Climax of Prophecy – Review and Commentary

Richard Bauckham says he has been fascinated by the Book of Revelation and has studied it for twenty years. In Climax of Prophecy, he offers a way to understand Revelation as rooted in early Jewish Christianity yet applicable for all times, places, and peoples.

Bauckham examines the book’s literary composition, use of Old Testament scriptures, place within the Jewish and Christian apocalypse traditions, and its contextuality then, now, and in the future. To this last point, he writes this about Revelation’s true character,

…As a prophetic critique of the political idolatry and economic oppression intrinsic to Roman power in the late first century, and as a call to its readers to bear witness to the truth and righteousness of God in the specific circumstances — religious, political, social, and economic — in which they lived in the cities of the Roman province of Asia. p. xiii

However, Bauckham writes that Revelation cannot be reduced to only a sociological commentary, but instead,

Justice must be done to its character as a sophisticated literary work of individual genius, embodying a highly reflective vision of the impact of the divine purpose on the contemporary world. Its social strategy — a call to radical dissociation from structural evil — is based on a perception of the Roman Empire as an oppressive system, characterized by political idolatry and economic exploitation. p. xiv

Climax of Prophecy is composed of eleven essays, many of which have been published previously. Bauckham has tied the essays together by inline cross-references and updated them. The essay titles are,

  1. Structure and Composition
  2. The Use of Apocalyptic Traditions
  3. Synoptic Parousia Parables and the Apocalypse
  4. The Worship of Jesus
  5. The Role of the Spirit
  6. The Lion, the Lamb, and the Dragon
  7. The Eschatological Earthquake
  8. The Apocalypse as a Christian War Scroll
  9. The Conversion of the Nations
  10. The Economic Critique of Rome in Revelation
  11. Nero and the Beast

This is a technical book, not a reader’s commentary. Bauckham studies and analyzes Early Greek. He references and critiques many authors. However, there are nuggets of insight to be had for lay people like me.

The following materials are based on my note taking while reading Bauckham’s commentary. I believe his interpretation is closest to a right understanding of Revelation though I reserve the possibility of limited historical correlation, yet not in a way that violates the scripture,

But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. Mark 13:32-33 (English Standard Version)

But, instead, in a way that affirms the scripture,

From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Matthew 24:32-33 (ESV)

And we must not forget, the end, our end, is always near (Rom. 13:11.)

Pictures of the Apocalypse (1933,) Great Babylon (Rev. 17:3,) Gebhard Fugel (1863-1939)

Bauckham offers the following simplified section division of Revelation in chapter one, “Structure and Composition,” page 25:

VersesDivision Title
1:9–3:22Inaugural vision of Christ and the churches including seven messages to the churches
4:1–5:14Inaugural vision of heaven leading to three series of sevens and two intercalations:
 6:1–8:1; 8:3–5Seven seals, numbered 4 + 1 + (1 + intercalation) + 1
 8:2; 8:6 – 11:19Seven trumpets, numbered 4 + 1 + (1 + intercalation) + 1
12:1–14:20; 15:2–4The story of God’s people in conflict with evil
15:1; 15:5 – 16:21Seven bowls, numbered (4 + 3) without intercalation
17:1–19:10Babylon the harlot
19:11–21:8Transition from Babylon to the New Jerusalem
21:9–22:5The New Jerusalem the bride

In chapter seven, “The Eschatological Earthquake,” Bauckham writes that “John’s method of expanding earlier images in later visions” likely is an overarching principle controlling the structure of the book. An interesting conjecture he makes under this assumption is that Revelation, verses 19:11 – 21:8, are a recapitulation of prior visions which serve as a transition from John’s description of Babylon the Harlot in chapters 17-18 to New Jerusalem the Bride in chapter 21. Revelation 20:1-10 is likely not an added interval before the Last Judgment but rather a different way of seeing the Last Days between the Crucifixion and Parousia.

Returning to chapter one, “Structure and Composition,” Bauckham contends that John, like many of his Jewish contemporaries, used the technique of verbal coincidences between scriptural texts (gezera šāwâ) to not only study the Old Testament, like they did, but to construct his Revelation. He observes,

Texts containing the same words or phrases could be used to interpret each other. In effect, Scripture was treated as containing the same kind of network of internal cross-reference by repetition of phrases (often, of course, in somewhat varying form) as John has created in his own work. Since John certainly understood himself to be writing the same kind of inspired, prophetic work as the prophetic scriptures he studied, the parallel is surely not accidental. John wrote a work to which he expected the technique of gezera šāwâ to be applied, a work which would yield much of its meaning only to the application of this exegetical technique. p. 30

Bauckham also identifies numerical symbolism and coincidences as important to the structure of the book. For example, he writes,

Corresponding to the 7 times 4 occurrences of the Lamb, are the seven occurrences of the fourfold phrase by which Revelation designates the nations of the world (‘peoples and tribes and languages and nations’: the phrase varies each time it occurs but is always fourfold: 5:9; 7:9; 10:11; 11:9; 13:7; 14:6; 17:15. It designates all the nations of the world, who, despite their present allegiance to Babylon and the beast, [are] the object of the Lamb’s conquest to bring into God’s kingdom. p. 37

Additionally, Bauckham cites common myths, zodiacal signs, and recent history with which John’s readers would be familiar as raw materials for John to freely use to inform and challenge his readers to patient endurance, gospel witness, and moral obedience.

In chapter two, Bauckham discusses the uses of apocalyptic traditions in Revelation. He points out that the contrast between hearing the number of God’s servants who were sealed and seeing the great multitude no one could number before the throne and the Lamb conveys a new message for God’s people. He writes,

Thus, John has made use of the tradition about the completion of the number of the martyrs and integrated it into the sequence of seven seal-openings in order to raise, for the first time, a major theme of his prophecy: that the remaining interval before the coming of God’s kingdom is the period in which God’s faithful people must bear witness to the point of suffering and death. p. 57

The third chapter, titled, “Synoptic Parousia Parables and the Apocalypse,” is mostly technical, citing correspondence between verses in the synoptic gospels and Revelation. I refer you to an earlier blog post for an outlined correlation.

In chapter four, titled “The Worship of Jesus,” Bauckham says that “the theme of his whole prophecy is the distinction between true worship and idolatry.” He writes,

The ‘eternal Gospel’ is summarized in the words ‘Fear God and give him glory… and worship him’ (14:7), and the conflict between God and Satan takes historical form in the conflict of human allegiances manifest in worship. The Apocalypse divides mankind into the worshippers of the dragon and the beast (13:4, 8,12,15; 14:9, 11; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4; cf. the emphasis on idolatry in 2:14, 20; 9:20) and those who will worship God in the heavenly Jerusalem (7:15; 14:3; 15:3-4; 22:3; cf. 11:1). p. 135

He says the contrast between beast worship and God’s worship is epitomized by the visions of Babylon the harlot in 17:1-19:10 (cf. also 2:20-22,) and New Jerusalem the bride in 21:9-22:9. Bauckham writes,

The message of these two visions is emphasized by their parallel conclusions (19:10; 22:8-9), which enable John to end both with the injunction ‘Worship God!’ The angel’s refusal of worship reinforces the point: Do not worship the beast, do not even worship God’s servants the angels, worship God! p. 135

Chapter five describes the role of the Spirit of God in Revelation. According to Bauckham, the Holy Spirit’s purpose, through John’s Revelation, is not to foretell future events but to enable the Christians in the seven churches (representative of whole Church in the last days) to be Christ’s witnesses to the world, seeing their present circumstances from the perspective of the future. Bauckham writes,

…This could only be done by directing their sight and their lives toward the coming of the Lord. The point was not so much to enable them to foresee the future as to enable them to see their present from the perspective of the future. p. 172

The prayer for the Parousia is at the heart of Christian living according to the Apocalypse. Christian life must be lived under the Spirit’s direction towards the eschatological future out of which the Lord is coming. p. 172

He then challenges us by stating,

The story of the witnesses [(Revelation 11:3-13)] is to be read neither as simple prediction (history written in advance) nor as allegory (history or future history written in code symbols). Rather it is a story through which the churches are to perceive imaginatively, through the perspective granted them by the Spirit, their vocation, and their destiny. Like 22:17, the story functions as a summons towards the eschatological future. It is not so much a story which predicts the future as a story which creates the future. P. 172

In a theme Bauckham returns to several times in Climax of Prophecy, he writes,

Bearing the witness of Jesus is a matter of sharing ‘in Jesus the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance’ (1:9): it leads to suffering, rejection, and death. p. 172

The eschatological perspective alone creates the paradox in which the invitation to new life is also, so it must have seemed in the churches of Asia in the nineties, a summons to death. p. 173

He says that this view should not lead to nihilism and a meaningless life. Rather, our present takes meaning from Christ’s finished work (1:5-6; 5:9,) His everlasting life (1:18,) and His imminent return (22:12.) His sacrifice for us, “provides the model for positively living towards the Parousia.” Bauckham writes,

The followers of the Lamb must follow His way through death to life (cf. 14:4), and in so doing they may know that it is the way through death to life primarily because it was so for Him. p. 173

He then says something startling about the witnesses of Revelation 11.

