Bible Interpretation: Apocalyptic 101

To “get” Daniel 7-12 read it in light of Daniel 1-6; similarly, to “get” Revelation 4-22 read it in light of the letters to the churches in Rev 1-3. How would the churches in Asia Minor have understood this imagery? How would Daniel’s contemporaries have understood the imagery?

Apocalyptic imagery is fantastic for sure, but it’s always historically tethered and the history provides the window to gaze into the heavenlies. Both of these texts contain history. So consider reading Revelation 1-3 in between every other chapter of the book. Blend the history with the heavenly to get the important points for today – and there are many.

By the way, the essential message in both cases is to faithfully trust in God, who rules history, rather than getting seduced by the world that seeks to assimilate the faithful into it’s perversion and judgment. It’s all, at it’s core, a contrast between two cities – Babylon and Jerusalem – and then an invitation to decide which city you want to live in. Babyolon, the pleasurable, but doomed one? Or Jerusalem, the difficult and often painful, but ultimately blessed one?

Why does this matter so much? It matters because there are so many wackos and wing-nuts out there saying ridiculous and foolish things today about this imagery. (For example, the “mark of the beast” isn’t a micro chip inserted into your hand. The mark of the beast is a life lived in selfishness, pride, lust, and revelry – a life lived in allegiance to Satan.)

The outcome is that they mute the relevance of these texts and rob them from sweet and level-headed Christians who should be reading them rather than dismissing them (in troubled times when they need to hear from their God).

For those taking an interest in this. This is the only place to starthttps://www.amazon.ca/Four-Views-Book-Revelation-Counterpoints-ebook/dp/B003TFE8MY

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Ezekiel’s Temple Vision: The Most Puzzling Part of the Bible

Given what I wrote on Bible interpretation in my earlier post this week, I figured I would follow it up and write something on the vision Ezekiel has at the end of the book. Who knows? Some desperate soul might google “Ezekiel Temple” and find something that is actually helpful instead of the endlessly unsatisfying, enormous barrage of dispensational weirdness that is out there on this challenging, but fascinating topic. In any case, by writing this I hope to put to rest some of the pestering thoughts in my head on this topic. So now you also can enjoy some pestering thoughts…

There is no passage is Scripture that makes me scratch my head more that the end of Ezekiel.

Ezekiel closes his prophecy with nine chapters that give a detailed, elaborate vision of a temple. Ezekiel lives in Babylon and he is transported by a heavenly guide who reveals to him a magnificent temple with all the temple rituals going on inside. The temple is beautiful. There is a stream flowing from it. The vision contains detailed description of the animal sacrifices and the priesthood and operations in the temple. The vision tells us about “the prince” and it tells how the land will be divided up between the tribes of Israel. It is also details the measurements of the walls, gates, and courts, which, interestingly, are of different proportions than Solomon’s temple, which we read about in the history books.

The head-scratching part is that this temple has never been built. It wasn’t Solomon’s temple for that was already destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. Furthermore, when the Jews came back from exile under Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah the temple they built utterly paled in comparison to Ezekiel’s vision.

Some have suggested that the temple was only ever hypothetical and conditional – it was a reality that would only happen if Israel had obeyed Yahweh. I want to reject that notion. It is an easy solution but it is simply not how prophecy works in the Old Testament. When God gives a vision, promising to do something, he always does it.

When you take this all together it makes us ask some hard questions: will this temple be built in the future? Is this temple some kind of symbolic portrayal of the church in Jesus?

There are actually two dominant views on the topic: many think that this temple will be built one day in the millennial reign of Jesus on earth. But that view has some big problems: why would animal sacrifice for atonement return under Jesus, especially since Hebrews says that it is done (Ezek 45:18; Heb 10:1-18)? Moreover, why, if the New Testament tells us we are the temple of God, do we need another temple for God’s presence will dwell – does he not already dwell in us by his Spirit (Rom 8)?

