Monthly Archives: January 2019

The Orthodox Faith – Salvation History (1)

There are many people who wrongly contrast the God of the Old Testament with the God of the New Testament saying that the God of the Old testament was an angry God, a God of judgement, and that the God of the New Testament is a loving God, a forgiving God.

This contrast goes back at least to Marcion, a 2nd century false Christian teacher. He said that the God of the Old Testament was a lesser God, even an evil God, and that the Father of Jesus Christ was the true God. Because of this he wanted to take the Old Testament and the Gospels of Mathew, Mark, Luke and John out of the Bible, leaving in an edited version of the Gospel of St. Luke (because Marcion said that the Gospel of Luke was the least “Jewish” of the four) and some of the Epistles of St. Paul.

It is interesting that in Nazi Germany there were people who said that Jesus was not Jewish, and that the whole of the Old Testament should be discarded.

However, in the 2nd century and in the 20th century the Church condemned the idea saying that the God of the both Testaments were the same so that the Old Testament is indeed part of the Bible, although read now in the light of Christ.

A Christian reading of the Old Testament is based on prophecy and typology Many people think that the prophet’s only job was to predict the future. Of course, this is part of prophecy but only one part. We can say that the main role of prophecy was to proclaim God’s word to a concrete people and concrete situations. Sometimes the prophets criticized the people when they worshipped false Gods and oppressed the poor. But when the people of Israel were suffering, perhaps during the Babylonian captivity, God’s prophets proclaimed a message of hope very openly promising a Messiah, a Redeemer who would rescue His people.

Very often in the New Testament writers say that some word of deed of Jesus fulfilled an Old Testament prophecy. This is especially true of St. Matthew’s Gospel. For example:

“Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt have I called my son.” (Mt 2:13-15)

Or in the same chapter:

“Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more.” (Mt 2:16-18)

Typology is when some event in the Old Testament is seen to point forward to New Testament events. So, for example, the blood of the lamb which saved the Jewish people from an avenging angel is a type of our salvation through the blood of Christ, or the feeding of the people in the desert with manna is the bread of heaven, a type of Christs last supper and the Divine Liturgy.

Or the Adam of the Old Testament was a type of the New Adam, Jesus Christ (Romans 5:14) “Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.”

St. Paul continues this line of thought to 1 Corinthians:

“For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual which is first but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.” (I Cor 15:21-22,45-49)

The first Adam was from the earth, the new, true Adam (Jesus Christ) is from heaven.

So, we can see that the prophesies and typology find their fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Of course the Jewish people do not read the Hebrew Bible in this way, but we Christians have the light of Christ which shows us the deeper meaning of the Old Testament.

Fr. John

The Orthodox Faith – The New Testament – Church History (7)

There is always a great interest in the end of the world. From supermarket tabloids to scholarly tomes, it is a subject that never goes away. The sources of such interest ranges from the Mayan calendar to the Bible.

Such interest usually focuses on the violent, chaotic changes that will take place. There will be earthquakes, volcanos eruptions, floods, lightening and so on. Indeed, such imagery is found in the Bible, especially in the Book of Revelation, but also in the Second Epistle of St. Peter. For example,

“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be kindled and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire!” (2 Peter 3:10-12)

Here we see the elements of fire, and noise.

However, this exclusive focus of the violence of the end is somewhat misplaced. It’s important to remember that God loves the world he created. Of course, this world today is obviously not the paradise that God created. In some mysterious way the world, the cosmos fell into sin and corruption. But at the end of time, after the fire, chaos and violence there will be a great renewal. The only thing that will be “dissolved by fire” is sin and evil. The good will be restored, renewed. As St. Peter wrote, “But according to his promise we wait for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:13). The “very good” world of Genesis will be restored, and this world will be a paradise of no sin and death, but joy and life eternal.

We see a similar scenario of destruction and renewal in the Book of Revelation. The Book of Revelation, the first book of the Bible, was written at the end of the 1st century when Christians were undergoing great persecution under the Roman Empire. In this book Roman, the great persecutor is symbolized by Babylon. It is said of her,

“And he called out with a mighty voice, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!

It has become a dwelling place of demons, a haunt of every foul spirit, a haunt of every foul and hateful bird; for all nations have drunk the wine of her impure passion, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich with the wealth of her wantonness.” (Rev 18:2-3)

The fate of Babylon (Rome) is described as follows,

“…so shall her plagues come in a single day, pestilence and mourning and famine,

and she shall be burned with fire; for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.” And the kings of the earth, who committed fornication and were wanton with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning; they will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say, “Alas! alas! thou great city, thou mighty city, Babylon! In one hour has thy judgment come.” Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “So shall Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence, and shall be found no more; and the sound of harpers and minstrels, of flute players and trumpeters, shall be heard in thee no more; and a craftsman of any craft shall be found in thee no more; and the sound of the millstone shall be heard in thee no more; and the light of a lamp shall shine in thee no more;

and the voice of bridegroom and bride shall be heard in thee no more; for thy merchants were the great men of the earth, and all nations were deceived by thy sorcery. And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all who have been slain on earth.” (Rev 18: 8-10, 21-14)

As mentioned earlier, the Book of Revelation was written to comfort Christians undergoing persecution from Rome, symbolized by Babylon. But this has a meaning for all time. Throughout history there have been “new Romes” and “new Babylons” which persecute the church. We can think of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Under such regimes Christians took comfort from the Book of Revelation because it teaches them that no matter how great the persecution, the new Babylon and new Rome will fall and there will be a few, renewed world where sin, death and pain will pass away.

Finally, it should be noted that when it is written that 144,000 will be saved. This number should not be taken literally because this number symbolized fullness, wholeness. It points to the number of all that are saved. God’s salvation would never be limited to such a relatively small number. God’s salvation is for all humanity.

Fr. John