• 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@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, Willa Hui, Donglan Zhang and Alfred Zhou.

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 The problem has been, of course, that the predicted associations have been superseded. This shouldn’t have surprised us, because behind us lay centuries of superseded prophetic associations with the book of Revelation.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.

albrecht-durer-woodcut-the-four-horsemen-of-the-apocalypse-the-sroha7hg6rxblujq.jpg

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.

Feed my lambs…

In February, I blogged about the structure of John’s gospel. I contended that John’s gospel is written with a chiastic structure. Today I want to explore part of that chiasm. In particular, I want to look at John 1: 19 – 34 and contrast this with John 21: 15 – 19.

In John 1: 19 – 34, John the Baptist is asked: “Who are you?” He answers with three negations. First he confesses that he is not the Messiah. Next he states that he is not Elijah. Then he tells his interlocutors that he is not the prophet. A few verses later, John the Baptist affirms Jesus three times. First, he declares: “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Then he describes how Jesus is the One who baptizes people with the Holy Spirit. Finally John the Baptist testifies that Jesus is the Son of God. So we have here three clarifications about who he – John the Baptist – is not, followed by three affirmations as to who Jesus is.

In John 21: 15 – 19, Peter is asked three times if he loves Jesus. (This of course follows from Peter’s three-fold denial of Jesus in John 18. Chiastically, this part of John 18 pairs with John 3: 22 – 35 where Jesus is again affirmed by John the Baptist, although not with a clear three-fold pattern. Nevertheless, the chiastic pattern does seem to contrast John the Baptist – in the earlier chapters of the gospel – with Peter – in the later chapters.) Each time Peter responds positively, although in the Greek he uses a weaker word for love than that used by Jesus. And each time Peter is given a charge by Jesus: ‘Feed my lambs’, ‘tend my sheep,’ and then ‘feed my sheep.’

Lambs on Iona.

Lambs on Iona.

I wonder if this charge to Peter doesn’t anticipate the pressure that Jesus knew would come upon the Early Church. Who better to prepare young believers experiencing persecution to stand firm in their faith and not deny Jesus than the one – Peter – who knew the agony of denial and yet also the astringent joy of forgiveness and reinstatement. How would we deal with these pressures if they were to come upon us?

The structure of John’s Gospel…

As this year got under way, I began a sermon series on the gospel of John for our Sunday morning services. I had already been working my way through John’s gospel in my devotional  – Lectio Divina – reading. Aspects of my reading in the first few chapters piqued my curiosity, especially as relates to the figures of John the Baptist and Peter. An intriguing thought then emerged from my times of centering prayer. And so, I decided to explore an hypothesis: That John’s gospel is written as a chiastic structure. 

To check out my hypothesis, I listed all the chapters and against each one wrote out the headings included in my NRSV translation. I then began to see if there were any obvious matches, and I believe there are. For example, one can match the feeding of the 5000 in John chapter 6 with the account of the Last Supper in John 13. Another match is that between the call of the first disciples in John 1 and the resurrection appearance of Jesus to the disciples in John 21, both stressing the importance of seeing.

At the heart of this chiastic structure is John chapter 9. This chapter starts with the healing of the man born blind, and finishes with Jesus teaching on sightedness versus blindness. Within this context other important themes from John’s gospel emerge: Belief in Jesus, Jesus as one sent from the Father, obedience to the Father’s will as more important than ritual observance. (The illustration below shows my take on the chiastic patterns in the middle part of the gospel.)

Chiasm John 2.2.14 copy

Now, a simple investigation via your favourite search engine will show that chiastic structures are found everywhere in the Bible. Arranging text in chiastic patterns seems to be a common technique for writing memorable text. But no-one, from my research of a number of commentaries, has ever claimed that John’s gospel has been arranged chiastically. Am I seeing patterns where in fact none exist? I don’t think so. And the preaching series has certainly made the gospel of John come alive in a new way for myself and my listeners. Maybe you could check out my hypothesis for yourself, and see if the gospel doesn’t open with new horizons of vision.

Patterns in Matthew…

The middle chapters of the book of Matthew exhibit some fascinating patterns. Let me start with Matthew 11, and the incident where some disciples of John the Baptist approach Jesus with a query from John. John, they tell Jesus, is puzzled. It seems that John is no longer sure that Jesus is the One he thought. The puzzlement is because of the way that Jesus has been exercising his ministry. Jesus tells John’s disciples to reassure John by quoting some verses from Isaiah that back up Jesus’ unexpected ministry direction. In Matthew 14, these disciples of John are back, telling Jesus that John has just been executed by Herod. I see in this communication a sad challenge to Jesus; a suggestion from these disciples that somehow Jesus’ lack of solidarity with John is at least partly responsible for John’s death.

Here is where I see the pattern start. Jesus immediately seeks to find a place to withdraw to. To me it seems that he wants to mourn for his cousin John, but also to reflect on the question: Is the way I’m doing ministry the right way? But, Jesus is sought out by crowds of needy people, and ends up ministering. Healings, exorcisms, teaching… These call him out, and he pours himself out for the people. And then comes controversy, arguments with various persons and groups whom Jesus has managed to annoy or threaten, In response, Jesus again seeks a lonely place in which to pray. This then is the pattern. 1) Attempted withdrawal. 2) Ministry to the crowds who won’t leave him alone and seek him out. 3) Justification of his ministry approach as he ministers the all sorts of needs. 4) A controversial engagement with those – including his disciples on occasion – who challenge Jesus and what he is doing. And then the pattern repeats. Interestingly, along the way Jesus’ understanding of the scope of his mission is enlarged, extended. The encounter with the ‘Canaanite’ woman is a key to this process. And, rather than being a strange stand-alone story, I see the transfiguration from Matthew 17 as another attempted withdrawal similar to that that Jesus will make in the garden of Gethsemane just prior to his own execution.

transfiguration-of-Jesus

Chapter 16 introduces a twist. By this time, Jesus realises that, although his approach to ministry has developed in a direction quite different to that of John the Baptist, he cannot and will not escape John’s fate. Death lies ahead for him as well. And so, in verses 24 – 28 of Matthew 16, Jesus is described as challenging his followers with the fact that following him will require that they live with the cross as a daily threat or reality.

And how might that be lived out? Chapter 18 has Jesus teaching his disciples on how to live together as the community of his people, what taking up one’s cross on a daily basis might involve in the reality of everyday life. I’m about to preach on Matthew 18 this coming Sunday. What a challenge!

Confession and the Kingdom…

Following is a piece written by Dr. Martin Sutherland, Academic Dean and Vice-Principal at New Zealand’s Laidlaw College, and member of Epsom Baptist Church.

The scene in Matthew 11:2-6 where John the Baptist sends his disciples to quiz Jesus has always intrigued me. John came preaching a ‘gospel’ of fire and repentance and then endorses Jesus as the one to consummate this visitation of God. But all Jesus seems to do is heal people! Has John backed the wrong horse? Jesus responds by pointing to signs which are clearly associated with the Messiah, but John must still have been left wondering.

Any doubt is removed by the end of chapter 12.

In a series of unprecedented and unmatched incidents, Jesus provocatively takes the argument to the Pharisees. He flouts the Sabbath rules over plucking grain (1-8) and then healing a man at the synagogue (9-14). Each time it is as if he has deliberately set up a confrontation. He thumbs his nose at the religious authorities and then embarks on a mass public campaign of messianic healing (15-21). This is too much for the Pharisees. They brand him as devilish (24). The situation is now, literally, irredeemable. Jesus not only destroys their logic but brands them arch-blasphemers, a nest of snakes. The unforgiving are now the unforgivable (31-32).

Just to make clear the enormity of what he is doing Jesus even declares a new society, a new family (46-50). Nothing of the old order continues the same. This gospel forces choice. It turns the world upside down. Jesus will be a branded man hereafter. John has his answer.

This is clearly a key moment in Jesus’ public ministry. Crucially it all turns on his first response to the Pharisees. What does God want? Law? Purity? Sacrifice? Only if they are expressions of mercy (12:7). But this chapter forces us to think far deeper than outmoded customs and rules. Jesus drives to the basic building blocks of community. Even family is denied any absolute place. All must be subsumed under this radical gospel of mercy and love.

The church is called to be that new community, no longer defined by law and ritual or even natural loyalties. Sadly, our natural default is to become a new version of the Pharisees. Here confession is crucial. Why is it that we have a tradition of laying our self open to the mercy of God? Surely;, because as individuals we are conscious of our own failings; but it’s also to remind us of our corporate sin. It is easy, too easy, too comfortable, to settle back in the warm bath of clear-cut religion – religion with rules, with payment, with sacrifice, religion where we can maintain our default power structures under a veneer of spirituality. This isn’t the gospel. The gospel breaks rules, forces choice, challenges assumptions.

When we come to confess, we open ourselves to the disruptive possibility that the Holy Spirit might actually make something new of us. Be careful what you wish for.