2 Peter and the Return of Jesus

The implied opponents in 2 Peter denied the return of Jesus (1:16, 2:1-3, 14, 18). There are several reasons for this, but primarily it was because the first generation of believers were old or dead. Peter himself is about to die, Paul will die about the same time. Yet Jesus has not returned – why is this?

It is possible that the opponents charged the older generation with creating the return of Jesus, it is a “cleverly devised myth (1:16). Bauckham suggests that the opponents might have claimed the apostles made up the return of Jesus in order to control the early church (Jude, 2 Peter, 154).” I am not sure how that would work, it almost sounds like the first generation knew they were creating a cult and they came up with a story and brainwashed their converts.

I think that it is more like that the phrase “cleverly devised myth” implies that they opponents claimed that the (Jewish) apostles over-interpreted the words of Jesus because of there apocalyptic world view. As the church became increasingly Gentile, it became more rational. The second and third generation Gentile believers were not reading Daniel and 1 Enoch, they were reading Stoic and Epicurean philosophy. As a result the “apocalyptic” aspect of early Christianity was muted. These false-teachers deny the return of Jesus because they do not share the apocalyptic assumptions of Paul and Peter!  (This suggestion has the advantage of explaining the missing text from Jude, especially the citation of 1 Enoch which concerns the apocalyptic return of the Lord. Peter avoided them since they would cause more trouble from his opponents.)

The opponents also denied a future judgment as well as the return of Jesus. The coming of Messiah is bound up with the idea of a judgment on the nations in Jewish apocalyptic. When Messiah comes, he will judge the nations and punish those who are not considered “righteous.” In Matt 25: 31-46, for example, when Jesus returns he will punish the nations that mistreated his children. If the Messiah is not coming back, then he is also not going to judge people for their present behavior (2:19).

Peter’s strategy for countering his opponents is interesting especially since we now live some 2000 years after Jesus.  It is fairly easy to mock the  idea of a “return of Jesus” given that he has been away for quite some time, and some of his followers keep failing at predictions of the day and hour.   Rather than point to so-called fulfilled prophecies or trends in society which “prove” Jesus is coming very soon, Peter argues first that God keeps his promises, even if there is a long time between promise and fulfillment.  Second, if there is a delay, that delay is a reflection of God’s mercy and his hope that those facing judgment will repent.  I think this is  the point of 3:8 (“a day is like a thousand years”) is to point out that God often gives a long time for repentance.

Does this sort of “strategy” work today?  How does a Christian firmly hold to the return of Jesus while separating from the more embarrassing examples of recent years?

Hebrews 12:18-29 – Marching to Zion

The writer of Hebrews concludes his book by using a common metaphor for Israel’s relationship with God – they are in the wilderness and coming to Mt. Sinai.  It is clear that the writer has Sinai in mind in verses 18-21, but he draws a strong contrast between the “mountain which could be touched” (Sinai) and Zion, a mountain which cannot be touched.  In order to describe this contrast between the two covenants, he contrasts the two mountains where the covenants were enacted.  He combines texts from Exodus and Deuteronomy which describe the theophany at Mt. Sinai as fearsome and then compares them to our heavenly destination, Mount Zion.

The writer begins saying that salvation in the present age is not at all like the Old Covenant.  Sinai was a  physical place, which can be touched, but it is a place burning with fire.  There may be a bit more referred to here than just the mountain itself.  The word for “touched” is to “make an effort, despite difficulties, to come to know something, when the chances of success in such an enterprise are not particularly great – ‘to feel around for, to grope for, to try to find.’” (Louw/Nida) It is used of a “groping about like a blind man” (LS)

When you read the passage from Exodus it is clear that there was a tangible “feeling” of the presence of God, but the people were not comforted by it at all, they were terrified.  The image is of a person robbed of sight, feeling around for something that cannot really grasp.

The story of the terror of Mt. Sinai is, for the writer, a summary of the Old Covenant, it could not bring a relationship with God, it could only bring fear and judgement.   The New Covenant, however, does not bring its participants to Mt Sinai, but rather to Mt. Zion.

In contrast to this terror, the New Covenant is associated with Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of God.  While the physical Zion was the original name of the fortress captured by David in Jerusalem in 2 Samuel, Zion replaces Sinai as the focal point of Israel’s relationship with God in the prophets.  Isaiah 25, for example, describes Israel and all the nations gathering at Zion to eat the feast which the Lord has prepared there, rather than at Sinai.  Because the Lord “dwelt” in Zion, the place became a metaphor for heaven itself, the real dwelling place of God.  Here in Hebrews the City of God is called Zion, the Heavenly Jerusalem.

