Luke 21 – the pestilence

Perhaps I should not have been surprised but I saw a number of articles on the web tying together Jesus’ words in Luke 21: 11 concerning pestilence and the coronavirus. But NO!!!

It would be such a stretch to get to the idea that Jesus was prophesying the virus and thus indicating that we are in the ‘end times’. I even saw one post that said these they had expected these events to be in the first 31/2 years of the 7 year period of tribulation, but were happening now. WOW… (Where do these people get the time from to think all of that… read a little, and only a little history to see where these ideas come from.)

Before having a quick look at Luke 21 here is what I consider is the framework we have to be looking at. The Jewish ‘one-horizon’ view shifts to multiple horizons in the New Testament. The Jewish one horizon view was simply that God will through the Messiah intervene, subduing all his (and therefore Israel’s enemies) causing the great reversal to take place. (Some views had two Messiahs, others saw the intervention without a Messiah – the ‘Jewish’ view is really the Jewish views.)

There were inevitable unforeseen events by those who shared that view. We see that reflected in the road to Emmaus discourse. ‘Did you not understand that first the Son of Man must suffer…?’ being Jesus rhetorical question to the married couple. Fresh horizons had appeared and others were yet to appear. The one horizon was proving inaccurate, multiple horizons needed to be seen.

We might separate out the immediate horizons of the Cross, Burial, Resurrection and Pentecost or we can put them together. Together they effectively make the first horizon. Jesus inaugurated a new day post-his forty days in the wilderness, opening up his earthly ministry, and post-cross another 40 day period of transition to the post-Pentecost ministry of the body of Christ. So the first unseen horizon was that of Easter / Pentecost. Not surprising as a common Jewish view was that when the great reversal took place it would be marked by the resurrection of the dead and an outpouring of the Spirit.

(A sidenote the 40 day periods and the 40 year period from Jesus predictions in Luke 21 to the fall of Jerusalem are tied to the Exodus period to the entry to the land. Jesus beginning his 40 days with his baptism, his death being an ‘exodus’ and all paving the way for the entry to the land / lands.)

The second horizon was that of the fall of Jerusalem within a generation, and Jesus clearly prophesied that. (I also consider that Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2 is referring to this event.) Such a dramatic and traumatic end of an era. The religious centre, the hope for the nations destroyed, and it marks a major cutting off between Jewish believers in Jesus and Jewish non-believers in Jesus. The followers of Christ abandoned Jerusalem understanding that was exactly what Jesus instructed them to do, leaving behind many residents to the brutal reprisals of Rome, which included many punished with crucifixion.

The third horizon I consider lies future. The parousia of Jesus, the time of the resurrection, final judgement and such events. For me only the book of Revelation is written post-the Fall of Jerusalem (AD70), and it is not obsessed with prophesying events to come but with unveiling the reality of our warfare, of what we are asking to change every time we pray ‘let your kingdom (basileia) come’. The book and that ongoing disciples’ prayer is set in the context of the Empire (basileia) of Rome.

So to Jesus and his words in Luke 21. The immediate context is of the Temple that Jesus said would be utterly destroyed resulting in the question of ‘when will these things take place?’ (21:7). The time frame was future for them, but past for us. Into that time frame – the next 40 years from the time of speaking – Jesus spoke of great traumas and of famines and pestilences. The decades that followed culminating in the brutal assault of Jerusalem (66-70AD) with mass crucifixions, cannibalism inside the city, the appearance of false Messiahs etc., were horrendous. Horrendous within Israel and with a sharp focus on Jerusalem but also deeply traumatic in the wider Imperial world. 68AD saw the year of the four emperors, as civil war broke out, and there seems to be some allusion to that in Revelation with the mortal wound to the head of the beast, but the wonder from the people that the beast survived. (Babylon’s cry, and the tell-tell sign that any institution is embracing Babylon’s values, are that ‘we will survive’ and at any cost, that ‘we will always have children’ but in the process eats the life of the children.)

