specifically-worded biblical references, that’s how. In nearly every single one of its verses, the Book of Revelation drops interpretive hints in the form of scriptural allusions, and/or brief inter-textual references, and/or partial quotes. The Book of Revelation itself provides hints as how to interpret it.

As for the relevant allusions and references to the Rider on the White Horse, I counterintuitively start towards the end of the Old Testament, in the short, obscure Prophecy of Habakkuk. There you will find a retrospective historical poem or sonnet in the third chapter, in Habakkuk 3:3-15. Verses 8, 9, and 11 are especially telling and relevant. This passage recalls God as an equestrian, a horse rider — an archer armed with a bow and with arrows of light — who battles the wicked on behalf of God’s people. In verse 3, Habakkuk’s Sonnet specifically recalls the time of Israel’s Exodus sojourn. That matters because if, as I claim, the Seven Seals do indeed recount the entire biblical history of the ancient Nation of Israel, then the First Seal would necessarily occur about the time when Israel was first constituted as One Nation Under Yahweh. This inaugural constitutional event is otherwise sometimes known as the Theophany at Mount Sinai, which coincided with the Revelation of the Law/Torah. Habakkuk’s Divine Archer-Rider is thus situated on the biblical timeline exactly where my interpretation would anticipate — near the begining, at the founding of the ancient Nation of Israel.

With its archer imagery, this passage in Habakkuk also points directly back to the Book of Deuteronomy Chapter 32, which is a Second Song of Moses (or, perhaps, the Swan Song of Moses, since it occurs immediately before his death). In this final Song of Moses, God is portrayed as an invincible, avenging warrior with a flashing, devouring sword, and, notably, with arrows. Where we see arrows, we might think archer. For those inclined to double-check my reading here, the citation is the entirety of Deuteronomy Chapter 32, but especially verse 23, and verses 39-43.  

As far as my suggested interpretation of the Seven Seals is concerned, this close connection to the closing chapters of Deuteronomy carries an immense amount of weight and importance, since Deuteronomy speaks of all the curses that will come upon the fledgling Nation of Israel if it fails to keep the Covenant made at Mount Sinai. I am arguing that the ensuing five Seals are a symbolic portrayal of the historical outworking of Deuteronomy’s Threatened Curses. That is worth rephrasing and repeating: Five of the Seven Seals of Revelation are a symbolic portrayal of the historical fulfillment and outworking of Deuteronomy’s horrifying, contingent curses.    

The two Old Testament passages cited above are enough to establish that God was depicted as an archer at the time of Deuteronomy. In addition, and for what it is worth, God is also depicted as shooting arrows of lightning in a Psalm of David recorded in both 2 Samuel 22:15 and Psalm 18:14 (incidentally, another Swan Song, as it occurs immediately before King David’s death). Thus the Divine Archer motif is known and established within the historical, Holy Writ of Israel.  

As for Revelation 6:3-4 and the Second Seal, the Swordsman on a Red Horse, I am proposing that the Crimson Swordsman represents the neighboring nation of Edom. As the story of Esau and the red stew in Genesis 25:30 establishes, the name Edom means red; and Edom was a name thereafter applied to both Esau and his descendants, the nation of Edom. The fact that Esau’s descendants became the nation of Edom is repeatedly and emphatically stated in Genesis Chapter 36. 

More pertinently, though, the nation of Edom stood against the nation of Israel on multiple occasions, with the first and defining time in Numbers Chapter 20. Notice that in Numbers 20:18 the Edomites specifically threaten to come against the People of Israel with… what? With, and I quote the hostile people of Edom themselves here: with “the sword.” Therefore, the words the sword have an explicit textual connection in Edom’s first and defining confrontation with Israel. I believe that the Book of Revelation deliberately references and uses this initial, defining neighboring-nation confrontation. 

