Who Review: Smile

For her first “proper” TARDIS trip, Bill chooses to visit the future. The Doctor takes her to a time when the Earth has been evacuated, to a planet that is to be the future home of the colonists. The place has been designed to appeal to humans, and make them content and comfortable. Emoji-robots monitor the city, making sure everyone is happy, while microscopic robot “Vardies” take care of construction, and agriculture. But happiness is more than just an aspiration–it’s a requirement. As the advance party found out, anything less than a smiley carries the death penalty. And when the Doctor and Bill find their skeletal remains, they realize they must do something before the colonists arrive, or the human race will be annihilated…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

I can’t say I didn’t experience some trepidation with the second episode of season ten. It was written by Frank Cottrell-Boyce, the writer responsible for the season eight story, “In the Forest of the Night,” which was–um–not my favorite episode of Doctor Who. Possibly one of my least favorites. Ever. Part of the problem with that story was the complete lack of real conflict. The Doctor assumed a problem that he set out to fix, only to find out there really wasn’t a problem and the earth was just taking care of its human inhabitants. A nice environmental message wrapped up in some witty dialog and tense moments with tigers and lost children, but not exactly riveting Doctor Who. Even “Time Flight” and “Love and Monsters” had proper antagonists! So, would we get more of the same with “Smile”? Or is there really a monster to defeat and people to save?

Well… sort of. Yes, the Vardies are vicious and will kill anyone who displays anything less than a positive demeanor on their emoji badges. And the human race is in peril–or potential peril–as a result of these brutal bots. But once again, we have the Doctor getting the wrong end of the stick, thinking he needs to destroy the city before the colonists arrive. No, the colonists are already there, in hibernation. And then, when Bill shows him the body of the first person to die (of natural causes), it dawns on the Doctor what’s really going on. The robots are programmed for happiness, so when the first thing happens that causes distress (death), the robots are confused, and seek to eliminate the cause of that unhappiness. And since it is the people themselves who are grieving, they kill the people. Which causes grief for other people, so the robots kill them, and so on. The Doctor’s solution? A re-boot of the system! Pop open the head of an emoji-bot, find the “reset” button, and let them discover a new purpose alongside their new human co-inhabitants.

So, there is some real danger, and a real problem to solve. But the “bad guys” are not really bad, just ignorant, and operating according to programming. And the resolution to the story was, like “In the Forest of the Night,” all a bit too easy. Indeed, the fact the Doctor could hit a reset button and make everything right put me in mind of “The Edge of Destruction,” the third ever Doctor Who story. In that adventure, the First Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Susan, are trapped in the TARDIS, and everyone seems to be turning on each other, possibly due to an outside force trying to take over. In the end, the strange behavior was the result of the TARDIS trying to warn the crew that something’s wrong with the ship, namely a broken spring on the “Fast Return” switch. So the Doctor fixes the switch, flips it, and all is restored to normal. “The Edge of Destruction” was written in two days as a filler story. I think the Who team could have come up with something better for “Smile.” For example, this could have been a great set-up for an alien invader looking to take over. Set the robots on the colonists, wait for them to be wiped out, then settle down and enjoy everything the people from Earth had created for themselves. Instead, we have something that starts out promising, end up a bit deflating, with lots of messaging about technology, emojis, and colonization.

The story isn’t without its highlights, the first being Bill. Her down-to-earth-ness and curiosity remind me of Sarah Jane, with a bit of Rose’s cheekiness. Peter Capaldi is excellent, as usual, and while the story may falter at the end, it’s a good script with a good premise. It’s easy to see the story as a critique of emoji culture, where emotions are conveyed by means of pictures, and there may well be a bit of cynicism intended. Show-runner Steven Moffat has made no secret of his somewhat-curmudgeonly attitude toward the internet, Facebook, and Twitter, but that’s mainly thanks to leaks, spoilers, and piracy, which obviously get up his nose. I prefer see it as a playful take on something that has become part of early 21st century digital life, with a gentle reminder that an emoji is no substitute for real life contact when it comes to knowing how people feel.

In episode one, we learned that the Doctor is watching over a mysterious vault. In this episode, we learn that the Doctor has promised to keep an eye on the vault, and not leave Earth. This is why he’s at the university. In his brief few seconds in this story, Nardole reminds the Doctor of his promise–right before the Doctor whisks Bill away to another time and place. The Doctor assures a concerned Bill that he will get them back before they left, so it won’t matter. But, of course, that doesn’t happen. I’m sure there will be consequences. We’ll have to wait and see.

