Showing posts with label #EndTimes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #EndTimes. Show all posts

Aren’t we living in the last days?

by K.W. Leslie, 07 March

Yes.

But you may not realize what that answer means. Usually because most people don’t realize what the question means.

In the scriptures, “the last days” does not mean the End Times, the world right before Jesus returns, the reign of Jesus which follows, and the end of the world which comes right after that. But that’s what most people think it means; pagans and Christians alike. So when they ask, “Aren’t we living in the last days?” what they really mean is “Aren’t we living in the End Times?” Do the current events we see on the news, correspond with John’s end-time visions in Revelation?

The answer to that question is no. We’re not living in the End Times. Because the End Times actually don’t start till Jesus returns. It doesn’t consist of any pretrib rapture and one-world government and great tribulation. It starts and ends with Christ Jesus.

When we’re living in the End Times, you’ll know it. Everybody’s gonna see that second coming. Whether they believe it, or insist it’s fake news ’cause they have an entirely different-looking second coming in mind—one which better aligns with their terrifying, vengeful views—is another thing.

So if the last days aren’t the End Times, what are they?

Well y’know how the western calendar divides human history into BCE and CE? (Or the older terms, BC and AD?) The Common Era, or Christian Era, is the division we live in; the Before-Christian Era is the division which came before. In the BCE humanity looked forward to Messiah’s first coming; in the CE we look forward to his second. And before these eras were formally made part of the calendar, Christians thought of these periods as the “first days” and the “last days”—and in these last days, God sent us his son. He 1.2

The guys who put the western calendar together got the year of Messiah’s birth wrong; it’s six years off. The last days actually began 2,028 years ago.

And yeah, when you tell people this, they freak out a little. Because they thought the last days are the End Times. And the longer people believe something that’s not true—especially when we’ve made it a core belief!—the bigger the upheaval when someone finally corrects us. In fact, as you might’ve seen, some people refuse the correction, and insist they were right all along. You’re the one who’s wrong. You’ve been misled by evildoers. Maybe you’re an evildoer. And so on, right down the paranoid rabbit hole.

Usually when someone asks me “Are we living in the last days?” they want or expect me to answer “Oh obviously we are,” and confirm all their fearful beliefs about how all the current events have perfectly lined up with their End Times Timeline. In fact they’re kinda hoping I know some other connections between current events and the Timeline. Anything which supports their views.

They don’t want me to correct ’em with, “Actually the last days began when Jesus was born.” In fact I’ve found some of them already know this—“Yeah, yeah, I know the ‘last days’ began when Jesus was born; I mean End Times.” They don’t care that they’re using the wrong term; they’re just using the same term everyone else does. It doesn’t even matter to them. The only thing which matters is there’s evil out there. The Beast is putting together his evil, evil schemes. But they’re on the righteous side—and ready and eager to fight everyone who’s not.

Yeah, they wanna fight. Are we fighting alongside them? Or are they gonna fight us too? ’Cause honestly, they could go either way. We’re either a source of ammunition, or conflict.

There is no pretrib rapture.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 February

Years ago I was at a prayer meeting where we watched some video about the End Times… and I let slip I didn’t buy it. Yeah there’s a rapture; it’s in the bible; duh. Yeah there’s the second coming, when Jesus returns to take possession of his world, and we Christians join his procession. But the rapture takes place at the second coming. Not before any period of great tribulation, nor in the middle of it. That whole tribulation timeline? Not in the bible. At all.

Some of these folks reacted as if I’d just grown a second head.

It’s understandable. They grew up in churches which taught a pretrib rapture: Before the world is thrown into misery, with the Beast running amok and Christians getting persecuted and slaughtered, Jesus supposedly whisks us away so we needn’t live through any of it. We’re safe and sound in heaven with him, watching all the mayhem on earth, rooting for our left-behind family members to get saved… then somehow not get murdered by a world full of antichrists.

I grew up in such churches too. I’d heard this bushwa all my life. Most Christians who have, never bother to ask, “Where’s this found in the bible?” We don’t look for it. We don’t read Revelation; we read books about it by “prophecy scholars“ who claim to know what it means. I guess they read it so we don’t have to.

Hence Christians take the idea as a given. Love the idea. ’Cause they don’t have to suffer tribulation? Who’d want to? It’s like “going out the heavenly fire escape,” as my mom likes to put it: When the going gets tough, we Christians get to go.

So when I suggest there’s no pretrib rapture, to them it’s like saying there’s no heaven.

“You go right ahead and believe what you believe,” one of the prayer meeting members later told me. “You can stay here and ride out the tribulation. I’m gonna get raptured.”

“So basically I can go to hell with all the unbelievers?” I said.

“I didn’t mean that,” she backtracked.

“I know. But here’s the thing: I don’t wanna ride out the tribulation. Who seriously wants to live through tribulation? I’m no masochist; I wanna get raptured! I love the idea. It’s just it’s not from the bible.”

Jesus is returning. Sooner than you think.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 February
IMMEDIACY ɪ'mi.di.ə.si noun. Bringing one into direct, instant involvement with something. (Usually including a sense of urgency or excitement.)
2. Christian doctrine that Christ Jesus may return at any time.
[Immediacist ɪ'mi.di.ə.sɪst adjective.]

I don’t know when Jesus will return.

Neither do you. Neither does anyone. Neither did Jesus, Mk 13.32 although some Christians are mighty sure he found out once he ascended to heaven. And occasionally some nutjob will claim the Father told them when it’s gonna happen, and use the occasion to whip gullible Christians into a frenzy; maybe get ’em to join their death cult or something.

All of them have been, and will be, lying. Because Jesus said that info is none of our business.

Acts 1.6-7 NRSVue
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.”

We don’t need to know when. We only need to know it’s gonna happen. Jesus is coming back.

It’s part of orthodox Christianity, y’know. Like the Apostles Creed has it, “He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.” Any Christian who thinks Jesus isn’t coming back to us from heaven is heretic. Doesn’t mean they’re going to hell; just means they’ve gone horribly wrong.

And a big part of knowing Jesus is coming back, is knowing he can return at any time. We’re even instructed to watch for it. If we’re not, he’ll return when we don’t expect him. Which is why he intentionally warned us to expect him. Stay awake and watch for it. Mk 13.37 Don’t let him take you by surprise!

Luke 12.35-48 NRSVue
35 “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes during the middle of the night or near dawn and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
39 “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
41 Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?” 42 And the Lord said, “Who, then, is the faithful and prudent manager whom his master will put in charge of his slaves, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? 43 Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. 44 Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. 45 But if that slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the other slaves, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk, 46 the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. 47 That slave who knew what his master wanted but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted will receive a severe beating. 48 But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required, and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.”

Much of the reason Jesus hasn’t yet returned, is because he’s giving the world many, many chances to repent before he returns. 2Pe 3.9 So take advantage of this time!Get right with God. Because once Jesus does return, time’s up. 2Pe 3.10

Millennium: When Jesus rules the world.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 February
MILLENNIUM mə'lɛ.ni.əm noun. Thousand years.
2. One of the thousand-year periods after Christ’s birth: The first millennium, the third millennium, etc.
3. Where one thousand-year period ends and another begins.
4. [theology] Christ Jesus’s reign on earth, represented in an apocalypse as a thousand-year age.
[Millennial mɪ'lɛ.ni.əl adjective.]

Whenever Christians talk about being “premillennial” or “amillenial,” no we’re not criticizing millennials, the kids born after the year 2000. We’re talking End Times theories. (We’ll use other terms to criticize millennials.)

The idea comes from Revelation. In one of its visions of Jesus’s second coming (oh, you didn’t know there are multiple visions of the second coming in Revelation? Y’oughta read it sometime), Jesus returns, brings us Christians back from the dead, throws Satan into the abyss for 10 centuries, and rules the world. At the end of that time, Satan gets out, starts a fight, Jesus ends it, judges the world, and ends the world—to be replaced by New Heaven/Earth.

Shall I quote the vision? Why not.

