CHURCH HISTORY: AD 1300 thru AD 1550

NB: For readers who missed it, I suggest going back to review my setup to this section on church history to know about my disclaimers. For the graphics used in this post, the timelines are not to scale, and the dates represented are not intended to be exact. They are meant to be visual aids for understanding the larger conversation.

So Christendom emerges from the period of the Crusades in horrible shape: completely beaten up, completely broken. Having spent everything they had on war and conquest, they now turn their sights toward rebuilding. In order to do this, they need to find a way to get resources.

Well, in a world that is largely illiterate, where the educated are priests and leadership, studying the Text that is written in an archaic, foreign language is difficult. It becomes simple to manipulate the truth that the masses depend on you to communicate. With a little shaping here and a little gloss there, the narrative of God quickly becomes something that can enslave people in a system of fear, guilt, and control. At its best, you had priests and Church leadership who were maintaining a commitment to sound doctrine, modeling a self-sacrificial life, and instilling a message of hope into people who needed the gospel so badly.

At its worst, we saw the rise of the Age of Indulgences. While the entire conversation is incredibly complex and usually oversimplified (as even I am about to do for the sake of brevity), the general understanding of the problem is relatively accurate. As parishioners came for their typical interaction with the sacraments, the Church leveraged this need to help control the general populace.

To understand this conversation, one needs a basic understanding of sacraments. To the orthodox faith of the Middle Ages, people believed you would interact with the many different practices of the Church in order to experience the grace, mercy, and forgiveness of God. You might remember the liturgy and order we spoke of when we talked about the contribution of Gregory the Great. The Church had identified seven sacraments to serve as corporate practices for experiencing the dispensation of grace. For these early thinkers, there is nothing magical about the sacrament itself, other than its service as a conduit to receive the grace of God into your life. Things like baptism, the Eucharist, confession, marriage — these all allow the grace of God to flow into your life.

You can imagine, as people come to engage these sacraments and anticipate the reception of God’s grace in their lives, it is a short leap for the Church to start manipulating this system for their ends. At some of its worst moments, the Church was even offering forgiveness at a monetary price. Come to confession and absolve your sins by going through the appropriate motions — and offering the appropriate gift.

In short, we are seeing a rabid abuse of Church leadership and priesthood.

Not all the educated were prepared to turn a blind eye to these abuses. The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries are littered with names of those who stood up against this corruption and fought to reveal the gospel as it ought to be seen. Two popular names in the world of scholasticism are Wycliffe and Hus.

John Wycliffe — Wycliffe was known for consistently attacking the imperial privilege of the Church at large. He hated the separation between the clergy and the laypeople and thought the gap should be dissolved. While he railed against the pomp of the high Church system, he also argued that the Text should not be held captive in an ancient language. He wanted the Scriptures to be accessible for all and thought they should be translated into the common vernacular for people to understand in services. In a lot of ways, Wycliffe paved the way for the Reformation.

John Hus — Sometimes referred to as the true father of the Reformation, it’s hard to see Hus apart from the work of Wycliffe. Hus led an informal resistance to the papacy and was eventually executed for leading what history knows as the Bohemian Revolt. There were two successful regional Crusades against the reigning papacy. While his methods may be subject, his thinking deeply shaped the thought process in western Europe and definitely laid the groundwork for what we know as the Protestant Reformation.

Part of the issue in this period of Catholic history was the geopolitical context. With a new sense of what I call “medieval nationalism,” the power structures in the world were shifting entirely. No longer was the world ruled by one giant papacy; as Christendom tried to figure out how to hold onto their outdated systems of governance, the world changed around them. People were seeing their allegiance aligned more with the powers of the state and country than they were with a foreign church. People associated with being French or German as a more immediate identification than they did with being “Catholic.”

This made it easier and easier to reject foreign papacy and rule. The papacy of Avignon actually shifted the seat of power away from Rome and into France for a period of seven popes, leading to what would later be called the “Western Schism” — when the Western Church was spilt between western and eastern Europe.

The Church continued to suffer from divisions and schisms.

In light of the many abuses of religious power, the Protestant Reformation was simply waiting for good leaders. How “good” these leaders were is left to historical debate. I will leave my personal opinions out of it; so much material has been written about the Reformation and I encourage you to do your own study. Needless to say, people like Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, and John Calvin led reformations away from the Catholic Church in their respective lands, each with their own nuances to their understanding of theology.

At this point, we begin to split over the smallest of nuances. No longer held together by a common hierarchy or papal leadership, we were free to disagree over the smallest details, often fueled by our nationalistic identifications. However, each national identity will get a denominational affiliation: Germans would be Lutheran, the French might be Calvinistic Reformers, and the Swiss would follow Zwingli.

Their many opinions splintered the faith of Christendom, and we don’t have time for that full conversation. However, as far as the good this movement did, it is hard to overstate. The invention of the printing press allowed the widespread distribution of the Text in the language of the common person. The Reformation changed the face of education and cinched up the gap between the educated and the uneducated, especially in reference to theology — both orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

And while this might seem like an unbelievable amount of change for the world to endure, the change is only beginning.

CHURCH HISTORY: AD 1000 thru AD 1300

NB: For readers who missed it, I suggest going back to review my setup to this section on church history to know about my disclaimers. For the graphics used in this post, the timelines are not to scale, and the dates represented are not intended to be exact. They are meant to be visual aids for understanding the larger conversation.

We left our last discussion with the world of Christendom having been rocked to its core. With the departure of the Eastern Church, the danger is that it would raise a whole new sense of papal rejection. If folks can just tell the pope no, then what does that mean?

Well, as the saying goes, nothing brings a people together like a common enemy.

