Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Historical Jesus - Just the Facts

Historians, of many ideological and philosophical persuasions, hold to the following almost certain facts concerning the historical Jesus.

  • Jesus came from Nazareth
  • He began his public life as a disciple of John
  • He was a teacher and healer/exorcist
  • He had a group of followers, with twelve being of central importance
  • There was a focussed mission on Israel
  • Jesus preached the coming of the “kingdom of God”
  • He clashed with the Jerusalem authorities concerning the temple
  • He was crucified as a Messianic pretender by the Romans on the authority of Pontius Pilate
  • Jesus’ followers believed they encountered him after his death
  • Jesus’ followers formed a movement, awaiting his return, winning new adherents.

Jesus’ message was that the Kingdom of God was arriving in and through his own ministry. He saw himself as a prophet announcing God’s word to Israel. His proclamation of the Kingdom was demonstrated and advocated in teaching and symbolic praxis. Jesus’ perspective and understanding of the Kingdom was significantly different to what his contemporaries, especially the Pharisees and Sadducees, were expecting and performing. Jesus’ call to Israel was specifically to repent of their nationalistic ambitions and embrace his new vision of being Israel with him as their new King. Jesus saw sin/satan as Israel’s real enemy, not Rome. In and around himself, Jesus was re-gathering a reconstituted Israel. Healings and exorcisms were a sign of God’s in-breaking reign. For those who would not heed his call and command, Jesus prophesied judgement and destruction within a generation, of nation, city and temple. 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Overview of Revelation - Fee

As a Christian prophet, John also sees this conflict in the larger context of the holy war the ultimate cosmic conflict between God (and his Christ) and Satan (see 12:1-9)in which God wins eternal salvation for his people. The people's present role is to "triumph over [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony not lov[ing] their lives so much as to shrink from death" (12:11). As God has already defeated the dragon through the death and resurrection of Christ (the Messiah is caught up to heaven, 12:5), so he will judge the state for her crimes against his people.

The book plays out these themes in a variety of ways. The earlier parts (chs. 1 -6) set the stage for the unfolding drama, starting with a vision of the Risen Christ, who holds the keys to everything that follows (1:12-20), while letters to selective churches represent their varied strengths and weaknesses (chs. 2-3). These are followed by a vision of the Reigning Creator God and the Redeeming Lamb (chs. 4-5), to whom alone belong all wisdom, glory, and power and before whom all heaven and earth will bow. As John weeps because no one can be found to break the seals of the scroll (which is full of God's justice and righteous judgments), he is told that the "Lion of the tribe of Judah see Gen 49:9-10), the "Root of David" (Isa 11:1-2, 10). has "triumphed," but the only lion John sees is God's slain Lamb (echoing the Exodus Passover [and Isa 53:7]), who has redeemed people from all the nations.

Such a Conqueror can set the drama in motion by breaking the seals (Rev 6), which offer a kind of "overture" (striking ail the themes) for what follows [conquest, war, famine, death [first 4 seals] - followed by many martyrdoms [seal 5], to which God responds with judgment [seal 6]). It is especially important to note that, apart from his role in the final battle (19:11 -21), the only way Christ appears from here on in the narrative is as the slain Lamb; this is how his followers are expected to triumph as well (12:11).

The two interlude visions (ch. 7) - of those whom God has "sealed" from his coming judgements, but pictured in battle formation for their role in the holy war, and eventually redeemed - are then followed by the opening of the seventh seal, which unfolds as the vision of the seven trumpets (chs. 8-9). These "judgments" echo the plagues of Egypt, and like those plagues, announce temporal (and partial) judgments against their present-day Pharaoh. But as with the Egyptian Pharaoh, the plagues do not lead to repentance (9:20-21). The interlude visions between the sixth and seventh trumpets (10:1 -11:14) call on the church to prophesy and bear witness to Christ, even in the face of death, while also pronouncing the certain doom of the empire, and ending with a foretaste of the final glorious reign of God and of the Lamb (11:15-19).

The remaining visions (chs. 12-22) offer explanations for and apocalyptic descriptions of the final doom of the empire. Chapters 12-14 thus give the theological and historical reasons for both the suffering and the judgment. The doom of Rome itself is portrayed in the vision of the seven bowls (chs. 15-16), which echo the trumpet plagues but now without opportunity to repent.

The whole then concludes as the (original) "tale of two cities," represented by two women (the prostitute [Rome] and the bride of the Lamb), in which the city that represents enmity against God and his people is judged (chs. 17-18). This is set against the backdrop of God s final salvation and judgment (chs. 19-20) and of the final glory of the bride as the city of God, the new Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven (chs. 21-22).

Extracted from G. D. Fee, How To Read the Bible Book by Book

Friday, September 16, 2011

Revelation - Authorship

We know that someone named John (1:1, 4, 9) wrote the Revelation. The author is in exile, but we do not know whether this is self-imposed or due to some kind of official decree. The reason for his exile is clear, it is because of the Lord.  However, it should be noted that the present location of the author, i.e., at the time of writing, is unknown.  Rev 1:9 suggests that John had his vision on the island of Patmos, but it does not suggest that John is still there, nor does it suggest that John wrote Revelation while he was there. 

Thus, John may have taken much time to pray, meditate and think through his visionary experiences and how best to communicate those to the communities that he served.  Thus we should be careful in allowing presuppositions and assumptions to guide our understanding of how this text was put together and when and how it was written. 

Some scholars have suggested that some sections of Revelation may have been written and used much earlier, and thus within Revelation there are both early and later materials.  Although, I must admit to a certain scepticism regarding our ability to discern various layers of tradition and then date them.  Such proposals and conclusions seem more to be driven by circular reasoning. 

Rev. 22:6-7 suggest that he was a prophet, perhaps part of a prophetic group. Presumably he was well known to the audience as he does not explain to them who he is. He writes to the Churches with some authority, which may suggest an ongoing relationship with them.
John must normally have been active as a prophet in the churches to which he writes. The seven messages to the churches reveal detailed knowledge of each local situation, and 2:21 presumably refers to an earlier prophetic oracle of his, addressed to the prophetess he calls Jezebel at Thyatira. John was no stranger to these churches but had exercised a prophetic ministry in them and knew them well. (Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation)
The amount of specific information that the writer has not only about these specific churches, but also about the specific areas within which these churches are found suggests an intimate knowledge of these areas. 

Traditionally the author is seen as the apostle, the son of Zebedee (Matt 10:2). Justin Martyr, calls him “John the Apostle.” 
There was a certain man with us whose name was John, one of the apostles of Christ, who prophesied by a revelation that was made to him, that those who believe in our Christ would dwell a thousand years in Jerusalem; and that thereafter the general, and in short, the eternal resurrection and judgment of all men would likewise take place.
While, Irenaeus merely notes that “John wrote the apocalypse at the end of the reign of Domitian,” which suggests a dating of around 95CE. Many, if not most, scholars suggest that a dating to the reign of Domitian, is accurate. Eusebius suggests that John went to Patmos during the reign of Domitian, and then later returned to Asia minor to continue his work.

John does not appear to be a pseudepigraphic writing, that is, a writing written under the name of someone else in whose authority one wished to write or communicate.  John makes no special claims about himself, and very little is communicated about the situation within which he wrote.  The writer is simply described as a slave of God, and a brother to those whom he writes. 

Scholars have suggested that the author of this work has a distinctively Jewish background, given the numerous allusions and echoes to the Hebrew scriptures and various Jewish traditions.  In fact, the genre of apocalypse appears to be most at home within a Jewish worldview. 

