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Posts Tagged ‘Helmut Thielicke and the Stuttgart Cathedral

An Overview of Jonah as Prototypical Primer for Catacomb Church and Homeschool Study

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Jonah in distress in the 8th century B. C.  He was a prototype of coming distress for the Northern Kingdom of Israel and Samaria.  Is there a contemporary historical analogy and application?

 

     I am most honored to be with you today as an invited guest on this Sunday afternoon.  Let me say at the outset that it has been a long time since I’ve been in front of a group of evangelicals in a home or classroom setting to provide an overview of a Biblical book or a topic of history or systematic theology.  Years ago when a most improbable set of circumstances brought me to the now defunct Texas Bible College in the Alamo City to teach Biblical courses, apologetics, church history, and communications for several years, I had the pedagogical experience of my life in front of a group of young people who saw learning the material as an exciting journey and odyssey of a lifetime.

     What I remember most is what Lutheran pastor and theologian Helmut Thielicke once referred to as “intense listening.” I covered the context of Pastor Thielicke’s phrase in a presentation I delivered to a Lutheran gathering in the Middle West 4 years ago.  In a nutshell, Dr. C. George Fry chronicles that context in his article on Thielicke in the Handbook of Evangelical Theologians (Baker, 1993) on pages 219-233.  Dr. Fry explains how and why this great man was in academic and professional exile in the early days of World War II, how he came out of exile under circumstances that can only be explained as the work of God in history, and how through his teaching skills and personal acquaintance with the Gospel, the Stuttgart Cathedral lectures to the beleaguered German people transpired even as Allied air raids drew ever nearer to them.  Fry noted that:

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Helmut Thielicke: Preaching the Gospel near Midnight in the Stuttgart Cathedral during the apocalyptic Allied Air Raids.  He experienced “intense listening” never seen again.

     “As he lectured [in Stuttgart Cathedral] on its five principle parts [Small Catechism of Luther]–the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper–‘evening after evening some three thousand persons gathered together; workers and businessmen, students and professors, soldiers and generals, Nazi functionaries (naturally in civilian clothes!) and Jews, Dutch compulsory laborers . . . and sometimes whole classes from the schools.  It was an overwhelming time for me.  Never since have I experienced such intense listening.’      Soon the massive air raids began.  When the streetcars could no longer run, people ‘came on foot, often from many miles away, through the fields of ruins and rubble’ even on dark and frightening winter evenings.  But then the [Stuttgart] cathedral was destroyed.  Thielicke wrote, ‘I can still see the towering torch of this venerable house of God.  . . . I stood there holding in my hand a key to a door that no longer existed.’

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The original Stuttgart Cathedral is located in Stuttgart-Bad-Canstatt. Its history goes back all the way to 1470. After massive destruction during the Second World War, the church was rebuilt in 1954/55.

     The lesson is this:  When there is great opportunity for evangelical believers to gather together around a meaningful study of the Word of God, that is an opportunity to be seized at the moment in time it is offered.  Just as the Stuttgart Cathedral was torched in a single evening of air raids, so it was that Texas Bible College closed under less dramatic circumstances after a handful of semesters of teaching for me there.  Thielicke noted later in his life that those times of “intense listening” would never come again.  I never experienced it again either, although I sense in our group this afternoon that the Lord has many mutual blessings for us in the handful of occasions when I will be your guest in this house to share my thoughts and materials with you.  And please keep in mind that just as there was a sense of great apocalyptic and eschatological expectation among the German people who flocked to the Thielicke lectures in Stuttgart Cathedral, there is a strong scent of apocalyptic and eschatological expectation in history among those of us in the Remnant Church most desirous of spending more time in the Word of God and in fervent intercessory prayer.  I addressed this very thing in the last public theological presentation made to anyone in 2017 in “The Church of Smyrna Speaks to the Confessing Church of Christ in this Darkening Hour.”  Later in the year, I would be given 5 minutes to speak at a Lutheran convention in a foreign country with reference to this article.  In addition to the shortness of time allotted, the convention folks were preoccupied with choosing a new president and adopting a new organizational structure.  John on Patmos and the application of the Apocalypse to the present historical situation of the Remnant Church in the Western World and elsewhere wasn’t apparently on their agenda for the week.  I know it is on yours or I would not have been asked to come here.  The point is this:  You know the hour.  You want your loved ones to have the best grasp of Scripture possible as persecutions and circumstances worsen.  And I’d rather be with 7 folks here in this house on a Sunday afternoon than all the denominational meetings and conventions extant.  Put slightly differently, I tend to hate those gatherings.  Enough said.

     My second introductory point pertains to the political realm in the world, our need to be presently informed and watchful observers of the events within it in this country and abroad, and to take note of Paul’s warnings in Ephesians 6 about the demonic realm’s influence and operations within world governments.  Why?  Because: 1) The Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and both the Old Testament Prophets and the New Testament Apostolic Writers underscore the importance of discernment in battling demonic deception in world history at every point on the linear time line which runs from the Fall to the Second Advent of the Lord.  2) No Biblical writing can be properly studied and even partially understood without constant reference to the historical context and events that enshrouded the particular author, including Jonah. And what Biblical principles at these various stages of redemptive history properly inform the Remnant Church now as to what God is accomplishing at present through individuals, collective entities, world leaders and empires, and technological advancements making global surveillance systems, economic manipulations, media misinformation, and military weapons of mass destruction and mass murder ever greater threats to the survivability of the planet? Does not the age of the Tower of Babel in Genesis, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in Daniel, and Nero and Domitian of the Ancient Roman Empire as chronicled by the Apostle John on Patmos in Revelation, provide us with prototypical clues regarding the New World Order and the impending unveiling of Antichrist?   And to reiterate, 3) the Lord in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24/Mark 13/Luke 21) mentions the concept of deception more than that of any other idea in his chronicling of the run-up to the end of history and His return.  The principle and the lesson is this: Assiduous study of the Word of God, acquiring proper tools in doing so, developing solid principles for applying the Old and New Testament to legitimate contemporary applications, including discerning the larger meaning of present and future events in history, are within your grasp and mine as we work within our mutual limitations as best we can, and ask the Holy Spirit of God to reveal what He desires that we truly hear, see, and take to heart in the times in which we live.  Only these things can and will enable us to penetrate falsehoods and deceptions in these end times and to recognize false prophets and wolves when they insiduously infiltrate and attack.  Rest assured that they are, and that they shall. And as we shall see shortly, interpretation and understanding of the context of the story of Jonah is inextricably linked with the political developments of his time as they pertained both to the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the nation of Assyria.

     In closing this second point of introduction, let me note what many of you already know from things you have read or heard about me.  I have been intensely involved in the political realm for many years, for reasons directly related to what I believe about eschatology, and what I believe are the particular forces Satan has been working through in both the United States specifically and the West generally to destroy Christian societies, civilizations, and churches, especially since the earliest portion of the 20th Century onward.  My last post in this arena was this past January.  I do not know if there will be any more, or any additional TV or radio commentary.  My mission in all of this may already be past. It is my hope that people in the future who come across my work since 2001 will understand the context of why I embarked upon this journey in the critical years in question, and what I was trying to accomplish as one of a relative handful of voices exiled in the desert in wintertime.  Time tells.