Instead of terror, our entry to Mount Zion is described as a joyful celebration.  There are thousands of angels in a joyful festival.  This “festival” (πανήγυρις).  The word is used only here in the New Testament and only four times in the LXX (Ez 46:11; Hos 2:13; 9:5; Am 5:21, all religious feasts). So too in classical Greek the word refers to a festal assembly in honor of some god.

But this is not only a “party,” the writer says that we are coming to God, the Judge of all men.  The entrance into heaven is to come into the presence of God.  God is described here as a Judge.  The word judge always has a negative connotation in our minds, though some take this word as meaning “vindicator” or “avenger.”  The entrance into God’s holy city is the ultimate vindication for our lives of suffering here on earth.

Salvation in the New Covenant therefore results in the glory of Heaven.  Instead of marching in the wilderness, we are Marching to Zion.

Book Review: Bingham and Kreider, eds. Eschatology: Biblical, Historical, and Practical Approaches

Bingham, D. Jeffrey and Glenn R. Kreider, Eschatology: Biblical, Historical, and Practical Approaches. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 2016. 501 pp. Hb; $36.99.   Link to Kregel

Although the fact is not mentioned on the cover of this book or on the Kregel website, this collection of essays on eschatology is a Festschrift for Craig A. Blaising on the occasion of his sixty-fifth birthday. Steven L. James offers a short biographical sketch and bibliography of Blaising’s publications. Blaising has served as president of the Eschatology-BinghamEvangelical Theological Society in 2005 and was active in the Dispensational Study Group at ETS in the late 1980s. As a result of that study group, he co-edited Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church (Zondervan, 1992) and co-authored Progressive Dispensationalism (Baker, 1993) with Darrell Bock. As the editors point out in their preface, although Blaising is primarily known for his work in dispensationalism and eschatology, he contributed articles and conference talks on theological method, Athanasius of Alexandria, patristic biblical interpretation, and John Wesley.

The twenty-six essays in this collection are divided into four parts. The first section, The Doctrine of the Future and Its Foundation, concern theological method. D. Jeffrey Bingham deals with what he considers the fundamental problem of biblical theology, do the difference between the Old and New Testament involve discontinuity between the testaments? Despite the reputation dispensationalism has for favoring discontinuity, Bingham cites Blaising as arguing Christ gives the dispensations their unity. Stanley Toussaint contributes a biblical theology of hope, concluding that a proper study of prophecy will lead to renewed hope in a sovereign God. Charles Ryrie has a short essay on what he considers the “weakening of prophecy” by preterist interpreters. The article is too brief to engage preterists directly (he only cites R.C. Sproul as an example) and engages in a weak rational defense of prophecy using statistics.

More helpful is an article on predictive prophecy and the doctrine of God by John D. Laing and Stefana Dan Laing. By examining prophecies which were fulfilled within the Old Testament itself, the authors argue messianic prophecies ought to be taken seriously, especially since Jesus himself invited his followers to interpret the “signs of the times” (Matt 16:3) in order to understand God’s redemptive plan. Conservative readers will have no problem with Laing’s Old Testament examples of Daniel’s four kingdoms or Isaiah’s prediction of Cyrus the Great. However anyone holding to a later date for Daniel or Isaiah 40-55 will see these as vaticinium ex eventu, prophecies written after the event, rendering the argument of the essay less sure.

The second section, The Doctrine of the Future in the Bible, collects eight essays to form a biblical theology of the future. Essays cover major sections of the Old Testament, including the Deuteronomy (Daniel I. Block), the Historical Books (Gregory Smith), The Psalms (George Klein), and the Prophets (Mark Rooker). Block’s essay on eschatology in Deuteronomy is the highlight of the book. He argues the book of Deuteronomy anticipates the “first phase” of Israel’s distant future and our past (the exile), but also a “second phase” in our future (restoration from exile). The eschatological vision of Deuteronomy includes not only the preservation of Abraham’s seed among the nations, but also a change in the Lord’s disposition towards them so that he will restore them to the Promised Land (133). Block thinks the return from Babylon was a partial fulfillment of prophecy since those who returned were small in number and only occupied a small portion of the land. More importantly, although they were blessed by God, the restored temple was a shadow of what was expected and doomed to be destroyed again in A.D. 70.

