God’s Creation

We see such a tiny fraction of God’s vast creation. Yes, on a clear night we can see the shining stars. But we hardly ‘see’ the stars at all. They appear as tiny lights twinkling in the darkened sky. Yet with the assistance of a powerful telescope we can see some celestial bodies in our solar system. But what is beyond the stars—those we catch glimpses of, even with powerful telescopes?

Compared to the unfathomable immensity of this galaxy, we are quite small. As creatures, we are a tiny fraction of the totality of God’s creation.

I drove out of town today, mindful of God’s creation—what I could see of it. I took in and marveled at the rolling hills as I drove by them. Too often I think only of getting to my destination, forgetting to enjoy the journey itself. But this time I delighted in the scenery.

And I saw this:

Cross on a hill

God came to earth so that we could come to God. The Creator became a creature1 so that we could be with God, the Uncreated.

How amazing is that?

[Related: Christmas Came Early!]

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1 Without compromising His Deity one iota.

Hymn to God and Jesus

This song has long been somewhat of an enigma for me. It clearly lays out the Gospel message and has appropriate accompanying music, which builds as it goes. Yet it contains some lyrics that strike me as a bit odd, out of place. Despite my own reservations, it may function well enough as a nice praise/worship song. Those familiar with the song may find my critique here a bit too—well—critical.

The song is “Hymn” by the progressive rock band Barclay James Harvest, the first track from their 1977 album Gone to Earth. See/hear video below the lyrics:

“HYMN”
(John Lees)

Valleys deep and the mountains so high
If you want to see God you’ve got to move on the other side
You stand up there with your head in the clouds
Don’t try to fly you know you might not come down
Don’t try to fly, dear God, you might not come down

Jesus came down from Heaven to earth
The people said it was a virgin birth
Jesus came down from Heaven to earth
The People said it was a virgin birth
The People said it was a virgin birth

He told great stories of the Lord
And said He was the Saviour of us all
He told great stories of the Lord
And said He was the Saviour of us all
And said He was the Saviour of us all

For this we killed Him, nailed Him up high
He rose again as if to ask us why
Then He ascended into the sky
As if to say in God alone you soar
As if to say in God alone we fly

Valleys deep and the mountains so high
If you want to see God you’ve got to move on the other side
You stand up there with your head in the clouds
Don’t try to fly you know you might not come down
Don’t try to fly, dear God, you might not come down

The first two lines together declare God as Creator. And though the second line affirms that no one can see God and live (Exodus 33:20; Isaiah 6:5–7; John 1:18, 6:46; 1John 4:12), it yet also seems a bit out of character with the rest of the verse. And the song. More on this further below.1

The next verse lays out the Virgin Birth. I could quibble, but it adequately functions as part of a simple worship song.  The third verse calls Jesus “Saviour of us all” (British spelling). It works well enough in the context of the song (though, again, I could quibble).

But the theological rubber hits the road in the fourth verse. After verses two and three proclaim Jesus’ coming to earth—and recall the album’s title Gone to Earth—being born of a virgin, and being “Saviour”, verse four declares His death by crucifixion (“For this we killed Him, nailed Him up high”) and His resurrection from the dead. The words “as if to ask us why” can be chalked up to poetic license to rhyme. The final two lines can be interpreted as Jesus being the first-fruits of many. That’s the Gospel!

The final verse is identical to the first. As such, they provide bookends to the Gospel message in between. So how does the song cohere?

According to one (secondary) source, the song is—presumably first quoting John Lees, the writer here—“’primarily about the dangers of drug abuse’ comparing it with the spiritual high of religion.”2 So now we have the interpretive key!

The first line has a double meaning. Besides the one described above, it refers to being high and, conversely, low in an illicit drug sense. This, then, makes sense of the rest of the lines. Some abusers have remarked how drug highs have a spiritual/religious feeling—a sense of ‘God’s’ presence or even seeing ‘God’. But Lees explains that this cannot be done in this life, but “on the other side”.

I think the reader can understand the rest.

So what do you think? Could this song be used in a Christian setting?

P.S. (Pre-Script)

I don’t know that I ever would have heard “Hymn” had it not been for a radio station I listened to when I was a teenager. My introduction to Barclay James Harvest was the track “May Day”, from their 1976 album Octoberon, when the station played the selection upon the album’s release. Though I was intrigued by the music and lyrics, it was the completely unexpected choral/orchestral (the latter likely using keyboards) ending that captivated me (beginning at around 4:53 in the video/vlog further below). I’d never heard such an unusual juxtaposition before. I bought the LP shortly after my initial hearing of this song. From there I explored some of the band’s other output, eventually acquiring the album Gone To Earth, but this was well-before my Christian conversion.

At the time I picked up Octoberon I was not yet aware of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, so I didn’t have a point of reference for the lyrics.3 Oh, but now I certainly do:

“MAY DAY”
(John Lees)

The rock on which I stand is slowly sinking in the sand
The sheer realities of life are rushing by
I am looking out at life and I don’t know what’s wrong or right
And I can’t even see the bright side of the moon

I stopped a man in the street today
And I asked him, “Sir, is it night or day?”
He just stared in disbelief
I asked again but he walked away
He said, “Don’t you know?”
I said, “Can’t you say? Is there something in between?
Is it something I’ve not seen?
Did it change so fast or was it just a dream?”

Time and time again I’ve tried to recreate the past few days
Evaluate the constants from the haze
But every time I think I’m right, they say I’m wrong
“This day is night and night is day –
It’s there in black and white”

Night is light and dark is day
If I disagree they say I’m insane
And the treatment will begin
If I say that the day is light
They just point my eyes to the blinding night, saying,
“We can’t set you free if you always disagree,
So the State is going to pay your doctor’s fee”

They put me out in the pouring rain
To enjoy the sun or to feel the pain
Of the nightmare life’s become
I asked a man in the street today
Or was it yesterday or the day before?
“Is there something I’ve not seen?
Is there something in between?
Did it change so fast or was it just a dream?”

The rock on which I stand is now beneath the ever-flowing sand
The sheer realities are here to stay
I’m looking out at life and now I know what’s wrong and right
It’s what you hear and what you read and what they say

I saw a man in the street today
Asked another man, “Is it night or day?”
He just stared in disbelief
He said, “Friend, it’s your lucky day
I’m a party man, won’t you step this way?
I’ve got something you’ve not seen.”
Now I know it’s not a dream
It just came so fast, that something in between

1 I also wince at the fifth line’s “dear God”, for, to me, it breaches the 3rd Commandment.  Lyrically, I understand why Lees wrote it in, but it comes off a bit frivolous. It doesn’t appear reverential but as a parallel to “you know” in the fourth line; but, “oh no” would have been much better. In fact, I propose that substitution for anyone wishing to cover the song.
2 See Songfacts.
3 The lyrics may have been influenced by David Bowie’s 1974 LP Diamond Dogs, with its dystopian landscape, as based on Orwell’s book. Bowie uses hyperbole to get the dystopian message across, then exaggerates the extent to which one will go to numb its inevitable emotional toll: They’ll split your pretty cranium, and fill it full of air / And tell you that you’re eighty, but brother, you won’t care / You’ll be shooting up on anything, tomorrow’s never there / Beware the savage jaw of 1984 (“1984”). But after the requisite preconditioning, the apocalyptic vision is accepted, welcomed: Someone to claim us, someone to follow / Someone to shame us, some brave Apollo / Someone to fool us, someone like you / We want you Big Brother (“Big Brother”). For his part, John Lees describes the workings and outworkings of the ‘Ministry of Truth’.

“By Your Pharmakeia Were All the Nations Misled”, Part II

[See Part I]

In the first part of this investigation we looked at the uses of pharmakeia, pharmakon, and pharmakos in the NT. The intent was and is to try to determine a more precise meaning for pharmakeia in our subject verse, Revelation 18:23:

18:21 Then a mighty angel lifted up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “In similar fashion, with violence shall Babylon the megalopolis be thrown, and she shall never be found again! 22 The sound of singing harpists and of musicians, flautists, trumpeters shall never be heard in you again. And never shall any kind of craftsman of any trade be found in you again. Noise from a mill shall never be heard in you again. 23 Lamplight shall never shine in you again. And the voice of bridegroom and bride shall never be heard in you again. For your merchants were the distinguished persons of the earth, because by your pharmakeia were all the nations/peoples misled. 24 And in her, blood of prophets and holy ones/saints was found, and all those who had been slain upon the earth.”