     Beginning today, I hope to equip you with a basic structural methodology for studying any Biblical book.  The book you have selected as a test case example is Jonah.

     Before beginning our quest to examine the Book of Jonah more closely, let me say several things about tools for studying Scripture and consulting the best sources available to you or me.  The first is the Annotated Bibliography.  I emphasize Annotated because this term underscores that one is not simply provided with a list of books on a particular subject or discipline, but helpful comments and guidance on the strength and weaknesses of a particular book, the ideological background of the author(s), and the particular tradition or school of thought out of which said author(s) comes.  As but one example, is the author an evangelical/orthodox scholar theologically, as we understand that term shall be used in this class, or does he/she come from the realm of Higher Criticism and Historical Criticism which provide a brand of scholarship with far different presuppositions and conclusions than any of us would accept as viable?  Among evangelicals, what is a Dispensational Premillennialist?  An Amillennialist? What is the context of the Calvinistic-Arminian controversy over free will and election?  What is the difference between a Lutheran and a Zwinglian in interpretation of major Biblical passages pertaining to the Lord’s Supper?  What are the different schools of interpretation that have existed in history to explain the Prophecy of 70 Weeks in Daniel, chapter 9?

     These are just a few of the important ideas to have an acquaintance with in any evaluation of what we read in any commentary on these subjects at hand.  Hint:  All of us come to the Biblical narrative with a background and historical framework, whether we are conscious of this or not, or frank enough to acknowledge the obvious. Just in brief Internet search I found an interesting list with comments here. Check out another possibility for Jonah research here.  The evangelical Denver Seminary has a list of Old Testament commentary recommendations here.  And the famous evangelical Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, an offshoot of Princeton historically, has a variety of tools available to any of us.  I introduce two suggestions at this point with Annotated Bibliographies:  1) Those prepared by known evangelical schools and sources are likely to be best for our use.  2) Having said that, please do not cheat yourself of the insights and contributions to be made in understanding a subject often contributed by scholars we do not agree with in key areas.  Example:  The great Lutheran scholar and historian, Jaroslav Pelikan (later Eastern Orthodox), had a view of the Scriptures heavily influenced by historical criticism and at odds with that of more orthodox, evangelical Lutherans.  Having said that, if one engages in the study of historical theology, it is impossible not to avail oneself of his brilliant mind and research as exhibited in his 5 volume set on Church History, entitled The Christian Tradition:  The History of the Development of Doctrine.  I have this set, and am presently reading Volume 2 on my own, to learn more about Eastern Orthodoxy.  Do you know what I was exposed to on this subject in an evangelical seminary?  Absolutely nothing is the correct answer.  The lesson is this:  Protestant evangelicals are heavyweights in exegesis of the Word of God.  They tend to be extremely weak as historians in the area of the development of doctrine.  Take the predominant eschatological position of evangelicals on the final events of world history, especially as they pertain to the modern State of Israel vis a vis the Israel of God.  How many know the beginning of the rudimentary elements of this position first emerge in the writings of a Jesuit priest in the 16th century, subsequently to be systematized by John Nelson Darby and popularized by the Scofield Reference Bible in the 19th century?  One evangelical source for examining this subject and providing a fair treatment to both sides of this debate may be accessed here.  The Annotated Bibliography for this single key subject alone is enough to fill a few libraries in and of itself. Enough said.

     Where tools are concerned, the multi-volume Zondervan Charts are critically valuable.  I have been collecting them for years.

     And finally, if one desires to learn enough Greek and Hebrew through a reputable online course, the best tools for subsequent word studies and research include the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Harris, Archer, Waltke), the updated version of the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis (Moises Silva, ed.), and the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (10 vols, Kittel/Friedrich).  The classic Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, the accompanying Index to the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, the infamous Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich or “BAG”) and An Index to the Revised Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich Greek Lexicon (John R. Alsop, Zondervan) round out some of the basics for those who want to dabble in these scholarly arenas. We do not have to be world-famous scholars to use these.  Over time, I can easily show you how.  By the way, the Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich (“BAG”) edition is a first edition.  Later, there was a second edition in 1979 that involved my late Lutheran colleague William Danker, hence the later acronym BAGD.  And to make matters even more ridiculous for you, when a 3rd edition of A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature was subsequently issued in 2000, the acronym for the 4 scholars was rearranged for reasons beyond me. This 3rd edition is referred to by insiders as BDAG (Bauer-Danker-Arndt-Gingrich).  Go figure.  As for me, I still have the 2nd edition known as BAGD.  This is for reasons of nostalgia that go back almost 37 years. The legendary Dr. Douglas Moo (follow your Annotated Bibliographies for the New Testament) was the one who beat me to death in summer Greek Exegesis courses in 1981 after I barely passed the crash course of 2 years of college Greek in 2 previous semesters at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School to qualify for Moo.  He found it humorous when I slipped him a note to suggest early termination of a class that academically overwhelming summer of 1981 to get to a Cubs game in Wrigley Field that particular afternoon.  The note read:  “Dr. Moo.  May we BAG this for the Cubs’ game today?  Dankof. (BAGD from that time on wasn’t for Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich-Danker but for BAG [this]D[Signed, Dankof].” His response:  “Funny, but I have BAGGED your suggestion. Dr. M.

     If you would like to explore the possibilities for yourself or your kids in learning enough New Testament Greek for the use of some of these tools in word studies, my written transcript of today’s conversation will contain a link here.  Again, this may never be your desire, but I always chronicle these things in order that someone will have a resource to consult months, years, or decades later.  I still use my notes, my course syllabi, references on note cards to something discovered in a particular resource, flash cards, and updated Annotated Bibliographies as needed, to get to the bottom of something in my personal studies.  Two classic examples involve a single piece of paper where my late friend, Pastor John Eppler, tutored me for a week in the Hebrew alphabet and its phonetic sounds, to enable me to pass summer months of constant Hebrew immersion with Dr. Samir Massouh at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in the summer of 1982.  Sadly, we lost Pastor Eppler in late 2004.  After John got me through the alphabet and Hebrew immersion with Dr. Massouh, I would enjoy OT 711, or “Poetry and Post-Exilic History” with the latter that fall.  Sadly, Samir Massouh now struggles with esophageal cancer and chemotherapy at the St. Francis Hospital in Kenosha, Wisconsin, north of Chicago. How I miss these men.

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The late Pastor John Eppler’s handwriting instructs me in the Hebrew alphabet and phonetic pronunciation on a piece of notebook paper in the summer of 1982.

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Dates of OT significance to memorize in the Fall of 1982.

     One nostalgic story about Samir Massouh is in order.  In my last Hebrew course in the summer of 1982, the final exam contained a lengthy translation.  I “Aced” that portion of the exam.  Several days later, he asked me to come to his office.  He seemed troubled.  I knew what was bothering him.  He noted my never-before-noted-and-sudden brilliance on that portion of the exam.  He also ventured that he believed me to be 1) an honorable person and 2) an improving but still mediocre Hebrew student at the graduate level.  With those hypotheses ruminating in his mind, he asked if I had an explanation for my sudden foray into Hebrew exegetical skills matching his own, or Gleason Archer’s.