Four essays on the New Testament include the Synoptic Gospels (Darrell Bock), John’s Writings (David Turner), Paul’s Writings (W. Edward Glenny) and Hebrews and the General Epistles (David Allen). Bock’s article is representative of the application an “already-not yet” view of prophecy common in progressive dispensationalism. David Turner’s essay on John’s view of the future must first argue that John’s Gospel has an eschatology, since the Gospel is often dismissed as an example of realized eschatology. Based on his collection of evidence from the Gospel fo John, Turner argues the ‘difference between John and the Synoptic Gospels should not be overly pressed” (225).

The eleven essays in the third section, The Doctrine of the Future in the History of Christian Thought, range from historical theology in the Apostolic fathers (Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Origin, Athenasius, Augustine), the Reformation (Calvin, Anabaptist thought, Jonathan Edwards), and contemporary theology (Baptist, Dispensationalism, Jürgen Moltmann, and “contemporary European theology”). It may seem odd to see Calvin, Anabaptists, Moltmann and Dispensationalism in the same volume, but this is an indication that dispensational idea are found in many different streams of theology (even if the combination of these threads is unique to dispensationalism). Mark Bailey’s essay on the future in Dispensationalism is refreshing since it avoids the kind of wild predictions most people associate with the system.

Finally, the three essays under the heading The Doctrine of the Future and Christian Ministry include pastoral care (J. Denny Autrey), Contemporary Challenges (R. Al Mohler, Jr.) and The Marketplace (Stephen Blaising, Craig’s brother). The first two of these essays are rooted in historical theology. Mohler, for example, uses the model of Augustine’s two cities to argue any doctrine of the future must engage with contemporary culture.

Conclusion. This collection of essays serves as a worthy tribute to Craig Blaising, even if it is marketed as a textbook on Eschatology rather than a Festschrift. Many of the writers either self-identify with dispensationalism or are familiar with the contributions of progressive dispensationalism. This too is overlooked in the marketing of the book, but not unexpected given the current antipathy for dispensational thought in scholarship. But the essays in this collection absolutely do not represent the kind of wild-eyed craziness that passes for dispensationalism today. In fact, most of the essays in the collection which can be fairly pigeon-holed as dispensational are very similar a narrative theology, seeking to find the unity of the whole canon of Scripture via the teaching of the whole Bible on the past, present and future.

The book provides an overview of eschatology from a moderately conservative and vaguely dispensational perspective. Given these constraints, Eschatology: Biblical, Historical, and Practical Approaches would indeed make a good textbook for a Bible college or Seminary classroom, although most of the articles will be valuable to pastors and teachers preparing to teach on the future in their churches.

NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

What Do the Seven Thunders Say in Revelation 10:3-4?

The Mighty Angel stands in his place and speaks.  The speech is described as the roar of a lion, and he is answered by the “seven thunders.” This description is significant for several reasons. It is the only place in Revelation where an angelic messenger speaks, but the words are not recorded.  Why is the shout described in this way, and not recorded?

First, thunder is a stock metaphor for divine speech. In the Hebrew Bible, the voice of God is often described in terms of thunderous noise (2 Sam 22:14/Psalm 18:3; Job 37:2-5). It is possible thunderous speech is related to the description of the Lord as the “lion of Judah” (Amos 1:2, 3:8). Occasionally angels have voices like thunder, such as 3 Baruch 11:4, and in The Odyssey, Zeus speaks like thunder.

3 Baruch 11:4 And while we were waiting, there was a noise from the highest heaven like triple thunder. And I Baruch said, “Lord, what is this noise?” And he said to me, “Michael is descending to accept the prayers of men.”

So he spoke in prayer, and Zeus the counsellor heard him. Straightway he thundered from gleaming Olympus, from on high from out the clouds; and goodly Odysseus was glad. (The Odyssey, 20.100-104).

Why are there “seven thunders?” Psalm 29:3-9 has a seven fold description of the voice of God as thunder (although the word “voice” is not repeated seven times.)  There is a rabbinic tradition that the voice of God was heard as seen thunders on Mt. Sinai (Exod. Rab. 28:6).

As John prepared to write the content of the words spoken by the thunders, a “voice from heaven” prevents him. John is told to “seal up the vision” and not write it down. The source of the voice is not identified and it is common in Revelation for John to hear an unidentified voice from heaven. Given the background texts where a divine voice sounds like thunder, perhaps this is the voice of God prohibiting John from writing what the thunders said.

apocalyptic-thunderstorm

The way the command is given is odd: he is told to seal up the vision (which would imply keeping it a secret), but also not to write anything down.  If he had not written the words, what is the point of also sealing the scroll?  There is a tradition in Jewish apocalyptic of a person being given revelation but forbidden to share it. David Aune suggested this ensures that prophet alone knows the information, making him “wiser” than his readers.  It was a mark of authenticity to hold back a little revelation from the readers, if you gave it all then perhaps there were skeptics.