The other view is that this is simply a spiritual description of the Church, or the Church age, which is elsewhere called “the temple” of God (1 Cor 3:16; 1 Pet 2:5ff.). But if that is the case then why is there so much elaborate detail on animal sacrifices and priestly rituals and careful measurements? What do those symbols point to?

The first thing to say is that the challenges in this topic that are thousands of years old. In fact, around the time of Christ, there were Jewish Rabbis who had a very hard time dealing with this prophecy since Herod’s temple was being sacked. In a sense, this problem is pre-Christian. And that is reason to go slow on it. In fact, John Calvin, one of my heroes, never addressed this in his commentary because he died before getting to it…

With all that said, I want to propose that what Ezekiel is describing, in symbolic terms, is nothing other than the New Creation – the restoration of all things through Christ – the New Heavens and the New Earth.

Note that Ezekiel opened his prophecy with a vision of God’s presence on wheels, travelling to and fro around the earth (ch. 1-2). The point of that prophecy was to show the exiled people of God that God’s temple – his presence – is not anchored to one location, especially for a people soon to be living in Babylon. But now at the end of his prophecy we see that the temple – the dwelling presence of God – has come off it’s wheels and come to rest on the entire creation – a wasteland now turned into a tropical paradise. Context. Context. Context. The book points in this direction.

On top of that, the twin themes in Scripture of creation and temple (God’s blessing presence) are intertwined all through the Old Testament. The Garden of Eden, where God walked in the cool of the day, was a sort of temple that housed the presence of God. Furthermore, the temple contained all sorts of trees in it’s art and gold work – it harkened back to Eden. Moreover, the temple was where God sit enthroned between the cherubim – his shekinah glory radiated there. It is no coincidence that God places a cherib outside the temple…er…the Garden, after Adam’s sin.

Now some would object that this view simply does not do justice to the meticulous description of the temple in Ezekeil – if this is really portraying the New Creation than isn’t it deceitful to describe it in terms of a temple? Here are two supporting reasons based on the way God’s revelation works:

  • When God speaks he accommodates himself to the context, the culture, and the language of the people to whom he speaks. It makes sense for God to portray glorious New Covenant realities in Old Covenant terms like sacrifice, priest, and prince. To many this seems like a cop-out. But it isn’t. When God told Eve that her offspring would crush the head of the snake he wasn’t lying. But the snake is actually a dragon and the offspring is actually God himself. God accommodated his promise to language Eve would understand and trust in.
  • The vision itself is prophetic and apocalyptic, not legal or historical. One reason I believe that people get confused on this vision is that we are used to reading temple instructions and measurements in the Pentateuch or in Kings and so we switch into thinking that this apocalyptic vision is actually a legal code. But it isn’t. Apocalyptic imagery always has a degree of fluidity to it when you apply it to future or past events. For example, in Daniel the statue of iron, clay, bronze, silver, and gold is not a literal statue. The symbols represent reality of course – they represent empires – but the vision is not to be taken literally. And neither is Ezekiel’s vision.

Finally, this view rests on a symbolic understanding of the vision in Ezekiel and here are two final, supporting reasons for understanding this vision symbolically:

  • The vision has symbolic, or non-literal, aspects already. The stream flows and gives life to the land. That, I believe, is the key to grasping the meaning of this thing. The temple emits a stream that leads to the healing of the nations, the return of prosperity, plants, and animals, and ultimately to the portioning up of the land among God’s people (Ezek 47). When you contrast this language with the way Isaiah speaks it becomes evident pretty fast that this is highly eschatological language and it is highly new-creational language (See Isaiah 25 and 66).
  • The detailed measurements given to describe the temple have a clear purpose. The detail in Ezekiel’s temple vision is meant to do at least two things: it is meant to teach us something about the meticulous way God’s grace affects everything in the New Creation. Interestingly, we also have detailed measurements in the book of Revelation about the temple and that temple is in fact the “bride” of God that is inhabited by the glorious presence of God himself (Revelation 21). In this way, there is good precedent for taking the measurements of Ezekiel as pointers towards symbolic realities. They speak to the totality of God’s redemption and to his meticulous grace. Furthermore, these details are also meant to heighten the anticipation of Israel at the time of Ezekiel who are looking forward in hope for what God has in store – the details bolster their hope, just as the book of Revelation, with all it’s amazing detail, was given to Christians in the midst of intense persecution to bolster their anticipation.

