The Rev. Dr. Walter A. Maier II, eldest son of Lutheran Hour founder Dr. Walter A. Maier, entered hospice care early in October, knowing that when he returned home it would not be to his earthly address. While visiting him in hospice on October 8, 2019, President of the Indiana District, the Rev. Dr. Daniel Brege, presented Dr. Maier II with a plaque honoring his 70th anniversary in pastoral ministry. He had originally planned to present it to him at the Indiana District Pastors’ Conference taking place this past week. Instead, at 12:15 p.m. on Thursday, October 24, Dr. Maier II entered through the gates of heaven, called home into the arms of his Savior.
Born on June 24, 1925, Dr. Maier II attended Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, where his father served as a professor, and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Exegesis and Systematics in 1948. A year later, he received a Master of Arts in Classical Languages from Washington University in St. Louis. On September 11, 1949, his father ordained and installed him at Faith Lutheran Church, a rural congregation in Elma, New York, where he met his future bride, Leah M. Gach. They were married in 1951 and had two sons, Walter III and David.
Dr. Maier II later served a suburban congregation in Levittown, Pennsylvania (Hope Lutheran Church, 1954-1960), then an urban church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Hope Lutheran Church, 1961-1965), where he could teach religion and Greek classes at nearby Concordia College. He then accepted a call to Concordia Theological Seminary (CTS), which was located in Springfield, Illinois, at the time. While teaching at the seminary in Springfield, he completed two degrees from the seminary in St. Louis, a Master of Sacred Theology in 1967 and a Doctor of Theology in 1970. Both degrees were earned in Exegetical and Systematic Theology.
Having joined the CTS faculty in 1965 (which would move to Fort Wayne 10 years later, becoming known as CTSFW), he taught New Testament Exegetical Theology full time at the Seminary for the next 35 years, until 2000. For the next 13 years, he taught Greek readings part time, until formally retiring in August of 2013. After his retirement, the Rev. Dr. Charles A. Gieschen, Academic Dean at CTSFW, wrote of his former professor and colleague: “His rapid-fire lecture style, his faithfulness to the biblical text and his attacks on the Historical Critical Method contributed to his popularity as a speaker in the LCMS and his advancement in rank to associate professor (1968) and professor (1973)” (“Dr. Walter A. Maier: A True Servant of God.” For the Life of the World 17, no. 4, December 2013).
Besides his many “spiritual sons” from his 48 years of teaching at CTSFW, Dr. Maier II and Leah’s two sons also followed in their father’s footsteps, studying at the Seminary where their father taught. The Rev. Dr. Walter A. Maier III now serves as Professor of Exegetical Theology at CTSFW and the Rev. Dr. David P.E. Maier is President of the Michigan District. “My father has been a wonderful teacher and example for me all my life,” Dr. Maier III explained to Dr. Gieschen for the 2013 article. “He has shown me what it means to be a father, pastor, professor, scholar and churchman, that is, a true servant of God, one motivated and empowered by Christ.”
Alongside his years in the parish and as a seminary professor, Dr. Maier II served in various positions in the Eastern and South Wisconsin Districts; as Chairman of the Department of Exegetical Theology, Academic Dean, Vice-President, and Director of the Distance Education Program Leading to Ordination(DELTO) at CTSFW; as a vice-president of the LCMS from 1973-1995; and received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Concordia College, Bronxville, New York, in 1999.
In 1996, while chairing the Seminary’s 150th anniversary committee, Dr. Maier II wrote the following in the January–April Issue of Concordia Theological Quarterly: “From the time the first classes were taught in the parsonage of St. Paul’s Lutheran church in Fort Wayne, in October of 1846, until the present, when the seminary occupies a beautiful campus of two hundred acres near the St. Joseph River, this ‘school of the prophets’ has served as God’s instrument in preparing over four thousand men for the ministerium of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. It has also, through its graduate and extension programs, assisted in the advanced theological education of many pastors through the years. These are great blessings from, and grounds of profound gratitude to, the Lord of the church. These are many reasons for the seminary and the church to rejoice during the current celebratory period.”
So, too, we give thanks to God for the great blessings we have received even as we mourn the passing of His servant, Dr. Maier II, while also rejoicing that he has been called home to his eternal rest. “This week, CTSFW and our Synod lost a faithful pastor and vigorous theologian,” said CTSFW President, the Rev. Dr. Lawrence R. Rast, Jr., another former student and colleague of Dr. Maier II. “For seven decades Dr. Maier dedicated himself to the study, teaching, and proclamation of God’s Word. Few are blessed with the length and breadth of service to our Lord demonstrated by Dr. Maier. But even more importantly, the Maier family mourns the loss of a faithful and loving husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and brother. With Advent just around the corner, the entire CTSFW community prays with the Maier family as we all anxiously await our Lord’s coming and that day when we will be reunited with all the saints in heaven.”
Dr. Maier’s funeral will be held at 11:00 a.m. on Thursday, October 31st, at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne (1126 S. Barr St., Fort Wayne, IN 46802). The viewing will be held both the day before at Hockemeyer and Miller Funeral Home from 2:00–4:00 p.m. and 6:00–8:00 p.m. on Wednesday, October 30th, as well as an hour before the service at St. Paul’s on Thursday, October 31st, at 10 a.m.
A couple of weeks ago, Rev. Richard Rudowske, chief operating officer of Lutheran Bible Translators as well as Doctor of Philosophy—Missiology student here at CTSFW, led a convocation on “The Curse of Knowledge.” The mission of Lutheran Bible Translators is to translate the Bible into every tongue, that all people and nations may read and hear God’s Word in their heart language. Why, then, would he lecture on knowledge as a “curse”?
First, what is this curse? It’s this: when people know information, they don’t know what it’s like not to know it. For example (a particularly poignant one for this convocation audience), a professor who knows his subject inside and out can easily forget what it was like before he learned it, accidentally leaving behind his students when he assumes a base of knowledge they don’t have. “Ignorance can be a virtue in education.” (“Tell your professors that,” Rev. Rudowske added as an aside, as he read this quote from an educational study.) “To teach effectively, you need to see things from the naive perspective of your pupil—and the more knowledge you have acquired, the harder it gets.”
It’s a problem across fields. Rev. Rudowske quoted economists, psychologists, educational experts, and an article written by a plumber: “I was an expert in my knowledge base, but not a professional in my field. The curse of knowledge must be battled daily. Know your foe: arrogance.”
This curse can be traced back to Genesis 3:4-7. “But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.”
The first thing Adam and Eve noticed was their nakedness. They immediately turned their eyes to themselves. Or, to use a Latin theological phrase: incurvatus in se. “Curved inward on oneself.” “That’s really mankind ever since,” Rev. Rudowske said. “You care more about and think about what you know and less about what someone else knows. That’s the depth of the effect of sin.”