Edom is mentioned another very significant time in 1 Kings 11:14, when God is affirmed to have raised up Hadad the Edomite against wayward, apostate King Solomon. Solomon had failed to keep the monotheistic covenant and had drifted into idolatry. Thus the curses of Deuteronomy began to befall the Kingdom of Israel, which would soon split in two. Do not miss that God Himself is said to have raised up Hadad the Edomite as an adversary to Solomon. God used the nation of Edom as an instrument to judge Solomon and Israel. This Second Seal, then, is a first obvious instance of an Opus Alienum Dei. Here God uses Israel’s historical adversaries as His means of judgment. The curses of Deuteronomy are beginning to occur through hard historical events.

If we were to super fast-forward through time, we would find that the nation of Edom eventually reappears as adversary to the beleaguered Jewish people much later in their history, in the Babylonian conquest and destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC/BCE. In Psalm 137:7 the Edomites are said to have enthusiastically encouraged (and perhaps, even assisted) the invading Babylonians in their demolition of the City of Jerusalem. However, this fratricide met with God’s definite disapproval. In response to their role in the destruction of Jerusalem, the Prophecy of Obadiah foretold certain doom upon the Edomites for their unneighborly, unbrotherly treatment of their cousins, the descendants of Jacob.

As for Revelation 6:5-6 and the Third Seal, the Scale-Holding Rider on the Black Horse, I suggest that Sir Skewed Scales represents the imbalanced, oppressive economic situation immediately before the Assyrian invasion of Israel. I make that inference and connection through study of the scriptural occurrences of the word scales, a word which “happens” to often appear alongside the altogether-telling adjectives deceptive and wicked, as in deceptive and wicked scales. Some key occurrences of the word scales appear in three of the minor prophets: Amos, Micah, and Hosea. In particular, see Amos 8:5, Micah 6:11, and Hosea 12:7. These three “minor” prophets were active in denouncing the economic imbalances and oppression present in both Israel and Judah, while they were still allied neighboring nations, and before the Northern Kingdom of Israel was completely destroyed by the fearsome Assyrians.

The most important and pertinent passage, in my judgment, is Micah Chapter Six, where God foretells of the impending devastation and desolation of Israel. And that is indeed what happened historically. It happened when Assyria invaded, besieged, looted, tortured, and systematically depopulated most of the immediate geographic region. According to the Prophets Micah, Amos, and Hosea this invasion was God’s doing, a judgment against the increase of idolatry and the rampant economic pilfering practiced throughout Israel and Judah. This Third Seal, Sir Skewed Scales, is thus a second instance of an Opus Alienum Dei. God used the merciless, brutal Assyrians to judge both lapsed covenant kingdoms — both Judah and Israel, but especially Israel, which met its end.

As for Revelation 6:7-8 and the Fourth Seal, the Ghastly, Ghostly Tandem Riders on the Pale Horse, I believe that Grim Duo of Death and Hades symbolize catastrophic judgment in the form of the impending invasion of the Babylonians, who did in fact bring death, mass deportation, and nearly total destruction upon the remaining “Covenant Kingdom” of Judah, and its capital city, Jerusalem. I see a clear scriptural connection here to Isaiah Chapter 28, where God says that he will cancel Jerusalem’s corrupt covenant with… death, and overturn their perverse pact with… Sheol. Sheol is otherwise known in Greek as Hades, and in English as Hell. In other words, God asserts that He alone controls the arrival of death and the entrance to hell, regardless of Judah’s attempted confederations, preparations, and arrangements. God insisted that, try though they may, the idolatrous people of Jerusalem cannot “make a deal with the devil” that will protect them and prolong their lives. This Fourth Seal, the Ghostly, Ghastly Duo, is a third instance of an Opus Alienum Dei. God used Babylonia to judge unfaithful Judah.

As for Revelation 6:9-11 and the Fifth Seal, the Sacrificed Souls Under the Altar, I would say that they represent all the true prophets throughout the entire Old Testament. I get this notion from the account of the stoning death of Zechariah, the priestly prophet, in 2 Chronicles 24:20-22, in combination with Jesus’ denunciation of the Jewish religious leaders in Luke 11:49-51. The Old Testament prophets were always rejected and were sometimes killed for telling the people the truth. The Death of Zechariah the Priest stands as a particularly graphic instance of the kind of violent rejection that met the prophets. Another Zechariah, Zechariah the Prophet, was also one of the last, if not the last of Old Testament prophets. He also may have died as a martyr. Thus, given what Luke 11:49-51 says, and on the assumption that the same passage is alluded to in Revelation 6:9-11, the Fifth Seal encompasses all the (rejected) prophets and their writings throughout the Old Testament. This Fifth Seal is thus a fourth instance of an Opus Alienum Dei. God used the Prophets to bring judgment upon the People of the Promised Land.   