Below is a more expansive look at the use of pharmakeia. We will survey literature contemporaneous with the NT era. Later we will view material in the Greek Old Testament (OT), known as the Septuagint, aka LXX (Greek translation of the Hebrew OT, ca. 200 BC). And we will also look at synonyms of the pharma– nouns for comparison.

What It Does Not Mean

Sometimes determining what a word does not mean can aid in determining what it does mean. Immense help in this sort of investigation comes from Louw & Nida’s (L&N) Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament based on Semantic Domains (2nd ed.).8 Rather than sorting alphabetically, this lexicon categorizes terms by definitions, synonyms grouped together. Under the broad category Religious Activities (category 53) is the subdomain Magic (53.96–53.101), which includes the pharma- nouns. Within these definitions is the following crucial note:

Pharmakeia and the variant pharmakon (as in Re 9:21) differ from the preceding terms (53.96–53.99) in that the focus is upon the use of certain potions or drugs and the casting of spells.9

In other words, 53.100 (both pharmakeia and pharmakon), as well as 53.101 (pharmakos) include ‘focus upon certain potions or drugs and the casting of spells’. Conversely, the words correlating to 53.96, 97, 98, and 99 do not focus upon potions, drugs and casting spells.

The L&N lexicon appears to differ from Danker’s in this comment about potions and drugs. Or does it? Following is the L&N definition for pharmakeia and pharmakon (53.100): the use of magic, often involving drugs and the casting of spells upon people—‘to practice magic, to cast spells upon, to engage in sorcery, magic, sorcery.’10 If we take the “often” in the definition here and reconcile it with “the focus is upon” in the above note, we might understand this to mean that the pharma– nouns often, though not exclusively, refer to “the use of certain potions or drugs and the casting of spells”. Therefore, many times they do, but sometimes they don’t. This, then, would not contradict Danker’s definition: ‘manipulation through incantations, spells, substances, or combinations thereof’, sorcery, magic.11

Now we shall investigate the synonyms to the pharma– nouns—those that do not focus upon using potions or drugs and casting spells (53.96–53.99).

The first synonym is the verb mageuō and its noun form mageia (53.96): to practice magic, presumably by invoking supernatural powers—‘to practice magic, to employ witchcraft, magic.’12 Both forms are found introducing the account of Simon, known as Simon Magus, in Acts 8:

Acts 8:9 A particular man named Simon was formerly in the city practicing mageuō and amazing the people of Samaria, claiming to be someone great. 10 All, from the least to the greatest, began paying attention to him, exclaiming, “This one is the power of God called ‘Great’!”  11 And they continued paying attention to him, because of the long time he had amazed them with mageia.

Next is the noun form for the practitioner of the above, magos: (53.97): one who practices magic and witchcraft—‘magician.’13 The account of Elymas Bar-Jesus contains two occurrences in reference to him:

Acts 13:6 After traveling through the whole island up to Paphos, they found a certain man, a magos, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus, 7 who was with the proconsul Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. He [Paulus] summoned Barnabas and Paul, wanting to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas, the magos—for this interprets his name14—began opposing them, seeking to turn the proconsul from the faith.

(Read the rest of the account to see how Paul handles Elymas’ attempt at deception!)

The next synonym is baskainō (53.98): to bewitch a person, frequently by the use of the evil eye with evil intent—‘to bewitch, to practice magic on’ . . . Baskainō differs from mageuō ‘to practice magic’ (53.96) in that the former [baskainō] involves the use of so-called ‘black magic’.15 The sole NT occurrence of this word is used by the Apostle Paul in response to the Galatian ekklēsia upon learning they began Mosaic Law observance. It seems possible, if not probable, Paul is being a bit sarcastic and hyperbolic here, not literalistic:

Galatians 3:1 O foolish Galatians! Who baskainō you!

The final synonym for analysis here is periergos (53.99): the use of magic based on superstition—‘magic, witchcraft’.16 The only usage in the NT is in reference to those who burned their occult works after accepting Christ:

Acts 19:19 Many of those who practiced periergos gathered their books and burned them in front of everybody.

From this investigation we see that there are a number of synonyms to the pharma– nouns in the NT that do not encode ‘potions or drugs and the casting of spells’ as part of their definitions. And baskainō encodes ‘black magic’ as part of its definition, while mageuō/mageia/magos does not. And since the definitions of the pharma– nouns do not include ‘black magic’ in either Danker or L&N, we might assume these do not encode it either.

Venturing Outside the NT

These distinctions will prove useful as we survey extra-Biblical works written by those commonly known as the Apostolic Fathers (AF). The writers of these works are believed to have had contact with the first century Biblical Apostles. The works span part of the first and into the second centuries AD, all roughly contemporaneous with the NT era.

Since we are now venturing outside the NT, it would be prudent to provide more suitable definitions. These are found in the BDAG, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. One must be judicious in using this resource, however, for, as the title indicates, it includes ‘other early Christian literature’. Moreover, besides including definitions for the AF, it also contains definitions for “Selected Apocrypha”, the OT (LXX), “Intertestamental/Pseudepigraphical Literature”, “Inscriptions”, “Papyri/Parchments and Ostraca”, and “Writers and Writings of Antiquity”.17 Therefore, one must be careful not to apply a definition that is appropriate for an earlier work/period to the NT era (this could be anachronistic18). With that clarified, here are the relevant definitions (transliterated):19

mageia, a rite or rites ordinarily using incantations designed to influence/control transcendent powers, magic20

This definition is much like L&N above. Though it includes “incantations”, these are not spells cast upon others; these are, like L&N states, ‘to invoke supernatural powers’.

pharmakeia, sorcery, magic21

pharmakeus, maker of potions, magician22

pharmakeu, to make potions, practice magic23

pharmakon, Primarily ‘a drug’, ordinarily contexts indicate whether salubrious or noxious. 1. a harmful drug, poison 2. a drug used as a controlling medium, magic potion, charm 3. a healing remedy, medicineremedy, drug24

pharmakos, 1. one skilled in arcane uses of herbs or drugs, probably poisoner 2. one who does extraordinary things through occult means, sorcerer, magician25

Most of the above aligns with Danker (see previous segment). However, note the increased focus on making potions/drugs (-keus/-keuō/-kon/-kos). Taken all together, it seems like “magic” here primarily involves making potions/drugs. Yet, there must be some distinction between “magic” in the pharma– words and “magic” in mageia. We must keep this in mind as we go along.

Four occurrences of mageia or mageuō are found in the AF, and three of these are in contexts which also include pharmakeia or its verb form pharmakeuō. The first one we will look at is the one excluding any of the pharma– words. This is found in Ignatius of Antioch’s epistle to the Ephesians:

Ign. Eph. 19:3 Consequently, all mageia and every kind of bondage began to loosen, the ignorance of evil began to disappear, the old kingdom began to be abolished—being destroyed by the appearing of God in human form, Who brought newness of eternal life—only when what had been finished by God began to be received.

Next we will look at two selections from Didachē (Greek: Δίδαχή, literally “teaching”), typically dated to the first century (or early second).26 Both include forms of pharmakeia and mageia side-by-side in a list of prohibitions/vices. This fact of occurring side-by-side, of course, implies a clear distinction between the two.

Did. 2:1 The second commandment of this teaching is: 2 You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery [moicheuō], you shall not molest children [paidophthoreō], you shall not commit sexual immorality [porneuō], you shall not steal, you shall not mageuō, you shall not pharmakeuō, you shall not murder a child by miscarriage [i.e., abortion] or kill the born [i.e. infanticide], you shall not covet your neighbor’s possessions.

Take careful note as to how the above is grouped. Three sexual sins are listed in a row (one against children), abortion and infanticide are listed one after the other, and in between these two groupings are mageuō and pharmakeuō one next to the other. Each of the three groupings contains similarly-themed terms, but each term within each grouping is individually distinct, different in nuance.