Though he began the convocation as a typical presentation, Rev. Rudowske soon opened up the floor to comments and questions from the students, leading it more as a regular class. Theological knowledge is going to serve foundationally towards their future as teachers (an intrinsic part of both pastoral and diaconal vocations), but overwhelming knowledge can unintentionally intimidate or lose listeners, such as when they use unfamiliar jargon or allude to the Bible without attribution or context. “We’re not called to dumb down the message of the Gospel or the Law,” Rev. Rudowske said. “But be aware of your audience. That’s a key part when you’re assigned to a vocation: be intimately involved in that community.” The Word of redemption is universal, but we have relationships with people so that we can also speak personally and directly to their individual needs.
Dr. Detlev Schulz, Professor of Pastoral Ministry and Missions here at CTSFW, chimed in, speaking of how this ties into emotional intelligence, the “self-awareness—or awareness—of how you view your actions as they affect other people,” he explained. It’s also an important tool for future pastors and deaconesses. For example, your language may be theologically correct and academically impressive, but can you recognize how it may be heard or understood? Will it help and serve your neighbor, or overwhelm and lose him?
Speak to your hearers, not to your own ears. Or as 1 Corinthians 13:1-2 puts it: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”
And thanks be to God, we also have the promise that the Word works despite our fallen nature. We are tasked with speaking it, but we need not be driven to despair over our unworthiness. “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). Christ Jesus works both because and despite us. We are His workmanship (Eph. 2:10).
Last Monday through Friday was the DMin (Doctor of Ministry) Residential Week. The DMin Program is a practical degree designed for working pastors, which is why much of the coursework and study is accomplished on their own with the support of online resources and faculty mentorship. A handful of intensive weeks are held throughout where the students gather on campus for five days at a time in order to attend classes with one another.
There is a distinctly different feel to the DMin Program, especially when these men gather on campus with their brothers in ministry. While there is a definite camaraderie among the MDiv students who are learning to become pastors (sharing inside jokes and commiseration over classes, professors, and fieldwork) they are still looking beyond Seminary; the DMin students have both that shared background as former seminarians and are also living in the “beyond Seminary.” They have an immediate connection as fellow laborers in the Lord’s harvest fields. There’s a depth to the laughter that these men share as they navigate their classes and their experiences as sinner-saints called to serve as Christ’s undershepherds to other sinner-saints.
Pastors in the DMin Program choose their concentration from the first day of their entry, either on 1.) Pastoral Care and Leadership; 2.) Teaching and Preaching; or 3.) Mission and Culture. Each pastor develops a project that is the focus of his degree, tied to their parish or other ongoing ministry at home. Thus the practical aspect of the program: they don’t first earn a degree and then apply their learning, but rather apply their learning as they serve their congregation/ministry, eventually earning the degree.
Last Friday, one such student, Rev. William Keller II, defended his dissertation project. A dissertation is a couple of hundred pages long, written on the research done throughout a student’s years in the program. His faculty mentor/reader offers suggestions before the dissertation is presented to the committee. At the defense, the DMin candidate introduces his topic, explaining his research, methodology, and conclusions, after which several faculty members and occasionally ordained guests ask follow-up questions. The committee then has all but themselves withdraw so that they can discuss the dissertation (which they have read ahead of time) and decide whether the student has successfully defended his topic.
As Rev. Keller’s defense took place during DMin Residential Week, his fellow DMin students were invited to his dissertation defense on “Evaluation of the Accountable Leadership Model of the Governance at Concordia Lutheran Church.” When called to Concordia Lutheran, Rev. Keller inherited a governance model as it was about to be implemented in his new congregation, inspiring the project. However, though the topic is narrow (specifically involving his parishioners), it’s also broad: he used his findings to take a wider view of the topic of church governance.
Ultimately, the study brought up a number of practical questions tied to deeper theological questions on authority and role of the pastor in governing a church. Should the pastor strictly serve as a shepherd? Is he also called to run his church? What are the impacts to his pastoral duties when he is called to counsel and guide his members but may also be tasked with firing them as church staff? Did this new governance model promote a healthy relationship between a pastor and his congregation? And even: what is scriptural and what is adiaphora (neither mandated nor forbidden by Scripture)?
In very short: he concluded that any governance model is a tool that cannot solve underlying problems in a congregation, but can be used to either help or exacerbate issues. The study highlighted the importance of understanding your congregation before making changes, from the church’s culture to the gifts of members and the challenges and history at the heart of any issues the congregation may be dealing with. It was also an examination of the role of the pastor and the Office of Holy Ministry.
Dr. Gifford Grobien, Director of the DMin Program and member of the Dissertation Committee, asked Rev. Keller to expound on the theological understanding he applied to the situation. Rev. Keller explained that he looked back at how the Church and past theologians handled it, starting with Luther. Summarized here:
Martin Luther argued that Scripture is where the authority of a pastor lies. He wasn’t focused on structure, save for that applied through preaching. For example, the key interpretive principles that Rev. Keller found useful were the teaching of the two kingdoms and the theology of the cross.
Martin Chemnitz defined the Office of Holy Ministry through its functions; as a practice of the ways and means.
Johann Gerhard taught that you should take three things into consideration: necessity, usefulness, and dignity. How will a proposal impact the Office of Holy Ministry as it fits in that paradigm?
F.W. Walther was the first Lutheran theologian on American soil who had to grapple with the separation of Church and state. As such, he is the first on this list to speak specifically on church administration. He suggested a board of directors to support the pastor and to govern the church. He was also the first to suggest the adoption of church constitutions (preferably short ones). Walther’s suggestions on church administration essentially provided a dynamic in which the governing duties came out of the congregation and allowed the pastor to stay focused on the duties of the Office.
It was also important to read contemporary authors, because they better understand our times, such as the impact of sentimentalism on the Church (that moral sense is based on feelings over reason). These and other “isms” popular in our times will affect even how (and why) a church does business. “A congregation has to identity these idols and repent of them,” Rev. Keller explained. These types of idols are difficult because they grow in the heart, versus the idols set up in a temple that can be physically thrown down.
In very, very short: his dissertation was about pastoral care. In studying governance models, Rev. Keller found that often congregations want a single solution to fix what they see as a single problem, hoping that a new governance model is that fix—when in fact it is the age old problem of sin, compounded over years and generations. And no matter what else a pastor is called to do (whether he has much governing authority or little, whether the congregation tasks their pastor with intimate involvement in its administration or prefers a separate governing board), that pastor is called by Christ to serve his people, calling them to repentance and comforting them with Word and Sacrament.
After the presentation, the Dissertation Committee—Dr. Grobien, Dr. Detlev Schulz, and Dr. Charles Gieschen—asked all to withdraw from the room so that they could confer. Their conclusion was unanimous: a successful defense. Congratulations, Rev. Keller!
