Sent to Serve: The Bearing of Christ’s Humanity on a Theology of the Church’s Mission (with reference to T.F. Torrance)

Picking up where I left off in considering a theology of mission with reference to T.F. Torrance, in this post I would like to discuss some of the implications of taking Christ’s own incarnate mission — as testified and exemplified by the apostles — as the starting point (or more precisely, as the foundational level of theological reflection stemming from our evangelical encounter with the gospel). Previously we arrived at the conclusion that:

All order in the Christian Church is a participation in His obedient Humanity—whether that order be an ordering of its daily life, daily worship, or daily fellowship, or daily mission. The whole of the Church’s life is ordered through participation in the ordered life of Jesus Christ, the New Adam, the Head of the New Creation.[1]

Moving on from there, T.F. Torrance draws out the significance of this point:

The form which this re-ordering in Jesus Christ takes is the form of a Servant. It was through His obedience within our disobedient humanity that He restored us to order and peace in God…. Thus as Jesus was obedient in the Father, who sent Him to fulfil His Will, so the Church is ordered in its obedience to Christ who sent it to fulfil Hise303e2027514497aaa0603a129a3eb42_XL Will. The obedience of the Church to Christ is not simply an imitation of His obedience but a fulfilling of God’s Will through participation in Christ’s obedience….

The Church shares in that through the Spirit, so that its life is ordered through the Communion of the Spirit. But the Church that shares in that order of the new Creation is the Church that is sent by Christ out into history, to live its life in the physical and temporal existence that awaits redemption in the second advent of Christ. The Church in the midst of the old creation and all its disorder shares in the new creation and its new order. By sheer participation in the empirical life of this fallen world which comes under the divine judgment, and therefore the divine law, the Church participates in worldly forms and laws and cannot escape from them. It is sent to have its mission right there under law, but under law to share in the new order in-the-law to Christ through the Spirit….

Another way of putting that is to say that all order in the historical Church is essentially eschatological. By “eschatological” here two things are meant: (a) that order carries within it the tension between the new and the old; and (b) the tension between the present (including the past) and the future. True order in the Church of Christ is order that points above and beyond its historical forms to its new order in the risen Christ, and points beyond its present forms to the future manifestation of its order in the new creation. All order in the Church is thus ambivalent and provisional: it is order that visibly reflects its life hid with Christ in God, and order that exercises a provisional service in time, until Christ comes again….

All of this is wonderfully enshrined in the Lord’s Supper. “This do in remembrance of Me. As often as ye do this, ye do proclaim the Lord’s death till He come.” In the Supper the Church’s life and ministry is so ordered that it is bound to the historical Jesus, to His death on the Cross, but at that very point in time the Church is given to have communion with the risen and ascended Lord and to share in His New Humanity, and from the Supper it is sent out to proclaim that until He comes again….

As often as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper we proclaim His death till He come, we receive anew His death and resurrection into the existence of the Church, and so bear about the dying of the Lord Jesus in the body of the Church that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in the that body. Through the Eucharist, therefore, death worketh in the Church and its members and orders. If through the Eucharist the Spirit of Christ is in the Church, then its “body” is dead, mortified by the death of Christ… It is only when through the eucharistic enactment the judgment inherent in the death of Christ is allowed to break up the hardened forms of the Church’s liturgy, into which eschatology is continually being transmuted, that the Church can truly serve the Lord it worships, and at the same time hold out life to the world.[2]

These are densely-packed paragraphs, but they can be helpfully summarized in the single statement that the church’s mission, re-ordered in Christ, is basically and essentially that of “service”. The church, sent out into the world by Christ, is called fundamentally to take the form of a servant — of the Suffering Servant, in fact — in humility, obedience, and suffering witness. The church cannot exalt in its glory, it cannot will to power as a lord, and it cannot claim to have arrived at perfection and so point people to itself. The entirety of its life and mission must be cruciform, as even the apostles lived and labored as “the scum of the earth, the refuse of all things” (1 Cor. 4:13).

The reasons for this are many. First, the church does not send itself on mission, rather it is sent by its Lord Jesus Christ. This means it must always adopt a posture of obedient submission. Second, the Lord who sends his church on mission is the invisible Lord in virtue of his ascension, by means of which he directs his church back to his historical life as the place where he meets it and from which he sends it out. Inasmuch as he conducted his historical existence as the Suffering Servant rather than as the Exalted King, the church cannot conduct its own existence in any other way.

Third, the very fact that the church which is sent on mission into the passing form of this world while at the same time sharing in the perfected humanity of the new creation in Christ means that it finds itself in an irreducible eschatological tension. On the one hand, the church has been given to taste the life and power of the age to come, yet on the other hand its field of mission is the present evil age in whose forms it must continue to exist. Its life is hid with Christ in God, yet its life is hid and is yet to be fully revealed. For this reason, the church cannot at present claim to possess the fullness of its future glory, nor can it claim the authority to reign upon the earth that it will one day exercise. Thus, the church is fundamentally a servant, and that of the future in the midst of the present.

Finally, the sacraments given to the church testify to its exclusively servant nature. The Eucharist especially makes this clear, as the church is continually called to the Lord’s table where it partakes of Christ in the form of his broken body and shed blood. The reality of baptism attests that its incorporation into Christ is a once-for-all event, and thus the Eucharist is not repeated for this purpose. Rather, it is repeated “until the Lord comes”, for as long as its existence is tied up with the passing and sinful forms of this world, it must continually come under the judgment of the cross and crucify the old man so as to put on the new. It is only as a repentant church that it is sent out on mission, and thus its mission can only ever take the form of an “unworthy servant” (Luke 17:10).

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[1] T.F. Torrance, Conflict and Agreement in the Church, vol. 2 (London: Lutterworth, 1960), 16.

[2] Ibid., 16-18, 26, 197-198.

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Heralds of the Ascended Lord: The Gospel as the Foundation of a Scientific Missiology with T.F. Torrance

As T.F. Torrance would remind us, theological thinking must be scientific, i.e. faithful to the object in question. This is no different with respect to a theology of mission. But in order to do so, we must work, as it were, “from below”, from the level of our hearing of the voice of Christ in the word of the gospel and working up from there. This is the way in which we come to know of the mission of the church in the first place, and so it is here that we must begin in order to develop a missiology that does not require from the start concepts foreign to the gospel to get off the ground.