In Luke 21 Jesus speaks to ‘you‘, speaks of being brought before synagogues, and decisively about Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, and that they will need to flee from the city and from Judea, and that the wrath will come on ‘these people’. Everything is geo-, ethnic- and temporal related. Josephus and other contemporary writers bear out the horrendous nature of those years.

In that context the sign will be visible that the Son of Man will come in the clouds – words spoken by Jesus already to the High Priest that he would personally see that event. This is not some far off future reference, but takes up the Daniel 7 imagery of one like a son of Man coming to the ancient of Days. The kingdom of God is in his hands. The hope for the future is not in a holy place, nor a holy land but in the hands of Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified one, is the resurrected vindicated One. To believe that is the continual challenge for us at all times as we now live in the period of time between the second and third horizon, and for us, as for every post-AD70 generation the Revelation 4, 5 challenge remain central, where Jesus came to the One seated on the throne as only the Lamb of God was able to open the seals (human destiny).

So I guess it is no surprise given the above approach that I do not see any reference to the coronavirus in Scripture. Scripture is ever so helpful in not giving us the future, but in giving us a future hope that cannot be shaken.

Is the coronavirus a sign of the end times? For sure. It is a sign that we have been in the end times ever since Jesus poured out from on high the Spirit, that this whole world is groaning waiting for liberation from its bondage to decay. So it is a sign in a very general sense, but not in a specific way. God might well speak through the current events, and I am sure he is. What is he saying? Our God is always speaking, we might hear different things but they must all focus on his love for us and for the world, that he has not abandoned us… and therefore the call is there to love and not to abandon others. Let your kingdom come.

The Peter response

A couple of posts ago I mentioned that it is possible to fall into the ‘Peter trap’ once we have revelation. So maybe just a quick expansion on this. From Matthew 16 we get this inter-change:

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day and be raised to life.

Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!

Reasonably powerful!! We have some:

  • startling revelation
  • followed by Jesus explaining the path ahead
  • provoking Peter to ‘correct’ Jesus’ prediction
  • resulting in an (almost) name change for Peter!

The revelation was accurate, and Jesus proclaimed that it was not based on some human element but that it had come from heaven. Top marks Peter! Revelation comes from the future.

Jesus who is living, not to preserve his life, but to follow the path that is laid out explains where this will lead, but Peter takes exception to this explanation. I consider that on the basis of his revelation he knows he needs to correct Jesus. I don’t this was because of arrogance but because the revelation has brought to Peter an expectation. Jesus is the Messiah (revelation from the future) meets his understanding, his expectation that is shaped by his journey to date. Peter is seeking to keep Jesus on track! Expectation meets revelation and is informed by the journey thus far.

The general expectation was that the Messiah would deliver a people from oppression. The expectation was not of the death of the Messiah but of the overcoming of all opposition by the Messiah. (This is why I do not consider that Judas understood the betrayal as betrayal, but as having the two-fold benefit of personal financial reward and enabling the mission of Jesus to be truly successful.)

I am of the opinion that there is almost certainly a lot of prophetic revelation that proclaims a wonderful future and of the triumph of the Gospel, but that it is inevitably met by an expectation that will not be fulfilled. The path is always ‘first to suffer then glory’ as there are three words tied together in Scripture: suffer – time – glory.

If our expectation is the cross as symbol by which we conquer we will be shocked and disappointed by the path ahead.

We can easily fall, and normally do fall, into the Peter trap. That is the one where we verbalise it all, and it seems we (like Peter) look pretty stupid as the future unfolds. But at least in verbalising it we can be corrected. If we push it further and allow our own personal weakness to come strongly into the mix we might go beyond the Peter syndrome to the Judas one. Best avoided!

Chips in hand

So thousands of Swedes are getting chips inserted in their hand, through which they purchase goods, gain access where they are authorised. This has been covered in so many national papers that it is probably not news. Here is a faith based site reporting:

https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/mark-of-the-beast-thousands-of-swedes-become-microchipped

My response… OK cut right to the chase. I do not see Revelation as predicting this. The book is far too incisive and insightful to do that. Yet I accept this could indeed be (a sign of) the mark of the beast, and yet again I consider that the euro, the dollar, the yen… or at least our relationship to them could also be a mark.

