• Service times

    Services times are:

    Saturday night 7:30 pm for our Chinese/English service [except for the second Saturday of every month when the service starts at 6:30 pm and is followed by a shared meal]. (Pastor Daniel Choi.)

    Sunday 10 am for our English language service (Pastor Jeff Whittaker).

    Sunday 11:30 am for our Chinese (Mandarin) language service. (Pastor Daniel Choi.)

  • Contact details…

    Physical and postal address:
    4 Inverary Avenue,
    Epsom,
    Auckland 1023,
    NEW ZEALAND.

    Email:
    epsombaptist@clear.net.nz

    Telephone:
    (0064 9) 6306010

    Contacts:
    Rev. Jeff Whittaker
    Pastor Daniel Choi

  • Church Officers…

    Church Treasurer: Ann Guan

    Church Secretary: Margaret Whittaker

    Church Deacons: Anne Bartley, Ian de Stigter, Kristy Choi, Helen Evans, Willa Hui, and Alfred Zhou.

Sequential links: Revelation and Genesis

Many writers and commentators have noted that the disaster sequences in the book of Revelation associated with the seals, the trumpets, and the bowls have structural parallels. I have previously written that I believe the seals to relate to events contemporaneous with John the Revelator, in particular the pressures of living under occupation. Let me broaden that to include the pressures experienced by ordinary citizens living in a situation dominated by powerful elites (as suggested by Laurie Guy in his ‘Making Sense of Revelation’). And I wrote that the trumpets relate to events around the entry into the Promised Land at the end of the Exodus, events that were described as judging the sinful behaviour of the existing occupants of the Land but which would also have been experienced as challenging by the invading tribes of Israel. And finally, I wrote that the bowls relate to the plagues of Egypt, a judgment on Egypt as an enslaving power but that caught up the slave populace in its embrace as well. In light of this, I suggested that the book of Revelation is a revisiting of Israel’s history, and has as its end-point a re-entry into Eden (now envisioned as a heavenly city). But I don’t want to suggest that there is a linear timeline that unfolds on this journey. Rather, as we await the revealing of the kingdom of God – the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven – then the people of the Lamb should anticipate encountering any of these catastrophes. But, as the people of the Lamb, these difficulties that so often caught up Israel in their embrace will not destroy us. Instead, we will conquer through the word of our testimony, and by the blood of the Lamb, and by not clinging to life in the face of death (Rev. 12: 11). And the final result is the kingdom established in the new Jerusalem to the point that it comes down out of heaven for the healing of the rest of creation.

One of the structural parallels that links the seals and trumpets is the pattern of four plus two, with an interlude and then another one. That is, an interlude occurs after the first six. Then the seventh is enacted. In the case of the seals, the seventh seal is followed by silence in heaven for half an hour. Similarly, six trumpets are sounded, and then an interlude takes place before the seventh trumpet is sounded. I believe that this pattern of four plus two (six), and then a final one is not just a stylistic feature of Revelation. I believe that the creation story in Genesis 1 and the first few verses of Genesis 2 also exhibits a four (inanimate creation as well as plant life) plus two (animate creation, with a suggestion of sentience?) aspect in the first six days of creation, followed by God resting on the seventh day. If John the Revelator has indeed drawn on the creation story as a model with which to structure his judgment sequences, then perhaps the judgments associated with the seals, the trumpets, and the bowls should be interpreted as re-creative events that have as a goal the restoration and healing of God’s good creation through purgation of evil.

ist-creation-en

This pattern of six plus one has, of course, been noted and used by others. In particular, Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote his famous Tractacus Logico-Philosophicus with seven chapters, the seventh stating – in clear resonance with the creation story – Whereof one cannot speak one must be silent. I question whether Wittgenstein, a Jewish philosopher, was influenced by the silence in heaven of Revelation 8:1. I do believe he was influenced by Genesis 2: 1 – 4. Interestingly, C.S. Lewis inserts an half hour silence into ‘The Horse and His Boy,’ a major theme of which is a return from exile. I believe that the Narnia books are strongly influenced by the book of Revelation. In this instance, I reckon that ‘The Horse and His Boy’ is Lewis’ fantasy treatment of the seals of Revelation, even if seals are only mentioned once in the book itself.