The word of the gospel is the foundation of a scientific missiology. This is so because it is the means by which the Lord and Savior of the church, Jesus Christ, commanded his followers to carry out their commission. In Acts 1:8, Jesus states that his disciples are to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. They are his witnesses — which means that they must discharge their mission in submission to the Lord who sent them — and theyascen_kulmbach are his witnesses — which means they must do so by announcing the good news of what he has accomplished. Yet immediately after giving them this charge, Luke recounts that Jesus ascended into heaven and was hidden from their sight. The significance of this is elucidated by Torrance:

Jesus Christ has withdrawn Himself from sight, from on-going empirical history, withdrawn Himself from contemporaneous contact within history for reasons of mercy. Full manifestation of the risen Lord now in all His glory and majesty would mean the immediate end of this age, the end of the world, the final judgment…

Moreover, by withdrawing Himself from sight the ascended Lord sends the Church back to the historical Jesus, to the Gospel story of the incarnation, public ministry, death and resurrection as the only locus where He may be contacted. If Jesus had continued to be with His Church all through history as the contemporary of every generation, the Cross would have been relegated into the past and treated as a passing episode, and not as the fact of final and supreme and central import. The whole historical life and revelation of Jesus would have lost much of its significance. But He has veiled His present glory, so that if we would find Him we must go back to the historical Jesus. That is the only place where we may meet Him, but there we make contact with Him through the Cross at the point where the final act of God regarding sin has been accomplished. There is no other road to the Parousia of the risen Jesus, the Lord of Glory, except through the Jesus of Humiliation, the Jesus of Bethlehem and Judaea and Galilee and Calvary.[1]

Of all aspects of the our present position in redemptive history, perhaps the most obvious fact is that its Lord is not physically visible in human history as he was prior to his ascension. Although it may seem strange to take the ascension as a starting point for a theology of mission, Torrance rightly emphasizes that “[t]he basic fact” of the apostolic witness and ministry which we encounter in the New Testament “is the Person of Jesus Christ, the risen Lord ascended to kingly rule over all in heaven and earth.”[2] The ascension is, as it were, the gospel in present tense. While the events of Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection are past and his final advent is yet future, his ascended reign is ongoing even now, and thus it is with this basic fact — his apparent absence and final command to his disciples — that characterizes the present time and drives us to the task of defining the church’s role while it awaits its Lord’s return.

Moreover, as Torrance insightfully explains, the fact that the church heralds the reign of One who has hidden himself from view means that the church (and the world to which it witnesses) must continually return to the historical Christ of the gospel message in order to meet the ascended Christ. This is not to say, of course, that there are two Christs, but only that it is Christ’s own design that the saving import of his life, death, and resurrection be given the proper place that it deserves in the church’s witness. Lest his continuing bodily presence in his glorified state detract attention from the climactic events of his atoning work, he has withdrawn himself from view such that, as Torrance emphasizes, the cross becomes the place in which we may savingly encounter Christ ourselves and then lead others to him as well. This encounter thus occurs through the very witness with which Jesus charged his disciples just moments before his ascension.

Thus, in virtue of the “basic fact” of Christ’s ascension, the gospel message is, as stated above, the foundation upon which the church’s understanding of its gospel mission must be built. The church carries out its mission under the authority of the ascended Christ’s command, and that command constrains the church to constantly return to the message of the cross as the means by which that mission must be carried out. So what exactly is that message that serves as the foundation of the church’s understanding and practice of its mission? Torrance summarizes it as follows:

In His birth, life, death and resurrection Jesus Christ finished the work the Father gave Him to do. He the eternal Son and Word of God, by whom all things were made and in whom all things cohere, became flesh, a Man among men, incorporating Himself into the humanity He had made but which had alienated itself from God through sin. It was our corrupt human nature that He took upon Him, but in taking it and in living out His holy life in it, He condemned sin in the flesh and saved what He had assumed, healing and sanctifying the mother through whom He was born, the sinners with whom He identified Himself and to whom He communicated His grace, the company of men and women which He built around Him as His own body, loving them and giving Himself for them, and in them for all mankind.

In this oneness with us, wrought out in birth, in life and in death, He offered in Himself to the Father a sacrifice of obedience, bearing our judgment and offering us in Himself to the judgment of the Father, that through His life of obedience in our place where we are disobedient, and through His judgment in our place where we have no justification, He might destroy sin in our body of sin, death in our body of death, and raise us up in Himself to righteousness and new life, presenting us before God as those whom He had brothered and redeemed, and therefore as sons and daughters of the Father in Him. 

In His resurrection and ascension, Jesus Christ was ‘raised up’ and ‘made to sit with God’ in heavenly places, that is, finally installed in His messianic office as the Christ enthroned as King and Priest and Prophet at the right hand of God. As Head of the Church, and of mankind, and Lord of all things, He rules from on high, ever lives as our Mediator and Advocate before God in the eternal power of His priesthood and sacrifice, and through the blessing of His Spirit poured out upon men sends forth His healing and creating Word for the reconciliation and recreation of mankind. He is the New Man, the New Adam, the New Creation, full of Life and life-giving power. It is through union and communion with Him actualised in the Spirit that the Church is quickened into life as His living Body on earth and is empowered in its apostolic mission to be His representative among men.[3]

Now it is no accident that Torrance presented this gospel summary in the to his essay on “The Mission of the Church”. It is from this point, therefore, that we must move forward.

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[1] T.F. Torrance, Conflict and Agreement in the Church, vol. 1: Order and Disorder (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1996), 311.

[2] Ibid., 308.

[3] T.F. Torrance, “The Mission of the Church”, Scottish Journal of Theology, no. 19 (1966): 129-130.