To learn more about the DMin Program (tuition is still locked in until March 15, 2020, after which it will increase), go to www.ctsfw.edu/DMin. You can also contact the Graduate Studies Department with specific questions at [email protected] or (260) 452-2203.
The Prayerfully Consider Visit (PCV) is a biannual event at CTSFW; you’ve likely heard us talk about it before. We hold this three-day visit for prospective students in both the fall and the spring, to give these men and women the time and tools they need during the discernment process as they consider whether a vocation as pastor or deaconess is in their future. About 30 PCV participants were with us from October 10-12, most of them pastoral program prospects with a few deaconess program prospects plus a handful of spouses. Spouses are always encouraged to come. They are absolutely a part of any future vocation—not just vital to the success of it, but truly a part of it.
PCV began on Thursday with prayer in Kramer Chapel, then a welcome and orientation breakfast. Rev. Matt Wietfeldt, head of Admissions here at CTSFW, explained the purpose of these three days. “Take the name seriously,” he said. These men and women have taken time out of their busy lives to come to campus to consider these questions: will you become a pastor? A deaconess? Or is it better to remain in your current vocation?
By coming to campus, attendees share in the blessing of the CTSFW community. “We gather together first and foremost in worship,” Rev. Wietfeldt explained, describing the identity of the people who live, work, and study here. “We’re a community that is always in prayer. It is there [at Kramer Chapel] that we are formed and refreshed in the blood of the Lamb.”
He went on. “We are a community that is in study—but learning doesn’t just happen in the classroom.” Much of the formation process happens between classes, in the student commons or in the dining hall as classmates talk and debate and pull their professors into the discussion. There is no faculty lounge at CTSFW, so the professors are always with the students and available to them. “We are community about fellowship,” Rev. Wietfedlt finished. “It’s about being together as brothers and sisters, in worship and study but also as we lift each other up in good and bad.”
After his welcome, Rev. Wietfeldt had the participants stand and introduce themselves. Participants came from as close as the Fort Wayne area but also from Virginia, Albuquerque, NM, and Seattle. A handful were seniors at university (there aren’t usually as many college students at PCV during the fall as most of them attend Christ Academy: College at the end of the month) and plenty were second career from a variety of backgrounds. Some of these men and women are lifelong Lutherans, but others have come to us by much longer journeys, like the former charismatic who loves the scriptural doctrine of Lutheranism.
“I’m here to see if this is a fit for my life,” one participant explained. “It’s been in the back of my head for a long time.” Another participant knew he wanted to work for the Kingdom but hadn’t decided whether that would mean as a pastor; he’s here to find that out.
Still others know they’ll be starting in the fall. “I was 15 or 16 when my grandma told me: you should be pastor,” one prospect admitted. “I laughed but haven’t been able to get it out of my head since.”
One deaconess prospect explained that she was a teacher and felt that diaconal work seems very similar to what she was already doing. She simply wants to get stronger in theology. An undergraduate still in college said she had attended the high school program for Christ Academy and wanted to become a deaconess.
One of the attendees who has been thinking about becoming a pastor for the past thirty years recognized his thoughts in the words coming out of his fellow brothers’ and sisters’ mouths. “I wondered: gosh, am I the only one who grapples with these things?” He looked around the group, grinned, and answered it for himself: “Nope.”
They would hear much of their thoughts echoed back to them later that evening, during the student panel discussion. The Admission Department had five current students (plus two spouses) answer questions about what their own journey was like. One couple, for example, attended 3 or 4 PCVs before they officially joined the CTSFW community. “We took our time,” he explained. “There was no doubt we were going to come, it was just a matter of when.” It took them about four years to work first through the discernment process and then prepare for the move. They had to uproot their family, and the couples’ own parents were worried. “They thought we’d be on food stamps.” Instead, that Christmas they came home with an abundance—fresh produce, given to them by the Food Co-op that they didn’t want to waste. “In the absence of truth, the imagination takes over,” his wife explained.
The transition was far faster for another couple. A Lutheran school teacher for ten years, the thought of becoming a pastor had always been with seminarian Aaron Schultz. “I felt a restlessness,” he explained, which grew alongside those long-held thoughts of becoming a pastor. He told his wife he finally wanted to go for it in October, and he was attending classes by the next September. She was on board from the first. “It was a quick process for us,” she explained.
Another student was a former Specific Ministry Pastoral program graduate, whose District President encouraged him to go back to Seminary to earn an MDiv so that he could serve full time. “I made a decision and went for it…God finds you and steers you,” he explained. “I had a lot of people praying for me. I’m not a lifelong Lutheran, and this doctrine is important to me.”
Second-year deaconess student, Anna Barger, is the daughter of a deaconess. So naturally: “No way, I thought. Not me.” However, she has long been interested in sign-language and, during a weeklong intensive course about the incredibly specialized vocabulary of signed liturgy, learned that 85-90% of the deaf community had no faith. “No one speaks their language,” she explained. “That didn’t sit well with me. I realized how much I took it for granted that I can go anywhere in the country—even the world—that I can sit in a pew and know what’s going on.” She gave in: she would become a deaconess, continuing to hone her skills in sign language alongside the specialized niche of theological language.
Another second-year seminarian came to us immediately out of college. Ethan Stoppenhagen has known his course for years. In high school, he explained to a teacher that he too wanted to become a teacher. “Why not a pastor?” she asked. His immediate response: “Well I can’t do that!” It stuck with him, though. He attended Christ Academy High School and by the time he was in college he knew exactly where he was going to go.
Rev. Wietfeldt summed it up well: “The discernment process is specific and unique because they’re all specific and unique,” he pointed out. Their ages are different, the length of discernment is different, and the transition process too is shaped by the individuals going through it.
Earlier in the day, Dean of the Chapel, Dr. Grime, had introduced himself to the participants of PCV as they began the three-days of discernment, speaking briefly on bringing Christ to a fallen world. “Into that hopelessness, you have interest in taking a sliver of that hope into a corner of the world. And it is a corner. Thank goodness we haven’t been asked to save the world.” And why are some called to these unique vocations? Or, in the words of the late Rev. Dr. Norman Nagel, “Why would you want to do it? Because it was given us to be done.”
Today was Donation Day, which is a tradition nearly as old as the Seminary itself. Donation Day started as a way to feed the student while they were studying for full-time church work. The CTSFW Seminary Guild cares for our students through Donation Day, taking on additional student projects through donations and their membership dues, as well as using their baking and crafting skills throughout the year for birthdays, snacks during final weeks, and gifts for newly born babies.