Revelation 20.1-10 NRSVue
1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. 2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years 3 and threw him into the pit and locked and sealed it over him, so that he would deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be let out for a little while.
4 Then I saw thrones, and those seated on them were given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its brand on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5 (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. Over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him a thousand years.
7 When the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will come out to deceive the nations at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, in order to gather them for battle; they are as numerous as the sands of the sea. 9 They marched up over the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from heaven and consumed them. 10 And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

At face value, it looks like Jesus is literally gonna reign over earth, as the human king of a political kingdom, for a literal thousand years. If Jesus returned in 1988 (he didn’t; I'm just picking a not-all-that-random example) it means the actual end of the world will take place in the year 2988. Mighty long time from now. But as resurrected Christians, who’ll no longer die, we’ll be alive to see it.

But bear in mind: This millennium is part of an apocalyptic vision. It’s not a literal millennium; apocalypses aren’t a literal anything. We honestly don’t know whether it represents a thousand-year stretch of time, a significantly long time-period, or just a significant time period of any length whatsoever.

Hence Christians have come up with various ideas of what it looks like, and generally I’m going over the main three. Handy-dandy chart time:


Three possible timelines of the future. That’ll make things clear as mud.

Amillennials: Those who figure the second coming is the End.

Since most Christians look at Revelation and throw up their hands in confusion, you’re gonna find most Christians are amillennial. That means they don‘t believe any such millennium is gonna happen. Christ Jesus is gonna rule the world… but it’s not gonna take the shape of a thousand-year earthly kingdom. He reigns over Christendom from heaven… and eventually we’re gonna die and go to him.

For amillennials (or amillennialists), they go with the idea we find everywhere else in the bible: Once Jesus shows up, it’s judgment day.

2 Peter 3.8-13 NRSVue
8 But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. 9 The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be destroyed with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.
11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and destroyed and the elements will melt with fire? 13 But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.

Simon Peter sure made it look like the second coming and the end of the world take place simultaneously. So… was Peter wrong, or did John misunderstand the vision he saw? Is this a massive bible discrepancy?

Amillennials point out it doesn’t need to be. Y’notice Peter said a millennium is like a day? (In context Peter’s trying to explain why it’s taking Jesus so very long to return to earth, 2Pe 3.3-7 but you realize nobody pays attention to context.) So since time’s all the same to God, the millennium doesn’t matter. It doesn’t have to represent any time—and they’re pretty sure it doesn’t.

Since there are more passages about how the Lord’s Day (or the LORD’s Day, which is how we tend to translate the Old Testament’s י֣וֹם לַיהוָ֧ה/yom la-YHWH) is about death and mayhem and destruction, plenty of Christians figure that is what Jesus’s second coming is gonna look like. Jesus isn’t coming to save the world; they figure he did that already. He’s coming to destroy it. When the Lord Jesus appears in the clouds, if you haven’t joined his team by now, you’re toast.

To amillennals, Jesus doesn’t return to give humanity any last chances. There are none. This, the world we live in right now, is our last chance. That’s why Jesus is delaying his return. ’Cause once he returns it’s judgment day. There’s no thousand-year reign of grace and peace.

As a bible scholar I gotta agree with the amillennials: The weight of the bible passages found throughout the bible, throughout the prophets who write about the LORD’s Day, is in favor of no millennium at all. That’s why I can’t utterly dismiss their view: It has merit!

And it’s for this reason I’m never gonna suggest anyone take a “wait and see” approach when it comes to Jesus’s return: Pick your side now! After all, we never know when we’re gonna die. When it comes to death, I don’t see any second chances in the scriptures. Better be safe, than infinitely sorry.

But the reason I’m not in the amillennial camp: I can’t bring myself to totally dismiss Revelation 20.

Postmillennials: Those who figure we create the millennium.

The postmillennial interpretation has been found here and there throughout Christianity. It got really popular among Protestants during the modern era; largely from the late 1700s to the early 1900s. It’s the idea this is the millennium; the church age. Well… if we make it the church age; if we get off our collective arses and start following Jesus.

Once we Christians quit making excuses, quit sinning, revive the rest of humanity around us, fix society, fix the world, and make God’s kingdom out of the world: Then, then, Jesus will return to rule over us personally.

The idea appeared here and there over the centuries, but it didn’t really take off till the modern era. Because it’s based on modernism. I know; the label “modernism” has been slapped on so many things, it’s hard to know what anybody means by it anymore. (Most people assume I mean “getting Christianity with the times,” because modernizing regularly gets mixed up with modernism. Nope.) Modernism is a worldview which believes humans can reshape our world into whatever we want. So once we realize this, we can fix the world! We can fix everything. We can solve all humanity’s problems with science and money and happy thoughts. Think Star Trek, which is entirely based on the idea—although it’s nontheist instead of Christian, because creator Gene Roddenberry believed religion was another problem for humanity to do away with. Guess only Klingons and Bajorans and Vulcans get to be religious.

Since humanity is selfish, a nontheist utopia is an oxymoron, as Marxists kept discovering. The only way we could truly fix anything is through the Holy Spirit’s power. Thing is, Christians have tried to create utopias many times throughout history… and failed, because sin got into the works and gummed ’em up. And in some cases they were doomed from the beginning. The National Socialists’ idea of a thousand-year Reich (yep, they totally borrowed postmillennial ideas to sell their platform!) was fueled by nationalism, racism, and war, and are probably the best example of how much humanity can suck when we let the wrong people take charge. “Make Germany Great Again” made Germany suck.

The world wars woke up Christians to these facts, which is why we don’t see a lot of postmillennials anymore. Or it takes the form of Christians who claim the Christian Era is the millennium—that Jesus rules the world, or at least the Christian world, right this very minute. (If so, he’s making a real mess of things!) But the view we’re already in the millennium, tends to look and function exactly like amillennialism: The world goes on till Jesus returns, and then it ends.

Premillennials: Jesus returns, and brings his kingdom with him.

Premillennials (like, admittedly, me) take our view from Revelation 20. After the second coming, Rv 19.11-16 after the Beast and false prophet are thrown into the fire, and their allies are killed and eaten by birds (yuck), Rv 19.17-21 Satan itself gets locked in the abyss (KJV “bottomless pit”), a sort of prison for devils. And this leaves a clear path for Messiah to rule the world unhindered.

All those people who aren’t Christian, don’t know Jesus, don’t even think they wanna know Jesus? They finally get to meet him. The imaginary versions of Jesus in their heads will be irrelevant: Actual living, breathing Jesus will be walking around on earth again, interacting with people. Christians do a poor job of demonstrating what he’s like, but now Jesus will do that himself. Pagans get to see him as he really is. Skeptics have to deal with reality.

Put into special positions of responsibility and authority are the martyrs, those who died for Jesus and resisted tribulation. Rv 20.4 Some preachers claim this includes every Christian who was resurrected at Jesus’s second coming. 1Th 4.15-17 Including them, they suppose. (They hope.) But it all depends on what they did for Jesus. If you call the average Christian’s life in the United States “suffering for Christ,” I think you’re seriously delusional. Jesus has in mind people who really did give up everything for him, Mk 10.29-31 not wannabes who assume pushback is persecution.

These resurrected Christians will rule the world under Jesus. And finally the world will be led right. With justice and fairness. With grace, forgiveness, and mercy. By judges who share Jesus’s character, and rule like he does. No more do we have to worry about hypocrites and frauds in positions of power; Jesus’s officers won’t be anything like the politicians or pastors we’re used to. They’ll be good rulers. They’ll fix the world.

Oh, it won’t be heaven. Not for another 10 centuries. But heaven’s kingdom will rule the world, and rule it properly. It’s something wonderful to look forward to.

Wait, what about judgment and wrath and all that?

There are both premillennials and amillennials whose ideas of the End have nothing to do with salvation, and everything to do with fire and bloodshed and vengeance and mayhem. It’s all their dark Christian fantasies come to life, as everything and everyone they don’t like gets torched.

All the fruit of the Spirit which Jesus demonstrates, which the Spirit’s trying to grow in us? Irrelevant. God’s gonna smite the wicked, and we get to watch with vengeful glee.

If you’re getting the idea I think this view of the End is twisted and sick, good. But it’s fairly common among twisted and sick Christians. They want evil people to suffer, not repent. They want sinners to die, not come to Jesus. Twisted amillennials imagine Jesus returning to kill all the wicked and destroy the world. Twisted postmillennials willingly offer to kill the wicked themselves. And twisted premillennials also imagine Jesus returning to kill the wicked, and pave his kingdom over their corpses.