Did. 5:1 But the path of death is this: First of all, it is evil and entirely cursed—murders, adulteries, inordinate lusts, sexual immoralities, thefts, idolatries, mageia, pharmakeia, extortions, false testimonies, hypocrisies . . .

The above is not grouped quite as well as the other selection from Didachē. However, once again, mageia is right next to pharmakeia. Below is the final occurrence of the two terms together, side-by-side. This is from the Epistle of Barnabas, and it is quite similar to the immediately preceding selection:

Barn. 20:1 But the path of the black one is crooked and entirely cursed, for it is a path of eternal death with punishment, in which is the destroying of all the souls—idolatry, audacity, exaltation of power, hypocrisy, duplicity, adultery, murder, extortion, arrogance, transgression, deceit, malice, stubbornness, pharmakeia, mageia, greed, lack of the fear of God.

There are two passages containing pharmakon, which also, helpfully, include adjectives to assist in defining them. This eliminates the necessity of providing any further context. The first is from Ignatius’ Epistle to the Trallians (6:2): thanasimos pharmakon, “deadly poison/potion”, or “deadly drug”. The next one is from Papias of Hierapolis (3:9): dēlētērios pharmakon, “destructive poison/potion”, “harmful drug”.

Two more passages contain pharmakon. The first one we shall investigate is again from Ignatius’ Epistle to the Ephesians:

Ign. Eph. 20:2 . . . that you come together in one faith and one Jesus Christ—Who according to the flesh is from the lineage of David, Who is son of man and Son of God—in order that you obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undisturbed mind, breaking one bread, which is the pharmakon of immortality [athanasia], the antidote against dying, but rather to live everlastingly in Jesus Christ.27

Clearly, the term means “medicine” in the above. The word for “immortality” (athanasia) is the same word Paul uses in 1Cor 15:53–54 to refer to our spiritual (non-flesh and blood) bodies we receive at “the last trumpet” (1Cor 15:52).28

The final pharmakon appears in The Shepherd of Hermas, in which the term occurs twice and in context with two occurrences of pharmakos, as well:

Shep. 17:6 (3.9.6) Look, therefore, you who exult in your riches, lest those in need groan, and their groaning rise up to the Lord, and you be excluded, with your goods outside the gate of the tower. 7 (3.9.7) Now, therefore, I say to you, those leading the ekklēsia and in the exalted chairs, do not be like the pharmakos[pl]. For the pharmakos[pl] indeed take up their pharmakon[pl] in wooden boxes, but you [take up] your pharmakon and its poison [ios] into your heart.

The context defines the terms. The pharmakos (plural pharmakoi) make substances, pharmakon (plural), and we can infer that these are poisonous. The leaders, those in the exalted seats, are like the pharmakos in that they also carry poison (not in literal ‘wooden boxes’, but, figuratively, in their exalted chairs) but they take it into their own hearts. The Shepherd is using plays on words here (“to exult”, “rise up”, “exalted”, “take up”).

Tentative Findings

From our investigation of synonyms in the NT and in Christian-themed works contemporary (or nearly contemporary) with the NT, in conjunction with our more expansive survey of pharma- words in these extra-Biblical works, we can arrive at some tentative findings. Comparing the pharma- terms with these synonyms has helped to better define both the pharma- terms and the mag- terms. Though it would be intellectually dishonest to completely take these findings and impose them onto our subject verse (Rev 18:23), it seems we have enough data to come a tentative conclusion: pharmakeia is more likely than not to include “potions” or “drugs” in its definition—understood as carrying negative connotations, of course (not “remedies” or “medicines”).

The next part, the conclusion will survey the LXX, which will include both the Greek OT and works known as the apocrypha (or deuterocanon [literally, “second canon”] in some traditions).

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8 Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, eds. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, 2nd ed. (New York, NY: United Bible Societies, 1988, 1989) Accordance electronic ed., OakTree Software, Inc. Version 4.4.

9 This is under 53.100 pharmakeia, p 545. Greek transliterated.

10 L&N, p 545, bold added.

11 Danker, Concise Lexicon, p 370.

12 L&N, p 545.

13 L&N, p 545. Note that this same term is used for the Three Wise Men in Matthew 2. L&N categorizes this usage under Understanding: Capacity for Understanding, with the following definition: a person noted for unusual capacity of understanding based upon astrology (such persons were regarded as combining both secular and religious aspects of knowledge and understanding) . . . (p 385).

14 From the ISBE (S. F. Hunter, “Bar-Jesus”, in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, James Orr, Gen Ed., 1st ed. [1915] prepared by Accordance/Oak Tree Software, Inc. Version 2.5): “Elymas is said to be the interpretation of his name (Acts 13:8). It is the Greek transliteration of an Aramaic or Arabic word equivalent to Greek μάγος [magos]. From Arabic ‘alama, ‘to know’ is derived ʾalı̄m, ‘a wise’ or ‘learned man’” (paragraph 7611).

15 L&N, p 545, bold added. Since there is some uncertainty as to its nuance and application here, the editors also place this word under Moral and Ethical Qualities and Related Behaviors: Mislead, Lead Astray, Deceive (88.159): to deceive a person by devious or crafty means, with the possibility of a religious connotation in view of the literal meaning ‘to bewitch’ . . . It is also possible that baskainō in Ga 3:1 is to be understood in the sense of bewitching by means of black magic . . . (L&N, p 760). Nonetheless, I take Paul’s words as hyperbole, sarcasm, not literal.

16 L&N, p 545.

17 BDAG, pp xxxi–li. Many thanks once again to the late Rodney Decker for providing a learning shortcut: BDAG (scroll down to second post “BDAG” dated October 10, 2012, then scroll further down to hyperlink “A Basic Introduction to BDAG” to open a PowerPoint.

18 Words may change over time, with nuances added or subtracted.

19 Of the other synonyms in the NT, none proved to help in our analysis here. Periergos occurs only one time, but there the connotation is “meddling” or “curious”. As to baskainō, it appears more often and in two other (noun and adjective) forms, but none of these appeared to mean “bewitched” in some black magic sense; the terms connote “begrudge” or “envy”.

20 BDAG, p 608.

21 BDAG, p 1049.

22 BDAG, p 1050.

23 BDAG, p 1050.

24 BDAG, p 1050.

25 BDAG, p 1050.

26 The work as we have it today appears to be a composite, seemingly redacted over the course of time. The ISBE (J. R. Michaels, “Apostolic Fathers”, in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, G. W. Bromiley Gen. Ed., Rev. Ed., [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979]) states: “Total agreement is seldom possible as to which forms are primitive and which are later adaptations. Therefore, it is difficult to speak about dates, but the compilation of purportedly apostolic material under the name of the apostles as a group [ED: complete title is The Lord’s Teaching through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations] indicates the apostles are already figures of the past. This together with the apparent use of Matthew’s Gospel tends to suggest a date of composition in the 2nd cent., though many specific elements . . . may well go back to the apostolic age and even perhaps to the early days of the Jerusalem church” (p 207).

27 This text is used to support the “real presence” doctrine, but one must understand Ignatius through his strong use of metaphorical expression. See the White Horse blog for explanation of how Ignatius is not teaching the “real presence” (much less Transubstantiation): Eating Ignatius.

28 Note also that athanasia (noun) is the opposite (the prefix a negating it) of thanasimos (adjective) in the selection from Ignatius’ Epistle to the Trallians just above.

Lament

This post is an attempt at reflecting the myriad emotions presently troubling me about a variety of things. Thus, it will likely come across just as disjointed as my mix of inner turmoil and yet vague sense of optimism. The process of writing this will probably prove to be cathartic.

I am continually dismayed by individuals making various assertions with misplaced confidence. And the blows coming from within and without in attempts (successful, sadly) at a divide and conquer strategy at unprecedented scale is completely missed by many of the distracted masses. Too many are enslaved by their own minds, imprisoned by the limited information they intake. They place outsized trust in their self-constricted list of myopic sources. Others completely tune out via the various electronic distractions available to them, oblivious to it all.