To be fair, I’m not going to wade into the spicy conversation surrounding the Crusades and present myself as a historian or expert. I know talking about this period of history can be incredibly charged emotionally — as it should be. I know some historical reconstructionists have attempted to put a “positive spin” on the Crusades and what the intentions were behind them. I will be attempting no such explanation. For me, this chapter of Christian history is dark and marked with all sorts of problems, which most of us have simply kept out of sight and out of mind.

I remember the chapter in Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller where he spoke about his experience at the reverse confessional. He talked about how they set up a confessional booth at Reed College and — instead of receiving confessions from others — they offered confessions on behalf of their faith, both current and historic. I have not stopped hearing the kickback from readers or thinkers who say, “But why would I/they apologize for something that happened centuries ago?” This question shows our blatant disconnection from our faith and where it comes from. This disconnection stops us from being able to think critically about how we could ever get to that place. And a dark history disowned by the descendants of it will be bound to repeat itself. Some would say we are on the verge of such an era right now.

But I won’t try to present myself as an expert — only as a learner, a student of history, and a fellow thinker.

It’s my belief that in our desperate need to unify Christendom, we seized an opportunity that arose at just the right time. Shortly after the East-West Schism, the Islamic movement was making its way to capture Palestine. While there is no way I am going to give you a history of the Islamic faith here, it would be helpful to know that as Mohammed was doing the work of canonizing his teaching and creation of the Qur’an was underway, there were three dominant worldviews at play within Islam. There was what we might have called a progressive movement — which wanted to live peaceably with everyone. There was a moderate movement that saw itself as the correct faith, and others as largely apostate, but did not seek to convert them by force. There was also a radical branch of the faith bent on violent overthrow of the pagan idolaters.

If this sounds familiar, that’s because it is. We studied Judaism of the second temple period and its different sects. We have seen the same movements grow and disappear within Christian history, as well. (I cannot move on without recommending Battle for God by Karen Armstrong, a wonderful look at the history of the three faiths and the rise of radical fundamentalism in each.)

I find this helpful because most people choose which groups they want to represent their own faith story. While Christians would (typically) never define themselves by the fringe, radical edges of fundamentalism, we consistently do the opposite to the “other” in the conversation. I would say the movement of Islam toward capturing Palestine did not represent the Islamic faith as a whole (not even close). It did have a lot of traction at this point in history, though, and it did provide a perfect opportunity for the Church in the west to find a common enemy and use it as a scapegoat to bring unity to a struggling kingdom.

This is my unauthoritative (and probably oversimplified) opinion on this point of history. I am no expert in the Crusades, so I will not try to explain my way through it. Let’s just say that these few centuries were an absolute mess, and the mess seemed to galvanize an unfortunate unity in Christendom.

But before we move on to the next chapter of history, it would be worth pointing out that not everyone is out fighting in the Crusades.

They never are. We let the poor, the uneducated, and the commoners do that work for us.

Simultaneously, as the Crusades are being fought, we witness the rise of “scholasticism” and an ever-widening gap between those who have and those who have not. This is a gap we are well acquainted with today; we often talk about the gap between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of the world. In the Middle Ages, this gap was driven more by education and academic privilege. While the middle and bottom classes were fighting in the Crusades, the cream of the crop was being taught and educated at a level we simply hadn’t seen before. With the rise of science and the accomplishments it brought, a university system that we still understand and rely on today began to take shape. Apprentices were taught not only how to read and write (which was an incredible advantage, by the way!), but they were also instructed in the blossoming fields of mathematics, science, theology, and the arts — most of which was driven by the Greek philosophers of the Hellenistic era.

One of the most revered names in Church history is often that of Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas, without a doubt, changed the face of Christian history by bringing into a logical order the many fields of education. Aquinas showed how the world of mathematics and science could blend with the world of philosophy and theology, and the western world would never be the same. The way we understand our education system today is largely shaped by the perspective brought to us through the work of Thomas Aquinas. Many would call him the father of logic and reason.

I’ll resist my desire to be critical until we conclude our study of history, but I’m hoping my western-minded readers will notice that somewhere around a millennia before this, we lost some things that were absolutely crucial to the health of the Church. While I realize we are all still enamored with the pillars of Hellenism today, I hope we learned enough to critically examine just how lost we are 1,000 years after the Judaic movement of Jesus. But I digress.

Or do I? We shall see.

CHURCH HISTORY: AD 700 thru AD 1000

NB: For readers who missed it, I suggest going back to review my setup to this section on church history to know about my disclaimers. For the graphics used in this post, the timelines are not to scale, and the dates represented are not intended to be exact. They are meant to be visual aids for understanding the larger conversation.

The next item that leads to major disagreement and arguments in the Byzantine Church is the use of images and icons. Often referred to as the Iconoclastic Controversy, this period of history would eventually put an end to the Byzantine period (at least as it is concerned with the papacy and the Holy Roman Church; some would extend the Byzantine Empire all the way to the Ottoman period, but I don’t find this useful for our purposes here).

The controversy stemmed from a major difference in mindsets — the eastern worldview versus the western worldview. If you’ve never heard of this discussion before, you could listen to my podcast on it. The two worlds interact with information and experiences in a completely different way. Neither one is more right or more wrong — they are simply different. As the Greeks rose to power and the western world came to dominate Europe and eventually spread over the globe, this controversy was bound to happen.

