Welcome to Babylon! Here’s Your Mark!

[Update: Rod Dreher has another article worth reading (in addition to the one linked at the bottom). In this one he speaks to a political strategist on the reality that some religious liberty is going to be lost in the near future. Consider. Note too his suggestion that the only solution is another Great Awakening. Oh, that the Church would prioritize being the Church. -RDP]

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In July of 2013 I posted on the topic of persecution of Christians in America. At the time the Supreme Court had recently made some decisions allowing same sex marriage. I opined on how I saw this as a key marker that the future would see social persecution of Christians in America because of their opposition to homosexuality. Also at the time (and since) I received a bit of friendly criticism, admonishing me for being an alarmist.

Well, here we go again.

When I first took up this topic I expected that society-wide overt social persecution of Christians would not be wide-spread for at least a few decades. Not being a prophet or a prognosticator, I was engaging in the time honored tradition of looking at history for lessons to apply to today’s circumstances. Admittedly an inexact “science”, I thought I was in the ball park to propose that my children and grandchildren would face at least social persecution for maintaining belief in the Bible’s sexual morality teachings. E.g., I thought my grandchildren might suffer the loss of education opportunities while their parents, my children, suffered the loss of jobs, homes, etc., for simply declining when demanded by the World, “Say same-sex marriage is holy, right, and true!!”

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Given the widespread response to recent events, I’m now expecting such social persecution within the next decade.

Consider Indiana’s passage of its Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It is being characterized as a form of a Jim Crow law (Google it: “Indiana RFRA Jim Crow”). Yeah, I know, those are just crazy comments from folks no one listens to anyway. Except for one little problem, what sounds crazy today increasingly becomes “gospel” tomorrow.

Consider the Indiana Pizzeria owners who got tricked into saying they wouldn’t cater a same sex wedding celebration (again, Google it: “Indiana Pizzeria same sex”). The family for whom this is their livelihood has shuttered the business and is thinking of leaving the state due to the amount of death threats they’ve received from those who think any vocalized opinion against homosexuality is tantamount to saying one thinks lynching is an acceptable way of carrying on race relations.

We won’t even talk about the poor grandmother florist in Washington where the power of the state is being used to force her to comply with the new (im)morality or lose her economic livelihood. (Google it: “Barronelle Stutzman”)

After my last post on this topic in which I listed eleven examples of Christians whose economic freedom and well-being was harmed because of their declining to participate in a same sex wedding, I thought I might keep a running list of such examples for the naysayers. But it got too burdensome. There is almost a new example of this every month!

For you who insist on not seeing this as a form of persecution, I’d ask you to read the book of Revelation a bit closer. [Full disclosure: I consider myself a pan-millenniliast: at the core an amillennialist, with a willingness to affirm and adapt insights from the other positions.]

In the Bible Babylon is presented as that world system, that empire of Man, which is fully invested in opposing the Kingdom of God. Life is quite simple in that empire. Publicly affirm your allegiance to the ruling belief system (the anti-Trinity) and your economic well-being is secured. Fail to do so, and punishing you economically is just the start.

(Rev 13:16-17 ESV) 16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name.

So what’s my point? No, I am not predicting the date of the 2nd Coming. I’m not even interested in debating whether or not we’re in the end times of the Last Day.

Instead I’m pointing to a principle. In Scripture the first empire to set itself up against God was Babylon, at the Tower of Babel (Gn 11). Babylon then becomes paradigmatic: it becomes the picture that represents man in his best efforts to prove the lie of Satan, to become like God through his own efforts. In Revelation Babylon is clearly presented as this Kingdom-of-God-opposing empire (cf., Rev 14:8; 16:19; 18:2, 10, 21, and everything in between). It is Babylon, the world in opposition to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, who is the primary source of persecution for the people who follow King Jesus:

(Rev 17:1-5) 1 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters, 2 with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk.”

3 And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. 4 The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. 5 And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.”

Notice that among the chief characteristics of this Empire that economically persecutes the children of God is leading the rich and powerful to engage in sexual immorality. We don’t have to ponder much to see this wedding of possessions-position-power with sexual immorality in the push for moralizing same-sex marriage … and soon to come, its in-bred cousins. (E.g., be prepared for transgenderism to become the latest “gospel” from Babylon. April 24 should prove to be another pivotal point, when Bruce Jenner’s interview with Diane Sawyer is broadcast.)

The upshot? Whether we’re in the end of the Last Days or not is not material. What is material is that in this country, in this generation, or if I am not Chicken Little, within this decade, we should expect to see the overt adoption of laws that persecute Christians for simply declining to affirm same-sex marriage as morally good. Following this we should expect the passing of similar laws forcing Christians to affirm the holiness of other sexual perversions.

