• 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.

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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.

‘Signs’ in the gospel of John…

One of the distinctive features of the gospel of John is some series of sevens: for example the seven I AM sayings, and the seven ‘signs’ that Jesus performs. The signs are miracles that Jesus performs, and the surrounding text often includes a statement to the effect that the signs lead to belief in Jesus. So, when Jesus turns water into wine (John 2: 1 – 12), the reaction is (verse 11); his disciples believed in him. When Jesus clears the temple (John 2: 13ff), his right to undertake such an action is challenged by the Jewish leaders who demand: What sign can you show us for doing this? It seems that ‘signs’ were an accepted way of validating one’s right to perform certain (controversial?) actions. In our day, ‘signs’ are expected to persuade people of the truth claims of Christianity, or at least of certain Christian doctrines held by those claiming responsibility for the performance of the signs. I often get the impression that those who expect signs to function in this way think that the whole thing is quite straightforward, but end up puzzled as to why witnesses to amazing events don’t all respond with ignited faith.

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This is all very well. But we need to take a step back and ask: What is actually signified by various signs? To what do they point? There is considerable ambiguity here, and I want to explore some of that by quoting from Alister McGrath’s book ‘The Intellectual World of C.S. Lewis,’ in particular the chapter entitled ‘Lewis’s Argument from Desire’ (p.114).

A core theme of Lewis’s “argument from desire” is that nature cannot, and is not meant to, satisfy our deepest desires. Nature is a sign of something beyond itself, not a self-signifying and self-referential closed system. Things within nature – what we see outside ourselves or experience within ourselves – point beyond themselves to “that indescribable thing of which they become for a moment the messengers.”

            Lewis’s semiology of inexpressibility hints at the liminality of such experiences, while at the same time emphasizes the risk of confusing the sign with the thing signified. Like Augustine before him, Lewis holds that we must know the thing that is signified before we can understand the sign itself. Signs prove nothing. They do not – and cannot – function as the premises of a deductive argument. The realization of the resonance between signum and significatum rests on a prior knowledge of the significatum, and the retrospective realization of the semiotic congruence with the signum.

And so, to what do the seven signs in John’s gospel point? Do they point to the incarnation, to Jesus’ self-description as ‘one sent from the Father’? Or do they point to a political entity that we call the kingdom of God? (Is this why the Jewish leaders are described in John 11: 47f as being concerned with the impact of the signs being performed by Jesus?)  I think the interaction of sign and belief is complex, and by no means obvious. (In much of John’s gospel Jesus argues precisely with those who have put their faith in him, as if they really don’t get what he is about either.) Signs: They point beyond themselves to something else, something other. What ‘signs’ have you experienced lately?