There are 4 gospels in our bible today, we call 3 of them synoptic for they are similar material. The book of John was written last and is pretty much all original material, that was apparently his intention. It only make sense that he would begin his gospel on a much different note. The others begin with the nativity or the start of Jesus’ ministry. John takes a different route, going all the way to the beginning. Taking the very first line from the Septuagint(the Greek translation of the old testament) and adding more depth to it. He says “in the beginning was the Word” reinterpreting that “let there be light” and incorporating Jesus into the creation story. He also does something much bigger though. Think of psalm 1 and 119 and Isaiah 55 even Deuteronomy 8, the word of God has always been seen as God’s way of revealing Himself to us that we can know what it means to walk with Him and, in walking with Him, live. We now see that the word is a person and that He is God, but also separate from God. We are then told explicitly that everything came to exist through Him and that life is found in Him. This life is the light of men and it shines in the darkness, but men hate it because their deeds are evil. Adam was told that when he ate the fruit he would die, he was also promised redemption though. Jesus, being the life, is that redemption, nevertheless, men love darkness, so it is said that He came to His own and they did not accept Him. To us who accept Him though, He gives the right to become children of God. He is our Immanuel, He is God with us, He has come to fix the world that was created through Him and broken by us. Being the full representation of God, He is much greater than Moses. Through Moses came the law, but through Jesus come grace and truth. The law kills, but the love God has for sinners, embodied in Jesus Christ, is life and freedom.
Having gone through Revelation, I thought it would be productive to go through another Johannine book, namely the gospel of John. I remember opening the bible to read it for myself the first time as a child and how I was told to read John. It has been a favorite of mine throughout my years. However, it wasn’t until recently that I began to see it through the eyes of the first century Jew. Most Christians these days end up reading John to prove “Jesus is God” which, though true, is better done from the whole of John’s discourse. Throughout this series I will try to redraw the foundation of John and, hopefully, in the process draw a more clear picture of what he was actually saying. I am by no means an old testament scholar, so I am sure I will miss a lot of things. My one goal is to instill a vision of the great paradigms of interpretation and give this beloved book more of the respect it deserves. I pray you all will be built up in the Spirit, through the work of this broken vessel.
In stories, the end is often turned into another kind of beginning, “they lived happily ever after” is an ending but, also an ending. An ending which is quite peculiar to me for, it is not topical within reality. We all like to hope that there will come that “happily ever after” point but, nevertheless, problems and difficulties always come back. The book of Revelation also has a “happily ever after” scene. Throughout the book we have seen the effects of evil and human sin on God’s good creation and His abolition of that evil. Now we look at the new creation and the “happily ever after”. It begins with something that we see in most fairy tales and stories, a wedding. Our “knight in shining armor” being the Lord Jesus and God Himself. At the very beginning of the prophecy it is announced that God’s dwelling is with men. That separation that came because of sin and human evil has been abolished, never to be seen again. The city is then described, given perfect dimensions, once again less of an actual number and more symbolic. The gates are said to never close because the security of the city is absolute because, all that would harm it is gone. It is then made clear that there is no room for evil in this city for “no vile thing will enter”. We then see a beautiful picture of God and man fellowshipping together and a blessing is again given “blessed are those who wash their robe” for they will be able to take part in this wonderful new creation. The whole book is concluded with an invitation to come and a warning to anyone who would change the words in the book.
We have talked about prophecy and it’s tendency to use different visions to make a more three dimensional picture of the events described. John, being a Jewish man, had memorized a lot of the scriptures. To interpret this vision we must start with his short handed references to Jewish eschatological prophecies. We looked at the call for the “gathering of the feast of God” to the birds, which is a reference to Gog and Magog in Ezekiel 38&39. In this passage he names them. We must begin by seeing this as the same war. Therefore, the thousand year reign is the time between the first and second coming. The objection to this view is that devil is obviously still working so how is he bound. Revelation is very specific he is bound so he can “no longer deceive the nations”. To see what that means, it is expedient that we go to the apostle Paul and even Jesus himself. In his sermon on mars hill Paul speaks of the time being fulfilled that God would allow the nations to wallow in darkness, he says that God now calls every man to repent. So again he says again in Titus that the grace of God has appeared to all men teaching them to reject sin. In the psalms it is often said that Israel is God’s inheritance and the nations are left to their own devices, Jesus came to end that. Jesus announces the kingdom of God and He likens it to a strong man tying up and plundering another man, that other man is the devil. The devil is now bound so he cannot deceive the world, this is the power that brings us to repentance. With all that in mind, let us consider the purpose of this vision. The church was under insane persecution, but also growing and changing the world. Martyrdom was basically expected in the early church. The first resurrection is actually a paradoxical view of martyrdom\death for death is not death at all, but rather a resurrection at which one is raised to reign with Christ. This is why a blessing is given to those who take part in it. It also sets us up to understand that the period of time between the first and second comings will be extended. A thousand has always been used as, less of a quantitative limitation, and more to express a lack thereof. That is to say endless. Is the Lord only good to a thousand generations? Does he own cattle only on a thousand hills? The point here is that his reign will be perfect and theirs will be perfect with his.