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The Crucifix and the Sacramental Altar of Trinity Lutheran Church and School in Wahiawa.  Every Wednesday morning, The Venite was sung by the children in the Matins Service (Psalm 95).

     My answer was truthful and explanatory:  “The answer is the Venite which I sang every Wednesday morning in 3 years of grade school at Trinity Lutheran School in Wahiawa, Hawaii in the 1960s during the Chapel Matins Service.  It’s contained in the Matins Service on page 32 in The Lutheran HymnalThe Venite is Psalm 95 used as a canticle in the Western liturgy, usually for Matins.” (Massouh’s test translation for the last Hebrew exam of the summer of 1981 was Psalm 95. Virtually none of the pan-Protestant evangelical students taking that exam knew anything about historic liturgy, especially in the Evangelical Free Church of America, the Bible Church tradition, the Conservative Baptist denomination, et. al.  But the singular Lutheran with a childhood background in Western Liturgical Worship knew it by heart.)

     Samir Massouh’s countenance reflected a combination of humor and relief.  He said, “So this explains why you were humming while you were writing.”  My response:  “Exactly.  After two lines, I recognized the entire pericope.  But I could best bring everything back to total recall by humming the melody of the liturgical setting for Psalm 95 used then for Matins.  It went much faster than trying to recite it without the music.

     I asked him if I would still receive my A.  He said with a smile and beaming eyes, “Yes. and get out of here.”  My response as I was opening the door to leave was “See you for Post Exilic History this fall.”

     There is a postscript to this story.  In the following spring of 1983, Trinity Journal (TRINJ 04:1/Spring 1983, page 84) came out with an article by Dr. Massouh. It was entitled, “Exegetical Notes Psalm 95,” and began with introductory comments on worship:

     “Recent publications have reflected a renewed evangelical interest in the nature and manner of worship. Some have advocated incorporating charismatic enthusiasm while others have promoted the use of more liturgy. It is in the light of such revived interest that this study of Ps 95 is given, in order to establish some biblical principles about the nature and manner of worship.”

     I ran into him on campus shortly after the article was released.  I observed wryly, “You’re the first Trinity professor who ever plagiarized any of my stuff.” He got the humor.

     Lesson:  Never forget the most special people God has ever placed, or will place, in your life.  Think about the principles of instruction provided.  I will say it again.  I will never forget those men, and those times.  And if the truth be known, one of the great mistakes in my life was not staying there for a much longer period of trial and hardship to develop the skills and the calling I did not realize were emerging until many years later. I have one thesis to finish and one more language exam to finance and sustain in preparing for whatever remains of my life in the time left. Only God knows how this will be possible or where in this present world it leads, but He assures us he is in the Impossibility business (Luke 1:37).

     Now we move on to a brief roadmap of introductory structure and notes for the Book of Jonah, which as indicated earlier is in prototypical form and concept what I do in the study of any Biblical book.  (Aside:  If you’re counting, my Word Processor informs me that you and I have now covered not quite 3500 words.  Again, the electronic version of this conversation will enable you to get to the Links to some of the resources discussed here in the living room of this house.)

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When God calls us to go to a destination 550 miles away, His purposes through us will still be accomplished if we run 2500 miles in the other direction. [Book of Jonah]

A Roadmap of Structures and Concepts for Studying a Biblical Book:  Test Case is Jonah.

Place of the Book in the Canon and in the Redemptive History Timeline: For your Prototypical Analysis, think Patriarchs and Israelites/United Monarchy/Divided Monarchy/Babylonian Captivity/Intertestamental PeriodJonahDivided Monarchy.  Northern Kingdom of Israel. Minor Prophet.  

Title:  Named after its principal character. Jonah means “dove.” Compare with Hosea 7:11; Psalm 68:13 and 74:19.

Date: 800-750 B. C. for the prophetic ministry of Jonah.  Authorship of the book prior to the destruction of Samaria and the Northern Kingdom of Israel at the hands of the Assyrians in 722 B. C. Hint:  Compare evangelical commentaries with those of higher critical/liberal persuasion on this issue.  The date of the revival in Nineveh recorded in Chapter 3 is believed to coincide with the reign of Ashurdan III (773-755 B. C.). Interesting speculation:  Did two plagues in Assyria (765 and 759 B. C.) and a solar eclipse in 763 B. C. prepare the people for Jonah’s message of repentance or judgment?

Author:  The book does not identify its author.  Tradition assigns it to the prophet himself. (Consult both evangelical and non-evangelical commentaries and sources for the debates on this which ensue.  One recommendation:  see Gleason Archer’s section on Jonah in his Introduction to the Old Testament [Moody Press] if you can locate this volume.  It is especially valuable for providing responsible academic representation of evangelical arguments for the reliability and accuracy of the Biblical narratives as it rebuts the most enduring objections of Higher Criticism and Historical Criticism. I can provide excerpts of these if needed. Archer discusses authorship issues in his comments on Jonah.  Don’t dismiss these arguments as personally irrelevant.  You or your kids may well need a handle on some of this to provide rebuttal to the unbelieving cynics some of you will encounter in circles of American “higher education.”  Enough said. Hint:  The arguments you will encounter revolve around higher Biblical critics who claim that Jonah was authored the 5th and 3rd centuries B. C., as a historical fiction espousing universalistic views to counter the “narrow nationalism” of Ezra and Nehemiah.

     Jonah is identified as the son of Amittai (1:1) from Gath Hepher (2 Kings 14:25) in Zebulun (Joshua 19: 10,13). 2 Kings 14:25 references him as a prophet in the reign of Jeroboam II of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Here, we read that under Jeroboam II, the borders of Israel were expanded according to the word of the Lord God of Israel, which He had spoken through his servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet who was from Gath Hepher (3 miles north of Nazareth in lower Galilee).”  Keys:  the reign of Jeroboam II, Jonah as prophet of the Northern Kingdom, Jonah as a Galilean. Hints:  See John 7:52 for a good case of Pharisaical error.

Historical Background:  Know your Kings of Judah (south) and Israel (north) after the end of the United Monarchy!  There were 20 Kings of Judah8 were good. 12 were bad. As for the Northern Kingdom of Israel, all 19 of their Kings from the end of the United Monarchy to the onset of final destruction of the Kingdom and Samaria in 722 B. C. at the hands of the Assyrians were bad. See here.  [There are all kinds of historical gems and discerning contemporary application of these gems of instruction.  One could look at the last 5 kings of Judah, beginning with Josiah (good) and 4 terrible successors leading to the Exile.  Possible application:  Think about the succession of American leaders in recent times, the state of the American Empire, and what many American Protestants have embraced as the doctrine of American Exceptionalism.  Is that ideology Biblical? How does it square with the reasons for the rise and fall of Empires Biblically? Is this idea a foundational basis for present day susceptibility to deception? End of point.  . . . as for Jonah, zero in on Jeroboam II (782-753 B. C./co-regency/41 years in the electronic source, Archer says 793-753 B. C. in his Introduction).  Consult the historical background section of the Commentaries you select out of our list.

