Thursday, July 31, 2014

Do Not Oversimplify God

The Blind Men and the Elephant
by John Godfrey Saxe
It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.
The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“Oh! But the Elephant
Is very like a wall!
The Second, feeling of the tusk
Cried, “Ho! What have we here,
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ‘tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!
The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up he spake:
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a snake!”
The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee:
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” quoth he;
“‘Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!”
The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!” 
The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a rope!”
And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceedingly stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

Oversimplification applies to a man’s evaluation of an elephant.  It also applies our efforts to understand the true and living God.

  I. What do we mean by oversimplification?
            A.        Definition: “to simplify to the point of causing misrepresentation, misconception, or error. To cause distortion or error by extreme simplification of a subject.”
            B.        This is an ever present danger when limited man tries to understand the unlimited one true God.
                        1.         The Bible reveals various facets of the person and power of God.
                        2.         Yet, in spite of everything, our efforts to conceptualize God often lead us to compartmentalize and categorize God.
                        3.         An infinite, all-powerful God cannot be dissected.
                        4.         We must vigorously avoid trying to put God in a box
            C.        Ps 106:2 - We can’t describe all that God has done
            D.        Ps 139:1-6 - We can’t describe all that God knows
            E.        Ps 145:3 - God’s greatness is beyond us
            F.        Ps 147:5 - God’s understanding is infinite
            G.        Paul’s description of God - Rom 11:33-34

II.       Oversimplification of God’s Love Leads to Universalism
            A.        “Since God is all loving, he will not condemn sinners to eternal punishment.”
            B.        This is an oversimplification of God. It is called Universalism
                        1.         An assumption that God is too loving, too patient, too kind, too longsuffering to cast erring men into the flames of Hell.
            C.        God’s love is beyond measure -
                        1.         John 3:16 - The extent of God’s love
                        2.         Eph 2:4-7 - The riches of His mercy
                        3.         I John 3:1-2 - To make us children of God
            D.        However, this does not mean that God will not condemn sinners to eternal punishment. God is also a God of justice who will avenge evil
                        1.         Ps 11:4-7 - God tests us and punishes the wicked
                        2.         Romans 2:5-11 - God renders to each according to his deeds
                        3.         Heb 10:26-31 - It is a fearful thing to face the wrath of God

III.      Oversimplification of God’s Omniscience Leads to Skepticism
            A.        “Since God is all-knowing, he is responsible for all human suffering.”
            B.        An oversimplification that leads to the disbelief called Skepticism
                        1.         God’s knowledge of human suffering renders him accountable for the same.
            C.        God is all-knowing
                        1.         Ex 3:7 - God knew the Israelites problems
                        2.         Isa 37:28 - God knows where we are and our thoughts
                        3.         Isa 46:9-11 - Declares the end at the beginning
            D.        However this does not mean God is responsible for human suffering.
                        1.         God is a God of laws that have consequences
                                    a.         Violation of God’s moral law brings sin and death into the world
                                                (1)       Gen 2:16-17 - The Law
                                                (2)       Gen 3:16-19 - The Consequences
                                                (3)       Romans 5:12 - Because of one man, sin entered the world and spreads because all sin
                                    b.         Violation of God’s natural law brings pain and sometimes fatal consequences
                        2.         Do not blame God for the consequences of sin.
                                    a.         Satan is to blame
                                    b.         We are to blame
                                    c.         But God is innocent

IV.        Oversimplification of God’s Sovereignty Leads to Hyper Calvinism
            A.        “Since God is omnipotent, he directly controls the eternal destiny of each individual.”
            B.        Following this oversimplification leads to Calvanism
                        1.         If God is all-sovereign, he must be ultimately responsible for deciding who will be saved and who will be lost.
            C.        God is all-powerful
                        1.         Isa 40:12 - God knows values we only guess at
                        2.         Jer 32:17 - Nothing is too hard for God
                        3.         Amos 4:13 - Examples of God’s power
            D.        However, this doesn’t mean God directly controls the destiny of each individual
                        1.         God has unlimited power and authority, but we must not forget that God created man with a free will
                                    a.         Joshua 24:15 - Choose whom you will serve
                                    b.         I Kings 18:21 - Make a choice between God and Baal
                                    c.         Ezekiel 18:4,20 - Man is responsible for his destiny
                        2.         We can choose to follow the steps of Jesus or walk in the pathway of Satan
                        3.         God does not force us one way or the other
                        4.         The choice and the ultimate consequences are our own.