Already it is socially unacceptable to speak against these things (e.g., homosexuality, etc.). To do so is to invite the label bigot. Yet, in light of the response of a number of companies to Indiana’s passing of their RFRA, just around the corner is this: not only will you be labeled a bigot, you will also lose your job!

Don’t think so?

Don’t think this is not the new norm? Businesses are moving from being supportive of same-sex employees to demanding that all employees vocally support the gay rights agenda, or risk losing their jobs. Don’t think that they aren’t rationalizing this as just a necessity of doing business. Their profit margin is their holy of holies.

And as businesses threaten the economic well-being of those who disagree with the gay rights agenda, don’t think you’ll find support from your local state representative. Politicians will cave if they think their own future is jeopardized. They will pass laws protecting homosexuality via persecuting Christians in less time than it takes them to flip flop on where their favorite pizza joint is located!

So what does the future hold? Well, if the new norm is to deny the Christian his First Amendment freedom of speech rights (at least with regard to his views on sexual morality), is there anything stopping Babylon from removing Christians’ First Amendment freedom of religion rights? I think not. Indeed, I foresee the not too distant day in this country when even churches are not only not allowed to speak against homosexuality, they will also be forced to openly support this sexual immorality, and all its in-bred cousins.

This is just the way life in Babylon operates. We may not lose our heads, but we will lose our wallets and pocket books. Will we find the strength of faith to remain faithful then? Be prepared for a pruning of the Church:

(Jh 15:2, 6) 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. … 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.

Maybe we can find hope and power in these promises of our King:

(Rev 2:10) Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.

(Rev 2:25-27) 25 Only hold fast what you have until I come. 26 The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, 27 and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father.

Reed DePace

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[Postscript. Yeah, I know, I’m not painting a Kinkade picture here. But I don’t think I’m fear-mongering. You can tell the tenor of the mood of America by looking at the response to those who are paid big bucks to write a weekly opinion column. When they say something that most Americans don’t agree with, that weekly column becomes major news. When they say something that most Americans don’t find controversial, that weekly column is quickly forgotten. It is just economics; the media reports what people are interested in.

Here are three such recent opinion columns related to the Indiana RFRA topic. What concerns me is that these opinions should cause quite a bit of consternation, at least among Christians. Yet I fear these columns are being quickly forgotten – because they just aren’t that controversial at this point!

If so, my cautions are well founded. Prepare brothers and sisters. Worship Him more!

A Musing

The day is growing slight,
The dark is close at hand.
Will we reach for the Light,
As we walk through dimmed land?

Reed DePace

Quote of the Week

Today, we hear from C.J. Wright, who wrote a treatise in 1950 entitled Jesus the Revelation of God. He writes:

[T]here are types of so-called religious apologetic, which, distrusting the intrinsic claims of religion itself, seek to put in its place ‘external evidences’ and ‘institutional safeguards.’ How can light convince us that it is light except by what it does for us? We do not demonstrate that light is light by treatises, or by analyses of its constituent rays. It is only light to us when it illumines and quickens us…Anyone can, to his own satisfaction, confute the claim which Beauty makes, by saying, I do not see it; or the claim inherent in Goodness, by saying, I do not hear it; or the self-evidencing nature of Truth, by saying, I do not know it. But man does not create Goodness, or Truth, or Beauty; and to say that he cannot see them is to condemn himself, not them (quoted from Morris’s commentary on John, p. 390, fn. 13).

I would be very much interested in hearing whether you think Wright has overstated the case or not.

The 144,000 and the Great Multitude

I would like, in this post, to look at Revelation 7, particularly at the two groups mentioned: the 144,000 and the great multitude. Many, if not most, Reformed commentators (see Beale especially) have argued that these are the same groups of people. It must be admitted from the start that this is a very respectable position with a long pedigree. Nor can the difference between a numbered group and an innumerable group be attested in support of the position that there are two different groups.

The number 144,000 is a symbolic number. This is obvious from several facts. That God would only seal some and not others implies two distinct classes of Christians, something which the rest of the New Testament takes quite some pains to deny. Whatever group the 144,000 represents, it cannot be only part of a group of Christians.

Incidentally, as the commentator Wilmshurst (in the Welwyn series) points out, the Jehovah’s Witnesses interpretation makes this mistake and several others. The JW interpretation states that the 144,000 is a literal group of people that are to be in heaven around the throne room of God, and that the rest of the “good” people will have a decent life here on earth. Both groups are interpreted eschatologically in JW theology. However, the text makes it quite explicit that it is the great multitude who are around the throne of God in heaven, whereas the 144,000 are sealed here on earth to prevent them from receiving ultimate harm from the seals (see the flow of context from chapter 6). So the JW’s get the location of each group wrong. They also interpret the number literally, when it should be interpreted symbolically as 12 X 12 X 1000 (possibly the OT saints plus the NT saints times the number of perfection, implying the entirety).

We are more on the right track when we remember that census numbers were usually taken for military purposes. The 144,000 is a fighting group of people. This is confirmed when we look at chapter 14, the other time the 144,000 make their appearance. They were those who had not defiled themselves with women. Again, this is usually interpreted differently to point to their spiritual purity (and, no doubt, that is included). However, while fighting, Israelite men were to keep themselves from women. The indications are that the 144,000 is a fighting group.

However, they are not Israelites, contrary to the appearances of verses 5-8. For one thing, there wasn’t a Northern kingdom at the time John was writing. Secondly, the order of names is very curious (including Joseph and Manassah, but not Ephraim, and completely excluding Dan; as well as putting Judah first, and the sons of the concubines are fronted over some of the other sons of Leah, which would seem to indicate Gentile inclusion, as several commentators note). The only other group they could be is the church.

The innumerable multitude are standing around the throne room (and hence do not need the seal, since they are already safe). They hold palm fronds (v. 9), which is a symbol of military victory. They have their white robes that have been washed in the blood of the Lamb (v. 13). They are out of the tribulation (v. 14).

The upshot of the whole here is to point to the logical conclusion: the 144,000 symbolizes the church militant; and the innumerable multitude symbolizes the church triumphant. This avoids the problem of seeing the 144,000 as part of a group (in the sense that the entire church militant is sealed, not part of it: I am not advocating a denial of the distinction between the church militant and the church triumphant). The indications of the military nature of the 144,000 are given full scope, as well as the triumphant nature of the innumerable multitude. This is roughly the same conclusion to which Dennis Johnson arrives, although I have fleshed out the arguments a bit more than he did.

John 1:15-18

15-16. Hutcheson argues that this passage (through verse 18 actually) tells us of the magnificence of Christ; that He has more magnificence than John (15), believers (16), Moses (17), and all men (18). Godet says that v. 16 is grace, v. 18 is truth, and v. 17 connects grace to truth.

15. Morris notes that “People were humble about their own generation and really thought that their fathers were wiser than they—incredible as this may sound to our generation.” John therefore indicates here a reversal of the normal pattern. The word “testifies” is in present tense, indicating that this doctrine is still in full force (Calvin). Ryle notes that it was John’s habitual testimony. Lenski calls this verse a riddle (not in the sense of incomprehensible, but in the sense of the form of a riddle). “The one who came after me has stepped ahead of me” (Augustine). Beasley-Murray notes that the status accords with priority in time. John understood Christ’s pre-existence. Some people tend to think ill of John’s level of knowledge, but John did know this (Ryle). Plainly the last clause of the riddle explicitly states the pre-existence of Christ. Christ is both before and after John, and therefore ranks higher than John.

16. Is John the Baptist still speaking, or is this John the evangelist? Who is the “we?” Probably the congregation (Bultmann).The “all” hints at the infinite resources (Morris). On the phrase “Grace for grace,” does John mean NT vs. OT, or grace piled on top of grace? Given verse 17, the former is more likely, as long as vs 17 is not understood in an adversarial way. Actually, both could be understood together. Keddie says that the grace acts “Like waves of the sea.” Kostenberger notes “It is as though, when the incarnation finally arrived, full of covenant love, the OT stood up and cheered.”

17-18. The connection of the two verses is well stated by Augustine: “And in case anyone should say, ‘Did not both grace and truth come about through Moses, who saw God?’ he immediately added, no one has ever seen God.” Moses did not have the law in and of himself, but Jesus does have grace and truth in and of Himself (Bengel).

17. Notice the contrast between “given” and “came” (Tasker). Carson says that there is nothing in this verse that requires antithesis. Schnackenburg notes the eschatological character of salvation pointed out in this verse. The revelation of Christ surpassed that of Moses because Moses did not really see God. Only Jesus has seen God (Kruse).

18. The first phrase of this verse “denies that God is directly accessible to men. At the same time it assumes that it is natural for man to wish to see God and to be able to approach him” (Bultmann). Only God can reveal God (Lindars). On the “bosom” of the Father: “So intimately close to the Father that He is reliably informed about the decisions of His Father’s heart” (Luther). Bultmann says it this way: “it stresses the absoluteness and sufficiency of the revelation, because the Revealer as the Son of the divine love stands in perfect communion with the Father.” Note the word “exegesato.” It means “narration” or “exegesis.” Jesus is the “exegesis” of the Father. He explains the Father to us.

