Tag Archives: revelation

Are You a “Lukewarm” Christian?

I could subtitle this blogpost as “further adventures in misreading the Bible.”

Today’s concept of being “lukewarm” originated in the Bible, but it has permeated nearly all of contemporary culture. For example, football players are scolded by their coaches for having lukewarm enthusiasm for their team. “Step it up, folks, or get off the team!!” It is a well-worn word picture, warning against half-heartedness.

Unfortunately, to be lukewarm has taken on a meaning that has been completely ripped out of its original, biblical context. A standard definition of lukewarm has come to mean “neither cold nor hot; tepid,” but there is a figurative meaning that can be traced back to the period of the Reformation, in the 16th century, to describe a person, or their actions, as “lacking in zeal.”

The ancient city of Laodicea, an early church city site, mentioned in the Book of Revelation.
(Credit: Rjdeadly – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19781425)

In evangelical church culture, this has meant that a lukewarm Christian is someone who is neither hot; as in, “on fire for the Lord,” nor cold; as in “a nominal Christian,” or not even a Christian at all, one who is cold-hearted in their faith. Rather, such a lukewarm person is rather tepid in their faith, someone who says that they believe in Jesus, but that they are simply going through the motions of being Christian, with nothing truly heartfelt inside of them.

Being “hot” for the Lord is good. Being “cold” for the Lord is bad. Nevertheless, either being “hot” or “cold” is preferable to being lukewarm.

While this rebuke against lukewarm faith is surely correct, it completely misses the original context for where it is expressed in the Bible. In the early chapters of the Book of Revelation, Jesus issues a rebuke for each of the seven churches, being addressed in the text, with a particularly notable admonition towards the church in Laodicea:

“(v.14-16) And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.

“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth……(v.19) Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent (Revelation 3:14-16, 19)

The city of Laodicea, located near the modern city of Denizili, Turkey, was situated just a few miles from the neighboring cities of Hierapolis and Colossae (think, the Book of Colossians), during the New Testament period, of the 1st century C.E.  All three cities were known for the spring waters that flowed near and through them. Hierapolis was known for its hot springs, which were useful for medicinal purposes. Colossae was known for its cold springs, which were useful for drinking and refreshment purposes.

Laodicea, on the other hand, was known for its tepid, lukewarm water springs, which were completely useless. Visitors to Laodicea, in the New Testament era, were known to taste the water of Laodicea, only to spit it out, because it was so yucky. As a result, an intricate piping system was built to supply Laodicea with useful water, from the two other nearby cities, or other acceptable water sources. You can still visit the ruins of this ancient plumbing system today.

Original clay pipes in Laodicea, dating to the New Testament period, that were used to transport hot springs water from nearby Hierapolis, as Laodicea had no useful water supply of its own. (credit: ProudlyPetites travel blog)

Unfortunately, Bible interpreters of the 16th century Europe were unaware of this archaeological, historical context, for Laodicea. Presumably, Bible interpreters grabbed onto Jesus’ exhortation to be “zealous,” in the nearby verse, Revelation 3:19, and concluded that Jesus was primarily concerned about the temperature of the faith, of the believers in Laodicea.  In other words, it is better to be “on fire for the Lord,” or to be spiritually dead, instead of being lukewarm.

However, a look at the original, historical context for this passage of the Bible, brings out the appropriate clarity, regarding what Jesus’ warning to the church of Laodicea, really meant. Being “hot” is indeed useful. Being “cold” is also useful as well. Being lukewarm is not. Jesus’ teaching here is that we are to have a faith that is useful to God, and His purposes…. not a useless faith.

The spiritual temperature of a person’s faith is still important, though. Being “sold-out for Jesus” is good teaching indeed.

But it is just not what Jesus is getting after in this particular passage.

As verse 19 indicates, the passage is intended to stir the heart of the believer to accept God’s patient discipline, in their practice of faith. It was never intended as a means of threatening punishment. Rather, this passage was meant to encourage the believer to accept the Lord’s loving discipline, and respond with zeal to become more useful.

Be “hot” for the Lord, or be “cold” for the Lord. YES! Both of these are good, useful things. Being lukewarm is not.

Being “hot’ for the Lord, is to be zealous for the Lord. But being “cold” for the Lord, is to be zealous for the Lord also, strangely enough, when you read this Bible passage, in its historical context.

Nevertheless, the word lukewarm has taken on a life of its own, detached from its original context, having been embedded in the consciousness of Christians for about 500 years now, and still going strong. Some habits with how we use words prove hard to break.