     The reign of Jeroboam II is pivotal to the context of both Jonah and Amos.  What are the key points to underscore in understanding the historical backdrop of these prophets and their respective proclamations?

     1.  The key nations (3) in the historical backdrop are the Northern Kingdom of Israel, Damascus (center of Aramean power), and Assyria.

     2.  Circa 797 B. C., Elisha spoke to the King of Israel about future victories over Damascus (2 Kings 13: 14-19).

     3.  The Assyrian military campaign against Damascus in 797 B. C. enables the King of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, Jehoash (798-782 B. C.), to recover territories previously lost to the King of Damascus (2 Kings 13:25).

     4.  Jonah prophesies the restoration of the Northern Kingdom under Jeroboam II predicted by Elisha (2 Kings 24:25). Internal troubles in Assyria enable Jeroboam II to complete the restoration of Israel’s northern borders.

     5.  The Northern Kingdom of Israel subsequently falls into a period of nationalistic arrogance, complacency, and spiritual decadence after the restoration under Jeroboam II.  The prophetic implications are covered by Amos and Hosea.  Amos prophesies an exile beyond Damascus (Amos 5:27).  He will proclaim that God’s patience with the Northern Kingdom is at an end (Amos 7:8; 8:2). Hosea indicates that the tool of God’s judgment will be a politically and militarily revived Assyria (Hosea 9:3; 10:6; 11:5).  It is in this context that God sends Jonah to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, to warn it of the imminency of its own eventual judgment.  Hint:  To contextualize why Jonah attempted to run from God’s command and flee to Tarshish, run a Search Engine probe for “Assyrian Empire Cruelty.”  This will bring up many fascinating articles, including one I just discovered for you at Realm of History.  Or try this article from the Biblical Archeology Society (Jan/Feb 1991) which is in PDF format.  

Christ in Jonah:  Gleason Archer tells us in his Introduction to the Old Testament on page 313 that ” . . . one cannot reject the historicity of Jonah without also rejecting the authority of Christ.”  See Matthew 12: 38-41 (and the Luke account).  Hint:  Isolate the word “sign” for further examination (σημεῖον).  Jonah is the only prophet whom Jesus likened to Himself.  What are the implications? Compare this account to the aforementioned John 7:52. Think Jonah and Jesus in terms of TypologyFurther suggestion:  The eschatological warnings about signs and wonders in the New Testament.  What are the implications?  (For now, simply file this in your notes for future study.)

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Matthew 12:  The deeper implications of the word “sign” (σημεῖον) may lie within the pages of the revised version of the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis (Moises Silva, ed.)

Structure of the Book:  Let’s keep this simple.  Some of your commentaries will be more elaborate, but simplicity of structure is often best retained in the mind during study.

1.  Jonah flees. (Chapters 1-2)

2.  Jonah reluctantly fulfills. (Chapters 3-4)

     Related structural issues40 verses tell the story of a single, extended episode.  8 additional verses cover Jonah’s prayer of thanksgiving, giving us a total of 48 verses.  Jonah’s employment of structural symmetry and style are often compared to the Book of Ruth.  The story is told in two parallel cycles (Chapters 1-2/Chapters 3-4) of comparisons and contrasts.  There are 3 Confessions of Jonah (1:9; 2:9; 4:2.) The “Middle Confession” of 2:9 is decisive. It proclaims that “Salvation is of the Lord,” and emphasizes that the word of the Lord is the last and final word on anything.

Key Verses2: 8-9, and 4:2.  (Last 2 Confessions of Jonah)

Key ChapterChapter 3Revival in Nineveh.

Key Ideas for Discussion and Reflection:  Is it possible to succeed in running away from God?  Are there limits/no limits as to what God can use to get an individual’s attention?  An Empire’s attention?  Does failure disqualify someone from serving God?  What are the consequences of running away from God?  What is the experience of the individual who attempts it?  Can nationalistic patriotism impede the relationship between the believer and God’s plan?  Does Jonah’s testimony reveal a universal concern for all people on the part of the Biblical God?  What are the implications of the fact that Nineveh responded to the preaching of Jonah better than the Northern Kingdom of Israel or the Southern Kingdom of Judah did with any of their prophets?  Is there a prototypical parallel here with the various reactions to the preaching of the Kingdom of God by Jesus and His apostles recorded in the New Testament? Hint:  Compare the reaction to the message of Jonah by the Ninevites to that of those who claimed to be the Sons of Abraham (John 8: 31-41). Implications?  Is there a link to 722 B. C., 586 B. C., and A. D. 70? And possibly to Matthew 24/Mark 13/Luke 24/2 Thessalonians 2/Revelation 13?

     We are now at the end of our first session together.  It is my hope that this overview serves its purpose, not only as an introduction to the Book of Jonah, which we will examine in greater detail in future sessions by studying the text verse-by-verse and chapter-by-chapter, but as a Prototype for the Catacomb Church and the Homeschooling Community in covering any Biblical book.  This process is essential to laying out the roadmap for all of the study, all of the discussions, and all of the developments for further study that will inevitably follow.  Sometime in the future, I will develop a Prototype for a Topical Study in Scripture which will be shared with you when completed.

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Not a Bad View for an Exile on Patmos: An Aegean Sunset.

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John on Patmos Pens The Apocalypse: Exiled Because of Resistance to the Emperor Worship Cultus of Domitian (A. D. 81-96).

 

 

 

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The Hands of Time and the Appearance of Logos: Mark Dankof for the LMS-USA Conference 2014

The Logo of the LMS-USA and the Pillars of Luther's Reformation: Christ Alone, Faith Alone, Grace Alone, Scripture Alone.

The Logo of the LMS-USA and the Pillars of Luther’s Reformation: Christ Alone, Faith Alone, Grace Alone, Scripture Alone.

[Mark Dankof’s presentation to the 2014 national conference of the Lutheran Ministerium and Synod–USA in June 2014 is reproduced in edited/abridged version below.  In response to specific requests, the 2014 message demonstrates the continued relevance to the Confessing Church of Jesus Christ of the Ancient Church’s fight to preserve the Biblical witness to the humanity and divinity of Jesus Christ as pivotal to the reality of the realization of God’s plan of salvation for humanity, enacted in linear time in the physical cosmos.  Of primary relevance to this 2014 discussion is the 1996 presentation of Pastor Dankof to the Lutheran Ministerium and Synod–USA in Indianapolis entitled, “Creeds and Confessions as Liturgy.”

“In the beginning was the Word , and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning [Genesis 1:1].  Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.  In Him was life, and that life was the Light of men.  The Light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”  [λόγος: DNTT, vol. 3, pages 1081-1146, esp. p. 1115; B. Klappert, author; Colin Brown, editor ]

The Gospel of John, chapter 1, verses 1-5

“But mark this:  There will be terrible times in the last days.  People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God–having a form of godliness but denying its power.  Have nothing to do with them.”  [καιροὶ:  DNTT, vol. 3, pages 833-39; H.-C. Hahn, author; Colin Brown, editor]

2 Timothy 3: 1-5

“As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately.  ‘Tell us,’ they said, ‘when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’  Jesus answered:  ‘Watch out, that no one deceives  you.'”  [πλανήσῃ:  DNTT, vol. 2, pages 457-61; W. Gunther, author; Colin Brown, editor]

Matthew 24: 3-4

“Those who are able to see beyond the shadows and lies of their culture will never be understood, let alone believed, by the masses.”