Outline of Revelation - Bauckham

Prologue (1:1-8)

Title and Beatitude (1:1-3)
Epistolary Opening (1:4—5a)
Doxology (1:5b-6)
A Scriptural Testimony (1:7)
A Prophetic Oracle (1:8)

Inaugural Vision of Jesus Christ among the Churches and his Messages to the Seven Churches (1:9-3:22)
John's Vision and Commission (1:9—20)
The Message to Ephesus (2:1—7)
The Message to Smyrna (2:8-11)
The Message to Pergamum (2:12-17)
The Message to Thyatira (2:18—29)
The Message to Sardis (3:1—6)
The Message to Philadelphia (3:7-13)
The Message to Laodicea (3:14-22)

Inaugural Vision of Heaven (4:1-5:14)
God on the Throne (4:1—11)
The Lamb on the Throne (5:1-14)

The Seven Seals (6:1-8:5)
The First Four Seals (6:1-8)
The Fifth Seal (6:9-11)
The Sixth Seal (6:12-17)
Interlude: The Sealing of the Elect (7:1-17)
The Seventh Seal (8:1-5)

The Seven Trumpets (8:6—11:19)
The First Four Trumpets (8:6-12)
The Fifth Trumpet (8:13-9:11)
The Sixth Trumpet (9:12—21)
Interlude: (a) The Scroll Given to John (10:1—n)
Interlude: (b) The Content of the Scroll (11:1-13)
The Seventh Trumpet (11:14-19)

The Story of God's People in Conflict with Evil (12:1—15:4)
The Woman, the Dragon and the Child (12:1—6)
Michael and the Dragon (12:7-12)
The Dragon and the Woman (12:13-17)
The Monster from the Sea (12:18—13:10)
The Monster from the Land (13:11—18)
The Lamb and the 144,000 (14:1-5)
Three Angelic Messages and a Voice from Heaven (14:6-13)
The Harvest of the Earth and the Vintage of the Earth (14:14-20)
The Song of the Conquerors (15:1-4)

The Seven Bowls (15:5-16:21)

Introduction (15:5—16:1)
The First Five Bowls (16:2—11)
The Sixth Bowl (16:12-16)
The Seventh Bowl (16:17-21)

Babylon the Harlot (17:1-19:10)
The Harlot: (a) The Vision (17:1—6a)
The Harlot: (b) The Interpretation (17:6b-18)
The Fall of Babylon: (a) The Voice of an Angel (18:1-3)
The Fall of Babylon: (b) A Voice from Heaven (18:4-20)
The Fall of Babylon: (c) The Voice of Another Angel (18:21-4)
The Fall of Babylon: (d) Voices from Heaven (19:1-8)
John and the Angel (19:9—10)

Transition from Babylon to the New Jerusalem (19:11-21:8)
The Rider from Heaven and his Victory (19:11-21)
The Millennium (20:1-10)
The Judgment of the Dead (20:11-15)
The New Heaven and the New Earth (21:1—4)
God Speaks (21:5-8)

The New Jerusalem the Bride (21:9—22:9)
General View of the City (21:9—14)
The Walls and the Gates of the City (21:15-21)
The Glory of God in the Temple-City (21:22-7)
The Throne of God in the City (22:1—5)
John and the Angel (22:6—9)

Epilogue (22:10—21)
The Angel's Instructions (22:10-11)
A Prophetic Oracle (22:12-13)
Beatitude (22:14-15)
A Scriptural Testimony (22:16)
Invitation to Come to the Water of Life (22:17)
Warning to Preserve the Book's Integrity (22:18—19)
A Prophetic Oracle and Response (22:20)

This is taken from Richard Bauckham's commentary on Revelation in the Oxford Bible Commentary.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Unity amidst Diversity - a tragic irony

Philip Melanchthon, one of the great theological minds of the Reformation, described Romans as “an outline and compendium of all Christian doctrine”, and its interpretation has often been driven by theological interests and debates. Indeed, until recently Romans has been read primarily as an essay in propositional theology, and interpreters have often lost sight of the concrete and specific set of circumstances and interests that called this letter into existence. Attempting to abstract the timeless theology of Romans, Christians have repeatedly broken off fellowship with other Christians over the interpretation of minute aspects of this letter, for example, the question of predestination versus free will, the degree of human depravity, the nature of “saving” faith and so forth. A tragic irony emerges when we consider that in Romans, Paul provides his fullest treatment of the way God has brought together people of diverse heritage and practice into the one body of the church, and he also gives several chapters of practical advice for preserving unity in the midst of this diversity.

David deSilva, An Introduction to the New Testament, 598.  Italics mine.