Archive for January, 2011

Revelation 21-22 pt.2

Yesterday, we looked at some of the difficulties of studying prophetic passages and Revelation in particular. So with these difficulties in mind, what approach will we take?

First, the symbolic v. literal difficulty: Symbols are built on reality, and we must acknowledge and understand both the reality and the symbol. For instance, in Rev 1 Jesus is described as having a voice like the roar of many waters. This is obviously symbolic of His powerful words and presence, yet it is also simply descriptive of what John actually heard.  Some symbols are simply similes or metaphors indicating spiritual truths. For example also in chapter 1, Jesus is described as having a sharp sword proceeding from His mouth. This is purely symbolic of His incisive, penetrating words. Some symbols will be eternal, visible, real reminders of spiritual truths. The Tree of Life will last for eternity as a visible reminder of God’s healing of His creation.

Second, we must approach these chapters with humility. These chapters have been debated since they were written. I will give my best understanding, but I recognize that many disagree with me on specific points. I will do my best to explain and support my conclusions, but ultimately, I look forward to seeing the reality and understanding them in the rearview mirror.

Third, we must note John’s propensity to keep returning to previous comments and expanding them or just mentioning them to remind of a detail. As I studied these chapters, I found it helpful to think of 4 successive waves of revelation, each one expanding on and explaining more of the vision John was seeing. And so, like Pooh, we must “Think, think, think!”

Fourth, it is really helpful to keep in mind that each wave of revelation describes what is present and what is absent. We will note specific instances of this as we go through the chapters, but it is fascinating to take a quick look and see the repeated pattern that John saw something, but didn’t see something else.

Fifth, there are many references of references and allusions to the OT and other NT writings. We must use Scripture to interpret Scripture. Think of a tapestry being woven that it is coming toward the end of the project. Threads being tied together. Loose ends being gathered into the completed masterpiece. If I may suggest a rich study: Compare Rev 21-22 to Gen 1-3 and note those things unraveled at the beginning of Scripture that are rewoven at the end.


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Jill’s birthday cake

Mint Chocolate Chip Cake

The Cake: Using a White Layer Cake as the base (you can find the Cook’s Country recipe here, stir 1 cup of mini chocolate chips into the batter, along with 1 1/2 teaspoons mint extract, and 5+ drops of green food coloring (5 drops didn’t make it very green. I’ll try 7 next time).

Divide among three prepared cake pans. Bake 20-25 minutes till a toothpick comes out clean.

The Icing:

  • 22 Tblsp butter, softened
  • 10 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
  • 2 tsp instant coffee granules (add to chocolate as it melts)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 2 C confectioner’s sugar

Using a whisk attachment, beat butter, melted chocolate, vanilla and salt on medium-high speed till combined. Reduce speed to medium-low.

Slowly add confectioner’s sugar till smooth. Increase speed to medium-high and beat till light and fluffy (about 5 minutes).

Assemble: spread a crumb coat of icing on top of each layer. Place one on serving platter, and spread about 2/3 Cup icing over top. Top with second layer and repeat, then with the third. Spread remaining icing on sides of cake. Press mini-chocolate chips into sides. (It’s kinda messy at this point, but Emma and Gideon are glad to come help you clean up!)

I forgot to mix the mini chips into the batter, so I spread a good handful over top of each cake layer.

It has a distinct, but by no means overpowering, mint flavor. This is well worth making and enjoying with your better half!



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Growing up Baptist in the 70’s shaped my thinking about any number of perspectives, interpretations, and assumptions. As an adult I have rethought most of them (I hope), embracing some, refining others, rejecting a few. I remember a pastor preaching through Revelation and the thrills, the fascination that a rigidly literal interpretation aroused. However, the longer I study this book and the other prophetic passages, I find more questions and less certainty about most of my conclusions.

We are about to dive into Revelation 21-22, what I call “The Heart of the New Heavens and New Earth.” But before beginning this study, I want to give some background to my thoughts about God’s revelation of prophecy in general and these chapters in particular.

First, a few key principles of interpreting prophetic literature that I find helpful to remember.