Phyllis Thieme, the President of the Guild, opened donation day immediately after chapel with a welcome to the visitors. Eighty-one years ago, in 1938 (the year before the Guild came into being), 1,0008 registrants arrived at the Springfield Campus for Donation Day. “Since the founding of CTS in 1846, the ladies of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod have always supported CTS, the students, and their families,” Mrs. Thieme said. “Let’s fast forward now to today. We may not have 1,008 registrants bringing their donations as they did back in 1938; however, the donations by the Lutheran Women Missionary League represent thousands of women who have given their donation, their support of the students here at CTS. A lot has changed since 1939, but one thing has not: the faithful giving of the many Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod women to help our future pastors and deaconesses and their families.”
Jonah Domenichelli, 4th-year and president of the Student Government Association, introduced the five LWML District Presidents who were able to make it to Donation Day. He and his wife moved to Fort Wayne with three children and now have five; they know the tension between family needs and the rigors of education very well. “Moving here, like most students and families experience, can be very stressful because you’re trying to figure out where the money’s coming from; how are you going to pay for school? How are you going to take care of your family? How are you going to take care of yourself if you’re a student by yourself?” he said. “However, we were reassured that the Lord would provide for us when we moved here. And indeed he has. We have been supported through countless student adoptions and donors like yourselves, and God is faithful. And we appreciate everything He has provided through you.”
The five LWML District Presidents in attendance were Susan Gruber (Michigan District); Barbara Kaun (Wisconsin South District); Janice Gerzevske (Northern Illinois District); Jeanne Schimmelmann (Ohio District); and Marge Gruber (Indiana District). All five brought greetings from their districts and asked that the students from their districts stand, that they might recognize them. After chapel they met with these seminarians and deaconess students in the student commons for coffee, and later each gave a short report during the afternoon meeting on their work with the Food & Clothing Co-op (generally large grants to help fund the Co-op as well as student aid and scholarships).
“This morning is the very best way to start the day,” Mrs. Schimmelmann said in her greetings to the Seminary, “worshiping our Lord in this beautiful chapel with our brothers and sisters in Christ. As it has been said, ‘It doesn’t get better than this.’”
Deaconess Katherine Rittner, Director of the Food & Clothing Co-op, began her speech with another historical comparison between now and then. In 1949, ten years after the Seminary Guild started, donation day visitors donated 221 dozen eggs, 97 chickens, 5,000 quarts of home-canned goods, and $1,500 in cash donations. “But what a difference 70 years makes!” she exclaimed, before reading another set of numbers. Last year, through the support of donors, the Food Co-op provided over 2,000 dozen eggs, 4,000 pounds of Brakebush Chicken (not to mention over 2,500 pounds of cow plus 12,000 pounds of pork), over 36,000 pounds of produce, and $12,225.06 was spent at local grocery stores. “In this ever-changing world, the focus of the Guild remains the same: to care for their students and families,” she said. “As mentioned, the LWML is a large supporter of us; we can’t do this without you.”
She then had all the students stand, starting with those who hadn’t stood yet and finally asking that all students rise to their feet. “This,” she said of the standing students, “this is who you are caring for. From the students, from the faculty, from the staff—as a former student, former student wife, current staff member—from the bottom of my heart I thank you for what it is that you do for our students and their families. Thank you.”
During lunch, as a treat for the ladies Deaconess Rittner had student wives (and at least one student wife who is also a seminary student herself, studying to become a deaconess) and their children held a fashion show. They wore clothes they found at the Co-op. Most of the little girls—when they weren’t feeling shy—were thrilled; the boys less so. You can view photos from the show in the pictures provided here.
Lance Hoffman, Advancement Officer since 2016 and newly appointed Assistant Vice President of Operations, also spoke at the afternoon meeting. He taught at Concordia Lutheran High School in Fort Wayne for 26 years before joining CTSFW. The high school is his alma mater; when he graduated from college with a teaching degree and was called back to his old school, his father was a colleague and his little brother was one of his students.
As a former history teacher and now an advancement officer serving the financial needs of CTSFW, Mr. Hoffman’s presentation married both: to effectively raise money for CTSFW, the Advancement Department has to understand both where society came from and where it’s going. “Changes in our society require changes in our strategy,” he explained.
He largely bypassed the first 100 years of CTSFW’s history (“Things are so different before that it’s almost useless to consider strategies,” he explained), and focused on the past 80 years. The post-war era from 1945-1975 was the golden age of the middle class in America. Television began replacing radio and print and everyone answered their phone and read their mail. “We’ll get to today when virtually none of this is true,” Mr. Hoffman said briefly, before returning to the post-war period. Planes and cars had replaced trains as interstate highways and airports sprung up everywhere. Synodical support was high.
Because of this, the Seminary operated on a “big net, small fish” strategy; what we would now call the Annual Fund approach. With a robust middle class (and in conjunction with modest educational costs), it worked well. With many small gifts meeting their needs, little attention was given to major gift cultivation or long term planning. “But if there’s one thing you can be sure of,” Mr. Hoffman said, “is things will always change.
“Both seminaries were blindsided by undergraduate debt. No one predicted that we would have pastoral and diaconal students coming in with $100,000 in debt,” he explained. In the 1960s a part-time job could pay for most education costs. In the 70s, the wealth gap between rich and middle class began to expand while educational costs rose almost incomprehensibly fast. “Minimum wage has not gone up 2,000% like education costs,” he said. “Times have changed and the math doesn’t add up anymore.”
“Big net, small fish” no longer works on its own. The top 10% of the nation holds 67% of the wealth and the bottom 90% the remaining 33%. Nor have communication changes been conducive to philanthropy efforts. Land lines and snail mail are fading. There are a dozen new ways to contact people (email, cell phones, social media) but in a sea of noise, that’s made it harder to be heard. There have been no major changes in transportation from 1976-2019, save for access: with private planes and 24/7 travel, people now live seasonally and the wealthy own multiple homes. National trends have affected the LCMS at all levels, especially in the difficult years in the 80s and 90s. Synod still supports her seminaries, but not in the same way financially. Both seminaries have had to become financially independent.
Many middle class donors still continue to give to their seminaries. They provide millions a year—but today that’s millions short. We have thousands of donors who give generously of their means, but we’d need thousands more to make up the difference.
This is where major gift cultivation—particularly through endowments—come into play. An endowment is a gift that can never be spent. Rather, the gift is invested and CTSFW spends a percentage of the earnings. The great advantage is that these gifts last as long as the Seminary does. Since the post-war era, CTSFW has gone from 0 in endowments to millions. “Not bad for a school our size,” Mr. Hoffman said. But: “Bad for a school our age.” Harvard, for example, has endowments in the billions. The difference is that Harvard, established in 1656, has been cultivating major gifts for hundreds of years. CTSFW didn’t start until 100 years into her history.
