The Lion is Really a Lamb: An Overview of Revelation 1-5

Radically Following Jesus — An Introduction to the book of Revelation

What’s the devil’s name?

In the ancient Near East, a name contained the soul and essence of the being named. As such, the being was not only defined by the name, but fated to fulfill the destiny of the meaning of the name. When the humans named the animals, they were giving them meaning and purpose in God’s creation. Benoni (“son of my pain”) thankfully got his name changed to Benjamin (“son of my right side”). He could have wound up like Ichabod (“the glory has departed”). When Jacob’s name (“heel-catcher,” “trickster”) was changed to Israel (“ruled by God”), and when Saul’s name (“big”) was changed (apparently on his own) to Paul (“small”), significant shifts in destiny were endowed. New life demands a new name.

Evil in scripture is not given the dignity of a name. It is only labeled. Various metaphors are used – the devil, demons, the satan, dragon, serpent, snake, Beelzebub (lord of the flies), prince of darkness, Apollyon (destroyer), Lucifer (light), etc. – but no proper name. Those are all titles; none of them are proper names. Satan is not the devil’s name. It is the transliteration of a Hebrew word meaning adversary, foe, opponent, enemy, destroyer, or accuser. The Hebrew word śāṭān, occurs throughout the Hebrew Bible and refers to both human and celestial enemies. People opposed to God are referred to in the Bible as śāṭān. The word is accompanied by the definite article. It is ha-satanthe accuser—it’s a job description rather than a proper name.

When we accuse, judge, or slander our fellow human beings we are doing the devil’s work.

Far more dangerous and sinister than some red guy with horns, tail, and trident, the śāṭān is an intelligent force of evil actively seeking to destroy God’s creation. Out of chaos, God brought forth order. Heaven and earth overlapped in creation. God walked in the garden with adam (adam means “human”) and eve (eve mean “life”) in the cool of the day. Celestial beings like cherubim and a talking serpent interacted with humans and terrestrial animals. There was no division between an unseen spiritual world and an experiential physical world. 

The Bible comes full circle, ending with heaven coming to earth, the two realms unified. The task of the humans was (and is) to push back the chaos outside Eden – to unite the spiritual with the physical across all the earth. The śāṭān sought (and seeks) to pull it all back into chaos. Evil partially succeeded – Cain, the first city built on violence, Babel, antediluvian violence, wars, poverty, oppression, slavery, injustice, misogyny, racism, environmental destruction. The śāṭān is ever seeking to destroy. 

But God (what a beautiful phrase – “but God”); but God took on a human body, became incarnate; the eternal Word became flesh. It is Kingdom come. The Kingdom of God came with Jesus, is here now with all under King Jesus’ authority, and will be fully manifest at his appearing. God is at work. God is making all things new. God invites us to join the divine trinitarian dance in making all new, bringing order out of chaos. We are doing so with each child we embrace, each sick or infirmed person we visit, each victim of injustice we defend, each execution and war we oppose, each enemy we forgive, and each plastic bottle we recycle. 

Jesus said the road is wide that leads to destruction; the path to life is narrow. Primrose Lane looks attractive. It is the highway of the crowd, the place of popularity and glistening honors. Once on it, however, one eventually finds it is increasingly narrow, oppressive, dehumanizing. On it, life becomes closed in around self. 

The road less traveled is unpaved, at times steep, winding, natural and simple in its beauty. Along it, in quiet solitude and stillness, one hears the warble of the wren, sees the gentle fawn grazing, and feels the soft kiss of the breeze as it wafts fragrances. As we continue along it deeper and deeper into the wild and wonderful untamed garden, we discover that it becomes increasingly open, broad, expansive. New worlds of beauty and grace open before us. It leads to a new heaven and a new earth; heaven come to earth, kingdom come, the garden city of God where the gates are never shut and where all are welcome. Along the way, we find our true selves filled with altruistic joy.

My mother insisted on giving my sister and me simple everyday names – Ann and Larry. Near the end of a silent directed retreat as I lay prostrate before the altar, I felt that perhaps God was giving me a new name – יְהוֹחָנָן‎ (Yəhôḥānān), which means YHWH is gracious.

“They’re going to ask me your name,” Moses protested to the divine voice speaking to him from a burning bush. “Tell them my name is I AM – YHWH,” replied the Almighty One.

YHWH: 

  • י (yud or yod pronounced YOHD or JOD)
  • ה (he pronounced HEY)
  • ו (vav pronounced VAHD or VAV)

·      ה (he pronounced HEY)                                                  

YHWH, the unpronounceable tetragrammaton, in Orthodox Jewish tradition, too sacred to even attempt to pronounce. Some scholars believe it to be breath sounds – yohd, hey, vahd, hey – the sound of breathing. In Hebrew and Greek the worlds for “spirit” and “breath” are the same. God breathed into the human and the human became a living soul. 