V.      Conclusion
            A.        We know certain things about God
                        1.         He is a God of love and justice
                        2.         He is Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Omnipresent
                        3.         He is holy. He is good. He is longsuffering, patient, and kind
            B.        However, never forget that all of man’s efforts to systemize the doctrine of God are doomed to failure.
                        1.         Deity cannot be reduced to distinct, discrete component parts
                        2.         God cannot be catalogued, classified, or codified.
                        3.         Our Lord cannot be pigeonholed.
                        4.         An infinite God must of necessity exist in part beyond the experience and understanding of finite man.
            C.        We can only know God to the degree that he has revealed himself
                        1.         Any approach that overemphasizes one characteristic of God to the neglect of others leads to a false understanding of God.
                        2.         Accept what the Bible says and leave it at that
                        3.         Speak only as the Bible teaches - I Peter 4:11
                        4.         Deut 29:29 - The secret things are God’s, the revealed things are ours.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

33% Of Japanese Say Marriage Is Pointless

From Spa Magazine

Go to college, get a job, meet a guy or girl, and…don’t get married?

A recent survey suggests that almost one-third of Japanese people just can’t see the point in tying the knot and settling down. And after you see what some of them have to say about marriage, you might understand why.

Marriage has long been a staple of Japanese society, with enormous industries dedicated weddings and “omiai” (matchmaking). However, recent decades have seen a shift in social standards and the number of people staying single is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years.

With this mind, the magazine Joshi Spa! conducted a survey inspired by a June event extolling the virtues of not getting married. The magazine revealed that 33.5% of the 37,610 respondents said they didn’t see any merit in marriage.

Here’s one person’s thoughts on marriage: “I’ve hated kids for forever and I never thought that I wanted any, so I kind of feel like there’s not point to it.”
Another respondent said, “If you’re single, you can use your money exactly as you like, and no matter how much you spend on your hobbies or interests, no one will complain, and you can live at your own pace. But if you get married, all of that disappears, so I really want to ask, honestly, is there any merit to getting married?”

Joshi Spa! helpfully broke the results down by age group as well, showing that the largest group of people who had no interest in marriage was in their 30s, with 40.5% of them saying “no!” to exchanging vows. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 38% of those still in their teens teens shrugged the idea of marriage off, while 39.1% of 20-somethings, and 35.9% of people in their 40s were also uninterested in matrimonial bliss.

As may be expected, the older groups were more likely to find value in marriage. However, it’s hard to say if this is a sign of a permanent change in thinking or if the “youngesters” are still just having too much fun to settle down.

Shockingly enough, Internet commenters had a lot to say about this.

—Being broke, there’s more demerit than merit for me.
—It’s probably better not to marry someone who thinks about merits and demerits. Unless you don’t mind just being an ATM.
—The merits are just keeping up appearances and being socially responsible. The need for marriage like in the past is going to just keep getting less and less.
—I’m married, but, honestly, I think it’s better not to. Except for the kids… I like my kids.
—Everyone around me in me in their 30s, 40s, and 50s is getting divorced, and I hear nothing but rumors about affairs–it’s all just stupid. Aside from working together to raise kids, I can’t see any point to marriage.
—It’s great if you marry someone you really like. But going so far as to trying omiai or going out marriage hunting, I don’t see the need.
—Marriage is close to the image of getting a parasite and having it endlessly sucking the essence out of you. Seriously, won’t someone take my pig wife away??

Geez, wouldn’t want to be that last guy’s wife.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Christians and War

Objections to the pacifist interpretation of Scripture

Was Jesus a pacifist? A comprehensive study proves that He was not.