Serving the World as the Body of Christ: Exploring the First Level of a Scientific Missiology with T.F. Torrance

Continuing my engagement with T.F. Torrance toward what might be called a “scientific” missiology, I move further into the first level in which we come to understand the mission of the church in terms of its historical manifestation, of the story of redemption as it is recounted in Scripture. Central to this story, as Torrance would have it, is the notion of the church as “Body of Christ”, yet the meaning and significance of this can only be comprehended within the entire sweep of the biblical drama. Torrance writes:

The Church does not derive from below but from above, but it does not exist apart from the people that make up its membership or apart from the fellowship they have with the life of God. The Church is a divine creation but in the divine economy it did not come into being automatically with the creation of the world or all at once with the establishment in the world of a human society. The Church was formed in history as God called and entered into communion with His people and in and through them embodied and worked out by mighty acts of grace His purpose of love which He brought at last to its fulfilment in Jesus Christ.

While there is only one people and Church of God throughout all ages from the beginning of creation to the end, there are three stages or phases of its life. It took a preparatory form before the Incarnation as in the covenant mercies of the Body-of-Christ-300x295Father one people was called and separated out as the instrument through which all peoples were to be blessed; it was given a new form in Jesus Christ who gathered up and reconstructed the one people of God in Himself, and poured out His Spirit upon broken and divided humanity that through His atoning life and death and resurrection all men might be reconciled to God and to one another, sharing equally in the life and love of the Father as the new undivided race; but it is yet to take on its final and eternal form when Christ comes again to judge and renew His creation, for then, the Church which now lives in the condition of humiliation and in the ambiguous forms of this age, will be manifested as the new creation without spot or wrinkle, eternally serving and sharing in the glory of God. 

Because Jesus Christ through the Spirit dwells in the midst of the Church on earth, making it His own Body or His earthly and historical form of existence, it already partakes of the eternal life of God that freely flows out through Him to all men. Because its existence is rooted in the sending of the Son by the Father to be the Saviour of the world, the Church lives its divinely given life in history as the servant of Christ sent out by Him to proclaim the Gospel of God’s love to the whole world and to be in itself as the reconciled people of God the provisional form of the new creation.

It is therefore the mission of the Church by the witness of its word and life to bring to all nations and races the message of hope in the darkness and dangers of our times, and to summon them to the obedience of the Gospel, that the love of God in Jesus Christ may be poured out upon them by the Spirit, breaking down all barriers, healing all divisions and gathering them together as one universal flock to meet the coming of the Great Shepherd, the one Lord and Saviour of all. [“The Foundation of the Church”, Scottish Journal of Theology 16, no. 2 (1963): 113-114]

Torrance’s account is succinct and dense, for here it constitutes the introduction and overview to his essay “The Foundation of the Church”. What Torrance goes on to recount is the birth and growth of the church through its three main stages: the church as Israel, the church as the Body of Christ, and the church as the glorified new humanity of God. Torrance denotes the first stage as preparatory, precisely because its goal was the coming of the Savior who would represent and embody the people of God in himself, thereby carrying it through the throes of death and into the glory of resurrection. The entire history of Israel was an ever-deepening union between a holy God and a sinful people, a combustible combination that eventually resulted in a judgment so total that only one Israelite was, so to speak, left standing: Jesus Christ, the One who represented the Many. Yet this One was no mere Israelite, indeed he was also the God of Israel, finally and fully united to humanity in a perfect and indissoluble union.

Thus, it was only after the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ in whom the reconciliation of God and humanity was realized that the church could be so united to God through Christ and in the Spirit that it could be called Christ’s “Body”. As this Body, the church is charged, while it awaits the consummation of redemption during the time of Christ’s hiddenness in heaven, with serving as his servant and herald to all the world, announcing the good news of his achievement in the flesh and on the behalf of all people. It is precisely because the church exists and serves as the Body of Christ that it must be and do nothing except which its Head is and does. Hence the need for a scientific missiology: the mission of the church must exclusively derive from and strictly conform to the mission of Christ, yet in a way proper to its dependent and submissive relation as Body.

Now there is still much further work that needs to be done in order to fully define and provide practical direction for the mission of the church, yet this is the essential starting point. The church of the present is the body of Christ, reborn from Israel through the death and resurrection of Christ and united to him by the Spirit, yet still awaiting the consummation of redemption at the parousia of Christ and the resurrection of the dead.

How Not to Read the Bible: Marcionite Edition

For this installment of “How Not to Read the Bible”, we consider (so that we can be careful to avoid!) a particularly egregious error in biblical interpretation that gave rise to one of the first heresies in the church: Marcionism. Historical scholar J.N.D. Kelly describes the second-century debate:

The orthodox assumption of the underlying unity between the old and new dispensations did not meet with acceptance with all Christians. It was repudiated, as we have seen, by Marcion, who refused to admit the Old Testament as a Christian book at all. As a history of mankind and of the Jewish race it might be entirely accurate, and it might have provisional validity as a code of strict righteousness; but its author must have been the Demiurge, not the God of love revealed by Christ, and it must have been utterly superseded by the new law proclaimed by the Saviour…. Views like his were inevitable wherever the Gnostic distinction between 640px-Byzantinischer_Maler_des_10._Jahrhunderts_001the unknown supreme God and the Demiurge prevailed, and made it necessary for the Catholic Church to justify her own position more explicitly. Not without reason has it been claimed that ‘the real battle in the second century centred round the position of the Old Testament’.

The outlines of this apologetic were traced by Justin, when he argued that, for example, Leah and Rachel prefigured the Synagogue and the Church, or that the polygamy of the patriarchs was a ‘mystery’…. The fullest statement, however, of the orthodox position is to be found in Irenaeus, one of whose favourite themes is that the Law of Moses and the grace of the New Testament, both adapted to different sets of conditions, were bestowed by one and the same God for the benefit of the human race. If the Old Testament legislation appears less perfect than the New, this is because mankind had to undergo a progressive development, and the old law was designed for its earlier stages. Hence we should not conclude that it was the product of a blind Demiurge and that the good God came to abolish it; in the Sermon on the Mount Christ fulfilled it by propounding a more intimate and perfect justice.

