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The pagans of this world, God’s world, exist in a paradoxical relationship with the saints of the Old Testament, New Testament, and modern times. On occasion, far too rarely, the saints of God, the saved, the elect, act like they are suppose to and truly outshine the pagans of the world, which they are suppose to do all the time. But the scorecard of the saints in this regard is not impressive and is unlikely to change since many current “Christian leaders” that possess the pulpits and TV ministries of the USA only ridicule the idea that God might remember, by name, those who deserted their posts in his service and failed to show up for his work in this world. Moreover, since the conviction of the early Protestant Reformers about the necessity of transformed lives has often been lost on their later namesakes, the poor performance of the elect often goes unnoticed or, if observed, swept under the carpet.
It is really pretty simple to highlight the pervasiveness of egregious sin in the current Christian community, it is like the idiomatic “shooting fish in a barrel.” In this post, however, I want to point out a few episodes where the Lord himself tells the elect that their pagan neighbors sometimes score higher on the “RQ” (Religious Quotient) exam than the saints do. Of course IQ (Intelligence Quotient), EQ (Emotional Quotient), and SQ (Social Quotient) can be very important, but they are all mere rubbish if the saints cannot first pass the RQ exam.
Question 01 Should a religion keep changing the god/s it worships?
Pagans answer-No, how stupid would that be!! (Jer. 2:9-12)
Saints answer–Yes, if it is politically helpful or you lack courage as a nation.
Correct Answer NO! Pagans 1; Saints 0
Question 02 Should a religious community allow sexual perversion like incest?
Pagan answer-No, even we pagans know better than that!! (1 Cor. 5:1)
Saints answer-Well, maybe; sure, why not? Yes.
Correct Answer NO! Pagans 2; Saints 0
Question 03 Should Christians ever tell the truth about how corrupt the surrounding culture is?
Pagan answer-Yes, if your fellow citizens are “liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons,” then it is fine to say so occasionally. (Titus 1:12)
Saints answer-No! What kind of backward, intolerant, misanthrope are you? You trying to run off ever possible visitor for the next 5 years? NO!
Correct Answer YES! Pagans 3; Saints 0
Let me leave you with a RQ challenge from the pagan world in which John lived. The famous Roman philosopher Seneca has been a favorite Roman philospher for many later Christian authors and theologians. John Calvin, for example, wrote his first published book on Seneca’s work entitled De Clementia rather than on a book of the Bible. In a letter to a friend who was a Roman governor Seneca warns about how desensitized and cruel one can become by watching activities that promote such. Seneca becomes transparent and admits how unhealthy his thinking becomes after visiting the arena during gladiator combat. In Letter 7 to his friend Lucilius Junior he writes,
But nothing is so damaging to good character as the habit of lounging at the games; for then it is that vice steals subtly upon one through the avenue of pleasure. What do you think I mean? I mean that I come home more greedy, more ambitious, more voluptuous, and even more cruel and inhuman . . . .
Hardly a surprise that Seneca feels this way when he sits with others at the games who enjoy the murder and cruelty. While humans are being butchered, they shout,
“Kill him! Lash him! Burn him; Why does he meet the sword in so cowardly a way? Why does he strike so feebly? . . . Whip him to meet his wounds! Let them receive blow for blow, with chests bare and exposed to the stroke!”
And when the games stop for the intermission, Seneca continues, they announce: “A little throatcutting in the meantime, so that there may still be something going on!”
Compared to some contemporary believers whose TV and movie diets expose them to every conceivable evil, inhumanity, and perversion on the planet, Seneca’s aversion to viewing brutality might just give him a higher RQ score than some modern Christians would get.
When John presents material in groups of seven, he sometimes uses the word “seven;” there are, for example, “seven stars,” “seven lamp stands,” “seven churches,” and “seven seals.” At other times John’s prophetic book has implicit sevens, such the heavenly encomium that lists (1) power, (2) riches, (3) wisdom, (4) strength, (5) honor, (6) glory, and (7) blessing (Rev. 5:12). Whether implicit or explicit these groupings of seven are called heptads.
One of John’s implicit heptads begins in chapter one (Rev. 1:3) and comes to its conclusion in the final chapter of Revelation (22:7). This particular heptad is identified generally by John’s use of the phrase “Blessed (Greek, makarios) is the one . . . .” or “Blessed (Greek, makarioi) are those . . . .” When we look at these seven teachings about blessings (Rev. 1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7, 14), it is more than just a little interesting that two (Rev. 1:3; 22:7) of the seven blessings of this particular heptad are related to the hearer “keeping” the words of John’s prophetic book. How does one do that?
More than one interpreter of Revelation has questioned whether it is possible to “keep the words” of a book of visions. The theologically young Martin Luther raised such a question. His comment on this issue can be found within his generally disparaging views about the entire book of Revelation that were written in his 1522 introduction to the New Testament. Luther wrote (in Luther’s later edition of the New Testament his ideas on the book of Revelation were more pious and orthodox sounding),
I say what I feel. I miss more than one thing in this book, and it makes me consider it to be neither apostolic nor prophetic. First and foremost, the apostles do not deal with visions, but prophesy in clear and plain words. . . . For it befits the apostolic office to speak clearly of Christ and his deeds, without images and visions. . . . Again, they are suppose to be blessed who keep what is written in this book; and yet no one knows what that is, to say nothing of keeping it.
Notwithstanding Luther’s criticisms, it is clear that John was doing what he was told to do, since Christ commanded him “Write on a scroll what you see” (Rev. 1:11a). Perhaps Luther had a memory lapse [or worse, was only a left brain theologian], for there were certainly many examples in the Hebrew Scriptures of God’s prophets “seeing” a message from God, rather than merely “hearing” a message from God. In Hebrew prophecy it is not just a matter of a “word from the Lord,” but also a “vision from the Lord.” As we will see, Revelation is not the only book of Scripture that requires an appreciation for the visual, the imaginative, and the poetic in order to interpret it carefully.
Isaiah the prophet, for example, reveals that, “The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah” (Isa. 1:1) and “The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem” (Isa. 2:1) and “The oracle concerning Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw” (Isa. 13:1).
Amos the prophet similarly wrote, “The words of Amos, one of the shepherds of Tekoa—what he saw concerning Israel two years before the earthquake, when Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam son of Jehoash was king of Israel” (Amos 1:1).
Micah the prophet reports, “The word of the LORD that came to Micah of Moresheth during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah—the vision he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem” (Micah 1:1).
Ezekiel the prophet confirms a related experience when writing, “the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God” (Ezek. 1:1) and “I looked, and I saw a figure like that of a man. From what appeared to be his waist down he was like fire” (Ezek. 8:2).
Obadiah the prophet begins, “The vision of Obadiah. Thus says the Lord GOD concerning Edom — We have heard a report from the LORD” (Obad. 1:1a).
Nahum the prophet indicates a similar experience when he reports, “An oracle concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite. The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD takes vengeance and is filled with wrath” (Nah. 1:1).
TO BE CONTINUED IN THE NEXT POST