The relevant difference between the worlds for our conversation here is how they communicate truth. The westerner communicates truth with words, definitions, and prose. One can see this world at work clearly in the early stages of Christendom as we form creeds and doctrinal statements to be circulated throughout the empire. However, there is another side of the world that communicates truth using pictures and images. This is the eastern world of the Bible. In the world of the Bible, we had preserved the Text in a culture that was committing it to memory, and we had an education system that was dedicated to the preservation of the Text. When one maintained the Text and used images to convey its truth, this wasn’t nearly as problematic. But once we kicked out the Jews, we needed to figure out how to preserve the Text we were in danger of losing.

Now I certainly don’t mean the Text in its physicality. The monastic movements were working hard to preserve the physical (written) Text, but we have to remember we are dealing with a world that hadn’t seen the invention of the printing press. How do you preserve the Text in a world that has no distribution of printing (and is mostly illiterate)? The western world wrote down what the Text said; we’ll call it doctrine. The eastern world drew images and pictures to help them remember the content; these were called icons.

And the western world did not like icons.

One can understand the confusion. Most of my readers are likely western minded, and if they found themselves lost in an Eastern Orthodox church on a Sunday morning, they might be shocked to see people enjoying incense and praying at stations where they kneel in front of a picture or statue — an icon. To the westerner, this seems to be idolatry. The kneeling congregant is obviously worshipping the icon. But this is a misunderstanding of the eastern worldview. No eastern worshipper sees themselves as worshipping the icon. They are worshipping the God who lies behind the story the icon represents.

While a westerner listens to a lecture (sermon) and reads a book (the Text), the easterner hears a different kind of lecture (narrative) and reads a different kind of book (icon). In fact, the easterner could just as easily accuse the westerner of drifting away from the eastern world of the Bible and engaging in a new kind of doctrinal idolatry.

Nevertheless, this controversy took its toll on Christendom; the next 250 years would be a battle to hold a splintering kingdom together in unity. With the ending of the Byzantine papacy, the Holy Roman Church would find moments of hope in new leadership throughout this era. People like Boniface would help unite order under a struggling papacy, as would many others.

One of the more influential names is that of Charlemagne. One could look at Charlemagne with either critical eyes or eyes of admiration, but one thing is sure, Charlemagne is often called the Father of the West for uniting the Western Church unlike anybody had since the days of Constantine. Charlemagne led the Church on the path of productive renaissance, urging intellectual and spiritual revitalization. While the Middle Ages is certainly seen as a dark time (more on that later), the work of Charlemagne may be seen as a catalyst for the progress made during that era. (It was really the setup to the scientific revolution; for more on this, one could read this book by Hannam.)

Eventually, though, this unity and progress would not hold under the growing tension between the East and the West. With an empire as big as Rome itself, the West was finding it impossible to control their eastern brothers as they attempted to kick against the goads of western progress. At the turn of the first millennium, the great East-West Schism took place, tearing Christendom into what would be known as the Roman Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. As the Western Church banked on the power of the papacy and what they saw as God-ordained authority, they made demands of their eastern brothers. These demands were refused and denounced.

The fact that half of the Christian empire simply denounced and tore away from the papal-led church left the West in shock and terror. To many, it seemed as though Christendom could never survive.

CHURCH HISTORY: AD 500 thru AD 700

NB: For readers who missed it, I suggest going back to review my setup to this section on church history to know about my disclaimers. For the graphics used in this post, the timelines are not to scale, and the dates represented are not intended to be exact. They are meant to be visual aids for understanding the larger conversation.

So this (mostly) Gentile Christian empire finishes their councils, and Rome falls. The Roman Empire shifts from an imperial political state to what some would call the “Holy Roman Empire” and a[n imperial] religious state. To be sure, all of these labels are unfair to use, since the ancient world knew nothing about the separation of church and state, and to insinuate that the Roman empire of the Caesars was not religious would be ludicrous. However, I hope the reader understands my point: we shift from Emperors to Popes, from Rome to Christendom.

This newly established kingdom, often referred to as the Byzantine Empire, played its role in the history and growth of Christianity. It indeed had some bright, shining moments, but none of this could cover up some of the darker problems of the era.

Toward the beginning of Byzantine history, Justinian expanded their rule to its largest extent in history. This chapter is full of dark stories of Christian faith combined with the empire’s sword. People were forced to affirm holy creeds and Christian doctrines. If they did not, they were offered the opportunity to convert. If they refused, they were persecuted, sanctioned, or even executed. Christianity’s anti-semitic history continued in this era; there were corners (sometimes very large corners) of the empire where we would beat or kill Jews who did not affirm the doctrine of the Trinity.

How things change when you find yourself at the handle end of the sword.

We could (and maybe should) go on and on about this, but that paragraph will serve to sum up the darker chapters of this history for now. There were also some important developments in the Christian faith, sometimes connected and sometimes disconnected from the imperial efforts of the Byzantines.

Again, since we had cut the Christian faith away from from our Jewish heritage, we lost contact with a faith — and more importantly a practice — that had defined God’s people for centuries and centuries. Having spent over a century perfecting our doctrine and theology (something Gentiles have been very, very concerned with) and focusing on orthodoxy (right belief), we now needed to ask questions about orthopraxy (right practice).

Since Gentile Christians did not believe in following Torah, they were missing the “playbook” on what it meant to walk the path of faith. (In fact, Augustine had written a horrible edict commanding the African Christians not to even entertain Jewish relationships. He penned a seven-point document that forbade doing business with Jews and lighting candles for Sabbath, in addition to commanding the consumption of ham on Easter, etc.)

In this setting, the monastic movements shined. While many flippantly critique the monastic movements as being secluded and isolated (somewhat reminiscent of the Essenes), we owe much of what is good in our Christian faith to their faithfulness. They were committed to trying to preserve the physical Text, becoming people of service (they continued the work of what we would call hospitals and clinics), and being devoted to their faith. When we needed to know what it meant to create space for God in this new world, these movements helped many spiritually blind folks see. They were experts in prayer and discipline, corporate spiritual practices, and service. Because they struggled with isolationism, great thinkers like Gregory of Nissa and Basil taught some very important things about community.