As for those passages which were stumbling-blocks to the Marcionites (e.g. the story of Lot, or of the spoiling of the Egyptians), what was required was to look for the deeper significance of which they were figures or types. Similarly, so far from knowing only an inferior creator God, the prophets had full cognizance of all the incidents of the Incarnation, and were fully apprised of the Saviour’s teaching and passion. The only difference is that prophecy, by its very nature, was obscure and enigmatic, divinely pointing to events which could only be accurately delineated after their historical realization.

From this time onwards the continuity of the two Testaments becomes a commonplace with Christian writers…. If there is a difference, it does not spring from any contrariety of the Old Testament to the New, but from the fact that the latter is a drawing out of what is contained in the former, as the mature fruit is a development of its seed. In Origen’s eyes ‘the dogmas common to the so-called Old and New Testaments’ form a symphony; if the one precedes and the other follows Christ’s corporeal manifestation, there is no iota of difference between them. No doubt the prophets’ mode of knowledge was different from that of the apostles, for they contemplated the mysteries of the Incarnation before their accomplishment; but that was a quite accidental point. The Christians who will assist at Christ’s second coming will know no more of it, though their knowledge will be different in kind, than the apostles who foretold it; and similarly the insight of the apostles must not be reckoned superior to that of Moses and the prophets. The way was thus early paved for the classic doctrine which Augustine was to formulate in the epigram: ‘In the Old Testament the New is concealed, in the New the Old is revealed’. [J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines Fifth, Revised., (London; New Delhi; New York; Sydney: Bloomsbury, 1977), 67-69]

In a nutshell, Marcion’s heresy depended on a gross misreading of Scripture that presupposed a fundamental discontinuity between what would later be called the Old and New Testaments. This discontinuity was, in turn, funded by a disjunction (typical in Gnostic thought) between the Creator God — the God revealed to the people of Israel — and the God revealed in Jesus Christ and proclaimed in the gospel. This inevitably led to a fracturing of creation and redemption, the latter being understood as a liberation from and a leaving behind of the former.

The church fathers, by contrast, adamantly insisted that the God revealed in Jesus Christ is none other than the God of Israel. The Hebrews Scriptures do not attest to a different, inferior, or less loving deity; rather they point to Jesus Christ as their ultimate fulfillment. As Jesus himself taught his disciples: “’These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem'” (Luke 24:44-47).

It is not uncommon to hear people still today describe their perception of the New Testament as revealing a “God of love” whereas the Old Testament reveals a “God of wrath”. This is nothing but pure Marcionism. Yet even if we do not read the Bible like full-blown Marcionists, it is possible to unwittingly adopt an approach to Scripture that is essentially the same. Whenever we read Scripture — especially the Old Testament — without seeing Christ in all of its parts, we become de facto Marcionists. Whenever we teach or preach the Old Testament as though it were a compendium of moral examples to imitate rather than as a witness to the person and work of Jesus Christ, we are leading those who listen to us down the path that ends in Marcionism. Whenever we avoid the Old Testament because we are not quite sure what to do with it, it is likely that we are operating with quasi-Marcionist presuppositions. Whenever we think of God in a way not governed by his self-revelation in Christ, we give off the aroma of Marcionism. Whenever we view creation with contempt or indifference, or whenever we make the Christian hope all about “leaving this world behind” and “flying away to glory”, we are embracing a Marcionist eschatology. I could go on, but hopefully these examples serve as sufficient warning.

So let’s not read the Bible like Marcionists: keep Jesus at the center of everything!

The Intensive Presence of God’s Future: Karl Barth and the Christological Goal of Old Testament Revelation

Many people criticize Swiss theologian Karl Barth for presumably being overly Christocentric in his approach to interpreting Scripture and doing theology. Barth, so it is argued, forces biblical texts and dogmatic concepts into an ostensibly prefabricated Christological mold, thus “seeing Christ” in places where he actually does not appear. Leaving aside the issue of whether or not it is even possible to be too Christocentric, this kind of criticism simply does not hold up to scrutiny, especially when we consider the exegetical sections that Barth intersperses between larger blocks of theological exposition in the Church Dogmatics. The following passage, taken from CI/2 (London; New York: T&T Clark, 2004, 95-101), demonstrates how Barth is willing to let the Old Testament speak for itself without applying a flat Christological hermeneutic. In fact, it is precisely as Barth seeks to listen to the Old Testament on its own terms that he finds himself compelled to acknowledge the “intensive presence” of “God’s future” which culminates, ultimately and only, in Jesus Christ. In order to see this, it is (unfortunately) necessary to quote a rather lengthy section, yet one that rewards a full and careful reading. Barth writes:

There is an eschatological thread in the Old Testament in line with which, as the Old Testament recognises and explicitly states, the covenant of God with man comes to be realised, and the hiddenness and revelation of God beyond the actual event attested in the Old Testament is primarily future event. The eschatological character of the divine reconciliation and revelation does not mean any negation of its presence, either here or in the New Testament…. [I]s not God’s future the most intensive presence, incomparably more intensive than anything we regard as present? We have seen with what intensity God’s covenant and hiddenness in the Old Testament point to God’s coming. In this very intensity they are already present, and Abraham, Moses and the prophets are recipients of revelation in the full sense of the term. But we still have to put it in this way, that they receive the revelation of Yahweh as those who wait for it and hasten toward it….

The point is this. Of a whole series of ideas which have decisive significance for the world of the Old Testament, we may safely say that to understand them correctly in the sense of the texts, we have to know them from two aspects, like the winged altars of the Middle Ages. In front there is presented to us a definite aspect of the covenant and of the hiddenness of God in a definite present of historical time. But from behind there is Screen-Shot-2014-01-07-at-3.45.55-PMpresented to us at the same time, in terms of the same or related concepts, the corresponding aspect of fulfilled time, the finished work of God to come….