  1. Prophecy is intended to encourage/stimulate our trust in God, not flesh out every detail of the future.
  2. In other words, prophecy is primarily about a Person, not events. When we get wrapped up in times and seasons, helicopters, numbers, and worldwide conspiracies, we rapidly lose sight of the true purpose of this revelation of God.
  3. Prophecy is only completely clear in hindsight.   This principle dawned on me as I meditated on Christ’s birth one Christmas. Think about the Jewish scholars at the time of Christ. They knew where He would be born, and without too much difficulty they could have known within a few years when He would be born. Yet all this that is so clear to us now was foggy as they experienced it.
  4. God tends to be more literal than many people believe and more descriptive or symbolic than many people understand. When it comes to discerning literal v. symbolic, it seems that Bible students tend to skew toward one extreme or the other. The more difficult the passage, the easier it is to head toward one of the extremes. Look at the difficulty the disciples had in understanding the prophecies of Christ’s death and resurrection. How could they miss it? How could they not be waiting with eager anticipation for His bodily return from the tomb? It becomes much easier to pick out the reality from the symbolism in past events, but looking toward the future we run into this quandary again.
  5. God has surprises that we don’t anticipate. A final helpful principle is illustrated by Matthew’s mention of the fulfilled prophecy “out of Egypt I called My Son.” The ‘problem’ is that when we look at the Old Testament it is impossible to discern that it was a prophecy at all. The OT verse deals with Israel, not Christ. It isn’t until the Spirit illumines this through Matthew that we learn the full import. Will we learn of other important fulfilled prophecies only after the fact? I don’t know for sure (how could we?) but I wouldn’t be at all surprised.

As we look at Revelation 21-22, we find some specific difficulties that apply to these chapters.

1. There are legitimate difficulties in understanding apocalyptic literature, a genre not used today. I recognize the validity of this point, but I am not at all certain how far to take it. (Explaining the principles of apocalyptic literature is fairly involved; googling it unearths numerous decent web sources.) As a  genre apocalyptic literature was used extensively beginning about 200 bc and then died away about 400 years later.

I have listened to a number of excellent Bible scholars who appeal to the genre as a key to their understanding of prophetic passages. But I have a couple problems with this as the primary grid for interpreting Revelation.

This seems to violate the principle of the perspicuity of Scripture, that the meaning of Scripture is understandable on its own.  If understanding this genre is a key to understanding Revelation, how are we to understand it? How is a Bible student in a 3rd world country who has no access to apocalyptic scholarship supposed to come to an accurate understanding? I have serious problems believing that God would hide a proper understanding in this way.

2. What is symbolic v. what is literal? What is real v. what is metaphor? That being said, I do agree that this is a different kind of literature from other sections of Scripture. I do believe it requires a faithful student to look at it in a different light and that a rigidly literal understanding is fraught with danger. And it is equally dangerous to look at it as so heavily symbolic that one’s imagination rules. I have found too many instances of different Bible scholars propose different explanations for the same symbol to be entirely comfortable in this whole area of hermeneutics.

3. Rev 21-22 weave together the strands of divine revelation. It is necessary to trace the strands back through Scripture to understand these chapters properly.
John intimately knew both the OT and the inspired teachings of Christ. He often makes run-by references to these and expects his students to understand them properly. This fact alone makes the study of Revelation a daunting task.

4. John can’t leave well enough alone! He keeps returning to points previously mentioned.

Paul’s writings are fairly easy to follow. He writes logically, sequentially, and thoroughly, and most of us think like he did. John writes in circles. He tends to introduce a topic, swing back by it again, then return to it later. 1 John is a clear example of this, as is the entire letter of Revelation. Revelation 21-22 give us an example of this in miniature.

If these are the difficulties we must navigate to understand, how will we proceed? Tomorrow, I will explain some basic approaches that I will take in studying these two wonderful chapters.

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Mortimer Adler, How to Read a Book (p. 140):

Teachability is often confused with subservience.

A person is wrongly thought to be teachable if he is passive and pliable.

On the contrary, teachability is an extremely active virtue.