In John 2:14, Jesus comes to the Temple and finds people selling “oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables.” Jesus sees that the religious leaders have turned this, His father’s house of prayer, into a marketplace. Instead of prayers and supplications, there is the noise of commerce. Jesus is burning with anger and indignation. The zeal for His father’s house consumes Him.
“And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables” (John 2:14-15).
This was a physically violent response on the part of Jesus. This makes it abundantly clear that Jesus was not a strict pacifist. The Bible is also clear that Jesus was sinless. Even in this situation, he did nothing wrong. 
In Luke 22:36-38, Jesus is preparing His disciples for His departure. He knows that the Jewish leaders are decidedly against Him. In the past, when He sent His disciples out, He took care of all their needs. But now things are going to change.
“And He said to them, ‘But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one. For I tell you that this which is written must be fulfilled in Me, ‘And he was numbered with transgressors;’ for that which refers to Me has its fulfillment.’ They said, ‘Lord, look, here are two swords.’ And He said to them, ‘It is enough.’”
What is the context here? When traveling from city to city, people of that day often had to carry a sword in order to fend off robbers. Jesus told His followers that He was going to send them out there, and warned them to be prepared to defend themselves when appropriate. Clearly, Jesus was not a pacifist.

In the book of Revelation, there is a stronger example. Here is a portrait of Jesus, the warrior king. Here the elements of love and justice come together. Love and war can go together, if it is done on behalf of good.
And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. …From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty (Revelation 19:11, 15).
This is no meek and mild Jesus. This is not a pacifist. This is the mighty warrior, the God of love, who comes to wage war against his evil enemies. The imagery is graphic. It describes Him as treading the wine press, destroying His enemies as their blood spills over on His robes. Love and the pursuit of justice are not contradictory. They can go hand in hand.
John Calvin emphasized that a Christian soldier should never use force to gain self-advantage, but “use force out of love for thy neighbor.” Standing by and refusing to act while harm befalls a neighbor is not a virtue; it is a vice.

As someone else has said, “War can be a means to a just peace, and to break an unjust peace.”

Jesus was not a pacifist, nor was He a hawk. It is interesting that Jesus makes everyone uncomfortable, because He can never be put in anybody’s box. He said blessed are the peacemakers. Jesus wasn’t a hawk. He wasn’t a pacifist. He wasn’t a Republican. He wasn’t a Democrat. He wasn’t an American. He wasn’t an Iraqi. He transcends all categories.

PRIVATE VS. PUBLIC ROLES - Pacifists fail to make a clear distinction between a Christian’s private and public views. In Romans 12-13 we find Paul’s explanation of the role of the Christian and the State. Here he lays out some fine distinctions between how were are to conduct ourselves privately and publicly—how we are to manage our person, and how we are to manage our office.

In Romans 12:17-21, Paul lays out the responsibility of the Christian INDIVIDUAL. “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. If possible…” Notice the qualifier, “if possible.”

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”
What is Paul saying? There will be times when you cannot be at peace with all men. But when it is possible, when it depends on you, as an individual, strive for peace.
“Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
These are words very similar to those of Jesus. Verse 17 and 21 are saying the same thing: Never pay back evil for evil, and overcome evil. These two verses act like bookends in the text—one at the beginning and the other at the end. Everything between these two bookends supplies the definition and context for what Paul means when he says “evil.”

What is evil? Don’t take your own revenge; that is evil.
Why is it evil? Because you are usurping the prerogative of God who alone has the wisdom to know when retribution ought to be enacted. God is to be the judge, and God’s ministering authority, the State. Individuals should not take matters into their own hands. That is God’s job. To do otherwise is to usurp God’s right and to usurp the right of the State.

So, the evil that Paul, and I believe Jesus, had in mind to resist here is the evil of personal vengeance. The Scriptures are forbidding us from taking personal revenge. That is a lot different than forbidding us to pursue justice.
Revenge no; justice yes. 

It is no coincidence that Paul follows this passage dealing with the Christian’s private response to evil with a Christian’s public response to evil. In chapter 13:1-4, we see the role of the State.
“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil.Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it [government; the State] is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.”

