Revelation 5 – Is Jesus ‘Post-Truth?’

Here is this weeks column in Christian Today….It is interesting that for the past couple of weeks one of the editors has published articles teaching God is not in control.  My column is a commentary on Revelation 5 linking it to current affairs.  It is not intended as a direct rebuttal, but it ends up being so!  See what you think….

Language is so revealing. This week the Oxford English dictionary announced its word of the year as ‘post-truth’, meaning: “Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

This term has come to be used by our cultural/political elites to explain why the people have in some instances been voting against what to them is self-evidently good. The irony is that even if this somewhat self-congratulatory and patronising description were true (they have the truth, the dumb peasants don’t), it would only be chickens coming home to roost. For years our cultural elites have been telling us that there is no such thing as absolute truth, that morality is relative and that everyone has their own truth. After decades of teaching that ‘truth is dead’, now they want to mourn at the funeral. But God is still on the throne and the truth will out.

Last week we looked at Revelation 4 and saw that God is on the throne, not any of our political leaders.

This high view of the sovereignty of God has been, and continues to be debated among Christians. My colleague at Christian Today, Mark Woods, has a different view that he expressed well in this article. 

I appreciate what this argument is trying to do – clear God of responsibility for bad things and assert the importance of human freedom. For those who agree with this position the logic seems incontrovertible, but as Mark says, we need to be careful not to try and squeeze the Bible into the mould of human logic and philosophy. These are not new questions. Christians have been thinking about, debating and discussing these issues since the New Testament.

What does Revelation 5 have to say?

It adds to the high view of God’s sovereignty taught in chapter 4. It is not just that God is on the throne, but the Lamb who was slain is on the throne! And he alone is worthy to open the scroll. What is this scroll? Borrowing from Ezekiel chapter 2, it is a picture of a parchment, written on both sides, which contains the history of the whole world and God’s covenant with his people. As Torrance argues, “the secrets of the world belong to God and no man can pry into them. Who knows what a day or a night may bring forth? Who knows what this year holds in its dark unknown future? Even the strong angels of God are unable to open the book. Only God can unseal the seals and read the secrets of men.”

Only the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (amazingly this is the only time this description of Christ is used in the Bible) can open the scroll. What I love in this imagery is its shocking seeming contradictions. John looks to the throne to see “the Lion of the Tribe of Judah” and what does he see? A lamb! Russia has the bear, Britain the lion, France the tiger and America the eagle, but the Church has the lamb.

 

But what a lamb! It looked as if it had been slain and it had seven horns – the horn being a symbol of power. Seven eyes indicate that it is all seeing. So we have the all-powerful, all knowing lamb, sacrificing himself. It is the ultimate in power and the ultimate in self-giving.

It takes the death and resurrection of Jesus for the scroll to be opened. This fantastic picture of the lamb taking the scroll means that the will of God and the will of Christ are the same and that there is nothing outside this will.

People don’t like this. Humanity without God hates it. Tim Keller in his new Christmas book, Hidden Christmas, puts it clearly:

“There is a natural enmity of the human heart against all claims of sovereignty over it. It rises up a little when minor claims are made over us. But Jesus claims of authority are ultimate and infinite. No heart unaided, can gladly surrender to them… We create gods of our own liking to mask our own hostility to the real God, who reveals himself as our absolute king.”

The atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel agrees: “It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God, and naturally I hope that my belief is right. I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God. I don’t want the universe to be like that. My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not rare.”

But some Christians also struggle with the idea of God being on the throne – at least in the sense of controlling everything, because they think it makes God the author of evil. But to argue in such a way misses the point of what Revelation (drawing on the rest of the Scriptures) teaches us. If God does not control everything then logically there are things outwith his control. ISIS, cancer and child abuse are all beyond the control of God. The world is a dark picture and there is nothing much God can do about it because although he is very nice, there are some things that are beyond his control. He is weak and incapable. As weak and incapable as we are when faced with a cat we cannot control – one which we hope will just love us!