It is true that such insight into the original meaning of the passage can not be gained simply by reading the text in isolation, in the privacy of one’s home. A visit to this part of modern Turkey, where Laodicea is located, would quickly impress a Christian with the real meaning of the text. But not everyone has the luxury to hop on a plane, and learn this lesson for themselves. For the rest of us, the help provided by sound, biblical scholarship can give us the insight we need to understand God’s Word more effectively.

In other words, reading the Bible as sola scriptura, “Scripture alone,” is not the same thing as reading the Bible as scriptura nuda, “Scripture naked.”  Thankfully, there are capable, faithful scholars of the Bible, who can open up our understanding, even for passages that have been taken out of context for centuries. There is a genuine place for historical scholarship that can help us to more faithfully and accurately interpret the Bible that we are reading.

Note: Peter Liethart quotes another New Testament scholar, Craig Koester, who suggests that the notion of “usefulness” of water, in Laodicea, was more specifically related to the practice of hospitality. Koester’s work indicates that when guests came to visit homes in Laodicea, Laodiceans may have used either cold water, to help chill (or supply) cold drinks, or warm water, to mix with wine, in order to warm up those type of beverages. Either way, the tepid water naturally found in Laodicea was not a useful beverage to anyone. So, the piped-in water was much preferred, whether it be hold or cold.  This is a slightly different take, than what I presented above, but the principle remains similar: cold water is a good thing, not a bad thing!!

 


Why Saint Augustine Changed His Mind About the Millennium

"The Course of Empire: The Destruction." Thomas Cole, 1836, showing the Sack of Rome in 410 A.D.

The Course of Empire: The Destruction.” Thomas Cole, 1836, showing the Sack of Rome in 410 A.D. Click to enlarge for more detail.

It was the year 410 A.D. The Visigoths had come down from the north, sacking the city of Rome, the capital of the world’s greatest empire. People all over the Mediterranean were in shock, as they heard the story of the ruins and dead corpses laying in the streets. This was the “9/11” event of their day.

The pagans blamed the Christians, and they had their reasons…… Pardon some of the anachronisms, but I can imagine their rant…..

“Within a few decades, these Christians had gained the political power of the emperorship. Rome’s centuries of pagan gods were then officially abandoned by the government. Now these Christians had messed up everything. They had put a bunch of ‘Bible-thumping’ idiots into power, offending our pagan moral sensitivities, and leaving the empire vulnerable to their northern enemies.

The once-great empire was now on the verge of total collapse, no thanks to these ‘Bible thumpers.’  These Christians are to blame for our troubles!”

…..  so thought the pagans, in their mockery.

Most Christians were unable to effectively respond to these charges. After all, Christianity had finally ascended to the top echelons of Roman society, and now it looked like the whole Roman world was falling apart! The Christian community provided the perfect scapegoat for Rome’s collapse.

Yet one man, the venerable bishop of Hippo, in North Africa, Saint Augustine, rose to the challenge. In his monumental work, City of God, Augustine instead laid the blame for Rome’s troubles on the moral dissolution and steady ethical decline that had plagued pagan Roman culture for century after century. To this day, City of God remains one of the greatest classics of Western culture, and a high watermark for Christian apologetics.

Augustine’s defense of the faith, however, came with a twist. Put in today’s terms, Augustine appeared to have “gone liberal.” But Augustine would not have seen it that way at all. After some reflection, Augustine came to believe that many Christians had misinterpreted the meaning of the “millennium,” the 1000-year reign of Christ, described in Revelation 20:1-6. Augustine, once a confirmed believer in a literal millennium, had basically flip-flopped, and changed his mind. But why?1
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September 23 End Times Nonsense

The constellation Virgo. Foreboding a fulfillment of the Book of Revelation? I think not.

The nonsense about the supposed “End Times” event happening September 23, 2017, just keeps getting worse.

Some “bible prophecy expert” had predicted the end of the world tomorrow (Sept 23), but now is backing off (sort of) from his claim, according to the Washington Post. If you have missed the whole media splash about this, read this previous Veracity post, published last month, the day of the solar eclipse, for details. 

Basically, a somewhat uncommon astronomical event, tied to a rather creative interpretation of Revelation 12, is “supposed” to be prophetically fulfilled in the skies tomorrow. The first couple of verses describe what star gazers “might” see tomorrow night, in the constellation Virgo:

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth….

Frankly, this type of “bible prophecy” handling is an embarrassment. As Logos Software Bible scholar, Michael S. Heiser, whom I greatly respect, says in his very helpful, bible study blog, this is “living testimony to biblical illiteracy” in the church today.

We could chock this up as being meaningless media hype. But sadly, many Christians fall for this type of stuff, and the reputation of the Gospel suffers.