What is Paul saying? He is building an argument. First of all, government is established by God. As a minister of God, it acts as an avenger to promote good and to punish evil (some translations say “evildoers”). Essentially, the role of government is to promote justice.

As individuals, we are not to seek personal vengeance. We need to be willing to suffer injustice as Christians, and make an appeal to our God and to our State. We are to entrust ourselves to God.

But, as members of the State, we are to work for justice against evil, for the sake of others and of society.
That creates a tension for many Christians, trying to understand when is the right time to turn the other cheek. John Stott put it this way,

“If my house is burglarized one night and I catch the thief, it may well be my duty to sit him down and give him something to eat and drink, while at the same time telephoning the police.”
We have a private responsibility and duty, and we have a public one.
Conclusion about pacifism

Ever since Adam, the world has been in a war between good and evil. For this reason, the pacifist position is unrealistic. When taken to its logical conclusion, it would virtually do away with courts and police departments. It would ultimately lead to anarchy due to the nature of human hearts.
Pacifism is also unbiblical, because it does not take the whole counsel of Scripture. It does not separate a Christian’s private duties from his public duties, and the role of the State versus the role of the individual.
The Just War Theory

Just War Theory is the other dominant position held by many Christians. This position was first formulated by Augustine of Hippo and later refined by Thomas Aquinas. It is based on the following assumptions:

1. War is never good. But it is sometimes necessary.  Why? Because sin is an ever present reality that has to be dealt with  “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder” (James 4:1-2). At the forefront of much war and conflict is an idolatry that says, “I want more. I want what you have.” And so there are wars and rumors of wars. Much of it is rooted in human sin. Political parties and institutions are not evil in themselves. Evil is ultimately rooted in every human heart.   

 2. Necessary wars are to be conducted within the limits of justice.  The purpose of Just War Theory is to give us a common terminology, so that nations that wage war will operate within certain parameters that are just. As Christians, we need to be realistic, not naive. We need to get past the common white hat versus black hat assumptions about war. When it comes to war, there is rarely pure good versus pure bad. There are usually gray hats versus gray hats, with different shades of gray. We are all guilty sinners. The hope of Just War Theory is that by applying just principles we can be as righteous as one can be when it comes to waging war. 

3. Only governments, and not individuals, have the right under God to carry out retribution.  This rules out terrorists. They have no authority to do what they do.

 Within Just War Theory there is a seven-fold criteria.

  1. There must be a just cause. All aggression is condemned in Just War Theory. Participation in war must be prompted by a just cause or a defensive cause. No war of unprovoked aggression can ever be justified.
    Preemptive war can be legitimate in some circumstances, according to Just War Theory, if it is known that a grave act of aggression is imminent. If a government knows that their nation or another is about to become a victim, it can act to prevent the injustice before it takes place.

  2. Just intention. The war must have a right intention to secure a fair peace for all parties involved. One must have just motives for going into war.

  3. It is a last resort. Other means of resolution such as diplomacy and economic pressure must have been reasonably exhausted before war.

  4. Formal declaration. The war must be initiated with formal declaration by a properly constituted authority. Only governments can declare war, not individuals or militias or terrorist organizations—only governments.

  5. Limited objectives. Securing peace is the purpose and objective in going to war. War must be engaged in such a way that when peace is attained, hostilities cease.

  6. Proportionate means. Combatant forces of the opposition may not be subjected to greater harm than is necessary to secure victory and peace.

  7. Noncombatant immunity. Military forces must respect individuals and groups not participating in the conflict and must abstain from intentionally targeting or attacking them.


Based on my studies, a strict pacifist position is not only unreasonable, it is unbiblical. The presence of sin in the world means that is is sometimes regrettably necessary to use force in order to secure justice for the innocent and the helpless. However, when war is considered, its legitimacy must be carefully evaluated.