So what did the seven thunders say? Obviously we cannot know since it is still a secret, but John may have been given another series of judgments like the seals, trumpets, and bowls. He was told not to record this series for some reason. Caird suggested the reason John is told not to record the content of the visions is that God “cancelled” the judgments out of his grace and mercy (Revelation, 126-127). This would mean there were four sets of seven judgments, one set was set aside, perhaps an allusion to the four sets of curses in Leviticus 26:14-46.

Heavenly Throne Rooms in Apocalyptic Literature

Revelation 4-5 are often read only for their value in describing worship (worthy is the Lamb….) or their Angelology (Who are the elders?  What are the four living creatures?)  While these elements are certainly there, the function of Ezekiel-merkabathese chapters in Revelation is to introduce the vision of the seven seals.  The Lamb is worthy of the same worship applied to God, but this means he is also worthy to open the scroll with seven seals.

Revelation 4-5 is built first on the foundation of the Hebrew Bible. There are several texts which describe God as enthroned, such as Isaiah 6 and Ezekiel 1-2. In both of these passages the prophet sees a vision of God enthroned in heaven surrounded by otherworldly angelic creatures (seraphim in Isaiah, cherubim in Ezekiel). In both cases the prophet is stunned by the vision and eventually commissioned to a prophetic office. In Revelation 4 there is a central throne, angelic beings, but John is not a prophet as much as an observer of the impending judgment contained in the scroll given to the Lamb to open.

Yet there are many elements which are “stock imagery” in Jewish apocalyptic. First, the “door of heaven” is opened, is a common apocalyptic element.  The idea of going “up to heaven” may be drawn from Gen 28:17 or Ps 78:23, but is developed in non-biblical apocalyptic into the idea that heaven is closed.  Only the visionary is invited to “come up” into heaven.

3 Maccabees 6:18 Then the most glorious, almighty, and true God revealed his holy face and opened the heavenly gates, from which two glorious angels of fearful aspect descended, visible to all but the Jews.

1 Enoch 14:8-9 And behold I saw the clouds: And they were calling me in a vision; and the fogs were calling me; and the course of the stars and the lightnings were rushing me and causing me to desire; and in the vision, the winds were causing me to fly and rushing me high up into heaven.

Second, John hears a “voice like a trumpet.”  This too is a common apocalyptic element as trumpets are used to signal an announcement. Perhaps this is a description of some king of ecstatic state.  John’s body remains on Patmos, but in his spirit (mind?) he experiences heaven.  Paul appears to have experienced the same sort of thin in 2 Cor 12:1-4, in non-biblical apocalyptic 1 Enoch 70-73 and 81 are quite similar.

 1 Enoch 71:1-2 (Thus) it happened after this that my spirit passed out of sight and ascended into the heavens. And I saw the sons of the holy angels walking upon the flame of fire; their garments were white—and their overcoats—and the light of their faces was like snow.

Third, as John enters heaven in the Spirit, he sees a fantastic throne (Rev 4:2-3). This vision is very similar to that of Ezekiel 1-3 as well as Isaiah 6, but the main source of imagery appears to be Daniel 7:9-27. Again, there is some element of“stock language” in the description of the throne. Throne imagery is important in Revelation, although John never names the one on the throne. It is as if he cannot find a word to describe the glory of God associated with the throne.

 Testament of Levi 5:1 At this moment the angel opened for me the gates of heaven and I saw the Holy Most High sitting on the throne.

John is describing heaven exactly the way any Jewish reader would have expected heaven to look in the late first century. Imagine if he had described heaven like a modern office complex, or Disneyland (the allegedly happiest place on earth) or a resort in the Caribbean. The original readers would not understand the imagery, since they were expecting these sorts of stock images of “what heaven might look like.”

This should be a warning against using these descriptions to create a list of things about “what heaven is really like” since John is expressing himself in terms a Second Temple period Jew would understand.

 

What does Revelation Say about the Future?

The theological term for the end times is eschatology, the study of last things. This includes not only the return of Christ and the kingdom, but also “personal eschatology,” what happens to individuals after death, what judgments await the believer and the unbeliever. I think that the study of the “end times” has mutated into “what is going to happen to those people left behind after the Rapture?” While I do believe in a Rapture / Tribulation / Second Coming scheme, I think it is more helpful to see the overall themes of Revelation rather that try to get ever detail of the Tribulation lined up on a chart.