I am continually amazed at the amount of smart and seemingly intelligent individuals waylaid by apparent cognitive dissonance. In an enlightening vlog published 9 months ago, I found this exemplifying and yet clarifying comment (by Paul Hopper):

Many years ago, on a trip to Bucharest [the capital city of Romania], my wife and I visited her family’s cemetery, which happens to also be where Nicolae & Elena Ceausescu are buried. I was stunned to see a group of older Romanians holding a vigil, lighting candles and still mourning at the grave of this notorious, murderous tyrant. When I asked my wife—who was at the revolution in ’89—why anyone would feel sorry for this dead despot, she said that the older generation were so conditioned to be controlled by the state that they didn’t know how to live any other way. Just like the metaphor of the totalitarian womb in this video, it’s the illusion of security and safety. Sadly, she now sees the U.S. falling into the same communist mindset that she experienced growing up in Eastern Europe.

I am reminded of a work by Ukrainian neoclassical composer Valentin Silvestrov. Devastated by the death of his wife, companion, and supporter of 30 years, he wrote “Requiem for Larissa” in memoriam.

Time in Valentin Silvestrov’s music is a black lake. The water barely moves; the past refuses to slide away; and the slow, irregular stirrings of an oar remain in place. Nothing is lost here. A melody, which will rarely extend through more than five or six notes, will have each of those notes sounding on, sustained by other voices or instruments, creating a lasting aura.1

At times I feel as though I’m situated on this black lake—time seemingly standing still yet moving ever so slowly, almost imperceptibly—its eerie blackness enveloping me. It seems both distressing and calming simultaneously.

Within Silvestrov’s “Requiem” is an excerpt from Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko’s “The Dream”. From the Wikipedia entry on Taras Shevchenko:

Dogged by terrible misfortune in love and life, the poet died seven days before the 1861 emancipation of serfs was announced. His works and life are revered by Ukrainians throughout the world and his impact on Ukrainian literature is immense.

Below is the English-rendered text of the excerpted poem:

Farewell, O world! Farewell, O earth!
Thou dismal, dreary land!
I’ll hide my torments, fierce and keen,
Within a cloud-bank bland

Then to thyself, my own Ukraine,
A widow sad and weak,
shall come flying from the clouds
And with thee I shall speak;

From our communion, soft and low
My heart shall gain some cheer;
At midnight shall my soul come down
In dewdrops cool and clear2

This post is purposefully a bit vague and yet non-purposefully a bit scattered, reflective of my emotions and the overarching opacity permeating Western society as a whole. But to be absolutely clear, I’m not suggesting any sort of reactive call to action. My hope is that individuals become aware of the myriad machinations being perpetuated upon the populace and refuse to engage in them. Divided, we fall.

We must have compassion for those caught up. Leave the door open for open discussion. Leave the door open to preach the Gospel message. The time is short.

I will end on a less somber note. Listen to master oudist Anouar Brahem (and his assembled band) describe “The Astounding Eyes of Rita” in a live recording in Bucharest, Romania:

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1 Paul Griffiths, Time Was, from the liner notes of Valentin Silvestrov Requiem for Larissa, ECM New Series 1778, (© 2004 ECM Records GmbH), p 2.

2 Taras Shevchenko, excerpted from “The Dream”, in The Poetical Works of Taras Shevchenko, translated from the Ukrainian by C. H. Andrusyshen and Watson Kirkconnell (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1964), as cited from the liner notes of Silvestrov Requiem, p 23.

Coming Soon Near You!

Behold! I am coming soon.1

With the celebration of our Lord Jesus Christ’s birth, we might consider pondering His return, His Parousia. His arrival in Bethlehem marked the down payment for His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension—all for our benefit—and the promise of His return. Before His crucifixion, Jesus told His disciples on the Mount of Olives (Matthew 24:30–31; cf. Luke 21:27):

24:30 …And then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in the sky, and all the tribes/people of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming upon the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. 31 And He will send His angels/messengers with a great trumpet, and He will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.

This will be in fulfillment of words by the Prophet Daniel (7:13): In the night vision I continued watching—Behold! Upon the clouds of the sky: one like a son of man coming! The phrase “son of man” is from the Hebrew idiom “son of Adam”, which means simply human.2 Daniel was describing a human-like figure, which can only be our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Daniel may have seen Jesus garbed in the same manner in which John the Revelator saw one like a son of man (1:13–16):

1:13 …and in the midst of the candlesticks, like a son of man, in a foot-length robe and girded with a golden wrap around his chest, 14 his head and hair white like wool—white as snow—and his eyes like flames of fire, 15 his feet similar to fine bronze polished in a furnace, and his voice as vibrant as voluminous waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth a sharp double-edged sword proceeds. His face shines like the sun in its full force.

John was apparently terrified in seeing such a figure, but then the Person identified Himself (1:17–18): Do not be afraid! I am the First and the Last and the Living One. I was dead, yet behold! I am alive forever and ever!

22:12 Behold! I am coming soon. And with Me is My rewards, to repay each one according to his own work. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. 14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have their right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city.3

Be blessed!

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1 Revelation 22:7/22:12.
2 See The Son of God Given Authority to Judge Because He is ‘Human’: A Study in John 5:27, pt 2 and the rest of the series.
3 Revelation 22:12–14.

A Plea for Repentance

Following is one of Alfred Schnittke’s Psalms of Repentance (# VII). These psalms are adaptations of 15th century poems, commemorating the millennial anniversary of Christianity in Russia (in 1988). Appropriately, the words are translated from the Russian to King James English:1

Oh my soul, why art thou unafraid
of the dead in their graves
of the bare and terrible bones?
Where is the prince and where the ruler?
Where the rich and where the poor?
Where is loveliness of countenance?
Where the rhetoric of wisdom?
Where are the proud, where those who lust for fame?
Where are those who boast to others
of their gold and pearls?
Where is pride, where is love?
Where are the greedy?
Where is the seat of true justice
that giveth the guilty no rest?
Where is the ruler, where the slave?
Is everything not equal:
dust and earth and stinking dirt?
O my soul, why dost thou not tremble in dread?
Why art though not afraid
of the terrible judgments
and everlasting torments?
O wretched soul!
Remember how attentively thou didst obey
The words of the earthly czar,
A merry-making man,
but didst not heed the commandments
of thy heavenly Creator.
Thou livest in sin,
not revering but mocking
the teachings of Scripture.
O my soul!
Weep, cry out to Christ:
“Jesus save me!
Deliver me…”—answer the prayers of the saints—
“…from torments bitter and eternal.”

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1 English translation by Eileen Walliser-Schwarzbart © ECM Records (though with slight emendation in the addition of quotes and ellipses in the final three lines), as taken from Alfred Schnittke Psalms of Repentance, ECM New Series 1583, 1999 ECM Records GmbH. See also Alfred Schnittke: Psalms of Repentance (ECM New Series 1583).

Rapture Ready?

Are you ready for the ‘Rapture’? That is, are you living such that you are prepared for Jesus to return to first raise up the dead in Christ, then to ‘catch up’ those in Christ yet still alive?

As Christians, we should all be living as if the ‘Rapture’ were a near-future event. (I’m preaching to myself here, too.) But the relevant question to ponder is this: When does the ‘Rapture’ occur relative to the “Great Tribulation” period or the “Day of the Lord”?

Here’s one take, by Pastor Greg Laurie:

The Great Escape? Will there be a pre-Tribulation ‘Rapture’ (PTR)? Will those alive when Jesus returns escape the “Great Tribulation”? Is this PTR position supportable Biblically?

I strongly contend that the PTR view collapses under Scriptural scrutiny. In the following I shall show how and why.

Before doing so, let me state that I am not writing this to be argumentative or anything of the sort. Quite the contrary, I write this out of love and concern for my Christian brothers and sisters.

I recognize this is a secondary doctrine (eschatology) and, thus, not something to divide over. Yet it seems that the very fact that this is a secondary doctrine induces some (or even many) to forgo any critical analysis. In other words, many who believe in the doctrine appear to accept it without reservation (perhaps because the thought that we might go through the Tribulation is just too much to bear?1). My concern is that adherents to PTR could be lulled into a false sense of security, and when real persecution should come, they may be spiritually unprepared. This weighs heavily on me.