The solution to this is not difficult. Instead of dethroning God and denying his control, we lift up our eyes and see the Lamb on the throne. Our God is so great that he ordains free will. That freedom is not absolute. We do not have the power, ability, knowledge or love of God. But his sovereignty is absolute. So absolute that he even foreordains free will and all its consequences. Augustine put it beautifully:

“And, in the universe, even that which is called evil, when it is regulated and put in its own place, only enhances our admiration of the good; for we enjoy and value the good more when we compare it with the evil. For the Almighty God, who, as even the heathen acknowledge, has supreme power over all things, being Himself supremely good, would never permit the existence of anything evil among His works, if he were not so omnipotent and good that he can bring good even out of evil” (Enchiridion, chapter 11).

Revelation 4 and 5 declare that the world’s destiny is not under the control of blind fate or chance. The whole world is in the hands of a loving Father and a Saviour who died for us.

This results in worship. The golden bowls carry the prayers of God’s people: “May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice” (Psalm 141:2).

Isn’t this wonderful? On this earth the Saints are despised and mocked. But in heaven their prayers are so precious they are carried in bowls to the throne.

It also results in singing. The wonderful Leonard Cohen in a song reflecting on the will of God, If It Be Your Will, writes

“From this broken hill
All your praises they shall ring
If it be your will
To let me sing”

 

It is God’s will that we should sing. The new song of verses 8-10 is a redemption song.

The picture here is of slaves being set free by generous people paying the cost. The redeemed come from all over the world. They are there to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God. They sing another song, one that echoes throughout the whole universe. The Lamb who was slain is worthy. He possesses, power and wealth and wisdom and strength. He is to be given honour and glory and praise. Denying that he is sovereign robs him of that honour, glory and praise.

And it denies us great comfort. This week I took the funeral of a lovely Christian lady who died after decades of loving service to the Lord. An intelligent, vivacious woma,n her last years were hard as dementia robbed her and us of so much. But the funeral was a joyous celebration. We believed absolutely that all the days ordained for her were written in God’s book/scroll before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:16) – even the latter days of struggle, because we were reminded that even though we walk through the valley of dementia, the good Shepherd is with us.

Or think of the situations of Christians in Iraq. The Life Agape Iraq director Maher Barbary knows the comfort of God being in control: “But, we and others believe God has a different plan, a plan that can turn this dark picture into a bright picture… The Christians of Iraq from all denominations will gather to celebrate this fact – that God’s plan will prevail.” 

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(Iraqi Christians praying to the Sovereign Lord)

In terms of the word of the year, ‘post-truth’ refers not so much to the time aspect as to the idea that truth no longer matters. Whatever fears and emotions we may have when faced with the most horrendous situations, we need to avoid the ‘post-truth’ narrative (‘God is not in control’) of our feelings and instead rely on the objective facts taught us here. Don’t allow personal feelings and beliefs to dictate your understanding of God. Take the objective truths of his Word and apply them to your heart and mind. Heaven and earth will pass away but his Word will endure forever.

I know of nothing more wonderful than this teaching of Revelation 5. The world is not out of control but is rather under the control of the Lamb who died and gave himself for us. Sovereignty and Goodness blend together in the greatest manifestation of truth ever. This is a truth that will never be post!

David Robertson is minister of St Peter’s Free Church, Dundee and associate director of Solas CPC. Follow him on Twitter @theweeflea

Trump is on the Throne? Revelation ch.4


26 thoughts on “Revelation 5 – Is Jesus ‘Post-Truth?’

  1. David,

    Yes absolutely you hit the nail on the head – post truth being about feelings and opinion. Of course society, public opinion and feeling is going to be moulded by the cultural elites, those in power. But whatever human movement, philosophy, politics, being “cool” etc. happens, it never provides real security.

    And naturally we are tribal – so human equality doesn’t ultimately work either but benefits those in power.

    So it takes what is unnatural – something supernatural. And yes we are naturally adverse to pain and attached to desire, so something greater has to override this in order for us to ascribe to the supernatural.