Any and every city, in whose streets the corpses of the witnesses lie, is thereby identified, its character seen in the Spirit, as Sodom and Egypt. The value of this identification as part of the Spirit’s message to the churches is that it enables them to characterize situations of conflict in their true perspective, to distinguish appearances from underlying reality, to see through the apparent success of the hostile world and the apparent failure of faithful witness. p. 173

In the chapter titled, “The Lion, the Lamb, and the Dragon,” Bauckham says that John’s visions were meant to, “promote spiritual insight. They were to manifest that most important characteristic of symbols, namely their power to direct our thinking and our orientation towards life.” p. 176

As an example, he says John hears that,

Jesus Christ is the Lion of Judah and the Root of David [(5:5,)] but John ‘sees’ him as the Lamb [(5:6)]. Precisely by juxtaposing these contrasting images, John forges a symbol of conquest by sacrificial death, which is essentially a new symbol. p. 183

The fact that Christ is the Lamb of God was well known (John 1:29,36; Acts 8:32; 1 Cor 5:7; 1 Pet 1:19). So was His victory through death (Col 2:15). The novelty, Bauckham writes, of,

John’s symbol lies in its representation of the sacrificial death of Christ as the fulfilment of Jewish hopes of the messianic conqueror. p. 184

He goes on to say that this perspective becomes the way to understand the Old Testament war visions and symbols in the new light of Revelation.

Bauckham calls attention to “The Eschatological Earthquake” in chapter seven. He defines it as both a shaking of the heavens and the earth, naming the former a “cosmic quake.” Also, it is a symbol of divine intervention, judgment, God’s presence, and vindication of the people of God. He writes,

Both 6:12-17 and 20:11 are explicitly passages in which the earthquake accompanies the theophany of God the Judge. Moreover, in these two cases John employs the tradition of the cosmic quake, in which the heavens as well as the earth flee from God’s presence. p. 209

Delving deeper into these verses, he writes,

The first passage echoes several Old Testament descriptions of the Day of the Lord. The second seems to include the notion of the destruction of the old cosmos to be replaced by the new (cf. 21:1). The first passage refers, and is the first reference in Revelation, to the same final earthquake to which 8:5; 11:13,19; 16:18 also refer. In the case of 20:11, however, the earthquake is located on the far side of the millennium [(20:1-10)]. p. 209

Bauckham notes that, like “the bride adorned for the eschatological marriage” and “the gathering of the nations to battle,” John uses the cosmic quake image twice, on either side of the millennium (20:1-10.) He then conjectures,

…It may be that the whole sequence 19:11-20:15 should be seen as another instance of John’s method of expanding earlier images in later visions. Just as the seven last plagues are summed up in 11:19, so perhaps 19:11-20:15 does not take us on beyond the earlier images of the End but expands them. The clearest indication of this would be the echo in 20:11 of earlier earthquake descriptions in 6:14 and 16:20. The vision of the sixth seal may then be intended already to point forward as far as the Last Judgment. p. 209

Provocatively, Bauckham examines “The Apocalypse as a Christian War Scroll” in chapter eight. He writes, “John reinterprets the holy war traditions and makes the warfare metaphorical rather than literal.” p. 213 As he wrote in, “The Lion, the Lamb, and the Dragon,” here he writes,

Jesus the Messiah has already defeated evil by sacrificial death. He…won a victory, but by sacrifice, not military conflict, and he has delivered God’s people, but they are from all nations, not only Jews. The continuing and ultimate victory of God over evil which the rest of John’s prophecy describes is the outworking of His decisive victory won on the cross. p. 215

Bauckham also interprets 7:14, against most other commentators, as,

…Those whom the Lamb’s sacrificial death has ransomed from all nations (5:9) share in His victory through martyrdom. Against most of the commentators, this must be the meaning of 7:14. p. 228

The messianic army is an army of martyrs who triumph through their martyrdom because they are followers of the Lamb who participate in His victory by following His path to death. p. 230

The consequence, he says, is not setting aside Israel’s hopes for eschatological triumph, but, instead,

The Lamb really does conquer, though not by force of arms, and His followers really do share His victory, though not by violence. The combination of the Lamb and the 144,000 conveys the sense that there is a holy war to be fought, but to be fought and won by sacrificial death. p. 230

Not only is this response operative for the first century but for us and our children. Bauckham writes, “The message is not, ‘Do not resist!,’ so much as, ‘Resist—but by witness and suffering, not by violence.’” p. 236.

It becomes clear that the change of perspective from earth to heaven and present circumstances to the Parousia that Bauckham explains in chapter five, “The Spirit of God in Revelation,” is the way to understand victory in this holy war. He writes,

From the earthly perspective it is obvious that the beast has defeated the martyrs (11:7; 13:7). To ‘those who dwell on earth’ — people who see things from an earthly perspective — the power of the beast seems supreme and irresistible, and this is why they worship him. ‘Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?’ (13:4). p. 236

…From a heavenly perspective, things look quite different. From this perspective the martyrs are the real victors. To be faithful in bearing the witness of Jesus even to the point of death is not to become a helpless victim of the beast, but to take the field against him and win. p. 236

He sums it up as,

The martyrs conquer not by their suffering and death as such, but by their faithful witness to the point of death (cf. 12:11). Their witness to the truth prevails over the lies and deceit of the devil and the beast. For those who reject this witness, it becomes legal testimony against them, securing their condemnation. This negative function of witness is present in Revelation. But it entails also a positive possibility: that people may be won from illusion to truth. p. 237

In chapter nine, “The Conversion of the Nations,” Bauckham relates his insight into the opened scroll,

…The distinctive new message of the scroll: the divine intention that ‘the shattering of the power of the holy people’ (Dan. 12:7) will prove salvific for the nations. p. 301

He calls the story of the two witnesses (11:3-13,) which immediately follows John’s eating the scroll, a kind of parable. He says,

[The] two individual prophets represent the prophetic witness to which the whole church is called in the final period of world history, the 1260 days (11:3) p. 301

Bauckham explains his thesis this way,

The church’s role of witness is appropriately portrayed by a story about two prophets. Just as it would be a mistake to take the story literally, so it would also be a mistake to take it in too strictly allegorical a way, as though, for example, the sequence of events in the career of the two witnesses were intended to correspond to a sequence of events in the history of the church. The story is more like a parable, which dramatizes the nature and result of the church’s prophetic witness to the nations. Because it is a parable, it can be taken less as a straightforward prediction than as a call to the churches to play the role which God intends for them. p. 301

He says that the witnesses call to repentance proves more effective than judgments alone (p. 301.) However, he says, “it does so only as a result of the martyrdom and vindication of the witnesses.” p. 301

This, Bauckham says, is the way to understand Daniel’s prophecies. He writes,

Daniel’s prophecies of ‘the shattering of the power of the holy people’ (12:7), the giving over of the holy place to be trampled (8:13; cf. Rev 11:2), and the defeat of the saints by the beast (Dan 7:21; cf. Rev 11:7) are understood as indicating the way in which other Old Testament prophecies of the conversion of all the nations to the worship of the true God are to be fulfilled. p. 303

However, he writes, “This is intelligible only as the way in which the followers of the Lamb participate in [Christ’s] victory, won by His faithful witness, death, and vindication, and so [gives] that victory universal effect.” p. 303 Bauckham writes, “the role which the church’s suffering witness is to play in the conversion of the nations is the content of the scroll which the Lamb’s victory qualified him to open.” p. 303