Unwrapping the ‘Rapture’

One of the usual tenets of the PTR is that the ‘restrainer’ in 2 Thessalonians 2:6 and 2:7 is the Holy Spirit.2 As part of this view (with respect to PTR), some, or even many (though not all—see below), believe the Holy Spirit is ‘removed’ from the earth when the Church is ‘Raptured’. This then sets up the Great Tribulation period during which the “man of lawlessness” (2Thess 2:3, 8), aka the Antichrist (1John 2:18) is revealed. Yet, at the same time, adherents to this tenet of the PTR believe that “the saints” (hoi agioi) referenced in Revelation 13 and beyond refer to ‘Tribulation saints’, meaning individuals saved during the Tribulation period—usually understood as seven years long. But how can individuals come to Christian faith during this Tribulation with no Holy Spirit to indwell them, let alone bring about initial conviction unto salvation (John 16:8—11)?

The PTR requires two ‘Second Comings’ of Jesus. The first is for the ‘Rapture’, the second is for the final stage of the Great Tribulation. In attempts to alleviate the inherent incongruity of two ‘Second Comings’, some proponents claim there will be one ‘Second Coming’ but in two aspects (‘Rapture’ → ‘Great Tribulation finale’). But this strains language, especially given the presumed seven (literal) year tribulation gap separating the two. Pastor Laurie above makes the hard distinction between the Rapture, which immediately precedes this Great Tribulation period, and the Second Coming when “Jesus returns with His believers . . . to end that period, and to establish His Kingdom on the earth.” Can such a distinction and such a gap be supported Biblically, in proper context?

The ‘Rapture’ is said to be “secret”. Yet the primary passage used to support the doctrine is 1 Thessalonians 4:17 (as Laurie does in the video above), in which ‘the Rapture’ is preceded by a loud command (shout) and the trumpet of God (4:16). It is difficult to imagine how such imagery can be construed as secretive—that it can be understood as quiet enough not to disturb non-Christians. Below is larger context:

4:13 Now brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who are sleeping, so that you will not grieve as the rest—those who have no hope. 14 For since we believe Jesus died and rose again, in this way also God will bring those who have fallen asleep through Jesus along with Him [Jesus]. 15 For this we say to you, by word of the Lord: We who are alive, those remaining until the coming [Parousia] of the Lord, will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 Because He, the Lord, will descend from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first; 17 then we who are alive, those remaining, shall be caught up [harpazō, ‘raptured’] together along with them, in the clouds, to meet [eis apantēsin] the Lord in the air. And so we shall be forever with the Lord.3

I contend that two ‘Second Comings’—or two aspects of one ‘Second Coming’, or (per Laurie) “the Rapture” followed by “the Second Coming”—must be read into the relevant texts (eisegesis). One Coming, one Parousia, is the most natural reading of the associated passages. Surely Occam’s razor (do not multiply unnecessarily) should be applied here. The last sentence of v 17 above (And so we shall be forever with the Lord) most logically implies the closing of the present age and the beginning of the next. In other words, in view of the closing sentence above, does it not seem that the ‘Rapture’ occurs just before the end of this age?

The Greek word Parousia (see v 15 above) will play a key role in our analysis below. This term is understood to refer to Jesus’ Second Coming, i.e., His (one) return (see dictionary definition here.).

How Many Trumpets Herald Jesus?

It will prove instructive to compare 1Thess 4:16—17 with similarly-themed passages.

In Jesus’ teaching on the Mount of Olives (Olivet Discourse) regarding the end times, He is asked by His disciples (Matt 24:3), “Tell us, when shall these things be, and what shall be the sign of Your coming [Parousia] and the end of the age?” Note that their question combined Jesus’ return with the end of the age.

In response, Jesus provides a list of things which must occur prior to His return [Parousia], seemingly in chronological order. This includes famine and seismic activity (24:7), Christian persecution unto death on account of faith in Jesus (24:9), apostasy and betrayal (24:10), deception (24:11), increasing wickedness leading to cold hearts (24:12)—all before the beginning of the end (24:14). These events are followed by the “abomination of desolation” (24:15; cf. 2Thess 2:3), which leads to unequaled “great tribulation (thlipsis)” (24:21). This then is followed by Jesus directly answering the latter part of their question:

24:23 “Then if anyone should say to you, ‘Look! Here is the Christ!’ or ‘Over there!’, do not believe it. 24 For false Christs and false prophets will arise and display great signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 Take heed! I have forewarned you. 26 So if they say to you, ‘Look! He is in the wilderness’, do not go out; 27 For as lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so will be the Parousia of the Son of Man.

29 “Immediately after the tribulation [thlipsis] of those days, the sun shall be darkened and the moon shall not give its light, and the stars shall fall from the sky. The powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in the sky, and all the tribes/people of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming upon the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. 31 And He will send His angels/messengers with a great trumpet, and He will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.”

Here we have a ‘trumpet’, which clearly occurs after some awful celestial events (24:29).4 Does this not appear like the end of the age? The italicized portions are quoted or paraphrased from, respectively, Joel 2:31 (sun . . . not give its light),5 Joel 2:10 (stars shall fall),6 and Daniel 7:13 (Son of Man coming). Joel 2:31 is not quoted in full, its latter portion reading …before the great and awesome Day of the LORD comes (cf. Acts 2:20).7 And Joel 2:10 is followed by this in 2:11: The Day of the LORD is great and dreadful; who can endure it? Since these celestial events are followed by “the sign of the Son of Man in the sky”, this seems to imply His appearing signifies what is elsewhere called the Day of the Lord (LORD).

More importantly, Jesus’ return (Parousia) will be both clearly visible to all (24:27, 30) and in concert with the gathering of His elect (24:31). Will there be two trumpets with two separate gatherings: (a) first the dead in Christ and those ‘raptured’ (1Thess 4:16-7), (b) and then some later gathering of “Tribulation saints”? A look at the next similarly-themed passage should definitively answer that question.

Chapter 15 of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians contains the most extensive narration on Christians’ future resurrection hope, including a description of the post-earthly bodies of the faithful. Paul begins with a proclamation of the Gospel message (1Cor 15:1-4; cf. 1Thess 4:14a), which he then uses as a basis for our future hope (1Cor 15:22-23; cf. 1Thess 4:14b-4:17) and for the final end to Christ’s (and our) adversaries (1Cor 15:24):

15:22 For just as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in order: Christ, the first fruit, then all those of Christ, with His coming [Parousia] 24 Next: the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, after He has nullified every ruler, and every authority and power.

So, according to Paul the Apostle here, all those in Christ “will be made alive” (resurrected [or ‘raptured’, see 15:51 below: Not all will sleep]) with His coming/Parousia. Compare Paul’s usage of Parousia here with his usage in 1 Thessalonians 4 and also Jesus’ words in Matthew 24. Also note that in the Corinthians passage just above, Jesus’ Parousia is followed by the end. This seems to concur with the chronology of events in 1 Thessalonians (4:17: And so we shall be forever with the Lord.) and Matthew (24:35: Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall never pass away.).

But there is more. In describing our future ‘resurrection bodies’, the Apostle compares and contrasts with our current flesh and blood bodies (1Cor 15:43—44a, 49):

15:43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.  44 It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body . . . 49 Just as we bear the image of the earthly [Adam], we will also bear the image of the Heavenly [Jesus].

Our new ‘spiritual bodies’ will be just like Jesus’ post-resurrection glorified body!

Paul now brings us to the climax of this passage:

15:50 Now this I say, brothers [and sisters]: Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God, neither does the perishing inherit imperishability. 51 Take note! I tell you a mystery: Not all will sleep, but all will be changed— 52 in an instant, in the blinking of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For this perishable must be clothed with imperishability and this mortal clothed with immortality. 54 But when the perishable has been clothed with imperishability and the mortal has been clothed with immortality, then the written Word will be fulfilled: Death has been swallowed up in victory!

Paul explicitly refers to this trumpet call as the last trumpet. And he refers to ‘the Rapture’ in not all will sleep. In other words, this should be understood as a parallel passage to 1Thess 4:16—17. Thus, the Thessalonians passage cannot refer to a separate gathering from the First Corinthians passage. And it certainly appears that Jesus’ words in Matthew 24 refer to this same gathering. Moreover, the quote of Isaiah 24:8 (Death has been swallowed up) in 1Cor 15:54 connotes the same finality as the similar verbiage in 1Thess 4:17 and Matt 24:35 (as noted above).  Sure the words in the surrounding contexts are a bit different, but each passage has different emphases, accounting for these variations.

Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology, observes:

The tribulation is quite clearly linked with the Lord’s return in some passages. First, the loud trumpet call to gather the elect in Matthew 24:31, the sound of the trumpet of God in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, and the last trumpet at which our bodies are changed in 1 Corinthians 15:51—52 all seem to be the same trumpet—the last trumpet that is blown just before the millennium (or, on the amillennial view, the eternal state). If it is indeed the “last trumpet” (1Cor 15:52), then it is hard to see how another loud trumpet call (Matt 24:31) could follow it seven years later.8

Apparently some PTR teachers construe Matthew 24:31 as describing separate, later events than the Thessalonians passage. The burden of proof is on the PTR teachers to conclusively demonstrate that these are indeed completely separate events, and, more generally, to provide a coherent overall doctrine. This would include (though not be limited to) explaining how the Matthew passage refers strictly to the gathering of “Tribulation saints”, while the Thessalonians passage excludes them, and how the “loud command” and “trumpet of God” of 1Thess 4:16 can be understood as “secret” and quiet enough not to awaken unbelievers.

Once again, I think Occam’s razor should be employed. The Parousia is mentioned in all three passages. Most logically, this refers to the one return of Jesus—to gather all the saints and bring about the end of the current age. This is the Day of the Lord—our blessed hope, yet a Day for God’s wrath to rain down on his adversaries.

Tribulation Saints and “The Church”

Pastor/teacher John MacArthur is another example of one who holds to the PTR. To his credit, however, he rejects the view that the Holy Spirit leaves at the PTR. Instead, MacArthur claims the Spirit remains and is ‘taken out of the way’ (2Thess 2:7) midway through the seven year Tribulation so the Antichrist can be revealed; yet the Spirit’s presence continues on the earth even after that.9 Laying aside for now the other problems with the PTR (as detailed in the previous section), MacArthur’s view here retains one of the attendant problems of the ‘Holy-Spirit-leaves-with-the-Raptured-Church’ camp: the relation of the “Tribulation saints” to the universal Church.

The best way to explain is to begin by quoting from his sermon “A Jet Tour Through Revelation”, as found in his book Truth Endures:10

The end of Revelation 3 is the end of the message to the churches. We do not hear the word “church” again in the book of Revelation until the very end of chapter 22 when Jesus says, “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches.” The church is not particularly in view from here on until the church is called by another name in the millennial Kingdom, and that is the “bride.”11

The Greek word for “church” is ekklēsia (plural ekklēsiai).12 In the New Testament (NT), with respect to Christ-followers,13 this word refers to gatherings or congregations of believers, as it does for the seven churches in Revelation 2—3. This word is even used of a gathering at Prisca and Aquila’s home (Romans 16:3—5). True believers are referred to as hoi agioi, “the saints”, or more literally “the holy ones”—always in the plural, never in the singular. The saints/holy ones are inseparable from “the Church”. We may call an individual gathering at a specific locale a “church” (ekklēsia), but every ekklēsia is part of the one larger, universal ekklēsia: “the Church”. All true “holy ones” (agioi) belong to the same universal ekklēsia as the Apostle Paul and the Apostle John.

To exemplify, the two terms overlap in the beginning of First Corinthians (1:2): To the church/assembly [ekklēsia] of God which is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints [agioi], with all those calling upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place—both theirs and ours. Thus, Paul is implying that the Corinthian ekklēsia is made up of agioi.14 And so it follows that all Corinthian agioi make up the one ekklēsia at Corinth. And in Paul’s address here he also includes others outside Corinth: all those calling upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place. All these are obviously agioi, as well. This implies a universal ekklēsia. Certainly, we could expand this to include all agioi throughout the centuries, constituting one universal ekklēsia.

After Revelation 3, hoi agioi (“the saints”, “the holy ones”) are referenced multiple times (13:7, 10; 14:12; 16:6; 17:6). Therefore, these hoi agioi are part of the universal ekklēsia.

With this background, let us return to the MacArthur quote above. Though we do not see the word “church” (ekklēsia) again until Jesus’ summation in Revelation 22, clearly “the saints” (hoi agioi), as used between chapters 3 and 22, refers to believers in the Tribulation period, i.e., individuals in “the Church”. Given this, MacArthur’s argument unravels. More pointedly, though “church” is not mentioned again after chapter 3 (until 22), “the saints” are, and since “saints” make up the “church”, it is dubious to make the distinction he makes. “Tribulation saints” are part of “the Church”.

To recap: While MacArthur avoids the conversion problem for “Tribulation saints” other PTR teachers create, he retains their failure of accounting for “Tribulation saints” (agioi) as part of the Church (ekklēsia). And, like other PTR enthusiasts, he fails to explicitly account for their end-times gathering.

Once again, the simplest solution is that the ‘Rapture’ occurs at the end of the age and includes ALL “holy ones”, all members of the universal Church (ekklēsia).

To see that we are not being overly harsh in our judgment of MacArthur’s position, following is his stance on just where the ‘Rapture’ occurs in Revelation:

Now we come to chapter 4 and leave the church age. People often ask, “Where does the Rapture come in?” It’s in the white spaces between chapters 3 and 4. You have the church on earth in chapters 2 and 3; all of a sudden we appear in heaven in chapter 4.15

Setting aside the obvious eisegesis inherent in such an assertion (“white spaces”?!), MacArthur, knowingly or not, excludes Tribulation saints from “the church age”. Similar to other PTR teachers, he has orphaned them. With his claim that “the church age” ends at the ‘Rapture’ “in the white spaces between chapters 3 and 4”, he leaves Tribulation saints ‘churchless’—more explicitly than other PTR teachers.

If, per MacArthur, Tribulation saints are excluded from “the church age”, then what age would they be in exactly? Is there an “age” between the PTR and the millennial Kingdom (or eternal state)? Is it “the Tribulation age”? Is there Scripture to substantiate such a view?

Wrapping Up

As the critical, analytical reader can see, there are flaws in the PTR doctrine. And I cannot view these as anything less than fatal flaws. If a reader can trumpet a Biblically coherent PTR doctrine—one devoid of the flaws exposed here—I will listen raptly.

I will close with commentary from Gene L. Green:

[1 Thessalonians 4:13—18] has suffered much ill as it has been mined to provide clues concerning the timing of the “rapture” of the church . . .  In the haste to answer this question, the real purpose of [this passage] is overlooked. This teaching was presented to comfort those in grief by connecting the confession of the creed (“Jesus died and rose again”) with the reality of the resurrection of the dead in Christ. This is not the stuff of speculative prophecy or bestsellers on the end times . . . The decidedly bizarre pictures of airplanes dropping out of the sky and cars careening out of control as the rapture happens detract from the hope that this passage is designed to teach. The picture presented here is of the royal coming [Parousia] of Jesus Christ. The church, as the official delegation, goes out to meet him, with the dead heading up the procession as those most honored. One coming [Parousia] is envisioned, which will unite the coming King with his subjects. What a glorious hope!16

 Glorious indeed!

[see also Escorting the King of Kings?]

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1 Why would we think end-times Christians should escape persecution and even martyrdom considering the first century Apostles and disciples were martyred? That’s not to mention those persecuted and martyred in the intervening centuries, or those persecuted and martyred throughout the world in our present age.