As history turned the corner into the seventh century, Gregory the Great (who would be the pope) came along and became what some have referred to as the father of medieval spirituality. Gregory brought the world of Christendom its first large-scale taste of liturgy (church order) through things like Gregorian Chant and a public, corporate practice of worship — many elements of which can still be found in Catholic mass today.

While there are always ways to look at history through overly rosy lenses or overly critical lenses, it’s important to note the things this era brought us. Unfortunately, this period of history did very, very little to undo the imperial abuses of Christian freedom; in fact, quite to the contrary, they only systematized the chronic power struggle that had (and would) ruin the trajectory of our Christian story.

However, the next century would be spent learning to create space for a God we (maybe) largely misunderstood. I am a firm believer that this allowed God to continue to work through the story of Christianity, in spite of itself. As God told the Hebrews in the Tanakh more than once, there is always a remnant. There will always be a group of people who are trying to follow the Creator to the absolute best of their ability. And because of that — be them Jews, Christians, or pagans — God will always be looking for partners.

But we will continue to have a hard time getting along, and it won’t be long before we find more problems to argue about in our next chapter of history.

CHURCH HISTORY: AD 300 thru AD 500

NB: For readers who missed it, I suggest going back to review my setup to this section on church history to know about my disclaimers. For the graphics used in this post, the timelines are not to scale, and the dates represented are not intended to be exact. They are meant to be visual aids for understanding the larger conversation.

The tension between this growing movement and the empire of Rome continued until just after AD 300. Persecutions would intensify and subside at different points along this curve, usually in response to political necessity and upheaval. The early Christian movement happened to be the second fastest growing religion in the Roman empire for two centuries. The fastest growing religious movement was that of Mithra (a Roman offshoot of what is typically called “Zoroastrianism”). Emperors were sometimes known to claim to be Mithra incarnate, and the last emperor who made such a claim was Chlorus, the father of Constantine. His birthday happened to be December 25, and the Constantinian Dynasty (started by Chlorus) enacted an imperial Advent celebrating his birth — but I digress.

Most people familiar with this period of history will know that Chlorus’s son Constantine changed the course of Christian history. While the story is generally understood, the details are quite muddy depending on exactly who is telling the story and what their ultimate goal is. Constantine found himself battling over a strategic bridge; should this bridge be captured, many said the fall of Rome would be imminent. As history tells the story, Constantine seemed to be backed up against enormous odds. According to his testimony, as Constantine considered the possibilities of retreat, surrender, or certain death, he had a vision where the Christian God showed him a shield with the Greek letters “chi” (Χ) and “rho” (Ρ) on it. He understood the meaning of these inscriptions to be, “In Christ you will conquer.”

The stories differ (one record is from Lactantius and the other is from Eusebius), but it seems that Constantine was “converted” that day, before the battle. He put this new chi rho symbol on the soldiers’ shields and they went on to victory. Constantine would credit this great Roman victory to the Christian God who delivered him from certain death.

Historians are all over the map on the truth of Constantine’s testimony. Many think the story is completely legitimate. Some say Constantine was a political genius and knew the writing was on the wall as Christianity continued to take a toll on the crumbling Roman empire, with now more than 80% of the empire being Christian. According to this theory (which happens to be my own opinion), Constantine took an opportunity to seize the momentum of popular opinion and attempted to synchronize the paganism of his father’s Mithra worship and the growing Christian momentum. Others claim there is some truth in the middle, that Constantine had some experience, maybe even misinterpreting the vision, and then later struggled to figure out what this change in worldview meant politically for an already divided Roman empire.

Nevertheless, this moment in Roman history changes the course of the Church forever — and as I see it, certainly not for the better. Many folks will flippantly state that Constantine made Christianity the state religion; this is simply not true. Constantine made it legal in the Roman empire to be a Christian. There were no more penalties and persecutions for Christians. It wasn’t until much later in the century that Theodosius would enact new legislation to give incentives to those who claimed the Christian faith (practically making Christianity the “imperial religion”).

This newfound freedom meant Christians didn’t have to run for their lives anymore. Great, right? Maybe. The problem was that ever since the breakup of Jews and Gentiles, the Christians had fallen prey to that pesky Gnostic Crisis. While they struggled to stay alive, these larger theological issues stayed on the back burner. But now that folks were free to return to lives of “normalcy,” these issues took center stage. The different effects of Gnosticism drove the Christians in this almost-completely-Gentile movement to argue about the nature of Jesus. Was he man? Was he God? Was he somehow both? As they struggled to find answers to questions the Bible wasn’t asking, they needed to make a decision on what we would later call “orthodoxy” before the movement completely splintered.

This led to almost two centuries of councils — church meetings where the movement sought to make decisions on how to move forward. While this medium had worked before (think Jerusalem Council), I think it was set up for a rougher road now that the movement was divorced from the Jewish backbone of truth and Text. While there were seven major councils in all, there are four that seem to stand out historically. I will attempt to close this era of history by simplifying (and oversimplifying) them and their major decisions here.

COUNCIL OF NICAEA (AD 325): The divinity of Christ. Ordered by Constantine himself, this council convened to deal with the teaching of Arianism (among other topics). Arianism is the belief that Christ is separate from God the Father. Out of this council, they drafted the Nicene Creed, which declares Christ is of one substance with the Father.