If we accept Bauckham’s view, then,

The eternal gospel is therefore the call which Psalm 96 itself contains, the call to all nations to worship the one true God who is coming to judge the world and to establish His universal rule. p. 305

He sums up his view by writing,

The immediate effect of the Lamb’s own victory was that His bloody sacrifice redeemed a people for God. But the intended ultimate effect is that this people’s participation in His sacrifice, through martyrdom, wins all the peoples for God. This is how God’s universal kingdom comes and the concluding verse of the song of Moses is fulfilled: ‘The Lord will reign forever and ever’ (Exod. 15:18). p. 307

The rest of Revelation expands on this theme of the church’s witness, setting it in a broader context and elaborating on its results. p. 303

Before closing out the chapter, Bauckham addresses the problem of universal salvation implied by God’s universal kingdom. He writes,

Revelation seems to offer only two possibilities for the nations: repentance, fear of God, genuine worship of God (11:13; 14:6; 15:4) or persistence in worshipping the beast, refusal to repent, refusal to worship, cursing of God, final opposition to God’s rule, leading to final judgment (14:9-11; 16:9, 11, 21; 17:14; 19:17-21). p. 310

Therefore, the same judgments, modelled on the plagues of Egypt and culminating in an earthquake, characterize the witness and vindication of the two witnesses (11:6, 13) and the seven last plagues (16:2-21). In the first case, they lead to the worship of God, in the second the response is cursing of God. p. 310

He then spotlights the apparently contradictory dichotomy posed by the two witnesses and seven last plagues,

We do not take the images seriously if we allow either to qualify the other. The picture of universal judgment does not mean that the picture of the universal worship of God is not to be taken fully seriously, nor does the picture of the universal worship of God mean that the picture of universal judgment is not to be taken fully seriously. Because Revelation deals in images, it does not make the kind of statements which have to be logically compatible in order to be valid. p. 310

It is no part of the purpose of John’s prophecy to preempt this choice by predicting the degree of success the witness of the martyrs will have. One thing is certain: God’s kingdom will come. p. 310

Driving home the consequences for rejecting the church’s faithful witness and God’s call to repentance, he writes,

[Verses] 15:5-19:21 show how the refusal to heed the church’s witness hardens the world’s opposition to God into a final climactic attempt to oppose the coming of God’s kingdom. They also show how witness to the truth becomes evidence against those who reject it, the evidence which judges them. This is why the martyrs form the Lamb’s army (17:14; 19:14) when he wages war with sword of His mouth (19:15), i.e., the evidence of His own faithful witness, continued by His followers, becomes His word of judgment on those who finally reject it. p. 310

Finally, summing up the chapter, Bauckham writes,

…The sacrificial death of the Lamb and the prophetic witness of His followers are God’s strategy for winning all the nations of the world from the dominion of the beast to His own kingdom. p. 337

In chapter ten, “The Economic Critique of Rome in Revelation,” Bauckham explains Rev. 17:3 as the Roman civilization riding on the back of Roman military power. He writes,

From John’s Jewish Christian perspective, the political religion of Rome was the worst kind of false religion since it absolutized Rome’s claim on her subjects and cloaked her exploitation of them in the garb of religious loyalty. Thus, for John, Rome’s economic exploitation and the corrupting influence of her state religion go hand in hand. p. 348

Bauckham frames Rome’s indictment as all-encompassing and highlights John’s portrayal of evil Roman society. He writes,

The accusation recurs, this time with a judicial image, in 18:24: ‘in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all who have been slain on earth.’ Here the prophets and saints are the Christian martyrs, and many commentators understand ‘all who have been slain on earth’ also as Christian martyrs, but this is not the natural sense, and it robs the verse of its climax. Rome is indicted not only for the martyrdom of Christians, but also for the slaughter of all the innocent victims of its murderous policies. The verse expresses a sense of solidarity between the Christian martyrs and all whose lives were the price of Rome’s acquisition and maintenance of power. p. 349

Like every society which absolutizes its own power and prosperity, the Roman empire could not exist without victims. Thus, John sees a connection between Rome’s economic affluence, Rome’s idolatrous self-deification, and Rome’s military and political brutality. The power of his critique of Rome — perhaps the most thoroughgoing critique from the period of the early empire—lies in the connection it portrays between these various facets of Rome’s evil. p. 349

This critique is obviously applicable to every world empire including ours and the next one on the horizon.

Then, Bauckham makes a significant observation on Rome’s fall. He writes,

Revelation most often portrays the fall of Rome as vengeance for the death of the Christian martyrs (16:6; 18:24; 19:2; cf. 18:6). But this is certainly not the whole story: God’s judgment of Rome is also attributed to her slaughter of the innocent in general (18:24; cf. 18:6), her idolatrous arrogance (18:8), and her self-indulgent luxury at the expense of her empire (18:7). p. 350

Subsequently, he makes a wry and convicting observation concerning John’s readers. Bauckham writes,

…It is not unlikely that John’s readers would include merchants and others whose business or livelihood was closely involved with the Roman political and economic system. For such readers John has set a kind of hermeneutical trap.

Any reader who finds himself sharing the perspective of Rome’s mourners—viewing the prospect of the fall of Rome with dismay — should thereby discover, with a shock, where he stands, and the peril in which he stands.

And for such readers, it is of the utmost significance that, prior to the picture of the mourners, comes the command: ‘Come out of her my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues’ (18:4). p. 376

Reinvoking the themes of, “a call to radical dissociation from structural evil” (introduction) and “sharing ‘in Jesus the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance’ (1:9) [leading] to suffering, rejection, and death” (chapter 5,) Bauckham notes,

John’s critique of Rome therefore did more than voice the protest of groups exploited, oppressed, and persecuted by Rome. It also required those who could share in her profits to side with her victims and become victims themselves.

But those who, from the perspective of the earth and the sea were Rome’s victims, John saw from the perspective of heaven to be the real victors. Hence his account of the fall of Babylon climaxes not in the laments of the kings, the merchants, and the mariners, but in the joyful praises of the servants of God in heaven (19: 1-8). p. 378

In the final chapter, “Nero and the Beast,” Bauckham says that Revelation says nothing explicitly about Nero, but likely alludes to his persecution (Rev 17:6; 18:24; 19:2; cf. 6:9-10.) He conjectures,

We can well imagine that John would have seen the historical Nero as the figure in whom the imperial power had so far shown most clearly its antichristian tendency: as self-deifying absolutism which sets itself against God and murders His witnesses (cf. 11:7; 13:5-7). The impending confrontation between the beast and the followers of the Lamb would appear to John as an apocalyptic extension and intensification of the Neronian persecution. p. 421

Again, against prevailing opinion, Bauckham separates the accounts in chapters 13 and 17 from each other. He writes,

John has constructed a history for the beast which parallels that of Christ. The beast, like Christ, has his death, his resurrection, and his parousia. This has not hitherto been recognized, because exegetes who recognize the influence of the Nero legend on chapters 13 and 17 have supposed that the healing of the beast’s mortal wound in chapter 13 must be the same event as the beast’s coming up from the abyss in chapter 17. They have supposed this because they have assumed that the Nero legend controls John’s thinking…On any showing it is clear that John has reworked the Nero legend freely for his own purposes. p. 444

…In chapter 13 the beast’s recovery from his mortal wound consolidates the imperial power of Rome, whereas in chapter 17 the beast’s return from the abyss is a threat to the empire which leads to the destruction of its capital. p. 444

…John’s account of the beast is not just an imaginative creation. It is a theological reading of the history and future of the Roman Empire of his day. He was not simply projecting the theme of Christological parody onto the empire. He saw certain definite features of the empire as constituting a divine and messianic claim that rivalled Christ’s. p. 446

…The most natural way to read 13:3, 12, 14 is to understand that the mortal wound sustained by Nero (the head) was also a mortal wound to the imperial power as such (the beast) and that it was the imperial power, not Nero himself, which recovered. p. 446

Summing up both his final chapter and his commentary, Bauckham writes,

…As we have seen, the Christological parody corresponds to real features of the history of the empire, to the character of the imperial cult, and to contemporary expectations of the future of the empire. It is a profound prophetic interpretation of the contemporary religio-political image of the empire, both in Rome’s own propaganda and in its subjects’ profoundest responses to Roman rule.