No one is really teachable who does not freely exercise his power of independent judgment. He can be trained, perhaps, but not taught. The most teachable reader is, therefore, the most critical. He is the reader who finally responds to a book by the greatest effort to make up his own mind on the matters the author has discussed.

HT: Justin Taylor


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Listened to Othello. I’ve seen the play once or twice in person and watched the Lawrence Fishburne version several times. Inevitably I find myself mumbling, “Wicked, wicked Iago.” And then prattle on in more Shakespearean speech under my breath.

That’s one of the things that makes Shakespeare so fun. He was such a craftsman with words that you can’t help but want to imitate him, e’er so poorly as you may.

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Listened to Emma and I am still trying to sort out my thoughts about the book. After a couple hours of listening, the book seemed to be a genteel soap opera, with occasional gossip commercials. Jane Austen does a fantastic job of fleshing out her characters. However, I found Austen’s Emma likeable and singularly unappealing. She also personified several manipulative people I have known.  That is, I suppose, Austen’s genius: she so accurately portrays faults and foibles that the vices are not glamorized.

In the end though, I was pretty glad that I listened to this book after our Emma was born. Jill and I had a hard enough time coming up with names that weren’t already stained in our minds. I like ours a lot better, and now I have a better idea of how I don’t want her to end up.

This having been my first exposure to JAusten, are all her heroines so flawed?

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A key question. A marvelous implication.

We have looked at a number of markers that strongly point us to the conclusion that God redeems the pre-born and children who die. This naturally raises a key question: When are children culpable? Or to put it another way, what about the “age of accountability”?

The Bible never says anything about  any specific age/time/stage of a child’s life when they are accountable to God, but it does recognize a distinction between children and adults. Remember God’s admonishment of Jonah about His compassion for those children who don’t know their right hand from their left. Children are under the instruction and authority of their parents, and fathers in particular are immediately responsible for their actions. When the Israelites sinned at Kadesh Barnea, God judged all those who were 20 and older. God took 38 years to accomplish this judgment, so it wasn’t simply that He knew that He didn’t want a gaggle of children wandering around in the wilderness. He specifically reserved judgment for those who were of a certain age.

So when is a child held responsible to God? When he is ‘able to understand’? What does that mean? A very young child is able to understand consequences for their actions, and they can easily be taught basic truths about God. But that doesn’t mean that it all comes together for them. Parents and godly communities have wrestled with this question throughout the ages. I find it interesting, though by no means normative, that the Jews codified this with their custom of the bar/bat mitzvah. This celebration of a Jewish boy or girl (at about the age of 13) who is regarded as an adult in the Jewish community. More importantly, this is the time at which he is held responsible before God for his actions.

Why doesn’t God make this clear? I don’t know. I do know that it does several things for me as a parent. It forcefully reminds me of my dependence on God. In one sense I think that I’d like to be able to control my child’s salvation. If I can just explain well enough, soon enough, with enough conviction, wring out a few tears, tell some compelling stories, I can convince my child to be saved. Needless to say, this has driven a LOT of child evangelism in recent generations.

It reminds me that God is sovereignly loving and wise in all things. He is more their father than I am. His desires for Aubrey and Emma and Gideon are greater and deeper and stronger than mine. This also reminds me that my children’s salvation is ultimately between them and God. I have a role to play; the Holy Spirit is far more vital.

This also encourages me. Many well-intentioned parents put a lot of pressure on themselves to get their children to ‘make a decision’. I find that an understanding of this allows me to relax by focusing on my role of teaching and modeling Christ before my children.

Setting aside this question, as I reflected on what we have learned about God’s care of children, I put it together with a few other statistics and come to a startling and marvelous conclusion.

It is pretty easy to look at statistics of infant mortality. In our modern times in 3rd world countries, as many as one child in four dies before the age of 2. Medical science is just beginning to realize the high percentage of pregnancies that end often before the mother even realizes that she is pregnant. When you add in the shocking prevalence of abortion, not just in our times but throughout history, you begin to realize the staggering number of redeemed that are around God’s throne.

In fact, based on what I have seen, I am convinced that there will be more people in God’s heaven than in God’s hell.

We have a baby in God’s presence. I can’t wait to meet her or him.

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