    Knowledge is power and knowledge of God is ultimate power, held in Gods hands that we can choose to be involved with. But it comes with the ultimate cost, our very lives!

    So as we are naturally hardwired for survival it takes an act of God. we are told that God gives grace to the humble and resists the proud.

    So – choices to be had, freedom of will and consequences whether of not a Christian – right?

  2. Excellent. Surprised it’s been published . It’s truth that needs to be posted…abroad in the church. Im pleased that God is not a gambler, who risks.
    As a Calvinist you’ll be praising the LORD that your graveyard smash is over with.
    The Good God by Mike Reeves is also great on the triune goodness.

  3. Well said David. we need to avoid the ‘post-truth’ narrative (‘God is not in control’) of our feelings and instead rely on the objective facts taught us in the scriptures. Sad that in Leonard Cohens final album and perhaps final deep reflections about God, that we hear words from a man somehow compelled by the Gospel of love, but ultimately unable to put his trust in our Sovereign God who gave us his only son. i heard the song “it seemed the better way” recently on my way to work and it made me sad.

  4. Excellent post David. In evangelical circles, the term ‘post- truth’ most certainly describes the world view and practice of some of Scotland’s charismatics and the so-called apostles and prophets. Within the more extreme manifestations of this culture, the sovereignty of the living God has been dumped and replaced by the sovereignty of men and women who command God to do their bidding for their own benefit.

    In this day and age Christians must be discerning and always prepared to contend for the faith against post-truth and untruth, wherever or whatever the source.

  5. ‘But his sovereignty is absolute. So absolute that he even foreordains free will and all its consequences.’

    But this is a contradiction. And it presents us with kismet from the unknown; and a God whose ideas of reason, justice and love are wholly alien and other than ours. In fact they contradict ours.

    As C S Lewis says:

    ‘But his sovereignty is absolute. So absolute that he even foreordains free will and all its consequences.’

    But this is a contradiction. And it presents us with kismet from the unknown; and a God whose ideas of reason, justice and love are wholly alien to and other than ours. In fact they contradict ours. And I thought our ideas about such things are reliable because they are from God.

    As C S Lewis says:

    “His Omnipotence means power to do all that is intrinsically possible, not to do the intrinsically impossible. You may attribute miracles to Him, but not nonsense. There is no limit to His power.

    If you choose to say, ‘God can give a creature free will and at the same time withhold free will from it,’ you have not succeeded in saying anything about God: meaningless combinations of words do not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prefix to them the two other words, ‘God can.’

    It remains true that all things are possible with God: the intrinsic impossibilities are not things but nonentities. It is no more possible for God than for the weakest of His creatures to carry out both of two mutually exclusive alternatives; not because His power meets an obstacle, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God.”

    You say: ‘If God does not control everything then logically there are things outwith his control’

    I don’t see how this follows – if you mean by ‘control’ the foreordination of everything. Many things may happen by God’s permission that are not his will; things which He did not want, did not foreordain, but permitted – which is what Augustine says in the passage mentioned. God can bring good out of evil which means He is in ultimate control but not that all is therefore foreordained. If common sense, and every day experience, and the spirit and tenor of the Bible (one or two passages arguably misunderstood can send the whole thing awry), are good things and the gift of God then Calvin was wrong and his determinism is not of the Prophets and Apostles but of later philosophy; from Augustine onwards.

    It seems quite possible to me that everything that happens in the universe will ultimately contribute 100% to the glory of God but that is because it is His universe not because everything that happens is preplanned and predetermined by Him.

    So I don’t see Calvinism as the antonym to post-truth.

    1. Thanks for your interesting comment…Tony.

      I don’t agree that God foreordaining freewill is contradictory – not unless you are going to argue that freewill must be as absolute as God. God gives us free will but by definition that will is bound by our natures and circumstances. For example I freely will to run as fast as Usain Bolt but I don’t have the power to achieve it!

      Augustine says precisely that there is nothing out of the control of God. That does not mean that he is directly responsible for everything. If I sin its because I sin, not because he manipulates me or makes me. But my sin is still not outwith his control (which by the way is what the article I was arguing against was stating).

