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Posts Tagged ‘Revelation 7’

I’ve been staring at my computer screen for about 10 minutes, wondering how to start this book review.  So I’ll just jump to my conclusion- I loved it.  Christopher Wright is quickly emerging as one of my favorite authors, combining a biblical scholar’s precision, a theologian’s broad scope and a missiologist’s heart, not to mention an uncanny ability to say much in little space (the book is under 200 pages). 

The book, as you can surmise from the title, is about salvation- Salvation Belongs to Our God: Celebrating the Bible’s Central Story.  The “control text” (as he calls it) is Revelation 7:10:

Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.

He unpacks this little song, sung by the innumerable multitude from “every nation, tribe, people and language,” phrase by phrase, sometimes dealing with something as small as a word (“our”), to unpack “what the Bible means when it uses such phrases” (p16).  That may seem painstakingly slow, but what the reader is treated to is a whirlwind trip through the Bible.  This is not a classic, systematic theology-style treatment of soteriology.  Wright is much more concerned to unpack the story of salvation, from Eden through Abraham to Jesus all the way to Revelation.

Because of this, the reader learns more about the Bible than a few quick tips on “how to get saved.”  Wright covers the variety of ways God saves (sin, danger, sickness, enemies, etc).  He emphasizes the uniqueness of God’s identity as Savior (especially in Isaiah, if you’re studying Isaiah you should get this book), as well as the implications for understanding Christ as Savior.  The way he weaves the biblical covenants into the story line of the Bible was perhaps my favorite part of the book.  In most sections, he demonstrates from both OT and NT texts what he is emphasizing, showing the reader that there is far more continuity between the testaments regarding salvation than many think.

Wright does, of course, deal with some heavy theological issues.  How do other religions fit into the picture (though I should point out that he’s quick to affirm that Christianity itself does not save someone)?  What about the destiny of the unevangelized?  What is the relationship between Jew and Gentile, Israel and the nations, in the New Covenant?  Many readers will not agree with everything he states, but nonetheless he treats positions fairly and argues his case well.

It’s not that I learned something new in this book.  Wright’s conclusions and arguments are hardly novel.  Most evangelical readers can affirm the theological points he is making without reading the book, save for maybe one or two.  But it’s the way Wright goes about writing about salvation.   Having such a fully-orbed treatment of the subject, written in an engaging- one could even say “worshipful”- tone was refreshing to my soul. 

That isn’t to say I agreed with everything in the book.  No doubt in effort to keep the book short, Wright sometimes makes assertions without support (I, of course, notice these things on points of disagreement between him and me).  He is an Anglican (paedobaptist), so when he draws a strong connection between Old Covenant circumcision and New Covenant baptism, I (the credobaptist) automatically have my defenses up.  I’m also uncomfortable saying that salvation is “mediated” through the Scriptures and the sacraments.  I wonder why he chooses that word, since it hardly clarifies what he was trying to say.

I did have one disappointment regarding the holistic nature of salvation and eschatology.  Early in the book, and scattered throughout in smaller chunks, Wright notes that the Bible talks about salvation in a number of ways: salvation from enemies, poverty and so on.  He notes the danger is separating “theological” or “spiritual” salvation too far from “physical” salvation.  But, he argues, rightly in my mind, that salvation from sin and its consequences is given highest priority in the Bible.

And while he does speak about the eschatological (future) nature of salvation, I kept wishing he would bring these points, the holistic and eschatological, together more definitely.  The clear implication of what he says throughout the book, in my opinion, is that in the new creation- the New Heavens and the New Earth- salvation in all its facets, spiritual and physical (if we can use these terms) are brought together.  Physical salvation (salvation from sickness, enemies and so on) which has been experienced by various portions of God’s people at various points in history, will be experienced fully (Rev 21:4, for example).  But the key to experiencing that eschatological salvation is to experience salvation from sin in this age.  Throughout the book I felt like Wright (though perhaps he wouldn’t agree with this) was leading the reader to this point, only to dance around it and never fully state it.  I felt like he was a football team, marching down the field with ease, only needing to punch the ball across the goal line for the winning touchdown, only to settle for a field goal (sorry, football season is right around the corner and I’m getting antsy).

But you know what?  I don’t care.  I liked this book too much to worry about it for too long. 

I have not had a book capture my attention like this one in quite some time.  I took, no exaggeration, 33 pages of typed notes on this book!  33 pages!  (Now you’ll understand why I’m having trouble keeping this review short).  There was so much to soak in, I didn’t want to miss anything.  Even my detractions demonstrate how engaging Wright’s book is, as I found myself thinking alongside him with my Bible open and pen in hand.  And I’m not ashamed to admit that my heart literally raced at points as I was so drawn into God’s plan of salvation and His identity as Savior.  A theology book that brings you to worship- now that’s a great book!