God incarnate. And you shall call his name Jesus – YHWH-SUS – I AM SALVATION.

It is Jesus who breathes into us the new life so necessary to traverse the new path to the new creation. New life. New road. New Kingdom. New heaven. New earth. New creation. All things new. New name.

“… and you shall be called by a new name that YHWH will give you. (Isaiah 62:2b)

But the śāṭān isn’t even dignified with a name.

Daniel 10-12: Searching for God in the Midst of Turmoil

God Loves People; Empires, not so much — Daniel 9

1968

I was a junior in high school for the first half of 1968; worked at a marine field lab during the summer, and was a senior for the last quarter of that year. It was a momentous year – one that changed America and me. 

In 1968:

  • Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were both assassinated.
  • Massive riots and civil unrest erupted in most major US cities; curfews were imposed, thousands were arrested, many died, whole sections of cities burnt to the ground, Federal troops were called in. 
  • My drafting teacher came to school in his army fatigues.
  • Thomas Merton, Helen Keller, John Steinbeck, Upton Sinclair, and Karl Barth died.
  • The Prague Spring was brutally crushed by the USSR.
  • Two sanitation workers in Memphis were crushed to death taking refuge in the back of a trash truck during a storm because they were not allowed inside the building with white men. 
  • Kids my age were slaughtered during the Tet Offensive n Vietnam.  
  • North Korea captured the USS Pueblo and her crew.
  • In My Lai, US soldiers massacred women and children.
  • Civil rights marches and worker strikes took place around the country. 
  • Riots triggered by police brutality disrupted the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
  • The Black Panther Party provided food, healthcare and education to impoverished neighborhoods. 
  • Second wave feminism was born. 
  • Black athletes protested with raised fists on the Olympic podium.
  • College campuses all over the world erupted in anti-war protests.
  • In Oakland, CA, the police murdered 17 year-old Bobby Hutton, a Black Panther sympathizer.
  • The National Guard murdered three student protestors on the campus in South Carolina.
  • The Catonsville (Maryland) Nine, including the Berrigan priest brothers, were arrested for protesting the war in Vietnam. 
  • An explosion in a West Virginia coalmine killed 78 miners. 
  • Hippies sought universal peace through mind-expanding drugs.
  • Nixon was elected president. Segregationist George Wallace won 5 states. 
  • Sly and the family Stone danced to the music.
  • Bob Dylan stayed home with his wife and three children.

1968 was the beginning of my journey from agnosticism to Anabaptist Christian. 

1968 left me with a profound sense of the immorality of war and racism and a deep passion for justice. 

In 1968, I volunteered to tutor inner city kids. One had part of his ear missing. Rats chewed it off. Another was learning disabled. She had been so hungry as an infant, she had eaten lead-based paint chips from the windowsill.

In 1968, I volunteered to coach a little league team of boys from the projects. The league was run by Mary Dobkin, a bilateral leg amputee, abandoned at birth, who lived on welfare in the projects with those she served.

The year before, Jesus found me, alone, sacred, confused, and broken. He called my “Little One” and told me he loved me. 

My life since then has had one primary purpose: to share Jesus’ love with hurting people.

The Dark Side of Christmas: Daniel 8

Please stop it

Certainly, we need to be concerned about the state of society. 

I’m even more concerned with the state of the American church.

This isn’t partisan. I’m neither Republican nor Democrat, and this is equally applicable to both ends of the political spectrum.

In a recent (October 2020) essay[1], fifteen eminent social scientists identified three core reasons for the extreme political divisions we are experiencing in America today. They are:

  • Othering
  • Aversion
  • Moralization

Othering means lumping people into a group and viewing everyone in that group as alien, different, dissimilar. Othering allows us to condemn whole people groups in our minds and hearts, to dismiss large swaths of human beings created in God’s image for whom Christ died.

Aversion is disliking, even hating or loathing those in the other group. Step back and listen to the language used by your tribe when referring to other tribes. It is too often deeply disrespectful, unloving, even at times cruel.

Moralization is judging the other group as being sinful, iniquitous, wrong, evil. It is impossible to reason with someone who thinks God is on his side or that he has special insights into the nature of morality. When all is reduced to good vs. evil, right vs. wrong, we lose the ability to listen, learn, respect, and connect.

It’s all around us. White/black. Citizen/non-citizen. Male/Female. Law-abiding/thug. Democrat/Republican. Conservative/Liberal. Jew/Gentile. Straight/LGBTQ. Moslem/Christian. Pro-life/Pro-choice. Black Lives Matter/Blue Lives Matter. News/Fake news. Vaccine/anti-vaccine. Guns/regulation. My kind of Christian/your kind of Christian.

