Yesterday I was the guest on the hour-long ‘Bible surgery’ on Premier Christian Radio, hosted by Maria Rodrigues and recorded over Zoom. It was the first time that I had worked with Maria, and she is a lovely person!
Although the programme was an hour long, with songs and breaks my contribution was about 35 minutes in total. You can listen to it here.
In response to questions, we discussed:
o.oo My own encounter with the issues in my Christian journey.
2.38 Does the Bible teach the doctrine of the ‘Rapture‘, when Christians will be secretly whisked away to heaven by Jesus?
I have commented on this at length in several articles, including this one on the relevant reading from Matt 24, where I note:
The comparison with the ‘days of Noah’ contains a simple logical structure which, because of assumptions we make about the passage, it is easy to miss. In the days of Noah, most people were unaware of the coming judgement, and were pre-occupied with the mundane realities of life, as if these were all that mattered. When the flood came, they were taken away, whilst Noah and has family, having taken notice of God and made ready, remained behind in the ark and stayed to repopulate the earth. In the same way, people will be pre-occupied with the mundane realities of life, as if these were all that mattered, but when Jesus returns they will be swept away in judgement. Those who follow the teaching of Jesus and have made ready will be left behind to receive and live in the coming kingdom, the New Jerusalem which will come from heaven to earth (Rev 21).
The logic of this is quite clear: in the days of Noah, it was the wicked facing judgement who were swept away, and the righteous who were left. In the same way it will be those absorbed with this life who will be swept away, whilst those who are ready for Jesus will be left behind.
Therefore I want to be left behind, and you should too.
8.05 Will Jesus come down to Jerusalem, so will those of us in the UK miss out?
This is the comment I make in my IVP commentary on the Book of Revelation on the beginning of chapter 21:
As John’s report of what he has seen unfolds, the contrasts and connections with earlier parts of his vision report become more muted, especially those connected with judgement, but continue to be present. The details of the bride-city offer a clear contrast with the depiction of ‘Babylon’ earlier, but John is content to allow us to notice these for ourselves, rather than drawing attention to them.
He does his theology through numbers, structures and lists as he has done at key points earlier in the text, especially in Rev. 7–13. This extraordinary (and, literally speaking, impossible) giant cube-city is a new holy of holies, not one that is a single part of a single temple in a single city in a single country in the world, but encompassing the world itself of John’s day. This is the holy presence of God on a truly cosmic scale. As with his first vision of heavenly worship in Rev. 4, the exact details of what John sees are impossible to make sense of – but their multiple significance is to be found in his re-use of Old Testament imagery. This city is not just the counter-point to all failed human aspiration to transcendence and significance (‘to make a name for ourselves’, Gen. 11:4) but fulfils the specific hope of the people of God as they longed to see themselves returned home from exile and longed to see God’s name glorified once more.
The city that shines with the glory of God is (with its walls reaching to the skies) the ultimate place of security and peace. Its splendour and magnificence are without compare, dwarfing all human measures of extravagance. It is the home for the beautifully adorned bride of the lamb; it is the home of the priestly people of God; it is the place where the created order is restored to its original splendour.
12.06 What is the mark of the beast, and will it be obvious to us that something is the mark of the beast?
In my article on the mark of beast I observe:
There are a few things worth noting here immediately. The first is that John is not here offering an esoteric and mysterious code which requires secret knowledge to unlock. The phrase ‘this calls for wisdom’ is echoed later in Rev 17.9, when we are told about the identity of the Great Whore of Babylon: ‘The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits.’ This is a clear reference to the seven hills of Rome; it is not a secret! In the same way, it is reasonable to assume that John expected his readers to understand clearly what he was referring to.
This leads to the second observation. Quite a few commentators argue that we should not try and work out what the number stands for; it is symbolic, and its threefold ‘6’ suggests a falling short and imperfection, in contrast with the number 7 which is associated with God. In fact, 7 is a number of completeness rather than holiness, and the problem with this argument is that it contradicts the plain sense of the text, which in fact tells us to ‘calculate’, to work it out (the verb is psephizo, so you might imagine I have an interest in it!).
Thirdly, another thing which is often missed by commentators is that this mark cannot be interpreted separately from making sense of the ‘seal’ which is put on the foreheads of the 144,000 servants of God in Rev 7.3 (though the act of this sealing is never in fact recounted). Chapter 14 offers two juxtaposed scenes—of the 144,000 who have been sealed enjoying the presence of God, and the rest of humanity who have the mark of the beast facing the judgement of God. In other words, the two marks or seals divide humanity completely into two distinct groups, the saved and the judged. You either have the seal of God, or the mark of the beast; you cannot have both or neither. This is part of the text’s general strategy to raised the stakes in terms of the readers’ relationship with their culture; it is often less about comforting the oppressed, as much as challenging the comfortable to realise that they cannot compromise in their discipleship.
