• 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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

Quiet! Something is happening…

When one comes across a deliberate conjunction of the number seven and silence, attention needs to be paid, because something is happening. I have been preaching through the book of Revelation. Meditating while preparing my sermon on chapter 8, the first verse struck me: When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. I thought to myself, this has to be referring to a Sabbath, and thus maybe linked with Genesis 1. When I looked back into  Revelation chapter 6, I could see that the sixth seal announced the dissolution of creation, and chapter 7 the creation of a new humanity. Well, to me, Revelation 8: 1 is about a Sabbath. And then I thought of a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer that I read on an interesting web-site called Resting in His Grace (mtsweat.wordpress.com). The quote is: Where God tears great gaps (as occurs in Revelation 6) we should not try to fill them with human words.

I resolved to blog on this association of ideas, but have had to wait due to busyness. And while waiting, another association sprang to mind.  In his well-known book ‘Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein has only one brief sentence in section 7: Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent. I remember reading somewhere else (and the source is now forgotten) that this was deliberate allusion to a Sabbath on Wittgenstein’s part, despite the fact that he was highly ambivalent about his Jewishness. (Fascinatingly, he was the same age as and attended the same school as Adolf Hitler, although they were placed in classes a couple of years apart.) So, despite my blogging on this issue, perhaps we have in this association of ideas a suggestion to be slower in making pronouncements – such as predictions about the timetable for Christ’s return – on such books as Revelation. Silence may be more appropriate, because something is happening.

End of the world?

Last Wednesday, May 18th, our Bible Study Group met as usual. I was asked the question: What do you think of the predictions that the end of the world is going to occur this coming Saturday? I said to the people there, “I can confidently predict that we will all be around on Sunday morning for our worship service.” We spent a bit of time talking about the tendency in some parts of the Christian Church to engage in speculative prophesying about the end of the world. I mentioned that ever since the Christian Church began, there have been doom sayers making such predictions. Since becoming a Christian myself in the early 1970s, I remember numerous predictions having been made about the end of the world. They have all been wrong.

I think that this behaviour, predicting the end of the world, is based, ultimately, on reading the Bible wrongly. And the two books of the Bible that are typically mis-read are Genesis and Revelation. And it’s not that there are not good resources out there to help people read these biblical books rightly. Anyway, I had already decided – before hearing about Camping’s prediction –  that it’s a good time to preach through the book of Revelation. NB: I won’t be using the Left Behind series as a resource. I will be enlisting the aid of some good commentaries. It’s a pity Camping didn’t do the same in his reading of Genesis.