Chairs are another type of endowment, set up to pay for a specific professorship, as the earnings from the investment pay for that position’s salary and benefits no matter who holds it. CTSFW has five at this point, all still currently held by their original faculty recipients: Dr. James Bushur in The Carl and Erna Weinrich Associate Professor of New Testament and Early Church Studies chair; Dr. Cameron MacKenzie in The Forrest E. and Frances H. Ellis Professor of German Reformation Studies chair; Prof. Robert Roethemeyer in The Wakefield-Kroemer Director of Library and Information Services chair; Dr. David Scaer in The David P. Scaer Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology chair; and Dr. Roland Ziegler in The Robert D. Preus Associate Professor of Systematic Theology and Confessional Lutheran Studies chair. These will be passed on as these men retire and new faculty take their place.
The Advancement strategy, according to Mr. Hoffman, is clear: “Blending the tried and true with the new.” We need both those who give major gifts and those who give according to their more modest means. And that doesn’t yet take into account the generosity that comes to our students in the form of home congregation gifts, student adoptions, and the Co-ops. There’s also the additional projects, like the recent renovations to W8 and L7 (the campus was only 20 years old when CTS first moved onto the grounds but now the infrastructure is 65 years old and starting to show it), the capital campaign for the library expansion project, and, in 2018, the introduction of the 100% tuition grant for full-time residential pastoral and diaconal students.
“You’ll note,” Mr. Hoffman said. “I didn’t say ‘free.’” A seminarian may no longer be responsible for his tuition (though he’s certainly expected—and is required to promise—that he will help by applying for scholarships and aid), but someone’s certainly paying for it: the Body of Christ. The Church cares for her future pastors and deaconesses.
This is important, not only because it meets the modern challenge of the educational debt crisis, but because we need church workers. Enrollment is down at both seminaries, as is church worker enrollment in the Concordia University System. Take into account that 50% of pastors in the LCMS are over the age of 55, and in the next 10 years we’ll lose 3,000 pastors to retirement. (Though perhaps slightly later, Mr. Hoffman conceded: “Pastors are a weird breed,” he said to laughter, “They don’t often retire at normal retirement age.”). Our two seminaries are currently producing only about 100 new pastors a year; or, 1,000 new pastors over the 10 years.
Mr. Hoffman’s solution: “Give us the students. We’ll figure out the money.”
And we remember this too: the need is urgent, but not desperate. With the Lord of all—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—on our side, we can never be desperate. But we can ask ourselves what we can do where He has placed us. Some of us give financially, some of us choose to go into church work, still others serve as the voice that asks her grandson, or his neighbor, or our friend if he has ever thought of becoming a pastor.
“The seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how,” (Mark 4:27). The Lord of the harvest grows His kingdom and commands that we pray to Him for laborers. May we do so cheerfully and boldly, knowing we can trust His promises.
Dr. Gieschen opens his presentation with a word of prayer.
In order to take a look at the entire Book of Revelation over just two days, Dr. Gieschen hit only the highlights during the Fall Retreat, focusing specifically on Christ and the angels. In fact, you see much more of Christ and the Trinity (especially the Holy Spirit) in Revelation than you do of random angels. The first few words of Revelation are absolutely vital for the understanding of Revelation: “The revelation [or unveiling] of Jesus Christ.”
“A lot of the problems in interpreting Revelation would be resolved by keeping these few words in mind,” Dr. Gieschen said. “Keep that focus and you’ll stay on track for what this book is all about.”
There are seven points to keep in focus when interpreting the Book of Revelation:
Always remember the first verse: the person and work of Jesus Christ is the primary focus of Revelation.
The language of Ezekiel, Daniel 7-12, Zechariah, and Isaiah are invaluable for interpreting the imagery found in the book. The number one reason why people struggle with Revelation is because we’re not immersed in the visionary prophesies of the Old Testament like the first-century Church (many of whom were Jews) would have been.
Revelation was meant to be read/heard start to finish without interruption. It plays like a movie. Though there are some truly rough chapters, these do not exist by themselves as the entirety of the book puts all terrifying visions in perspective: Christ is victorious and already reigning.
It is not written in chronological order. Some scenes flash forward, others back. The whole Old Testament is summarized in 12:1-4 and then the birth, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus is summarized in verse 5. “It’s a big flashback to show you the whole sweep of history, that Israel is waiting for this child to be born,” Dr. Gieschen explained of the image of the woman crying out in birth pains. “It’s distilling down a very complex picture of history.” In the latter half of chapter 7, time jumps forward to the end times. But that’s only a portion of the book. “There’s also a lot of present reality,” he added.
The heavenly throne room in Revelation 4-5 is the most important scene in the entire book, as it sets the whole tone of the book. It depicts present reality in heaven as a result of the victory won by Christ’s life, atoning death, and resurrection on earth.
The two portraits of Christ as the Glorious Man and the Slaughtered Lamb work together to present the full picture of Christ: His eternal nature (who He is, linked with the Old Testament) and the incarnate, flesh-and-blood Jesus (what He’s done, as recorded in the New Testament).
Revelation contains symbolic imagery and numbers that must be interpreted for their meaning rather than literally. “I take the meaning literally, not the words literally. Just because Jesus is a lamb doesn’t mean he has wool, seven horns, and hoofs. He’s the sacrifice. That’s what it means.” More of this symbolic imagery will be explained throughout the summary.
An important part of teaching Revelation is to inoculate hearers against pre-millennialism, the belief that Christ will reign a literal thousand years (and many additional beliefs when all the prophetic imagery from Revelation is taken literally). Instead, we’re amillennialists: “We believe that Christ is already reigning and the thousand years is a symbolic length,” Dr. Gieschen explained. “When He comes again it’s not to reign on earth but to bring about the new heaven and the new earth, and the resurrection.”
[Please note: he went over more of the specific beliefs and why they are heretical (and dangerous), but to keep this already long summary shorter, CLICK HERE to read an article on millennialism (with one correction scribbled in by Dr. Gieschen), plus notes on certain mysteries like 666 and the mark of the beast.]
The “movie” of Revelation plays out in this way: the prologue puts it all in perspective (“The Revelation of Jesus Christ”), which is then followed by the letters written specifically to each of the seven churches in Asia. Chapters 4 and 5 present the key vision of the throne room (our present reality). The bulk of Revelation (chapters 6-16) cycles three times through seven woes, with breaks to remind us that, though the world is in agony, we are saved and being saved by Christ who is already reigning. Chapters 17-22 present the future of two women: a prostitute (Babylon) and the bride of Christ (New Jerusalem). The epilogue closes on the best of news: Jesus is coming.
First, it must be pointed out that we are not certain who John is. While he is possibly the apostle, what we do know for certain is that his name is John and he was important to the churches in Asia. A bishop, he oversaw the seven pastors of the seven churches in Asia, which would have each been a collection of houses churches. He was, essentially, a circuit visitor.