I want to let Revelation speak for itself as much as possible, and to do that the book must be read in the context of the Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Jewish expectations. John is remarkably consistent with the Judaism of his day, with the exception of identifying Jesus as the Messiah.

WhereThe most general teaching of Revelation concerning personal eschatology is that the righteous are to be rewarded and the unrighteous are to be condemned. This is consistent with the Hebrew Bible. When the messianic age begins, there is a judgment of the nations and of Israel. Not everyone participates in the messianic age, as a text like Isaiah 25:6-8 makes clear. While many will gather on Zion to participate in the inaugural banquet at the beginning of the age, Israel’s prototypical enemy Moab will be trampled in the mud (25:10-12). Jesus also described the beginning of the new age as a harvest, where the wheat will be gathered into the barn (where it belongs) and the weeds gathered and thrown on a fire (where they belong). This theme of eschatological separation is common in Jesus’ parables (Matt 13:24-30, for example).

Prior to the beginning of the eschatological age, the Hebrew Bible expects a time of persecution of the people of God. In a book like Daniel, this period of persecution will separate the true Israel from the false. The capture of Jerusalem by the Babylonians initiated a long sequence of conflict with pagan rulers which reached a climax during the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanies. The struggles of the Maccabean period become a paradigm for future persecutions.

In Revelation, there is a persecution of those who refuse to worship the beast or take his mark. Revelation 13:7 describes this as a “war on the saints” which will result in the death of many who are followers of Christ (13:10, 20:4). This persecution is a time when a choice must be made to worship the beast (taking his mark) or to worship the Lamb. There is no middle ground, the time of great persecution is a sifting of the true followers from the false.

In Revelation 20, there is a judgment at the beginning of the Kingdom of God, or the eschatological age. John’s vision turns to a scene of thrones, thrones for those who were martyred during the tribulation, and thrones for those that endured until the end. In this vision, it is the souls of those who were faithful during the tribulation that sit upon thrones. The souls that John is seeing in these verses are those that were under the altar in 6:9 crying out to God asking to be revenged for their death at the hands of the beast and his kingdom.

With respect to the future, then, Revelation promises that God will judge with justice.  Those who persecute will be judged and separated from the Kingdom of God, while those who were persecuted will be vindicated and enter into that Kingdom.

Does this constitute a “hope for the future” for those who are suffering? I think it does, in the same was 1 Peter or Hebrews held out hope for those suffering Imperial oppression. But how does Revelation theology of hope speak to Christians today? Is it simply “suffer in silence and let God sort it out?”

Jesus the Bridegroom Reviewed by Review of Biblical Literature

00_PICKWICK_Template Marianne Blickenstaff of Union Presbyterian Seminary reviewed my Jesus the Bridegroom for Review of Biblical Literature. I am very happy to have her review the book, especially since I read her book, ‘While the Bridegroom is with them’ : Marriage, Family, Gender and Violence in the Gospel of Matthew (London: T&T Clark, 2005) at the very beginning stages of my research on the Wedding Banquet Parable and was influenced by her reading of the Banquet Parable in Matthew 22. I appreciate her very kind review.

She summarizes the book and concludes “This study is a compelling counterargument to scholarship that claims the church, and  not Jesus himself, developed the bridegroom and wedding banquet themes. Long has provided well-researched and convincing evidence that Jesus could have operated within Second Temple Jewish interpretive conventions to develop Hebrew Bible themes in new
ways to elucidate the purpose of his ministry.”

The full title of the book is Jesus the Bridegroom: The Origin of the Eschatological Feast as a Wedding Banquet in the Synoptic Gospels and is an edited version of my PhD dissertation. As I was working on my dissertation, people would ask what I was writing on. I usually said “an intertextual study on messianic banquet imagery in the Synoptic Gospels.” After a moment of awkward silence, I clarified: “Jesus said the Kingdom of Heaven is like a Wedding Banquet – what’s up with that?” I considered that as a title for a (very) short time.

The book is now available through Amazon and the Wipf & Stock website. The book retails for $33, but Amazon and Wipf & Stock have it discounted. The Kindle version is only $9.99 and claims to have real page numbers. I have not seen a Kindle version yet. If you live in the Grand Rapids area, I have a few copies in my office if you want to get one directly from me.  If you do get the book, leave a nice review on Amazon, I would appreciate that.

