From one of our former profs: Harold Senkbeil on Liturgy in Plague Time.
“Just a few weeks ago on Ash Wednesday, many of us received the sign of the cross traced in ashes with a verbal reminder of our mortality: ‘Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’ But now as pestilence stalks not just foreign lands but our own neighborhoods, the spiritual realities we take for granted most Sundays come crashing into our midst with vivid urgency.”
In this article, he talks about four specific moments in which Christ’s comfort and presence stands out in the liturgy. While many of us are now worshiping at home, watching services online with our friends and family (either in person or across distances) and unable to receive the Body and Blood, we still hear the Word of comfort preached to us, and are given the words to pray and to praise in patience and joy, as they have been given to the generations that came before and the generations that will come after.
Read the article in full here: https://blog.logos.com/2020/03/worship-and-prayer-during-a-pandemic/
John Elmer, Media Content and Services Manager here at CTSFW, is the staff member in charge of streaming services. You’ve seen his hands at work (often daily, here on Facebook), though you may not have had a name to attach to his service. He has put together a Service Streaming Guide, which gathers a number of suggestions for churches who are interested in making their services available to their congregations online, either through audio or video. You can read the four-page document (and download/print a copy) here:
We received a few questions following John Elmer’s guide for streaming services, mostly regarding copyright. While he is not a lawyer or legal expert and any legal questions will need to go through an expert, he has written up some guidelines to follow with suggestions to give you an idea of how to move forward. You can read and download the followup guide, which focuses on copyright, here:
The latest issue of For the Life of the World is now available at www.ctsfw.edu/FLOW. Go here to access both new and archived issues, and to manage your subscription. To download a copy of the latest issue, click on the cover photo below:
Daily Lent Devotions
Devotions for Lent, written by current seminarians from both CTSFW and CSL, are currently being uploaded to www.facebook.com/ctsfw at 6 a.m. (Eastern Time), beginning with Ash Wednesday through Easter Sunday.If you would like a pdf copy of these devotions collected into a single document, email [email protected] to request a copy.
Lent Sermon Series
This year’s 2020 Lent Preaching Workshop focused on the topic of “Christ’s Work of Creation and Re-Creation,” exploring some of the parallels between the days of creation and the events of Holy Week, with a view to Christocentric, Gospel-directed Lenten and Holy Week preaching from Ash Wednesday through Resurrection Sunday.
Dr. Don Wiley, who led this workshop on January 20, is willing to share his handouts. Please note, they do not include the theological foundation for his presentation during the first session. Devotional sermons are included at the end for each of the days.
Over 10,000 sermons, articles, teaching videos, and other resources are also available at media.ctsfw.edu. You can search by specific subjects, Scripture passages, or author (faculty, ordained ministers, Church forefathers, etc.).
While our “Alleluias” are put away for Lent, there are still options to sing the proper verse for the day. These verses are set for a unison choir or soloist and quickly learned. While they are all similar to one another (giving the feel of a series), they each uniquely reflect the text.
Our chapel staff has also prepared new resources for use during Holy Week, including a script and suggested hymn stanzas for the St. Matthew Passion account (to be used on Passion/Palm Sunday), and a musical setting of Psalm 22 (for use during the Stripping of the Altar on Maundy Thursday). This setting utilizes both organ and piano.
Our chapel staff—Dean of the Chapel Dr. Paul Grime, Kantor Kevin Hildebrand, and Associate Kantor Matthew Machemer—recently put together another set of resources for worship planners, this time for Lent. Lent begins in two weeks on Ash Wednesday, February 26.
Go to www.ctsfw.edu/worship to access and print these Lenten resources. Under “VERSE SETTINGS” you’ll find the verses for Lent 1-5 (Series A). Though the “Alleluias” are put away for the season, this series for a soloist or unison choir give you options for singing the proper verse for the day.
You can also find special settings for two Lent hymns (LSB 425 “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” and LSB 440 “Jesus, I Will Ponder Now”) under the “HYMN SETTINGS” button. There is also a Lent Gradual written for hand bells and voice available by clicking “GRADUALS.”
Finally (though not new), there is a section specifically set aside for Holy Week, featuring video, audio, and pdf for Easter Vigil, and scripts and suggested hymn stanzas for the St. Luke and St. Mark Passions.
As always, you have permission to use, reprint, and distribute these materials as you need. We hope that they will be of service to your congregation this coming Lent.
Here are the Exegetical Symposia Paper Abstracts, for the short sectional papers that were presented this morning. If you would like a copy, we recommend contacting these pastors and presenters directly. You should be able to find their contact info through the LCMS locator on the main Synod website.