The loud voice that speaks to John to write down all he sees is a guiding angel. In the Book of Revelation it often says “John was in the Spirit,” so this angel is very closely linked with the Holy Spirit, who is either using a created angel to guide John or may Himself be manifesting as an angelic messenger to guide him. That he appears to be divine is made clear that he is the only angel that John attempts to worship. Though the angel tells John that he must not, this is not necessarily a sign that the angel is not the Holy Spirit, for the Spirit always points to Jesus and wants no worship apart from Him. “But don’t push it too far” Dr. Gieschen said.
The only other angel you see in these first chapters is the person of Christ, who appeared as the pre-incarnate Son even in the Old Testament. CLICK HERE to read more details about the Old Testament references that show who He is, from His face to His clothes, hair, eyes, feet, voice, and the two-edged sword coming out of His mouth. From the document’s summary: “Christ is depicted as…the visible manifestation of YHWH who showed himself at times to the prophets in the likeness of a man/son of man….this shows that he is fully identified with YHWH in this vision and in the understanding of John, the author of Revelation.”
The vision is also a message of comfort, specifically to the seven congregations, for Jesus is in their very midst with their pastors in His hand: “And on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man…in his right hand he held seven stars” (1:12-13, 16).
It is also a much broader message of comfort. “Like a son of man” is right out of Daniel. “The very one that Daniel saw, that Ezekiel saw, that’s the same God that is now become Jesus, died, risen, standing before John right there,” Dr. Gieschen explained. “Jesus is the eternal God seen by the prophets of old. For someone versed in the Old Testament, they’ll see the connection immediately. Not ascended and gone; ascended to be with His whole Church.”
The “Fear not” in verse 17 can also be translated to “Stop your fearing” from the original Greek. “And He gives him a reason not to be afraid. Crucifixion is central to His identity. The Book of Revelation wants you to never forget that the God who saved you is the God who died for you,” Dr. Gieschen said. We don’t judge God on our experiences (i.e. “I’m healthy, He loves me; I have cancer, He doesn’t” or even “My church is facing no challenges, He loves us; my church is fracturing over false doctrine, He doesn’t”). “We’re part of a reality where sin causes sorrow and death,” he acknowledged, “but we’re also part of a reality where sin has been overcome in Jesus and the future is going to be unfolded—not to a conclusion of all destruction, but to a restoration and resurrection.”
Though we were born spiritually dead, our first resurrection—a spiritual resurrection—occurred at baptism. We need not fear the second death in the lake of fire, for we are saved by Christ who is already reigning, as the entire Book of Revelation will show again and again. The second resurrection, at the last, will be a physical one.
The rest of the chapters in this section are the specific messages written to the seven chapters. They’re still instructive to the whole Church: each letter begins with a callback to the first chapter, bringing to mind the image of the risen Christ, and each letter ends with the Gospel—with a promise.
The vision of the throne room in chapters 4 and 5 sets the tone for the entire Book of Revelation. It is also the second most Trinitarian passage in the Bible (second to Matthew 28:19 “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”). All three persons of the Triune God are clearly present. The Father is seated on the throne (“he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian…who was and is and is to come,” emphasizing His eternity), the Holy Spirit is before Him (“before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God”; seven is a reference to the fullness of the Spirit, also referenced in Isaiah, and torches bring to mind Pentecost), and the Son (“among the elders I saw a Lamb standing”).
This is not the first prophetic vision of a throne room in the Bible. Daniel 7 and Ezekiel 1 also speak of God enthroned. “The picture speaks 10,000 words,” Dr. Gieschen said of the importance of imagery in these books. “Chapter 4 begins with ‘Come’ and John immediately goes through an open door.” Here is an instant visual of our access to the heavenly reality. John immediately steps from Patmos to heaven. “It’s an accessible and present reality. Not just: this is what it’s going to be like. It’s true right now. Through the Word of God you also have access. Through this vision, we too see it. We not only see it, we also participate in it when we attend Church. We are united with the Lord and angels. It’s a reality we participate in now.”
The Father, you’ll note, is never seen in the form of a man. On the throne His appearance that of stones (jasper and carnelian). The rainbow around His throne gives you a sense of the size and scale. Some have postulated that the 24 elders before the throne are from the 12 tribes and the 12 apostles, but Dr. Gieschen thinks there’s a better answer from 1 Chronicles: there were 24 classes of priests in the earthly temple. The heavenly temple is a reflection of that, representing those who have spoken for Christ and are serving Christ. The white garments and golden crowns indicate how we both serve Christ and reign with him. We are given a garment in baptism (the righteousness of Christ, depicted as a robe). “Someday will be given a permanent robe which can never be soiled,” Dr. Gieschen said. “Now we continue to wash it in blood.”
The four living creatures mark out a throne, and though each creature would later by symbolic of each of the Gospel writers, at the time they would have been simply reflective of creation (because God is Creator and the creation praises Him as such). And you’ll recognize this refrain the angels are singing: “Holy, holy, holy.” Angels also sang it in Isaiah 6 and we too still sing it thousands of years later. “We’re using the very words that are sung in heaven because we’re participating in that reality,” Dr. Gieschen said. “Yes we have both feet on earth, but we’re also participating in God’s presence with His angels in front of the throne.”
The most important scene comes in Chapter 5: “Who is worthy to open the scroll?” But rather than the glorious man we saw in chapter 1, we see the same Son in the midst of the throne, this time as the slain Lamb. Slain but standing in victory over death. The contrast is purposeful: we must understand that the God who is enthroned and ruling is the one who became true flesh and was sacrificed for us.
“Lamb” is used 28 times in Revelation, many more times than any other names of Christ. The crucifixion is central to His identity and how we should understand God. Each detail of the Lamb is a whole volume of Christology on who Jesus is and what He’s done. In Daniel, one horn is a symbol of power; the seven horns here show that He is all powerful. Trinitarian unity is also depicted: the Lamb has seven eyes (the fullness of the Spirit is present with the Son) and He is in the midst of the throne where the Father sits.
The slain Lamb also joins two important festivals: Passover and the Day of Atonement. Jesus died on Passover and accomplished atonement through His death. All the theology of the Day of Atonement is brought into the Passover feast.
“Don’t ever leave chapters 4 and 5 behind when you read the rest of Revelation,” Dr. Gieschen said. “This is a present, ongoing, and eternal reality. The Book of Revelation wants you to have this in mind as you go into the cycle of sevens. This is still true: the Lamb is reigning. You are part of that reality, you are participating in this, even as you experience disasters, war, death, etc. That’s what it’s like now, not just when you get to heaven. You are participating in this, you are citizens of this; heaven isn’t just up there after we die. Heaven is accessible. We followed John into the open door, opened by Christ.”