Obviously I would love for you to buy a copy, but that is not always possible. Here’s how you can help get the word out for me:

Of course, I would really like to hear feedback from anyone who reads the book – feel free to send me an email to continue the discussion. Thanks!

Book Review: G. K. Beale, Revelation: A Shorter Commentary

Beale, G. K. with David H. Campbell. Revelation: A Shorter Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2014. 576 pp. Pb; $35.   Link to Eerdmans

Greg Beale’s commentary on Revelation in the New International Greek Text Commentary series was published in 1999 (briefly reviewed here). At than 1300 pages, the book was ponderous to say the least. A paperback version of this commentary was released in 2013, but at $78 retail the volume is still priced out of the range of most pastors and Bible teachers. Hardback copies of the commentary are available on Amazon for well over $100. By reducing the size (and price) of the commentary by more than half, Beale contributes a commentary most Bible will find valuable for understanding this very difficult New Testament book.

Beale, RevelationWhat is different in this shorter commentary? First, there are some obvious cosmetic changes that save a great deal of space. He has removed direct references to the Greek text, although his exegesis is based on the Greek Bible. When Greek or Hebrew appears in the commentary, it is in transliteration. Often the larger commentary would use a smaller font to deal with a meticulous detail of the Greek text, these sections are completely removed from the shorter commentary.

Second, Beale has removed footnotes to secondary literature. This makes for a very readable commentary, although more advanced readers will want to know the source of some assertions. Beale says in the preface his “longer commentary serves as one big footnote to this shorter commentary” (viii).

Third, Beale has also removed various excurses in the larger commentary which focused on details of the text that are not necessary in this shorter commentary, including all his sections on Jewish interpretations of Old Testament passages used in Revelation. For example in the larger commentary he has a section on the Jewish legal background of Satan as an accuser in Revelation 12:10. This is omitted in the shorter commentary, since it is a detailed examination of Second Temple Literature and goes beyond the scope of the shorter commentary.

Fourth, the original commentary had a 177-page introduction; the shorter commentary has only 34 pages. Many of the main issues covered in the original commentary or simply inappropriate for this shorter, handier commentary. For example, the original commentary had a long section on the plan in the structure of John’s apocalypse. Beale compared various views of how the seals, trumpets and bowls are structured. The original commentary had a section on the use of the Old Testament in the Apocalypse. Since writing his commentary he has contributed several other works on the topic, but this shorter commentary reduces this complicated discussion to just a few pages with no reference to other ways of approaching the topic. Once again this is simply a result of shrinking the commentaries size and making it more useful for a pastor or a teacher. There are quite a few other monographs available on the topic of the Old Testament in Revelation (by Beale and others), this commentary can only sketch the issues involved.

Fifth, this shorter commentary includes more than sixty “Suggestions for Reflection” to help readers better grasp the relevance of Revelation to their lives and our world today. These are all new paragraphs which focus on application, or perhaps they can be considered “preaching tips.”  Applying the book of Revelation is always very difficult, so Beale’s comments are welcome. Commenting on in the fourth trumpet in Rev 8:6-12, Beale draws an application on the purpose of disasters within the plan of God (179). There are obviously some places in Revelation which are easier to apply than others, such as the seven churches.

Something that stays the same in this short commentary is Beale’s approach to the book. In his introduction he offers a very short summaries of the classic positions on Revelation (Preterism, Historicism, and Futurism), but ultimately finds a “Redemptive-Historical-Idealist view” the most useful. This is not to say he rejects all futurist application of the book, but he wants to separate his work on Revelation from the sort of populist “Left Behind” style presentations of Revelation. He is not a futurist, and he certainly not a dispensationalist. He makes it very clear in his comments on Rev 20 that the millennium is inaugurated during the Church Age as the church limits Satan’s power and deceased Christians begin to reign in heaven. Yet there is a future rebellion after which a final judgment will occur “at the end of world history” (458).

Conclusion. I have used Beale’s larger commentary for years and find it highly valuable because of his interest in the use of the Old Testament in Revelation. David Aune’s 1200+ page, three volume work in the Word Commentary series was completed just prior to Beale’s NIGTC and is every bit as valuable, although for different reasons. It is hard for me to overstate the value of recognizing the way John crafts the Old Testament into a new apocalyptic prophecy, Beale is a master at explaining how John has used his sources in order to communicate the story of the Old Testament to a new generation. This shorter commentary on Revelation is a welcome contribution to the ongoing study of the book of Revelation.

 

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Book Review: Schmitt and Laney, Messiah’s Coming Temple

Schmitt, John W. and J. Carl Laney. Messiah’s Coming Temple. Updated Edition. Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2014. 248 pp. Pb; $16.99. Link to Kregel.

This book is an update to Schmitt and Laney’s original 1997 Messiah’s Coming Temple, adding three chapters and about 50 pages to the original. In addition to this new material, there are a number of new illustrations including new 3D models of the temple. All illustrations are in black and white, some of the 3D images are on Schmitt and LaneySchmitt’s Future Hope Ministries website. Like the original, this is a popular level introduction to Ezekiel’s vision of a future temple. The book is designed to be read by laymen, so there is little discussion of wider scholarship on the vision.

The first two chapter of the book survey the history of the Temple in the Old Testament. After a description of the Tabernacle, Schmitt and Laney give a brief sketch of the history of the Tabernacle and the Temple. The section on the Tabernacle creates a typology between various elements of the Tabernacle and Jesus Christ. For example the “single entrance” to the Tabernacle foreshadows Christ is the one door of access to the Father (citing John 10:9). As popular as these typological observations are, I have never found them convincing. Several key Hebrew terms appear in these chapters, but unfortunately the authors define temple by using Webster’s Dictionary rather than a Hebrew lexicon. The chapter does not compare Solomon’s temple to other Ancient temples. The history section begins with Solomon, runs through the the destruction of the first Temple and the rebuilding of the second Temple, Herod’s renovations and finally the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

Chapters 3, 5 and 8-10 focus on the book of Ezekiel. The third chapter introduces the reader to the prophet Ezekiel in offers a general overview of the book. Chapter 5 is a new chapter in this edition of the book, comparing the temple in Ezekiel’s vision to several to the Solomonic gates at Megiddo, Hazor and Gezer. The chapter includes excellent photographs and several charts illustrating similarities. My only criticism here is the chapter relies on Biblical Archaeology Review articles rather than direct reports from archaeologists. This is simply the nature of a popular book, but a “for further reading” section would have enhanced this chapter greatly. Schmitt includes a section on Mount Gerizim since the Samaritans built a temple there after then time of Ezekiel’s vision. Unfortunately the temple has not been fully excavated because of Byzantine church was built on top of the Gerizim Temple, but it would be interesting to compare the general layout of the Samaritan temple to Ezekiel.

In chapters 8-10 the authors examine the details of the prophecy in the book of Ezekiel, beginning with a survey of the various interpretations of the vision. Some take the vision as a “memorial of pre-captivity temple,” others see it as the real postexilic temple. Others have understood the vision as an allegory of the heavenly state or the present church age. For Schmitt and Laney the vision is a literal temple, a “building in the future kingdom.” The section is good overview although I would have appreciated footnotes to commentaries espousing each of the five views presented. The rest of these chapters survey the vision and offer some architectural comments. Reading the text in Ezekiel is difficult, these notes attempt to summarize and clarify the visions.

Chapter 6 is a new section in this updated edition. Schmitt and Laney survey several other predictions of future temple, calling these predictions “different temples.” Perhaps this chapter was added in response to critiques of the first edition of the book, which did focus on only Ezekiel. Chapter 7 offers a short introduction to Schmitt and Laney’s view of eschatology. “What is next on the Prophetic Calendar…” Chapters 6-7 were an interruption of the theme of the book (Ezekiel’s temple) and the book could be improved if these chapters were moved either before or after the survey of Ezekiel.

Chapters 10-15 concern the future temple, often moving beyond the text of Ezekiel. Here Schmitt and Laney develop the outline of eschatology presented in chapter 7 and deal with a number of “problems” associated with a literal future temple. First, chapter 10 discusses future predictions of the temple and the antichrist attack on that temple. They are adamant the future temple is designed for the Messiah. The problem is: are there two temples, one during the tribulation and a second, new Temple during the kingdom?

Second, Schmitt and Laney discuss the problem of an altar and sacrifice in the future temple (ch. 11). This of course is only a problem for premillennialists who believe that Christ’s  sacrifice on the cross puts an end to Old Testament sacrifices. For some Jews, Ezekiel’s references to an altar are also problematic since it is been two millennia since sacrifice has been made in the Temple. The authors conclude there will be sacrifices in the millennial kingdom and they will serve as a continuous memorial that the Messiah has come (140).

Third, the last new chapter in the book answers the question “Can Sacrifices Be a Part of a Future Temple?”(ch. 12). This chapter answers the question of the previous chapter. It explores the purpose of the sacrifices in the temple during the millennial kingdom. They conclude that Ezekiel’s temple sacrifices do not violate the mosaic system of worship because they are another in system entirely (158).

Fourth, Schmitt and Laney discuss the future temple and the land of Israel (13). Here the authors deal with several suggested locations for the original temple, but also the prophetic location of the future temple. Ezekiel’s map of Israel is idealized for the messianic Kingdom and there are a host of problems with the order of the tribes and the position of the temple.

Fifth, chapter 14 describes what Schmitt and Laney see as “life in the messianic age.” This chapter goes far beyond the confines of Ezekiel to describe what the eschatological age looked like in Old Testament prophecy. This age will be a time of peace, joy, holiness, comfort, healing of sickness, freedom from oppression, and economic prosperity. It will be a time characterized by the personal presence of the Messiah and the universal knowledge of God. It is a time when Jerusalem is at the center of all worship in the world.

Last, Schmitt and Laney list a few items missing from the future temple and offer some explanation for their absence (ch. 15). There are eight missing items listed in the book: the wall of partition, the court of the women, the laver, the golden lampstand, the table of the showbread, the altar of incense, the veil separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple, and the Ark of the Covenant. In addition to the missing items division has a different view of the altar in the temple. Ezekiel uses a different word for altar in 43:15b, אֲרִיאֵל (ʾărîʾēl), although the altar is also spelled הַרְאֵל (harʾēl) in 43:15a. On pages 190-1 the authors transliterate this as ariel and state the root of this unusual word means “lion of God.” They then argue the name of the altar in Ezekiel “lion of God” is an allusion to Judah as a lion in Gen 49:9 (אֲרִי, lion, plus אֵל god). This in turn looks forward to the Messiah is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Rev 5:5). While the word could be construed as a proper name meaning lion of God, their argument seems to me to be quite a stretch. The Mesha Stele uses the related word אראל in reference to a “hearth of an altar” (HALOT) and a similar word appears in Isa 29:1 as a metaphor for Israel as a whole. The etymology of “lion of God” may not be valid and it is even stranger to force the name of the altar into a typology of the Messiah. My criticism here is driven by the popular level of the book. An introduction like this book is probably not the place to discuss the complicated problems of the etymology of Hebrew words. On the other hand, since the problems exist it is probably safer to make typological claims more tentatively.

Conclusion. This is a very easy to read introduction to the Temple both past and future. Premiliennialists (and dispensationalists) will feel comfortable with the ideas presented in the book, although this terminology is not used in the book. The closest they get is in chapter 7 where they discuss the rapture of the church; Laney is pre-tribulational with respect to the rapture and Schmitt leans to mid-tribulational rapture (88). This is the language of dispensationalism, even if the writers want to avoid the term. I find it strange these terms would be omitted from a book so friendly toward dispensationalism. In fact, Laney has a doctoral degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. I suspect this is simply to create some space between the book and more popular (and strange) forms of dispensationalism.

While the sub-title of the book clearly states the book is about Ezekiel’s vision for the future temple, I would have appreciated a chapter relating Ezekiel’s vision to the New Jerusalem vision in Rev21. Since the book is not concerned only with Ezekiel, I think there is space for Revelation.

Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

 

 

 

The Hidden Messiah?

Last Supper - BreadThere is perhaps another hint of eschatology in the Last Supper. Craig Evans suggests that the broken piece of bread which Jesus distributes is the afikoman (ἀφικόμενος, אפיקומן, Wikipedia). At the beginning of the Seder, a small portion of bread is broken off, to be consumed at the end of the meal. The bread represented the whole of the Jewish people and the broken portion represented “what the Messiah will eat when he returns to celebrate with Israel.”(Evans, Mark 8:27–16:20, 390).

This was first suggested by David Daube (He That Cometh), although D. B. Carmichael, (“David Daube on the Eucharist and the Passover Seder” 45–67)  finds additional support for this understanding of the bread in Melito of Sardis, a second century writer who creates a “Christian Haggadah.” Melito uses the term ἀφικόμενος twice with reference to Jesus as the coming Messiah.

If the breaking of the bread does reflect the afikoman tradition, then it explains how Jesus could say that bread somehow represented him and his body.  The bread already represented something, the Messiah. Jesus is making a claim that he is in fact the Messiah when he breaks the bread. This is how the disciples understood breaking of bread in Luke 24 as well.  If the breaking of bread was a messianic self–revelation then it would be strong evidence in favor of the Last Supper as a messianic banquet.

Unfortunately there is no solid evidence that this traditional use of the bread was current in the first century, so Evans suggestion may not be helpful in showing that the bread is an allusion to messianic themes.