      The logic of my statement is straightforward. If God does not control everything then there are things outwith his control…or to reverse it…if everything is within Gods control then he controls everything. I’m not quite sure the difficulty you have with this logical statement?

  6. I may be reading more into your post than is there.

    I understood you to mean that God foreordains – predetermines – everything that happens (This, of course, has huge implications). He is like the author of a book; and the characters play out their assigned parts. I think that free will (in the sense of a will enabled by grace but which has the power to resist it) and irresistible grace are incompatible, as the quote from C S Lewis points out. In that sense I think that free will is permitted to run amok in this world and to frustrate the immediate if not the final purpose of God: the final purpose being God’s intention to create a city of everlasting joy; but those who fail to enter it do so, in my understanding, not by divine fiat, but by divine permission. They might have entered had it not been for a final and irretrievable misuse of their wills. In that sense freewill is given a contingent absoluteness. I think you would disagree with that point?

    I am, however, not trying to too quickly to convince Calvinists, only registering a protest. I am sure you, and everyone reading, has heard such arguments many times and I am no expert in them. But I think that Calvinists pay a heavy price for their beliefs and that is worth considering. Do the five points really flow naturally and freely from Scripture?

    I know too that Luther and Bunyan, no slouches in the Christian way, were both believers in the enslaved will and, I think, irresistible grace, but great as they were I reckon – as do many others – that they were mistaken on this point.

    I hold that there is a difference between control that is total, which I think is what you are saying, but I may have misunderstood, and a control which has an ultimate end in view but allows the contingencies of freedom to truly play out. Total control – everything is predetermined – and ultimate control – everything is not predetermined but forms as it responds to God – are two different things in my book.

    1. I pay no price for my beliefs! Believing that God is good and sovereign is the best of all. Believing that he is good but incapable is a real price to pay for so called human autonomy! And Gods control does allow the contingency of freedom – which is precisely what I was saying….God foreordains freedom of will

  7. The difficulty with “logical statements” is that we are talking in human logic which dictates that two opposites cannot simultaneously be true. I don’t believe God’s logic or thinking is so bound (as the heavens are high above the earth…). I heard, but cannot understand (from six years of science at school I have nothing more than an O level physics), that scientist believe it is possible for matter to exist simultaneously in two different places, so for God I don’t see the problem of His being sovereign and in ultimate control but not necessarily being the cause of or dictating all that happens. It is no contradiction to say God is omnipotent but there are many things He cannot do. For one, God cannot act contrary to His nature; every thing He does is both loving, just and holy. (Cue for a Hallelujah).

  8. In order to try to gain legitimacy political opinion has overstretched itself of late and laid claim to the realm of fact.
    This has been shown to be ridiculous especially when predictions are made of the future and such predictions are labelled as fact.
    This is why the remainers lost, in my opinion.

    The other issue is respect for opinion and in particular “honestly held belief”.
    This is crucial for dialogue and for moving forward beyond ones own nose.

  9. Nonsense isn’t of the same category. An example of such nonsense was given by Lewis. If I remember correctly it was: could God create something so heavy it would be impossible for Him to lift. But I stand to be corrected with the example.
    And where does free will philosophy come from?
    There is no contradiction in love, justice, reason within the Trinity and emanates therefrom to us.
    Piper has written an article :Are there two wills in God
    A simple illustration. From beginning to end in a play or film the protagonists always do what has been ordained by the author, even their free will choices, made in accordance with their character. As David has pointed out, we will always do what is most desirable to to us. And without God’s intervention, since the Fall, it is never a desire for Him , His will and Sovereignty . His salvation.

    As David has said this debate has existed from NT time.
    But in the historical redemption sweep of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, God is in control, from pre creation to decreation, destruction, to recreation in and through Christ Jesus, our LORD.

  10. When we accept that ‘in him we live and move and have our being’ and that all things existentially hold together in him we have nowhere else to go but to absolute sovereignty. Nothing we do can happen without divine permission.