Most tragically, it’s in the church. 

If we are followers of Jesus, we will love one another. We will love our enemies. We will turn the other cheek. We will be one as God is one. We will seek unity and peace. We will be humble and teachable, vulnerable and authentic. We will refuse to judge. we will serve. We will wash feet. We will care for those Jesus called “the least.” We will love.


[1] Political sectarianism in America; Eli J. Finkel, Christopher A. Bail, Mina Cikara, Peter H. Ditto, Shanto Iyengar, Samara Klar, Lilliana Mason, Mary C. McGrath, Brendan Nyhan, David G. Rand, Linda J. Skitka, Joshua A. Tucker, Jay J. Van Bavel, Cynthia S. Wang and James N. Druckman; Science 370 (6516), 533-536. DOI: 10.1126/science.abe1715

“Natural Evil”

In his latest book, N. T. Wright speaks of “broken signposts.” In his view, there are seven main sign posts:

  1. Justice
  2. Beauty
  3. Relationships
  4. Spirituality
  5. Freedom
  6. Truth
  7. Power

All seven point to God. They are real signposts that really do point us toward God – we do not live in the world of John-Paul Sartre where all is absurd, nor in a Nietzschean world where might makes right. The innate longing for justice that is heard in every child’s cry for fairness, the beauty of the unpolluted natural world, the natural pursuit of meaningful human relationships, the universal longing for spiritual meaning, our unanimous yearning for freedom, and search for truth, and the necessity of owning one’s personal power in order to flourish are all indications that there is a Higher Power behind it all. We would not yearn for love or beauty, or truth or meaning, if there were no beauty, truth, meaning, or love somewhere in the universe. If those things were nonexistent, we would have no hunger for them. The presence of thirst is itself proof that water exists, whether or not it is at hand.

An ultimate Being who fully just, essentially beautiful, who lives in loving relationship, who gives spiritual meaning and purpose, in whom we find freedom, and discover truth and the real meaning of power, is in fact the Triune God of the Bible. Throughout scripture, God is revealed as a God of justice, beauty, relationship, spirituality, freedom, truth and power. Discovering those things, points us towards God.

And yet, all seven are, as Tom Wright points out, broken. Each can go wrong. Justice can, and too often is, perverted, denied to this or that group. The beauty of nature may be destroyed by greed, and the beauty of art or music can deviate into debauchery. Relationships, as we all sadly know, can become toxic or violent. Spirituality is morphed into self-worship; sacrifices are offered to consumerism, nationalism, or militarism. The freedom of one is built on the enslavement of another, and freedom degenerates into doing whatever I want to do even if it harms you. Truth, whether it be scientific, medical, or political has in many circles already been replaced with lies and propaganda. And, as Lord Acton famously remarked, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Abuses of power are routine.

The signposts designed to point us to God can instead, if misapplied, lead us in the opposite direction. The rebellious nature has the ability to reduce beauty to ashes.

So-called “natural evil” presents a dilemma for theodicy. It is not difficult to see that we humans cause much of the evil in the world with our wars, racism, exploitive greed, and selfish choices. But what about tsunamis, floods, and earthquakes?

There once was a magnificent factory designed to produce all that the village needed safely and efficiently, without polluting anything or overworking anyone. The architect was brilliant. She employed the finest minds in engineering who employed the latest concepts in sustainable design. Empathetic industrial psychologists carefully considered working conditions, and the finest contractors in the land built the factory. It was a work of art. 

The villagers were thrilled. Every adult had meaningful, enjoyable employment. The town prospered. The finest of schools were built. Every child had the latest computer technology. The teachers were the highest paid in the land. Music halls, theaters, art galleries, and sports facilities were built – all the envy of the land. There was no homelessness. People of all ethnicities lived together in safe affordable housing. The best of medical care was provided to all, free of charge – the factory paid all the bills. Firefighters and paramedics, like doctors and nurses, were paid wages triple that of anywhere else. There was simply no need of a police force. There was no jail, no prison, no criminal court. No one owned a gun. Anyone who showed the initial signs of emerging mental illness or addiction was swiftly provided with state-of-the-art treatment. Houses of worship were filled each week.

The towns people voted to give the newly open job of factory general manager to a golden boy. He had all the credentials. He was handsome, rich, and had an enviable resumé. He always had a stunningly beautiful woman on his arm. And, he knew how to tell everyone exactly what they wanted to hear. 

At first things seemed fine, but after some time had gone by, little deteriorations were noted. The factory’s products became increasingly shoddy, working conditions grew dangerous, accidents occurred. Someone noticed sludge being pumped into the river. Clouds of foul-smelling dust covered the town. People started to get sick. The company stopped paying for medical care. Orders dropped off. Workers were laid off. Unemployment and poverty grew. Hungry and desperate people started to rob and steal. A police force was established and a jail built. Criminal courts emerged. Attorneys moved to town. Politicians made deals behind closed doors. They grew richer as the town grew poorer. The manager played people off one another. Prejudice, racism, scapegoating, gaslighting grew. Reporters warned of corruption. They were renounced as “enemies of the people,” threatened, run out of town, and replaced with propaganda masters. Truth came to be defined as whatever the factory manager said it was. Many of the artists and musicians moved elsewhere. Teachers, physicians, and nurses took jobs in other towns and were replaced by gamblers, grifters, and mobsters. Addiction, suicide, crime, and murder rose as education levels and church attendance fell.

Of course, there was still beauty to be found in the stars above, the hills outside of town, in the eyes of babies and lovers. There was still some music, some art, and some (mostly elderly) devout souls. The oppressed hungered or justice; the young yearned for authentic relationships, and the wretched longed to breathe free. 

What had gone wrong? There was nothing wrong with the original design. It was all the fault of the manager and those he hired. 

So it is with our world, designed by a loving God and created in perfection. But humans gave their power to a manager, an angel of light, the god of this world, the prince of darkness, and under his malevolent oversight, things are amiss. Hurricanes, tornados, pandemics, parasites, and toxins exist because satan in managing the factory we call earth. Most of the other bad stuff we humans cause ourselves, albeit with satanic influence.

Christmas

He was one of those men whose

Age was impossible to 

Ascertain – he likely was not

As old as he looked because he

Appeared ancient. Bedraggled, 

Poor, shuffling along in shoes

Three sizes too big stuffed with

Socks that hadn’t been washed in

Months. Or has it been years?

Worn out coat pulled tightly against

The bitter New York wind, hands in two 

Sets of gloves, also worn. And yet,

He looked happy. He smiled at passersby

Not with a smile seeking anything other than

Giving away some strange joy that 

Rested within him in spite of being an impoverished

Homeless discounted black man in 

America the White. 

Past the humming neon

Past the blindingly lit high end

Stores where stylish young

Women took platinum credit cards out of

Four-thousand-dollar purses to pay for

Yet another pair of eight-thousand-dollar

Shoes too uncomfortable to walk in.

Past the Lamborghini and Ferrari

Dealership where glistening vehicles

Await the princes of this world and

Past the jewelry cases full of diamonds and

The exclusive trendy restaurants where

Couples routinely spent a thousand dollars 

For dinner before setting out for the

Theater box seats

Not a hint of envy in his visage as he

Shuffled along, nodding and smiling his 

Greeting to the shocked who mostly

Looked away either in shame or in

Embarrassment or in arrogance.

Small children unskilled in proper 

Class etiquette smiled back not knowing 

The danger of admitting humanity.

Through Times Square, past 

Rockefeller Center with towering

Blinking Christmas tree and laughing

Ice-skaters. Past the theater district, he

Shuffled along without a token for

The subway where more fortunate 

Homeless people slept in urine-soaked

Pants, McDonald’s wrappers at their sides.

On he walked, still nodding, smiling at 

Passersby, through the financial district where

Young men in ten-thousand-dollar suits sped

Energized into fast-forward by caffeine and

Cocaine. Far too busy to even notice him as

He turned down alleys into places only

Ragged and broken people know exist.

There, he paused, moving slowly from 

Cardboard shelter to blanket bundle to

Dumpster to grate where steam emerged

From a nether world where dogs licked 

Scraps of bone.

There, he knelt, and touched, and

Smiled. There, he wiped faces and held 

Hands. There, he prayed and sang

Soft lullabies his mother taught him

Before she died so young so long ago.

There, he waited and watched as

Sirens screamed while far above an

Infant wailed unceasingly, her belly

Craving food, any food, 

Any at all.

There, he held a sick old woman as she

Shook with the chills of fever and wretched

With vomit. He did not seem to even

Notice the smell of feces, garbage, rot, 

Urine, vomit, and cheap whiskey that

Combined to meet the hot steam as it

Joined the frigid winter air.

Friends of his arrived in twos and

Threes as subway cars roared off

Clanking towards another stop. Their arms

Were full of blankets and boxes, the

Boxes filled with meals of protein and

Grain. They greeted him with embraces,

Returning his smile as they wrapped

Cold bodies in waterproof blankets and 

Handed out meals to hungry hands while

Spooning food into those too weak to

Feed themselves. 

Here was Christmas

Here was Kingdom

Here was King

Here was Cathedral

Here were Christians

Here was love

But the world did not notice.

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