Books You’d Rather Not Read Yourself

(Posted by Paige)

Two curious questions for you:

One, in your church, who has responsibility for choosing and vetting the material used in Bible studies or classes for women? I know that some churches have pastor or elder-led systems of review in place, and some not so much.

Two, if you are someone who has this responsibility, are there any titles – whether written for popular audiences or specifically for women — for which you would appreciate a sound and careful review, so that you do not have to read the books yourself?

Putting together a Library of a website with resources for Christian literacy, and hoping to include a shelf of Reviews of Books You’d Rather Not Read Yourself. Give me some suggestions! (Some of these are truly painful to read – so this is Christian service in action! :)

A Biblical Theology of Clothing | The Christward Collective

A Biblical Theology of Clothing | The Christward Collective.

My friend Nick Batzig doing biblical theology right. Enjoy the feast.

Quote of the Week

Today we hear from Berkhof on theistic evolution, timely in today’s current theological climate.

Other evolutionists advocate what they call theistic evolution. This postulates the existence of God back of the universe, who works in it, as a rule according to the unalterable laws of nature and by physical forces only, but in some cases by direct miraculous intervention, as, for instance, in the case of the absolute beginning, the beginning of life, and the beginning of rational and moral existence. This has often been called derisively a “stop-gap” theory. It is really a child of embarrassment, which calls God in at periodic intervals to help nature over the chasms that yawn at her feet. It is neither the Biblical doctrine of creation, nor a consistent theory of evolution, for evolution is defined as “a series of gradual progressive changes effected by means of resident forces” (Le Conte, emphasis Berkhof’s). In fact, theistic evolution is a contradiction in terms. It is just as destructive of faith in the Biblical doctrine of creation as naturalistic evolution is (emphasis added); and by calling in the creative activity of God time and again it also nullifies the evolutionary hypothesis (Systematic Theology, pp. 139-140).

Vos on Creation

It is indeed wonderful to have available to us for the first time Geerhardus Vos’s Reformed Dogmatics. Vos is often co-opted (and misinterpreted!) by people who love biblical theology, but hate systematic theology. Unfortunately for them, Vos does not go along with them. It is starting to become better known (now that his Reformed Dogmatics is being published) that Vos taught systematic theology at Calvin Seminary before he went to Princeton to teach biblical theology. Does his Reformed Dogmatics give any ground to those who despise systematic theology in our day? Not an inch.

Vos would also be extremely uncomfortable to those (often the same people!) who want to relegate Genesis 1-2 to the realm of myth. The idea that these chapters are myth is not a new idea. It was around in Vos’s time. Here is what Vos says about the genre of Genesis 1-2:

How many kinds of interpretation are there of Genesis 1 and 2? Mainly three: the allegorical, the mythical and the historical. The first two views, however, are untenable because within the narrative of Scripture the creation narrative is interwoven like a link in the chain of God’s saving acts. God does not make a chain of solid gold, in which the first link is a floral wreath. If the creation history is an allegory, then the narrative concerning the fall and everything further that follows can also be allegory. The writer of the Pentateuch presents his work entirely as history (Reformed Dogmatics, volume 1, p. 161).

Fancy that: the father of Reformed biblical theology (and who was the greatest precisely because of, and not in spite of, his unified encyclopedia) rejecting the mythical interpretation of Genesis! May those who are motivated by the desire to look respectable in the world of academia take note that Vos was not afraid of what others might say, and he feared God rather than men.

Quotation of the Week

This week we hear from Douglas Kelly, who is commenting on Revelation 6:9-11, the fifth seal wherein the martyred saints under the altar cry out to God, “How long, O Lord?” Kelly says,

Once the saints have been martyred, they do not lose their effectiveness in changing the course of world history…To rid themselves of the testimony of these believers, who were showing up the darkness of the evil works of sinners by their humble and holy lives, the world system said, ‘Let’s dispatch them. Then we shall be rid of their annoying influence, and our lives will no longer be disturbed by their Christian testimony.’ But look at what actually has happened: they have only dispatched them to a place of tremendous authority that they can now exercise near their heavenly father’s heart in heaven, as they are praying. (commentary on Revelation, p. 125-6).

This is a very interesting idea, and one that I have not really thought of before. One is reminded a little bit of what Obi Wan Kenobi tells Darth Vader during their battle near the end of Star Wars that if Darth strikes him down, he will only become more powerful than he was before. If the world powers were smart about this, they would not martyr Christians for their faith, since they only help the Christian cause in the world through doing so. However, world powers have never been smart about this. In fact, they seem intent on killing as many Christians as they can. It is no coincidence that the greatest and fastest growth of the Christian church is happening hand in hand with the greatest number of martyrdoms the world has ever seen. Instead, if the powers that be want Christianity to die out, they should lure Christianity into the regions of comfort and sensuality, like what is happening in the West.

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