Plato (427-347 B. C.)

“One had to look very closely [in pre-war Germany] to see the cloven hoof beneath the angel’s luminous robes.  . . . If I read the signs aright, we are close to midnight.”

Pastor Helmut Thielicke

Pastor Mark Dankof of the Lutheran Ministerium and Synod-USA, a member of the International Lutheran Council (ILC).

Pastor Mark Dankof of the Lutheran Ministerium and Synod-USA, a member of the International Lutheran Council (ILC).

     On this beautiful day at the very beginning of summer at Christ Lutheran Church in Chetek, Wisconsin in 2014, we prepare to take a look back–and a look ahead–at time, and God’s revelation in time in the Logos [λόγος].  My assignment for the fine people of the Lutheran Ministerium and Synod–USA today, and for the entirety of the Israel of God, the Confessing Church of our Lord Jesus Christ, is to do so with reference to my message delivered to this gathering in Indianapolis in 1996, entitled “Creeds and Confessions as Liturgy.”  I am proud that the University of Dayton would later see fit to use this paper in a graduate theology course on the subject.  I am equally proud that my last couple of projects for our yearly gatherings have made their rounds around the world, thanks to the marvelous technology of our age.  These include “The Famine, The Watchman, and The Remnant” two years ago, and last year’s homily at the concluding worship service of our National Convention entitled, “The Chosen People of God:  Who Are They?“.

     I shall succumb to the temptation to begin with a story.  My colleagues in secular media and news commentary refer to me off-camera and off-the-air as The Storyteller. Stories have enabled me to survive in media and in pulpits for many years, because good ones illustrate timeless principles and truths that God reveals to us within time, as a means of understanding transcendent truths and teaching these truths to others who subsequently apply them to their own lives in this mysterious odyssey we call life, lived in linear time and space before our subsequent arrival in the Kingdom of God in eternity past, present, and future.

     This story only goes back in time to this past Father’s Day evening, June 15th, 2014.  I was walking the dogs in my local neighborhood of Northern Hills in San Antonio.  Our San Antonio Spurs NBA basketball team, which a year ago blew Game 6 of the NBA Finals–and then the title in Game 7–to the Miami Heat, had just won the rematch on Father’s Day evening by closing out Miami 107-87 in Game 5 at the AT&T Center in the Alamo City.  The core theme of this victory in both the national and San Antonio media is one of Redemption.

     I could hear the celebratory horn honkings, the group cheering of the neighborhood block parties, and the postgame firecrackers and fireworks, in the distant darkness. Although I was thrilled to see the Spurs win the NBA championship, especially after last year’s collapse with a 5 point lead and only 28.5 seconds to play in Game 6, I was suddenly overcome by a strange and overpowering sadness. My first thought was of my late Father, who passed away 5 years ago.  He had been a Spurs fan since 1977.  We had lived and died together through the fortunes of this storied pro basketball team, and through the ups and downs of the championship seasons of 1999, 2003, 2005, and 2007.  I have many memories of those days with him, in his final years.  But now on this Father’s Day, the miraculous acquisition of a 5th World’s Championship for the Alamo City suddenly seemed hollow.  My Dad wasn’t here to see it, and to celebrate this San Antonio Spurs victory with his longtime Army Air Corps/Air Force golfing partners at the local Windcrest Golf Course.  These other boyhood treasures are now also gone, every last one of them.  Where did time in this cosmos go?

Colonel Karl E. Dankof (USAF, ret.) in section 54, Arlington National Cemetery, Washington, D. C., off Admiral Leahy Drive.

Colonel Karl E. Dankof (USAF, ret.) in section 54, Arlington National Cemetery, Washington, D. C., off Admiral Leahy Drive.

     There was a second thought in the night as I walked:  Thousands, millions of people can be engaged in an NBA Basketball Championship quest.  But where are these thousands, millions of souls when it comes to engaging in the study and painstaking search of God’s Word and its timeless truths, as the Holy Spirit of God directs?  

Coach Gregg Popovitch and Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs after clinching a 5th NBA Title on Father's Day 2014.

Coach Gregg Popovitch and Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs after clinching a 5th NBA Title on Father’s Day 2014.

     In this regard, in my brief lifetime, I have personally witnessed the demise of hunger for the Word of God in American culture and the accompanying demise of Christian morality that threatens our individual and collective survival.  It would seem that the Drug and Sexual Revolutions of the 1960s have won.  The Frankfurt School’s Institute of Social Research, and the gurus of higher Biblical criticism and impoverished American “Christianity”, have eclipsed the theology and personal piety of Lutheran and Reformed Protestant Christianity in our land, even as I speak today.  Our cherished American Republic would seem to have died, only to be replaced by an Empire taking on Beast-like characteristics.  Where are we going?  What does it mean?  Will the America many of us knew in the distant past be absolutely gone by 2025, as Pat Buchanan’s last book seems to predict?  Are we truly witnessing the Suicide of a Superpower, and the suicide of the Christian theology and culture of our forefathers?  It would seem so.

Pat Buchanan and Mark Dankof in San Antonio, Texas.  1995.

Pat Buchanan and Mark Dankof in San Antonio, Texas. 1995.

     It was not always so, either in the United States specifically or in the Western world generally.  Dr. C. George Fry’s essay on Helmut Thielicke for the Handbook of Evangelical Theologians (Baker, 1993, pages 219-233) documents the hunger of average Germans for the Word of God and the Gospel in the darkest days of World War II. I share this wonderful material with you now, in the firm belief that as the signs point to the impending arrival of an American midnight in these dark days of the 21st century’s advancing onslaught, the experience of German believers and Helmut Thielicke seven decades ago will be used of the Holy Spirit of God to speak to you and to empower you, as the circumstances of advancing time enshroud each and every one of us in the days and nights emerging.

Helmut Thielicke:  Preaching the Gospel near Midnight in the Stuttgart Cathedral.

Helmut Thielicke: Preaching the Gospel near Midnight in the Stuttgart Cathedral.

     Dr. Fry notes that when Thielicke was ordained as a Lutheran pastor in 1941, it was not at all evident that he would become Germany’s “preacher for apocalyptic times whose teaching had a sense of eschatological urgency” (Handbook of Evangelical Theologians, page 219).  The Fry essay tells us that Thielicke’s ordination in 1941 was preceded by his 1940 removal by the State from his initial teaching position at the University of Heidelberg (p. 223).  His unemployment only ended due to the courage and grace of Bishop Theophil Wurm of the territorial church of Wurttemberg, who provided Thielicke a pastorate in the little town of Ravensburg in southern Germany, where the Gestapo imposed an injunction which proscribed Thielicke from traveling or speaking anywhere else in the country (p. 223).  It is noteworthy that in this time frame, Thielicke’s sole comfort was in absolute immersion in the study of God’s Word (p. 224). It was perhaps assumed that Thielicke would remain in a state of exile not unlike John at Patmos under Domitian (A. D. 81-96), for the duration of his life.

