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.

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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.