This religio-political ideology, which John sees as a parody of the Christian claims about Christ, was no mere cover for the hard political realities: it entered deeply into the contemporary dynamics of power as they affected the lives of John’s contemporaries. He sees it as a deification of power. The empire’s success is founded on military might and people’s adulation of military might.

By these standards Christ and the martyrs are the unsuccessful victims of the empire. Instead of worshipping the risen Christ who has won His victory by suffering witness to the truth, the world worships the beast whose ‘resurrection’ is the proof that this military might is invincible.

The parallel between the ’death’ and ‘resurrection’ of the beast and the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ poses the issue of what is truly divine. Is it the beast’s apparent success which is worthy of religious trust and worship? Or is the apparent failure of Christ and the martyrs the true witness to the God who can be ultimately trusted and may alone be worshipped? p. 452

Dear reader, I trust you know who is victorious and is worthy of worship. I urge you to see our times as similar to those of first century Rome and act accordingly.

In light of Bauckham’s message, I continue to be amazed at the bravery of Pastor Wang Yi, who prepared his flock for persecution, challenged the society he lived in, and now suffers for the Gospel in prison (release date set for 2028.) He demonstrates foresight, planning, and integrity. He has posted ninety-five theses to call the China house churches and the global churches “to have courage, perseverance, humility, and wisdom in the days ahead.” Please read the subtitles of this video. Very challenging and life changing.

Die! – Pastor Wang Yi, 6:42, YouTube, Preached on November 26, 2017, Wang Yi Sermon Clips 王怡牧师讲道短

Revelation – J. P. M. Sweet — Review and Commentary

I’ve been reading several commentaries on the Book of Revelation. Many people think it’s a coded message describing world history in detail. But Sweet’s commentary says it’s a broad picture of the Creator God’s plan to save people from the penalty of their sins, destroy evil, and recreate His paradise in which He will dwell with mankind forever.

Revelation, Sweet says, describes the cyclical rise and fall of empires and the beastly nature of those emperors. He uses those emperors (e.g., presidents, prime ministers, etc.) to chasten those who will repent, and He lets them destroy those who will not repent. Those who follow the leaders (beasts and false prophets) don’t realize that they lead them to destruction. Those who reject the leaders’ domination obey God’s moral law to the end and show and tell others of His sacrificial love to those who follow the beast, if perchance, they repent, too.

At a time of His choosing, when all those who will be saved are saved, the Creator God will intervene and call a halt to these cycles of destruction. Then God will mete out rewards and punishments to everyone for deeds they’ve done. Those found in the Book of Life enter His presence forever in the new earth and those who are not found in that book are driven into the outer darkness away from His presence forever. God as the Creator has the right to re-create a new earth in which He will dwell with mankind.

This is a simpler, more straightforward, and even countercultural understanding of a misunderstood and maligned book. Sweet emphasizes that the one whose Christian witness and moral practice endures to the end will be saved. On the flipside, he wrestles with Calvinism, attributing it, at one point, to unwarranted smugness. He also caters to a liberal understanding of the Book of Daniel but that can be overlooked.

Sweet makes some very strong points that organize our understanding of Revelation. First, that the book says it’s meant to be read out loud. Therefore, hearers would be listening to the rhythms and cadences of the book while picking up on verbal markers linking the book together and with Old Testament sources. Just like Jesus’ exclamation, “I thirst,” calls to mind Psalm 69, John’s symbols refer to and sometimes reinterpret Old Testament stories and images. He argues that the book was made to be apprehended by those who hear it, though textual analysis provides further depth.

Numbers also take on significance in the book. As an example, concerning Rev. 7:4, he says, “Twelve is the number of tribes of Israel, a thousand intensifies it (and is itself a military formation), a squared number expresses perfection: twelve times twelve thousands, therefore, means that the sealed are the totality of God’s Israel, brigaded for His service.”

Another organizing principle Sweet advances is that what John says he sees is interpreted by what he hears. He says, “What is heard, the ‘voice’, represents the inner reality, the spirit; what is seen, the ‘appearance’, represents the outward, the flesh.” Sweet is careful to say this is neither a gnostic nor Platonic understanding, but rather, “To the Jew the outward world is the locus of God’s ‘speaking’, His self-revelation and action, so that there is a dialectical relationship between inward and outward, spirit and flesh, hearing and seeing.”

He cites several examples. Sweet says,

Thus the slain Lamb (which John sees) is interpreted by the Lion of Judah (of which he hears): its death is not weakness and defeat, as it seems to be, but power and victory (cf. 1 Cor 1:23 ff).” Also, he says, “In Rev. 7 John hears (Rev. 7:4) the number of the 144,000 who are ‘sealed’ (i.e., the spiritual truth of Israel’s ‘election’), which interprets what he sees (v. 9), a multitude drawn from all nations: i.e., ‘salvation is of the Jews’. But the outward reality of the church, in which there cannot be distinctions between Jews, Greek, and barbarian (Col. 3:11), reinterprets the traditional theological truth of Israel’s priority.

Sweet says that the letters (Rev. 2, 3), “show that the church’s chief dangers are internal: complacency, somnolence, and compromise with worldly values.” However, Sweet says, there is also danger from external attack: false jews who attack faith in the Messiah and false prophets and Nicolaitans (Niko-laos means Conquer–people) who adulterate it with heathen religion and morals. The false prophets and Nicolaitans are associated with Balaam (Bala‘–’am means Destroy–people,) Balak, and Jezebel. Balaam and Balak, Sweet points out, are one of several Old Testament representatives of the false prophet and beast king of Revelation.

Sweet points out that within his four septets structure (i.e., letters, seals, trumpets, and bowls) there is another feature crucial for understanding the book. He says,

The visions of destruction (Ch. 6–20) are bracketed by the overarching vision of God the Creator and Redeemer (Ch. 4–5,) who makes all things new (21:1 – 22:5): carnage and chaos are within the divine plan and lead through into the fulfilment of man’s destiny in final union with God.

However, Sweet struggles to reinterpret all the destruction of chapter 6 through 20 as sacrificial love instead of vengeance, but ends up concluding rightly, with Farrer, “No other New Testament writing presents such embarrassing pictures…yet to a large extent Revelation merely colors in what was everywhere taken for granted…And as for divine vengeance, no New Testament Christian felt any qualms about it. God’s mercy was outpoured to save as many as would repent; but the triumph of His power over irreconcilable hostility was to have all the splendor of a victory.”

Finally, he analyzes the book and presents the following outline. Others, who agree with the symbolic interpretation, differ with the breakdown for textual reasons.

Revelation Verses


Synoptic Gospel Verses – Matthew 24:


Opening address



Vision of the Son of man



2, 3





State of churches: deception, lawlessness

4–5, 9–12


Ephesus: false apostles, Nicolaitans



Smyrna: false jews, tribulation



Pergamum: witness, idolatry



Thyatira: Jezebel, fornication



Sardis: sleep, soiled garments



Philadelphia: false and true jews



Laodicea: affluence, nakedness










Assurance and endurance



God the creator – rainbow and sea



God the Redeemer – Lamb’s conquest unseals book



Four horsemen = beginning of birth-pangs



First seal – conquest (the Gospel?)