More on the seals of Revelation…

On June 7 2016 I blogged on the seals of the book of Revelation. Let me explore this subject a little more. Revelation chapter 6 and chapter 8 verse 1 describe the Lamb breaking open the seals on a scroll. But this is not the only mention of seals. In chapter 7 verses 1 through 8, 144,000 from the tribes of Israel are listed and described as having been sealed on their foreheads. Now, placed in the interlude between the opening of scroll seals numbers 6 and 7, this sealing of the 144,000 cannot be accidental. Christopher Rowland, in his commentary from The New Interpreter’s Bible series comments that he considers the sealing theme to be being used in a different way in chapter 7. I wonder. The New Bible Dictionary states: Metaphorically the seal stood for what is securely held… This sense of sealing can fit both usages. In terms of the scroll seals, it is God’s judgment on human sin that is securely held, until the seals are broken open that is. In terms of the 144,000, these representative servants of God – a remnant? – are securely held by God and protected. (There is a resonance with the marking of those who sigh and groan over sin from Ezekiel 9: 4 – 5.) Further, these sealed ones are the antithesis of those bearing the mark of the beast as described elsewhere in the book of Revelation.

seven-seals-of-revelation

By inference, then, I think we can assume that the interlude between trumpets 6 and 7 – Revelation 10: 1 – 11: 14 – also relates to the trumpet series.

With the seals and trumpets, it’s as if in the light of the disasters let loose by the first 6 of each in the series the question is posed: Who could possibly survive? The answer is: God’s servants; the prophets and all those who fear God’s name, both small and great (Revelation 11: 18).

As Laurie Guy states in his new book ‘Unlocking Revelation,’ the book of Revelation was written to encourage the saints experiencing hardship and persecution in the late first century. Thus, the interludes between seals 6 and 7 and between trumpets 6 and 7 would have been incredibly encouraging. These believers would have been reassured that, despite their desperate circumstances, their lives were indeed safely hidden with God in Christ. Here is a hopeful message that can be heard afresh in our day, especially by the church in parts of the world where persecution and suffering is experienced daily.

Discerning a timeline in the book of Revelation

In my previous blog on the book of Revelation, I spoke about the way my friends and I used to try and fit contemporary events into what we discerned to be the timeline implicit in the book of Revelation. We were convinced that prognosticators like Hal Lindsey or Barry Smith (a New Zealand speaker) had pierced the mysteries and that we were truly living in the last days as they described. The problem has been, of course, that the predicted associations have been superseded. This shouldn’t have surprised us, because behind us lay centuries of superseded prophetic associations with the book of Revelation.

Again referring to my last blog; there I made the case that the events associated with the seals of Revelation chapters 5 through to 8: 5 relate to circumstances contemporaneous with John the Revelator, in particular to living under the aegis of a foreign power. Revelation chapter 8 then moves immediately on to look at a series of disasters associated with seven angels blowing seven trumpets. Talking with my friend and Revelation scholar Graeme Carley some time ago, he stated that we should view the trumpets as associated with the entry into the Promised Land by God’s People at the end of the Exodus. I agree with him. But I want to take this train of thought further. I reckon that the disasters associated with the seven bowls of God’s wrath (Revelation 16) resonate strongly with the plagues of Egypt.

revelation_1

Taking all this into consideration, then, I think that the timeline running through the book of Revelation is a journey back through Jewish history from the time of John the Revelator. At the end of this journey, what do we find but a reversal of the eviction from Eden now seen as permission to enter the new Jerusalem. (Incidentally, in a previous blog I shared that I believe Paul has used Jewish history as a template for the book of Romans, but starting with Genesis and ending with life under Roman occupation.)

Viewed in this way, Revelation ceases to be a blueprint for the future of humanity. Instead, and in fitting with the apocalyptic genre, the prophetic aspect of the book is more as defined by Walter Brueggemann as being a fleshing out for humanity of the consequences of failing to live out God’s covenant stipulations.