I mentioned “The Edge of Destruction” earlier. That story ended with the TARDIS crew walking out into a snow covered landscape, to begin a new adventure where they meet Marco Polo. “Smile” ends with Bill and the Doctor walking out into snow-covered Regency London. With elephants. I presume this leads us straight into next week’s story, “Thin Ice.”

To sum up: “Smile” is a good story with a disappointing ending, worth watching mainly for the chemistry between the Doctor and Bill. While it’s much better than “In the Forest of the Night,” it’s by no means a classic, and I doubt it will be the talk of the series.

Sunday School Notes: Revelation 13:14-17

14 …and that he might lead astray those dwelling on the earth on account of the signs which were given to him to do in the presence of the beast, telling those dwelling upon the earth to make an image to the beast who has the wound of the sword and lived. 15 And it was given to him to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might speak and act [so that] as many as might not worship the image of the beast may be killed. 16 And he makes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free and the slaves, so that he might give to them a mark upon their right hand or upon their forehead, 17 and so that no-one may be able to buy or sell except the one having the mark–the name of the beast, or the number of his name.

Last time we started talking about the ways the second beast leads astray the earth-dwellers such that they worship the first beast. John gives us two principal tactics used by the second beast. The first is with a show of miraculous signs, particularly calling fire from heaven, the purpose of which is to make the people believe the beast has some kind of divine status and authority.

The second method employed by the beast’s underling is to have the earth-dwellers create an image of the first beast. It seems a natural follow-up to the miraculous signs to have them create a tangible form of the beast that they can then worship. In essence, the second beast is drawing the people into idolatry. When we consider this in terms of John’s social context, we immediately think of the Roman Empire, and the practice of emperor worship. It’s commonly believed that all Roman emperors were regarded as gods, however this is not strictly true. There was an official mechanism by which an emperor could be recognized as a god. First, the Senate had to approve the designation of divus to that emperor. Second, the emperor needed to be dead. This means most of the emperors, at least prior to the second century, that were considered divine, were designated that way posthumously. This didn’t prevent emperor cults rising up locally, however. Given the fact that the emperor rarely got to visit all regions of his empire, these local cults formed to pay homage to their ruler and show loyalty in his absence, not necessarily because they really thought he was a god (though no doubt some did). The first emperor temple built in Asia (the broad region in which John’s churches reside) was constructed in Pergamum in 29 BC. By the end of the first century AD, all of the seven cities in Revelation 2 and 3 had both a temple and an emperor cult proclaiming Caesar’s divinity. I said there weren’t many emperors who were officially considered divine. The first to assert his own deity, and to do so in official documents, was Emperor Domitian, and his official imperial cult was in Ephesus, which we presume was John’s home city. Domitian actually used the title “dominus et deus” (“lord and god”) in imperial documents. This is another reason why I think the period of Domitian’s rule is the most likely time frame for the writing of Revelation–it fits well with the situation John appears to be describing.

So, when John speaks of a beast that leads people into idolatry and worship of a false Messiah through making an image, his audience very likely would have seen the emperor cults and statues in their own cities and understood. But that doesn’t mean this is only relevant to John’s day. We have seen government structures like this throughout history, where idols are made of leaders, and people are expected to follow and obey, or face dire consequences–and we will continue to see power-hungry authorities rise up and claim dominance. But there are other more subtle ways this kind of idolatry seeps into our lives. Hollywood has a long history of immortalizing and near-deifying its idols. We see the same kind of thing happening more and more in politics, where in America the political pantheon consists of JFK, Reagan, Clinton, and Obama. Both entertainment and politics wield extraordinary power in the lives of many people, influencing how people spend their money, what they do with their time, and how to think about social issues. Anyone who takes worship away from the one true God is guilty of idolatry, whether or not the idols are made of stone.

In verse 15, John tells us what happens to those who refuse to worship the beast: they are killed. This is reminiscent of Daniel 3, where Nebuchadnezzar erects a golden image 90 feet tall, and commands everyone to worship it. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse to bow down to the statue, and so they are consigned to the furnace. We have said that those led astray by the second beast are the “earth-dwellers”–those who are not of God’s people. One might be tempted to infer from verse 15 that the earth-dwellers did not wish to worship the image but were coerced, or that some of the earth-dwellers didn’t comply with the beast’s demands. I don’t think this is what’s being said. Rather, I think John is simply telling us that the beast had authority to execute those that refused to worship the image of the beast. We know that the “heaven-dwellers”–God’s people–will not, so they are under threat of death. I say threat because the beast has authority to execute. Verse 17 implies that not everyone who refuses to worship the image will die, but they certainly will suffer economic sanction.