2 Yet not only is the Holy Spirit completely absent from the immediate and surrounding context, the Spirit as ‘restrainer’ does not fit well grammatically. Specifically, though the occurrence of ‘restrainer’ in 2:6 is grammatically neuter in the Greek, thereby matching the grammatically neuter pneuma (Spirit), 2:7’s ‘restrainer’ is instead grammatically masculine. The argument then sometimes goes that the grammatically masculine word paraklētos (paraclete: counselor, helper, advocate), which is used for the Spirit in John’s Gospel (14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7), is to be understood here. But this strains credibility, since this word occurs for the Spirit solely in the Gospel of John, never in the Pauline epistles. A related argument extends on this use of the grammatically masculine paraklētos for the Holy Spirit, in that masculine pronouns are used in John 14—16 and these masculine pronouns are claimed to refer to the grammatically neuter pneuma, thereby “personalizing” (indicating personhood for) the Spirit (whereas the neuter pneuma and its associated pronouns are erroneously construed as implying non-personhood). But this not only confuses grammatical gender with biological gender, it fails to recognize that these masculine pronouns refer back to the grammatically masculine paraklētos, not the neuter pneuma, thereby conforming to conventional grammar norms. A similar argument posits that a masculine grammatically gendered ‘restrainer’ would be appropriate given the Personhood of the Holy Spirit, as derived from contexts indicating such Personhood (the Spirit can be grieved [Eph 4:30], can be lied to [Acts 5:3], etc.). Yet, again, this overlooks that the Holy Spirit is absent in this context, while simultaneously presupposing erroneously that masculine grammatical gender can imply P/personhood, while the neuter cannot. See CrossWise articles Misgendering the Spirit and The Holy Spirit as “Restrainer” in 2 Thessalonians 2?. See also Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), pp 331, 332, cf. 338.

3 My translation, as are all here.

4 These celestial events bear strong resemblance to those described in Revelation 6:12—14, which are followed by pleas from the inhabitants of the earth: …hide us from the face of the One seated on the Throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great Day of Their wrath has come, and who is able to stand? (6:16—17).

5 Cf. Isaiah 13:9—10.

6 Cf. Isaiah 34:4.

7 Cf. Rev 6:17. Jesus’ Jewish audience might know these passages well enough to mentally ‘fill in’ the Day of the LORD (YHWH) verbiage. See Peter’s address to the crowd in Acts 2:14—21, particularly 2:20 which sources Joel 2:31.

8 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), p 1134; emphasis added. The parenthetical comment is taken from the same page, but two paragraphs above this particular quote. This comment is included here in order to retain his thoughts in the current context. In other words, since the author had used this parenthetical comment earlier on the page in a similar context, the thrust of his comment is assumed to carry over, and so appending it here seems appropriate.

9 See this video segment John MacArthur – The Restrainer (“The Coming Man Of Sin” Part 4), as edited by “310revelation” from a larger sermon at gty.org. Accessed 8/14/2021. Note that MacArthur assumes some of the faulty pronoun arguments as detailed in note 2 above.

10 John MacArthur, Truth Endures: Commemorating Forty Years of Unleashing God’s Truth One Verse at a Time, 1969—2009, Phil Johnson & Mike Taylor, eds. (Panorama City, CA: Grace to You, 2009), pp 125—151. I would be terribly remiss if I did not mention the following: In my car as I was listening to MacArthur on local radio, an advertisement for Grace to You (gty.org) followed, stating that first time callers could receive a booklet of the sermon “A Jet Tour Through Revelation”, free of charge. I requested a copy, but was delighted to instead receive a full-length hard cover book with an accompanying note card: “Thank you for requesting a free copy of John MacArthur’s booklet, A Jet Tour Through Revelation. Due to the unexpected death of a member of our editorial staff, production of the booklet was delayed. As a result, we’ve taken the liberty of sending you John’s new book Truth Endures. It contains the “Jet-Tour” material you requested, as well as eleven additional, full-length messages. Please enjoy it with our compliments. We apologize for any inconvenience. Grace to You.”

11 MacArthur, Truth Endures, p 132.

12 The modern word “church” carries multiple meanings, has a skewed etymology, and generally confuses the meaning behind the NT use of ekklēsia in relation to Christ-followers. See CrossWise article Re-Assembly Required.

13 This word is not exclusively reserved for Christ-followers (see Acts 7:38; 19:32, 39, 40). See article referenced in note 12 above.

14 The first three clauses, separated by commas, are all in apposition (all dative clauses), meaning these three refer to the same group. This is akin to: Bob, my neighbor, the baker at Bob’s Bakery. They all refer to the same entity.

15 MacArthur, Truth Endures, p 132.

16 Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians, Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC); Accordance electronic ed., OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.5 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 229; emphasis added. For more on the Parousia, see Not One Parousia, But Two.

Providing Christian Witness

Some may think battle lines have only recently been drawn. But the battle began long ago. Paul provided instructions on how to wage this war in his letter to the saints in Ephesus, the Ephesians. Of course, his instructions are for the entire Church age.

In the face of threatening opposition, we don’t wield a sword to slice off Malchus’ ear (John 18:10; Matt 26:51). Jesus soundly rebuked Peter for doing so (John 18:11; Matt 26:52). This foolish act prompted Jesus to heal the man’s ear in response (Luke 22:51). We are to clutch a very different kind of ‘sword’.

The way we are to do battle is difficult, yet relatively easy. We stand. And pray. We put on the armor of God and stand firm (Eph 6:13). For our battle is not against earthly flesh and blood, it is against dark spiritual forces (Eph 6:12).

6:14 Therefore, stand: your waist belted in truth, adorned with the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and your feet equipped for the gospel of peace 16 —in everything taking up the shield of faith, with which you will be able to extinguish all the evil one’s flaming arrows. 17 And grasp the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. 18 With every prayer and request, pray in the Spirit at all times, in this keeping alert, in all perseverance and petition for all the saints.

We clothe ourselves in Divine armor (Eph 6:11). Then we stand for truth and righteousness, ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. We do this while holding onto our faith in Christ in order to ward off the devil’s attacks. We latch onto our salvation and the Word of God. And we persevere in prayer for all the saints.

We stand. We pray. These are the defensive and offensive weapons we must use in this spiritual warfare. And they are all we need.

The ‘easy’ part is doing this through the Spirit (consider Moses parting the Red Sea). The hard part is submitting to the Spirit and staying submitted.

In this we provide testimony for Christ. And this testimony may result in earthly martyrdom for some. It certainly has over the past two millennia.

In fact, there is one Greek word for testimony, witness, and martyr. It is martyria (also martyrion), and closely related is martys (or martyros). The first noun refers to the testimony provided, the second to the person providing the testimony. Also, there are associated verb forms (martyreō, martyromai). Both a noun form and a verb are used in John 1:7:

This man [John the Baptizer] came as a witness (martyria), to testify (martyreō) about the Light

In Acts 22:20, Paul identifies Stephen posthumously as Jesus’ witness, by using the other noun form martys (cf. Rev 2:13; 17:6). He was recounting the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:54-60):

And when the blood of Stephen your witness (martys) was being shed, I myself was standing there, even approving of his death, guarding the coats of those who were executing him.

Though some English versions translate the Greek martys here as martyr, this may be a bit anachronistic; that is, it may have been a bit later that the term was understood as martyr in the sense we know it today. Nonetheless, Stephen’s witness (Acts 6:8—7:60) lives on in Scripture. It was his testimony (Acts 6:8—7:53) that led to him being the first Christian martyr (Acts 7:54-60). His martyrdom surely provided more notoriety for his witness. And observe what Stephen himself witnessed during his martyrdom: He saw “the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55). How glorious!

Are you prepared to be such a witness, such a martyr (martys), if necessary?

Can I get a witness?

Psalm of the Day



Psalm 130 (129 LXX/Septuagint)


De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine;
Domine, exaudi vocem meam.
Fiant aures tuæ intendentes in vocem deprecationis meæ.
Si iniquitates observaveris, Domine, Domine, quis sustinebit?
Quia apud te propitiatio est; et propter legem tuam sustinui te, Domine.
Sustinuit anima mea in verbo ejus: Speravit anima mea in Domino.
A custodia matutina usque ad noctem, speret Israël in Domino.
Quia apud Dominum misericordia, et copiosa apud eum redemptio.
Et ipse redimet Israël ex omnibus iniquitatibus ejus.


Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive as I voice my pleadings.
If Thou, O Lord, kept record of iniquities, Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness; for that you be revered, Lord.
In my innermost being I long for His word; my very being yearns for the Lord.
As a night watchman anticipates morning, let Israel hope in the Lord.
But in the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption,
And He will deliver Israel from all iniquities.

Today an Eternal Present was Unveiled in the City of David

Merry Christmas!

10 . . . The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid! Listen closely, for I proclaim to you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 Today your Savior—Who is Christ the Lord—was born in the city of David.”1

This is the day we celebrate the birth2 of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,3 Jesus the Christ, the Messiah.4

Joy to the world! / The Lord is come! / Let earth receive her King. / Let every heart prepare Him room / and heaven and nature sing.

A bit over two millennia ago, the eternal Word5 became the eternal-temporal Theanthrōpos,6 the God-man.7 Deity came in humility, clothed in humanity, born in Bethlehem. God the Father loved the world so much that He provided His one, unique Son8 as a sacrifice for us all, by ‘lifting Him up’ on the cross,9 so that everyone who believes in Him would not  perish, but would gain eternal life,10 adopted as God’s children.11 This entrance into eternality begins the very moment of initial belief12 and will remain for the overcomers—those enduring until the end.13

This day we should, in reverential awe, commemorate this glorious, eternally present,14 eternal gift.15 We should remember this selfless, sacrificial gift16 every day—but especially today. Those temporal gifts we give and receive—largely in celebrations overshadowing the true meaning of this season, this day—those temporal gifts we exchange, some by compulsion, will perish. But not this gift. This gift, available to all, has already been given—at such cost!17 The Giver of this gift is Himself the Gift,18 Who seemingly perished forevermore after being crucified.19 Yet He rose again!20 And He lives yet still.21

But this gift is more of an exchange—though a very one-sided one at that. To receive the gift of Jesus’ substitutionary atonement22—in which He has already paid the due penalty for all mankind’s sins past, present, and future23—one must repent,24 turn to Jesus as Lord and Savior,25 and then ‘take up one’s cross daily’.26 This means obeying Jesus’ commandments27 and following His path, to the point of physical death, if necessary.28 However, even if following Christ directly results in temporal death (which is an inevitable eventuality whether following Him or not) one receives the much more valuable eternal life. Yet, even more, as part of this exchange one receives God’s indwelling Spirit29—the Holy Spirit, the paraklētos,30 the Spirit of Truth31—in Whom one possesses both the navigational compass and the strength to endure His pathway.

Yet Jesus’ requirements are not burdensome.32 When the Christ-follower inevitably sins33—and one easily does so when living by one’s own strength rather than by and in the Spirit34—He is quick to forgive the penitent.35

To those who believe in and follow the Messiah, His Resurrection guarantees this eternal present;36 but, it was the conception37 and subsequent birth38 of the Eternal-temporal39 providing the necessary precursor. As Christians, as Christ-followers, let us remember this day for the momentous and joyous occasion it was and is: the arrival of the Gospel in the Gift wrapped in strips of cloth lying in a manger.40 To those with opened eyes He was unveiled.41 To the blind He remained veiled, but to those blind subsequently receiving sight He was revealed.42

Let us not be side-tracked by the temporality of contemporary glitz and glamour. Let us not take this day for granted. Let us take it to heart. Let us take its inherent message to the outer extremities.43 Let us be God’s instruments through which this Gift is unveiled, blind eyes opened.

The world awaits.44

——–

(If you think you might be experiencing a case of déjà vu, you are not exactly wrong. This is a lightly revised and slightly expanded version of an article I posted on Christmas day last year.)

__________________________

1 Luke 2:10-11, my translation.
2 It is very unlikely, though, that December 25 is the actual day Jesus was born. See When was Jesus Born?
3 Luke 2:10-11; Matthew 1:25; cf. Micah 5:2.
4 John 1:41; 4:25.
5 John 1:1.
6 From Theos = God, anthrōpos = man.
7 John 1:14.
8 John 1:14; 3:16.
9 John 3:14 (cf. Numbers 21:8-9); John 12:32-33.
10 John 3:16-17; Romans 5:8; Ephesians 2:4; 1John 4:9-10.
11 John 1:12.
12 John 5:24-25.
13 Matthew 24:13; Revelation 2:7, 10-11, 17, 26-28; 3:5, 10-12, 19-21; 14:12.
14 John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:16-17; Hebrews 1:2-3.
15 Revelation 13:8; cf. Revelation 17:8. There is ambiguity in the syntax of the Greek in 13:8. Is it that the Lamb was slain before the foundation of the world (KJV, NIV, e.g.), or is it that certain names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world (ESV, NASB, e.g.)? [This implies there are yet others who were written in the book of life from the foundation of the world (cf. Rev 3:5).] One could harmonize this with the words whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world from 17:8 to resolve this, yet it seems difficult to have a book of life without the Life Giver’s substitutionary atonement (Hebrews 2:17) having been provided first. So maybe both are true? Resolution is not even found in John the Baptizer’s words in John 1:29 regarding the “Lamb of God” (cf. Rev 5:6-14), for the verb airōn, takes away, is a present active participle, which grammatically indicates durative action (imperfective aspect), but the temporal reference is unclear. Is it yet-future from the Baptizer’s words (in then-current context looking forward to the cross), or is John stating that it is already in effect? Relatedly, this verb airō can connote being taken ‘up’ as well as taken away, which can provide a bit of—likely intended—double entendre, polysemy. In other words, sins are taken up/away as He is taken up/away. This double meaning likely applies—unknowingly by the speakers and in ironical fashion with the benefit of hindsight—in John 19:15 when “the Jews” (hoi Ioudaioi) responded to Pilate’s statement “Here is your king!” with aron aron, staurōson auton, “Take up/away, take up/away; crucify him!” Their command resulted in Him being glorified (John 12:23; 13:31-32; 17:1) and thereby receiving the name above every name (Philippians 2:9-11; cf. What Did Pilate State in John 19:22?: Conclusion).
16 Philippians 2:5-8.
17 Hebrews 2:9-18; 4:15. Each and every one of us—at and beyond the age of accountability, at the least—has played his/her part in lifting Him up on that cross.
18 John 11:25; 14:6.
19 Matthew 27:48-50; Mark 15:36-37; Luke 23:36; John 19:28-30.
20 Matthew 28:1-15; Mark 16:1-8[20]; Luke 24:1-49; John 2:19-22; 10:17-18; 20:1-31; 1Corinthians 15:1-4.
21 Revelation 1:18.
22 Hebrews 2:14-18.
23 Romans 3:25-26; Hebrews 9:11-15, 26-28; 10:12, 19-24.
24 Matthew 4:17; Luke 3:8-14; Acts 2:38; 3:19; Romans 2:4.
25 But this cannot be done in one’s own strength; see the words of Jesus in John 6:44: No one is able to come to Me unless the Father, the One Who sent Me, draws him[/her].
26 Matthew 10:38-39; 16:24-26; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23-24; 14:27; John 12:25-26.
27 Matthew 4:17; 22:37-39; Mark 12:30-31; John 8:31-32; 13:34/15:12; 15:10; James 2:8-11; 1John 5:3.
28 Matthew 16:24-26. See What did Jesus mean when He said, “Take up your cross and follow Me”?
29 John 3:3-8; 14:17; Romans 8:15-17; 1Corinthians 2:12; 3:16; 6:19; 2Corinthians 6:16.
30 John 14:15-16:15; Acts 1:8; 2:1-39; 1John 4:1-6. See also Who is the Holy Spirit?
31 John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; 1John 4:6; 5:6.
32 Matthew 11:28-30; 1John 5:3.
33 1John 1:8-10.
34 Galatians 5:16-26; 1John 1:6-8.
35 Hebrews 10:22-23; 1John 1:9-2:2.
36 1Corinthians 15:20-23.
37 Luke 1:34-35.
38 Luke 2:1-7.
39 John 1:1, 14.
40 Luke 2:10-12.
41 Luke 2:8-20.
42 John 9:1-41; 2Corinthians 3:14-18.
43 Matthew 28:19-20.
44 John 3:16-21, 31-36; Romans 8:18-27.

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