     But God had other plans.  Emerging from exile in Ravensburg, Thielicke was called to head the Theological Office of the Church of Wurttemberg (1943-45), and was inexplicably given permission by the Nazi authorities to deliver an evening lecture each week in the historic Stuttgart Cathedral.  Fry underscores (p. 224) that Thielicke knew that he “must prepare people for the terrible things that lay before them by giving them instruction–quite simply, just instruction in the mysteries of our faith.”

     As Dr. Fry chronicles this, Thielicke chose basic weapons in the fight to equip his listeners:  the Word of God itself and the Small Catechism of Martin Luther.  I know these have been my own basic weapons in the fight to equip a believing remnant in the United States since my ordination 30 years ago.  But like Pastor Spears, Pastor Erickson, Pastor Thorson, and other faithful teachers of the Word in the LMS–USA, I see no present larger-scale evidence of what I believe will yet come, a renewal of hungering for the Gospel on the part of a larger segment of our communities around the country.  What will be the circumstance of this renewal future?  It is my belief that the Confessing Church will be re-energized in the Refiner’s Fire of the apocalyptic developments ahead for the United States and the globe in world history.  As it was in Germany then, so shall it be with what looms on the political horizon now.

Helmut Thielicke:  Being a Christian When the Chips are Down.  Is America Nearing Midnight?

Helmut Thielicke: Being a Christian When the Chips are Down. Is America Nearing Midnight?

     I most assuredly am not looking forward to what this is going to mean in either my life or yours.  But I do look forward to the renewal of Biblical study and the deep yearning for the Word of God and the Gospel of Christ that will move more people to seek the truth of the deepest mysteries of God, in the briefly open window of opportunity that will beckon in the midst of the terror and calamity prophesied by Christ in the Olivet Discourse.  In the time of Thielicke’s re-emergence from exile in the darkest days of the eclipse of German national fortunes in the Second World War, he would experience something I hope every faithful Pastor in this Conference Room will yet see before the ending of his days.  Let Dr. Fry unfold this marvelous testimony of those days of the Presence of Light in the midst of the darkness:

     “As he lectured [in Stuttgart Cathedral] on its five principle parts [Small Catechism of Luther]–the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper–‘evening after evening some three thousand persons gathered together; workers and businessmen, students and professors, soldiers and generals, Nazi functionaries (naturally in civilian clothes!) and Jews, Dutch compulsory laborers . . . and sometimes whole classes from the schools.  It was an overwhelming time for me.  Never since have I experienced such intense listening.’      Soon the massive air raids began.  When the streetcars could no longer run, people ‘came on foot, often from many miles away, through the fields of ruins and rubble’ even on dark and frightening winter evenings.  But then the [Stuttgart] cathedral was destroyed.  Thielicke wrote, ‘I can still see the towering torch of this venerable house of God.  . . . I stood there holding in my hand a key to a door that no longer existed.'”

The original Stuttgart Cathedral is located in Stuttgart-Bad-Canstatt. Its history goes back all the way to 1470. After massive destruction during the Second World War, the church was rebuilt in 1954/55.

The original Stuttgart Cathedral is located in Stuttgart-Bad-Canstatt. Its history goes back all the way to 1470. After massive destruction during the Second World War, the church was rebuilt in 1954/55.

     With Thielicke and the destruction of the Stuttgart Cathedral in mind, with reference to the impending threats to our country and the world in the 21st century, let us again turn briefly to my remarks before many of you in Indianapolis in 1996 in Creeds and Confessions as Liturgy.  The central question of both 1996 and 2014 is the same one posed by Thielicke 70 years ago to the German people.  It is the core question of all of history and eternity alike:  Who is Jesus Christ and Why and How did He become the Word [λόγος] Who Became Flesh and Dwelt Among Us? (John 1:14).  To effectively answer this question, each and every believer must once again “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints (Jude, verse 3).”  We can only contend when we are immersed in the knowledge of the Word of God and the Confessions of our Faith as the Holy Spirit of God directs during countless hours of personal and collective study.  We must avail ourselves of the Full Armor of God (Ephesians 6).

The Word (Logos) is God.

The Word (Logos) is God.

     The Biblical text from John’s Gospel for today demonstrates the humanity and divinity of the λόγος.  As we saw in my 1996 paper to this gathering in Indianapolis, the Ancient Church was not inventing its doctrine of the λόγος.  It was fighting for the maintenance of the Biblical witness to the identity of the λόγος against all heretical and apostate teachers with their false doctrine and witness.  In 1996, I stated:

     “If we assume the legitimacy of the Sola Scriptura today, and assume a commitment to the Lutheran Confessions as the normative explication of what the Bible teaches, an appropriate launching point for answering some of these raised questions may lie in what occurs first in the Book of Concord of 1580, namely the listing of the Three Ecumenical Creeds, or Three Chief Symbols of the Church as the foundational basis of all the Confessions which follow. This is important for several reasons.  First, the Confessions wanted to reiterate that their articles of faith were neither recent nor heretical, but were undergirded by the theological and historical foundations of the early Church. Second, it is noteworthy that the controversies of the second, third, and fourth centuries were consistently deemed applicable to the struggles of the Reformers in the sixteenth century. Third, if historical and theological struggles and issues of centuries two, three, and four continued to be relevant in the sixteenth, one might suspect the possibility of a prima facie relevance of those developments to a church under renewed attack from similar, in some cases identical forces, as we approach the beginning of the twenty first century. The writer of Ecclesiastes states that, ‘There is nothing new under the sun.’—this may well be his verdict on Biblical theology’s constantly recast conflict with false doctrine — fought time and again within the confines and context of redemptive history.”

     When you and I sing and say today all of the components of the Ancient Liturgy, which constantly employ Scripture and the ancient witness to the core teaching in all of Scripture regarding the identity and significance of the λόγος, we stand with our ancient brothers and sisters in Christ against the identical heresies and apostasies of Satan sown in the false teachers and deceivers of our time.  These range from the Clown Eucharists of the Episcopal, United Methodist, and ELCA liberals and universalists in our midst, to the Trivial Pursuits and cultural accommodationism of the Southern Baptist pastor in Houston two decades ago who conducted a “service” on Super Bowl Sunday vested in an NFL referee’s uniform and whistle. We stand with the Confessing Church of the Ages against the apostates of the “Reimagining Conference 1993” who blasphemed the Holy Trinity by worshiping the Goddess Sophia, and who venerated radical feminism and lesbianism even as the Conference banner in the sanctuary was an exquisitely embroidered picture of The Beast.  And we stand with our ancient counterparts as the Lutheran Reformers of the 16th century did, against the outright Montanism and exhibitionism of a “Prayer and Praise” service witnessed by people in this Conference Room 24 years ago at the Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minnesota.  The writer of Ecclesiastes indeed understood the verdict of history and linear time:  “There is nothing new under the sun.”