The beginning of verse 15 says that the beast was given the ability to put breath into the beast’s image to make it talk. Is this a supernatural phenomenon, or is this symbolic? There’s a long history of supernatural acts happening in association with idolaters. In response to Aaron’s staff turning into a serpent, Pharaoh’s wise men and sorcerers do the same thing (Exodus 7). In the early church, writers such as Justin Martyr and Irenaeus speak of false teachers who do “mighty acts” which include exorcism, incantation, and making love potions. “Pseudo-Clement” speaks of one individual who could make statues walk, could fly, and turn himself into a serpent or goat. As sophisticated, 21st century Western Christians, we might be tempted to dismiss such things. However, as Christians we believe in the supernatural, so we mustn’t rule out these kinds of phenomena. Indeed, “Pseudo-Clement” advises Christians to discern miracles by asking what end the miracle serves: is it to convert and save, or to admonish and deceive?

That said, while we are open to the possibility that this could be speaking of a literal miracle whereby idols are made to talk, it would be strange to have something literal in the midst of all this symbolism. If the beasts, the horns, and all the other aspects we’ve discussed are symbolic, then the talking image is also more than likely symbolic. Perhaps it refers to some kind of representation of the “beast” (i.e., the global authority) that can speak and act on the beast’s behalf. Perhaps this is a false version of Christ (the second beast) and the church (the image)? The image could therefore represent local officials, or the military, or some other arm of government that does the beast’s bidding. “Worship” of these entities (obedience and submission) would be seen as worship of the beast himself.

Verses 16 and 17 speak of the scope of the beast’s influence: everyone great and small, rich and poor, free and slave is included in the beast’s worship. Worship of the beast checks all the diversity boxes, and is fully inclusive. And to make sure everyone complies, a mark is put on the forehead or right hand of all those who participate in this idolatry. This mark is the name, or number, of the beast.

We’ll get into these verses more next time, but in finishing, we made a few observations. First, the word for “mark” (Greek: charagma) is also the Greek word used for the emperor’s seal on business contracts, and also his image on a coin. It signifies his authorization, an official stamp of approval. During times of persecution, people had to prove their devotion to Caesar. It was not uncommon to have someone suspected of being less than loyal to the emperor declare “Caesar is lord,” or perform an act of worship to an image or representation of Caesar as proof of their devotion. Those that did this were then given a document, called a libellus, that certified they had proven themselves to be a devotee of the emperor. Many Christians refused, and suffered as a result. Similarly, this “mark” is proof of devotion to the beast.

In Deuteronomy 6:8, the Lord tells His people to bind His commandments on their hands and their foreheads, a practice which is taken literally by orthodox Jews to this day in their use of phylacteries–small boxes tied to the hand and forehead containing portions of Scripture.

We’ll dig more into what this means, and discuss the nature of this mark next time…

Birthday Flash!

Don’t worry, it’s nothing inappropriate. As you may have observed, I’m not doing the April A-to-Z Blogging Challenge this year. For the past three years, I’ve posted flash fiction every day in April for this challenge. This year, however, I wanted to work on stories I intend to sell instead. When I told my wife, she was a little disappointed (awww!), since she enjoyed the stories I posted in previous years. “As long as you post one for my birthday,” she said.

My wife’s birthday was on Monday, but I wanted to wait until today to fulfill my end of the bargain, since I knew articles would post on Tuesday, and I didn’t want her to miss it.

But what to write about? I usually have a word or title prompt, so for today’s story, I turned to the trusty Random Word Generator. Here’s what it gave me:

  • square
  • curtain
  • cork
  • socks
  • capital

So, here’s my 200 word story using those five words. Happy birthday, wifey! 🙂

The Cheeder’s Dance

It’s the strangest square dance I’ve ever been to, but we haven’t been out for a month, and I don’t want Amy to think something’s wrong. Besides, she says the Cheeder’s Dance is legendary.

The caller, Mary Beth, leads us through some traditional moves, then

“Curtain!”

I’m confused. Is this part of her patter? I stand with the other guys, while the girls dance around us. Amy puts her hands in front of my eyes. Ah, yes—curtain. I get it. As her hands fall away, I smell something familiar. But we start promenading, before I can ask.

“Corkscrew!”

The girls remove scarves from around their necks and waists. Amy pulls one from a pocket in her skirt, then begins twirling it around my head as she circles me. I’ve seen that scarf before, but I don’t recall Amy ever wearing it. And we’re promenading again.

“Now then ladies, take your bleeders, let’s get capital with those cheeders!”

The girls in unison pull switchblades from their socks. Cheeders? It come at me in a rush. The scent on her wrists, the scarf… she knows.

There’s that perfume smell again.