The intentions of God concerning this world have never changed. From the very outset we read that He looked on all His creation and saw that it was good. Even after the fall God made His intentions quite clear “He will crush your head and you will bruise His heal”. From the moment we messed up and broke creation God states His gracious intention to destroy the Devil and restore us and everything else. We see that He will do that through the seed of woman, Jesus Christ. As Christians we see that work beginning at the crucifixion and resurrection. We are often confronted with the evils of this world that seem to contradict that thought. Revelation is God’s answer to that question. We now come to the climactic end of evil in this world. Which, just like throughout the book of revelation, is paradoxical in nature. The Son of Man comes in victory, riding a white horse. We then see an angel calling the birds to prepare for the feast of God. This is when the beast and all his followers come in, with all their evil intentions, to attack and kill the lamb. However, he doesn’t kill them with a sword but, rather, the “sword coming from His mouth” that is His own words. The apostle Paul said He would destroy him with the breath of His mouth. The irony is that they come in all their strength, with all their weapons, only to be destroyed with the words of the Lamb. John is, again, teaching us that the answer is not to fight “force with force” but, rather allow evil to stack up judgment for itself, knowing the just God of the universe will repay in due time.
Revelation, as I have shown, often gives multiple layers of the same event. This scene was spoken of before the bowl judgements along with the great war after them. Now, it goes directly from the fall of the great whore to the great war. Once again showing the haste at which the bowl judgements would succeed each other. Just in case one thinks it a good idea to wait until something happens. The angel comes to John and tells him to come see the end of the notorious prostitute. There have been many ways to interpret this prostitute some suggest Jerusalem, others the papacy, and, still, others America, no doubt many many more. I do not think these people are wrong, I think they all have some correctness to their interpretation. However, this is not meant to be a sort of specific prophecy, it is showing us common paradigms that would appear throughout church history with an ultimate fulfillment in the end. The great whore is depicted as riding the back of the beast. The words here connote sex, she is fornicating with the beast. We have shown the beast to be the spirit of empire and its lust for control. The great whore is seen as fornicating with this beast because she has made her bed with him. She has made herself very rich with his conquests. She is the “prosperity” that can come from friendship with the world. The picture of her is meant to remind us that, as the people of God, we do not belong to this age. As citizens of the age to come, we do not desperately hold on to every possession we have, but treat them as “dung, compared to the greatness of knowing Jesus Christ”. Her ultimate demise is from the best with whom she fornicated. The beastly side of empire will always turn it’s back on the people who have gained riches through it. This should speak loads to us here in America. We are living on the riches that come from injustice. We must strive to make justice flow like a river and fight for the cause of the poor and enslaved.
The problem of evil is a question that has plagued philosophers and theologians alike throughout the centuries. The creation stories in every culture have strived to answer that problem in a meaningful way. With the rise of scientific naturalism(nothing exists outside of what we see, that is the natural), it has become increasingly easier to accept the presupposition that there is no god, no purpose, and no objective moral reality. All these things are products human invention. Among the many inconsistencies I see within that view, I must draw attention to one major detail. We all acknowledge a need for purpose, even though we may object to the actual reality, it is still a very real need. Some philosophers have even made examples of themselves, losing every inch of sanity due to that “realization”(Frederich Nietzsche one of the examples). Has there ever been a longing or need to which exists no true fulfillment? You feel a pain in your stomach, so you get food. You feel a dryness in your throat so you drink water. You feel a rush in your loins, so you have sex. You feel lonely, so you go to family or friends and commune with them. However, that desire to be a part of something real, to make the world better, is a complete and total illusion? We all want to see the abolition of pain and suffering, the question I ask is, why? If this world truly is a product of chaos and chaos is all there is or ever has been, why do we want more? Why do we imagine a better world as if it were something more than an insane fantasy? Why do we despair over the way it is? We don’t despair for having 2 hands, in fact we laugh at the idea of having more. I am glad to say the world is not the way it is supposed to be. Chaos is not the only state this world has known or ever will know. God made this world good and wonderful, He made it as a sanctuary for Himself and a home for a people He could be in loving community with. Herein lies the problem of evil, in order to love one must freely chose to love. We are free and we have all used that freedom to do things we know are not right. The story continues though, God sent His Son to renew the world and everything in it. The new creation began with the death and resurrection of the God-man. He defeated death and brought the kingdom of God. We now have power to walk in freedom from sin and corruption and take part in the renewal ourselves.