When, for example, the Old Testament speaks of the “people” or of “Israel” or of “Judah”, the primary meaning is, of course, the sum-total of the descendants of the sons of Jacob, with whom as such the covenant was made at Sinai. But at once the separation of the ten northern tribes from the two southern suggests that this primary idea of “people” will not carry all that is meant in the Old Testament by God’s people, the chosen people. A people within the people, as it were, is the people which is meant in the divine covenant and participates in its fulfilment. But we are still involved only with the primary idea if we regard Judah-Benjamin as this people, compared with whom North Israel finally disappears from history. For Judah-Benjamin is not this people, but as their own prophets say, a converted “holy remnant,” spared in the judgment. Who belongs to this remnant? Who are now God’s people? The adherents of a prophetic community of disciples? A community of the faithful congregating about the temple? The few righteous who walk in the way of Yahweh’s commandments? Yes and No. Yes, because actually such a people is discernible in the foreground; No, because prophetic exhortation and hope do not remain with this people, because later prophets like Jeremiah and Deutero-Isaiah speak again of a “people,” of Jerusalem, even of Israel as a whole. The people within the people, the genuine Israel, is obviously not identical either with the sum-total of Jacob’s descendants or with any section of this sum. But the genuine Israel, elect, called and finally blessed by Yahweh, is merely typified in both, and remains a goal beyond the history of either. In the strictest sense this people is ahead of itself in time. It has still to be seen what this people really is.

When the Old Testament speaks of the “land” promised and then given to this people, the primary meaning, of course, simply is the land of Canaan commended to the fathers by God. But, again, whatever the qualities of this geographical entity may have been at that time, as such they are wholly unsuited to exhaust the full meaning that lies in the conception of the promised land. When we look beyond the conception of a land “flowing with milk and honey,” to the promises associated with it (particularly when things were really not going well in this land), our gaze is necessarily directed to the paradise lost and restored which is to be the dwelling-place of this people, to the miraculously renewed earth upon which this people will some day live amid the other happily and peaceably united peoples. Thus the “land” is certainly Palestine, but with equal certainty, in and along with this land, there is meant the quite different land which is not actually visible in the history of Israel, because it is its goal, because it is therefore outside it. The one land is waiting for the other.

When the Old Testament speaks of the “temple,” by that is assuredly meant the house in Jerusalem which David wished to build for the Lord and which Solomon did build for Him as His abode, and therefore as a place of prayer and sacrifice for this people. But this temple could be destroyed and rebuilt and destroyed again, without losing anything of the intensity of its significance. What it is and is not in the foreground is governed by the temple of the future in the background, which, built according to Isaiah not by men but by God Himself, will stand and shine upon some quite other mount of God, to which some day not only Israel but the nations will make pilgrimage. It is from the standpoint of its future that the temple at Jerusalem is what it is.

What does “lordship of God” mean in the Old Testament? First, of course, the present fact, as such apparently of infinite significance, that this people belongs to Yahweh, is ruled, punished and rewarded in its destinies by Yahweh, has therefore as a whole and in all its members to obey Yahweh’s instructions and commands. Can there be anything more here, a supreme background? Yes, here particularly, and it is quite understandable that attempts have been made to concentrate in the idea of the “complete lordship of God” the entire eschatology of the Old Testament. For at this very point everything present is to be regarded from the standpoint of its own future. Is it not at present bounded on all sides by what is before our eyes, the fact that this people belongs to Yahweh, that He exercises power over them, that they have to listen to Him? Does not the hope necessarily arise of the Kingdom without end? Not only does this hope actually arise, but it clearly gives power and possibility to faith in God’s lordship even in this very present moment. It is by future accomplishment that God’s people lives even in the imperfection of its present situation and government. And it never sees its fulfilment. Its presence seems, on the contrary, to grow more imperfect on every side. At all events, the political equivalent of the Kingdom of God in the external power and position of this people grows more and more insignificant. But in the same proportion it seems to be the more definitely aware of that which is the goal and boundary of His ways, namely, that God shall put all His enemies under His feet. His lordship is to be established as much over the innermost heart of His people as over the whole world.

What is the meaning of “judgment” in the Old Testament? In the first instance judgment is executed quite concretely and with disturbing frequency in the form of great national disasters, from the plague of serpents in the wilderness to the destruction of Jerusalem. This is the dreadful picture in the foreground, from which according to the Old Testament very few generations of this people were entirely spared. But apart from the very real picture of slaughtered and burned towns and villages, of fields full of slain, of long processions of exiles—apart from all this there is no knowledge of what “judgment” means in the Old Testament. And yet the Old Testament thought of judgment does not derive its seriousness and gravity from this source. For something far more dreadful is at the back of it all, the end of God’s love, the rejection of Israel, and over and above, the burning wrath of God upon all nations, the judgment of the world. This is not present; strictly speaking, it is future. But it is a matter of this future in the present. The prophets look beyond the flames which, kindled by hostile men, destroy Samaria and Jerusalem, but also in the end Nineveh and Babylon, to see this quite different, unquenchable flame. And they were speaking of it, of this background, of this future judgment, when they referred so threateningly and definitely to the foreground.

The most important of the ideas we have to mention is that of the “king.” The king is in the first instance and as such the autocrat who rules at a given time in Jerusalem, one of the smaller or smallest among the many of his kind in the Near East of that day. But we have already been told that the king is at the same time one of the outstanding instruments of the divine covenant. If any figure stands strikingly in the shadow of the divine hiddenness, it is that of the king. That is to say, this figure, too, points beyond itself. It is probably an old tradition that David already conceived of himself as the type of the righteous man, one “that ruleth over men, that ruleth in the fear of God, and is as the light of the morning when the sun riseth, a morning without clouds, when the grass springeth out of the earth through the clear shining after the rain” (2 Sam. 23:1–7). This righteous king, who is at once threatened and promised in the future by the existence of the present king, is the Messiah, the king of Israel, nay the world king “at the end of the days.” Once more selection is effected as in the case of the “people”; for the kings of Samaria do not share in this hope, but only those of Jerusalem. Even here the lineage of David seems often enough to be broken as regards this preparation for the coming king; the king for the moment, even if counted among the “good” kings, frequently seems to be little more than a symbol of this lineage of David….