Also, this picture is from the Alumni King’s Men game last night. It’s safe to assume that the King’s Men won, though we make no conjectures about whether the young guys or old guys were the official winners (ignoring the fact that some of these “old guys” were in classes with the “young guys” only last year).
The Typological Christology of the Burnt Offering in Ancient Israel’s Daily Divine Service Rev. Dr. Robert D. Macina, Risen Christ Lutheran Church, Arvada, CO
YHWH instituted the daily divine service with all of its ritual activities so that he could dwell among the Israelites at his sanctuary. One main part of this service involved the high priest conducting his ministry by wearing his ornate vestments at the altar for burnt offering in the courtyard of the tabernacle. Based on the ritual legislation in the Pentateuch, this sectional analyzes what God achieved through the high priest’s enactment of the burning rite in ancient Israel’s daily divine service and its fulfillment in Christ.
A More Contextual Look at Papias’ Fragment Regarding Matthew and One Possibility of a Hebrew ‘Style’ (Dialektos) for that Gospel Account Rev. Paul Landgraf, St. John’s Lutheran Church, Owensville, MO
Papias’ words regarding Matthew are usually understood to mean that the Gospel according to Matthew was originally written in the Hebrew language. This paper will support the minority view espoused by some (e.g., Kürzinger) that Matthew wrote in a Hebrew style and will offer one possibility of how that may have been understood. In short, a portion of the literary structure of Matthew’s five discourses (Sermon on the Mount, etc.) will be compared to that of the Pentateuch.
Isaiah 5 and the Eschotological Vineyard Rev. Jacob Hercamp, STM, St. Peter Lutheran Church, La Grange, MO
The word כֶרֶם and its derivatives appear 92 times in the bible, with 11 of those occurrences falling within the book of Isaiah. The image of the vineyard is one of the images depicting the eschatological restoration spoken of throughout the Old Testament beginning with Noah (Gen 9:20; also see Isaiah, 27:2, 36:17, 37:30, 65:21). In Isaiah 5 YHWH uses the image to describe how He had cultivated a new one, a vineyard that held great promise. However, as we read the song of the vineyard, we learn that the fruit of the vineyard is poor and judged accordingly. With this in mind, what eschatological implications are at play? In this paper, I will examine Isaiah 5 and the image of the vineyard in the context the eschatological vineyard elsewhere in Isaiah and the greater canon of Scripture to shed further light on this rich theological image.
An Assessment of Martin Luther’s translation of Colossians 2:16 and its reception Rev. Dr. Jacob Corzine, Assistant Professor of Theology at Concordia University Chicago
It’s well known that Martin Luther’s translation of the bible takes certain freedoms for the sake of clarity. Interesting is when these freedoms are picked up in the Lutheran Confessions or other prominent places, or when they represent particular dogmatic-theological judgments. Such is the case in Colossians 2:16, where Luther translates the greek word krino with a reference to conscience instead of simply with the available German terms for judgment. Since this is taken up some German texts of AC 28, the matter is of confessional relevance. This paper will review related passages in Luther’s translation as well as the multiple layers or revision of Luther’s translation which, as they are peeled back, confirm something of his original intention as he himself documented it.
Teaching Koine Greek as a Living Language Dr. David Maxwell, Professor of Systematic Theology at Concordia Seminary St. Louis
What if you could think in and speak koine Greek? In the last generation or so, professors in the field of Classics have begun to teach Latin and Greek as living languages. This presentation makes the case for that approach and demonstrates what the pedagogy might look like. Finally, a short lecture on the prologue of John will be delivered in Greek to prove that this is actually possible.
Biblical Communion, Pastoral Stewardship, and God’s Judgment: 1 Corinthians 11:27-32 Rev. Daniel Merz, The Lutheran Church of Our Savior, Stanhope, NJ
The pastor has the awesome task of administering the body and blood of Jesus to his church. This is a fearsome undertaking even in the most ideal setting. One problem facing the modern Lutheran pastor is the general sense of apathy regarding all things sacred. Nowhere is this felt more acutely than when the faithful pastor must turn someone away from the Lord’s Table. The pastor may have just saved the smoldering wick of the would-be communicant’s faith, but his act of pastoral integrity and biblical love is often decried as, “unloving and unwelcoming, does it really matter? Isn’t it just between Jesus and me? Who is the pastor to judge hearts?”
All who receive the bread and wine during the Sacrament of the Altar receive Jesus; but to their blessing or to their judgment? The faithful pastor cannot force someone to believe and receive the fruit of the cross to their blessing, but he can and must protect all those who come to the altar which has been entrusted to his care. It is his job and his burden, and it is not easy, but for the wellbeing and blessing of all, he does it faithfully. The pastor administers the Lord’s body and blood in accordance with the revealed word of God, and by his actions, it is made known what he believes about the power of Christ’s real presence and how that belief manifests itself in his pastoral care and stewardship of the altar.
The Vengeance of God as Atoned Wrath in The Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32 Rev. Jacob Eichers, STM, Faith Lutheran Church, La Crosse, WI
The idea of God as a vengeful, vindictive god has fallen out of vogue in modern theological circles. Anything that smacks of the wrath or violence of God is swept under the rug because God is love, not hatred. The Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32 is one such passage wherein the vengeance and violence of the Lord is described. The root נקם (nun-qof-mem) [vengeance] appears three times in Deuteronomy 32, and a proper understanding of this word will help shed light on the relationship between the Father’s wrath and the salvation of His people. God’s vengeance (נקם) is not aimless violence. It is not “divine child abuse.” God’s vengeance (נקם) is a perfect God using wrath to atone for sin and to restore the faithful.
Adequate Ransom: Chemnitz, the “Genus Apotelesmaticum,” and the Necessity of Both Natures in the Atonement Rev. Brandon W. Koble, Teaching Fellow at Marquette University
Martin Chemnitz is most known for his explication of the two natures within the one person of Christ. In his systematizing of early Lutheran Christology, Chemnitz articulates aspects of the atonement throughout his treatise The Two Natures of Christ. The relationship between Chemnitz’s Christology and his soteriology is summed up by Jack Kilcrease: “[T]he person of Christ is inexorably tied up with the work of Christ.” This paper will look at themes of the atonement that Chemnitz treats in The Two Natures of Christ, specifically it will seek to address in what way Chemnitz discusses the necessity of both natures in regards to the atonement. The cooperation of the natures is most evident in Chemnitz’s genus apotelematicum and thus, the focus will be on how the two natures work together to accomplish God’s soteriological plan. A secondary goal of the paper will be to see what specific aspects of the various theories of atonement theology Chemnitz brings out in his treatment, using Gustav Aulén’s Christus Victor for the three different models.
The Genealogical Interpretation of Scripture in 1 Clement Daniel Broaddus, Ph.D. Student
1 Clement has largely been misunderstood by modern scholars with respect to Clement’s interpretation of the Old Testament. The recognition of extensive intertextuality in the epistle, however, opens up a number of possibilities for understanding a much deeper interpretation of the Old Testament by Clement. Such a recognition reveals that Clement understands the Old Testament testimony to be a present witness to the work that God does through Jesus Christ within his church. This work is primarily viewed through the lense of re-generation, especially as it can be seen in the Christian rite of baptism.
The purpose of this study is to highlight Clement’s genealogical vision for the church in Corinth through his use of the Old Testament Scriptures, particularly Genesis. It is apparent from the opening chapters of 1 Clement that he understands the book of Genesis to provide a fundamental genealogical vision for the Christian life that is then meant to inform Christian conduct towards each other and toward their leadership. Whereas this is only one aspect of Clement’s theology it plays a vital role in establishing the foundation upon which he will build in the rest of his epistle.
“Did God angrily crucify Jesus?” Yes, according to Thomas Aquinas Troy Dahlke, teacher at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School
“Did God angrily crucify Jesus?” Perhaps surprisingly, Thomas Aquinas would answer “yes.” This paper circles the passion of Jesus Christ as Thomas sees in it the “once for all” figurative expression of the ira Dei. What Christ experienced in the place of sinners are the effects of the just and necessary consequences of sin. Such a claim, however, neither dialectically oppose the Father and the Son, nor does it threaten divine apatheia; as a figurative expression, iradoes not signify divine aseity. But it does, in the fullest sense, signify the severity and effects of sin as narrated in economy of salvation.
Today is the last day of classes for 2019. The Seminary will be closed from December 21–January 1, with staff returning on the 2nd and the students following on Monday, January 13, when daily chapel services will also resume. Though the buildings will be closed, anyone who happens to be in the area is welcome to drive or walk through our beautiful grounds and enjoy the quiet and peace on campus.
Throughout the break, we’ll continue posting devotions, podcasts, Scripture readings, and hymns here on Facebook. In the meantime, here is some Christmas reading from the “What Does This Mean?” blog, run by CTSFW librarian Rev. Bob Smith. They’re currently working through the O Antiphons, but here are some of their past posts, which answer a number of historical questions about Christmas. Click on the title to be taken to the article.