So go out and get Salvation Belongs to Our God.  Read it critically (in the good sense).  Read it carefully.  Read it reverently.  Because the God who saves is not merely a point on your statement of faith.  He is the God before whom we will stand and sing, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

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Note: I promise this post will be more interesting than the title indicates.  If you disagree, I’ll refund your money.

Anytime we encounter lists in the Bible, we’re probably tempted to breeze over them.  There are, after all, more exicting things to get to and lists were something that were important to ancient people but less important to us.  But, they can, at times, reveal something very near to the heart of the biblical authors.

Take, for instance, the list of the tribes of Israel in Revelation 7:5-8.  It would seem straightforward enough, a listing of the 12 tribes is not that difficult to understand, except that when you look closely, the list isn’t quite what you’d expect.  Here is the list in the order it’s presented:

  • Judah
  • Reuben
  • Gad
  • Asher
  • Naphtali
  • Manasseh
  • Simeon
  • Levi
  • Issachar
  • Zebulun
  • Joseph
  • Benjamin

Now, there are a number of listings of the 12 tribes in the Bible, and they almost always differ (Genesis 35:23-25; 49; Exodus 1:2-4; Numbers 1:5-15; 26; 1 Chronicles 2-8).  I want to focus strictly on one aspect of this particular list, though, to demonstrate how it can reveal the author’s intentions.  Levi is left off some lists in the OT, mainly because his sons became the priests of the land and did not receive an allotment of land like the other 11 tribes.  Instead, Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, received land, keeping the number 12 intact. 

But this list is not for land allotments, so Levi makes an appearance.  One would expect, then, that Joseph would be on the list and the number would come out to 12 again, corresponding to the actual 12 sons of Jacob who originally headed the 12 tribes.  Joseph does make this list in Revelation 7, but so does one of his sons- Manasseh.  Ephraim, on the other hand, does not make it (despite his brother’s presence).  Dan, one of the original 12 sons of Jacob, is also left off the list. 

The omission of Dan would seem to be confusing, given the presence of the other 11 brothes, and Ephraim’s absence is also confusing because of his brother, Manasseh, making the cut.  So, the question is: of the available candidates (14 in all, the 12 sons and Ephraim and Manasseh), why were Dan and Ephraim chosen to be left off this list of tribes?

I would venture to guess that the answer goes back to 1 Kings 12:25-33.  I’ll quote vv28-30 (TNIV), with an explanatory comment or two, to make the point:

After seeking advice, the king [Jeroboam, of the Northern Tribes] made two golden calves.  He said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem.  Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”  One he set up in Bethel [which was controlled by the tribe of Ephraim, Jeroboam’s tribe], and the other in Dan.  And this thing became a sin; the people came to worship the one at Bethel and went as far as Dan to worship the other.

The tribes of Ephraim and Dan became the centers of idolatry for the Northern Kingdom.  Instead of going to God’s Temple in Jerusalem to worship and offer sacrifices, the citizens of the northern tribes (all except Benjamin and Judah) would worship at these two centers of idolatry.  Hosea even changes the name “Bethel” (meaning “House of God”) to Beth Aven (“House of Wickedness,” see Hosea 4:15; 5:8; 10:5). 

I don’t think the omission of Ephraim and Dan are random or accidental, especially given their roles in the Old Testament as the centers of idolatry.  Idolatry is a grave concern for the book of Revelation because it gives worship that is due only to The One Who Sits on the Throne and the Lamb (see 4:8-11; 5:9-14; 7:10-17). 

The churches of Pergamum (2:12-17) and Thyatira (2:18-29) are warned about new incarnations of Balaam (who enticed the Israelites toward idolatry, see Numbers 31:1-24) and Jezebel (who promoted Baal worship in the Northern Kingdom, see 1 Kings 18; 21:25; 2 Kings 9:22).  The people of the earth worship the dragon (13:4) and the beast (13:8, 11-17), and kill those who refuse (13:15).  Throughout the Bible, adultery and harlotry (chapters 17-18) are images used of idolatry. 

But we are encouraged to “worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water” (14:7; 15:1-4).  Those who worship the beast and receive his mark will be judged (14:9, 16:2; 19:20-21).  Those who reign with Christ in 20:4-6 are those “who had not worshipped the beast or his image.”   Idolaters are among those who will have no part in the New Heaven and New Earth (21:8; 22:15). 

Looking back at the list of the tribes in Revelation 7, John could have chosen a different way of presenting them.  He could have gone with the originally 12 sons of Jacob, leaving out Ephraim and Manasseh and including Dan.  He could have gone with the 12 tribes as they received their portions of land, leaving out Levi and Joseph and adding Ephraim and Manasseh.  But Ephraim and Dan were the ones omitted. 

I submit it was because of their role in leading Israel into idolatry.  I want to be clear, I don’t take this list of 12 literally, as if no descendents of Ephraim or Dan have any part in the Kingdom of God.  I think there is a theological and literary point John is making throughout the book that is captured in this list, or more specifically, what is omitted from the list.  Those who participate in idolatry, who worship anything other than the only One worthy of worship, have no inheritance in God.

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