 

So what I think Ezekiel foresees at the end of his book is nothing short of the New Creation, the Restoration of all things. This is glorious.

 

Jesus the victor, not victim, of hell

hell - Jesus

Now that we have examined and drawn some conclusions from biblical passages that seem to both affirm and deny that Christ descended into hell (see part one), we must now harmonize these passages into an integrated biblical theology. Two of the passages that were used to affirm that Jesus went to his Father’s presence after his death are quite easily harmonized. First, the discussion of the 1 Peter passages actually confirms the discussion of Jesus’ declaration that “It is finished!” in John 19:30. After looking at 1 Peter 3:18-22 and 4:6 we discovered that Jesus declared his triumph over evil angelic powers and declared the good news to the dead on the very basis of the accomplishment of the cross! Therefore 1 Peter actually serves to reinforce our initial conclusion that Jesus did not need to suffer in hell to secure salvation. Moreover, Jesus cry in Luke 23:46, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” can also be harmonized with 1 Peter. Since it was the Father who made Jesus alive in the spirit, even as he was dead in the flesh, we can then understand Jesus entrusting his spirit to his Father’s care. Indeed, it was the Father who made his spirit alive – we should assume the “divine-passive” in 1 Peter 3:18 when Jesus is said to have been “made alive.” This understanding that the Father brought life to Jesus’ spirit means that we can easily understand Jesus’ cry in Like 23:46 as Jesus entrusting his spirit to his Father. Now this brings us to the most difficult passages to harmonize: 1 Peter 3:18-4:6 and Luke 23:43. How is it that Jesus said to the criminal on the cross “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” and still affirm the reality that Jesus descended to the place of the dead (Lk 23:43)? This is a difficult theological question and perhaps any answer one postulates will invariably contain an element of conjecture. Nevertheless, there is a hint in 1 Peter 4:6, which says that the dead believers will have the good news preached to them such that they will “live in the spirit the way God does.” Surely if Jesus brings a new spiritual existence to these dead believers, then this existence will be a paradisiac one. J.I. Packer provides some intriguing commentary on this idea:

[Jesus] by his presence he made Hades into Paradise (a place of pleasure) for the penitent thief (cf. Luke 23:43), and presumably for all others who died trusting him during his earthly ministry, just as he does now for the faithful departed (see Philippians 1:21-23; 2 Corinthians 5:6-8)…. [He] perfected the spirits of Old Testament believers (Hebrews 12:23; cf. 11:40), bringing them out of the gloom which Sheol, the “pit,” had hitherto been for them (cf. Psalm 88:3-6, 10-12), into this same Paradise experience. This is the core of the truth in Medieval fantasies of the “harrowing of hell.[1]

Now to ultimately harmonize these passages in 1 Peter and Luke in a truly satisfactory way is outside the scope of this paper, since it raises some pretty substantial metaphysical questions – was the place of the dead split into two different experiences for the godly and the ungodly only after the death of Christ? Was the experience of Sheol/Hades the same for the godly and the ungodly before the descent of Christ? At any rate, the reality is that if Jesus is proclaimed victory in hell, it must surely have meant paradise for all those who trusted in him. Therefore, these passages of Scripture also can be harmonized in a way that upholds the teaching of the Apostles’ Creed.   So did Jesus descend into hell? Yes. The Apostles’ Creed should not be changed; it should be affirmed. But it should be affirmed with the worshipful conviction that Jesus Christ never suffered in hell after he died – he was never a victim of hell. He was, and is, the victor of hell. The place of the dead is under his authority. His cross and his kingdom extend even over the powers of sin and death. Therefore, Christians can face the future with confidence, knowing that the powers of Hades will not prevail against those who have placed their faith in Christ.   [1] Packer, I want to be a Christian, 64.