Before writing about ‘the mark’, maybe we should consider what precedes that in Revelation. The sealing of the servants of God, who were numbered as both 144,000 (the number heard) and a multitude that could not be numbered (the people seen). Is the seal literal? Is the mark literal?

Well the seal could be considered literal, but only in the sense of being so marked that we belong to God, that we are indeed his servants, that there is a visibility. That kind of visibility is normally seen when there is the very real threat of persecution as was the increasing case as the first century ended. In that sense the mark (of the beast) can also be literal… sold out so that there is no restriction on buying and selling.

I consider a couple of aspects are so key here. 1) the original sin is couched in consumerist language (saw… desired… took… gave… all focused on what was beyond a legitimate boundary); 2) Jesus set the polar opposites as mammon and God. (We might add to this the issue of trade, with the king of Tyre, and the trade / economic theme that runs through the book of Revelation.)

Chips in hand could be a sign of the mark of the beast, but is not the mark of the beast. There are many, many signs now and right through the ages of the mark of the beast. The mark has always been present, and always will be. AntiChrist has always been present, in plural forms and at times focused more in one person than others. The era of the one world government was the time when the Gospel was birthed, the ‘fullness of times’.

Avoiding a chip will not mean I am clean! Following Jesus bites a little deeper than that for sure!

The issue is there are signs everywhere, and there will always be a push of society toward a dominating centre (Revelation again!). In the midst of it all though Babylon / Babel will never be complete, it will always be an unfinished tower seeking to reach to the heavens, determining one’s own destiny – hence 666, humanity tripled, or as one manuscript has it 616 – a clear reference to the manifestation in the NT era in and through the emperor Nero.

If offered a chip in the hand we might think twice. But really I need to think deeper about my commitments, my relationship to the Babylonish aspects that are nearer to home offering whatever might appeal to my desires.

Better put the apple back on the tree, I guess!!

If you build it?

‘If you build it they will come’ (Field of Dreams, 1989) is a powerful inspirational strap line. Go do something, set it out and there will be a response; rather than try to get the result consider the context. A truly motivational directive. At some level this is what lay behind the flow of the OT hope where something will happen in Jerusalem and the nations will be drawn to it. In the days when there was no visible centre there (Temple) the hope was for its rebuilding and the nations would then come to that place where the glory of God was and acknowledge the One true God. Such a strong motivational and eschatological hope.

Cyrus was proclaimed the Lord’s anointed and in the (normally) last book of the Writings (2 Chronicles for us) we read that he instructed the people to go (re-)build a temple in Jerusalem:

This is what Cyrus king of Persia says:
‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you may go up, and may the Lord their God be with them.’ (2 Chron. 36: 23).

In Matthew’s Gospel with its focus on the fulfilment of Scripture we find such a clear echo of those words as that Gospel closes with the ‘Great Commission’:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt. 28: 18-20).

The parallels are clear:

  • authority given
  • go
  • promised presence.

Fulfilments are not repeats but often transform the original hope. As inspirational as the ‘go build it’ was and a stretch to faith, the scope of the Jesus’ commission and the how to do it are in another league all together.

Build it somewhere becomes be everywhere; go to a place becomes go from a place; and the clear implication is that the Temple being built will not be with literal stones, nor confined to a specific geography but invisible and universal.

In Field of Dreams the challenge was to build something not knowing what the result will be. Build something and believe there will be a result was a clear challenge to faith. In the Jesus’ commission the challenge to faith is so much greater. Don’t even build something, but have a very clear focus, and something will be invisibly built. He also does not focus on ‘they will come’ but on ‘I will come’.

Everywhere can manifest somewhere: ‘where two or three are gathered together’; but the somewheres must never claim to be everywhere nor create borders that stop people going everywhere. (I hope that sentence makes sense!) Jerusalem is not the goal, the New Jerusalem is the goal, that image of the total transformation of the then known world, the presence of God being the light that fills everywhere. That presence can manifest in specific places at specific times, but when any wonderful expression of God is held on to it can eventually resist the very reason for the manifestation. This is why there is such a need for continued apostolic and prophetic ministry as new terrain is entered into. Any centres that are reproduced, in the big scheme of things, can only be temporary. The Revelation vision is not I saw a Temple, nor I saw many Temples, but I saw no Temple, the city without a Temple.

The Jesus’ commission is of the continual movement into new terrain by those imbibed by his Spirit, God building something where previously there was either rubble or nothing. At the core is a multiplication of ‘disciples’ (learners) and those who are walking in the light of the presence among them.

If we do not keep the big picture in front of us, the steps along the way will become the camp, the model to be reproduced. There is no model. There is only a journey and the step we take on that journey will depend on our context at that time. True north sets the direction; the Spirit calls for followers; followers are promised his presence.

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A diverse meditation

While doing the washing up this morning I had a meditation. I know some of you will be surprised I had a meditation… What!! I even hear some of you saying to yourselves – Martin doing the washing up, it must be a sign of the end of all things! Shame on you…

Once we move beyond (abandon) the book of Revelation as some kind of history written in advance and allow it to be a revelation that opens our eyes / imagination to all things pertinent at all times we can have a few insights that do more than fill us with fear. (When was fear ever the context in which we were to make decisions?)

Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting… (Rev. 19:6).

Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits by many waters (Rev. 17:2).

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb (Rev. 7:9).

The above are a sample of Scriptures from Revelation. The sound like the roar of rushing water: I have written on this before, the diversity of sound, the languages together, no language above another. That is the sound of heaven. In contrast Babylon sits on (Gk.: epi) many waters. Using power but to only express one aspect.

The multitude made up of, the oft-repeated phrase in Revelation, those from every nation, tribe, people and language.

How far do we have to go for ‘on earth as in heaven’. I was meditating this morning on a city that has a tremendous ethnic diversity, and considering the prominent expression of the body of Christ there. If I contrast my meditation with that of Revelation:

  • I heard the sound like that of many waters
  • I heard the sound and it was one voice that I heard
  • I saw the make up of the people – cultural, ethnic, color and language diversity
  • I saw a monochrome people.

I do not write this though as critical of anywhere. My meditation took me to my own house and context. We must continue to pray ‘on earth as in heaven’ – then make room for the wonderful mess. Waters coming together are always dangerous.

I am focused too on a future trip to Brazil. So much going on there. A key is the voice of Brazil, not the Portuguese translation of a voice from elsewhere.

Heaven on earth. Now that is a dream (for the old) or a vision (for the youth).

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That is a LOUD voice!

It is always very interesting to be reading through the Bible. I focus much more on the Old Testament earlier on in the year when I do this, and in some of those readings there are so many challenges. Patriarchy is not only taken for granted but it seems to be endorsed as a good order. Genocide in the name of God… all there. Challenging to one’s view of inspiration and of what we mean by the canon of Scripture. I would happily see some parts within the collection of 66 books be sidelined and to be excised! One book I would not be happy to see sidelined though would be the book of Revelation (the Apocalypse). Strange as that one does not make it into a number of the church canons, and even Luther who believed it should be included in the NT list of books also suggested it be segregated with other controversial books in a “disputed” section, of ‘antilegomena’.

I did not grow up reading novels, and until recently did not enjoy many films (neither of those categories being ‘real life’! As if I know what real life is….) However, employing genre so removed from real life, and written in a way that gives the likes of me few clues as to how to read it, I have loved the book of Revelation. (And definitely a much better read when the likes of Scofield, Darby, Lindsay, Left Behind are all kept way beyond arm’s length.)

Imagery using such terms as beasts was not a new term for ancient readers. Babylon was not a new idea for Jewish believers. And Revelation really goes to town with such imagery and historical allusions. The (sea) beast of Revelation 13 was ‘given a mouth’ to speak, speaking for 42 months. 42 months is not a short time, and feels like forever. It is certainly much longer than some 15,000 days, it represents the time of conflict, being one of those ‘rectangular’ numbers in Revelation where it is the result of one number multiplied by one bigger than the first (here 6×7). Those numbers represent the times of conflict, so they are not referring to a specific length of time. Hence the voice can be louder at times than at others.

I have been very exercised in these days about the mouth that Mammon has, the voice that in Revelation will declare ‘you cannot buy and sell’. We have heard that voice, we know many friends who have been spoken to by that intimidating voice, intimidating as there seems no way past it. The voice seems to speak and control a highway, that highway at times literally being the trade routes. I am also provoked as yesterday I had a Skype call with someone who engages with those who deal with money and can make huge differences to peoples’ lives with the stroke of a pen. This person has a vision for societal transformation, and in engaging with companies his pitch is for their involvement in communities, with a twofold outcome: they will pour something back in for the betterment of others, and yet it will not mean they ‘lose’ out financially. The central focus though is the community issue. Over and over again they get excited by the vision, they are on board… until they work out that their bottom line just might be affected. Already making more than they need, they must make yet more, so again and again the vision my friend has is turned down. Sounds like a discouraging voice… but it is more than that, it is the voice of Mammon.

The 42 month period, the time when there is a loud voice speaking.

Money is a strange thing… I am not even sure what it is. The instability in the stock market yet again shows this – huge gains and losses. Maybe it is simply a measure of confidence that some exhibit. That ‘some’ being a minority of the population. If money was simply a mark of the confidence that some exhibit and that was all it was that might be OK, but it goes beyond that. It controls the destiny of people, and at a daily level who can buy and sell. We watched last night a program on the homelessness in Spain since 2008. A good number of whom were university graduates, and employed in 2008, meanwhile in the same country 40billion of public money can be unaccounted for in one year (2017). Money, a real entity? A measure of confidence? Or something standing behind it all?

Juan Mata, Spanish footballer, has his feet on the ground. Earning as these ‘stars’ do a huge sum of money he is provoking his fellow soccer players to donate 1% of their income into a foundation that can help channel that money positively. 1% of huge salaries is a large sum of money and I applaud him for this. That 1% is way more than a 10% of other money. Those actions are to be applauded. But…

The system remains.

What if Revelation was holding out the tantalising hope that we are here to see the system change? What if the Gospel is the announcement that mountains will be made low and valleys raised up? What if the body of Christ is truly ‘elect in him’ to the pulling down of strongholds and releasing a new way of being?

42 months. Patience marking the new apostolic. Applauding where 1% is placed in a foundation. But with a long term vision. A beast without a voice is intimidating, but a beast with a voice, that is at a different level all together.

In 2009 as clear as an audible voice I heard a challenge from heaven, that if those with significant financial resources were not stewarding their finances how was I going to do that? I am still on the journey toward that – I have certainly not made it through 42 months, not even sure I have made 24 hours into that journey, but I cam off the Skype yesterday with a small piece of the puzzle in my hand. I said to Gayle, we start relationaly. We connect. Not to the rich and famous, but to the ones and twos who dream of societal change, some of whom are not afraid of money nor success but neither of those commodities are the bottom line for them. The journey ahead is, of course, a corporate one. There needs to be eyes, hands and feet. The eyes cannot say… the feet cannot say… The beast is not confronted by a yet stronger beast. 42 months… and as always there has to be a human ‘lamb’, a people who find each other where no one takes the spot light, no one becomes the new controller of the resources, as if replacing the bad with the ‘good person’ would ever be the way to bring about change. An old centre is not to be replaced by a new, but good one, but as is evidenced in the breaking of bread and in Pentecost, a huge dispersal marks the shift.

Patience. Long term. Should not be surprising that is needed. This journey did not begin a few years ago with 1994 being such a turning point for many. It did not begin with a new perspective on Paul and his gospel… It certainly had major starting point in Jerusalem when the hegemony of religion (and ‘good’ religion at that) was broken. Those 42 months seem to stretch back a long way. What a diversity of voices have spoken in those ‘months’ and at times the voice of the beast has seemed the loudest. However, I don’t think that s/he with the loudest voice wins!

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