In doing so, Christians should remember that their ultimate allegiance is not to the State; it is to the commands of God. Unfortunately, history shows that individual Christians and churches have rarely stood up effectively against the State when the war is unjust. It is too easy for people to get caught up in patriotism. It is all too easy to buy into nationalistic interests. People are often so close to the situation that they cannot objectively judge the legitimacy of taking action against another nation. That failure was evident in Nazi Germany, where the Church became a lapdog to the State. Yes, there were those who stood against it in defiance, but most did not. The Church also failed in Constantine’s Rome.

Yes, there are times when war is just. We must be careful to step outside of nationalistic thinking and critique our nations so that we can be faithful to God, before our State, and then act according to our conscience.

Remember, God is sovereign. The nations rage, but God has established His King on Mount Zion. He has given Him an inheritance which is the whole world. And there will come a day when we will take our swords and craft them into plowshares. We will learn war no more. Come quickly Lord Jesus!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Revelation's Daedalean Symbols

A daedalean symbol in literature is one in which the work, here Revelation, symbolizes something in a surprising and at first glance contradictory way. It involves a reversal of expectations.

These symbols often involve two statements, the first of which sets up certain expectations on the part of the reader and the second which reverses these expectations.

You can see them as a pair of two, seemingly contrary symbols that must be understood together to have a true picture of what is meant.

The best way to explain this is by looking at examples.

1. The lion that is a lamb

In Revelation 5, one of the twenty-four elders in heaven comes to John, who is weeping because no one can open the scroll that reveals God's will. The elder says:

"Weep not; lo, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals" [Rev. 5:5].

This draws on symbolism from the book of Genesis where Israel's son Judah is described as a "young lion" (Genesis 49:9).

The added specification of "the Root of David" makes it clear that the elder is referring to Jesus, the Messiah, who was both from the tribe of Judah and a descendant of David.

We are told that the lion "has conquered," enabling him to open the scroll.

Based on what John has been told, he (and the reader) could expect him to turn and see Jesus depicted in the form of a lion, a violent, deadly beast who "has conquered"—possibly with bloody claws and fangs.

But when he turns, John sees something very different:

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth [Rev. 5:6].

Instead of a conquering lion, John sees a lamb that is "standing, as though it had been slain."

It is not a powerful, ravening predator with dripping claws and fangs but a weak, vulnerable prey animal that has been mortally wounded.

And yet it stands. This represents Jesus' resurrection (the Lamb stands) in spite of the fact that he was crucified ("had been slain").

Here we have a paradox--a juxtaposition of two seemingly contradictory symbols:

The Lion: The dangerous predator that conquers (overcomes its prey)
The Lamb: The vulnerable prey that is slain (overcome by its conquerors)

To fully understand this symbolism, we have to embrace both images.

It is true that Jesus is a Lion from the tribe of Judah. He has conquered.

But the way he has done these things is surprising and involves a reversal of expectations: He has conquered by assuming a position of vulnerability, by serving as the Lamb, and being slain--and raised again to stand despite this.

This is not the only symbol in Revelation of this type.

2. White Robes That Should Be Red

Later in Revelation, John sees a great multitude of people around God's Throne in heaven, who are wearing white robes:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands [7:9].

Then one of the twenty-four elders comes to him and says:

"Who are these, clothed in white robes, and whence have they come?" [7:13].

John responds:

"Sir, you know."

And he said to me, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" [7:14].

Here there are definite expectations set up. We've been asked to envision a multitude of people from all nations in white robes. Then we are told the reason that their robes are white: "They have washed their robes and made them white."


The ordinary expectation would be that they have been washed in water--the usual thing we wash garments in to make them clean and white again.

Water would even be an expected symbol, based on baptism.

But then our expectations are reversed when we are told that these robes were washed in blood!


Washing a robe in blood would make it red, not white!

And so we we have a paradox--a juxtaposition of two seemingly contradictory symbols:

The robes that have been made white by washing
The blood of the Lamb that should have made them red rather than white

As before, we need to embrace both of these symbols in order to understand what Revelation means.

It is true that the saints "wear white robes"--their sins have been removed (forgiven) and they have done righteous deeds (cf. Rev. 19:8).

But the means by which these things are done (by which their robes are made white) is the shedding of Christ's blood on the Cross, by "the blood of the Lamb."

3. Whose Blood?

Another example of a paradoxical symbol in Revelation is found in chapter 19, where John sees one of the most intense sights in the entire book, when he sees Jesus on a white horse in heaven:

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.

He is clad in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.

And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, followed him on white horses [19:11, 13-14].

Here, once again, we have an interesting juxtaposition of blood and white linen.

We’ve already been given the key to why the followers of Jesus have white robes: They have been washed in the blood of the Lamb.

That likely tells us something about the blood in which Jesus’ own robe has been dipped.

Whose blood is it?

The expected thing, for a conqueror riding on a horse, would be that his robe has been stained by the blood of the enemies he has killed.

But in keeping with the paradoxical blood/white robe symbolism that has already been set up in the book, a different answer is suggested.

Jesus’ robe has been dipped in his own blood, not that of his slain enemies.

Indeed, thus far his enemies have not been slain . . .

4. The Sword That Is a Word

John’s description of Jesus isn’t finished, though. He then writes:

From his mouth issues a sharp sword with which to smite the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty [19:15].

This also is paradoxical. Conquerors normally don’t carry their swords in their mouths. They carry them in their hands (or, at least, in a scabbard strapped to their bodies).

But Jesus’ sword issues from his mouth. That tells us that it isn’t the usual kind of sword.

What is it?

Remember that John has already seen that Jesus is called by the name “The Word of God” (v. 13, above).

Back in Ephesians, St. Paul wrote:

And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God [Eph. 6:17].

And in Hebrews, we read:

The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword [Heb. 4:12].

That suggests that Jesus’ sword, the sword of his mouth, is not a literal, physical sword at all.

It’s the word of God.

Jesus is even named “the Word of God” in this same passage (v. 13)!

St. Jerome notes:

We read in the Apocalypse of John . . . “Out of his mouth came forth a sharp two-edged sword.” . . .

It is a two-edged sword, namely, the word of his teachings. . . .

It is a two-edged sword that slays adversaries and at the same time defends his faithful [Homilies on the Psalms 59].

Again, we have two images that must be held together to understand the symbolism:

Jesus’ mouth—a mouth being something that his word would proceed from
The sword that proceeds from it—a sword being a means of conquest

The message is: Jesus doesn’t conquer through physical violence. He conquers through the word of God.

5. How the Battle Is Won

John then sees the battle between the beast, the false prophet, and the kings of the earth who were gathered to make war on Jesus and his followers:

And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who sits upon the horse and against his army.

And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had worked the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image.

These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulphur.

And the rest were slain by the sword of him who sits upon the horse, the sword that issues from his mouth; and all the birds were gorged with their flesh [19:19-21].

We have good reason to identify the beast of Revelation with the pagan Roman empire and, specifically, its emperors (see here and here), who persecuted and martyred Christians.

But they didn’t do this forever. The forces of pagan persecution were overcome, and the empire converted and became Christian.

The passage quoted immediately precedes the thousand-year reign of Christ and the saints (20:1-6), which thinkers such as St. Augustine have identified as the present period, in which Christ and his saints reign in heaven and through the Church on earth.

Four Horsemen

How did that happen?

It was not through physical conquest.

It was through the preaching of the word of God—through the sword that issues from Jesus’ mouth.

It was also through the blood of the martyrs, who like Jesus suffered martyrdom that brought conversion to the empire.

And so we we have a paradox—a juxtaposition of two seemingly contradictory symbols:

The forces against God are destroyed by the sword
But the sword that destroys them is not material but is the word of God

Furthermore, the word of God is not intended to kill (though you will hurt yourself if you violate it) but to heal, to convert the enemies of Christ into his friends, if they will only cooperate and respond to his message.

The thoughts I have offered here are not, of course, the only way to look at the book of Revelation.

There are other ways, many of them!

But having an understanding of the daedalean symbols in the book and how they work can shed new light on otherwise perplexing passages.