Did Jesus descend into hell? No! Er…yep.

hell - Jesus

Did Jesus really descend into hell? The earliest forms of the Apostles’ Creed do not contain the statement “he descended into hell,” however, the clause appears in a Greek version of the Creed in 359AD and since that time the church has never been willing to remove it.[1] Yet this small statement has been extensively debated, which serves to illustrate the difficulty of crystallizing the teaching of Scripture into clear and concise doctrinal statements. Formulating doctrine is hard because our presupposed theological views affect our interpretation of Scripture – our doctrinal understanding often shapes our interpretation of Scripture, rather than our understanding of Scripture shaping our doctrine. I will try to avoid this problem by first examining three passages of Scripture used to support the belief that Jesus did not descend into hell after he was crucified and then I will examine three passages that appear to teach that he did; finally I will seek to harmonize these six texts and square them with the teaching of the Apostles’ Creed to conclude that Jesus did in fact descend into hell, but he did so not to pay for sin as a victim, but to proclaim his triumph as a victor.

Before discussing these six key passages it will be helpful to clarify immediately what the Apostles’ Creed means by the word “hell.” Swain, in The New Dictionary of Theology explains that “[t]he ‘hell’ in question is not a place of punishment but the traditional resting place of all the dead (Isa 38:18; Ezek 31:14), a virtual prison from which they are destined never to escape (Ps 88:10; Job 7:9).”[2] Likewise, Packer cautions against anachronism in our understanding of this clause:

Originally, ‘hell’ meant the place of the departed as such, corresponding to the Greek Hades and the Hebrew Sheol…[b]ut since the seventeenth century ‘hell’ has been used to signify only the final state and final retribution for the godless, for which the New Testament name is Gehenna.[3]

Therefore, in the discussion that follows, whenever the word “hell” is used with reference to Christ’s descent, it should be understood as referring not to Gehenna where the godless find their final resting place in the “lake of fire,” but rather to the place of the dead, where the dead await their final judgment.

 

Some Scripture Passages seem to affirm Jesus did not descend into Hell

There are at least three passages of Scripture which appear to teach that Jesus did not descend into hell. In Luke’s account of Jesus’ crucifixion we find a short dialogue between Jesus and two criminals on the cross, of whom one is unrepentant and the other unrepentant (Lk 23:39-43). The repentant criminal, who strongly believes that Jesus is the Messiah, turns and asks, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Lk 23:42).[4] To this Jesus replies, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43). Jesus delivers this promise with what Bavon rightly describes as “solemn authority” for Jesus’ statement, “truly, I say to you” reveals his strong confidence in what he promises; namely, that for both men death will not be the end – paradise awaits.[5] The word “paradise” (paradeisos) is Persian in origin and is used by Luke in such a way that it “refers to ‘God’s garden,’ an eschatological image of new creation.”[6] The word is found two other times in the New Testament and in both these contexts heaven (the presence of God dwelling with people) is in view (2 Cor 12:4; Rev 2:7). We should not miss the immediacy of this promise – Jesus declares that they will be in paradise “today” and thus Fitzmyer has concluded that in fact Luke “seems to know nothing of a descensus ad inferos [a descent into hell]if that  is to be understood as something more than death itself.”[7] Therefore, this small pericope in Luke’s Gospel is one of the strongest passages that seems to indicate that Jesus did not descend to the place of the dead after he was crucified, for on that very same day he went to be in the presence of God in paradise.

This conclusion appears to be supported by two other passages of Scripture: Luke 23:46 and John 19:30. A few verses after the discussion between the criminal on the cross and Jesus, Luke records that Jesus, before he died, called out loudly, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (23:46). This verse, taken from Psalm 31:5, implies that Jesus trusted the Father for life that he would soon realize beyond death.[8] Grudem explains that this “suggests that Christ expected (correctly) the immediate end of his suffering and estrangement and the welcoming of his spirit into heaven by God the Father….”[9] Therefore this verse likewise suggests that Jesus’ spirit went to be with his Father.

