Fire Flung from Heaven, Part One

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Fire Flung from Heaven, Part One – Audio Version

Shall we just skip Chapter Seven entirely and ignore it away? Maybe it does not matter too much. Just one of Revelation’s twenty two chapters can be overlooked; right? Perhaps it does not contribute much content to the book.

No? 

Well, I mean, after all, Chapter Seven does abruptly interrupt the flow of the narrative. If and when you read through Revelation Chapter Six, you will find the first six of the Seven Seals broken open and presented in quick, orderly sequence. But then Chapter Seven completely stalls the tempo. It disrupts the rhythm of Revelation entirely. You would have every reason to expect the Seventh Seal to come right at the beginning of the Seventh Chapter. But sorry, no, not so. The Seventh Seal is entirely absent and not to be found in Chapter Seven. The grand opening of the final Seventh Seal is delayed for an entire chapter. It makes a seemingly overdue appearance in Chapter Eight. 

Why is that?

Good question. I will attempt to answer that soon and very soon. But first, allow me to make an observation about a narrative pattern within the Book of Revelation. As I have mentioned in a previous blog post, the Book of Revelation is organized around four major heptads — four sets of seven scenes. In the first heptad Jesus Christ gives seven diagnostic messages to seven churches. In the second heptad, Christ, the Lion-Lamb, breaks open seven seals, each of which results in yet another strange scene. In the third heptad, seven angels sound seven trumpets, each of which results in something surreal and catastrophic. In the fourth and final heptad, seven angels pour seven bowls of cataclysmic wrath upon the world. In super-succinct summary, the Book of Revelation presents four core heptads: 1) the seven messages, 2) the seven seals, 3) the seven trumpets, and 4) the seven bowls.

Notably and significantly, three of the four Apocalyptic heptads are interrupted between scene six and scene seven. The Seven Seals are interrupted between the Sixth Seal and the Seventh (interrupted by Chapter Seven). The Seven Trumpets are interrupted between the Sixth Trumpet and the Seventh (interrupted by most of Chapter Eleven). And the Seven Bowls are interrupted between the Sixth Bowl and the Seventh (interrupted parenthetically by just one very curious verse of warning: 16:15, that is). 

But back to the question of why Chapter Seven interrupts the tempo of the opening of the Seven Seals. Why is that? Why the chapter-long interruption? Here’s the reason: It is because no one ever expected the Surprise revealed in the Seventh Seal. The Seventh Seal comes along as a huge historical shock. The Seventh Seal reveals a profound mystery that had been (mostly) undisclosed for centuries.

That mystery is the Church. 

Chapter Seven presents the reader with 144,000 sealed Servants of God. The number 144,000 derives from an equation of 12,000 multiplied by 12 — 12,000 sealed servants from each of the twelve tribes of the Children of Israel. But… gasp! The twelve names listed in Revelation Chapter Seven are historically wrong, since the Tribes of Dan and Ephraim are omitted entirely. These two omissions are not a mistake, though, but instead a clue to the close reader. While the Servants of God do include the Children of Israel, not all of the Children of Israel are Servants of God.

And then Chapter Seven depicts a vast uncountable throng, from every nation, and from all the tribes, peoples, and languages. They, too, count as Servants of God. Since they are where they are — up there in Heaven, dressed in white and worshipping God — they, too, are to be included among the 144,000 elect Servants of God. Gasp, again! This is a surprise, a massive surprise. This is an utter mystery, as it was entirely unexpected. How did all these unexpected foreign people end up there in Heaven?

These unexpected foreign people — all these Gentiles — were/are redeemed from the nations by Christ. They, along with the redeemed Children of Israel, make up the Church of Christ. The mystery is that the Church is comprised of both the redeemed Children of Israel and the redeemed Gentiles.

If this is so, where does the multi-national Church of Christ come from? And when does the Church begin? When is the Church’s birthday?

The Church was born on Pentecost Sunday, on a Sunday morning in May, 33AD/CE, when fire was flung to Earth from Heaven. The fire that was flung from Heaven is the Holy Spirit. In the Book of Revelation the Flung Fire is both the Seventh (and final) Seal (see Revelation 8:5) and the First Trumpet (see 8:7).

But if this Flung Fire is really the impartation of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, why does Revelation present the event and its aftermath in terms of blood, death, and destruction? Very good question. My answer is that this should be understood as figurative speech, as non-literal speech. After the Resurrection and before Christ returns, God wages war against His enemies, as He always has. But more often than not, God now battles his human adversaries spiritually, rather than physically. He prefers to overpower them spiritually, not physically. He subdues them using spiritual weapons, not physical weapons. He desires to “slay” them and yet leave them alive physically. God brings the ego to its end and then gives new life by the Spirit. He “kills” us by converting us. We die to ourselves in the water of baptism and are raised to new life as members of the Church.