True, the prophets’ writings about the LORD’s Day make it sound dire. Like God’s totally gonna stomp on the wicked. Yet even in these passages, it sounds like… God’s coming to save the world. Save the oppressed from their oppressors. Save the needy from the wicked. Save Israel from its enemies.

Now, God’s prophets never state the oppressed, the needy, the Israelis, are believers. Instead they point out God’s in favor of any needy people, Hebrew or not. God objects to other nations oppressing their needy. Any needy. He plays no favorites.

When you really read these LORD’s Day passages, y’start to notice they generally sound like the Exodus—when God saved the Hebrews, then made them his people. Or like the Christians, when Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners. Ro 5.8 The LORD’s Day sounds like a day that’s awful for wicked oppressors… but also a day when God gives grace to the humble, makes right what’s wrong, and is the savior for people who don’t even realize they have a savior yet. (After all, we Christians have done a really lousy job of showing them so.)

If God stays true to his character, even on Judgment Day, I can’t expect wrath and anger and destruction right away. Oh, those things’ll come eventually; they always do. But I’ve always recognized the millennium as a repeat of what God did in the Exodus—this time on a global scale. And better: This time with the king living among his people in person. This time with the priests not just limited to the Levites, and the prophets not just limited to the Seventy. God’s gonna show people what his kingdom was always meant to look like. Then present them the choice to accept or reject it.

I expect for many, it’ll be just what they’ve always dreamt of. And for others, for the people who want nothing to do with Jesus, for the self-described Christians who really only pay Jesus lip service, it’ll be horrifying; it’s what they always feared. But there’ll be no more nebulous speculation… as there is these days about what the millennium might look like.

The second coming of Christ Jesus.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 February

After the tribes of Israel were dragged off into exile by the Assyrians and Babylonians, they really started digging into and holding onto the prophecies of a coming messiah. Messiah is what they called their kings; it means “anointed person,” ’cause at his coronation they poured a hornful of oil over him to represent the Holy Spirit coming to empower their king. (Presuming the Holy Spirit did empower their king. Some of those kings, not so much.) Anyway, they figured God would restore the kingdom of Israel and give ’em a really good messiah. The best messiah. Better than King David ben Jesse; he’d rule them righteously and victoriously, and defeat all their enemies easily. Maybe even conquer the whole world, just like the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians were kinda trying to do.

Jesus the Nazarene did not meet their expectations. But to be fair, the ancient Israelis overlaid a whole lot of their prejudices atop all the messianic prophecies: They wanted him to destroy their enemies with death and carnage. He wants to destroy his enemies by getting them to repent and become his friends. God is love; we humans most definitely aren’t.

The first step in Jesus’s conquest of the world was defeating sin and death, which he achieved in the year 33. The second step is what he’s currently doing now: His followers, us Christians, are meant to apply that salvation, be the light of the world, love our neighbors, and win ’em to Jesus’s side.

And the next step is when Jesus comes back to earth, personally, to continue that work in person.

Yes of course he’s coming back. He made that clear in the beginning of Acts:

Acts 1.1-11 NRSVue
1 In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and teach 2 until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4 While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Based on this and other scriptures, we Christians expect—once God decides the time is right—Jesus will return to earth. In person. As the head of an invading army of angels and at least 2 billion newly-resurrected Christians. To personally supervise God’s kingdom on earth, which he will rule himself as king.

We call this the second coming, or second advent, or in theologian-speak, parousia (Greek παρουσία/parusía, “coming”) of Christ. His first coming was when he was born, of course, and shared the good news of the kingdom with first-century Israel. We don’t count any of the many other times he visits people on earth, like he did with Paul, Ac 9.3-5 as formal “comings”—formal as they might feel to those people whose lives are significantly changed by seeing him.

Jesus’s second coming is an orthodox Christian doctrine: It’s something all true Christians are expected to believe. Various Christians insist it’s really not, but it’s in the creeds—so if you claim he’s not returning, you’ve gone heretic. Doesn’t mean Jesus can’t and won’t save you regardless; it only means you’ve rejected something the scriptures plainly teach, ’cause your doubts won you over. There’s nothing wrong with doubting, but there’s everything wrong with not trusting Jesus. He said he’s coming back for us, and he is.

John 14.1-3 NRSVue
1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”
 
Revelation 22.12-13 NRSVue
12 “See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”

Heavens!

by K.W. Leslie, 28 October
HEAVEN 'hɛ.vən noun. The dwelling place of God, his angels, and debatably good humans after they die. Traditionally depicted as above the sky.
2. A euphemism for God himself. [“Sin displeases heaven.”]
3. The sky, perceived as a vault containing the sun, moon, planets, and stars.
4. A place of bliss. [“This is heaven!”]
5. Short for the kingdom of heaven, i.e. God’s kingdom.
6. The state of being in God’s presence, namely after death.
[Heavenly 'hɛv.ən.li adjective.]

As you can see, there are multiple definitions of our word “heaven.” But when Christians talk about heaven, we mean the dwelling place of God. Right?

Not really. In fact not usually.

In my experience, when Christians talk about heaven, we’re actually talking about the kingdom of heaven. In other words, God’s kingdom. Which is meant to happen here on earth. We Christians are supposed to be already living like it’s here—and when Jesus returns, he’ll fully set it up and run it. But too often Christians act like this kingdom does not happen on earth, and never will: It’ll happen in heaven. In the future. After we die. When we do stuff in heaven, “heaven” is always way later. Or we describe the stuff we’ll be doing in New Jerusalem… which is actually in New Heaven, which is not even the same heaven the scriptures typically mean.

I listed six definitions of heaven. No, I’m not gonna therefore say there are six heavens, like C.S. Lewis did when he wrote about four loves. There are likely more definitions of heaven than even that.

But there are Christians who claim there are multiple heavens. Not just the current heaven, and the New Heaven of Revelation 21. There’s the seven heavens of Dante Alighieri’s Paradisio, the 10 heavens of the Pharisees, and the three heavens which you’ll hear Evangelicals talk about ’cause they’ve neither read Paradisio nor 1 Enoch.

Confused yet? Maybe a little. Hope not. Let’s start with the bible’s descriptions of the heavens.

The four hells.

by K.W. Leslie, 19 October

C.S. Lewis famously wrote a book called The Four Loves, about four of the five Greek words which tend to be translated “love.” Two, ἀγάπη/agápi and φίλος/fílos, are in the New Testament; two, ἔρος/éros and στοργή/storyí, are in the Septuagint; and Lewis skipped ξενία/xenía, which is also in the Septuagint. Lewis wanted to highlight the first four, talk about the slight differences in meaning, and riff on them about how people love in different ways.

People hear of this book and assume, “Wow, Greek is so precise and exact. It’s got four different words for love!” Yeah but so do we. These five words can just as easily be translated charity, friendship, romance, affection, and courtesy. Check out any thesaurus and you’ll find we have way more than five words for love. English is just as precise as we want it be.

I say this by way of introduction: There are three ancient Greek words we tend to translate “hell.” Problem is, same as with love, translators don’t always bother to distinguish between them. Some bibles do, and good on ’em. But whether our bible translations do or don’t, it’s important Christians know there’s a difference, lest we continue to misinform people about what hell is, and who goes there.

I said three words, right? Why’d I title this piece “The four hells”? Well first I gotta deal with popular culture’s wildly inaccurate idea of hell.

When supernatural gifts will no longer be needed.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 September

1 Corinthians 13.7-13.

I grew up among Christians who loved to use this passage of 1 Corinthians to make the claim God turned off the miracles. He never did, but a number of Christians claim he did, because they’re entirely sure they never saw a miracle, and consider their experiences the norm. Plus they subscribe to certain End Times theories which kinda require the miracles to be deactivated till the tribulation hits.

So when Paul and Sosthenes wrote the following, they put a cessationist spin on it. Here, I’ll quote it in their favorite translation (and, often, mine) the King James Version.

