April 26, 2011

It's the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine)

I don't know how great it is, or whether it starts with an earthquake, birds and snakes and aeroplanes, but as of today, it is:


until the
Coming Credibility Collapse
of the
Credulous Cult
Captain Camping

Why 25 days? Because 25 is 5 squared, and a square has 4 sides just like there are 4 gospels, and 5 is the number of fingers on a hand, and it was a giant hand that wrote on the wall that Belshazzar's days as king of Babylon were numbered, just like the world's days are numbered, and since Jesus spoke in parables, you should just shut up and take my word for it since it is so obviously biblical.

Also I accidentally overlooked 40 days (which is biblical), then 30 days (which is an even month), and 28 days (which is 4 weeks), so I had to get back on track somehow. So we'll just ignore that.

Are you wondering what the heck I'm going on about? Harold Camping is a Christian radio teacher based in California, who has become notorious for predicting the end of the world. First it was going to happen in September 1994. When that didn't pan out, Camping claimed he had corrected his calculations and it was actually going to be in 1995. The outcome was predictable. Meanwhile, he started teaching that the Holy Spirit had departed from organized churches, and that the only true believers were the ones who stayed at home and listened to him on his radio station, Family Radio.

While Camping's earlier prognostications pretty much slipped under the radar (apart from an unfortunate appearance on the Larry King Show), he has now become infamous for his latest prediction: the Rapture will take place on May 21, 2011, with the end of the world to follow in October. His notoriety this time around is largely due to his followers, now unencumbered with churches, spreading his gospel in public and on social media, which of course did not exist back in 1994. (The commercialization of the Internet is probably the one thing most responsible for levelling the playing field and giving crackpots an equal voice amongst the sane.)

But a .000 batting average predicting the end of the world hasn't stopped his most devoted followers from preaching his gospel of the coming judgment by renting billboards, handing out tracts, and plastering tacky signage all over their recreational vehicles. One billboard even encourages you to "Save the Date!" That's right, you should mark the end of the world on your calendar, just like Fred and Nancy's wedding. (Which you will not be attending after all, as it is unfortunately on May 28th.)

How does Harold Camping come up with this crap? It defies description, but is basically an extreme form of allegorization that involves a lot of number-crunching. Since, as he argues, "Jesus spoke in parables," apparently that means that all the normal rules of hermeneutics are out the window, and he can interpret the Bible to say whatever he wants. I call him "Captain Camping" for his superpowered ability to twist the Scriptures with his bare hands. I've posted previously about the oddball way he arrives at his conclusions. James Swan also posted yesterday on Alpha and Omega Ministries' blog about the apparent backstory behind Camping's "depart out" teachings concerning the churches.

Of course, I have complete confidence that if indeed the Rapture were to happen on May 21, it has nothing to do with the correctness of Captain Camping's convoluted calculations. And if God indeed has the sense of humour that he is so often credited with, I'd like to think that he'd already have nudged the date a few years down the road anyway, just to spite old fools who don't know when to keep their mouths shut.

April 22, 2011

They will look on him whom they have pierced

In Zechariah 12, the prophet has an oracle concerning a future invasion of Judah and Jerusalem. But, he says, the tables will be turned against Judah's enemies: Jerusalem would be a "cup of staggering" (12:2) and Judah a "flaming torch among sheaves" (6): small, but it will consume the nations that surround it.

God is a warrior. He fights for Israel - saving Judah first because of their dependence on Jerusalem, and protecting Jerusalem itself. God's power is such that Jerusalem's weakest citizen will be, as it were, a warrior like David. And thus will God destroy the enemies of his chosen people.

And then, Zechariah says, God will pour out a grace upon them the like of which they have not seen, and Jerusalem and the house of David will "look on me, on him whom they have pierced," and they will mourn, like one mourns over the death of a child (12:10). The sins of the nation are as if they have run God himself through with a spear. But even when they forgot him, he did not forget them, and he will grant them the grace of repentance.

Five hundred years later, the John witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus. He saw his rabbi, whom he had followed for three years, run through by the spear of a Roman soldier. And John writes that Zechariah 12:10 was fulfilled in that act: "they will look on him whom they have pierced" (John 19:37). As he died, Jesus was looked upon by his kinsmen, his mother and her sister; and his friends, Mary Magdalene, John, and others who knew him and watched from a distance. Whether Jesus' other disciples were present isn't specifically said. It seems unlikely. Some of the rulers were th ere too, mocking Jesus and taunting him to save himself (Luke 23:35). Literally, he was looked upon by his fellow countrymen who pierced him. Some of them, like Joseph of Arimathea, looked upon him with penitence instead of scorn.

But this time of mourning has not yet come for the Jews, although a few of them have turned to Christ, along with untold Gentiles. This situation led Paul to ponder whether the promises of God had failed (Rom. 9:1-6) No, he concluded: some had obtained them, but the rest were hardened (Rom. 11:7), and because of their stubbornness God's grace had come instead to the Gentiles for a time. But once the Gentiles have been brought into the Church, God's mercy will come again to his people Israel (Rom. 11:25).

The time will come when all the families of Israel will look upon Jesus their Messiah and mourn for their sins. That time is not yet. It is, I pray, not far away.

April 17, 2011

Rejoice greatly!

The three post-exilic prophets - Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi - ministered to the people of Israel after their return from exile, while the rebuilding of Jerusalem (starting with the Temple) was under way. Their message was a call to repent from unrighteousness and religious complacency, and return to covenant faithfulness to their God - who, although they had forgotten him, still loved them and had not given up on them.

The message of Zechariah in particular is much fuller. He calls not merely for repentance and restoration in the present circumstance. Rather, he offers a prophetic glimpse into the future. Though through struggle, God's purposes would be worked out, good would triumph over evil, and God would establish his Kingdom forever.

In chapter 10, Zechariah pronounces God's judgment on the nations surrounding Israel and Judah: in particular, Syria, Phoenicia, and Philistia. It's called "the burden of the word of the Lord," but though the responsibility rests on Zechariah to deliver it, the message is so positive that it must be a joy to deliver. The nations that have oppressed God's people - these seemingly powerful and indestructible kingdoms - are to be judged themselves. Jerusalem, on the other hand, will be protected: encamped all around, as it were, with God's ever-watchful eye.

Thus, the prophet tells the children of Zion: Rejoice greatly! God has promised to protect Jerusalem and make his home there. In fact, he is coming now, marching toward Jerusalem from the north where he has conquered his foes.

This king is righteous: he will do justice, and the right will triumph. He is victorious, having been delivered from his enemies and prevailed over them.

More significantly, he is humble. Elsewhere, Zechariah describes the Messiah as God's servant (3:8), a common messianic figure of speech, used most notably in Isaiah 40-55. He comes into Jerusalem riding on a donkey. In the Middle East, princes rode on horses, especially if they arrived as conquering heroes. In Israel, there was a prophetic aversion to war horses (see, for example, Isa. 31:1). A humble donkey was an appropriate mount, therefore, for a king who comes in peace.

Today is Palm Sunday, the first day of Holy Week, commemorating Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It certainly doesn't seem very triumphant, knowing that in a few short days, Jesus would be dead, crucified by his enemies. But when he arrived in Jerusalem, he was greeted as a returning hero. The multitudes paved the road with their cloaks and with palm fronds, and shouted "Hosanna in the highest!" (Matt. 21:8-10). At Jesus' direction, his disciples had procured the use of a donkey colt to ride into the city. Matthew affirms that this took place to fulfill Zechariah 9:9:

This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, "Say to the daughter of Zion, 'Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, the foal of a beast of burden.'" (Matt. 21:4-5)

The Gospel writers, all of whom record this event, give the impression that procuring the donkey was a spontaneous thing. But I see no reason to doubt that Jesus had made the arrangements beforehand. He knew that the people of Jerusalem would be familiar with Zechariah, and understand the significance of his entry in this fashion. He was not merely fulfilling a prophecy by "coincidence"; he was openly declaring himself to be the anticipated messianic king.

Zechariah's prophecy continues to say that the king would "speak peace to the nations" by defeating their chariot and war horses, thereby establishing universal rule (Zech. 9:10). It is ironic that the Prince of Peace, arriving in peace on the back of a donkey, will make global peace only by destroying the nations' ability to make war.

We need only look to the news that continually comes from the Middle East to see that this part of Zechariah's oracle has yet to come to pass. I do not believe that any human agency will ever reconcile those ancient enemies. They might, at best, facilitate a temporary truce. Nothing short of divine intervention will ever bring permanent peace to that or any region.

But there is another peace that the Prince of Peace brought to Jerusalem: not peace between nations, but peace between God and men. Christ's triumphal entry was triumphal not merely because he entered the city in the fashion of a king. The atoning blood that he shed on his cross, a few days later, truly reconciles God with his people. Zechariah wrote that God would take away the abominations of Philistine pagan worship, and that a remnant of them would be like Israelites (Zech. 9:7). God's salvation is not for Jews only, but for his chosen people in every tongue, tribe, and nation: Philistine and Jebusite, Jew and Gentile, Palestinian and Israeli. In Christ, all can be bound together as brothers.

April 01, 2011

looF lirpA

.rorrim a deen t'nod uoy ,siht daer nac uoy fI

.lla si tahT