COUNCIL OF CONSTANTINOPLE (AD 381): The humanity of Christ. Ordered by Theodosius I (mentioned above), this council convened mostly to deal with the teaching of Apollinarism, the belief that Christ was not truly human. They eventually expanded the Nicene Creed, making adjustments that expounded on their previous ideas. They added Apollinarism to their small, but growing, list of heresies.

COUNCIL OF EPHESUS (AD 431): The singularity of Christ’s personhood. Theodosius II called this council to deal with the teaching of Nestorius, who taught (although history is divided on whether or not it was him) that Christ was actually two distinct ‘persons,’ existing as God in one and man in the other. The council declared that Christ was in fact one person at all times; they also declared no one was allowed to publish any teachings rivaling that of the orthodoxy declared in these councils. Furthermore, they discussed the teaching of Pelagianism, which rejected the idea of original sin and complete human depravity (taught in Augustinian theology). The Church sided with Augustine and rejected Pelagianism.

COUNCIL OF CHALCEDON (AD 451): The fullness of divinity AND humanity in Christ. Convoked by Marcian, this council dealt with the teaching of Eutychian heresy, declaring that Christ, while being one person, was not completely God and completely man simultaneously. Known as the “Hypostatic Union,” the council’s declaration spoke to the fact that Christ was both 100% God and 100% man simultaneously.

If all of this sounds just a bit ridiculous, as if we’ve lost the plot of the story, I would say yes and no. These theological issues are actually very significant. However, it does seem as though we’ve lost the plot of God’s great narrative entirely. This might not have been necessary if — again — we hadn’t lost touch with our Text and the methodology of relationship with God (as we’d understood it for 1000 years prior through Judaism), and if we hadn’t let Gnostic ideas invade our faith. This is the beginning of a downhill slide I’m not sure we’ve ever recovered from. (But I have hope!)

It’s not long after this when Rome falls. This was not a surprise; the original strength of the empire had disappeared even before Constantine. The Romans were in constant flux and political instability. Eventually the Roman empire loses the vastness of its reach and becomes what history knows as the Byzantine Empire.

CHURCH HISTORY: AD 100 thru AD 300

NB: For readers who missed it, I suggest going back to review my setup to this section on church history to know about my disclaimers. For the graphics used in this post, the timelines are not to scale, and the dates represented are not intended to be exact. They are meant to be visual aids for understanding the larger conversation.

We left off with that repeated question: What happened? Many students ask me this question, not just in reference to the history of Christendom, but in reference to our Judaic roots. We come from an incredibly Jewish story, following a Jewish rabbi and his Jewish talmidim. How did we become so separated from our Jewish foundation?

There are many in scholarship who weigh in on these opinions. From a historically respectable perspective, I have found two opinions to be most plausible (based on what we know), and one of those opinions I hold personally.

The first opinion is based on an understanding of a much more defined schism between the Jewish and Gentile Church (read: Paul and James). As we discussed before, I don’t miss the undeniable tension between the Church in Jerusalem and the Church of Asia, but I also hold to the record given to us in the book of Acts and believe the Apostolic leaders were able to come to an agreement and mutual understanding (binding and loosing, if you will, as described in the records of Acts 15 and elsewhere). This option believes that this Christian movement, which began in Jewish rank and order, was much more bent on the proclamation of their subversive “gospel” and this created unwanted (especially in Asia) political tension. The Jewish Exception outlawed (in part) aggressive proselytization, and this new Jesus movement was challenging that status quo and upsetting the empire. This theory proposes the Jewish religion jettisons its Jesus following believers, who are mostly Gentile in nature. 

There are certainly pieces in history to support this theory, but I don’t think this is what we actually see happening, especially in light of recent scholarship. The late David Flusser suggested decades ago that early Christianity was predominantly a Jewish movement that didn’t see such internal tensions until much later. One of the largest criticisms of his theory was the lack of evidence for Jews and Gentiles worshipping together. In the last twenty years, as archaeological efforts have increased in modern Turkey (biblical Asia and Asia Minor), we are finding more and more evidence to suggest Flusser was correct.

So instead, I cling to the theory that the schism happened later, just after the turn of the century. When Trajan and later Hadrian were emperors, they led some of the most aggressive (although maybe not the most brutal) persecutions of the Jews. Historians have long wondered why the target of these persecutions seemed to have such a Jewish focus. The Jews weren’t the largest imperial threat to Roman power — it would seem the Christians were. Many have suggested (rightly so, in my opinion) that the Christians were in fact so Jewish that they were seen as an indistinguishable part of Judaism.

From what little pieces of history we have, and though most of Judaism originally stood behind their Gentile converts and theosabes (except in those rare “Synagogue of Satan” places), these same Gentiles seemed to turn their backs on their Jewish brothers and sisters when Rome came looking to extinguish Judaism. Choosing to fall back on their uncircumcised roots, they left their Jewish counterparts out to dry and created a schism that we never healed. Following the Hadrianic persecution and the Bar Kochba revolt, this helps explain why the writings of the early church are so anti-semitic in their teachings (just one or two generations removed from the apostles).

But this schism will have more than relational implications. Now that the Jews are gone, this Jesus-following body has lost their connection to the Text. They no longer have walking libraries of Torah and Jewish narrative to teach and lead them. The moment this anchor was pulled up, Gentiles were left to lean on the only thing they knew intimately. Unfortunately, the worldview that dominated the Hellenistic culture was Gnosticism (you may want to review our discussion on Colossians).

This conflicting worldview led to all kinds of corrupted teachings and beliefs (even if we assume the presence of New Testament writings and the Didache, the early church’s manual for passing on the Apostle’s teaching to new converts). Almost immediately, there were arguments for the rejections of different writings. A man by the name of Marcion was arguing for the rejection of the Tanakh and most of the gospels, with a full acceptance of the letters from Paul, much of the gospel of Luke, and some other letters. If that sounds familiar, it’s because much of evangelical Christianity continues to approach the New Testament in the same way. Marcion was eventually declared a heretic and his arguments rejected, but he had brought up the need for this Gentile movement to declare which teachings would be authoritative, and the movement went forward.

From this we received the Muratorian Canon, which is what our New Testament is based on. This canon had only 22 of the 27 letters in it, and the larger conversation surrounding it would later lead to the reordering of the Hebrew Scriptures for Christians (with an undeniable anti-semitic bent).

This unfortunate new world probably would have brought other issues to the table had the Gentile Christian movement not been at odds with the empire of Rome. As they continued to deal with the persecution that came and left and came and left, they were forced to bind together and cling to the essentials for the survival of their faith. It is a dark shame that we weren’t able to do this with the company and leadership provided by our Jewish brothers and sisters. We will be left to wonder what could have been. Would the “Age to Come” have arrived and Jesus’s return been realized, just as the writers of the New Testament were claiming? Maybe so.

For now, they run for their lives. They stand and they die. But it’s all about to change.

CHURCH HISTORY: Telling a Story

We left our last conversation (and finished our study of the Scriptures) with this nagging question: What happened?

Now that we are done with our study of the God-breathed Text, we are entering a very sticky and dangerous realm of my own personal thoughts and opinions. While my thoughts and opinions have certainly been at work in the previous discussion, I have taken solace in the fact that we were working on a discussion centered around the life-giving biblical narrative. But this question is incredibly important, and as a Bible teacher who works with college students, I’m deeply convicted that if we don’t wrestle with these questions, we have done a great disservice to our study of the Text.

One of the things we talk about at Impact Campus Ministries is what we call “Message, Mode, and Milieu” — an idea introduced to us through the dissertation work and leadership of my personal friend, mentor, and former ICM president, Bill Westfall. When we speak of Message, the idea we are trying to communicate is that we need to have an understanding of “the whole story of God and His invitation to join” that story. There is no way we can adequately address this invitation if we don’t have an understanding of what happened in between the world of the Bible and the world you and I traverse today.

Because of this, I would like to wrap up our study by engaging that now. It is important to know a few things.

1) I am not a historian or an expert in the field of church history. Have I studied church history considerably? Yes. Am I an expert? Not at all. I am indebted to the work of real experts, some of whom I’ve been able to study with personally, and some I have only read from a distance. Please don’t quote me as a source in this regard. I am simply trying to take some of the things I have learned and think critically with all of you. Nothing more; nothing less.

2) Every historian, whether they are an expert or not, tells a story. There simply is no such thing as an unbiased rendering of history. Each one of us sees history through the lens of our own culture, language, experience, opinion, and conviction. I want you to know up front that I will be taking the parts of history I believe tell the story in the most useful manner for our culture in this place and in this time. It is completely intentional and biased. But please, do not ever believe anyone who doesn’t affirm that. All renderings of history have a story to tell, and all historians are storytellers. We should not run from that, but embrace it. And we should allow it to challenge us to think critically about our past(s).

3) My intent with this last portion of our study is not “the history of the church.” I will not even begin to deal adequately with any portion of church history in a comprehensive way. I will not be doing a study on the reformers, or the desert fathers. I simply want to take a broad look at where we’ve been and how our Christian world has been shaped. This means I will be overgeneralizing at times. I will try my best not to do this in a misleading or disingenuous way, but I want to stay within the scope of my intent here.

In this regard, there are many, many great sources for church history. I would recommend books like Constantine’s Sword and Bruce Shelley’s Church History in Plain Language. These recommendations do not mean I agree in full with these works or their many nuances, but they are a great way to get started.

Now, as I pointed out, the early Christians seemed to believe the return of Christ was imminent. Were they wrong? I don’t believe they were.

As I said earlier, I believe Jesus taught us about a proper three-part understanding of the coming of the Age to Come. I do not believe there is a fixed date for which Jesus’s return is set. On the contrary, I believe God is inviting us to partner with Him in restoring a broken world. At some point, as this “redemptive arc of history” is bent closer and closer to the intent of God, God will snap the last few pieces into place — maybe just as the apocalyptic prophets paint the picture, or maybe differently.

This understanding runs congruent with the Jewish understanding Peter seems to promote in 2 Peter 3.
You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.
Apparently the “day of God” is not fixed, but stands in relation to us. Our obedience somehow speeds up its coming. And just as we saw in the end of our study of the New Testament, this commitment and radical obedience by the early believers was working. I don’t believe they were wrong to think the coming of Christ and the new heaven and new earth — prophesied by Isaiah, re-announced by Peter, Paul, and John — were speedily approaching.

But then something happened…

We seemed to lose the plot. I want to look at what that something might have been. Join me as we begin to walk through the last 2000 years.

REVELATION: The End is a New Beginning

John now works his apocalyptic vision toward its ultimate closing.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.
John continues to draw from the imagery of Ezekiel (in this case, chapter 47), using the image of an angel showing the prophets the apocalyptic conclusion to his vision. The allusions continue, as what John sees is very similar to what Ezekiel saw. Ezekiel also saw a river and trees that bore fruit for the healing of the nations. Allusions to the Psalms and to Jeremiah abound, as well. It seems as though everything God’s people longed for is still — according to John — something to long for, and still in process.

It’s coming, John says.