What is involved in Messianic expectation is not an intensifying but a sheer transcending of present political experience. It comes to this, that the conception of the king in particular can be described as the central form of Messianic expectation, but as such it is clearly too narrow to express all that is to be said of the expected bringer of salvation. The “servant” in Deutero-Isaiah is much less a king than a prophet, and the son of David in Ps. 110 and the tsemach in Zech. 6 is priest and king at once. The “son of man” appearing in the clouds of heaven in Dan. 7 shows all the characteristics of a ruler, but, naturally, the ruler who makes an end of the world powers and of world power as such. If the interpretation of the Book of Enoch is applicable, he is no less than the first man returning in glory—first also in a supreme sense even as compared with Adam. And the functions of the expected One, namely, a victory which is not preceded by a struggle (the Messiah does not Himself take part in the Messianic woes which precede Him, but when they are finished He appears), a rule of peace without end, the rooting out of sin, the judgment of the world, supreme sway not only over human spirits but also over a renewed world of nature—all these can be summed up under the concept of rule, but only in such a way that the functions of an earthly king obviously fall very far behind, having really become a mere parable….

We have seen that along with the idea of the king there are other ideas with which Old Testament expectation is linked; nation, land, temple, the lordship of God, judgment. At the same time it cannot be denied that all these other ideas, or the expectations linked up with them, culminate and become concrete in this one, the idea and expectation of the king of the end of time. The Messiah is already “the hope of Israel,” so far as all Israel’s hopes point to an historical event on earth, an event altogether introduced by God, breaking into all other history from above, but actually within history, a real historical event. The analogy between present type and coming reality does not break down, because the reality to come will also be a man ruling in the name of God—ruling, of course, in quite a different way. And with his appearance all that is now expected will be quite different, the true Israel, the land of promise, the temple on the mount of God, the Kingdom without end, the judgment of the world.

This, then, is the explicit expectation of the Old Testament. It must be held together with what is said about the covenant concluded but not fulfilled and about the revealed but not realised hiddenness of God in the Old Testament. And what was said about the covenant and about the hiddenness of God receives confirmation from the presence of this explicit expectation. It is only  from the recollection of fulfilled time, from the New Testament point of view, that we can say that in respect of this expectation the Old Testament is the witness to divine revelation, so that its expectation is no illusion, but the kind of expectation when the expected One has already knocked at the door and is already there, though still outside.

Mere expectation, therefore, or abstract expectation, an autonomous time of preparation, is excluded. Is there fulfilled time and expectation? Has the Messiah appeared? Later Judaism, the documents of which were not adopted into the Old Testament Canon, more than once thought so, and every time the end was a bitter disillusionment. And when Jesus Christ arose in Galilee and Jerusalem, the same later Judaism, represented by the authorised experts in the canonical Old Testament and the official bearers of the sacred tradition, looked right past Him, in fact rejected Him outright and smote Him on the cross. If He was the Messiah to come, if He was the revelation attested by the Old Testament in expectation, as the Christian Church confesses it, then we can only say that it had to be so, that rejection was possible in spite of the fact that Holy Scripture of the Old Testament lay open straight in front of these men’s eyes and was read by them with genuine industry and attention. Revelation does not speak directly even in its most definite testimonies—i.e., not by way of a demonstration that can be carried out by experiment and logic. The expectation of revelation in the Old Testament is prophecy, not prediction to be controlled experimentally by logic. That is why it was and is possible to look past it. That is why it could and can be rejected. How could it be otherwise? It is self-attested by the fact that this expected revelation is really revelation, that the Old Testament present participates in a future which is really God’s future. That is, one may be offended by it; it can only be believed in; it speaks only in the way revelation speaks….

[I]f [the Church] recognises revelation and lives by revelation, that is unmerited grace, as Paul says in Rom. 11:20f. The mystery of revelation, which is the mystery of free, unmerited grace, includes the Church of the New Testament inseparably with the people whose blessing is attested for us in the Old Testament as expectation of Jesus Christ. And this very mystery acts not only as a barrier but as a bond between Church and Synagogue which, like the impenitent sister with seeing eyes, refuses to see that the people of the Old Testament really expected Jesus Christ and in this expectation was graciously blessed.

Come, Lord Jesus! (T.F. Torrance on Revelation 22)

Revelation 22:6-7, 16-17, 20-21

And [the angel] said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.” “And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” … “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price…. He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.

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(The following sermon excerpt comes from T.F. Torrance, 1959. The Apocalypse Today. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, pp.152-5. Artwork by Chris Koelle, The Book of Revelation)

“The time is at hand.”… Faith knows that the eternal God has entered into this estranged world in Christ Jesus and therefore this world must pass away in its present form before the full unveiling of His glory. Jesus Christ is intensely near to faith, and therefore faith ever stands on the threshold of the new world, in intense consciousness of the Advent of the Lord. The New Testament does not think of the difference between the presence of Christ here and now and His Second Advent so much in terms of a passage of time as the difference between the veiled and the unveiled. That is why the whole of the New Testament by an inner necessity of personal faith thinks of that day as imminent. The pressure of that imminence may be so great upon the mind as to turn the thin veil of sense and time into apocalyptic imagery behind which it is given to see the consummation of all things. That is what has been happening in this book. Jesus Christ is so intensively near that St. John feels Him always at his elbow, immediately behind him, about to be revealed in all His transcendent glory. In a context of intimate communion like that, the testimony of Jesus is always the Spirit of prophecy….

[T]he voice of Jesus Himself comes to us breaking through the voice of the angel, and also through the voice of the Apostle, but never more clearly and insistently than at the points of desperate urgency. “I come quickly!” The words of this book are human words, and the images used in these visions are images such as we find in the dreams of men. Throughout them all there comes the great voice from the throne that authenticates itself as none other than the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ. Clear as a bell and with the note of supreme certainty and absolute authority it peals in the thunder of judgment over the rebellious forces of evil. It is ever the recognizable voice of Him who, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, spoke as no other in words that we may understand, gracious words of love and truth, the words of eternal life….

The voice that speaks through these visions can be heard today. It is the voice of the everlasting Gospel, the voice that rises in clear and beautiful tones above all the hubbub of a rebellious world, the voice of Jesus through the Spirit and through the Church…. To participate in all that it reveals of the everlasting love of God and of the glory of the holy city a gracious invitation is extended to whosoever will. There is but one condition — to be thirsty. It is only they who may drink of the water of the river of life live themselves forever in the life of God.

The New Heaven and the New Earth (T.F. Torrance on Revelation 21)

Revelation 21:1-4

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

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(The following sermon excerpt comes from T.F. Torrance, 1959. The Apocalypse Today. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, pp.144-6. 150. Artwork by Chris Koelle, The Book of Revelation)

It has been said that the great purpose of God, which begins with creation, narrows down in a fallen world first to the people of Israel and then to the suffering Servant, Jesus Christ, but in Jesus Christ it widens out through the Church, the Israel of God, and at last breaks into a new heaven and new earth. It is the road from the many to the One, and from the One to the many. At its center is the Lamb of God, He who is, who was, and who is to come, gather up in Himself the purpose of the original creation and fulfilling it by redemption in the new creation….

[T]he Kingdom of God is not a realm characterized by heaven only. It is a homely Kingdom with earth in it. Whatever else that may mean it certainly implies a physical existence of created beings, and implies too that eternity will not be a timeless monotone but an eternity with time in the heart of it…. This much, too, is clear that God’s original creation will be fully restored in redemption. It is a redemption, however, that transcends that original creation in glory though it is not divorced from it. The original purpose of love will be more than fulfilled. The Garden of Eden meant that God has made man to have communion with Him in a perfect environment, and that true human life is essentially life in such a perfect environment. Therefore the perfection of the Christian life involves the perfection of earth as well as heaven. The Christian hope is fulfilled only in a new heaven and a new earth peopled with human beings living in holy and loving fellowship with God, with one another, and in harmony with the fulness of creation….

The new heaven and the new earth are the perfect environment, and now St. John tries to describe the perfect form which the Kingdom of God will take…. “Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people….” The language reminds us of the beginning of the Fourth Gospel: “And the Word was made flesh and tabernacled among men, and we beheld his glory, full of glory and truth.” That is the very heart of the eternal Kingdom, God among men in grace and truth, God in intimate fellowship with His children in a life from which evil and pain have been utterly eradicated and which draws its abundance from Jesus Christ….

Who can say all that the Lord has laid up for those who trust Him?… Certainly it is true that the great reward of all who serve Him here is that they shall ever serve Him there, and see His face, and become like Him. He who has seen Christ, has seen the Father, and that vision more than suffices him. The Father whom we shall see yonder is none other than Him whom we see in Jesus. Yonder we shall see Him in fulness of vision which is denied to us here, but it will ever be God as revealed to us in Jesus and no other for there is no other. In the heart of transcendent Deity there will still be One like unto the Son of Man, and the light in which we shall see Him will ever be the light of the Lamb.

The Final Judgment (T.F. Torrance on Revelation 20)

Revelation 20:1-3, 11-15

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while…. Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, xhe was thrown into the lake of fire.

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(The following sermon excerpt comes from T.F. Torrance, 1959. The Apocalypse Today. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, pp.139-41. Artwork by Chris Koelle, The Book of Revelation)

As long as the time of our life in this world is devoured by the dragon of evil and guilt, time has no meaning for us. It returns upon itself in empty circularity and futility, unable to arrive at its true goal, unable to reach the fulness of life. But when the Kingdom of God invades our sin-infested time in Jesus Christ, the circularity of time is broken. That is why Jesus Christ is called Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, and that is why, in order to describe what happens when God’s perfect time breaks into the midst of our time, the Apocalypse uses a definite span of years. For the things concerning Jesus Christ have an end, a fulfilment. Now that Jesus Christ has come into our world all things move towards a climax, which will be the day of harvest both of good and evil. That is why the apocalyptic expression “thousand years” speaks of Satan being loosed again, for God insists on bringing all the work of evil to a head. Then the head of the serpent will be destroyed, and all its slimy body of sin and evil, which it had trailed throughout human history, shall be burned with everlasting fire….

On that day the books will be opened, the book of our past, the book of destiny, the book of life. Mysterious as it may appear, these are not really different from the heavily sealed book which was seen in the visions of the fifth and sixth chapters. The last judgments are all bound up with the judgments that even now shake the earth, though they mark the fulfilment and their end. As at the opening of that heavily sealed in the hand of God there were calamities and woes and plagues upon the earth, so here there are woes and calamities and judgments for all who have allowed themselves to be seduced by Satan and who have not taken refuge in the sacrifice for the sins of the world….

That is what St. John calls the second death — a terrible and a ghastly truth. But we dare not shut our eyes to it, although no one likes to talk about it or preach about it. However much there may be which we cannot understand about that mystery of iniquity and its judgment, it is quite clear from the Word of God that those who die in their sins do not pass out into nothingness and forgetfulness. There is time beyond death, time for the damned as well. And it is because there is such a thing as time beyond, that hell is so terrible. It is time that has denied itself fulfilment in Christ, and time therefore which has a dreary lastingness about it, for it can only double back upon itself forever in sulky, sullen memory of past sins…. Hell is God’s judgment upon those who ultimately choose evil, but even hell itself comes under the judgment of God. That is to us the ultimate inexplicability of evil, but St. John makes it perfectly clear that the holy love of God is against hell.

And what about those who have been sealed with the blood of Christ and whose sins have been covered?… Just because Christ has invaded time, that day will mean for the believer the fulfilment of all his faith and hope in the crucified and risen Jesus. The things concerning Jesus do have their fulfilment. Therefore that will be the day when the Church of the faithful shall be filled with all the fulness of God according to the power that works within her. If on that day we have Christ alive in our heart, then the book of destiny will be the book of life, for us. Christ the Lamb of God who bears away the sins of the world is He to whom all judgment is committed. In Christ, the day of judgment is the day of vindication, the day when those who have witnessed the good confession before the Pontius Pilates of this world will be enthroned with Christ in the judgment of all evil. As they have shared the reproach of Christ in His judgment by the world, so they will share with Christ in his judgment of the world…. Then let the devil shout himself hoarse in his accusations against us at the bar of judgment! The Christian has a cry that conquers the world, the word of his testimony and the blood of the Lamb. “It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again!” It is the power of the resurrection that prevails.

The Word of God Victorious (T.F. Torrance on Revelation 19)

Revelation 19:9, 11-16

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.