18.00 Is the 144,000 in Rev 7 those who are saved? If so, will most Christians miss out?
In my commentary on Rev 7 I summarise the theology as follows:
John’s vision here offers a three-fold picture of the people of God which are interrelated. The first is of a people looking like an army ready for spiritual warfare as they endure the intermediate time between their release from slavery and before their entry into the promised land, recast by John to refer to the period from Jesus’ death, resurrection and exaltation until his return and the renewal of all things. The second is of this people Israel now drawn from all nations of the earth, ‘out of every nation’ in terms of having members from every nation rather than being a nation set apart by national and ethnic boundaries. They are a people caught up in the praise of the one on the throne and of the lamb that we encountered in Rev. 4–5. The third portrait is of this people having come through intense suffering – not the suffering brought about by God’s wrath and judgement, but the ‘tribulation’ that comes from staying faithful to the testimony of the lamb who was slain in the face of relentless opposition. They are protected from divine judgement, but nevertheless endure suffering at the hands of human power; chapters 6 and 7 together function as a narrative exposition of Jesus injunction in Matt. 10:28. ‘do not fear those who harm the body, but God who can destroy the soul’.
Together, these portraits give us a picture of a people in receipt of God’s grace and responding to it. In contrast to those who, in desperation, cry to the rocks and mountains for protection (6:16), the servants of God wait for the gift of protection that comes from God’s sealing of them. They stand in white before the throne because of the gift of the blood of the lamb, by which they have been purchased as a kingdom of priests for God (5:9). And their response to this gift is to remain faithful, just as Jesus did, and be ready to live a disciplined life of obedience. The holy warfare for which they are prepared is their non-violent witness to Jesus, even to the point of death.
24.10 If the Book of Revelation is written for the first century, why are we reading it now? What is its relevance?
In my section on ‘What kind of text is Revelation?’ I note its three primary genres:
First, it is an apocalypse, that is, a revelation from God. John is claiming to offer us a perspective on the world that we could not work out for ourselves, and so we need to pay attention, to look and listen. This is emphasized in his repeated interjection of ‘Behold!’ (26 times, from 1:7 through to 22:12). Such ‘revelation’ is in fact at the heart of the Christian faith, and the verb apokalypto is used repeatedly by Paul to describe how the good news has come to us (Rom. 1:17, 8:18, 1 Cor. 2:10, Gal. 3:23, Eph. 3:5 and so on).
Secondly, what John writes is a letter, clearly communicated in the epistolary markers in Rev. 1 which offer close parallels to the style of Paul’s letters, and the closing epistolary comments which also echo Paul. Letters are written to particular people living in a particular time and place, and taking Revelation seriously as a letter means reading it in its historical and cultural context just as we would any other letter in the New Testament. John knew his readers who lived in the province of Asia, and he appears to have expected them to understand what he wrote.
Third, Revelation claims to be a prophecy, a word used seven times in the book, five times emphatically describing what John has written (1:3, 22:7, 10, 18, 19). Prophecy is less concerned with predicting the future in any abstract sense, and more concerned with communicating God’s message, calling people to obedience by highlighting the consequences of their actions and the new possibilities offered by repentance and obedience. Having made sense of Revelation by reading and listening carefully, we then need to respond to what John reveals about the world we live in by keeping faith with Jesus, the word of God.
28.48 Why does thinking about eschatology matter?
30.24 We currently have corrupt government, merchants exploiting the system, massive environmental damage—does this show we are in the end times predicted by Jesus?
I offer this summary in my section on the theological themes of Revelation in the introduction to the commentary:
The rhetorical goal of John’s writing – for his first readers as well as for subsequent generations – is that they should be motivated and equipped to live as mature disciples of Jesus. The central element of this is to be a ‘faithful witness’ as Jesus was, living a life of ‘patient endurance’ (1:9) in the face of opposition and difficulty, but motivated by a clearer understanding of the ‘kingdom’ that is ours in Jesus. It is this ‘quietist’ approach, involving non-violent resistance to the forces of imperial conformity, which constitutes true victory, trusting as it does in God’s ultimate power and justice for vindication. This is a life that is lived in constant anticipation, always looking forwards to the promised end, so that the present becomes shaped by the hope of the future. As in Paul’s understanding (seen, for example, in his description of baptism and resurrection in Romans 6), the saints are already beginning to live the resurrection life – they are already casting their crowns before the throne of God since they are already ‘dwellers in heaven’ – and this is to be lived out in their various contexts on earth until the final and definitive visitation of God’s presence in the form of the holy city that descends from heaven. In Revelation, being a disciple is about living in the ‘now’ as well as the ‘not yet’ of expectation, with the former decisively shaped by the latter.
I hope you enjoy the broadcast!
You can buy my Grove booklet on eschatology (post free in the UK) at the Grove website here.
You can buy my commentary on Revelation from IVP here or any good bookstore.