Second seal – war



Third seal – famine



Fourth seal – death (pestilence)



Fifth seal – comfort for martyrs



Sixth seal – cosmic demolition

(‘wrath of Lamb’)



Sealing of true Israel (144,000)



Final ingathering from all nations



Seventh seal – silence (birth of New Age)



8:2 – 14:20





Idolatry and witness



Heavenly altar of incense



First four trumpets: destruction of nature



Eagle – three woes



Fifth trumpet = first woe: locust–scorpions



Sixth trumpet = second woe: lion-cavalry

Self–destruction of idolatry; impenitence



Little scroll (= the gospel)



Measuring of temple, two witnesses

Church’s witness; penitence


Mark 13:9–13

11:14 – 13:18

Seventh Trumpet = third woe (12:12)



Heavenly worship



Defeat of dragon in heaven leads to



Flight of woman (= church)



Kingdom of beasts on earth



Sea beast: war on saints



Land beast: deception



144000 – first fruits



Eternal gospel; consequence of refusal



Coming of the Son of man

Final ingathering: harvest and vintage



15:1 – 22:5





Fornication and purity: Bridegroom comes



Song of Moses and the Lamb



Heavenly Temple



First four bowls of wrath: cf. trumpets



Fifth bowl: beast’s kingdom darkened



Sixth bowl: Armageddon



Seventh bowl: beast’s city destroyed



Harlot destroyed by the beast



Doom of the harlot = Babylon = Rome



Marriage supper of the Lamb



Coming of the Son of man, as Word of God



Destruction of beasts



Binding of Satan, rule of saints –

Thousand years (millennium)



Release and final destruction of Satan



Last judgment



New Creation, expounded as



Adornment of bride – holy city


21:22 – 22:5

Ingathering of nations

Tree of life – paradise restored



22:6 – end

Final attestation


Four Horsemen of the Apocalype
Death on a Pale Horse is a version of the traditional subject, Four Horsemen of Revelation, 1796, Benjamin West (1738 – 1820), in the public domain in the US

The Realist Tradition – A Review and Commentary

Daniel W. Drezner, in his 2007 research paper, “The Realist Tradition in American Public Opinion,” poses the following hypothesis,

For more than half a century, realist scholars of international relations have maintained that their world view is inimical to the American public. For a variety of reasons—inchoate attitudes, national history, American exceptionalism—realists assert that the U.S. government pursues realist policies in spite and not because of public opinion. …Survey and experimental data on the mass public’s attitudes towards foreign policy priorities and world views…suggest that, far from disliking realism, Americans are at least as comfortable with the logic of realpolitik as they are with liberal internationalism. The persistence of the anti-realist assumption might be due to an ironic fact: American elites are more predisposed towards liberal internationalism than the rest of the American public.

To some, this may be obvious. However, Drezner is speaking to his elite peers. His insight does explain what we see on the national and global stages when certain parties are in power. He has constructed a very useful table of “testable predictions about American preferences.” These distinctions, too, are very useful, though obvious to those who are paying attention.

Issue area

Realist policy preferences

Liberal internationalist policy preferences

Foreign policy priorities and world views

• Pessimistic or Hobbesian appraisal of international environment

• Pursuit of national interest

• Homeland security and territorial integrity come first

• Balance against rising powers

• Cautiously optimistic or Lockean appraisal of international environment

• Pursuit of interest through international law

• Promotion of democracy, human rights

• Reliance on multilateral institutions to regulate conflict and power in world politics

Justification and support for the use of force

• Self-defense

• Violation of state sovereignty

• Containment of a rising power

• Tolerance of costs if the opponent suffers more

• Self-defense

• Humanitarian intervention

• Promotion of self-determination/democratic regime change

• Extreme sensitivity to costs of war

Foreign economic policy

• Emphasis on relative gains

• Suspicion of economic interdependence leading to vulnerability

• Hostility to foreign ownership of strategic assets

• Emphasis on absolute gains

• Support for economic interdependence, liberalization

• Acceptance of foreign ownership

He defines the elite to which he refers as those “knowledgeable about foreign affairs and [having] some access to foreign policy decision-makers.” Members include “high-ranking members of the executive branch, members of Congress and their staffs, lobbyists and interest group representatives, journalists, academics, and leaders of labor, business, and religion.” The “members of the executive branch” he mentions are less those of the presidency than those in the administrative state apparatus.

Drezner, after examining surveys and studies, concludes that the hypothesis that Americans are anti-realist is false. Americans “hold some liberal aspirations for their conduct across the globe and believe that morality should play a role in foreign affairs—in the abstract.”

Restating his hypothesis as a question, Drezner writes,

…If American attitudes towards foreign policy have been consistent for decades, and those attitudes are receptive to a realist world view, then why does the anti-realist assumption persist within the academy and the policymaking worlds?

Drezner conjectures that realist policy makers make the mistake of confusing the views of elites with which they associate with those of the mass of the American people,

The liberal internationalist trend is strong among the elites that realist scholars interact with the most—other international relations professors. …It is possible that realists believe that most Americans do not like realism because the Americans they interact with the most—their professional colleagues—are hostile to the paradigm.

This, I think, is a result of self-segregation by class both here in America and the world over that will only increase as globalization reaches its apex. What happens after that has been rehearsed many times in the past (e.g., the Late Bronze Age Collapse.) Complex and efficient supply chain systems collapse under stress.

Every major empire that has fallen was an attempt at globalization. In our recent past, we’ve seen at least two excursions towards a global economy and culture. Some say the book of Revelation is a summary picture of these recurrences and their final denouement.

This is the biggest threat to America: Domenech, 11 minutes, YouTube, December 30, 2021, Fox News

Witness, Endurance, and Suffering

The United States of America may be losing its freedoms faster than we expected. What should those who profess Christ as Lord and Savior do?

Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. – Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

G. K. Beale, in his introduction to his book, Revelation – A Shorter Commentary, tells us several important things for the times ahead. He says,

John’s readers live in a worldly culture which makes sin seem normal and righteousness appear strange.

The focus of the revelation John received from God is how the church is to conduct itself in the midst of an ungodly world.

Believers are faced with the choice of lining [up] their lives and conduct…with one perspective or the other, and their eternal destiny depends on that choice.

Believers are always facing the threat of compromise in one form or another. They must submit to the message as John has brought it, or face God’s judgment.

As such, the message of the letter is of relevance and value to all believers of all ages, which is why the vision was given to John.

Our way of witness to and suffering for the gospel parallels that of our Lord. Beale explains this truth this way,

The analogy of a chess game is also appropriate. The sacrificial move of Christ at the cross puts the devil in checkmate (deals him a mortal wound); the devil continues to play the game of rebellion, but his defeat is assured.

This is an important theme of John’s vision, which seeks to assure believers going through difficult circumstances that God is with them and will faithfully bring them through to final victory.

The church is identified also with Christ as a priest and now exercises its role as priests by maintaining a faithful witness to the world and willingness to suffer for Christ. It defeats the strategies of the enemy even while suffering apparent defeat, yet still ruling in a kingdom (as Christ did on the cross).

Beale also explains how he understands the book. He says,

In Rev. 1:1, John deliberately uses the language of “signify” from Dan. 2:45 portray that what God has been showing him is likewise symbolic. Most of the things that are about to unfold are not to be taken literally (lions, lambs, beasts, women, etc.), but each refers symbolically to another reality or set of realities….The reader is to expect that the main means of divine revelation in this book is symbolic.

Beale says of his approach to the book of Revelation,

We believe the Redemptive – Historical Idealist view is substantially correct but must be modified in light of the fact that parts of Revelation do definitely refer to future end – time events concerning the return of Christ, His final defeat of the enemy, and the establishment of His heavenly kingdom.

There is great comfort to be had from the book of Revelation. In fact, the book itself says,

Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. Revelation 1:3 (English Standard Version)

Another thing to do is to learn from the experience of our brothers and sisters in China’s house churches. Hannah Nation and S. E. Wang’s Grace to the City: Studies in the Gospel from China is a good place to start.

Reading Pastor Wang Yi’s essay titled, “Wang Yi’s 14 Decisions: In the Face of Persecution, What Will I Do?,” posted two months before he was arrested by authorities for preaching the gospel, and other posts on that blog are yet another way to benefit from our brothers’ and sisters’ experience.

In times like these, I go back to this,

O Lord, I have heard the report of you,
    and your work, O Lord, do I fear.
In the midst of the years revive it;
    in the midst of the years make it known;
    in wrath remember mercy.

Habakkuk 3:2 (English Standard Version)

Whether we “Build Back Better” or “Keep America Great,” God is sovereign and will lead His people through the trials ahead. Our duty is to witness openly and not compromise with the world in the face of suffering.

If Xi Jinping does not repent he will perish! – Pastor Wang Yi, September 10, 2018, YouTube, Wang Yi Sermon Clips

One Man

Depending on your theology, you believe something about the Book of Revelation. No matter what you believe, there is one Man who knows the truth; the one Man who is the truth:

…God our Savior…desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. 1 Timothy 2:3-6 English Standard Version (ESV)

Furthermore, the Lord Jesus Christ knows His Father’s plans and is coming back soon.

I know of no starker rendering of His urgent warning to us all:

False messiahs and false prophets will come and do great miracles and wonders, trying to fool the people God has chosen, if that is possible. Now I have warned you about this before it happens.