Finally, as Jesus died he cried out, “It is finished!” (Jn 19:30). And so we must ask, “what is finished?” There is a theological meaning intended here.[10]The answer to the questions is “the entire purpose for which the Father had sent the Son into the world…salvation and eternal life [are] henceforth freely available.”[11] In this way, the exclamation, “It is finished” could equally be translated “It is accomplished![12]This supports the conclusion that Jesus did not need to descend to suffer in hell in to accomplish his mission. Therefore, John 19:30 is an additional piece of evidence to support the conclusion that Jesus did not descend into hell in order to pay for sins as a way of accomplishing salvation.[13]

 

Some Scripture Passages seem to affirm Jesus did descend into Hell

Lest we hastily declare that the historic clause “he descended into hell” has no biblical foundation, we must now consider three passages of Scripture that affirm the descensus ad inferos. 1 Peter 3:18-4:6, Romans 10:6-7, and Ephesians 4:8-9 all seem to indicate that Jesus did in fact enter into the realm of the dead after he was crucified.

1 Peter 3:18-4:6 is perhaps the most difficult New Testament passage to interpret, and yet the most likely interpretation of this text teaches that Jesus did descend into hell. The context in this passage in 1 Peter 3:18-4:6 is an encouragement to suffer for doing what is right, and as an encouragement Peter says to consider Jesus, who suffered and yet was vindicated (3:18-19, 22). Although Peter’s flow of thought is complex and convoluted, there are a few important phrases that need to be examined to answer the question of whether or not Jesus descended into hell.[14]

The first phrase is in 1 Peter 3:18-20 where Peter says that Jesus was “put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the time of Noah….” When Peter says that Jesus was made alive “in the spirit” he means, most likely, that Jesus’ spirit was alive even as his body was in the tomb. Peter is making a “contrast between a mode of being in the flesh and a mode of being in the spirit…the phrases are pointing to some kind of realm or forces.”[15] Many scholars see a reference here to the resurrection since they find it odd to have the language of being “made alive” to refer only to the life of Jesus spirit and not his body too; however, it is not unheard of for the biblical writers to think in terms of a spirit-flesh dualism and thus a coming to life, as it were, of the spirit (Lk 24:36-37; Jn 3:1-7).[16] Therefore, the most natural reading of this difficult text points to the reality that Jesus visited the place of the dead in spirit.

But what did Jesus do in the realm of the dead? When 1 Peter 3:18-22 is read alongside 1 Peter 4:6 it seems that Jesus did two things: he proclaimed judgment on evil angelic forces and he proclaimed the good news of vindication for dead believers. 1 Enoch indicates that the “spirits in prison” to whom Christ proclaimed in 1 Peter 3:19 are most likely the angels (“sons of God”) who rebelled in Genesis 6:1-4 and took the “daughters of man” as their wives.[17] This interpretation is strengthened by Davids who argues that the unqualified “spirits” always refers to nonhuman beings in the New Testament.[18] The proclamation that Jesus made to these evil angels was one of judgment, which both 1 Peter 3:22 and Colossians 2:15 support (and perhaps Mark 4:24-27). Therefore, Jesus descended into hell, not to proclaim a second chance to these spiritual beings, but to announce his triumph over their power.[19]

At the same time, 1 Peter 4:6 teaches that Jesus preached the gospel, the good news, to godly believers and thus he “harrowed hell” and vindicated godly believers who had died before the crucifixion. 1 Peter 4:6 says that “…this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.” The evil angels did not have good news preached to them in the realm of the dead; they had bad news proclaimed to them. However, dead, godly believers who were judged and perhaps condemned and killed by people who judged using human standards now had the good news preached to them by Jesus’ proclamation; God had witnessed their faith and now vindicates them so that they might live “in the spirit the way God does” as they await the resurrection.[20] Those who have read C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe may recognize that Lewis portrayed this event when Aslan, the great lion and Christ figure, ran to the White Witch’s stronghold after the stone-table scene and breathed life into the dwarves, giants, centaurs, Dryads, and animals that had been turned into stone.[21] This theme of Jesus loosing the bonds of the godly was important in first century preaching and was also found in various plays during the Middle Ages, as von Balthasar explains, but is now “increasingly lost to view in systematic theology.”[22] In sum, when 1 Peter 3:18-22 is interpreted with 1 Peter 4:6 it becomes apparent that Jesus descended to the place of the dead and proclaimed the triumph of the cross to the defeat of the evil angelic forces and the liberation of the godly dead.

This conclusion that Jesus did in fact descend to the place of the dead is confirmed by two similar New Testament passages: Romans 10:6-7 and Ephesians 4:9-10. In Romans 10:6-7 Paul speaks of the hypothetical situation of one descending down to the abyss to bring Christ up from the dead and in Ephesians 4:9-10 Paul speaks of the fact of Christ descending to the lower parts of the earth. Thielman’s commentary on Paul’s use of the phrase “descended into the lower regions of the earth” is worth considering:

“It seems extremely unlikely that Paul would use [this phrase – ‘descended to the lower regions’] in such a cultural environment and expect his readers to understand by it anything other than a descent to the realm of the dead…. According to Paul, then, the ascent of Christ inevitably implies his descent to the earth’s lower reaches, the place of the dead.”[23]

 

In both of these passages from Paul, we do not find detailed discussion of how, why, or when Christ descended into the realm of the dead; however, we do have the affirmation that it happened, the same affirmation we find in the Apostles’ Creed.

 

(See part two here…)

 

[1] Jonathan F. Bayes, The Apostles’ Creed: Truth with Passion (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2010), 88.

[2] Lionel Swain “Descent of Christ into Hell” in The New Dictionary of Theology (Joseph A. Komonchak, Mary Collins, & Dermot A. Lane, eds.; Wilmington, DA: Michael Galzier Inc. 1987), 280.

[3] J.I. Packer, I Want to be a Christian (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1977), 63.

[4] All Scripture citations are form the English Standard Version.

[5] François Bovon Luke (Vol 3; Hermeneia; Helmut Koester, ed., James Crouch, trans. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2012), 311.

[6] G.B. Caird, Saint Luke (Pelican Gospel Commentaries; London, UK: Penguin Books, 1963), 254 and Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke (NICNT; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans 1997), 823.

[7] Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Luke the Theologian: Aspects of his Teaching (London, UK: Geoffery Chapman, 1989), 220.

[8] Donald G. Miller, The Gospel According to Luke (The Layman’s Bible Commentary; Balmer H. Kelly, ed.; Richmond, VA: John Knox Press, 1959), 166.

[9] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 593.

[10] Ibid.

[11] F.F. Bruce, The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983), 374.

[12] George R. Beasley-Murray, John (WBC; Vol 36; David A. Hubbard, Glenn W. Barker, eds.; Dallas, TX: Word, 1987), 352.

[13] See also Grudem, Systematic Theology, 593.

[14] It appears that Peter’s flow of thought goes something like this: continue suffering for doing the right thing (1 Peter 3:17); for Jesus suffered for the unrighteous in order to save them (3:18); indeed Jesus was put to death in the flesh (3:18); but Jesus was made alive in the spirit and in spirit he proclaimed to the spirits in prison who did not obey at the time of Noah (3:19-20); for example baptism is the antitype of the salvation that Noah and his family experienced through the flood (3:21); furthermore baptism is an expression of a repentant appeal for a good conscience on the basis of Jesus’ resurrection, by which he subjected all angelic powers to himself (3:21-22); therefore continue to suffer well just like Jesus did and reject your flesh even if the gentiles malign you for refusing to join them (4:1-4); for the gentiles will be judged by God who also judges the dead (4:5); yet the believers who die will have good news proclaimed to them, vindicating them and giving them spiritual life (4:6).

[15] Lewis R. Donelson, I and II Peter and Jude (NTL; Lousiville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 111.