The seven seals of Revelation chapter 6

When I was a new believer in the mid-1970s, Hal Lindsey’s book ‘The Late, Great, Planet Earth’ made a huge impact on my friends and me. Many were the discussions, debates and arguments about unfolding world events and how they fitted in with prophetic fulfilment schemas. Forty years on, and supposedly rock-solid fulfilments have fallen by the wayside, to be replaced by others. Over this time, many have been the predictions of the end of things. And so, when some of the good folk at my church asked me about Harold Camping’s prediction some time before the actual date, I answered that we would be gathering for worship as usual the day after Camping’s supposed end of the world. But I was annoyed by the ridicule that Camping’s false prediction attracted. I decided to investigate the ‘predictions’ of Revelation in particular. I had a specific question in mind: Are the various disaster scenarios sketched out in the book of Revelation one-off events that find just one fulfilment in history? Another way of asking this is: Is the book of Revelation describing a linear progress from the writer John’s time through to the end of the world?

Even a cursory reading of the book of Revelation reveals that it is a carefully crafted example of the apocalyptic genre. Like many others, I have been intrigued by the chapters dealing with the seals, the trumpets, and the bowls. These chapters are like a skeleton supporting the surrounding material. Here, though, I want to concentrate on the seals which are introduced in chapter 6.

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Preceding the introduction of the scroll with its seven seals, are two chapters with messages to churches located in first-century Western Turkey (chapters 2 and 3), and two chapters describing heavenly worship and introducing Jesus as the Lamb that was slain (chapters 4 and 5). These four chapters would seem to be contemporaneous with John the Revelator. Are the disasters associated with the seals to be taken, then, as predictions of future events? Exploring the imagery used suggests an answer.

First, seals are mentioned in the Bible over a time period from the kings of Israel through to the Exile and the exilic prophets. This is probably too diffuse a period to be helpful. However, looking at the four horsemen is another matter. Many commentators note that the four horses resonate with those described by Zechariah. Prophesying early in the post-exilic period, Zechariah’s vision (Zechariah chapter 1) is suggestive of the mounted patrols which ‘policed’ the Persian Empire (from ‘The Lion Handbook of the Bible). Laurie Guy – I strongly recommend Guy’s ‘Making Sense of the Book of Revelation’ (Regent’s Study Guides 15) – notes that the mounted archer of Rev 6:2 is probably an allusion to the much-feared Parthian cavalry who defeated the Romans in 53BC, 35BC, and 62AD. (And so, this horseman is not an image of Christ.) Guy also suggests that Rev 6: 3, 4 describe a civil war scenario. Generally, Rev 6: 8 echoes Ezekiel 14: 21, recorded from Exile in Babylon shortly before the destruction of Jerusalem in 587BC.

All of this says to me that the disasters associated with the four horsemen released by opening the seals describe the experience of people living in the Middle East around the time the book of Revelation was written. Are the events described then predictive of some future (to John the Revelator) catastrophe? I would say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ I believe that for John these disasters associated with the seals are not future events awaiting a some-time one-off fulfilment. Rather, when people – especially the people of God – find themselves at any time in history subjugated under the boot of foreign Empire, then they will know these conditions only too well.

What, then, is the future of God’s people? The answer comes from the scenes of the heavenly throne room, with its powerful depictions of those who have gained the crown of life despite suffering and persecution. If you, dear reader, are suffering under the draconian boot of Empire, may you know the strength of the Lamb as you persevere in righteousness unto victory.

Noah, the flood, and violence…

The more prominence a topic is given in Scripture, then the implication is that the more important it is. On this basis, the Noahic flood and other material associated with Noah dominate the opening part of Genesis. From Genesis 5: 28 (where Noah is introduced), through Genesis chapter 10 (which lists Noah’s descendants), the emphasis yet is on the catastrophic flood out of which Noah, his family, and a sample of all flesh are saved.