[Please note: it is exceptionally difficult to find an artistic depiction of the throne room that does not bring some theological problems into the interpretation, most obvious of which is that God the Father is always shown in the figure of a man when He is never depicted as such in the Bible. Christ is always the visible image of God. “They can’t seem to help themselves,” Dr. Gieschen noted during the presentation as he showed art examples from across history. Even this altar piece didn’t entirely get a pass; the Lamb isn’t bloody enough. “The Lamb was slain,” Dr. Gieschen emphasized. Angel wings are another thing artists add when they shouldn’t. They’re only an occasional feature of angels and, more unfortunately, are misleading when they’re used to depict a passage that is actually about Christ.]
Where the throne room shows the present reality in heaven, the three cycles of seven woes in chapters 6-16 (seals, trumpets, and bowls) show the reality of this present age on earth. These disasters are a reminder to us that we need the deliverance that God has won. They function as Law. The Book of Revelation does not sweep the disasters of this age (from eschatological disasters to blood, famine, and war) under the rug or try to wrap it up in clean linen.
The first cycle showcase the four horsemen of the apocalypse, who, outside of the actual Book of Revelation, get more press than Jesus. “But who is opening the seals that release the horsemen?” Dr. Gieschen asked. “The Lamb. He’s always in the picture, in control.”
Also, joyful and comforting passages consistently show up between the cycles of sevens. Chapter 7 is such a break, with the sealing of the 144,000. We also see angels mentioned once again. The four angels in verses 1-3 would have been created beings, but “then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun” is a messianic figure. Jesus comes from the East (Ezekiel 43:102) with deliverance.
The 144,000 is a symbolic number of the finite number of Christians on earth at any given time, with the 12,000 from each tribe of Israel showing that the Church is the New Israel. It’s a comforting message: God can number all the true believers at any time in any age. And the best image of the sealing of the 144,000 would be a baptismal font. In baptism we are sealed with God’s name (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) on our foreheads, marked as one redeemed. Your baptismal identity is foundational. You are a child of God for all eternity. All other identities change and fade, but the name of God on your forehead is the root of your identity. “So right in the middle of all this disaster,” Dr. Gieschen said of chapter 7 in the midst of the cycles of woe, “you’re claimed. It’s great reassurance that no matter what is going on, you are Christ’s.”
Verses 9-17 then jump forward to the end of time, helping any readers/listeners of the text living in the here and now to be comforted by the future. “Your life isn’t just what’s happening now or next week or next year; it is your reality for eternity.” God promises both here and in Isaiah to wipe the tears from every face. We do not have to wait until the end of Revelation to be assured that there will in the future be no more death, sin, or tears of sorrow. You are given a foretaste in the vision to help sustain you through the cycle of sevens. And there is another distinctive parallel and contrast: the curse on man in the garden in Genesis 3:9 (“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread”) and now a promise in Revelation 7:16 (“They shall hunger no more…the sun shall not strike them”).
At least one if not two persons of the Trinity are present in chapter 8. The seven angels standing before God who are given seven trumpets may be the Holy Spirit (one of the seven angels is later proven to be John’s guide in chapter 17), and “another angel” then comes in verse 3 to stand before God where He begins serving as the heavenly high priest, mediating for us and giving us access to the Father. Sound familiar? “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession….Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14, 16).
The mighty angel in Revelation 10 is an even more prominent example of an angel whose true identity is Christ. Though the word “angel” makes interpreters nervous (as Dr. Gieschen put it), the details are all there: “from heaven”; “wrapped in a cloud” (characteristic of God on Mt. Sinai and in the tabernacle); “rainbow over his head” and “face like the sun” (callbacks to chapter 1), and the scroll in his hand (the scroll here appears smaller than it did in chapter 5, likely because it was first opened while He appeared as a Lamb and now He is a much mightier figure). He also raises his right hand and swears, an image that parallels both Deuteronomy 32 and Daniel 10; God swears in the first and the divine man (the pre-incarnate Son) swears in the second. John is told to eat the scroll just as Ezekiel was in Ezekiel 3.
“Christ is an angel in terms of office, not ontology,” Dr. Gieschen explained. “He functions as a messenger but is not a created being.” As to the eating: “This is what I seek to do to my students,” he said. He feeds them the Word of God and what comes out: “The Word they have ingested.” You proclaim what you eat. “You are not speaking your own words, but the Word of God.”
Once the second woe passes but before the third woe comes, there is another callback to the throne room in chapters 4 and 5 in Revelation 11:15: the twenty-four elders fall on their faces before God and worship. For all that the three cycles of the seven woes are still ongoing, the Book of Revelation speaks most commonly about the victory of Christ. “It presents reality (Satan, death, destruction), but in perspective: it is an encouraging book,” Dr. Gieschen said.
Chapter 12—the chapter that features Michael and the angels in the war in heaven—begins with a chronological retelling of history. Verse 1-4 reviews Old Testament history. The pregnant woman is not the Virgin Mary, as is popularly argue, but Israel. The language matches that of Joseph’s dream in Genesis 37, of the nation as the sun, moon, and stars. She is longing for the birth of the Messiah while Satan is a dragon that swept down a third of the stars—a reference to the angelic rebellion. “This is his propaganda,” Dr. Gieschen said of the awful description of the dragon. “He wants us to think he’s a divine being. But peel away the propaganda and he’s a created angel.”
The dragon tries to thwart God’s plan of salvation by waiting to swallow the Messiah, but he fails: verse 5 is a very quick distillation of Christ’s birth, earthly ministry, and ascension (“caught up to God”). In verse 6 the woman—faithful Israel/the Church—flees from the dragon and is protected by God for 1,260 days. Those symbolic 42 months (three and a half years) is the same length of time of the famine in ancient Israel during the days of Elijah. It also seemingly contradicts the thousand year reign of Christ promised later in chapter 20. So is the time of the great tribulation between Christ’s first coming and His second coming a short time or a long time?
“Yes!” Dr. Gieschen declared. “From God’s perspective it’s a short time, from our perspective it’s a long time.” The contrast is purposeful. “One emphasizes that it is a limited time and the other emphasizes that it is a larger time, but both work together to emphasize the fact that God isn’t going to let this go on forever and ever. The time is short and yet we don’t know how long.”
Revelation 12:7-11 (the war in heaven featuring Michael and all angels) immediately follows this quick history lesson. “This is describing what is going to happen in heaven because Jesus won the victory on earth,” Dr. Gieschen explained of the passage. “Michael and the angels won the victory by the blood of the Lamb. We don’t go after Satan with heat-seeking missiles; Christ has already defeated him. We use what Christ has done against Satan.
“One of the most powerful activities against the action of Satan in the world is to worship,” Dr. Gieschen went on. Why? “Because you are saying: this is the true God and I’m receiving His victory.” In worship, God serves us with His victory and life. “Worship foils everything. There is where we receive the victory of the Lamb. There we are empowered to be faithful witnesses out in the world.”