Over 10,000 sermons, articles, teaching videos, and other resources are available at media.ctsfw.edu. You can search by specific subjects, Scripture passages, or author (faculty, ordained ministers, Lutheran forefathers, etc.).
Last Thursday, on November 14, we held the Seminary community’s weekly get-together (called “Gemutlichkeit”) a day early, as many of the students planned to leave for Fall Break as soon as classes finished on Friday. As a part of the last Gemutlichkeit of Fall Quarter, we also held the annual Faculty Author Celebration, sponsored by CPH.
Dr. Ben Mayes, a former editor at CPH before he moved to Fort Wayne in 2016 to serve as Assistant Professor (and now Chairman) of Historical Theology, served as MC for the evening. We recognized 10 faculty members, who were asked to bring their works published within the past 18 months (covering last academic year and the beginning of this year). These books, articles, anthology essays, and pulpit supply resources were displayed on a table in the Student Commons. Chances are a few publications as well as faculty members were missing as the celebration depended on the faculty bringing in their published works, several of whom were not available that evening.
Faculty members recognized included Drs. Gieschen, Grobien, Maier III, Masaki, Mayes, Nordling, Pless, David Scaer, Wiley, and Ziegler. They shared their new works, whether they were published by CPH, us (in the CTQ), or by other publishing houses, covering a wide range of items. For example, Dr. Don Wiley had a couple sermons in one of the Concordia Pulpit Supply publications, one of which had originally been written and preached in Spanish for the installation of a pastor in a Spanish-speaking congregation. Dr. Wiley was called to CTSFW to serve in several different roles, one of which is as Director of the Spanish Language Church Worker Formation Program. A native English speaker, he also brought with him proficiency in Spanish; he’s found that it takes about the same amount of time to write a sermon in Spanish versus translating an old English sermon and editing it to sound natural in the second language. He leads an informal “Spanish over Lunch” class on Fridays at noon in the dining hall for those students interested in learning or improving their skills in Spanish.
Many other works were displayed, from books authored solely by our faculty members to CTQ articles and papers published in larger anthologies. Dr. Ziegler, presenting the large volume in which one of his essays would appear, explained that the book had a dual purpose: as a weapon for self-defense. Dr. Masaki (who has projects not only in America but also in Taiwan and Czech publications) also took a moment to introduce several men from Nigeria and South Africa who are in leadership positions in their church bodies, here to attend a leadership program offered at CTSFW. One such man, the Archbishop of Nigeria, had recently published a work on strengthening integrity in church leadership. “The real leadership is in honesty and integrity,” he explained. Added Dr. Masaki: “His hope should be hoped by every seminarian.”
We had nearly 40 visitors with us this week for Luther Hostel, featuring lectures on Creation and the New Creation. Attendees also had the opportunity to join the campus community, worshipping in Kramer Chapel, drinking coffee and eating meals with the students and faculty, and even attending regular classes at intervals throughout their three-day visit. Special sessions on the theme are set aside in Luther Hall, taught by such faculty as Dr. Gifford Grobien, Dr. David Scaer, Dr. Ryan Tietz, Dr. Benjamin Mayes, Dr. Charles Gieschen, Rev. John Dreyer, Dr. William Weinrich, and Dr. Jeffrey Pulse.
Dr. Benjamin Mayes, Assistant Professor of Historical Theology, taught two sessions, one on studying the Bible (with tips from Lutheran Orthodoxy; specifically, how Johann Gerhard and C.F.W.Walther taught pastoral preaching and teaching according to Scripture), and the other on God’s omnipotence in the light of creation and science.
First, it must be understood that, while the specific issue of creation vs. evolution is a relatively new one, people have had problems with the Bible’s claims since the beginning of time (those hissed words in Genesis 3:1: “Did God actually say…?”). In St. Augustine’s day, pagans scoffed at the impossibility of miracles as the basis for their unbelief; following the Reformation, Zwingli and Calvin could not accept Jesus Christ at His word—the Lord’s Supper as stated in Scripture is impossible by any reasonable observation, so they came up with their own rational explanations.
Dr. Mayes explained the centuries-old arguments between rationality and faith, breaking down the coordination Scripture and Science into nine models:
[Please note: “Science” here refers broadly to empirical observation; i.e. what you see in the world around you.]
We reject science when it conflicts with Scripture.
Scripture is true and science is subject to it; we don’t reject observations/data, but we don’t allow science to interpret Scripture. We live with the mystery; the “Classic Lutheran Approach,” as Dr. Mayes put it (though models 1–3 have all been traditionally taught in the LCMS).