If this figurative interpretation of Revelation seems like a stretch, I strongly suggest you give it further consideration and not reject it outright. There is quite a bit more to be said in substantiation of it. And it helps make sense of much of what Revelation presents. In fact, it turns whole sections of Revelation upside down, and transforms what at first seems impossibly horrifying into something hopeful and happy.

But I realize I have more work to do to convince you of all that. For now, you might start by reading Hosea 6:5, where God claims to have slain his stubborn, rebellious Chosen People by the words of His mouth. How is it that God slays rebellious people by the Words of His Mouth? Is God’s verbal violence to be understood physically or spiritually?  

Matthew 10:32-42 – Not Peace, But a Sword

To be continued.                 

A Scientist and a Fisherman

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

A Scientist and a Fisherman – Audio Version

Curiously enough, interpreting the Book of Revelation rather resembles a science project. An interpreter starts with a hunch, a hunch that he (he, because by he in this scenario I mean me) needs to first articulate and craft into a clearly-stated hypothesis. Once the interpreter has put his hunch into words, he needs to devise an accurate means to test it. Devising such a test is rarely, if ever, easy. But a well-designed, accurate test cannot be bypassed. For reliable, replicable results, it is altogether necessary. Then, after his hypothesis has been tested and determined to be correct or incorrect, the scientist — er, interpreter — must do one of three things: 1) admit failure and scrap the hypothesis; 2) recognize that the hypothesis has some problems and thus needs to be reconsidered and revised; or 3) share his results and findings with his peers and colleagues, lest no one else benefit from what he has found. The whole point of the scientific endeavor, after all, is to benefit others with attained knowledge.

Enter the “Mad” Scientist. Sometimes a scientist will have a hypothesis that is met with wide skepticism, and even outright scorn from others in a field of specialization. However, the Mad Scientist is thoroughly convinced that she (she, because I recently read how this very scenario played out with a female scientist who developed mRNA vaccines) is convinced she is correct and on the right track. With that firm conviction, what options does the marginalized Mad Scientist pursue? She endures the scorn and finds a way to soldier on, lest no one else benefit from what she has found and might develop.

Enter the “Loony” Interpreter. Sometimes an interpreter will have an interpretation that is met with wide skepticism, and even outright scorn from others ~somewhat~ familiar with the topic. However, the Loony Interpreter is thoroughly convinced that he is (probably) correct and on the right track. What options does the Loony Interpreter have? He endures the scorn and keeps going, lest no one else benefit from what he has discovered and learned. The whole point of the theological endeavor, after all, is to benefit others with attained knowledge.

At some point, though, the scientist-interpreter analogy begins to break down. After all, hard science is a more objective discipline than Biblical interpretation. In science, the lines between the correct and the incorrect are usually much starker. Compared to theology, it is easier and usually faster to determine which hypotheses have failed and which have succeeded. Nonetheless, in either discipline, peer-review unavoidably happens and must happen. The whole peer-review aspect of science and academia serves as a sorter, an arbiter of what is enduring and worthwhile, in distinction to what is fallacious junk. 

And so it must be with any would-be interpreter. Findings must be submitted for peer review. Ergo, this blog. And although a blog may not be the ideal forum for peer review, it potentially allows someone on the “professional” fringe a voice. Because otherwise, no one else will benefit from what he, the interpreter, has found and learned. 

Waiting is the hardest part. It is akin to fishing. When a blogger puts his thoughts out into cyberspace, he effectively casts them into a murky pool. He never knows ahead of time what may or may not come. He just casts, hopes, prays, and waits.

And yes, I have just metaphorically compared myself to a scientist and a fisherman. If you have read thus far, thank you for the peer review. 

Someday soon, I intend to blog about the Seventh Apocalyptic Seal, which I will call the Fire Flung from Heaven. My interpretive hypothesis is that historically, the Fire Flung from Heaven is one and the same Pentecost event recorded in the Book of Acts, Chapter 2. If that hypothesis is correct, then the Seventh Apocalyptic Seal (of Revelation 8:1-5) and the First Apocalyptic Trumpet (of Revelation 8:7) would be the very same historical event, an event which I believe occurred in Jerusalem on a Sunday morning in May, 33AD/CE. Stay tuned for my interpretation of the passage and an explanation of why I interpret the symbolism the way I do.