“Someone might tell you, ‘The Messiah is there in the desert!’ But don’t go into the desert to look for him. Someone else might say, ‘There is the Messiah in that room!’

But don’t believe it. When the Son of Man comes, everyone will see him. It will be like lightning flashing in the sky that can be seen everywhere. It’s like looking for a dead body: You will find it where the vultures are gathering above.

Matthew 24:24-28 Easy-to-Read Version (ERV)

We know our Redeemer has come to earth in the flesh to suffer, die, and rise again. Don’t be misled. Be ready. Believe Him. Hear Him and obey.

Children Of Time, The Choir, YouTube, The Choir Videos, Lyrics

Ideology’s Characteristics by Bernhardt Writer

A few weeks ago, we reviewed Kenneth Minogue’s book: Alien Powers – The Pure Theory of Ideology. He writes that Western civilization is in the throes of a conflict over a right understanding of the human condition. Minogue suggests that the ideological approach is ascendant in our society while the transcendent is declining. He claims that there is a generally applicable pure theory of ideology best realized to date in Marxist ideology and its offspring. Let us touch on some of the general points from his book.


The common person on the street condemns the results of bad human actions. They attempt to rectify those results when possible through small corrective steps. These citizens view politics as the method to work together toward agreed-to ends within the context of the rule of law.

The ideologist takes bad actions as evidence of systemic structural oppression that can be remedied only through complete overhaul of the entire system (i.e., revolution). The ideologist sees incremental moral reform as the mystification (i.e., obscuration or concealment) by which an oppressive system strings its victims along. Politics is a question of power. Only the power of a unified oppressed group can wring concessions from the oppressors who have more power.

Ideologies disclose truths that the prevailing system has an interest in hiding. Ideologies claim all interactions within the system are power relationships. This truth is masked by societal constraints (i.e., moral and civil rules of conduct) and nefarious concealments perpetrated by the oppressive system. Denial of unmasked truths is proof of the system’s betrayal and oppression at work.

Societal constraints serve the oppressors’ interests. That these rules promote goodness and justice masks their real import which is the exercise of power over the oppressed. If the oppressed demand their right to overthrow these constraints they are rebuffed for not obeying a law, moral principle, or divine ordinance. But the real reason they are denied is because it conflicts with the oppressors interests in a zero-sum transaction.

Ideology reveals masked favoritism and domination throughout the corrupt system. The oppressed have rightful grievances (e.g., ones of class, gender, race, or ethnicity) against the system. Each oppressed person is imprisoned by the system’s conditioning which divides the oppressed from each other and from their real source of being in the species. Their struggle for liberation will result in true community.

Science, philosophy, law, and the state are instruments of special interests according to ideology. Although the intellectual elite might root out interests in favor of inclusiveness, those ideologically driven look to those deprived by the system for remedy. These persons, excluded by the system, unqualified to represent themselves, are appointed to lead humankind to liberation. This oppressed group is qualified because it is least tainted by the system’s corrupting influences. Of course, ideologists are ready and willing to indoctrinate the oppressed group in the ways of liberation and speak for them.

Ideology unveils for us the hidden truth otherwise mystified by the system’s apologists. Cleansed of the system’s mystifications we will see the truth of our essence and our consciences will rise to state of things as they actually exist. We will realize that the human species is defined by social (e.g., production) and material (e.g., eating) processes. We will arrive at this non-western reality through the struggle for liberation rather than through fruitless and pernicious contemplation.

Ideology is to revolution the way politics is to reform. Ideology does not debate whether theft, for instance, should be treated severely or mercifully but rather abolishes private property altogether making theft fictitious. Each resolution of this type typifies the true community. Any particular problem is solved only by solving all problems via revolution.

Ideology pledges a comprehensive and ultimate explanation of this material world (since it claims that the transcendent world to come does not exist). The explanation (i.e., ideological revelation) is not merely knowledge but leads to societal transformation which improves the earthly human condition. The difficulty of overcoming opposition and bringing about the transformation is evidence for the truth of the explanation.

The ideological model of human history is triadic: the primitive community in harmony gives way to a succession of societies characterized by domination. By overthrowing this progression man arrives at a higher form of his initial communal harmony.


Minogue credits Karl Marx as the sole individual responsible, not only for clear insights into capitalism, but for the creation of pure ideology. He claims Marx developed the theory further and more deeply than all others. It is this pure theory that Minogue describes in his book. We will cover the end result of the ideological project in a later post.

Karl Marx

A Portrait of Karl Marx, John Jabez Edwin Mayall (1813–1901), Public Domain in the US

No Rest

We are now planning Mandated Memoranda Publishing’s next novel: Who Shall Be God. We have characters, certain scenes, and even a cover image in mind already. We’re investigating background materials for the theme of the novel. Since it deals with political conflict reflected through two families, we’re reading The Fourth Revolution by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge and Alien Powers by Kenneth Minogue. However, we always have a biblical theme in mind too.

The scripture: Isaiah 57 jumped out at us based on our reading of The Art of Dramatic Writing by L. Egri. Here are the pertinent parts:

The righteous man perishes,

    and no one lays it to heart;

devout men are taken away,

    while no one understands.

For the righteous man is taken away from calamity;

    he enters into peace;

they rest in their beds

    who walk in their uprightness.

Isaiah 57:1-2 English Standard Version (ESV)

But the wicked are like the tossing sea;

    for it cannot be quiet,

    and its waters toss up mire and dirt.

There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.”

Isaiah 57:20-21 (ESV)

We commonly know the last verse (repeated elsewhere in Isaiah 48:22, 57:20, 57:21) as the phrase:

“No rest for the wicked [or weary]”.

As we always do, let’s consult Calvin to get his take on Isaiah’s verses:

The righteous man hath perished…And no man layeth it to heart. …The Lord holds out as a mirror this event of his providence, more remarkable than all others, that he takes away good and worthy men out of this life, when he determines to chastise his people severely. But no man considers it, or reflects that it is a token of approaching destruction, that God gathers them, and places them in safety from being distressed by prevailing afflictions.

…The general meaning is, that wicked men grievously deceive themselves by supposing that there is no greater happiness than to have life continued to a great age, and by thus pluming themselves on their superiority to the servants of God, who die early. Being attached to the world, they likewise harden themselves by this pretense that, by nothing else than a manifestation of God’s favor towards them, while others die, they continue to be safe and sound…

Men of mercy are gathered. …But, since God, in many passages of Scripture, represents gentleness and kindness as a distinguishing mark of his children, this may be, as I have said, a definition of true righteousness.

Hence we see that the Lord, at that time, gathered many good men, whose death portended some dreadful calamity, and yet that the Jews [the Prophet’s proximate audience] paid no regard to such forewarnings, and even proceeded to more daring lengths of wickedness; for they thought that all went well with them, when they were the survivors of many excellent men.

Peace shall come. The Prophet describes what shall be the condition of believers in death; for the wicked, who think that there is no life but the present, imagine that good men have perished; because in death they see nothing but ruin. For this reason he says that “Peace shall come,” which is more desirable than a thousand lives full of trouble; as if he compared them to discharged soldiers, who are and allowed to enjoy case and quietness.

They shall rest in their beds. He adds the metaphor of sleep, in order to show that they shall be absolutely free from all the uneasiness of cares, just as if they were safely pleasantly asleep “on their beds.”

Whosoever walketh before him. …as if he had said, “Whosoever walketh before God shall enjoy peace.” Thus, when righteous men die, and their various labors are finished, and their course is ended, they are called to peace and repose. They “rest in their beds,” because they do not yet enjoy perfect blessedness and glory; but they wail; for the last day of the resurrection, when everything shall be perfectly restored; and that, I think, is what Isaiah meant.

By these comments, Calvin seems to echo Revelation 18:4.

Then I heard another voice from heaven saying,

“Come out of her, my people,

lest you take part in her sins,

lest you share in her plagues;”

Revelation 18:4 (ESV)

As for Isaiah’s second couplet, Calvin says:

But the wicked. …But because the reprobate make false pretensions to the name of God, and vainly glory in it, the Prophet shows that there is no reason why they should flatter themselves, or advance any claim, on the ground of this promise, since they can have no share in this peace. Nor will it avail them anything, that God, having compassion upon his people, receives them into favor, and commands peace to be proclaimed to them.

As the troubled sea. That metaphor of “the sea” is elegant and very well fitted to describe the uneasiness of the wicked; for of itself “the sea is troubled.” …Most appropriately, therefore, has the Prophet compared them to a stormy and troubled sea. Whoever then wishes to avoid these alarms and this frightful agony of heart, let him not reject that peace which the Lord offers to him. There can be no middle course between them; for, if you do not lay aside sinful desires and accept of this peace, you must unavoidably be miserably distressed and tormented.

There is no peace to the wicked. He confirms the preceding statement, namely, that in vain shall the reprobate endeavor to seek peace, for everywhere they will meet with war. It is God who threatens war, and therefore there can be no hope of “peace.” Wicked men would indeed wish to enjoy peace, and ardently long for it; for there is nothing which they more eagerly desire than to be at ease, and to lull their consciences, that they may freely take their pleasures and indulge in their vices.

They drive away all thoughts about the judgment of God, and endeavor to stupefy themselves and to repose in indolence, and think that these are the best ways and methods of obtaining peace. But they never shall enjoy it; for, until men have been reconciled to God, conscience will never cease to annoy and carry on war with them.

Saith my God. Thus he represents God as the only author of peace, that he may, by this dreadful threatening, tear from the Jews their dearest pleasures; and calls him “his God,” in opposition to the vain boasting of those who falsely boasted of his name; for they cannot acknowledge God, so long as they reject his Prophet and his doctrine. For this reason the Prophet boldly declares that he has received a command from God to declare perpetual war against them.

There is no rest for the wicked; no rest now or in eternity. Turn away from evil ways and do good.

Triumph of Death, 1562, Pieter Breughel the Elder

Triumph of Death, 1562, Pieter Breughel the Elder (1526/1530–1569), Museo del Prado, Madrid, Public Domain

Your Fiery Trial

No doubt you’ve suffered “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” Perhaps you’ve been insulted, falsely accused, or unjustly condemned when you’ve tried to do good for others? All alive will at some time suffer one or more of these adversities. However, only those saved by God’s grace can grow as a result of them. The Apostle Peter says in his first letter:

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 1 Peter 4:12-13 English Standard Version (ESV)

Although Peter elsewhere counsels that Paul’s writings are sometimes hard to understand, I find this passage of his difficult as well. Let’s see what John Calvin has to say:

Beloved, think it not strange, or, wonder not. There is a frequent mention made in this Epistle of afflictions; the cause of which we have elsewhere explained. But this difference is to be observed, that when he exhorts the faithful to patience, he sometimes speaks generally of troubles common to man’s life; but here he speaks of wrongs done to the faithful for the name of Christ.

And first, indeed, he reminded them that they ought not to have deemed it strange as for a thing sudden and unexpected; by which he intimates, that they ought by a long mediation to have been previously prepared to bear the cross. For whosoever has resolved to fight under Christ’s banner, will not be dismayed when persecution happens, but, as one accustomed to it, will patiently bear it. [In order] that we may then be in a prepared state of mind when the waves of persecutions roll over us, we ought in due time to habituate ourselves to such an event by meditating continually on the cross.

Moreover, he proves that the cross is useful to us by two arguments, — that God thus tries our faith, — and that we become thus partakers with Christ. Then, in the first place, let us remember that the trial of our faith is most necessary, and that we ought thus willingly to obey God who provides for our salvation. However, the chief consolation is to be derived from a fellowship with Christ.

Hence Peter not only forbids us to think it strange, when he sets this before us, but also bids us to rejoice. It is, indeed, a cause of joy, when God tries our faith by persecution; but the other joy far surpasses it, that is, when the Son of God allots to us the same course of life with himself, that he might lead us with himself to a blessed participation of heavenly glory.

For we must bear in mind this truth, that we have the dying of Christ in our flesh, that his life may be manifested in us. The wicked also do indeed bear many afflictions; but as they are separated from Christ, they apprehend nothing but God’s wrath and curse: thus it comes that sorrow and dread overwhelm them.

Hence, then, is the whole consolation of the godly, that they are associates with Christ, that hereafter they may be partakers of his glory; for we are always to bear in mind this transition from the cross to the resurrection. But as this world is like a labyrinth, in which no end of evils appears, Peter refers to the future revelation of Christ’s glory, as though he had said, that the day of its revelation is not to be overlooked, but ought to be expected.

But he mentions a twofold joy, one which we now enjoy in hope, and the other the full fruition of which the coming of Christ shall bring to us; for the first is mingled with grief and sorrow, the second is connected with exultation. For it is not suitable in the midst of afflictions to think of joy, which can free us from all trouble; but the consolations of God moderate evils, so that we can rejoice at the same time.

One might object that suffering for righteousness sake in the hope of future joy is nothing more than “pie in the sky when we die.” But it is so much more. This kind of suffering shows we are His possession, and if we are His, this world has no hold on us. This momentary light affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.

Steel Mill Run-off

Run-off from a Steel Mill Open Hearth Furnace, Republic Steel Corp., Youngstown, Ohio, November 1941, A work of the U.S. federal government, in the public domain

The Revolt Against the Masses – A Review (Part 2) — by Bernhardt Writer

This week we tackle chapters 2 through 5. The chapters are titled:

2. Betrayal and the Birth of Modern Liberalism

3. Randolph Bourne Writing Novels

4. Three Trials

5. Giants in Decline

What I took away from these chapters is that a harrowing and confusing period in American history, World War I and its aftermath, divided those who sought social reform from those who, it pains me to say it, sought social cleansing and the rise of a new ruling class. Many of the individuals described in chapter one played a part during this time. The forces of lasting reform seem to have gone dormant in America and those for the other goal are, as yet, thwarted. Succeeding chapters will show how these latter forces strove to accomplish their agenda throughout the twentieth century.

This is my inadequate review and commentary of chapters two through five. Many quotes are drawn from Professor Siegel’s book and are supplemented by original sources when necessary.

A young progressive reformer, John Chamberlain, characterized the period prior to America’s entry into WWI as: “the years of Great Expectation when the Millennium, Woodrovian fostered, seemed just around the corner.” The Millennium alluded to was the thousand years of peace prophesied in the Revelation of John. It was not to be.

On July 30, 1916, at 2:08 AM, saboteurs caused a one kiloton explosion on Black Tom Island off the New Jersey coast, near Liberty Island, in NYC harbor. Two million pounds of munitions on their way to the allies were detonated through a series of fires.

This sabotage is viewed as the proximate cause for President Wilson to denounce Germany’s supporters in America as “creatures” of “disloyalty and anarchy [who] must be crushed.” He pushed for and got the Sedition Act of 1918 passed. The Sedition Act extended the Espionage Act of 1917.

The Act’s section 3 text called for in part:

Whoever,…when the United States is at war, shall wilfully utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States, or the Constitution of the United States, or the military or naval forces…or any language intended to bring the form of government… or the Constitution… or the military or naval forces… or the flag… of the United States into contempt, scorn, contumely, or disrepute…shall be punished by a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than twenty years, or both….

The incongruity between Wilson’s fighting the war to end all wars to make the world safe for democracy and his curtailment of liberties at home drove a wedge between progressives and those who would soon call themselves liberals.

President Woodrow Wilson asking Congress to declare war on Germany on 2 April 1917

“For the freedom of the world”. President Woodrow Wilson asking Congress to declare war on Germany on 2 April 1917. Color halftone photomechanical print, 1917.04.02 (photograph), 1918.12.21 (publication), Public Domain in the United States

In 1919, Walter Lippmann wrote, “The word liberalism, was introduced into the jargon of American politics by that group who were Progressives in 1912 and Wilson Democrats from 1916 to 1918.”

Whereas, pre-war Progressives hoped to reform a nation of immigrants grounded in the Protestant ethic, Liberals objected to wartime conscription, civil liberties repression, Prohibition, and the first Red Scare. They saw middle class values as a continuation of WWI repressions.

“Like most sensible people,” liberal Harold Edmund Stearns said, “I regard Prohibition as an outrage and a direct invitation to revolution.”

Randolph Bourne, noted in 1918: “The modern radical opposes the present social system not because it does not give him ‘rights’ but because it warps and stunts the potentialities of society and of human nature.”

But, in a triumph for American free speech rights, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes declared, in Schenck v. United States (1919):

The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic… The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.

Yet, Harold Stearns wrote in his 1919 book, Liberalism in America: Its Origin, Its Temporary Collapse, Its Future:

In Soviet countries there is in fact no freedom of the press and no pretense that there is. In America today there is in fact no freedom of the press and we only make the matter worse by pretending that there is.

In the same book, Stearns wrote:

The root of liberalism, in a word, is hatred of compulsion, for liberalism has the respect for the individual and his conscience and reason which the employment of coercion necessarily destroys. The liberal has faith in the individual – faith that he can be persuaded by rational means to beliefs compatible with social good.

Sinclair Lewis, through his book, Main Street, gave cultural content to the label “liberal.”

About Main Street, Siegel says:

Main Street caught the post-war literary mood of disillusion perfectly. It distilled and amplified the sentiments of Americans who thought of themselves as members of a creative class stifled by the conventions of provincial life.

Lewis followed up Main Street with his satire Babbitt in 1922. At the end of the novel, the main character, George Follansbee Babbitt, says, “I’ve never done a single thing I want to in my whole life! I don’t know’s I’ve accomplished anything except to just get along.”

H. L. Mencken wrote:

It is not what he [George Babbitt] feels and aspires that moves him primarily; it is what the folks about him will think of him. His politics is communal politics, mob politics, herd politics; his religion is a public rite wholly without subjective significance.

He thought George Babbitt embodied what was wrong in society. Thus Mencken agreed with Lewis, who characterized Babbitt as: “This is the story of the ruler of America.”

In his 1927 New Republic essay “The Drug on the Market,” Waldo Frank said:

In a democracy, where castes are vague, where money-power has few manifest badges of dress or standard of living; where indeed millionaire and clerk go to the same movie, read the same books, travel the same roads, and where intellectual distinctions must be carefully concealed,” it is the “herd” that rules.

Three defining court cases took place in the 1920s. They were the 1924 Leopold and Loeb, 1925 Scopes, and 1926-27 Sacco and Vanzetti trials. Clarence Darrow defended the first two and future Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter argued for a second appeal to the Massachusetts State Supreme Judicial Court of the third one. Each trial helped shape case-law and how justice is carried out in America.

Leopold wrote to Loeb: “A superman…is, on account of certain superior qualities inherent in him, exempted from the ordinary laws which govern men. He is not liable for anything he may do.” Pleasure was their moral guide, as Nietzsche’s writings suggested.

During his plea to Cook County Circuit Court Judge John R. Caverly, Darrow asked:

Why did they kill Bobby Franks? Not for money, not for spite, not for hate. They killed him as they might kill a spider or a fly, for the experience. They killed him because they were made that way. Because somewhere in the infinite processes that go to the making up of a boy or the man something slipped, and these unfortunate lads sit here, hated, despised, outcasts, with the community shouting.

All the Leopold and Loeb trial documentation is available online. Darrow put Biblical morality on trial and survival of the fittest won.

As part of the defense, Darrow called Scopes’ student, Harry Shelton, to the witness stand to demonstrate that Scopes’ evolution lessons had not adversely him:

Darrow: “Are you a church member?”

Shelton: “Yes, sir.”

D: “Do you still belong?”

S: “Yes, sir.”

D: “You didn’t leave church when he [Scopes] told you all forms of life began with a single cell?”

S: “No,sir.”

Through several witnesses’ testimony, Darrow attempted to show no moral corruption resulted due to learning about evolution.

In rebuttal, Bryan turned Darrow’s logic against him. Bryan quoted the defense Darrow used in the Leopold and Loeb case to show that Darrow believed in education’s culpability in moral outcomes.

If this boy is to blame for this, where did he get it? Is there any blame attached because somebody took Nietzsche’s philosophy seriously and fashioned his life upon it? And there is no question in this case but what is true. Then who is to blame? ‘The university would be more to blame than he is. The scholars of the world would be more to blame than he is. The publishers of the world—and Nietzsche’s books are published by one of the biggest publishers in the world—are more to blame than he is. Your Honor, it is hardly fair to hang a 19-year-old boy for the philosophy that was taught him at the university.

The Scopes trial documentation is online. Darrow and the ACLU put Biblical creation on trial and Darwinian evolution won.

The Sacco and Vanzetti case concerned whether the two were guilty of a factory robbery and killing in support of the Galleanists, an Italian anarchist group that advocated revolutionary violence, including ongoing bombing and assassination in America.

Critical opinion assessed that they were railroaded because of anti-Italian prejudice and their anarchist political beliefs. The trials and various appeals were riddled with judicial and prosecutorial misconduct. Later investigations and admissions asserted Sacco was directly involved in the murder but both were involved with the group.

In October 1927, H.G. Wells wrote “Wells Speaks Some Plain Words To Us,” a New York Times essay that described Sacco and Vanzetti as “a case like the Dreyfus case, by which the soul of a people is tested and displayed.” He said:

The guilt or innocence of these two Italians is not the issue that has excited the opinion of the world. Possibly they were actual murderers, and still more possibly they knew more than they would admit about the crime…. Europe is not “retrying” Sacco and Vanzetti or anything of the sort. It is saying what it thinks of Judge Thayer. Executing political opponents as political opponents after the fashion of Mussolini and Moscow we can understand, or bandits as bandits; but this business of trying and executing murderers as Reds, or Reds as murderers, seems to be a new and very frightening line for the courts of a State in the most powerful and civilized Union on earth to pursue.

Prompted by the Sacco and Vanzetti case, the Massachusetts legislature passed a law in 1939 requiring a review of all evidence in first-degree murder cases. The review can result in a reduced conviction or a new trial based on the law and on the evidence or “for any other reason that justice may require.” (Mass laws, 1939 c 341).

Those supporting Communism and the Soviets used the Sacco and Vanzetti trial as a wedge to draw prominent liberals to their cause. Drawing on declassified Comintern documents, Stephen Koch, in his Double Lives: Spies and Writers in the Secret Soviet War of Ideas Against the West, explains that Willi Münzenberg, the Comintern’s master propagandist, intended:

to create for the right-thinking non-Communist West… the belief that…to criticize or challenge Soviet policy was the unfailing mark of a bad, bigoted, and probably stupid person, while support was equally infallible proof of a forward-looking mind committed to all that was best for humanity and mankind by an uplifting refinement of sensibility.

Münzenberg thought the “the idea of America” had to be countered. Koch noted that Soviet sympathizers used events such as the trial:

to instill a reflexive loathing of the United States and its people, to undermine the myth of the Land of Opportunity, the United States would be shown as an almost insanely xenophobic place, murderously hostile to foreigners.

After Herbert Croly’s death in 1930, George Soule, The New Republic’s polemicist for economic planning, said Croly intended liberalism to be “a mental attitude, the faith in the pursuit of a new truth as the chief agency of human deliverance.”

Earlier, in Wells’ 1920 Outline of History, he writes, “There can be no peace now…but a common peace in all the world; no prosperity but a general prosperity, but there can be no peace and prosperity without common historical ideas.”

In 1924, Wells wrote the essay “The Spirit of Fascism: Is There Any Good in It?” In it, Wells wrote:

Moscow and Rome are alike in this, that they embody the rule of a minority conceited enough to believe that they have a clue to the tangled incoherencies of human life, and need only sufficiently terrorize criticism and opposition to achieve a general happiness…Neither recognizes the enormously tentative quality of human institutions, and the tangled and scarcely explored difficulties in the path of social reconstruction.

In 1928, Wells described his alternative in his book The Open Conspiracy: Blue Prints for a World Revolution (revised and republished as What Are We to Do with Our Lives?) where he states: “the freemasonry of the highly competent” ruling class would subject the masses to “the great processes of social reconstruction.” and, through their rule, “escape from the distressful pettiness and mortality of the individual life.” He also wrote:

We no longer want that breeding swarm of hefty sweaty bodies, without which the former civilizations could not have endured, we want watchful and understanding guardians and drivers of complex delicate machines, which can be mishandled and brutalized and spoilt all too easily.

If only words had no power to move mankind’s heart to actions which, in retrospect, are monstrous and despicable. But such is the choice we have as humans. The same choice, in kind, as that which we had in the Garden:

And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.” Genesis 3:2-4 English Standard Version (ESV)

And so it goes.