I think it’s also worth noting here that John is deliberately bringing us full circle back to the beginning of the story of God. There are plenty of direct and indirect allusions to the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Life. Some have suggested John is mirroring the creation imagery in his vision. This would make sense, as we’ve seen in the rest of Johannine literature that John loves to work around with the Creation story motif. Could it be John is bringing us back to where it all began? Remember, in the beginning, Genesis said God separated light from darkness — but the “source” of that light (the sun) wasn’t created until day four. Could John be alluding to these beginnings by suggesting that there is light, but no sun? It seems likely.
The angel said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God who inspires the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place.”
“Look, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy written in this scroll.”
I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. But he said to me, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your fellow prophets and with all who keep the words of this scroll. Worship God!”
Then he told me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this scroll, because the time is near. Let the one who does wrong continue to do wrong; let the vile person continue to be vile; let the one who does right continue to do right; and let the holy person continue to be holy.”
“Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”
John (in the vision) is overwhelmed by the things he sees. He falls to worship, but the angel calls to him to make sure his worship remains pure. Is this a call for the readers of this vision, as well? Possibly. The language used by the angel here mirrors that of other visions, in particular at least three different sections in Daniel (chapters 8, 9, and 12). And there may be hints at the closing of Isaiah (chapter 65, and others might even suggest chapter 40).
John’s message continues: It’s all coming true. It’s all coming to pass. You must overcome! You must persevere.
“Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.
“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.
They must hang in there. John gives them words from Jesus, a testimony for the churches. They must not give in to uncertainly or despair, for the reward of staying true to their convictions will not only be the opportunity to drink freely of the water of life, but to see the culmination of thousands of years of faithfulness on behalf of their ancestors. God’s great redemption project is finding its true and complete fulfillment! But not if they give up.
I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.
While many get worked up about these verses (which are important, no doubt), what is often missed is the fact that these words are taken (surprise!) from earlier writings. Deuteronomy had similar prohibitions. Even the wisdom of the Proverbs used similar words to talk about the record.
He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.
And with that prayer of anticipation, John closes his apocalyptic vision.

And we close our study of the Scriptures. But we simply can’t end the conversation here, for this conversation raises historical questions that nag us as twenty-first-century readers. As the Bible ends, the persecuted people of God are standing strong against the empire of Rome. They are watching Rome crumble in the face of a subversive movement and a commitment to peace, love, and compassion. Multiple times throughout the New Testament, we heard the writers exclaim or allude to the fact that they believed the world would see the return of Jesus within even a generation or two.

Were they wrong? How could we have gone through such trying times and watch the fall of the most powerful empire in the world and not see the end of this story? How did we get to where we are today?

In short, what happened?


And now Revelation begins to wind to a close as we see heaven and earth returning to God’s original intent. Indeed, John’s message of encouragement is finding its ultimate fulfillment in the affirming close of John’s vision. John speaks in Revelation 21 of a moving reunion of heaven and earth, a reunion the whole earth has been waiting for (see Romans 8) since soil and spirit had been ripped apart near the beginning of the narrative.
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
One cannot read this climactic resolution to John’s visions and not think of the last half of Isaiah 65. But in this, we also see John bringing together all sorts of other mini-narratives, not the least of these being the marital imagery we spoke of all the way back in the Exodus. The vision speaks of God wiping away tears, something that was yearned for by Jeremiah (see chapters 25 and 35). Everything the prophets spoke of and yearned for is finally experienced here. It’s a tragedy that we focus on and argue about so many of the apocalyptic details that we miss the driving image of worship and hope that lies at the end of John’s vision.
He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”
One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
Still more prophets find their fulfillment in this vision of John. Ezekiel’s vision of the new temple (an apocalyptic vision), as well as many statements made by Zechariah, drive the images John describes here. One couldn’t think of drinking freely of the water of life without remembering Isaiah’s words in chapter 55. And as far as God dealing with the immoral, it is more than a simple pronouncement of judgment on unbelievers. The preceding statement is a reference to 2 Samuel 7, but not just any reference: God was speaking to David about building His temple, something John is discussing in this very passage.

The angel who talked with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, its gates and its walls. The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia in length, and as wide and high as it is long. The angel measured the wall using human measurement, and it was 144 cubits thick. The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth ruby, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth turquoise, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of gold, as pure as transparent glass.
Following in the custom of the apocalyptic prophets who had gone before him, John has the Temple measured. But this time, John doesn’t miss the opportunity to make a major statement about this new Kingdom as seen in Jesus. This time, the Temple and the city is even bigger than it was in Ezekiel. There is enough of everything to go around for everybody who needs to be there. The numbers chosen scream out “one united people of God!” 12,000 stadia square this city is. Not only is this length an obvious multiple of 12 (the number for God’s people, as in the twelve tribes), but it’s just under 1400 miles long. John’s point is that Ezekiel didn’t think big enough. God’s new city is going to cover the entire civilized world as they knew it. The walls are over 200 feet thick, but again, what’s striking is that John uses multiples of 12 to get his message across. This is about people. There is enough heaven to go around for everyone!
I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Yes, everything is as it ought to be. John finishes with references to the closings of other apocalyptic visions. Images of nations streaming to the city of God and the gates never being shut bring us back to the prophecies of Zechariah and Isaiah.

John’s message continues to be one of hope. God will get the last word. Things will end up as they’ve been spoken of before. To those original readers who are scared for their lives, even dying by Domitian’s sword, John is reminding them of what the ancients said long before. John is calling them to keep running the race and not give up on the glorious plan of God’s redemption of all creation.

And with that, we move on to the final chapter of our Scriptures.