    Further, the notion that the ability to choose good or evil is somehow vital to true freedom is self-evidently flawed; God has no such freedom nor will we in the final new creation.

  11. The ability to choose is vital to the notion of responsibility.
    The voluntary act is at the heart of morality.
    Without it no blame can be attached.
    If no blame can be attached then salvation is not necessary.

    This is the problem with all things determinist, apart from the obvious circularity.

  12. Man’s ability to choose was clear to see in the garden of Eden.
    (The lie is that in choosing we are applying some innate knowledge of what is Good and what is Evil.)
    Our default setting though is to keep on choosing and keep on striving.
    It is our survival instinct.
    Many also forget the role that God gave man –
    Fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over…
    And to enable us to do this he made man in his own image.

    It is not that mans free will is somehow elevated over Gods sovereignty.
    It is that Gods plan is to promote us to act as his vice-regents on Earth.

  13. The right to choose is one thing. The right to choose good or evil is quite another. I do not like the word ‘right’. In an absolute sense no one but God has ‘rights’. Thereafter all ‘rights’ are granted by him. He may grant the freedom to choose but it is not a right.

    Relationships create responsibilities. From relationships obligations arise.

    “The voluntary act is at the heart of morality’ by which you mean the freedom to choose the contrary. God’s ‘morality’ is always voluntary but he has no ability to choose the contrary. He always loves and chooses truth but he cannot choose to lie.

  14. Adam’s sin was simply that he did not do what God had told him. Adam had no autonomous moral compass. His obligation was a childlike obedience. We have a moral compass though our obligation is still in essence a childlike obedience. We ought to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

  15. Incidentally, responsibility does not imply ability. Israel had the responsibility to keep God’s law but did not have the ability. In a wider sense all humanity has the responsibility to live by what it knows to be right but it does not have the ability; it is in slavery to sin.

  16. “the voluntary act is the heart of morality” by which you mean the freedom to choose the contrary.
    /
    I wouldn’t put it that way.
    If we cannot distinguish between Good and Evil, in other words if we are not “as God” as Satan tried to claim in the Garden of Eden, then we will not know what is contrary to the Good far less what the Good is.
    However we will have some idea as we have been made in the image of God.
    We make the best choices we can.
    God made us to act not to deny our ability to act.
    More than that he made us to act well and according to his nature which he implanted into every one of us.
    Every one – not just the elect.

  17. Stephen, I’m afraid I cannot really follow your last comment. Being made in the image of God does not necessarily include an independent moral compass; it didn’t for Adam. Nor does being made in God’s image mean we have his nature. Contrary to what you say, only believers (the elect) are partakers of the divine nature.

    (NIV) 3 His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. 2 Pet 1

    Only believers are no longer slaves of sin, no longer duped by Satan. But we’re getting a long way now from the original contention; if all we do is because ‘in him we live and move and have our being’ then God is utterly sovereign and everything we do is contingent.

  18. John, we will have to agree to disagree.
    I can no longer go along with Calvinism which has become a religion in itself, picking and choosing those parts of the Bible which supports it’s narrative.
    There is a reluctance to read those early chapters of Genesis even although they set out God’s plan for us in his own words.
    That’s not to say that I don’t have a great respect for many within Scottish presbyterian circles, the greatest amongst them being Mr Alexander.

    1. Stephen – it is unwise, unfair and not very helpful for you to accuse other Christians of ‘picking and choosing those parts of the bible which support its narrative’. You are describing a caricature of Calvinism and making the worst possible case – that is not a good nor helpful thing to do. I personally don’t like the term Calvinism and rarely use it…I prefer the term ‘biblical Christianity’ because the Reformed faith takes the whole of the Bible seriously. It is those who ignore the very clear teaching about the sovereignty of God who seem to be deliberately ignoring the many parts of the bible that teach it…

  19. David,
    You answer well and considerately.
    The issue of God’s sovereignty vs man’s freewill is not so easily resolved.
    However, all the best.

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