Admittedly, the Book of Revelation is difficult to interpret. But the main reason why it is so difficult to understand is because most Christians are not aware of the original literary context, of which it was written in, during the 1st century of the Christian era. Ian Paul is a British evangelical bible scholar, with another helpful bible study blog, that explains why Revelation gets so mangled up by 21st century readers. You may never think about “little red riding hood” the same way again:

“Revelation is absolutely saturated with allusions to the OT, and our lack of knowledge often means we miss these. The woman in labour is an image of the people of God awaiting deliverance from exile in Is 66 and Micah 4 and 6. The dragon (Revelation 12:3-4) is a composite of the four beasts that emerge from the sea in the visions of Daniel 7, where they signify four human empires, and it is overlaid with a range of imagery denoting the primeval opponent of God and his people (the serpent in Gen 3, the Satan from Job) as well as intertestamental ideas. The male child ‘who is to rule the nations with a rod of iron’ (Revelation 12:5) is indeed Jesus as the fulfilment of the messianic Ps(alm) 2. If we struggle a little with these allusions to the characters, we will struggle even more with the strange plot into which they have been inserted. But John and his readers will have struggled no more than we would if we heard someone describing a girl wearing a red hooded cloak taking apples to her granny in the woods, or a girl coming across three bowls of porridge in a cottage. (If you don’t know what these are, then again it makes the point: we easily spot allusions to story we know in our own culture, but the moment we look at another, unfamiliar culture we can become very disoriented.).”

The rest of Ian Paul’s blog entry can be found at his Psephizo website. It just goes to show you that context matters when you study the Bible.


Why the September 23, 2017 “Prophecy” of the “Revelation 12 Sign” is Totally Bogus

 

The constellation Virgo. Foreboding a fulfillment of the Book of Revelation, of the “woman clothed with the sun?” I think not.

Some folks have a bit too much time on their hands.

We had the whole four blood moons tetrad thing, a few years ago. Then we had the “mystery of the Shemitah.” Now, coming September 23, 2017, we have the fulfillment of the “Revelation 12 Sign.” Falling close to the heals of today’s, August 21, solar eclipse, across the U.S., some even see this as signaling “the Rapture” of the church.

This latest “End Times” fad has an informative writeup now on Wikipedia. Basically, the constellations Virgo and Leo, along with the sun, moon, and a bunch of planets, are going to be in alignment, and this is supposed to fulfill a kind of prophecy in Revelation 12:1-2:

And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth.“(Revelation 12:1-2 ESV)

I want to get out ahead of this thing a bit and make my own prediction: NOTHING IS GOING TO HAPPEN.

Or to put it more accurately, if something prophetic is going to happen, (and it always could, as Jesus told us that the Son of Man does not even know the time), it will have nothing to do with astronomical phenomena viewed through some sketchy interpretations of the Bible. As with the four blood moons tetrad and the “mystery of the Shemitah,” prophecy predictions like this have a 100% failure rate.

This should be pretty obvious, but in our era of “fake news,” it seems like almost anything is believable. If you think I am just an unbelieving naysayer, do not take my word for it. Look into some detailed rebuttals to the whole “Revelation 12 Sign” business and get the scoop:

As folks today (August 21, 2017) step outside to try to catch a glimpse of the Great American Eclipse, some might want to tie this eclipse together with the September 23, “Revelation 12” sign, as predicting some type of prophetic event, warning of God’s judgment. The Bible has plenty of warnings of God’s judgment, encouraging folks to get right with God. My advice is that believers should turn those speculative conversations around, and simply take in and celebrate the wonder of God’s creative majesty on display today.

I do not plan on braving the traffic down in South Carolina today, but if anyone is planning to go to view the eclipse, in its totality, save some photos and upload them to the blog, will ya??

P.S. : Old Testament scholar Claude Mariottini has nice blog entry today examining solar eclipses in the Old Testament.

 


Mark Hitchcock Revelation Video Course: One Day Sale Today

Here is a quick post alerting folks to a great resource for studying the Book of Revelation, available on the cheap, but just for today. Over the past couple of years, various friends of mine have been digging into the Book of Revelation, in various Bible study groups. Revelation can be a daunting study.

Mark Hitchcock, pastor of Faith Bible Church, in Edmond, Oklahoma, is probably one of the leading authorities for a dispensational, premillennial approach to interpreting the Book of Revelation. Credo Courses is offering his 27-session course, that he normally teaches at Dallas Theological Seminary, for video download for just $25, for today only.  It is normally about $200, so this is a steal. You can download it and watch at your leisure. What I like about Hitchcock is that he is very irenic in his approach, dealing accurately and fairly with alternative views, a virtue that I often find lacking in many popular approaches to this topic. If I was going to teach a Revelation class specifically from a premillennial perspective, this is how I would do it.

If you go to the Credo House website, you can view a sample…..


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