The flash of a blade.

A tug of my hair.

Darkness.

Who Review: The Pilot

Bill Potts, canteen worker at St Luke’s University, has a curious mind and a tender heart. Both will get her into trouble when she encounters a girl with a star in her eye. The girl, Heather, is bothered about a puddle that shouldn’t be there, and what she sees inside. But the real trouble begins when the puddle starts following Bill. And who does Bill turn to for help? A professor at the university who has just agreed to take her on as a private student. But he’s no ordinary professor. His lectures are eccentric and popular, he has the strangest looking pens in a mug on his desk, and he has full-sized police telephone box in the corner. The professor, who likes to be called the Doctor, investigates the puddle and realizes something’s wrong. The puddle doesn’t reflect a mirror image; the reflection is the right way around. Something alien is at work, and when the Doctor invites Bill into the TARDIS for safety, she is introduced to a world beyond her imagination. If she survives the girl in the water, she might never want to leave…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

The first episode of the Doctor Who re-boot’s tenth season is, in itself, a bit of a reboot. After saying goodbye to Clara and River Song, the Doctor and his companion-butler Nardole are on Earth, where the Doctor is posing as a university professor. Exactly what he’s a professor of is not mentioned, though Bill says he talked one time about poetry when he was supposed to be lecturing on physics, so I presume it’s something in the sciences. We are treated to a sample of the Doctor’s lecturing–a monologue on time and relative dimension in space, and how life is a series of pictures like frames in a movie. It sounded impressive, and makes sense within the impossible universe of Doctor Who. Mind you, Peter Capaldi could make the phone book sound fascinating.

The title is a bit of a play on both the plot and the purpose of the story. The puddle creature is looking for a pilot, someone to follow. And this episode of Doctor Who is like a pilot episode, introducing the newbie to the world of Who in a way that won’t bore–and, in fact, will please–the seasoned Whovian. There are lots of nods to Classic Who: the mug of sonic screwdrivers, the picture of his granddaughter, Susan, on his desk (next to one of River Song), the “Out of Order” sign on the TARDIS (last seen in the First Doctor story, “The War Machines”), the Movellans (from the Fourth Doctor story, “Destiny of the Daleks”), and there were probably others either I missed, or I’m not remembering. The scene with the Movellans was a particularly nice touch. When the Doctor told Bill and Nardole they were entering a war zone, and we heard the Daleks, my first thought was, of course, the Time War. But no–it’s the war between the Movellans and the Daleks, referenced in “Destiny of the Daleks.”

The basic plot of the story was, I think, a bit weak. The water creature was really just a shape-shifting blob that wants a friend, and while its modus operandi was a bit aggressive, its intentions weren’t malicious. Hence the tears when Bill had to let it go. But new companion stories always tend to be light on plot; the focus is on introducing the newcomer, and getting the newcomer acquainted with the Doctor’s world. This time around, Steven Moffat managed an increasingly difficult task: making it fresh and new. Bill is clearly astounded at the TARDIS, but at first she thinks it’s a “knock-through” (i.e., the wall against which the TARDIS stands has been “knocked-through” to allow the TARDIS interior to extend beyond the parameters of the room), and that the inside of the TARDIS looks like a kitchen. It takes a good while before she gets to “it’s bigger on the inside!” She even asks where the toilet is–a topic I don’t think has been broached before now.

Then there’s the question of why the Doctor is at a university in Bristol. I don’t doubt the mysterious vault has something to do with it. New Who usually has a running theme, or story arc, throughout the season. My guess is that vault will play a central role in season ten, and speculation will run rampant as to what’s inside. Something to do with his regeneration, which we know is happening at Christmas… or maybe sooner? Is it something he has to keep a close eye on (hence the lecturing job, so he can stay close by)? Will the fact he throws caution to the wind and takes Bill on board the TARDIS be a factor in whatever happens with that vault in future episodes? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

The performances are top-notch, as usual for New Who. Pearl Mackie is a relative unknown, even to British television viewers, but she gives a solidly genuine performance, owning every line. A very promising start, and, I daresay, a bright post-Who future on television if she keeps this up. I’m looking forward to seeing how her character develops over the next eleven weeks.

In all, this is a good start to the series, despite the story itself being far from one of Moffat’s best. As I said, we can forgive that since it was a great introduction to Bill Potts, and Doctor Who as a whole. Definitely one for the new Whovian to watch.