Finally, as for Revelation 6:12-17 and the Sixth Seal, it speaks both literally and metaphorically of the Roman siege of Jerusalem and its utter destruction. The passage that makes this very clear is Luke 23:26-31, which is when a soon-to-be-crucified Jesus tells the people of Jerusalem to mourn not for him but instead for themselves and their own children. He foretells them that they will call on the mountains to fall on them and plea for the hills to cover (or hide) them. Jesus is foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem within a generation of his death by crucifixion. And so it happened. Revelation 6:16 very clearly echoes Jesus’ Via Dolorosa Prophecy. This Sixth Seal is thus a fifth instance of an Opus Alienum Dei. God used the Roman Legions to climatically judge the unresponsive, unbelieving People of Judæa.      

So there you have it, then: a list of (almost) all the supporting, Revelation-referenced scriptural passages I have found (thus far) to establish my interpretation of the Seven Seals of the Apocalypse. I hope you find it altogether convincing and entirely worthwhile. Look for a future post on how I understand the Seventh Seal.

Heptads of History

Monday, July 5, 2021

Heptads of History – Audio Version

To make sense of the Book of Revelation, a careful reader must necessarily grapple with four consecutive, structural sets of seven: four literary heptads in succession. The word heptad is specialized shorthand for structural sets of seven; it derives from the Greek word ἑπτά, which just means seven.

The first literary set of seven — the first heptad — a reader will encounter in the Book of Revelation is a collection of short diagnostic messages from Christ in Heaven Above addressed to seven turn-of-the-second-century municipal churches on Earth Below, and more precisely, seven pastors and churches within the Roman province of Asia. These diagnostic messages were meant for them, way back when, and yet can and do selectively apply to us, now. 

The second literary heptad is a binding legal document — a scroll secured with seven seals — seals that are ceremoniously and sequentially broken open. The seals are broken open by a uniquely-worthy, universally-worshiped sacrificial Lamb. As the Lamb breaks open each of the seven seals, the narrator of Revelation reports scenes of colored horses, beheaded supplicants, and a terrified and imminently doomed populace. These seven seals symbolically review the sad and sordid Old Testament history of the people of Israel up to (and just beyond) the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD/CE.

The third literary heptad is a drawn-out fanfare of sequential shofar-trumpet blasts, with lots of surreal thirds of plague and destruction along the way — twelve-thirds of surreal destruction, in fact. These seven shofar-trumpet blasts symbolically review, view, and preview the New Testament history of the peacefully-militant people of God: the conquering, persecuted, triumphant Church.

The fourth and final literary heptad is an utterly horrifying “week” of cosmic anti-creative devastation during which the just and judicial wrath of God is dispensed in measure — bowl by bowl by bowl — upon a variety of terrestrial environs and locales. These seven bowls symbolically preview and foretell a dystopian future time period on Planet Earth.

Yes, all quite weird. But that is precisely what a patient, thorough reader will encounter.

Should you attempt to survey the academic scholarship devoted to these four Apocalyptic heptads, you may be surprised at the amount of progress and scholarly consensus that has slowly emerged over the last 50 years, as it pertains to some (but definitely not all) of the symbolism and sections in the Book of Revelation. However, there is still a lot of collegial debate and disagreement about how to pull it all together into a single, coherent message. 

So… is there a single, coherent message? And if so, what is it? 

To answer that, perhaps we need to consider its purpose. A very basic question to ask about the Book of Revelation pertains to its original, intended purpose: Why is it even there? What does it contribute to the Church? Does it have a unique role in the Bible? And if it does, what is that role?

My Edu-ma-cated Assertion: The purpose of the Book of Revelation is to give the Church a selective, interpretive overview of its history and its future — the sweep of Church History: past, present, and future. Revelation reveals Church History from the vantage point of Heaven. Readers of Revelation are given cryptic, symbolic access to God’s own perspective on Church History.  

An immediate corollary: Yes, the Book of Revelation definitely does have a single, coherent message. And the message is that the Triune Sovereign God retains complete control over the course and eventualities of Church History, even when it all seems uncertain, unlikely, and untrue… because at times God’s control and sovereignty over history will seem uncertain, unlikely, and untrue, especially in the tumultous time period immediately before Christ returns. 

Note that I worded the last paragraph very carefully, with particular emphasis upon the period immediately before the Second Coming (or Advent) of Christ, because the Book of Revelation itself focuses a great deal upon that singular period of time. It is a critical period of time in Church History. And the Book of Revelation is intended to prepare the Church for that particular, forthcoming period of time.

Personally, I wonder if and suspect that we may have already entered that tumultuous time period. But I say that with considerable trepidation and great caution, knowing that others have errantly made the same claim in the past.

 

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.    

Five More Interpretive Insights

Five More Interpretive Insights, Audio Version
  1. My last point (that is, point # 18 from yesterday’s blog-cast) brought us to the climatic 7th Trumpet; but I ought to backtrack a bit because in jumping directly from the 6th Trumpet to the 7th, I skipped over a small and yet very important section of Revelation. Between the conclusion of the 6th Trumpet and the beginning of the 7th, readers will discover a 24 verse narrative digression, which includes all of Chapter 10 and over two-thirds of Chapter 11. Why does this textual digression occur? My hunch is that it allows for a period of time. A considerable amount of time must elapse between the 6th Trumpet (which is essentially the ongoing fulfillment of the Great Commission) and the 7th Trumpet (which is — or will be — the Second Advent of Christ and the Rapture of the Church). To synchronize the text chronologically to the here and now, that’s precisely where we presently find ourselves on Revelation’s redemptive timeline: somewhere between the 6th and 7th trumpets.
  1. In Chapter 10, John sees “another Mighty Angel coming down from Heaven.” Additional details provided about the Mighty Angel must not to be overlooked, though — details that lead to the conclusion that this particular “angel” must be someone other than an ordinary angel. The Mighty Angel 1) is wrapped in a cloud, 2) has a rainbow over his head, 3) has a face like the sun, 4) has legs like a pillar of fire, and… drum roll… 5) has a scroll in his hand. Here there is more than one Old Testament allusion — plus a very clear, direct reference. The reference is to the opening chapters of Ezekiel, in which an extraterrestrial Cherubim-carried Throne appears to an awestruck Ezekiel. The One seated on the Throne has a human appearance (Ezekiel 1:26) and delivers an edible scroll (Ezekiel 2:8-10), just as the Mighty Angel does in Revelation 10:8-9. The Mighty Angel/Messenger also roars like a lion. That’s likely another Old Testament allusion, and perhaps even a direct reference, to Amos 3:7-8, which links the Lion’s Roar to the Spoken Word of the Sovereign Lord. Therefore, the Mighty Angel of Revelation is very, very likely one and the same as the One seated on the Throne in Ezekiel, who roars the word of the Sovereign Lord. This Mighty Angel/Roaring Lion is Christ himself. And Christ himself was the One seated on the Throne in Ezekiel. Thus Christ existed long before his lowly birth in Bethlehem, and existed as the Enthroned One. In Seminary-speak, this is extremely high Christology. Christ is on par with God.
  1. But if the Mighty Angel of Revelation 10 is actually Christ himself, John could just say so plainly; right? So why keep it a big mystery, and force the reader to detect subtle Old Testament allusions and references? Why indeed. We are supposed to ask ourselves exactly such questions. The reason why Christ is “disguised” as the Mighty Angel in Revelation 10 is because Christ is likewise disguised in various ways throughout the entirety of Old Testament, especially as a reappearing character known as the Angel of the Lord (see Genesis 16:7-13; Genesis 22:15-18; Exodus 3:2; Judges 6:12; Zechariah 3). In English translations, the first four words of the Book of Revelation are “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.” The Book of Revelation is exactly that. It is a Revelation of Jesus Christ, from Jesus Christ, about Jesus Christ.
What is the Mystery of God that will be completed at the 7th trumpet?
  1. In Revelation 10:3-4, John hears Seven Thunders speak. And yet John is instructed not to write down what the Seven Thunders have said. My proposal is that the thunders revealed information about historical events to occur between the Sixth and Seventh Trumpets. Although God foreknows the course of the future, we are not supposed to know too much in advance. We are better off not knowing some things to come. That’s just my guess, though. Someday we will know what the Thunders thundered.
  1. Just like Ezekiel before him, John is told to eat the scroll that the Mighty Angel/Christ gives him. It tasted as sweet as honey, but was hard on his stomach. This probably means that the message contained on the scroll was not particularly pleasant. In fact, the message contained on the scroll probably immediately follows in Revelation 11. The gist of that message is that the Church cannot triumph unless it first suffers as Christ suffered. Like Christ, the Church will be raised triumphant; but first it must suffer rejection and face the prospect of death. It is a message that is hard to stomach, for us as well as John.

Dominus et Deus

Monday, May 25th, 2020

A Roman-Era Key


Dominus et Deus, Audio Version

“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” 

Mark Twain may or may not have said or written that. Hitherto, no one has been able to verify that the quote originated with Mark Twain. It has just been attributed to him. Maybe someday someone will find a letter or a scrap of writing in a library or an attic somewhere that verifies the quote did originate with Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain. But whatever. Most of us do not need nor care to know the source of the quote. We just recognize that the quote itself is quite true. It is axiomatic. While history never does repeat itself exactly, it does often rhyme. 

Not only is that observation of history axiomatic, it is also quite biblical. Much of the prophetic material in the Bible should be read on that very premise. What has happened before will someday be recapitulated in a slightly different way. If you grasp that, you will be able to make much better sense of prophecy throughout all of scripture. A particular prophecy will describe an immediate historical event, with at least one future event also in view, and sometimes more than one. I could give several examples of this characteristic of prophecy; but for the moment, please just humor the notion that it might be so.      

Okay, since you insist, I’ll give you one example: Hosea 11:1 says “Out of Egypt have I called my son.” In context, that statement clearly refers to the people of Israel. In the Exodus, God had called them out of Egypt. God speaks of the people of Israel figuratively, as a son. But Matthew 2:15 takes the very same figurative statement and applies it literally to Jesus. So it kind of happened twice. What was true of Israel is also true of Jesus. Like Israel, Jesus himself was called out and brought out of Egypt. Sometimes prophetic history rhymes.

Over the last 48 hours, I spent hours doing my own online historical sleuthing. No, I was not trying to track down and verify Mark Twain’s alleged quote. Instead, I was trying to find out whether Emperor Domitian ever irrefutably and explicitly referred to himself as “Lord and God.” Yes, it really does matter whether Domitian made such a claim or not. It matters because if Domitian did so, his self-aggrandizement probably precipitated an existential crisis for first century Christians. Here’s the question, stated precisely: Were Christians persecuted and even martyred because they refused to call Emperor Domitian “Lord and God”? 

Construction of the Colosseum was completed during Domitian’s reign.

The answer is very probably yes. At very least, Domitian allowed people to refer to him as “Lord and God” and even established an empire-wide cultic system where it was very much encouraged, if not formally mandated. Under Domitian’s magistrates, the populace of the empire felt political and economic pressure to demonstrate their loyalty to their dear leader, to the genius of the emperor. And toward the end of Domitian’s tyrannical tenure, that meant people felt the compulsion to address him not just as “Lord,” but as both “Lord and God.” Domitian was called Dominus et Deus, Lord and God. No emperor before Domitian had ever allowed that, let alone encouraged it. Emperors were deified after they died, not while alive.   

This is a crucially important point, precisely because it may well be the fulfillment of an intriguing Old Testament prophecy from the Book of Daniel. I believe and contend that Emperor Domitian fulfills that prophecy in Daniel 7:19-27. To establish this claim as historically sound, I need to throw out some names, dates, and data. 

Somewhere I read that Eusebius said so. Eusebius says that Domitian “was the first to order himself to be called Lord and God.” But I could not find the quote anywhere. As noted in previous blog posts, Eusebius wrote the indispensable history of the early Church. In English, that history is called The History of the Church or Ecclesiastical History. Yesterday, I spent quite a bit of time trying to find where in Ecclesiastical History Eusebius says that Domitian referred to himself as “Lord and God.” Nothing. Initially, I came up empty. I was looking in the wrong place. I was perplexed. I knew that I had read or heard it somewhere. 

However, even if I were to find the quote, Eusebius is not enough. I needed other historical sources. That was easy enough. Roman historians from that era did indeed say that Emperor Domitian was called “Lord and God.” Suetonius is a non-Christian historian who in his history called The Twelve Caesars says this of Domitian: 

With equal arrogance, when he dictated the form of a letter to be used by his procurators, he began it thus: “Our lord and god commands so and so;” whence it became a rule that no one should style him otherwise either in writing or speaking.

This quote from Suetonius corroborated Eusebius, or at least what I thought I had heard of Eusebius. Suetonius’s quote might even be considered a smoking gun, a sure verification. Domitian definitely wanted to be addressed as Dominus et Deus. But wait, there’s more.

Though he had to flee for his life, Dio Chrysostum managed to escape the reach of the emperor’s magisterial minions and thus survived Domitian’s reign of terror. After Domitian’s assassination, here is what Dio Chrysostum had to say in his 45th Discourse:     

Well, how I bore my exile, not succumbing to loss of friends or lack of means or physical infirmity; and, besides all this, bearing up under the hatred, not of this or that one among my equals or peers, as they are sometimes called, but rather of the most powerful, stern man, who was called by all Greeks and barbarians both master and god, but who was in reality an evil demon…    

Notice that Dio Chrysostom here states that Domitian was called both master (or Lord) and god, but was in reality an evil demon. Suetonius also goes to great lengths to demonstrate Domitian’s diabolical tendencies. His contemporaries all said Domitian was sinister and evil.

And finally, I did find the quote from Eusebius. In addition to Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius also wrote an extensive chronology called Chronicon. Eusebius is precise in dating events in Chronicon, precisely because it is a chronology of events. Here is the much-anticipated, hard-to-locate information: During the 216th Olympiad Domitian was the first [Roman Emperor] to order himself to be called “Lord and God.” By our reckoning, this edict happened sometime around 90AD/CE. 

Now go read Daniel 7:19-27 (included below). See if Emperor Domitian does not seem to be a prophetic fit.

Most scholars believe that the Book of Revelation was written near the time of Domitian’s assassination in September, 96AD/CE.  If so, Revelation’s prophecies pick up precisely where Daniel’s prophecies end. To me, that is interesting indeed.      

Arguing with Galileo

Tuesday, May 19th, 2020 — Happy Birthday, Honey!

Arguing with Galileo, Audio Version
Medieval Sketch

“Before answering the adversaries’ arguments,” a contemporary observer reported of Galileo’s debating style, “he amplified and reinforced them with apparently very powerful evidence which then made his adversaries look more ridiculous when he eventually destroyed their positions.”

Dava Sobel: Galileo’s Daughter

When he would debate an opponent, Galileo would not only summarize his opponent’s position, he would “amplify and reinforce” their arguments. Then Galileo would demonstrate the flaws in their position, point by point. Galileo often left his opponents feeling humiliated. In the mind of their audience, there was no question who had thought through the topic better.    

A few days ago a friend of mine suggested I find and watch a recently-released Bible prophecy video. If I were to watch the video, he wanted to know what I think of it. I told him I would look for it online, which I did, with some trepidation and measured skepticism. Still, out of respect for my friend, I did look for it. I found it and watched it. I watched the entire video. Sigh.

Sad to say, a lot of the Bible prophecy-related material online is under-informed junk or worse. I say that based on years and years of studying such material. I feel quite conflicted whenever I receive suggestions or recommendations from friends. But I will often go ahead and watch or listen or read whatever they suggest. Candidly, I usually expect the suggested material to be bad or, at best, bland. And it usually is. But every once in a while, I am pleasantly surprised.      

“Well, you do know that a lot of people approach your blog exactly the same way.” 

Sigh. Yes, I do know that. And honestly, well they should. There is so much under-informed and misleading #prophecy junk online, people should be understandably wary that what I say here might be more of the same. Still, I hope they give me a chance and read or listen anyway.

But it can be discouraging. Sometimes I wonder if I ought to just avoid everything related to Bible prophecy, the Book of Revelation, and the End Times. Most pastors, professors, and bloggers avoid these topics like the plague, except in times of plague, which might be now. With Coronavirus, people show an uptick in interest — albeit, wary interest.

It is admittedly confusing. If someone has not studied through all things End Times, how can they possibly know what is believable and what is not? That’s a good and necessary question. After watching the recommended video, I did follow through with my friend. And he said as much. He has not studied all this, so it’s hard to discern what is right and what is wrong. A lot of the material presented in the video did sound biblical and thus seemed kinda convincing.

In response, here’s what I suggested: Look for whether a presenter ever mentions or shows awareness of alternate positions and interpretations. Like all other prophetic material, the Book of Revelation requires careful interpretation. Does the presenter seem to be aware of alternate interpretations? If all you hear is a dogmatic take on what a particular passage must mean, be very cautious. That should at be a yellow flag. Granted, sometimes a presenter will deliberately avoid mentioning alternate interpretations. Listeners do want a succinct message, so a presenter might opt to KISS, to keep it simple and straightforward. But intellectual integrity will sometimes require a careful interpreter to present viable alternate interpretations.

Here’s another thought: a good interpreter will be able argue their position like Galileo. A good interpreter will understand alternate positions thoroughly and will be able to explain them accurately, even to the satisfaction of an opponent. An excellent interpreter will thereafter be able to explain why his/her interpretation is indeed superior to alternate interpretations.

The Bible-prophecy video I watched failed on these points. The presenter showed very little knowledge of alternate interpretations. He only presented his own camp’s interpretation. A skilled debater with an adequate grasp of the relevant prophetic material would be able to delineate multiple factual and logical flaws in his interpretation, to put matters very politely.

As I write these blog posts, I am attempting to strike a balance between KISS and what I hope is adequately careful scholarship. Frankly, it ain’t easy. It can be a hard balance to find. But I hope to argue somewhat like Galileo, albeit with more tact.  

Revelation 1:3

Two Tables & An Ear

Wednesday, May 6th, 2020

Percentage-wise, most of the Book of Revelation focuses on four series of seven topics. In narrative order, the four series are 1) the Apostolic Epistles to the Seven Municipal Churches in the Greek-speaking Roman province of Asia, 2) the Seven Document Seals, as they are progressively broken open by Jesus Christ, the Lion/Lamb, 3) the Seven Clarion Trumpets, and the very bizarre symbolic, yet historic events that occur as those trumpets are sounded, and finally 4) the Seven Bowls of Absolute, Catastrophic Wrath.

In future posts, I hope as best I can to explain the two middle series, the Seven Document Seals and the Seven Clarion Trumpets. Just to prepare my readers, I should say that interpreters of the Book of Revelation vary widely and wildly in how they explain these two sections. Even the most esteemed biblical scholars seem to have trouble making sense of these sections. But I’m going to try anyway. And be forewarned: I am willing to explore some ideas you have probably never encountered before. When I do, I will try to inform you of what I am doing interpretively, and why I am doing it.

The two tables I have included in this post give a big picture overview of some of the narrative topics and polarities in the Book of Revelation. Readers familiar with the book will likely understand much of what I present in the tables, but not all. I hope the material you don’t understand will bring you back to read future posts.

That’s all for today.