(The following sermon excerpt comes from T.F. Torrance, 1959. The Apocalypse Today. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, pp.126-131. Artwork by Chris Koelle, The Book of Revelation)

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We must understand this chapter from the contrast implied throughout between the Babylonian whoredom or harlotry and the marriage of the Lamb. It is the contrast between the Church that has remained faithful and true to the Word of God in the midst of the seductions of the world, and the false Babylonian church that has adulterated the Word of God with the word of man…. The fact is that as long as the Church is in this present world it is menaced by the image of the beast. She cannot help but have a tainted worldly form for she belongs to this world and is formed and fashioned by its culture and civilization and history. But she belongs to the City of God and is supremely the Church from above, and as such she must ever repent in dust and ashes, She must ever be prepared to place her worldly form on the altar of the Cross…. Therefore the true life of the Church in this world must always be the life of ferment and conversion and revolution and renewal and reformation…. Outwardly it is quite impossible to separate the true from the false, but God knows who are His and who are prepared for the marriage of the Lamb. It is in the moment of crisis, at the coming of the Bridegroom, that the secrets are revealed….

Then St. John tells us he saw Heaven opened and he beheld a white horse and its rider — the symbol of truth in embattled and victorious might and triumph. In contrast to anti-Christ, the counterfeit rider and his white horse of an earlier vision, this one is called “Faithful and True.” At last the shams of time and all the deceptions of Babylon are ruthlessly exposed. This is the final truth of human history. “His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew but he himself. And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God” (19:12-13).

What is the meaning of this unknowable name?… In old Semitic thought to know a person’s name meant in some sense to have power over him, to be able to control him. But the Word of God reserves the mystery and power of its own name. It cannot be controlled or manipulated to serve other ends. The Word of God empowers itself, enacts itself, for the Word of God and the Power of God are one. No man can fulfil the Word of God, or enact its promise in the course of history. No church has control over the Word of God so as to be able to maneuver its fulfilment in the world. That is what the false church thinks it can do, that it can organize the Kingdom on earth, that it can wed temporal and spiritual power, and master the universe as the vicar of vice-regent of Almighty God.

But at last the Word of God comes forth as a sharp sword to discover the lies and hypocrisies of men and to smite the power of the earth in their mingling of false religion and beastly power. At last the Word enacts its own fulfilment, manifesting its power and revealing its name, King of kings and Lord of lords. And behold, that name is written upon the vesture that bears the mark of Calvary, and all the world is given to know that Christ Crucified is indeed Power of God. It is inevitably a day of judgment when God joins His power to His Word, and so, though this is the marriage supper of the Lamb with its song and rejoicing, it is also a day when the Kingdom of God is violent and the armies of heaven are completely victorious.

We live between the times, between the First Advent and the Second Advent, between the Word of Forgiveness and the Word of Judgment, between the Last Supper and the Marriage Supper, for that final day has not yet come. Meantime the wedding is being prepared and the invitations are being sent out by the messengers of God. They are out upon the highways and the byways of the earth compelling people to come in. It is so terribly urgent that they must do all they can to persuade men, knowing the terror of the Lord, and under the constraint of the invincible love of Christ.

Fallen is Babylon the Great! (T.F. Torrance on Revelation 17-18)

Revelation 17:1-6; 18:1-3, 19-20

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls…carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.” And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.… After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was made bright with his glory. And he called out with a mighty voice, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast. For all nations have drunk the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living.”…“Alas, alas, for the great city where all who had ships at sea grew rich by her wealth! For in a single hour she has been laid waste. Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has given judgment for you against her!”

(The following sermon excerpt comes from T.F. Torrance, 1959. The Apocalypse Today. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, pp.120-2. Artwork by Chris Koelle, The Book of Revelation)

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There is no doubt as we read these strange chapters of the Book of Revelation, with their visions of monstrous and abominable creatures, that we shudder in our souls, and well we might! But let us look at the facts squarely. Look out abroad upon the world…and see the monstrosities of evil, unbelievable wickedness, and bloodshed. Then look again at the monstrous creatures of the Apocalypse, drunk with the blood of the people. Are they not much the same?…[T]hat is true of all the world today behind the economic strangle hold of world affairs. Behind all its commerce and trade, vast and wonderful as they are, there is traffic in the souls of men. The God Mammon even employs religion in its commercial enterprises. Behind many seemingly Christian enterprises there lies the darkest monster of all, the solidarity of human guilt, the dragon of unbowed pride. It is by pride that we turn the glory of Almighty God into the image of sinful man and what is even worse, the image of the beast. Man has been made in the image of God, but when the image of God in man is prostituted to human pride, man produces a monstrous evil and the mark of the beast is on him. Look at the beastly way in which the world crucified Jesus — that was done by religious pride.

If the Word of the Gospel discovered the secrets of the human heart so that men were offended at Him and resented Him and finally crucified Him because in their pride they were cut to the quick, then that is true of human history on a vast scale. The pressure of the everlasting Gospel evokes the organized and final opposition of collective human pride and Babylonian egoism. Surely that is the crisis of our times, the emergence amongst the nations of the image of the beast. At first it is only the scaffolding of a vast structure erected upon the pillars of social goods and western morality but before we know where we are, power is given unto this image. It thunders in arrogant pride and as many as will not do homage to it are sacrificed. It is the Babylonian captivity. But listen to the Book of Revelation, for pride cometh before a fall. “Babylon is fallen, is fallen! Babylon the great is fallen!” In the apocalyptic calendar it will disappear overnight like a huge stone cast into the midst of the sea. In one hour is her judgment come! Then shall the world weep and lament — all who were made rich by her costly merchandise, all who lived deliciously with her, all who were intoxicated with the wine of her culture, and all who trafficked in the souls of men. Then shall the redeemed rejoice, and all the holy apostles and prophets, for Babylon shall be found no more at all…

Such is the judgment of God upon the defiant pride and culture of man that tries to storm the way back into Utopia, into the Garden of Eden. That way is barred by an angel with a flaming sword. But there is a way, through the Garden of Gethsemane and through the Garden of Arimathea. It is the way of the Lamb. “I am the door,” He says. “He that entereth not by the door … but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber” (John 10:1).