[16] Joel B. Green, 1 Peter (THNTC; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 127. Contra Beale: the ‘proclamation to the spirits in prison’ is likely a reference to Christ proclaiming his victory in resurrection and the defeat of all satanic and antagonistic forces as he ascended into heaven.” G.K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2011), 328.

[17] See further 1 Enoch 10-16; 21.

[18] Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter (NICNT; F.F. Bruce, ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990), 139.

[19] J.N.D. Kelly, The Epistles of Peter and of Jude (Henry Chadwick, ed.; Black’s New Testament Commentaries; London, UK: Adam and Charles Black, 1969), 156. See also William Joseph Dalton: “[t]he proclamation to the disobedient spirits, or the subjugation of angels, is merely another way of saying that the definitive act of salvation has taken place.” Christ’s Proclamation to the Sprits: A Study of 1 Peter 3:18-4:6 (2nd ed.; Analecta Boblica; Rome: Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico, 1989), 158.

[20] Douglas Harink, 1 & 2 Peter (Brazos Theological Commentary; Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2009), 110.

[21] C.S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (New York, NY: Collier, 1956),142-74.Pointed out in Green, 1 Peter, 130.

[22] Hans Urs von Balthasar, Mysterium Paschale (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1990), 180.

[23] Frank Thielman, Ephesians (BECNT; Grand Rapids, MI: 2010), 271.

Overcoming the Ghouls

Image

I always thought J.R.R. Tolkien invented wraiths – you know, those creepy dead kings who ride creepy winged dragons as they hunt for the ring.

Nope. There are wraiths in the Bible. Perhaps you didn’t know that, but there are.

The Old Testament prophet Isaiah spoke of creepy wraiths and ghouls long before Tolkien. Isaiah 13 contains an oracle of judgement on Babylon and it concludes with these lines:

“And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms,
the splendor and pomp of the Chaldeans,
will be like Sodom and Gomorrah
when God overthrew them.
It will never be inhabited
or lived in for all generations;
no Arab will pitch his tent there;
no shepherds will make their flocks lie down there.
But wild animals will lie down there,
    and their houses will be full of howling creatures;
there ostriches will dwell,
    and there wild goats will dance.
Hyenas will cry in its towers,
    and jackals in the pleasant palaces;
its time is close at hand
and its days will not be prolonged” (Isa 13:19-22 ESV)

J. Alec Motyer, a top Isaianic scholar, writes that these howling desert creatures are “more likely ‘desert wraiths,'” and, says Motyer, “wild goats would be better translated ‘goat-demons’ (cf. Lv. 17:7).” (Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary, 141).

After God judges Babylon all that remains is ghouls in the wilderness – hyenas, ostriches, owls, and other spooky animals dancing with the wraiths and goat-demons.

Yet even in the spooky desert the Lord reigns – and He is at work. Listen to what Isaiah says later about this ghoulish land:

“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad;
the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus;
it shall blossom abundantly
and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
the majesty of our God.

Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who have an anxious heart,
“Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God
will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
He will come and save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
For waters break forth in the wilderness,
    and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
    and the thirsty ground springs of water;
in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down,
    the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

And a highway shall be there,
    and it shall be called the Way of Holiness;
the unclean shall not pass over it.
    It shall belong to those who walk on the way;
    even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.
No lion shall be there,
    nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
    but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return
    and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
    they shall obtain gladness and joy,
    and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” (Isa 35 ESV).

This same forsaken land that was haunted by ghouls is transformed into a  highway. On that highway march those whom God has redeemed. And they march into Zion – into God’s presence – with joy and singing.

This is simply wonderful. It’s wonderful because the world we live in is a strange place. There are weird things and creepy forces at work. Yet the Lord is still the sovereign King, making a highway of salvation for a people willing to live under the cross of Christ. In the midst of the ghoulish, demonic chaos, He reigns and He has conquered by the death and resurrection of His Servant Jesus.

In our world where death reigns, where demons dance, and where sin was celebrated, God reigns all the more and He is in the process of redeeming a people unto Himself. That is all our hope and joy. Come to Him and receive Him.