     John’s witness to the  λόγος is repristinated each time we sing the Kyrie, Agnus Dei, or Nunc Dimittis.  It is repristinated each time we confess our faith with the Apostles’, Nicene, or Athanasian Creed.  We encounter the λόγος in the mystery of the Eucharist tied to the Biblical Words of Institution of Christ.  We encounter λόγος in the Old Testament, New Testament Epistle, and New Testament Gospel readings.  He is a living reality, yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).  We deny λόγος when we bend to the whims of the post-Christian spirit of this dark age, embodied in the false teachers and teachings already enumerated.  

     And what a blessed Biblical witness to the  λόγος lies before us in John’s text today and throughout his Gospel!  The identity of the  λόγος is clearly stated in John’s prologue, even as it is through the entirety of the book woven around 7 Miracles and 7 Discourses emphasizing the linkage of the  λόγος to the I Am of the Old Testament (6:35, 48; 8:12; 9:5; 10:7, 9; 10:11, 14; 11:25; 14:6; 15: 1-5.).

Jesus Christ, the Logos. John, chapter 1.

Jesus Christ, the Logos. John, chapter 1.

     Klappert gives us the roadmap for understanding John’s Prologue.  He divides it into 3 sections:

     “ 1)  The pre-existent being of the λόγος (John 1: 1-4).  ‘In the beginning’ is the λόγος–not ‘at the beginning’ of Creation (Genesis 1:1), but in the ‘time before time’ of divine eternity–was the λόγος (pre-existence of the Word, John 1:1), the λόγος was with God (personal reference, John 1:2), indeed the ‘λόγος was God’ (essential divinity of the λόγος, John 1:1) .  By this λόγος , whereby the universe was created, men have their life and the benefit of light (John 1:3f.).  2)  The coming of the λόγος to the world of men and his incomprehensible rejection (John 1: 5-13).  The λόγος who came into the world, to whom John the Baptist bore witness (John 1: 6-8; in the Evangelist’s mind vv. 5ff. thus already hint at the Incarnation), was rejected by men in an incomprehensible way (John 1: 9-11), with the exception of those who came to faith and thus became children of God (John 1:12f.)  3)  The event of the incarnation of the λόγος and its redeeming significance (John 1: 14-18).  Without surrendering–indeed, rather, in the application of his essential divinity, the λόγος became a mortal man (sarx), took up residence amongst men, and, as the presence of God’s glory with men, signified the gift of God’s grace and covenant faithfulness to them (John 1: 14, 16), surpassing the OT revelation of the word in the commandment and becoming event in Jesus Christ (John 1:17f.).”    [λόγος: DNTT, vol. 3, pages 1081-1146, esp. p. 1115, B. Klappert, author; Colin Brown, editor ] 

     The Who is Jesus Christ? has been answered in John’s Prologue and in linear history in time and space.  The Why of Jesus Christ is also stated in the Prologue, and what is arguably the greatest summary statement in all of Scripture, found at the conclusion of the Evangelist’s Gospel:

     “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book:  but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name (John 20: 30-31).

     When we confess our Biblical faith through Creeds, Confessions, and Liturgy, we reaffirm the faith of the ages and  “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints (Jude, verse 3)”.  We stand with our Lord against the false witness of Caiphas, the Sanhedrin, and the mob which called for the release of Barabbas.  We stand with the Apostles in witness against the Jewish and Roman opponents of the Gospel in the first century.  We stand with the Ancient Fathers and Councils against the 5 heresies of Gnosticism, Marcionism, Montanism, Monarchianism, and Arianism that were chronicled for you in Indianapolis in 1996.  We stand with Luther and Chemnitz against Pope Leo X and the heresies of the Council of Trent in the 16th century.

     And we also stand against the evil forces and developments of our own day.  Our Pauline text from 2 Timothy 3: 1-5, and our Lord’s witness to the events of the future preceding his Second Coming in Matthew 24: 3-4 guarantee this.  Make no mistake about it.  You and I will be challenged and oppressed for our faith in Christ in ways not previously seen or encountered by most of us.  To  “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints (Jude, verse 3)” as our illustrious predecessors did, will require the ongoing presence and empowerment of the Holy Spirit beyond anything we have known before.  The Spirit’s leading and protection will be directly proportional to our involvement with the Word and with the Sacrament.  Our future pathway in faith in Christ is guaranteed to be the toughest and most taxing journey of our lives, even as the Blessed Return of our Lord stands at the end of that race.

     H.-C. Hahn notes this in DNTT.  The καιροὶ of “the final days” (2 Timothy 3: 1-5) is a “tension-laden time“.  καιροὶ is a “point of time, a moment” which “characterizes a critical situation, one which demands a decision, one into which man is perhaps led by fate.”  Used in a negative sense, it “implies danger”   [καιροὶ:  DNTT, vol. 3, pages 833-39; H.-C. Hahn, author; Colin Brown, editor].

     That danger is linked to the deception our Lord warned us would come in Matthew 24: 3-4  [πλανήσῃ:  DNTT, vol. 2, pages 457-61; W. Gunther, author; Colin Brown, editor].  W. Gunther indicates that the classical Greek usage of deception is inextricably linked to injustice (adikia) and evil (kakia).  He states that in the New Testament, the active verb for deception is used almost exclusively in an apocalyptic sense and of false teachers.  As an adjective, the term is used to describe deceitful spirits (I Timothy 4:1).  As a noun, it is used to describe a deceiver, an imposter, a false teacher. In the New Testament, the verb “to deceive” is used interchangeably with the verb “to destroy” (apollyo).  And Satan is described specifically as The Destroyer (Revelation 9:11).  H.-C. Hahn notes in quoting Oepke in DNTT, Vol. 1. pages 462-65 that we may reliably link deception and destruction in the New Testament sense asdefinitive destruction, not merely in the sense of the extinction of physical existence, but rather of an eternal plunge into Hades and a hopeless destiny of death.”

     We must be convinced, as John was on Patmos during his exile at the hands of Domitian (A. D. 81-96), that earthly exile is far better than experiencing this Second Death.

     Surely by now you know the drill.  These are the stakes.  This is the apocalyptic struggle of our time, soon to intensify as the fight of our lives, the fight of our souls, for everything we have ever believed and confessed in Creeds, Confessions, and Liturgy.  We will indeed, in these final days, “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints (Jude, verse 3).”

