Thursday, September 29, 2011

Revelation's Proposition: HE IS COMING!

Revelation 1:7-8

The introduction of the book of Revelation concludes with a proposition that is also the first prophetic oracle of the book. It is in the form of an announcement, which at the same time provides the content of the book of Revelation in a nutshell. Interestingly, John is the speaker in verse 7, and God is the speaker in verse 8. John declares: “Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen (1:7). There are four elements in the pronouncement:

·         An attention getter: “Behold” (1:7a). The Greek word idou, meaning to pay attention, and is used 26 times in Revelation and emphasizes the importance of what follows. It highlights the critical prophetic oracles in Revelation.[1]

·         The declaration: “He is coming with the clouds” (1:7b). This is a declaration of the Second Coming of Christ. He is “the coming one”—Christ’s name in Old Testament prophecy (cf. Matt 11:3, Dan. 7:13). This verse combines Daniel 7:13 and Zechariah 12:10. It has been estimated that Second Coming is referred to once in every twenty-five verses in the New Testament.[2] The phrase takes us back to the ascension of Christ where He went up in the clouds (cf. Acts 1:11). This is the counterpart; He is coming back in or with the clouds. At his first coming, he came to the world in a womb; this Second Coming will be with the clouds. Utley tells us there are three ways clouds are used in the Old Testament in relation to God. (1) To show His presence in the Shekinah cloud of glory (Ex. 13:21, 16:10). (2) To cover His Holiness to the view of humans (Ex. 33:20; Isa. 6:5). (3) To transport God (Isa. 19:1 cf. Dan. 7:12).[3] The phrase “with the clouds” indicates He is coming down from above. The heavenly origin of His return is reinforced in 19:11, 14. It also brings out the imagery of His coming as a Warrior-King (cf. Psa. 18:9-15; 104:1-5).[4] It also speaks of power, glory and majesty.

·         The visibility of His Coming: “and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him” (1:7c). His second coming will not be hidden or symbolic; it will be an open public event, universal and global in scope. Generations have wondered how this could be. Now in the age of technology it is no mystery. We live in a day that we see actual events happen in another part of the world as they take place. The event is broadcast live all over the world. This can be done at a moments notice. Every eye is a figure of speech for every person, everyone (cf. Matt. 24:30).[5] This presents a problem for those who holed to a 70 AD fulfillment of this event. They play mind games with the meaning of this text. Chilton states: “As He had promised, Christ would come against the present generation “in the clouds,” in wrathful judgment against apostate Israel (Matt. 23-25). And every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him (the Gentiles, John 19:34, 37): The crucifiers would see Him coming in judgment – that is, they would experience and understand that His Coming would mean wrath on the Land.[6] This does not hold water because: (1) “See” is a reference to visibility, not some abstract “understanding” by a few in Israel, let along the Romans. (2) If Israel did understand, would they not understand that this judgment requires repentance and acceptance of their Messiah? (3) It separates the Old Testament reference from its context. They defend this separation as a reinterpretation by John,[7] but there is no evidence of this in the text. It is Chilton who does the reinterpretation to fit the 70 AD context. There is no question John is making special reference to Israel in this event. Beyond question the phrases refer to Zechariah 12:10-14. The context is the future repentance and restoration of the people of Israel, which happens at the Second Coming. To use Chilton’s terms, this Old Testament reference would say that at the time of this “understanding” (seeing) would lead them to repentance and restoration from God. Nothing resembling this happen in 70 AD. In point of fact, Israel ceased to be a nation in 70 AD until 1948, and is still blind to their Messiah.

The phrase “even those who pierced Him” (1:7c) is interesting. First, it is a subgroup within every eye, the nations. While Scripture points to both Jew and Gentiles responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion (Acts 4:27-28), yet this passage speaks to the Jews responsibility (Acts 3:12-15) and because Jesus was their Messiah (Rom. 9:4-5). His second coming is a revelation to Israel of their rejected Messiah whom they pierced; it is not the rapture of the Church, the Body of Christ (recorded in 1 Thess. 4). Zachariah 12:10 identifies this subgroup as the nation—“I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem….” It is not a subgroup within Israel, but this subgroup is within of the global community—all nations. However, the subgroup within the nations is the nation: Israel. Notice the word pierced—it is only used by John in the New Testament (here and John 19:37) in reference to crucifixion. Zechariah 12:10 tells us it is God who was pierced. Thus by referring to this Old Testament verse, John is not only reinforcing His coming, but His deity. The rejected one of Israel is returning.

