• Service times

    Services times are:

    Saturday night 7:30 pm for our Chinese/English service. (Pastor Daniel Choi.)

    Sunday 10 am for our English language service (Senior 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@gmail.com

    Telephone:
    (0064 9) 6306010

    Contacts:
    Rev. Jeff Whittaker
    Pastor Daniel Choi

  • Church Officers…

    Church Treasurers: Christina King and Li Ying

    Church Secretary: Margaret Whittaker

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

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Armageddon

Armageddon: a word that stirs the popular imagination with visions of must-win battles between the good guys (typically humanity as a whole if the enemy is galactic and alien, or our side if the enemy is the military force of a different religion) and the bad guys. And the way the plot line runs out is predictable, with the good guys winning after an epic struggle. Most of these scenarios are loosely based on the Bible verse from Revelation 16: 16: And they assembled them (‘them’ are the kings of the whole world) at the place that in Hebrew is called Harmageddon (that is, the Hill of Megiddo).

It’s one thing for Hollywood to conjure up spectacular apocalyptic battle scenes for block-buster movies. More alarming is that extremist Christian and Muslim fundamentalists want to precipitate exactly this situation, with the belief that their side will win a final and decisive battle that will usher in the end of the world with themselves (Christians or Muslims – because the other is viewed as the real enemy) vindicated by God as on the winning side of history. It is no surprise that one of the aims of ISIS has been to lure Western (considered by ISIS to be Christian) military forces into just such a showdown.

All this is actually a distortion of what the Bible teaches about this geographical place.

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The modern-day Tel Megiddo in northern Israel. Now the Megiddo National Park, it is a World Heritage Site. (Tel: An archeological mound)

In the book of Joshua, we read that Israel invaded the land of Canaan. Joshua is recorded as having conquered the king of Megiddo. However, as Bernhard Anderson notes in his ‘The Living World of the Old Testament (4th Edition),’ the Israelites only managed to entrench themselves in the central hill country, and could not dispossess the Canaanites of the plains. The most strategic area under Canaanite control was the Valley of Jezreel. Running through this valley was the main commercial route from Egypt to Mesopotamia. Guarding the pass into the valley was the Canaanite fortress of Megiddo, the scene of many decisive battles. Israel’s economic life was threatened as long as the Canaanites controlled this strategic pass.

In the time of the Judge Deborah, a victory by the waters of Megiddo over several local kings was achieved (Judges 5). But the victory is ascribed to God. Rain bogged down the Canaanite chariots, removing their strategic advantage. Israel’s military leader Barak oversaw the mopping up operation, but the victory was God’s. (This is ironic, as the Canaanites worshipped the weather God Baal. On this occasion, the forces of Baal are routed because of a weather event.)

Later, during the reign of Solomon, and with Megiddo now in Israelite hands, Solomon appointed a high official (Baana) to Megiddo (1 Kings 4), and rebuilt its walls (1 Kings 9). Still later, and with Israel now split into a northern kingdom (Israel) and a southern kingdom (Judah), Megiddo features again as the place where King Ahaziah of Judah dies. Ahaziah had been visiting King Joram – son of the notorious king Ahab – of Israel while he (Joram) recuperated from military injuries. A coup against Joram occurs; Joram is killed, and Ahaziah dies from wounds at Megiddo as he attempts to flee the coup plotters (2 Kings chapter 9).

Still later in the monarchy period, and during the reign of (good) King Josiah of Judah, battle looms between the Assyrians and Pharaoh Neco II of Egypt. Josiah decides to fight Neco’s forces at Armageddon. Neco warns Josiah that this is not his battle, and to stay out of it. Josiah ignores this, and dies at Megiddo (2 Kings chapter 23, 2 Chronicles 35).

Can you see the pattern that is emerging? This pattern is one which John the Revelator would have assumed that the readers of his apocalypse (Revelation) would recognize in his allusion to Armageddon in Revelation 16:16. The pattern seems to be this: Armageddon is a place of judgment of national leaders and their empires. Further, it seems that the victories achieved at Armageddon belong to God, God exercising judgment through the exigencies of historical processes. The decisive verse of Revelation 16:16, placed as it is within the judgment of the seven bowls of God’s wrath and their resonance with the plagues of Egypt, suggests that it was the Pharaoh who contended with Moses who is first in view of this judgment despite the action not occurring at Megiddo. This Pharaoh becomes a type of arrogant and oppressive leaders who, together with their people, come under God’s judgment.

Armageddon, then, is not the place where Christian or Muslim heroes duke it out establish who God favours in the end. In my view, God has chosen humanity in Christ at the cross, and has called us to live out his way of peace. ‘Armageddon’ awaits those who eschew the way of peace and arrogantly choose to subjugate those unfortunate enough to come under their oppressive control. As the Bible says: Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.