1 Corinthians 13.8-10 KJV
8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

The passage is about love (Greek ἀγάπη/agápi, KJV “charity”) and how we oughta see it in supernatural gifts. That when it’s not there, the gifts are undermined. Pulling a verse from this passage and claiming there are no such gifts anymore, doesn’t just take the verse out of context, but flips its meaning 180 degrees. Just the sort of thing the devil might do, but I don’t blame Satan for cessationism; I blame Christianism. I blame people who claim to believe in God, and love the trappings of church and faith, but don’t know him at all, and think he’s far away instead of near.

When the apostles refer to “that which is perfect” in verse 10, these cessationists claim they mean the bible. Even though this passage is in no way talking about bible; it’s about love. It’s about how love exists forever, but certain supernatural gifts come to an end—at the End, when we interact with Jesus face to face, 1Co 13.12 and there’ll be no reason to receive these things supernaturally when Jesus can just tell us this stuff naturally.

But cessationists insist they came to an end already, once the bible was complete. In the 50s when Paul wrote his letters, the New Testament was still under construction, and wouldn’t be complete till John wrote Revelation decades later—so the apostles still needed prophecy and supernatural knowledge, ’cause they couldn’t write bible without it. But once the NT was complete, and God decided it was “that which is perfect,” the supernatural abilities would fail, cease, and vanish away. Gone till the End Times, ’cause Revelation describes a world where miracles happen (duh), so cessationists figure God’ll have to bring ’em back at that time. But not till then.

The Wheat and Weeds Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 July

Matthew 13.24-30, 13.36-43.

Presenting another of Jesus’s parables about agriculture. It appears nowhere but Matthew, and it happens right after the Four Seeds Story. Mt 13.18-23 Historically Christians have considered it a parable of the End Times.

Matthew 13.24-30 KWL
24 Jesus presents another parable to them, telling them,
“Heaven’s kingdom compares to a person planting a good seed in his field.
25 As the person sleeps his enemy comes,
plants weeds in the middle of the grain, and goes away.
26 When the stalks sprout and produce fruit, the weeds also appear.
27 The householder’s slaves, approaching, tell him, ‘Master, you plant good seed in your field, right?
So where have these weeds come from?’
28 The master tells them, ‘A person—an enemy—did this.’
The slaves tell him, ‘So do you want us to go out and pluck them?’
29 The master says, ‘No, lest plucking the weeds uproots the grain with them.
30 Leave them all to grow together till the harvest.
At harvest time, I’ll tell the harvesters, “Pluck the weeds first, and tie them in bundles to burn them.
Gather the grain into my barn.” ’ ”

I’m gonna point out something they tend to skip: Notice whenever the apostles describe the End in the scriptures, it looks like Jesus first raptures his Christians and gathers us into his kingdom, and then the rest of the world gets dealt with. But in the Wheat and Weeds Story, the master orders his harvesters to first pluck the weeds. So this story’s timeline, and the typical End Times timelines… don’t sync up.

Hmmm. Well, I’ll leave you to fret about that, and talk botany.


Left, vetch. Right, darnel.

This story’s also called the Wheat and Tares story. Wheat is how σῖτος/sítos traditionally gets translated, though the word really means “grain,” and the KJV sometimes even translates it “corn.” Mk 4.28, Ac 7.12 (No, they don’t mean maize; that’s what “corn” means in the United States. Elsewhere “corn” is just a synonym for grain.) Sítos could refer to wheat, barley, or oats. But likely wheat, ’cause of what takes place in this story.

Tares is the old-timey word for vetch (Vicia sativa), a type of weed which grows all over the planet. Looks like wheat till it starts growing leaves and flowers. It’s also kinda toxic to humans, although bitter vetch (Vicia ervilia) is edible, and sometimes the poor ate it in medieval Europe. And fava beans (Vicia faba) are used in all sorts of dishes.

However, vetch is what John Wycliffe imagined ζιζάνιον/zizánion meant, ’cause of what he knew about English agriculture. Later English translations, like the Geneva Bible and King James Version, followed Wycliffe’s lead. But Jesus isn’t English: Which plant might middle easterners have called zizánia? And most historians figure it’s darnel ryegrass (Lolium temulentum, “false wheat,” which ancient Jews called זוֹנִין/zonín). It’s another weed which grows everywhere, and likewise looks just like wheat… till the seeds appear. Wheat turns brown, and darnel turns black.

If it’s harmless, why did the ancients make a big deal about darnel? Because darnel is very susceptible to Neotyphodium funguses. If you eat any infected darnel, the symptoms are nausea and intoxication. (The temulentum in darnel’s scientific name means “drunk.”) And of course it might kill you. Hence people sometimes refer to darnel as poison.

So Jesus’s audience realized the serious problem these specific weeds posed. The rest of us, who only read “tares” or “weeds” in our bibles, not so much. Weeds are inconvenient, and use the water meant for our crops, but otherwise they sound kinda harmless, and it should be easy to sort them out, right? Um… not so much with darnel. And not so harmless.

Typically farmers waited till harvest time to sort out which was which. Most of ’em did as Jesus described his householder advising: Wait till harvest, then pluck and burn the darnel, lest their seeds infest a future crop. Which the seeds did anyway, ’cause seeds get loose.

The kingdom, Jesus said, is like this. I leave it to the now-worried “prophecy scholars” as to how close a match it is.

Stay on the lookout for the second coming.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 May

1 Thessalonians 5.6-11.

In the original text of 1 Thessalonians it was all one continuous stream. No punctuation, no sentences, no paragraphs. We had to figure these things out by their context. The sentences are easy enough to figure out, but naturally Christians are gonna disagree on the rest. Hence different Greek New Testaments disagree on where the paragraph breaks should go… and since I’ve been writing about this book a paragraph at a time, y’might notice I’m not precisely following any one GNT.

  • Textus Receptus and United Bible Societies’ edition: One big paragraph from 1-11.
  • Nestle-Aland: One big paragraph, but they capitalize the first word in the sentences which they think might be the start of a new subject, and therefore are debatably new paragraphs.
  • Tyndale House: Four paragraphs. 1-3, 4-5, 6-10, and 11 by itself.
  • The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Emphatic Diaglott has 1-4, and 5 all the way to the end of the chapter. But I don’t think its focus was on proper paragraph breaks. (Or on accuracy of translation either, but that’s another discussion.)

Anywho, today’s passage continues along the same theme as the previous: Be prepared for the second coming. ’Cause ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. Mt 24.44 KJV Anytime now.

1 Thessalonians 5.6-11 KWL
6 So then we shouldn’t be asleep like the others,
Instead we should be awake, and we should be sober:
7 Sleepers sleep at night, and drinkers get drunk at night.
8 We, being in the day, should be sober,
wearing a chestplate of faith and love, and a helmet of salvation hope,
9 so God doesn’t assign us to wrath, but get us saved
through our Master, Christ Jesus, 10 who died for us
so that whether we’re awake or sleeping, we might live together with him.
11 So help one another and build one another
into the one body—just like you’re doing.

The pagans of this world will do their thing. Pagans gonna pagan. They’ll ignore what Jesus is doing; they’ll get stoned and wasted, or distract themselves some other way. But we’re meant to be holy. We don’t do like they do. We aren’t to let the world pass us by. We’re to engage with it, be active in it, point others towards God’s kingdom—and practice a little self-control for once. Love our neighbors. Don’t be dicks.

Because supposedly, we’re living lives which follow the Holy Spirit. We’re choosing to love and trust God. We’re altering our mindsets to embrace the idea God wants to save us, not destroy us; wants to reform the wicked, not be forced to smite them. For it’s true. God loves humanity.

And whether we actively live godly lives, or suck as hard as dark Christians who only flinch at everything with fear and rage, God loves us, and intends to live forever with us. Let’s get ready for that—so it’s not so drastic of a culture shock when Jesus returns.

When Jesus catches us by surprise.

by K.W. Leslie, 03 May

1 Thessalonians 5.1-5.

Since Paul, Silas, and Timothy just finished writing about the rapture at Jesus’s second coming in the previous paragraph, Christians read today’s paragraph (or paragraphs; the Tyndale House Greek New Testament is pretty sure this is two) as if they’re still talking about it. And they kinda are. Because the apostles didn’t know when Jesus is returning—none of us do!—and for all they knew, the next big disaster might end with the second coming. Which might still be true. You don’t know. Neither do I. All we know is Jesus can return at any time.

Which the Thessalonians shoulda learned fairly quickly after they first followed Jesus. The apostles even write they’ve known it perfectly well. 1Th 5.2 When he returns, it won’t be predictable—no matter how often “prophecy scholars” try to predict it. It won’t be at a time we expect—no matter how often “prophecy scholars” say we should definitely expect it. It comes like a thief at night, and as Jesus said, if you know when a thief is coming, you wait up and catch him. Mt 24.43 You won’t catch Jesus. He catches us.

But, like a thief in the daytime, when he catches us by surprise, we can rally quickly.

1 Thessalonians 5.1-5 KWL
1 About times and moments, fellow Christians,
you’ve no need for us to write you:
2 You’ve known perfectly well the Lord’s Day comes like a thief at night—
3 when people might say, “Safe and secure,” and suddenly ruin comes upon them,
like contractions upon someone with a baby in the womb,
and they might not flee in time.
4 You, fellow Christians, aren’t in the dark,
so the day to you is like when a thief reaches in:
5 All of you are “children of light” and “children of daytime.”
Don’t be night, nor dark.

Now yes, we Christians have been waiting for the past 20 centuries for Jesus to return, ever since the angels first told his gawking students he was returning. Ac 1.10-11 He’s got his reasons for taking so long, but the students back then expected he’d return in their lifetimes. (And he did—but for them individually, when they died.) Christians have been waiting for him ever since.

Despite Jesus saying even he doesn’t know when he’ll return, Mk 13.32 and that the timing is none of our business anyway, Ac 1.7 many a Christian has definitely become fixated on when it’ll be. Some prophecy scholars, whom we call date-setters, have even picked specific dates and times: Jesus will return next Monday, or in two months, or on the eve of the next election, or whenever. They’re so fixated on their obsession, they’ve abandoned bible, as well as sense.

Even so, it’s not wrong to wonder when Jesus is coming back. The Thessalonians were. They were under persecution, and wanted to see some light at the end of the tunnel. So… could he come back this week? The next? Next month? Next year?

For that matter, how prepared ought we be for his return? Should I sell my house? Quit my job? Cash in my 401(k) and give it to the needy? Ditch any future travel plans? Move to the desert, wear nothing but white robes, and wait atop a mesa? Or should I just give up hope he’s ever returning in my lifetime. What’s the deal?

There’s a rapture, and it’s no secret.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 April

From the first chapter of Left Behind, the 1995 End Times novel by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins.

“People are missing,” she managed in a whisper, burying her head in his chest.

He took her shoulders and tried to push her back, but she fought to stay close. “What do you m—?”

She was sobbing now, her body out of control. “A whole bunch of people, just gone!”

“Hattie, this is a big plane. They’ve wandered to the lavs or—”

She pulled his head down so she could speak directly into his ear. Despite her weeping, she was plainly fighting to make herself understood. “I’ve been everywhere. I’m telling you, dozens of people are missing.”

“Hattie, it’s still dark. We’ll find—”

“I’m not crazy! See for yourself! All over the plane, people have disappeared.”

“It’s a joke. They’re hiding, trying to—”

“Ray! Their shoes, their socks, their clothes, everything was left behind. These people are gone!”

They’ve already made two silly movies based on this book. Both depict this chapter: In the middle of a cross-country flight, where it’d be impossible for 100 people to simply disappear, they do. With no warning. No fanfare. No nothing. One moment they’re in their seats; the next they’re gone, with clothes, jewelry, pacemakers, and artificial knees left behind.

The same thing happens in various Christian-produced End Times movies as well. Though not always with the clothes and bric-a-brac left where they last stood. It’s pretty much only LaHaye and Jenkins who had the idea everybody was gonna appear in heaven butt naked.

(But the idea of leaving behind all the inorganic material? I’m not sure they entirely thought out how far this oughta go. If they left behind pins and stents, why not tattoo ink? The meds they last took? The alcohol they last drank? The food additives in their stomachs? The urine in their bladders?)

Well, a mysterious unexplained vanishing is certainly dramatic. But it’s not consistent with the scriptures. At all. Do I have to repeat this? Fine: At all.

Remember when Jesus got raptured?

Acts 1.9-11 KJV
9 And when [Jesus] had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. 10 And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; 11 which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.

Our rapture is gonna resemble Jesus’s rapture. And he didn’t get naked on the way up.

Nor was it invisible; they watched him go. Nor all that secret; he told ’em he was gonna go.

But y’know, the secret rapture idea is far more dramatic. And frightening. Deliberately meant to be frightening.

Imagine you’re a little kid who grew up hearing these scenarios of a secret rapture, and you firmly believe that’s what happens next: All the Christians disappear, followed by a worldwide tribulation. So one day you’re at home, and you notice you’re all alone. Nobody’s around when you thought they’d be. And for just a moment—in brief but great terror—you wonder whether Jesus raptured the rest of the family… but not you. He left you behind.

More times than I can count, I’ve heard Christians share this very story. They panicked and thought, Did the rapture happen without me? Oh CRAP!

“Don’t you be left behind,” preachers warn ’em ominously. But is this actually how the rapture’s gonna work? Surprise, Jesus took away everybody you love, and it’s the great tribulation for you?

No.

The rapture. Yes, there is one.

by K.W. Leslie, 26 April

1 Thessalonians 4.15-18.

RAPTURE 'ræp.tʃər noun. Feeling of intense pleasure or joy.
2. Capture: The act of seizing and carrying off.
3. The transporting of Christian believers to meet with Christ Jesus [or, to heaven] at his second coming.
4. [verb.] Seizing and carrying off.
5. [verb.] To be taken up [to heaven] to meet with Christ.

A number of Christians don’t believe in the rapture—when the Son of Man appears in the clouds, and his followers meet him in midair. As is taught in today’s passage of scripture, in 1 Thessalonians 4. Yeah, it’s in the bible, but they still don’t believe in it; they don’t take this passage literally. Nor do they interpret it in any way where it loosely represents what’s gonna happen in future. They simply don’t believe in it.

Largely because their churches don’t teach it. Their favorite preachers proclaim an End Times scenario which doesn’t include any rapture. The End of Days theory, fr’instance: The world ends, or we otherwise die, and we go straight to heaven. (Or not.) There’s no rapture in that storyline. Maybe the near-death experience stories of “going towards the light” represents some kind of rapture… but they won’t say “rapture”; they don’t wanna give people the wrong idea.

Then there are the Christians who do believe in the rapture. I’m one of ’em.

Nope, we don’t all agree about what it’ll look like. Most of us take our cues from the bible… but a number of us tweak that image after we pull it from the bible. Tweak it a lot.

Darbyists, fr’instance. Their “prophecy scholars” claim it’ll be secret. We won’t meet Jesus when “the Son of Man comes with the clouds of heaven,” Mt 24.30, Lk 21.27, Da 7.13 because his second coming happens at the very end of their timeline. But the rapture happens before the very end, at either the beginning or the middle of their timelines. At that point, years before Jesus returns, we Christians will quietly, immediately, mysteriously, vanish. That’s how they claim the rapture will work: It’s a secret rapture.

In the “Left Behind” novels, their depiction of this secret rapture gets downright stupid. All the Christians vanish… and leave behind their clothes, jewelry, and implants like pacemakers and saline breasts; apparently Jesus only wants us buck naked. (’Cause he’ll clothe us, Rv 6.11 but it still comes across as super creepy… and a little pervy.) Oh, and not just Christians: Every child below the age of accountability gets raptured too, ’cause Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Oh, and that includes unborn babies: He raptures ’em straight out of their mothers’ wombs—horrifying every pregnant pagan.

Most Christians consider this the looney-bin version of the End, and wanna distance ourselves from it. But some of us go too far in the other direction: Yeah, the Darbyist secret rapture idea is unbiblical, but they’ll claim the rapture itself is unbiblical too. But like I said, today’s passage teaches it, so that’s not so.

And finally there’s the ignorant category. About a decade ago I ran into some guy who claimed because the word “rapture” isn’t in the bible, there’s no rapture. Following his reasoning, God’s not a trinity either, ’cause the word “trinity” likewise isn’t in the scriptures. But whether “rapture” is in the bible, entirely depends on how you translate the Greek word ἁρπαγησόμεθα/arpagisómetha. The KJV went with “shall be caught up,” and I went with “will be raptured.” ’Cause that’s what rapture means: Seized (by the Holy Spirit) and carried off. Or, in this case, up.

1 Thessalonians 4.15-18 KWL
15 We told you this in the Master’s teaching:
We who remain alive at the Master’s second coming should not precede the “sleepers.”
16 The Master himself, with a shout, with the head angel’s voice, with God’s trumpet,
will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will be resurrected first.
17 Then we who remain alive, at the same time as they, will be raptured into the clouds,
to meet the Master in the air: Thus we will always be with the Master.
18 So assist others with these teachings!

Rapture has the sense of a thief swiping a purse: We’ll be ripped from the earth like a waxer rips the hair off a pair of furry legs. From there we join our King’s invading army before he even touches down. We’re part of his procession, as he takes possession of the world he conquered centuries ago.

That’s the general idea. Of course different Christians believe different specifics.

Getting ready for the second coming?

by K.W. Leslie, 08 March

1 Thessalonians 3.11-13.

If you read 1 Thessalonians 3 in its entirety—and maybe read the whole book like the letter it is, instead of breaking it up into paragraphs, then analyzing the crap out of each paragraph, much like preachers in a sermon series, or me in these articles—you notice how Paul, Silas, and Timothy went on and on and on about how they missed the Thessalonians, fretted about the Thessalonians, wanted so very badly to visit the Thessalonians (well not so much Timothy; he was just there), and were thrilled to pieces about how well the Thessalonians were doing.

So in today’s paragraph, they finally wrap all that up.

1 Thessalonians 3.11-13 KWL
11 God himself, and our Father, and our Master Jesus,
has hopefully directed our path to you.
12 The Master hopefully provided more than enough for you,
in love for one another and for all, just as we also have for you.
13 All to strengthen your blameless minds in holiness before God our Father.
Namely at the second coming of our Master Jesus with all his saints. Amen.

And y’notice they start to move to the next subject-area of the letter: The second coming.

The word the apostles used is παρουσίᾳ/parusía, “coming” or “arrival.” Jesus’s first coming is the time from his birth to his rapture. His second is when he takes over the world. Yes, he makes various visits to individual Christians, like Paul Ac 9.3-6 and Ananias Ac 9.10 and John. Rv 1.12-13 But those aren’t proper comings, ’cause they’re not appearances to everyone. In the second coming, Jesus comes back the same way he left Ac 1.11 —in the clouds with great power. Mk 13.26

Yeah, there are various weird interpretations of what the second coming consists of. No doubt you know one or two. So did the Thessalonians.

Satan’s fall.

by K.W. Leslie, 04 March

Revelation 12.

One of the popular myths about the devil is how Satan used to be an angel. Not that it pretends to be one, 2Co 11.14 but straight-up was one—the mightiest angel in the heavens, named Lucifer. Got deposed, but it used to be a big, big deal.

I’ve challenged many a Christian to actually read their bibles and prove any of this theory from scripture. And I gotta give ’em credit; they do try. But they don’t succeed. It says nowhere in the scriptures Satan used to be an angel. Doesn’t even say Satan was a heavenly being; we just presume so because Satan appeared before God in Job, and we’re kinda assuming they were all in heaven, or thereabouts, at the time. (Job never says where they were.)

Satan’s species is never once identified. Given Satan’s reputation as a liar, Jn 8.44 I’m mighty suspicious about any stories about its origin, like the Lucifer story, which try to make Satan look like it was a big deal at one time.

Or still is. During Jesus’s temptations, Satan claimed to be master of the world’s kingdoms, which it then offered to Jesus. Lk 4.6 Various Christians actually take this statement at face value. Doesn’t it look like the devil rules the world?—though really that’s because humanity lets the devil successfully tempt us into wrecking it. But Jesus’s response was “Get thee hence,” Mt 4.10 KJV i.e. “Get out of here with that nonsense.” Jesus didn’t recognize Satan’s authority at all. The kingdoms of this world belong to him, Jn 12.31, 14.30 not the devil.

Y’see, Satan fell. Jesus watched it fall. Lk 10.18

And about 40 years after his temptation, Jesus presented John of Patmos with a vision of when Satan got tossed from heaven. Whatever the devil used to be, whatever power it was granted, is now irrelevant: It fell. It’s not a heavenly being anymore. It was banished. It’s an earthly being, same as us.

Well, worse than us. Every human has the potential to tap into God’s grace and become one of his kids. Jn 1.12 But in another of Jesus’s revelations to John, he also clued us in to the fact Satan’s never gonna repent. Never gonna avail itself of God’s grace. It’s going into the fire. Rv 20.10 Willingly.

So if you imagine the devil’s a big deal, don’t. It’s a defeated foe. Even we have the power to get it to flee from us. Jm 4.7 Stop fearing it, and start resisting it.

The Wheat and Darnel Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 December

Matthew 13.24-30, 13.36-43

Elsewhere in Matthew Jesus tells a story often called the Parable of the Wheat and Tares, from the word tares used in the King James Version to translate ζιζάνια/zidzánia, “darnel.” It’s a specific weed, Lolium temulentum, frequently called “false wheat.”

In ancient times darnel was constantly found in wheat fields. Some darnel always got mixed up with the wheat during the harvest, and it wasn’t until we invented separating machines that people finally got the darnel problem under control. Darnel looks just like wheat when it’s growing… but once the ears appear, any farmer will realize it’s not wheat at all. When they ripen, wheat turns brown and darnel turns black.

If it’s harmless, why did the ancients make a big deal about darnel? Because darnel is very susceptible to Neotyphodium funguses, and if you ate any infected darnel, the symptoms were nausea and a little drunkenness. (The temulentum in darnel’s scientific name means “drunk.”) And of course it might kill you. Hence people sometimes refer to darnel as poison.

So Jesus’s audience realized the serious problem these specific weeds posed. The rest of us, who only read “tares” or “weeds” in our bibles, not so much. Weeds are inconvenient, and use the water meant for our crops, but otherwise they sound kinda harmless, and it should be easy to sort them out, right? Um… not so much with darnel. And not so harmless.

Matthew 13.24-30 KWL
24 Jesus set this idea before his students,
saying, “Heaven’s kingdom is like a person scattering good seed in his field.
25 During his slaves’ sleep, his enemy came,
scattered darnel in the middle of the grain, and left.
26 When the shoots sprouted and bore fruit, then the darnel also appeared.
27 Going to him, the householder’s slaves told him,
‘Master, didn’t you scatter good seed in your field? So where’d the darnel come from?’
28 The master told them, ‘This was done by a person—an enemy.’
The slaves told him, ‘So do you want us to maybe pull them up?’
29 The master said, ‘No, lest pulling the darnel up uproots the grain together with it.
30 Allow them to both grow together till harvest.
At harvest time I will tell the harvesters, “Pull up the darnel first.
Bundle them into bundles for them to be burnt up.
Get the grain into my granary.” ’ ”

Later in the chapter, Jesus interprets his own story for his students. They really should’ve been able to interpret this story without his explanation—and probably did, but just wanted him to confirm their conclusions. I’ll get to that later.

The Lambs and Kids Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 December

Matthew 25.31-46.

The next story in Jesus’s Olivet Discourse, where he taught his students about the End Times, is usually called the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. It all comes from verses 32-33, in which Jesus compares the division of humanity into camps of righteous and reprobate, like a shepherd segregating his flock by species: Lambs on one side, kids on the other. One group to get shorn, one to get milked. Or in this case, one group to go one way, the other to go another.

This story terrifies legalists. Because outside the proper context of God’s grace, it looks like you get into God’s kingdom entirely on merit. You do for Jesus—or, as Jesus puts it, you do for the very lowest of the people he identifies with, which is all the same to him—and you inherit his kingdom. Or you don’t, so you go to hell. So get cracking! Start feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, reforming the prison and healthcare system, and otherwise fixing society!

Wait, is that what legalists do? Nah. Usually they’re too busy getting all paranoid about the rules they designated for themselves, or their cult leaders assigned them. Doing for society?—they don’t. Or they interpret “one of the least of these my brethren” Mt 25.40 KJV as only meaning fellow Christians—or, if they wanna get strict about it, only meaning members of their churches; or if even stricter, only church members of good standing. The stricter you get, the less you gotta love your neighbors. Funny how that works.

More often, Christians just ignore this passage altogether. We figure we’re saved by grace (which we are), but this passage sounds like we’re saved by good works. And we’re not. We know we’re not. We know that we know that we KNOW we’re not. So whatever this passage means, it can’t mean that… and we’re fine with not really knowing what it’s about, so we skip it. Unless we wanna terrify pagans with it.

Of course you realize I’m gonna apply historical context to it, and explain what it’d mean to Jesus’s students who heard it, and point out how entirely consistent it is with God’s grace. Probably to the degree it’ll outrage many a legalist Christian. But whatever. Let’s begin with my translation, and if you wanna compare it with other translations be my guest. I don’t think mine is far different.

Matthew 25.31-46 KWL
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, all the angels with him,
he’ll then sit on his glorious throne
32 and every nation on earth will be gathered together before him.
He separates them like a shepherd, lambs from kids,
33 and will place the lambs at his right, and the kids at his left.
34 The King will then tell those at his right:
‘Come, you who’ve been blessed by my Father!
Inherit the kingdom, prepared for you from the world’s foundation!
35 For I hunger and you feed me. Thirst and you water me.
A foreigner and you include me. 36 Naked and you clothe me.
Weak and you look out for me. Imprisoned and you come to me.’
37 In reply the righteous lambs will then say, ‘Master?
When did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and water you?
38 When did we see you a foreigner and include you, or naked and clothe you?
39 When did we see you weak and imprisoned and come to you?’
40 In reply the King will tell them, ‘Amen! I promise you:
Whatever you do for one of the lowest of these people in my family, you do for me.’
 
41 The King then says to those at his left:
‘Get away from me, you damned people!
Go to the fire of the age, prepared for the devil and its angels!
42 For I hunger and you don’t feed me. Thirst and you don’t water me.
43 A foreigner and you don’t include me. Naked and you don’t clothe me.
Weak and imprisoned and you don’t look out for me.’
44 In reply the kids will say, ‘Master?
When did we see you hungry, thirsty, a foreigner, naked, weak, or imprisoned, and not serve you?’
45 In reply the King will tell them, ‘Amen! I promise you:
Whatever you don’t do for one of the lowest of these, you neither do for me.’
46 These people will go to the correction of the age to come.
The righteous, to life in the age to come.”

The Textus Receptus added the word ἅγιοι/áyiï, “holy,” to verse 31, which is why the King James has “holy angels” instead of just “angels.” As if Jesus would bring unholy angels with him. But whatever.

The Talents Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 December

Matthew 25.13-30.

Nowadays when we say talent we mean a special ability; something one can do which most others can’t. The word evolved to mean that, but in ancient Greek a τάλαντον/tálanton meant either a moneychanger’s scale, or the maximum weight you put on that scale. Usually of silver. Sometimes gold… but if the text doesn’t say which metal they’re weighing, just assume it’s silver.

Talents varied from nation to nation, province to province. When Jesus spoke of talents, he meant the Babylonian talent (Hebrew כִּכָּר/khikhár, which literally means “loaf,” i.e. a big slab of silver). That’d be 30.2 kilograms, or 66.56 pounds. Jews actually had two talents: A “light talent,” the usual talent; and a “heavy talent” or “royal talent” which weighed twice as much. But again: Unless the text says it’s the heavy talent, assume it’s the light one. And of course the Greeks and Romans had their own talents: The Roman was 32.3 kilos and the Greek was 26.

Using 2020 silver rates, a Babylonian talent is $30,200. So yeah, it’s a lot of money. Especially considering you could get away with paying the poor a denarius (worth $3.51) per day. Mt 20.2

When Jesus shared parables about his second coming, he told this story about a master with three slaves, each of whom was given a big bag of silver to supervise. And Jesus compared their experience to what our Master kinda expects of his followers once he returns.

Matthew 25.13-30 KWL
13 “So wake up!—you don’t know the day nor hour.
14 For it’s like a person going abroad:
He calls his slaves to himself, and hands them his belongings.
15 He gives one five talents [$151,000]
and one two [$60,400] and one one [$30,200]
—each according to their own ability. He went abroad.
16 The slave who got five talents went to work on them, and made another five.
17 Likewise the slave with two talents made another two.
18 The slave who got one talent burrowed in the ground
and hid his master’s silver.
19 After a long time, the master came to these slaves
to have a word with them.
20 At the master’s coming, the slave who got five talents
brought another five talents,
saying, ‘Master, you entrusted five talents to me.
Look! I made another five talents.’
21 His master told him, ‘Great! My good, trustworthy slave,
you’re trustworthy over a little, and I will put you in charge of much.
Come into your master’s joy.’
22 At the master’s coming, the slave who got two talents
said, ‘Master, you entrusted two talents to me.
Look! I made another two talents.’
23 His master told him, ‘Great! My good, trustworthy slave,
you’re trustworthy over a little, and I will put you in charge of much.
Come into your master’s joy.’
24 At the master’s coming, the slave who got one talent
said, ‘Master, I’ve come to know you as a hard person,
harvesting where you don’t plant, gathering from where you don’t scatter.
25 Fearfully going away, I hid your talent in the ground.
Look! You have what’s yours.’
26 In reply his master told him, ‘My useless, lazy slave,
you figured I harvest where I don’t plant and gather from where I don’t scatter?
27 Therefore you needed to put my silver with the loan sharks!
At my coming I would receive what was mine, with interest!
28 So take the talent away from him.
Give it to the slave who has the 10 talents.
29 For to one who has everything, more will be given, and more will abound.
And to one who hasn’t anything, whatever one does have will be taken away from them.
30 The useless slave? Throw him into the darkness outside.
There, there’ll be weeping and teeth gnashing in rage.’ ”

The word δοῦλος/dúlos tends to get translated “servant” (as the KJV did), but nope; it means slave. Hebrew slavery didn’t treat slaves as permanent property, but as people contractually bound to their master till the next Sabbath year. American slaves would rarely, if ever, be entrusted with as much authority as Hebrews did their slaves. Whole different mindset.

Our Father who art in heaven.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 September

Matthew 6.9-10.

The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew begins with πάτερ ἡμῶν ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς/páter imón o en toís uranoís, “our Father who’s [located] in the heavens,” Mt 6.9 ’cause we’re addressing—duh—our heavenly Father.

Matthew 6.9 KWL
“So pray like this: Our Father who’s in the heavens! Sanctify your name.”

Some Christians wanna make it particularly clear which god we’re praying to. Partly because some of ’em actually think they might accidentally invoke the wrong god (and y’know, if they’re Mammonists or some other type of idolater, they might). Sometimes because they’re showing off to pagans that they worship the Father of Jesus, or some other form of hypocrisy. But Jesus would have us keep it simple: Just address our heavenly Father. There’s no special formula for addressing him; no secret password we’ve gotta say; even “in Jesus’s name” isn’t a magic spell—and you notice “in Jesus’s name” isn’t in the Lord’s Prayer either. You know who he is; he knows who he is; he knows what our relationship consists of; that’s fine.

As I said in the Lord’s Prayer article, Jesus isn’t the first to teach people God is our Father. Many a Pharisee prayer, and many Jewish prayers nowadays, address God as אָבִינוּ/avínu, “our Father”—like Avínu Malkéinu (“our Father, our king”), recited during fasts and the high holidays. If we have a relationship with him, and we should through Jesus, we should have no hesitation to approach him boldly. He 4.16 He loves us; he wants to be gracious to us; let’s feel free to talk with him about anything and everything.

666, the Beast’s number.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 June

In Revelation John was given an apocalyptic vision of two animals. The first is a leopard with bear paws, seven heads, and 10 horns; and it fights the saints and gets the people of earth to worship it. Christian popular culture tends to call it the Beast, as the KJV translates θηρίον/thiríon; or the Antichrist, ’cause too many of us speculate it’ll claim to be Christ. (Even though Revelation says no such thing. Go look.) The second animal has horns like a lamb, performs “miracles” in support of the first animal, and forces everyone to worship the first animal and its talking ikon.

And this:

Revelation 13.16-18 KWL
16 It made it so everyone—small and great, rich and poor, freemen and slaves—
might give themselves a stamp on their right hand, or on their forehead.
17 Thus no one was able to buy nor sell unless they had the stamp:
The first animal’s name, or the number of its name.
18 Here’s some wisdom: Those with a brain, calculate the animal’s number.
It’s a person’s number, and its number is 666.

The UBS Greek New Testament spells it out as ἑξακόσιοι ἑξήκοντα ἕξ/exakósiï exíkonta ex, “six hundred sixty six.” The Textus Receptus instead uses the Greek letters ΧΞϚ, which is how ancient Greeks wrote numbers before they discovered Arabic numerals: They borrowed letters from their alphabet. The first nine letters were the first nine numbers; the next nine were the numbers 10, 20, 30, and so on up to 90; the next nine were the numbers 100, 200, 300, till they ran out of letters. So chi was used for 600, xi for 60, and stigma for 6.

There’s a textual variant in some ancient copies of Revelation which says the number is 616. So a lot of bibles mention that in their footnotes… just in case. Y’never know.

So if you have a brain, and wanna know who the leopard with seven heads represents, its number is 666. Figure it out!

Here’s the problem: Too many people don’t have a brain, and aren’t gonna bother to figure it out. They’re just gonna connect the dots, then panic. Fear makes people stop thinking, y’know: Fight-or-flight kicks in, and that’s all they do from that part onward. It’s why John addresses those of us who pursue wisdom: Don’t squander this clue.

First we gotta learn what a person’s number is. And no, I’m not talking about your social security number, your employee ID number, your credit card number, your PIN number, or any of the other numbers arbitrarily or deliberately connected to you.

Gematria.

A lot of people correctly figure “the number of a man” Rv 13.18 KJV is figured out by taking their name, converting the letters into numbers, and adding up all the numbers. Or if you’re really desperate to find a connection, doing some other stuff to the numbers: Multiplying ’em, bunching ’em together; anything which adds up to 666. Anything which connects the dots.

So how do we convert letters into numbers?

Well, most of us learned to cypher when we were kids. Cypher is to substitute something else for the letters of our alphabet. Sometimes another letter; sometimes a number; sometimes a symbol. (Some daily newspapers still publish cyphers, give you a few hints as to which letter meant what, and let amateur codebreakers have a little fun trying to crack the cypher.) The most basic cypher we learned was the simple letter-to-number substitution cypher: A=1, B=2, C=3, and so on till Z=26.

And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve caught Christians trying to use this cypher to figure out if someone’s the Beast.

When John wrote Revelation, was he thinking about the English alphabet? Or its predecessor the Latin alphabet? (Same alphabet, but I was split into I and J, and V was split into U, V, and W.) Not even close. For that matter the Latins didn’t even do this themselves. They decided I=1, V=5, X=10… you know, Roman numerals. (As you’ve seen on clocks, Super Bowls, and Star Wars episodes.)

John wasn’t speaking of calculating “the number of a man” with the Latin alphabet. Nor even the Greek alphabet. He had Hebrew in mind. Because calculating a person’s number was a Jewish practice. They called it gematria—from a bad translation of γεωμετρία/geometria, “geometry.” Many Jews still practice it, as part of Kabbalah.

Same as the Greeks, the Hebrew alphabet assigns a numeric value to each Hebrew letter. Today’s Hebrew-speakers still use it sometimes, same as we do with Roman numerals.

LETTERNAMEVALUE
אalef1
בbeit2
גgimel3
דdalet4
הhe5
וwaw6
זzayin7
LETTERNAMEVALUE
חkhet8
טtet9
יyod10
ךכkaf20
לlamed30
םמmem40
ןנnun50
LETTERNAMEVALUE
סsamek60
עayin70
ףפpe80
ץצchadë90
קqof100
רresh200
שsin300
תtav400

So alef is 1, bet 2, gimel 3, and so forth till 10; then they go up by tens, then hundreds till you’re out of alphabet.

Notice kaf, mem, nun, pe, and chadë have two letters. The second letter (usually the one with the tail) is a sofít, a final-case letter. You know how we have uppercase letters at the beginning of some words? Final-case is the form which goes at the end of words. Since some folks wish Hebrew had 27 letters instead of 22 so they could count up to 900, they claim those final-case letters have extra values:

LETTERNAMEVALUE
ךkaf sofit500
םmem sofit600
ןnun sofit700
ףpe sofit800
ץchadë sofit900

But nearly every Jew gives the final-case letters the same value as usual.

So every Hebrew letter has a numerical value. And in gematria, every Hebrew word also has a numerical value. Add up the value of its letters, and there y’go. Jesus’s name ישוע consists of yod (10), shin (300), waw (6), and ayin (70). Add ’em up and you get 386. That’s Jesus’s number.

(Yeah, there are folks who insist Jesus’s number is 777. That’s because somebody told them so… and they really like sevens. But obviously they’ve never double-checcked. Few do. And no, we don’t get 777 any other legitimate way. “Messiah Jesus” is 744. “King Jesus” is 411. “Jesus of Nazareth” is 1166. “Jesus son of Mary” gets 618 in Hebrew and 838 in Aramaic. The only way you can squeeze 777 out of “Jesus” is to use the wrong alphabet, or a mishmash of wrong alphabets. And gematria isn’t that hard.)

I should point out: Both Christians and Jews are really leery of gematria. For good reason. It’s not just used to figure out the numerical values of words for fun. In Kabbalah, a sect of rabbinical Judaism which specializes in mystery, they claim any word can be swapped for any other word with the same numerical value: If they share a numerical value, they share a spiritual value too. So if you wanna have a “new revelation,” it’s simple: Pick any verse from the bible, swap a few words with their numerical “equivalents,” and presto: A new teaching!

Take lo tináf, “Don’t adulter.” Ex 20.14 Tináf is worth 531. And so, coincidentally enough, is Florence Henderson. So if you don’t really feel like watching Brady Bunch reruns, there y’go: “According to Kabbalah, Exodus 20.14 can also mean ‘No Florence Henderson.’ So I’m sorry; I just can’t watch that.”Which is all kinds of wrong to both bible and to national treasure Florence Henderson.

John’s advice in Revelation obviously refers to gematria. So we’re permitted to use it to figure out the Beast’s number: Take a given person’s name. Convert it into Hebrew. (Google Translate will do that job for you easily.) Add up the numerical value of the letters.

And once that person’s name adds up to 666, he or she might be the Beast. Might not be. But if they start doing anything Beast-like, the number of their name confirms they’re a valid suspect.

I had a student once who was worried she might be the Beast. So I taught her how to calculate the number of her name. Wasn’t even close. Was that a load off her mind.

Okay. So that’s the proper use of 666: It’s a checksum to make sure someone isn’t the Beast. That’s all. That person who is the Beast will be the person to worry about. The number itself isn’t the problem.

Various other irrational fears.

Of course, I tell people about gematria and they look at me sideways: “I’ve never heard that before. I don’t think that’s right.” And they go back to their other favorite, tried-and-never-proven methods of Beast detection.

Or, more commonly, superstition. Pure pagan, didn’t-come-from-God, never-would-come-from-God, superstition. Any time they come across the number 666, they flinch in fear. Won’t abide it in their phone numbers, their serial numbers, their license plates, anything. If they’re buying groceries and the total comes to $6.66, they quickly buy something else to bump it up to $7.65.

True, the second beast uses the stamp in relation to commerce. Rv 13.17 So Christians are particularly sensitive to 666 in financial transactions. After all, that’s the most likely place the number will come up. There used to be some rumor going round of the word “Visa” secretly representing 666: The VI is obviously the Roman numeral 6; the ancient Greeks used stigma, which kinda looks like an S, for six; and presumably A becomes a six in some other culture, though I’ve yet to see a satisfactory explanation for it. (Ask whichever friends of yours post the most conspiracy theories on Facebook. They’ll know.)

But out of context, the number’s nothing to fear. It only exposes fearful Christians as lacking wisdom.