Michael and the angels enforce Christ’s victory over the devil and his followers, for “there was no longer any place for them in heaven.” Throughout the Old Testament you can find examples of Satan in God’s presence (like in the Book of Job), where he brings accusations against God’s people. But now “the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.” This activity has come to an end. In his place we have a high priest who pleads on our behalf before His Father night and day. “And they [the whole Church] have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb” (verse 11).
God could and did forgive sins before this moment in history, but it was on the basis of a future sacrifice. The devil could still say sins have not yet been paid. But all that is over. We need not even be haunted by the guilt of our past sins. Satan cannot accuse you before God; he cannot accuse you to your face. We can rightly say: “Go to hell where you belong.”
Michael, the leader of God’s armies, wields the sword of God’s Word. Michael is not Christ, evidenced by the fact that he bears a distinct name. Michael is not conquering Satan—he’s enforcing the victory that Christ has won through the blood of the Lamb.
The two beasts rising out of the sea and earth in chapter 13 are a parody enacted by Satan to imitate the Holy Trinity. The dragon is his attempt at the Father, the first beast performs signs and wonders like the Son, and the second makes people worship the first—a mockery of the Holy Spirit who always directs worship to the Son. The dragon and the two beasts are also not one-and-done deals. They are symbolic of the devil’s activity during every age, representing all the false gods, false christs, and false worship that throws itself against the Church in every generation.
In addition, the mark of the beast is Satan’s imitation of the name we bear as baptized children of God; it isn’t visible any more than the sign of our baptism is. “You know whether a person is a believer or unbeliever based upon whose name they bear or confess,” Dr. Gieschen explained in one of his handouts. To learn more about the mysteries of interpretation in Revelation 13, 16, and 20, CLICK HERE.
In chapter 14 we are once more presented with the 144,000, baptized with the name of God on their foreheads. This is the final rest stop before the last cycle of seven. It is another refreshing moment in the midst of the doom and gloom, an image of the saints who know the true God and sing his praise along with the host in heaven, though these saints are still on earth—but with the Lamb in their midst. “The Gospel will continue to be proclaimed even in the midst of all these challenges,” Dr. Gieschen said. “God uses faithful pastors to make this happen. We will have faithful pastors to the end of time.”
We are also presented with Christ, who is the reaper—“Not the grim reaper,” Dr. Gieschen added. “He’s bearing the harvest. There’s a golden crown on His head and a sharp sickle in His hand.” And finally, in Revelation 15 and 16, the seven angels closely connected with the Holy Spirit in the inner sanctuary, pour out the wrath of God, finishing up the last cycle of seven woes.
The guiding angel—who is revealed to be one of the seven trumpet angels with the bowls of wrath—carries away John “in the Spirit” for this final section of Revelation. The angel’s behavior (and likely divine appearance) is the reason Dr. Gieschen suspects John sought to worship him. His guide is clearly closely connected with the Holy Spirit, either as His servant or a manifestation—though of course the angel redirects John’s focus: worship God on the throne, not me. His refusal teaches us something: that worship is always to be directed to the Trinity, especially the Son as the visible God.
The vision presents two women: the prostitute (Babylon) and the bride of Christ (New Jerusalem). Those that worship a false god are part of this prostitute. That she is a human figure shows that this is a very personal problem; that she is also a city shows that this is a group problem. The prostitute is wealthy and arrayed in outward glory, but her idolatry and self-indulgence leads to destruction and death.
The marriage supper of the Lamb follows the destruction of Babylon. On this side of heaven, the bride of Christ is often humiliated, but now her restoration is at hand as the wife of the Lamb. The two women are a warning and comfort: to those believers who suffer greatly on earth, they will be restored when God brings His judgment—both wrathful against the prostitute, drunk with the blood of the saints, but also gracious. He gives the bride a future she doesn’t deserve, and the gracious gift of the new heaven and new earth.
“There’s a lot of gates into the New Jerusalem,” Dr. Gieschen said of the 12 gates in the high walls. “It’s symbolic of the access we have to this eternal reality of the new heavens and the new earth.” Together the 12 gates (inscribed with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel) and the 12 foundations (with the names of the 12 apostles) show that both the faithful of the Old Testament and the New Testament are a part of this New Jerusalem.
Chapter 20 presents another example of the angel as Christ, whose identity is in the details. He has authority, since He holds the key (“I have the keys of Death and Hades” from 1:18). This is also not the first time Christ speaks of binding Satan (here presented with all of his titles—the dragon, the ancient serpent, the devil and Satan). In Matthew 12, Jesus asked how He could be casting out demons unless He first enters the strong man’s house and binds him.
Chapter 20 is prone to misinterpretation. “The number one problem is reading 20:1-6 as chronologically following 19. View it as a flashback, in light of what Christ did in his earthly ministry to limit Satan’s power.” It answers the question of how Satan came to be thrown into the lake of fire. “First he was bound [through Jesus’ death and resurrection], then Christ reigned, then He brought about Satan’s end.”
Since we are still in the time of great tribulation following Christ’s first coming (who is already reigning for the symbolic thousand years), Satan is yet only bound. “The chain doesn’t mean he can’t move or do anything,” Dr. Gieschen warned. “He has a realm and in that realm he’s very powerful. But outside of that, when we are in the Kingdom of God, he has no authority over us. We deny Christ and enter his realm and he’s very powerful.” As to the devil’s release from prison just before he’s thrown into the lake of fire, this is an indication that there will be an escalation against the Church right before the end.
Revelation 21 is then a beautiful picture—the climactic picture, as Dr. Gieschen put it—of the Book of Revelation. We began in heaven and now the book ends in heaven. “This is a restoration of what God created this world to be.” God walked with Adam and Eve in the garden. He will dwell with His people once more. “He won’t annihilate this world; it was corrupted by sin. He will restore it. The end time will look a lot like the first time.” And once more we have this promise: he will wipe away every tear from their eyes. “Behold, I am making all things new.”
In Revelation 22, we are told that we will still have the name given to us in baptism. “He has given us His name, His own righteousness.” Dr. Gieschen said. “We don’t have to worry that we’ll die in His presence. The name of God is an outward mark of that. It’s very important imagery in Revelation.” The final chapter of Revelation also offers us a promise, repeated by Jesus three times, in verses 7, 12, and 20:
“I am coming soon.”
The Church’s response follows: “Amen! Come Lord Jesus!”
“It is one of the most ancient Christian prayers,” Dr. Gieschen said. “The prayer for the return, the coming of Christ. Answered in a preliminary way because, when we pray that, He comes to us. But we also pray that He will come in the ultimate way, on the last day, to bring restoration.”
Full List of Dr. Gieschen’s handouts for his Fall Retreat presentations can be found here: