Friday, January 30, 2009
Friday, January 09, 2009
Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” (Matthew 24:1, ESV)
Matthew chapter 24 is an interesting chapter. Jesus says some very interesting things that different groups interpret in basically four different ways:
- All Jesus describes in Matthew 24 happens in the future.
- All Jesus describes in Matthew 24 happened in the past, circa 70 AD.
- Failed Preterist
- Jesus and the Gospel authors meant the words to fit within the disciples' generation, but one or more of the prophecy failed.
- Eclectic (Amillennialism)
- Some of what Jesus said happened in 70 AD. Some of it continues to happen. Some of it will happen with Jesus' second coming, which has not occurred yet.
Each of these views have issues. I am assuming that Matthew was written prior to 70 AD, although I will note some things if it was written after 70 AD. The plain reading of the passage seems to suggest the following to the first audience reading/hearing the passage.
- The events were going to start within the normal life span of the disciples (v. 34).
- The gospel will be preached to the whole world before the end happens (v. 14).
- There will be birth pangs that will signal that the end is coming, but the end is not here yet (v. 6-7). These birth pangs include:
- False Christs.
- Terrible tribulation accompanying the abomination of desolation. Those who are alert will be able to see the signs and flee (v. 15-20).
- The comming of Christ will be sudden and visible to all (v. 27). It will have the following properties:
- All nations and tribes will see (v. 30).
- It will be unmistakable, accompanied by loud trumpet, great glory (v. 31).
- All the elect is seperated from the non-elect and gathered at this time (v. 31).
- Accompanied by abrupt changes in the heavens (v. 29).
- No one knows the time of Christ's return (v. 36), and it seems this will be the case until just before Christ's return.
- The events seem to all take place in quick succession (v. 29).
- All that is described will absolutely occur (v. 35).
None of the various views (Futurist, Preterist, Failed Preterist, Eclectic) fits the list of observations perfectly. I'll walk through each of these and discuss these observations. I'll look at the strengths and weaknesses of each view.
- There are two types of Futurists: Historical Premillennialists and Dispensational Premillennialists. Dispensational by far is the most popular view today, although it is a a relatively young view. Historical Premillennialism had supporters for it dating almost all the way back to the "apostolic fathers". Historical does not have the concept of the rapture of the church.
Strengths -- The strengths include:
- Recognizes the gospel goes to the entire world (2).
- Recognizes the birth pang aspects of many of the signs (3).
- Recognizes the terrible tribulation accompanying the abomination of desolation (4).
- Recognizes the coming of Christ will be visible to all (part of 5).
- Recognizes the events take place in quick succession, in the span of less than a decade.
- Commitment to these prophecies being true and will come to pass.
- The events happen in the distant future for the disciples, violating (1). None of that generation will be alive for these events. There has to be some creative exegesis to get around this issue.
- For Dispensational Premillennialists, there will be a seven year warning when Christ's second coming will occur, violating (6). When the secret rapture of Christ happens, there will be a seven year count down to when Christ will come again in visible glory. Historical Premillennialists do not have this problem, because there is no secret Rapture for them.
- Preterists' greatest strengths are their serious commitment to the prophecy being fulfilled within the same generation of the disciples.
Strengths -- The Preterists have a number of strengths:
- The events were going to complete by 70 AD, well within the normal life span of the disciples (1).
- The recognition of birth pangs (3). Preterists recognize that there would be wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes and famine that would point to the future return of Christ, but would not mean it would happen immediately. That said, the birth pangs and relatively short, historically speaking, only lasting a few decades from when Christ made his prophetic statements.
- Recognizing the terrible tribulation accompanying the abomination of desolation (4).
- The coming of Christ is sudden -- but not visible to all (5).
- No one could predict when Christ return until the Roman army blockaded Jerusalem (6).
- The events take place in quick succession (7).
- The Preterist view asserts that all the Christ predicted did come true (8).
- The gospel was not close to being preached to the whole world in 70 AD (2). The gospel did not reach the northen european tribes, extend throught Africa, throughout Asia, the Americas, and Australia. Preterists claim that peoples from all the known world were present at Pentecost and so that was the intent of the preaching prophecy.
- The coming of Christ was not visible to all in the world in 70 AD (5). R.C. Sproul and Gary DeMar claim that Christ made the appearence that was talked about in Matthew 24. However, the appearance was not accompanied by great glory for all the world to see. It was not loud (with trumpet call). Sproul talks about how Josephus writes that there were signs in the clouds around Jerusalem at the destruction of the temple. Even if Josephus' signs in the sky are to be taken as the manifestation of Christ coming in the clouds, it was not visible outside the environs of Jerusalem. The rest of the world did not take note of it that day.
- Failed Preterist
- The major weakness of the Failed Preterist view is their low view of scripture. Usually this view is the position of radical skeptics to the Christian faith.
Strengths -- The primary strengths of this view is that it holds that Christ and the very early Christians believed in all that Christ is said to have predicted in Matthew 24.
Weaknesses -- The major weakness of this view is that while Jesus might have gotten the destruction of the temple right, he did not get his second coming correct. Thus people holding this view believe that Jesus failed in his prophecy.
- Eclectic (Amillennialism)
- Eclecticism is almost a middle ground between Futurism and Preterism. It picks the strengths of Futurism and Preterism while trying to avoid the major weaknesses of either.
Strengths -- The strengths of this view include:
- This recognizes Matthew 24 predicts the destruction of the temple that happened in 70 AD. The destruction occurred well within the normal lifespan of the disciples (1).
- This recognizes that the gospel will be preached to the whole world before Christ returns (2).
- Recognizes there will be birth pangs that will signal that the end is coming (3). For the Eclectic view, the birth pangs are recognized as a long process, spanning millennia. They argue that these pangs remind us that we are to be ready at all times.
- Recognizes there will be a terrible tribulation accompanying the abomination of desolation (4). With the Preterist, the Eclectic view recognizes that Jesus was referring to destruction of the temple in Matthew 24.
- Recognizes that the coming of Christ will be sudden and visible to all (5).
- Recognizes that no one will know the time of Christ's return (6).
- Affirms that all that is described will absolutely occur (8).
- The biggest weakness of this view is that there is a very long interval from the start of the great tribulation to the time that Christ returns (violating 7).
As I evaluate the various perspectives, I immediately rule out Failed Preterism because I believe that all of Christ's words will happen. Secondly, I rule out Futurism because it is very obvious to me that Jesus was referring to the destruction of the temple in 70 AD in Matthew.
Sunday, January 04, 2009
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while. (Revelation 20:1-3, ESV)
- Postmillennialism. The great tribulation occurs soon after Christ's ascension into heaven. The hermeneutic is the nearness of the events. The tribulation gives way to a period of God's kingdom advancing on earth. This period is known at the millennium, which may or may not last a literal 1000 years. Here is where I can use some help from my Postmillennial friends. It seems that most Postmillennialists today are partial preterists, believing that the fulfillment of the bulk of Revelation occurred around 70 AD with the fall of Jerusalem with a "visitation" of Christ at that time in judgement -- not to be confused with the actual second coming of Christ, which is yet to happen. At the close of the millennium, some Postmillennialists believe there will be a great falling away, others do not. Christ's second coming occurs at the end of the millennium, upon which there is a general resurrection, the judgment, and then the eternal kingdom.
- Amillennialism. Amillennialism is really a form of Postmillennialism. The millennial age (where 1000 is symbolic of the long sovereign reign of Christ but not a literal 1000 years) begins with Christ's first advent where he binds the strong man Satan and plunders his house. With Satan being bound, gospel goes to all nations, tribes, and peoples. During the same time the tribulation, the persecution of the church, is going on. The tribulation is spoken of as a short time (time, times, and half a time -- or three and a half years) to indicate in comparison to the millennium, Satan is bound and Christ is ruling. The hermeneutic is the kingdom of God is both now (the events will come to pass quickly) and not yet. God's kingdom is advancing now but it is not consummated. It is also known as the inaugurated eschatology. This age between Christ's first coming and his second are the latter days. The saints are victorious through the ironic suffering, persevering, and martyrdom. The symbols of Revelation refer to the times throughout the church age and are not tied to one specific historical event, except those that refer to Christ's first and second coming and the establishment of the new heavens and new earth. At Christ's second coming, there is the general resurrection, the judgment, and the establishment of the eternal kingdom.
A little before 1900, there was no distinction between Postmillennialism and Amillennialism, they were considered part of the same group. However, developments in eschatology during the 1800s started pushing the "two wings" of Postmillennialism apart so that one group in the Postmillennial camp needed to distinguish themselves from the other group. Abraham Kuyper coined the term "amillennialism" -- which is unfortunate because this view recognizes the millennium as much as the Postmillennialists do.
- Dispensational Premillennialism. This is the most popular form of premillennialism. Beale summarizes the essential views are (G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, Eerdmans, 1999, p. 47) as:
- The restoration of ethnic Israel to its land.
- The church is raptured into heaven.
- After the rapture there is a seven year tribulation.
- During the tribulation there is the reign of the antichrist.
- Christ's second coming.
- Christ's millennial reign.
- Satan's final rebellion.
- Christ's eternal reign with the saints in a new heaven and new earth.
- Historic Premillennialism. Unlike Dispensational Premillennialism, Historical Premillennialists views that the church as the true Israel. Hence there is no rapture of the church prior to Christ's second coming. Christians will pass through the final period of trial prior to Christ's second coming. Upon Christ's second coming, Christ sets up his millennial reign, followed by Satan's final rebellion, the final judgment, and the eternal reign of Christ with his saints in the new heaven and earth.
- Full Preterism. The preterist view has two forms. The first sees Revelation as largely a prophecy of the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD (G.K. Beale, pp. 44-45). Babylon the Great is apostate Israel. Both Israel and Rome oppress the Christians. The judgment is limited to apostate Israel. Another form of preterism views Revelation is about the fall of Rome.
In Full Preterism, the fall of Jerusalem is accompanied by Christ's second coming. The new age is setup, the New Heaven and New Earth is ushered in. Full Preterism, for me, is hard to understand because in looking at the world around me I do not see anything approaching what the Bible describes as victory over death and the new heaven and earth.
Partial preterism views that Christ did not return with either the fall of Jerusalem or the fall of Rome. The preterist view associated with the fall of Jerusalem has several interesting issues. One is that is requires Revelation to be written prior to AD 70 (say AD 67). This form of preterism falls if Revelation is written after 70 AD, which even most conservative scholars and ancient tradition believes (such as the history passed down via Eusebius). Secondly, the symbols of Babylon the Great has not been used for Israel in other parts of scripture, and the judgment does not include all the godless nations such as Rome.
The second form of preterism tends to be, in my opinion, more viable. The godless nations are judged with the fall of Rome. The date of Revelation is not critical (for either an early or the later traditional date of the 90s AD).
Saturday, January 03, 2009
This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666. (Revelation 13:18 ESV)
Two of the major manuscript lines are the Alexandrian and the Byzantine. The Alexandrian family of manuscripts tends to be more polished than the Byzantine family. Scholars have made a discipline of trying to figure out what the original text was of the New Testament was. They have made tremendous contributions which are reflected in all our modern Bibles, from the Revised Standard, the NIV, New American Standard, New King James, ESV, etc. One of the rules of thumb when you have variant readings in two manuscript families, like we have with the Byzantine and Alexandrian families, is to take the more primitive style of text. Here is how Revelation 13:18 is preserved in these two families (taken from the Parallel Greek New Testament Website):
wde h sofia estin o ecwn noun yhfisatw ton ariqmon tou qhriou ariqmoV gar anqrwpou estin [kai] o ariqmoV autou [estin] cxs
wde h sofia estin o ecwn noun yhfisatw ton ariqmon tou qhriou ariqmoV gar anqrwpou estin kai o ariqmoV autou exakosioi exhkonta ex
The number 666 is written differently in these two manuscript families.
exakosioi exhkonta ex
The Byzantine follows the ancient Greek way of writing numbers (cxs -- where c is the letter for 600, x is the letter for 60, and s is letter for 6). For a good discussion of the Greek numbering system, see the Ancient Greek Mathematics website of the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. Go to the paragraph that has "second ancient Greek number system" towards the middle of the page. The Alexandrian family writes the number in a long form, exakosioi exhkonta ex, where exakosioi literally means 6-hundreds, exhkonta literally means 6-tens, and ex is 6.
The left image shows a photograph of the Sinaticus, a very important Alexandrian family manuscript that is currently on display in the British Library (I saw it when it was housed in the British Museum). I have retouched the image to show the long form of the 666.
The oldest existing fragment of Revelation 13:18 is shown on the right. It is the P115 manuscript fragment (the picture is taken from the Wikipedia article on Papyrus 115). It was collected in the early 20th century, but it was only examined and cataloged at the end of the 20th century. The interesting thing about the manuscript is the number of the beast is 616, shown next to the red arrow -- an interesting variant to 666 which is in the vast majority of the other ancient Revelation manuscripts. While 616 is in the earliest Revelation manuscript, it does not necessarily mean that 616 was written by John in the original manuscript of Revelation. Most of the other manuscripts have 666, which could have been copied correctly from previous copies that were accurate in their copying of 666. P115, while copied early, the scribe could have made a mistake.
Beale has an interesting theory on the variation from 666 in P115. If the scribe producing P115 was working with a "Byzantine" manuscript with the number written as cxs, the central "digit" x (ksi) could have been written sloppily in the manuscript the scribe was copying from, it could have looked straight to him, like i (iota). The scribe would write cis in his copy, which is literally 616.
One further note on P115. Scholars consider this fragment to be Alexandrian in style, even though it inserts the number in the Byzantine way.
So what are we to make out of the 666? Here are some possibilities:
- The beast is Roman Emperor Nero. R.C. Sproul writes in The Last Days According to Jesus (pp. 186-189) that during the first century there was a game of making numbers out of people's names by summing up the digits associated with the letters in their name. We saw this above in how the number 666 was written in the short Byzantine style using the Greek letters. The same kind of number was practiced in Hebrew. Nero was known to be a brutal tyrant who killed many Christians in Rome. If you transliterate Emperor Nero from Greek into Hebrew, there is no clean fit because Hebrew does not have vowels. There are a variety of ways to fudge the name. One documented way that was found from the first century was "Nrwn Qsr" (pronounced Neron Kaiser). If you add the numbers represented by the letters Nrwn Qsr you get 666. The argument is that many first century Hebrew readers would have made that connection and identified the beast as Nero. However, according to G.K. Beale, Charles Hill, Vernon Poythress, it is not a slam dunk that the original readers associated Nero with the number of the beast. Many of the original audience of Revelation spoke Greek or Latin as their first language, and many did not know Hebrew. Further, Nrwn Qsr is just one of several "fudged" ways to transliterate the Greek Nero into Hebrew, and those other variations do not add up to 666. G.K. Beale writes: "None of the many solutions using gematria is ultimately satisfactory because there are so many names, ancient and modern, that come to 666. There are so many proposals because it is easy to turn a name into a number but hard to deduce the right name from a number." (G.K. Beale: The Book of Revelation, A Commentary on the Greek Text, Eerdmans, 1999, p. 721)
R.C. Sproul also wrote about a possible other reason that 616 showed up in some manuscripts, which he got from the very respected scholar Bruce M. Metzger of Princeton (Sproul: The Last Days According to Jesus, p. 188): "Perhaps the change was intentional, seeing that the Greek form Neron Caesar written in Hebrew characters (nrwn qsr) is equivalent to 666, whereas the Latin form Nero Caesar (nrw qsr) is equivalent to 616." In other words, the scribe copying the manuscript "updated" the text to his audience who were no longer Greek speaking, but spoke Latin instead. By transliterating the Latin Caesar Nero into Hebrew you get a spelling change that results in 616. An interesting theory, but I wonder why the scribe who created P115, copying a manuscript in Greek for obviously Greek readers, would use this kind of reasoning. Beale's reasoning above about how one letter can be mistaken for another is a simpler and more reasonable explanation.
- The number is symbolic of an unholy trinity. We can see this easily with our modern numbering system: 666. It is three sixes. Three in Revelation often was a symbolic reference to the Trinity. Seven is symbolic of perfection and completion (e.g. the seven spirits refers to the perfect Holy Spirit, seven days in a week). Six falls short of completion or perfection. In this section of Revelation John reveals a trinity of evil beings, the Dragon, the sea beast, and the false prophet. The 666 can play on that unholy trinity idea. The problem with this view is that 666 is a modern representation of the number. We can see in the short way of writing 666 in Greek is cxs. There is no repeated digits of six in this. This would seem to rule out this possible interpretation of 666.
However, Irenaeus, in the second century, noted that cxs was 6 hundereds, 6 tens, and 6 ones -- which is similar to our view today. While cxs is not just thee sixes strung together, there is enough commonality in their viewpoint in looking at the number for them in the long "polished literary" way (exakosioi exhkonta ex) to see three sixes strung together, in much the same way we would today. So, it is very possible they could have seen that pattern. How were the Dragon, the sea beast, and the earth beast (the false prophet) counterfeits to the Trinity?
- The Dragon wears crowns, claiming authority that does not belong to him.
- The Dragon summons the Sea Beast in a way that mimics the Father calling the Son.
- The Sea Beast has a fatal wound that mimics Christ's death and resurrection.
- The Sea Beast summons the Earth Beast in a distorted imitation of Christ and the Father calling the Holy Spirit.
- The Earth Beast causes people to worship the Sea Beast, in a distorted way that the Holy Spirit causes believers to worship Christ.
- 666 is visually a corrupted Christ Type. Tony Sisk wrote this as a comment in one of my blog entries in MetaSchema in a blog series where I was initially exploring the idea of 666 (It's All Greek to Me):
I have enough knowledge of Greek to make me a danger to myself and the rest of Christendom, so to that I will not appeal.
I would like to offer the view of my NT professor, Dr. Maurice Robinson, from seminary who holds to Byzantine priority. (This view certainly is not original!)
The number '666' when written in Greek letters is Chi+Xi+Final Sigma, with a bar drawn over it to indicate it is a numeral. Elsewhere, certain “sacred names” like God, Jesus, Christ, Spirit, etc. are also abbreviated by their first and last letters with a bar over them.
So Christ is abbreviated Chi+Final sigma. The only difference between the number abbreviation '666' and the abbreviation for Christ is the presence of Xi in the middle, and Xi is the most twisted and convoluted letter in the Greek alphabet, thus within the numeral '666' picturing someone who appears to be Christ outwardly, but who within is a serpent, thus the Antichrist in league with the devil.
So, rather than a name of the beast that has to be calculated, the concept of “the number of his name” more accurately reflects his character.
You can go here, scroll down to the eighteenth verse, and look under the heading "Byzantine Majority", though the line indicating it is an abbreviation of a sacred name is not present, it does plainly show the order of the letters.
It is a compelling argument and one I have provided as I have taught through Revelation as a viable explanation. Just something else to chew on!
- Nero was a prototype of the Beast. In this view, it is recognized that Nero fit the 666 pattern in the ears and minds of the first audience to hear Revelation being read. But as many prophecies in the Old Testament spoke of a particular event and was echoed in other following events (such as some of the prophecies which ultimately referred to Christ but were initially fulfilled by a prior event), so this description of Nero sets the pattern of the type of person (or the government and state he ran) of the beasts to come.
- 666 refers to a beast in the future. Many Premillennialists, including many Historical Premillennialists (to be defined in a future entry) and all Dispensational Premillennialists (also to be defined in a future entry) believe this passage refers to a time a great future persecution by an entity or person in the future.
- All of the above. There is some truth to all of the above observations.
The last option is what I prefer. Revelation is a vastly rich book full of deep imagery inspired by the Holy Spirit for all of the age the church. To identify Nero as the period of the great persecution with no others to follow is to insult the Christians in the 20th century who were martyred in numbers much greater than ever before.
Trying to find a particular name that adds up to 666 and identify that person as the Beast misses what the text of Revelation is saying. Revelation is using symbolism. The number 666 itself is very suggestive as shown above.
Searching for the one Anti-Christ beast sometime in the future, or even in the past, misses that the spirit of Beast is present among us now. We live in a fallen world and the culture of this world is not to be identified with God's precepts. Sometimes the situation is very obvious. Hitler in Nazi Germany was very much a beast, an anti-Christ, as was Stalin. These people took the honor and glory reserved only for God. Each reflected the beast in some form, and Revelation is referring to these kind of people and oppressive governments. However, that is not the only story. Revelation 13:17 says, "no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark." We, in our Western culture, often sell ourselves to the consumer mentality. We desire more and more stuff and get addicted to buying and going into debt. How many people, Christians and otherwise, have huge credit card debt? How many foolishly borrow on cars, homes (with crazy sub-prime loans)? People who borrow become slaves to the lender. Perhaps the credit number is the mark of the beast for these people.
Looking for one person to be the 666 beast, either in the future, or in the past, is closing the eyes to the anti-Christs that are around us today. Anything that draws your heart away from fully serving Christ is a form of the anti-Christ. It can be blatant, like the Islamic countries that persecute and kill those who convert to Christianity. It can be much more subtle as not wanting to be thought of as an "intolerant" fundamentalist Christian. It can be allowing yourself to be enslaved to consumerism, debt, and not using your resources for advancing God's kingdom. As Revelation says, "Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus." (Revelation 14:12, ESV).
But also know this, if you are in Christ, you have been sealed by God. God's name is written on your forehead. You will be singing a new song before the throne of God that no one can learn except God's redeemed and elect. Because of that, you will heed the call to endure, not to enslave yourselves to the Beast, in whatever form it takes, and keep the commandments of God and your faith in Jesus.