Genesis chapter 6 is headed up The Wickedness of Humankind in my Bible (NRSV). And certainly humanity is condemned in verses 5 and 6 for possessing evil hearts. But, in verse 7, God admits to regret at creating not just humankind, but also animals, creeping things, and birds. From verses 11, it is clear that all flesh – that is human beings, birds, animals wild and domestic, and all creeping things – that draws breath is implicated in God’s critique of violence. Verse 12 and 13 describe all flesh as being corrupted, with the corruption being evidenced by violence. And so God decrees that all flesh must perish, with the flood being the chosen instrument of eradication. However, as Genesis 8: 21 acknowledges, the solution didn’t work.

This lumping together of all flesh as corrupt raises some fascinating questions, first about human culpability, but then about animal culpability. The recently reported anthropological finding of a pre-historic mass grave in which the bones show clear signs of human inflicted violence raises the question: Has humanity ever been anything other than violent, the Garden of Eden story notwithstanding? (I believe this finding contradicts the assertion of people like Karen Armstrong in ‘Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence’ who contend that human violence did not begin until the advent of settled agriculture.) Have carnivorous or omnivorous animals ever been anything other than predatory? Palaeontology doesn’t indicate that these animals have been anything other than predatory. As Science discovers that animals also exhibit sentient awareness of things traditionally only attributed to human beings, albeit in more rudimentary form, are animals then to be held to human ethical standards? Can animal life be different if humanity changes for the better as hinted at in Romans 8? Has Isaiah picked up on the implications of this in his vision of the peaceable kingdom (Isaiah chapter 11), imagining a human and an animal world without predation? Can a lion truly be leonine while vegetarian?

John August Swanson's rendering of Isaiah's vision of the peaceable kingdom.

John August Swanson’s rendering of Isaiah’s vision of the peaceable kingdom.

As various utopian visions in the Bible make clear, humanity is certainly aware that it could live differently, co-operating peaceably not just with other human beings but also with the rest of the created world. We describe this as the kingdom of God coming in its fullness. Advances in many fields – we owe a huge debt to science – means that we should be optimistic. But all of the foregoing discussion means that the peaceable kingdom, the utopian vision of Isaiah, cannot be brought about by attempting to eradicate violence with an imposed death sentence. In fact, maybe we are being shown that the peaceable kingdom can only be brought into being by sacrifice that puts human violence into the spotlight. That, of course, brings us to the cross of Christ…

Thirty pieces of silver…

The image of ‘thirty pieces of silver’ has established itself in Christian, and indeed in Western, lore as a byword for betrayal, for selling out. Coming from the Easter story of Judas offering to betray Jesus, it’s interesting to find that the image was not new at that point. A little research on the internet throws up numerous discussions about the thirty pieces of silver, and what they signified already in the time of the New Testament writers.

judas-brought-again-the-thirty-pieces-of-silver-to-the-chief-priests-and-elders

And so, one finds discussion on the thirty pieces of silver that Zechariah – in a difficult piece of prophetic writing (Zechariah chapter 11) – suggests is the dismissive value that the leaders of Judah put on God’s shepherding care. There is the reference in Matthew 27 to Jeremiah’s purchase of a field for this amount (although the Old Testament precedent cannot be found), the price being linked to that required to redeem someone (presumably from slavery). And then there is the statement in Exodus 21: 32 of 30 shekels as being the value of a slave. [Of course, it is not certain that ‘pieces’ are ‘shekels.’ Nevertheless, there does seem to be a significant usage of thirty units of money.]

Now, this is probably familiar material to many of you. But I want to push things a little further. The original events of Easter were set around the annual Passover festival, when Israel gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate God’s rescuing them from slavery in Egypt. So, what are Israel’s leaders doing paying a slave price – whoever may be considered to have been bought – in the midst of a celebration of rescue from slavery? Does not this expose them to self-condemnation?

In fact, I think this points out that judgment does not fall on any of us because we fall short of standards we know nothing about. I think that we all stand with Israel’s leaders, and are found to be sinners because self-interest over-rules a commitment to higher principles that we openly espouse.

Thank God that all this sin, for all of us sinners, was taken to the cross by Jesus Christ and its condemnatory power destroyed there.

Structure in the book of Romans…

Romans is a fascinating book, and rightly regarded as hugely important for its presentation of Paul’s theology. Arguments about meaning, themes and structure abound. And so Bishop Tom Wright states (in his commentary in The New Interpreter’s Bible series) …it remains the case that anyone who claims to understand Romans fully is, almost by definition, mistaken. That be-as-it-may, reading Wright’s commentary, particularly his analysis of Romans chapter 6, sparked for me an investigation into a possible structure underlying the book.

book-bible-romans

My thesis is this: I believe that Paul has presented theological arguments based on ideas corresponding to events from Israel’s history. Further, at each point, Paul shows God’s impartiality with regards to Jew and Gentile. And faith remains the major key to unlocking Paul’s ideas. Let me illustrate my thesis as follows.

Text                                       Theme (from NRSV)                  Comments on the relation to Israel’s history

Romans 1: 1 – 7                    Introduction.                              Importance of faith introduced.

Romans 1: 18 – 32                The guilt of humankind.             Refers to CREATION & HUMAN BEHAVIOUR BEFORE THE FLOOD.

Romans 2: 1 – 16                  The righteous judgment of God.   Refers to God’s universal judgment through the FLOOD.

Romans 2: 17 – 3:20           The Jews and the Law. None is righteous.  Challenging a sense of privilege that might come from NOAH’S exemption from the Flood and its consequences.

Romans 3: 21 – 31              Righteousness through faith.        JESUS IS THE NEW ARK.

Romans 4: 1 – 25                The example of Abraham. God’s promises realised through faith. ABRAHAM AND GOD’S PROMISES. (Abraham as the universal example of how to approach God.)

Romans 5: 1 – 21                Results of justification. Adam and Christ.  Refers to God’s rescue of his people from slavery in Egypt through MOSES.

Romans 6: 1 – 23               Dying and rising with Christ. Slaves of righteousness.  Escape through the RED SEA. Becoming the PEOPLE OF GOD through redemption.

Romans 7: 1 – 25               An analogy from marriage. The Law and sin. The inner conflict.  THE GIVING OF THE LAW AT SINAI.

Romans 8: 1 – 38              Life in the Spirit. Future glory. God’s love in Jesus Christ.  Alludes to what God intended for his people as they occupied the PROMISED LAND.

Romans 9: 1 – 29              God’s election of Israel. God’s wrath and mercy.  God’s JUDGMENT of his people while living in the PROMISED LAND.

Romans 9: 30 – 10: 21     Israel’s unbelief. Salvation is for all.  EXILE, and crying out for SALVATION.

Romans 11: 1 – 21           Israel’s rejection not final. The salvation of the Gentiles. All Israel will be saved. RETURN FROM EXILE IN BABYLON.

Romans 12: 1 – 12          New life in Christ. Marks of the true believer.  Living as the newly redeemed people of God BACK IN THE LAND.

Romans 13: 1 – 14          Being subject to the authorities. Love for one another. An urgent appeal.   Living under INTERNAL EXILE (with an external focus to state and neighbour).

Romans 14: 1 – 15: 13   Do not judge another. Do not make another stumble. Please others, not your selves. The gospel for Jews and Gentiles alike. Living under INTERNAL EXILE (with an internal focus on the people of God).

Romans 15: 14 – 33      Paul’s reason for writing so boldly. Paul’s plan to visit Rome. PAUL: An outward focus of concern for the church (including the role of Paul’s famous collection).

Romans 16: 1 – 27      Personal greetings. Final instructions. Final doxology.  PAUL: An inward focus of concern for the church in ROME.

(Apologies for the ‘table.’ I could not get the table I had prepared to copy into WordPress!)

Now, I may be exercising my faith in seeing this structure in the book of Romans. It does have an advantage in that chapters 9 to 11, so often considered a large gloss by another author, fits right into the pattern.

Anyway, may you be blessed as you wrestle with the book of Romans, and the ideas and truths that are so important to our Christian faith.