And all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him” (1:7c). There is a debate on how this phrase should be taken. Does it refer to the nation of Israel (Bullinger), or to all the tribes of the earth, i.e. nations (Garland)? There are two main reasons to see this as the nation of Israel. First, the text literally says “tribes of the land.” Second, it matches the meaning and context of Zechariah 12:10-14, where Israel will mourn the coming of the Lord. It describes the wailing and places it “in that day” (Zech. 12:11)—the Day of the Lord.

  • Affirmation—“So it is to be, Amen.” (1:7d). It is not a simple affirmation, but a double affirmation, combining Greek and Hebrew.  Nai (yes) is the usual Greek word of affirmation, and amen the Hebrew. It is a figure known as synonymia, which is the use of synonymous words “in order to strengthen the certainty of this prophecy.”[8] (cf. 22:20).  The coming of Christ is an absolute certainty, there is no doubt about it, it will happen as prophesied.

Verification—“ ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty’ ” (1:8). This is a statement of verification from God as to the certainty of this prophecy. The question is debated if it is God the Father or God the Son who is speaking. It is not a question with an easy answer. Those on the side of God the Father tie it to the Old Testament name for God, I AM (Exodus 3;14). Plus, the Almighty is used of God the Father, especial in Revelation (1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 15:3, 16:7, 14; 19:6, 15; 21-22). However, those on the other side points the I AM formula of John in His Gospel, where Christ is presented as the Great I AM (cf. John 6:35, 48; 8:12, 58; 10:7, 9, 11, 14; 11:25). Both the Father and Christ use these titles in Revelation: Kistemaker shows the parallels:[9]

God: I am the Alpha and the Omega (1:8)

Christ: I am the First and the Last (1:17)

God: I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End (21:6)

Christ: I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End (22:13).

Walvoord is probably correct that the switch from the Son to the Father is too abrupt in this context.[10] However, no matter how one views it the person of the Godhead is referred to here, it is absolutely clear that the verse is a validation by God. Remember, Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (John 1:30).

[1]  Osborne, REVELATION, 69
[2]  Garland, REVELATION, 1:176.
[3]  Bob Utley, REVELATION, 23.
[4]  Osborne, 70; Thomas, REVELATION, 1:77.
[5]  Bullinger, REVELATION, 146.
[6]  David Chilton, THE DAYS OF VENGEANCE, 66.
[7]  IBID, 66.
[8]  Bullinger, 147.
[9]  Kistemaker, REVELATION, 87.
[10]  Walvoord ,REVELATION, 40.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Persecution, Stephen, and Saul

Looking at Acts 8:1-3.

With the attack upon Stephen, the persecution of believers by the Jewish leadership began in earnest. Being a believer will now entail paying the price for that belief. Acts 6, 7 and 8 are linked by the subject of persecution. The first 3 verses of this Acts 8 bring the stoning of Stephen to an end, while at the same time marks the beginning of Saul’s activity. Acts 8:1 states that “Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death.” This is a concluding statement to the events of Chapter 7. It speaks of the attitude of Saul in regard to Stephen’s death; he was in active agreement with it, not just passive consent. The Greek tense indicates he “is agreeing to the action as it proceeds[1] In doing so, he was following not only the stream of opinion, but his religious loyalty. He saw Stephen as a rebel to religious authority and a religious heretic. Some relate this passage to Acts 26:10 to indicate Saul voted in the Sanhedrin. However, that connection is questionable at best. Whatever the case, it is clear Saul steps up the persecution “beyond measure” (Gal. 1:13).

What the stoning of Stephen does is unleash the hostility of the leadership of Israel against the remnant of believers found in the city of Jerusalem. It was the starting point: “And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles” (8:1). It was the answer to the offer of the kingdom. “Israel was in the process of confirming its tragic choice to reject Jesus as her Messiah,” comments Toussaint.[2] They will not repent nor listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. This was the first great persecution of believers in Jerusalem. The martyrdom of Stephen and continued persecution starts the push of evangelism away from the Jewish capital. They scattered away from the city into the country (cf. Acts 11:19). It is also clear that the word all does not mean all without exception, but indicates many or most of them scattered. This is clear because there were still believers in the city who were being hunted down and imprisoned. The text also indicates at this point the persecution was limited to the city, since the believers scattered to the countryside of Judea and Samaria.

Some maintain that this persecution was against Hellenistic Jews only.[3] There seems to be two points in its favor: First, Stephen was a Hellenistic Jew. Second, the Apostles stayed in the city because the persecution was against the Hellenistic Jews, not the true Hebrews. The Twelve being homeland Jews did not need to leave the city. However the text does not put that type of limitation on the persecution. It rather seems to indicate an unlimited persecution within the city (cf. 8:3). The text does not distinguish between Hellenistic and homeland Jews. Also Paul later says he was out to destroy the church (Gal. 1:13), in a context that indicates the whole believing assembly, not just a portion of it. He also says he punished believers in every synagogue, not just the Hellenistic synagogues (Acts 26:11).

In light of this persecution, why did the Apostles stay in Jerusalem? Was it because they were homeland Jews, not Hellenistic Jews? Such a view is highly questionable and unlikely. Harrison suggests the Apostles were not the subject of persecution because of their popularity and respect of many in Jerusalem.[4] Others say because of their duty to the believers in Jerusalem. This has some merit. They were commissioned to start at Jerusalem and then to the rest of the world. Their duty to reach Jerusalem had not been accomplished. The apostles knew their future and hope was tied to the city (cf. Luke 12:32; Matt. 19:28 cf. 21:43). While they may be coming to realize that the nation was rejecting the offer of the kingdom, their duty was clearly to stay in the city and continue with their mission. They knew that the Lord had told them that they were to preach repentance to all nations, “beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). No doubt they felt it was still their duty to reach Jerusalem. They saw no reason to change their task, but to remain faithful to preach at Jerusalem.

This section of the text, while centering on persecution, alternates between the persecution and Stephen’s murder. Note the pattern:

                  Approval of Stephen’s murder (8:1a)

                              Beginning of Persecution (8:1b)

                  Burial of Stephen (8:2)

                              Saul ravaging the church (8:3)

From this pattern we notice how Luke ties in the death of Stephen with the beginning of the Persecution of believers. This section becomes both transitional in character as well as a summary of events connected with Stephen. It makes the transition to why Phillip is ministering in Samaria and sums up the effect of Stephen’s murder.

The burial record almost seems out of place in light of the second half of verse 1. However, it is given to reinforce the connection of persecution with the events of Stephen’s murder. Luke states: “[Some] devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him” (8:2). It may well be that Luke is not only trying to reinforce the connection of persecution with the Stephen event, but also to complete the similarity to Christ’s life and death (cf. Luke 23:50-53). It was done by devout men, a term that is also used of unbelievers. The lamentation reminds us of the ladies in Luke 23:27. It has been pointed out that, “The Mishnah considered open lamentation for someone who had suffered death by stoning as inappropriate.”[5] The Greek word for lamentation is koptos / kopetos (only here in the N.T., cf. LXX, Gen. 50:10; Jer. 6:26), and means a beating of the breast, thus a wailing or lamentation, not simply mourning.[6] This could indicate a defiant act or a belief this was not a legal execution.[7] Interestingly, there is a tradition that Augustine endorsed which puts Gamaliel and Nicodemus (Sanhedrin’s believing members) at the burial, and later buried in the same spot.[8]

But Saul [began] ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison” (8:3). While the Sadducees made up most of the Sanhedrin, now Saul the Pharisee steps in. Stephen’s execution invigorated Saul’s retaliation against the church. The word ravaging (elumainveto /elumainseto) is found only here in the NT, meaning to make havoc of, or ravage. Knowling says the classical meaning is used of scourging and torturing, of armies causing waste and destruction, and in the medical field the word speaks of the ravages of disease.[9] Barclay notes that it “denotes a brutal and sadistic cruelty.”[10] The severity of the persecution by Saul is reinforced in the text showing this included a house to house search. It was a search and destroy mission that Saul was on.

Again it must be noted the word church has its normal meaning of assembly (OT, congregation—Isa. 7:38), and should not be taken in the universal sense. Peterson explains, “At this critical point in the narrative, that significant title for the people of God in the OT is applied again to Jewish believers in Jesus (5:11; 11:22; 12:1-5).”[11] In Acts the word church always denotes a local congregation or assembly. In this case the impetus of the persecution was against the local remnant in Jerusalem.

Welcome any comments you may have.

[1]  Bock, ACTS, 316.
[2]  Toussaint,  ACTS, 371.
[3]  Bruce, ACTS, 162-163; Constable, NOTES ON ACTS, 119.
[4]  Harrison, ACTS, 139.
[5]  Constable, 119.
[6]  Knowling, ACTS, 209; Larkin, ACTS, 124, notes that the NIV downplays the public aspect with its wording mourned deeply.
[7]  Peterson, ACTS, 276; Bock, 319.
[8]  Knowling, 210.
[9]  Ibid, 210.
[10]  Barclay, ACTS, 64.
[11]  Peterson, 277.