The Book of Revelation is Not about Retreat from the World

New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham, in his The Theology of the Book of Revelation, writes the following timely rebuke and exhortation for Christians:

Revelation does not respond to the dominant ideology by promoting Christian withdrawal into a sectarian enclave that leaves the world to its judgment while consoling itself with millenial dreams. Since this is the standard caricature of the apocalyptic mentality, it must be strongly emphasized that it is the opposite of Revelation’s outlook, which is oriented to the coming of God’ s kingdom in the whole world and calls Christians to active participation in this coming kingdom…Worship, which  is so prominent in the theocentric vision of Revelation, has nothing to do with pietistic retreat from the public world. It is the source of resistance to the idolatries of the public world. It points representatively to the acknowledgment of the true God by all the nations, in the universal worship for which  the whole creation is destined.” [(New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 161.]

The Names of Jesus in Scripture

Theologian Herman Bavinck rattles off this stunning list of names that the Scriptures use to describe the person and work of Jesus:

“He is called the Son of God, the only-begotten, beloved Son of God, the Word, the image of God, the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, the firstborn of all creation, the true God and eternal life, God to be praised above all…, Immanuel. In addition, he is called the Son of Man, the son of Joseph and David, the Nazarene…, the Galilean, the holy and righteous one, the second Adam, the Lord of heaven, the firstborn of all creatures, and the firstborn of the dead. Finally, in terms of his office and work, he is called Prophet, Master, Teacher, Priest, the Great Priest, the High Priest, the Servant of the Lord, the Lamb of God, the King, the King of the Jews, the King of Israel, the King of kings, the Lord, the Lord of glory, the Lord of lords, the head of the church, the bridegroom of the church, the shepherd and guardian of souls, the pioneer and perfecter of the faith, the pioneer of salvation, the way, the truth, and the life, the bread of life, the prince of life, the resurrection and the life, the shepherd of the sheep, the door of the sheepfold, the light  of world, the shining morning star, the lion of the tribe of Judah, the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end, the judge of the living and the dead, the heir of all things by whom, in whom, and for whom all things have been created. All these names sufficiently prove the incomparable dignity and enirely unique place that belong to Christ. He is the mediator of both creation and re-creation.” [Reformed Dogmatics: Sin and Salvation in Christ, Volume 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 362- 363.]

Read it again out loud.

How can you not marvel at the “incomparable dignity” and uniqueness of Jesus? Starting your morning with a paragraph like that will incite worship in your heart. There is none like Jesus.

A Conversation with Biblical Theologian Dr. Greg Beale

Dr. Greg (G.K.) Beale is a Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary and the author of the forthcoming A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (set to be published by Baker Book House in November of 2011). Some of my personal favorites of his works are the book he edited with Dr. D.A. Carson Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, his biblical theology of the temple and the Church’s mission, his biblical theology of idolatry, and his massive and important commentary on the book of Revelation. Recently he spoke a few times on the topic of Scripture at Clarus 2011–a conference held at Desert Springs Church in New Mexico. He graciously agreed to do the following interview with me this morning primarily on the topic of biblical theology. The conversation features themes like connecting the Old Testament to the New Testament, finding Jesus in the Old Testament, preaching the gospel to yourself, and be sure to hang around for the last question regarding the highly publicized prediction of judgment day and the rapture being May 21, 2011 (tomorrow, gasp!). The interview is approximately 43 minutes long, so grab a cup of coffee and take a listen or download it and listen to it on your iPod later.

Click HERE to listen.

Man is Lost, but He is Not Nothing

Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer wrote,

The Bible teaches that, though man is hopelessly lost, he is not nothing. Man is lost because he is separated from God, his true reference point, by true moral guilt. But he never will be nothing. Therein lies the horror of his lostness. For man to be lost, in all his uniqueness and wonder, is tragic. [Escape From Reason, 90]

God’s good news in Christ remedies this tragedy.  As the second Adam, Jesus, God’s Son, came to rescue men and women from their lost state incurred by sin and reconcile them to God. Jesus, the image of the invisible God, restores the brokenness of men and women created in God’s image by dying for their sin and triumphing over death.

God has not abandoned sinners to their lostness. He has not left humanity, the wonder of creation, to wander this world under his judgment alone. In the person and work of Christ Jesus, God seeks and saves lost men and women and finds them.

Jesus is in the business of pursuing lost people and making them new people. You may be and feel lost and hopeless, but you are not nothing. God finds and saves people just like you. Jesus is the hope of humanity because he is God come in the flesh who saves fallen men and women who find their hope in him.

The Idolatry of Self-Righteousness

Jonathan Edwards uncovers the idolatry of self-righteousness:

You who trust to your own righteousness, arrogate to yourselves the honour of the greatest thing that ever God himself did…To take on yourself to work out redemption, is a greater thing than if you had taken it upon you to create the world…

Is it any wonder, then, that a self-righteous spirit is so represented in Scripture, and spoken of, as that which is most fatal to the souls of men? And is it any wonder, that Christ is represented in Scripture as being so provoked with the Pharisees and others, who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and were proud of their goodness, and thought that their own performances were a valuable price of God’s favour and love? [A History of the Work of Redemption, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 1, 581]

As Edwards demonstrates, when you are self-righteous you attempt to do the greatest thing that God has ever done, namely, redeem sinners. What greater arrogance can there be than to think that your own work of self-redemption is better than God’s work of redemption?

The idol within the heart of the self-righteous is self, as you present to God your righteousness in the place of his. It is a foolish attempt to do what God alone can do.

Therefore repent of your self-righteousness daily and trust God’s good news of redemption for the world found only in his perfectly righteous Son, Jesus.

Everyday Life in the Time of Jesus of Nazareth

Curious to what life was like in the time of Jesus of Nazareth?

The following bullet points of the socioeconomic life of that time is summarized from New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg’s book Jesus And the Gospels:

  • The Jewish people made up roughly 8% of the Roman empire. Of the 50 million inhabitants of the Roman empire, 4 million were Jews and 700,000 of them lived in Israel. (55)
  • Jesus ministered mainly outside of large pro-Roman cities. However, the region of Galilee was not as rural as you think–“…the majority of Galilee was made up of as many as two hundred small villages, few as large as Capernaum, which had possibly one thousand inhabitants. We must therefore avoid stereotyping Jesus and his disciples as roaming through largely uninhabited regions with large farms. Galilee, was in some respects more urban than we imagine it.” (57)
  • News was either posted in town squares or announced by a herald. (57).
  • You average family “lived in one-room, two-level dwellings with living quarters separated from and raised above the animal stalls.” (58) Jewish extended families often lived together. (63)
  • Towns stunk because many would pour their sewage into designated sections of the middle of the street. (59)
  • Wine was the drink of choice, but it was “as much as three times as diluted as it is today.” (59)
  • Wealthy Romans had four meals a day of meat and dairy, while many other ordinary Jews had two meals consisting mostly of bread. (59)
  • After dinner, usually amidst only good friends, two-three hours of the evening was spent in conversation. (59)
  • Women dressed simpler than men, yet had more colorful clothing. Most men had beards, and most women had long hair put in a bun. (60)
  • The transit system within the Roman empire was the best in the ancient world, but roads that were not well-traveled could be quite dangerous. “Inns dotted the landscape, providing lodging for travelers, but many were notorious as hangouts for pirates and prostitutes. More reputable people preferred to stay in private homes with relatives, friends, or people who were recommended to them.” (57)
  • 1 to 2 percent of the population had 1/2 the wealth of the empire (political, military and religious leaders), 5-7 were considered rich (bureaucratic individuals), and about 15 percent were middle class (priests, Pharisees, fortunate merchants, etc.); while 70 percent of the population lived within what we would consider poverty and “were struggling farmers and fisherman or subsistence  laborers working for others”. (60)
  • Slavery was common. For the most part, people were either born into slavery, a prisoner of war, or sold themselves into slavery to pay off debts. “Unlike pre-Civil War America, in the Roman world slaves could own property, earn money, and often save enough to buy their own freedom.” (61)
  • Most of Jesus’ disciples and followers were poor, but they “relied on the support that others offered, including considerable help from a strategic group of well-to-do women (Luke 8:1-3).” (61)
  • Due to the Jewish triple tax (10% to priests and Levites, 10% for temple sacrifice, and a bit over 3% for the poor) and normal Roman taxes, Jews could pay more than half their income in taxes. (61)
  • One job that was not held in high repute was teaching, and many teachers were former slaves (62).
  • Men were expected to marry: Jews usually by 18, Romans by 25, and Greeks by 30. Women were usually married in their mid teens. Divorce was common, but not as common among Jews. Children had no social voice. Girls were not formally educated unless among the Greco-Roman rich. Jewish boys were educated in the Bible, and Greek boys in Homer and rhetoric. (63)
  • Privacy was rare in crowded cities, and usually only the wealthy owned books. (58)
  • Funerals and weddings could last a week among an entire village.  Jews enjoyed singing and story-telling, Greeks enjoyed theater, and Hellenists enjoyed sporting events like Olympic games and gladiators. Holy days and the once-a-week Sabbath for Jews were a time of joy and celebration, while for Romans and Greeks (who did not get weekly days off)  “numerous annual holidays, temple rituals, and patriotic celebrations provided relief from daily routines”. (63)

The Difference Between Discouragement and Humility

Humility and discouragement are not the same thing. Sadly, some Christians walk around discouraged presuming that their discouragement is an evidence of their humility. Nothing could be further from the truth. Humility breeds conviction and joy; discouragement breeds condemnation and moroseness. William Bridge, in his book written in 1649, A Lifting Up for the Downcast, writes the following:

“True humiliation is no enemy but a real friend unto spiritual joy, to our rejoicing in God. The more a man is humbled for sin committed, the more he will rejoice in God and rejoice that he can grieve for sin…Therefore humiliation is said by our Saviour Christ to be an effect of the work of the Comforter: ‘I will send the Comforter, and he will convince the world of sin.’ Because comfort always goes along with true humiliation, it is not an enemy but a friend to our spiritual rejoicing; but discouragement is an enemy to spiritual joy…when a man is truly humbled, the more he is humbled for sin, the more he can rejoice in God; but the more a man is discouraged, the less he rejoices in God.” (82)

The conviction of sin that the Holy Spirit brings will lead one into sorrow for sin, but ultimately leads one into the comfort of Jesus Christ because the Holy Spirit loves to glorify the work of Jesus not the work of sinners. Humility is not being overly preoccupied with sin, but being convicted of sin and preoccupied with Jesus.

“Let Christians carry this rule always up and down with them, namely, that a man is to be humbled for his sin, although it be never so small, but he is not to be discouraged for his sin, though it be never so great. Both these parts are true. A man is not to be discouraged under his sin, though it be never so great; because discouragement itself is a sin, and that cannot help against sin. Sin cannot help against sin…So, then, if you would be humbled and not discouraged, carry this rule up and down with you, and remember it upon all occasions: It is my duty, and I have reason to be humbled for my sin, although it be never so small; but I have no reason to be discouraged under my sin, though it be never so great…

The more you are humbled and grieved by the sight of God’s free love and grace, the more you will be humbled and the less discouraged.” (83, 86)

Christian, are you discouraged and depressed over your sin? This may be due to the fact that you are prideful not humble. Jesus is in the business of forgiving sinners and desires that you walk in the joy of the forgiveness he purchased for you.