     As I began today with a story, I will uphold my reputation as The Storyteller by concluding with one.  This one goes back to Friday, December 14th, 2012.  I was on a United Arab Emirates flight which had departed Dubai for Houston, Texas.  In a way I have never quite experienced before, I witnessed something from the distant past, which took me back to some of the happiest days of my youth, preceding the hardships and tragedies of later years that often visit me–as they do all of us–in the darkest of our thoughts in troubled nights.  As my experience on the aircraft suddenly transported me in the speed of light to a time almost 4 decades prior in a reverse flight through linear time, I was simultaneously catapulted into eternity in the Kingdom of God, in the presence of the Triune God and all of the Saints of God by a forward thrust in linear time ended instantaneously by the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.  It goes something like this:

     The biggest surprise of the trip—was the return flight to Texas from Dubai on Emirates Airlines, after arriving in Dubai from Durban and waiting 4 hours in Dubai for the connection to Houston.      I always prefer aisle seats on aircraft, for easy access to the restroom and to walk around when permitted, especially on flights of 25 hour duration.  I had forgotten to request them of Emirates Airlines while in Durban for the return to the United States and managed to be wedged into a window seat in the very back of the Boeing 777, in Seat 50 K.      There were 3 advantages to this assignment I had not planned on.  The first is that Seat 50 K on a Boeing 777 on Emirates Airlines has one literally right across from the restroom facility, and with easy access to the back of the aircraft to procure additional snacks and drinks from the flight attendants in between peak service times.  The second proved to be a delightful encounter with an African American woman from Texas seated next to me, who was a schoolteacher in Dubai.  She had a great personality and plenty of inside information on living and working in that locale in the United Arab Emirates.      The third was a ringside seat to scenery of my sojourn of many years ago:  Iran.        Unlike the flight from Houston to Dubai on my way to South Africa, where the plane straddled the Iran-Iraq border as it split the very middle of the Persian Gulf at night on the approach to Dubai (I did see the coastal lights of Bandar Abbas from the left side of the aircraft and my aisle seat of that evening), the return journey took the interested passenger through the heart of modern Iran and ancient Persia.      There they were again as I proceeded in a South to North fashion through the central corridor:  the combination of clay-colored desert and jagged mountains with occasional snow caps beneath me as I traveled an aerial salient with the Shiraz-Isfahan-Tehran axis to my left (west), and the Kerman-Mashhad axis to my right (east); I followed the plane’s crossing of the Kerman to Yazd railroad tracks below, and then the stark, haunting beauty of the Kavir-e-Lut to the east, followed by the eventual appearance of the Dasht-e-Kavirdesert (The Salt Desert) in the country’s north-central interior.      Only one question remained.  Would I see Tehran once more after an absence of many years, or would this be the exclusive privilege of the denizens of the left side of the aircraft looking westward as we continued our northern route toward the Caspian Sea?        The answer arrived soon enough.  I would not witness Iran’s capital from Emirates Airlines Flight EK 211 traveling ponderously at an altitude of just under 30,000 feet in a strange arc from Dubai to Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Texas.      What I did see in a marvelous panorama as the plane banked slightly was a view of snow enshrouded Mount Damavand (elevation 18,406 feet/Kuh-e-Damavand, elevation 5671 metres) as the aircraft approached it, and finally did a direct flyover.  There was another gift of the Divine to me while seated in seat 50 K:  when approaching Damavand, I had a brief, but clear glimpse of Lar Valley (Daryacheh-ye-Sadd-e-Lar).

Damavand in Winter, just as I witnessed it on December 14, 2012 on Emirates Airlines.

Damavand in Winter, just as I witnessed it on December 14, 2012 on Emirates Airlines.

     The first American pastor to serve in Persia described Lar Valley and summer camping in a book entitled,Persia and the Persians.  My late Father and I would camp and fish there a lifetime ago, in the summertimes during my visits to my parents in between undergraduate college years in the United States.  The nighttime sky there is permanently etched in my mind.  One does not see stars there, but entire galaxies and planets seemingly close enough to reach out and touch.  Sleeping in pup tents and sleeping bags is facilitated by the stillness of the Valley in the nocturnal hours, permeated only by the incessant but soothing presence of the voice of God in the form of “the rush of many waters” (Revelation 1:15).        The words of Hafez in the 14th century came to consciousness:

Lie down beside the flowing stream

and see life passing by and know

that of the world’s transient nature

this one sign is enough for us.

     After passing over Damavand, I looked at my watch and the GPS system screen in front of me in seat 50 K.  It was 0210 Central time in Texas in the United States on Friday, December 14th.  Tehran time was exactly 1140 on the same day in history.      All of a sudden, I was no longer a middle aged man of 57 in transit from South Africa to America.  I was a young 19 year old college kid again, fishing with my Father and swapping stories with him at night in the Sadd-e-Lar.  I was hiking in the hills at the foot of Mount Damavand in early summer.  I was playing center field again on the Air Force Detachment 333 fast pitch softball team playing against the U. S. Army team in the stadium at Gulf District, the American military outpost off Saltanatabad Avenue in north Tehran in the Pahlavi years.  I saw myself wandering around in great wonderment in the ruins of Persepolis, searching for the treasures contained in the cities of Isfahan and Shiraz, running the Vacation Bible School for kids in the summertime atmosphere of Community Church of Tehran, embarking on a 7 mile run at 0500 beginning each day from my parents’ apartment in the city, or approaching the tomb of Cyrus the Great at Pasargadae with the respect accorded to one mentioned by the Old Testament repeatedly as a prototype and forerunner of Jesus Christ, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (2 Chronicles 22-23; Ezra, chapters 1, 3, 4, 5, 6; Isaiah, chapters 44 and 45; and Daniel, chapters 1, 6, 10).

Cyrus the Great's tomb at Pasargadae, Iran is captured on a winter night most magnificently by the astrophotography of Oskin D. Zakarian of Tehran.

Cyrus the Great’s tomb at Pasargadae, Iran is captured on a winter night most magnificently by the astrophotography of Oskin D. Zakarian of Tehran.

       It was so long ago.  Yet it was only yesterday.  And it all came flooding back in a handful of minutes on Emirates Flight EK 211 between the United Arab Emirates and the State of Texas.      There was one especially strange manifestation during this brief gift of God 30,000 feet above earth.  Immediately upon crossing a brief segment of the Caspian Sea in leaving Iranian airspace, the perfect visibility I had possessed from Bandar Abbas to Lar Valley and Damavand had absolutely vanished.  While the GPS screen informed me of the Boeing 777′s impending overflight of Baku, Azerbaijan, a solid sheet of impenetrable white clouds completely obscured any view from above.  This sudden departure of visibility continued through the Balkans and most of Europe.  Had the Hidden Hand of Creation, Redemption, and theNew Heaven and the New Earth kept this cloud cover north of the Iranian border for an appointed purpose?      I was neither irritated nor disappointed in what I did not view from Baku northward.  I saw what God wanted me to see, from the humble vantage point of Seat 50 K in Economy Class on Emirates Airlines Flight EK 211.  The perpetual movement of Time and the relentless advance of Biological Age in decades speeding by with the speed of light, had momentarily halted.  Eternity was in full view, an Eternity firmly in the center of the Kingdom of God, occupied by His Saints past, present, and future.  What I witnessed in Iranian airspace on December 14th is a promissory note promising all good things to come for the true Israel of God bathed in the blood of the Lamb.      Spring is indeed near.

     Spring is indeed near, for all the Saints of God on this beautiful day in Wisconsin in June of the Year of Our Lord, 2014.  Be sure of this! And may the God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ bless you today, tomorrow, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).

A River Runs Through Iran's Lar Valley.  It presages the soothing presence of the voice of God in the form of “the rush of many waters” (Revelation 1:15).

A River Runs Through Iran’s Lar Valley. It presages the soothing presence of the voice of God in the form of “the rush of many waters” (Revelation 1:15).