REVELATION: The Fall of the Dragon

As we get closer and closer to the climactic conclusion of the vision of Revelation, we can feel the heat of the ensuing confrontation. We know the beast and the dragon must ultimately be confronted and dealt with. For this, we need to pick up in the last paragraph to the nineteenth chapter.
Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to wage war against the rider on the horse and his army. But the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed the signs on its behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped its image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. The rest were killed with the sword coming out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.
And so we find ourselves at that great and final confrontation, which seems to be over as quickly as it begins. Once God decides to act and deliver creation from the order of death and darkness, it’s over. There is no waiting. God’s deliverance is here and the process of renewal commences unhindered. We are told kings of the earth come to fight against the victorious Rider who is called Faithful and True. All the caesars and kings, governors and commanders, emperors and pharaohs line up for battle, but they are too late. The beast is captured, along with the false prophets who performed the signs (more allusions to Exodus, perhaps?), and they were thrown into the lake of burning sulfur.

What I think most of us miss is that this has all happened before in the Book of Daniel. Because of our Christian theology and its relentless focus on the last day of judgment, I think we read these passages and immediately start thinking of people — souls being cast into eternal torment. But what should be clear by now is that we are talking about images of empire and the false imperial narrative holding the world hostage. That John calls us directly to Daniel 7:11 for this image should reinforce the point. Daniel, a book written about the injustice of empire, had already used this apocalyptic image to make the same point. John simply reemploys this mechanic to do so again.
And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.
John then describes an angel descending from heaven, with the keys to tehom — Hebrew for “the abyss.” This is a call back to the beginning of the story of Genesis. We are told in the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, that darkness was over tehom; and out of that primordial chaos, God spoke order into being. This angel descends with the keys to that primordial chaos where it all began. The dragon, “the Satan” in the Hebrew mind, is seized and thrown into that tehom so the nations might see things as they truly are.

Many get hung up on the phrase that Satan “must be set free for a short time.” But we usually miss that John is continuing to run right down the narrative of Daniel for his apocalyptic purposes. When the Text speaks of the Abyss being “sealed up” over him — having just referenced the book of Daniel — everyone would have realized it is the same phrase used when Daniel is thrown into the lion’s den so that (as the Book of Daniel puts it) “the purpose might not be changed concerning Daniel.” God is shutting up Satan in the Abyss in order to accomplish His purposes.
I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.
Ah, yes — the famous “millennial reign” passage. I hope we notice how obscure this reference is for all the hoopla made over it. We argue about pre-millennial, post-millennial, or a-millennial and draw entire eschatological theologies about this lone passage. It seems a bit overdone and out of place by now, I hope. At this point in our journey, numbers should make us think more like an easterner and less like a mathematician. This thousand-year reign is the Jewish equivalent of talking about an era or epoch of time. This is a Jewish way of saying, “There will be an era where the Kingdom of God is seen clearly for what it is.” It’s an apocalyptic message of hope, that all of this struggle isn’t in vain.

And this is reinforced by John’s statement above, which happens to be the point of that paragraph; this is usually missed as we argue about the millennial reign of Christ. You see, John wants everybody to know that all of those who have given their lives notto worship the beast and take his mark — all of those who gave their lives to live rightly — they get to reign with Christ. This is all a continual reference to Daniel (see Daniel 7:9).

Jewish belief in the first century, built upon their understanding of the vision of Daniel, was that those who died unjustly for walking the paths of righteousness would be honored in “the resurrection.” As the Jews looked forward to the “age to come” — or olam haba, as we’ve studied before — they pictured a world where everything was made right and justice ultimately prevailed. Jewish apocryphal works spoke about the righteous ones who died for righteousness being raised in the resurrection to reign with God and help Him restore the world. This happens to be where John goes next in the paragraph above as he references a first resurrection and a second death, which is often confusing to us, and I’ve witnessed some incredible theological gymnastics performed in order to make these references make sense in our eschatology.
When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog—and to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
John is not naive to the fact that the future lying ahead of us will be hard and filled with toil. He mentions that when Satan is “released” from his Abyss, he will mount one last effort to overthrow the true King, assembling all of the nations and Gog and Magog (more references from the Tanakh) for that great and final battle in the Valley of Jezreel — the battle of Armageddon. All of this will be far too little, far too late for Satan, as the beast, the dragon, and the picture of empire is done away with — forever.

It would be worth reminding ourselves that if we read these things too literally, we completely miss the point John is making, and we might turn his apocalyptic vision of encouragement into a crystal ball of future happenings. This is John’s message: It looks like empire is winning. It will not. You must overcome, because in the end, the dragon and the beast are defeated. Even when he mounts his last gasping attempt, God’s kingdom emerges victorious.

Or in Jesus’s words from the gospels, “ You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, … do not believe it.” Just go about the business of bringing God’s kingdom — God’s shalom — crashing into earth. To try to figure out how all of these images fit into current events is a gigantic adventure in missing the inspired point of Revelation.
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
John closes with even more references to Daniel. The idea of the Book of Life is not a Christian idea; the book of Daniel spoke of the sefer chayyim long before the New Testament did. In fact, Jews believe the “Book of Life” is recited every Yom Kippur as God justifies the righteous each year. Again, John’s larger point here is that everything is being made right, not one name is forgotten, and everything is being put in its appropriate place.

And in case we were waffling on what the “second death” and “first resurrection” were, John tells us at the closing of chapter twenty. The “first death” is the obvious one that all of us will experience. The “second death” is the final destruction of evil and the Devil once and for all. The “second death” is the final victory of the Order of Life. In the same way, the “first resurrection” is the apocalyptic belief that the righteous will be given their opportunity to reign in the world to come. The “second resurrection” is the final victory that ushers in such a world for all of eternity.

Pictures and images.

Pictures and images.

Are the pictures true? Sure.

Do we know how these would look in a literal application? Not at all.

What is John’s point? Hope. John’s point is hope. John’s point is that God wins.
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