Science is trustworthy and Scripture accommodates it; i.e. Scripture was written to be understood from the perspective of the hearer. For example, when “the sun stood still” in Joshua 10, this was not a scientific statement about the movement of the solar system. God may have stopped the turning of the earth rather than the sun for this miracle, and Scripture reflects visually what the witnesses that day saw: the sun standing still.
[Note of caution: this distinction can be used in a bad way; see model 5.]
Models 4-9 prioritize knowledge gained through reason and observation over God’s Word. Subscribers of the following models put their confidence in their own experiences:
Double truth: something can be true according to reason and simultaneously false according to theology. Postmodernism, essentially; the idea that you and I can have different “truths,” but in this case that I, personally, can hold several conflicting “truths.”
Science is trustworthy and Scripture was written to accommodate the prejudices of the Bible’s original audience. (The distinctly heretical extension of model 3.)
Reason (which includes empirical observation) interprets Scripture, but some things are above reason/nature. For example, in the 17th century, heretics argued that the Trinity doesn’t make rational sense and so cannot be true, but that miracles were possible because they were above nature.
Reason interprets Scripture and nothing is above reason/nature; we reject Scripture when it conflicts with science.
Reason attacks the reliability of Scripture, undermining its credibility. Therefore, we reject Scripture.
God works by progressive divine revelation outside of Scripture, revealing Himself through scientific discoveries even when those contradict Scripture. Believe these new revelations, reject the old.
For hundreds of years, the Lutheran Church used a work by Matthias Flacius (1520-1575), “Key to Holy Scripture,” as a tool and basis for the classical understanding of Scripture as the inerrant Word of God with science, reason, and rationality subject to it. He laid out several principles (partially quoted here, from the translation provided by Dr. Mayes):
Don’t make judgments about God’s nature on the basis of human reason, “just as if someone were to see clay pots and conclude that the potter himself was made of clay.”
God is free; He does not always act in the same way, nor is He bound by the physical laws of nature that He created. He is omnipotent, “so he will perhaps change some things either now or at its own time, such as at the end of the world…”
God is all-wise, as evidenced by the infinite of variety in His created works. “Therefore, any would-be scholars or natural scientists or others who want to reason from the present nature of natural things—that ‘Nothing is made out of nothing,’ and…’No individual thing is perpetual, therefore the soul is not immortal, nor is there a resurrection’—such wise people, I say, act just as if someone, with mediocre diligence, were to look at all the works now effected in the workshop of an excellent artificer and would deny that [the artificer] knows how to do works of another kind, or had ever made them, or would ever make them.”
Since God is omnipotent, “nothing God wills is impossible for him. For since he is the author of nature and [its] creator, and he created it in the way he chose, it is certain that also by his choice he can change it…”
In short: our reason and experience of His world does not give us the right or ability to claim what God can and cannot do. “Lutherans are particularly well-equipped because of our adherence to the mystery of the Lord’s Supper,” Dr. Mayes noted. “Empirical data tells us that’s not the Body of Christ. God’s Word does, and we believe it.” Our approach to the Lord’s Supper should be our approach to creation. We accept it as truth because God is omnipotent and His Word is truth.
We are called to be both bold and cautious: there has to be a clear rejection of dogma that weakens scriptural doctrine. We reject theistic evolution and Old World Creationism because these theories present a cascading number of theological problems: death before the fall; God declaring death “very good” (if it occurred during creation) rather than as the wages of sin; a skewed definition of humanity (at what point do created creatures evolve into the likeness of God? Did Christ come to redeem humanity or just a stage of evolutionary development?); where does the soul enter the picture; and it makes Jesus a liar: “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female…?” (Matt. 19:4).
At the same time, we must remember not to go beyond Scripture. Creation is a mystery, partially told in the Book of Genesis and partially told by the evidence of the world around us. We can make some excellent guesses, but we also remember God’s admonishment to Job: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:4). There are excellent resources out there, like Answers in Genesis, which offer theories on how creation and a young earth is supported by observation and science; but we value them for the possibilities they present (especially as an apologetics tool) without stating that these theories are as inerrant as the Word on which they are based.
And finally, a word of compassion: speak in love and with respect in correction and teaching. The issue of creation vs. evolution is often one of great theological concern to the scientists in the pews. While evolution does undermine Scripture, even this can and should be taught gently. We don’t destroy our neighbors for the sake of being right, nor do we devastate our brothers and sisters in Christ, but seek their good.
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: