Posts Tagged ‘revelation’

Seven Spirits

And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.

Revelation 3:1

Does God have one Holy Spirit or does he have seven spirits? This verse clearly says “the seven spirits of God” and we can’t just say “yeah but we know he only has one.” So how do we understand this verse?

We have to consider the context it is in. This is part of the opening of the book of Revelation, the letters to the seven churches. Each letter’s introduction follows the same format: “To the angel of the church in [city] write: ‘The words of [descriptor]. I know [your works/where you dwell]‘” and then the letter. The ‘seven spirits’ is in the descriptor and we know where those descriptors come from. They are each part of John’s initial vision of Jesus in 1:4-20:

  • To the church in Ephesus the descriptor is “him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands” which is from 1:20.
  • To the church in Smyrna the descriptor is “the first and the last, who died and came to life” from 1:17-18.
  • To the church in Pergamum the descriptor is “him who has the sharp two-edged sword” from 1:16.
  • To the church in Thyatira the descriptor is “the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze” from 1:14-15.
  • To the church in Sardis the descriptor is “him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars” from 1:4.
  • To the church in Philadelphia the descriptor is “the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens” from 1:18.
  • To the church in Laodicea the descriptor is “the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation” 1:5-6.

When we look back to what John is quoting in 3:1, he’s not saying that God consists of seven spirits but that, per 1:4, there are seven spirits before his throne. He owns these spirits. For example, if I said “the three cars of Tim” that doesn’t mean I consist of three cars but that I own them or I have charge of them.

God is spirit (John 4:24) and the third person of the Trinity is the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4). God does not consist of seven spirits. He has seven spirits before his throne. In this context, these seven spirits are probably the seven churches because ‘seven’ figures so prominently in the first three chapters and it is clear that in every other reference it is referring to the churches.

We didn’t have to “yeah but” the text, just take a moment to look at it.

Peace, out.

When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword. – Rev. 6:3-4

RedHorseSin and human death are foreigners in this world. They weren’t supposed to be here, they came because of the fall. And now since the fall, peace is a alien because the other two strangers chased it off. Peace is not a normal function of the fallen order. God grants it and God removes it.

World War II was a shock to the world. Everyone assumed that World War I, the Great War was the War to End All Wars. The enlightenment of evolution that swept the West at the turn of the twentieth century was supposed to banish such barbarism as war and poverty and human suffering. Education would deliver us. Eugenics would cleanse us. Science would give us light. World War I was supposed to be the last vestiges of humanity’s past. That’s why World War II was such a shock; when it became apparent what Germany was really up to with that whole “Master Race” thing, the world’s optimism began to sag.

So here we are today, in the twenty-teens, and the Cold War is dead and, well, cold. The West won and freedom’s greatest enemy is dead(ish) so where is the peace and prosperity we were promised? Right there with the jetpacks, flying cars, and a silver jumpsuits with transparent rings on the shoulders I guess.

Today’s horrific violence, events too numerous and gruesome to list, is not the stranger. Tragically, it is the norm. The nuclear-backed calm of the Cold War wasn’t really peace anyway.

This all sounds horribly pessimistic but it really isn’t. There is a day coming when the lamb and the lion will lay down together. When a child can safely play around a viper’s hole. Jesus, this world’s real king, is going to return and whistle for that red horse so he can take peace out of her saddle bags and secure it in place. The government shall be upon his shoulders and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

Faith’s Replacement

This is a moving telling of the experience Muhammad when he first received the revelation of the Koran. He didn’t feel triumphant or exulted but he feared that he’d been possessed by a demon (a ‘djinn’ or ‘genie’) and considered throwing himself off the mountain to end it all. Hazelton says that Muhammad experienced doubt and this authenticates his experience even though she doubts that it was an experience with God.

Consider a similar experience that Peter, James, and John had with Jesus:

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. (Mark 9:2-6 ESV)

What a difference! They were “sore afraid” as the King James translates it but at the same time they didn’t want it to end. “Let us make three tents!” An authentic encounter with God does and should involve fear. We are fallen, sinful creatures and God remains utterly holy. But with Jesus present, the experience is different. We’re afraid because of the vastness, the holiness of God. The closest I have come to that is standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon. I was drawn to the edge and terrified at the same time.

Did the disciples doubt? Sure, but not at the revelation of Jesus as God. They doubted at the execution of the man Jesus. This experience with the divine was a point of surety for them.

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. (2 Peter 1:16-18 ESV)

Hazelton goes on to praise doubt and condemn fundamentalism in her talk. This is because she is an agnostic herself and therefore believes that doubt is the best we can achieve. Anyone who is sure of what they believe does not have faith, according to her. St. Peter would disagree.

And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. (2 Peter 1:19-20 ESV)

What did Mohammad experience on that mountain top? I don’t know for sure, but I am convinced that it was not a genuine revelation from God. His experience, according to Hazelton, was fear and doubt. The angel visited him again and again and wrestled the revelation into and out of him.

Again, Peter says the revelation that is more sure than the transfiguration is different. “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21 ESV) Men were carried along, not forced and wrestled.

Doubt can be a friend to faith but not when it is embraced and coddled. At that point it becomes a replacement for faith.

God’s Purposes and the Nations

For the chastisement of the daughter of my people has been greater
than the punishment of Sodom,
which was overthrown in a moment,
and no hands were wrung for her. (Lamentations 4:6)

Sodom, for all her wickedness, got wiped out in a flash but Israel, for her unfaithfulness, suffered long under siege and exile and foreign rule. God directly eliminated Sodom but used the instrument of Babylon to punish Israel. God didn’t have the covenant relationship with Sodom that he had with Israel; he had not given his oracles to Sodom, he had not promised to raise up Eve’s seed from Sodom, his promise would flow through Abraham’s seed, not through Sodom’s gates. When Sodom’s wickedness was full their time was over. When Israel’s wickedness was full it was time for their exile till the land had its rest. As far as the nation goes, what purpose does God have to bring Israel back? What promise is he yet to deliver if Jesus has come and they rejected and killed him?

Well, there is still hope. God didn’t punish Israel after Jesus’ death and resurrection they way he’d punished Sodom; that is, fire didn’t fall from heaven and consume Jerusalem. Instead God, as he had done in the first exile, used the instrumentality of a nation, this time Rome, to scatter the Jews and level Jerusalem. So if the pattern noticed above holds, then there is still a future for Israel and Egypt and Assyria and Rome and the rest of the nations since he didn’t wipe them out after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

While it is true that God doesn’t change, it is also true that his purposes for different nations and people are not uniform. At the same time, he doesn’t pretend he didn’t see sin. Jesus died for his people and their sins are atoned for, but when entire nations act wickedly he deals with them as well. Just like in Israel, those who trust him are saved but the nation may be doomed to fall even if it doesn’t involve fireballs from the sky. The promise of Revelation 5:9-10 shows this to be so. There were people “from every tribe and language and people and nation” but there weren’t nations standing there.

What You’re Told To Say

And God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “If the men have come to call you, rise, go with them; but only do what I tell you.” So Balaam rose in the morning and saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab. – Numbers 22:20-21

But God’s anger was kindled because he went, and the angel of the LORD took his stand in the way as his adversary. – Numbers 22:22

Then Balaam said to the angel of the LORD, “I have sinned, for I did not know that you stood in the road against me. Now therefore, if it is evil in your sight, I will turn back.” And the angel of the LORD said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but speak only the word that I tell you.” So Balaam went on with the princes of Balak. – Numbers 22:34-35

Setting aside the talking donkey for a moment, what is up with this? Balaam asked once and God said no so he didn’t go. Then better princes come and he asks again and God said to go. So he goes and God gets mad and sends an angel to kill him. Balaam admits he’s wrong and offers to not go but the angel says to go. Anyone else get whiplash following that?

From the information I’ve summarized above I can’t see where Balaam did anything wrong. He asked God and didn’t go till God said yes and if a donkey crushed my foot against a wall it would probably get a good crack on the hinder too. So is God just being fickle here? May it never be! As Balaam himself says in the very next chapter, “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind.” So assuming Balaam is right here what gives? The Angel of the LORD tells Balaam and us:

And the angel of the LORD said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to oppose you because your way is perverse before me…” – Numbers 22:32

The problem wasn’t with Balaam going, it was with why he was going. It appears that despite what God had told him, he was planning on doing what Balak had asked him to do: curse Israel.

Look at Balaam’s response to Balak’s people. First, in verse 13 he says, “Go to your own land, for the LORD has refused to let me go with you.” Then in verse 18 when the second set comes he says, “Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the command of the LORD my God to do less or more…” When God lets him go in verse 20 he says “But do what I tell you.” Then after Balaam’s encounter with the angel when he meets Balak in verse 38 he finally gets it and says “Have I now any power of my own to speak anything? The word that God puts in my mouth, that must I speak.” It looks like the meeting with the angel is what convinces Balaam that going or not going wasn’t the issue. He really has to do what God told him and will tell him. Period.

Okay, so what about the talking donkey? It is entirely possible that God temporarily gave the beast the ability to speak her mind. However, since her conversation during that brief interlude was so focused and the angel takes up her defense even though he says that his mission was to oppose Balaam, I kind of think that was the angel speaking to Balaam through the donkey. She doesn’t speak any more after the angel starts talking so perhaps he’s done with her. Even if the donkey were speaking of her own volition, she is doing what Balaam should have been doing. She was saying nothing more and nothing less that the LORD told her to say.

Successive Christianizations

David Martin has intriguingly proposed that we may actually be witnessing a series of successive Christianizations rather than a history of secularization… Thus the Christian faith evangelizes, gains great influence, and falls into a terrible struggle (each time ensuring slippage)… However, the successive Christianizations solve different problems each time and may represent a form of progress toward something quite apart from secularization. Each time, however, the projection of faith results in recoil. Martin contends we may have been living in a period of recoil from Protestant advance. – Hunter Baker, The End of Secularism, 103-104

Though I found this quote fascinating, it probably bears a bit of explanation. Baker has been discussing various theories of secularization and how many fail to match reality. Often they perceive some “golden age” of religion and then progress into an age of reason where religion loses it’s place. Baker pointed out historians’ frustration with sociologists’ lack of awareness of history. In the quote above Baker turns to a theory that might actually fit the facts. Instead of a “golden age” of religion, David Martin turns the theory on its head. He sees a cycle where Christianity struggles and evangelizes. The faith then gains converts and begins to become prominent in society but soon has to wrestle with its new power. The question is how spiritual power works with and is reconciled to secular power. This results in a struggle between engagement and isolation which causes the faith to begin to lose its position. Soon there is a recoil in society against the faith which could result in secularism or compromise or isolation. But Martin points out that each time the faith moves forward like this, something is learned and gained even when some ground is lost.

The reason this was so appealing to me was because I think this may be the cycles of the church in the book of Revelation. Rather than presenting one linear timeline of faith in the world, it may be seven cycles of the struggle, rise and fall of the faith culminating with the final one followed by Jesus’ return. I don’t know, I haven’t really studied it and test to see if the cycles fit any pattern but having read through it a new of times it is just the impression I have. What was neat was to see someone find that cycle in the patter of history.

Ezekiel’s Temple

The issue came up in Sunday school last week whether the temple in Ezekiel’s vision in chapters 40-48 is a literal, physical building or a visionary representation of something else. The amount of physical detail given to the temple seems to indicate that it is intended to be a real, physical construction.

I believe the best way to read it is to recognize that Ezekiel is seeing a physical representation of another reality, not a physical building. In chapter 47 Ezekiel describes a river flowing from the temple. The further the river flows, the deeper the water gets. This is not something that we would expect to see in an actual temple build in Jerusalem. There are wells on the temple mount but they are deep underground so it is improbable that a river would well up from under the temple.

There are indications that the river is meant to picture something else. Not only does the water desalinate the ocean and the swamps and marshes, it multiplies animal life wherever it goes. The banks of this river team with trees that never drop their leaves and produce fruit monthly. Real trees don’t do that. The river is described in concrete terms just as the temple is yet the river is figurative so it seems consistent with the vision to understand the temple as figurative as well.

Since scripture helps us understand scripture, if the New Testament treats this vision as figurative then it is figurative.  While there isn’t an exact citation of this vision in the New Testament, there are some tremendous similarities between Ezekiel’s temple and the city that John saw in Revelation 21. Consider: 1The Ezekiel/Revelation chart modified from The Road to Emmaus

Ezekiel’s Temple John’s City
Set on a high mountain (40:1-2; cf., 8:3) Carried up to a high mountain (21:10)
One with a measuring rod (40:3) Angel with a measuring rod (21:15; cf., 11:1)
The temple is measured (40:5-42:20) The city is measured (21:16-17)
The temple is a square (48:30-35; cf., 41:4) The city is a cube (21:16)
There shall be sacrifices; worship is central (43:13-27; cf., 46:1-21) The nations shall bring their glory and honor; worship is central (22:26)
No abomination in the temple (44:4-14) Nothing unclean in the city (21:27; cf., 21:8)
Priests will minister before the Lord (44:15-31) Priests unto God (21:18-20; cf., 20:6)
Twelve gates for the sons of Israel (48:30-34) Twelve gates for the sons of Israel (21:12-13)
Water flows from the temple (47:1-5) Water flows from the throne of God (22:1;cf., 21:6)
Trees bear fruit and provide healing (47:6-12) Tree of Life bears fruit and provides healing (21:2)
God will have a place for his people (47:13-48:29) The people’s place is the Lord (22:5; cf., 21:3-4, 7)
The Lord will be there (48:35; cf., 43:1-12; 45:1-25) The Lord will illumine them (21:22-23;22:3-5)
There is no city described. The city has no temple (21:22)

The similarities seem to indicate that when John was shown “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb,” (Rev 21:9) he saw the same thing as what Ezekiel saw in his vision, that is, the Church.

Ezekiel’s imagery of God’s people as a temple with priests and sacrifices is consistent with the New Testament description of the Church. The Church is a temple (1Co 3:16-17, 6:19; Eph 2:19-22, 1Pt 2:5). We’re told to offer our lives as a living sacrifice to God. (Rom 12:1) Paul’s life of service is a drink offering poured out on the church’s faith. (Phil 2:17) His work gathering in the gentiles is an offering. (Rom 15:16, 2Ti 4:6) Our tithes and worship are sacrifices. (Phil 4:18, Heb 13:15) Likewise, Paul was acting as a priest in relationship to the gospel (Rom 15:16) and we are a priesthood (1Pt 2:5, 9; Rev 1:6, 5:10, 20:6).

Ezekiel’s vision of a temple represents something real through figurative language. I believe the reason Ezekiel spends so much time walking through and measuring the temple is impress us with the majesty of what the temple will be, not to lay out blueprints for it. That kind of writing is the best way he had to demonstrate the grandeur of what God will do when he restores his people. It is like the vision of the dry bones coming to life (37) and the stony heart of his people being replaced with a fleshly one (36:26-27) and washing them with clean water (36:24-25). If we understand Ezekiel’s temple in the context of this section of his writing, it is speaking of the restoration and purification of his people and that is exactly how we see the New Testament speak of the Church.

1 The Ezekiel/Revelation chart modified from The Road to Emmaus