Sunday School Notes: Revelation 13:11-14

11 And I saw another beast, one rising up out of the earth, and it had two horns similar to a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. 12 And it acts [with] all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and it makes the earth and those dwelling in it such that they shall worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed. 13 And he does great signs, in order that he might make fire come down from heaven to the earth before men, 14 and that he might lead astray those dwelling on the earth on account of the signs which were given to him to do in the presence of the beast, telling those dwelling upon the earth to make an image to the beast who has the wound of the sword and lived.

The first ten verses of Revelation 13 concerned the beast who rose up out of the sea. But then John sees another beast, this one rising up out of the earth. Exactly how this happened, again, is not the point. This is a vision, so logistics don’t matter; what matters is what this means. We’ve already established that the first beast is a symbol of some kind of governmental or ruling power, under the authority of the dragon (i.e., Satan–see chapter 12). From the description John gives us, it looks as if this second beast is subordinate to the first, since he derives his power and authority from that first beast. The significance of where the beasts arise may have something to do with this. “Rising up out of the sea” could signify some kind of foreign, international power–an authority that rules over many nations. If that’s the case, then “rising up out of the earth” could signify a local authority, ruling either a single country, or a specific area. This regional authority would, therefore, be subservient to the international power. Such a scenario certainly fits the Roman Empire of John’s day, and could describe other authoritarian structures in history. The sixteenth century Reformers certainly viewed the Roman Catholic Church in these terms, with the Pope ruling in Rome, exercising dominion over churches in many nations, and those local churches and parish priests doing his bidding. We might also consider Nazi Germany as an example of a powerful, dictatorial rule over a number of nations, with forces at the local level carrying out the leader’s commands. There may be others that come to mind in our present day, which is why, I believe, the Lord showed these things to John in visions. If John had seen the Emperor as opposed to a beast, his vision would be locked into a specific place and time. As it is, the vision transcends time and speaks to us now.

John describes this second beast as having “two horns, like a lamb” and speaking “like a dragon.” As we’ve established before, horns represent power. The first beast has ten horns, so while this second beast is powerful, it is definitely a lesser authority. But why two horns, and not eight or nine? In Daniel 8:3, Daniel has a vision of a ram with two horns, and this ram charges west, north, and south, and no beast can stand against it. The significance of this “two horns” connection may simply be to indicate fulfillment of Daniel’s vision. On the other hand, the two horns may be a symbolic parallel to the two witnesses of chapter 11. These witnesses represent the faithful church, God’s people, those who follow Christ, who minister the gospel message, which is life to those who are saved, but judgment to the lost. I think we have good reason to suggest that this second beast is the counterfeit to the true church, a false prophet representing false prophets, a false apostle representing false apostles. More about that in a moment.

The next notable description of this beast is that he speaks with a voice “like a dragon,” indicating in a way that leaves no doubt where his true allegiance lies. This beast may be a servant of the first beast, but he, like his master, is a pawn of Satan, ultimately doing his bidding, and ultimately acting by his authority. This gives us a basic organizational structure, with the dragon/Satan as the head, under whom is the first beast acting as global ruler, and then the second beast representing local authorities. In this way, satanic power and influence filters down to all the regions of the earth, to fulfill the dragon’s ultimate objectives: the destruction of his enemies (i.e., the church) and the subjugation of the earth under his power. This is why it seems to John’s readers (and us, for that matter) that the whole world is succumbing to evil influences, and the church suffers as a result.

We will see in 16:13, 19:20, and 20:10 references to the devil, the beast, and the “false prophet.” Indeed, 19:20 says this “false prophet” had done signs by which he deceived those who worshiped the beast and received his mark. It seems that this “false prophet” and the second beast are one and the same, which supports the idea that it is the counterfeit to the two witnesses who prophesy in chapter 11.

The purpose of this beast is to make all the earth-dwellers (i.e., those who are not God’s people, the church) worship the first beast. Everything the second beast does serves that end, and, indeed, we can treat verses 13-17 as John unpacking what it means for the beast to lead the earth-dwellers into idolatry. Notice the tag added to “the first beast”: “whose mortal wound was healed.” It seems John is reminding us of the fact that the beast was healed from a “wound of death” to make sure we don’t forget that he is a false messiah, a counterfeit Christ, just as the second beast represents the counterfeit apostles of the counterfeit Christ.

John tells us two ways specifically the second beast seeks to fulfill his commission. The first is by way of “great signs,” namely making fire come down from heaven in the presence of the people. By producing such a wondrous spectacle, as the first beast’s representative, the second beast leads astray the earth-dwellers into worship of the first beast. This is consistent with John’s use of the word “sign” in his Gospel. In John’s Gospel, he doesn’t refer to Jesus’s supernatural acts as “miracles” but “signs.” He also limits the number of signs he records, always accompanying each one with teaching of some kind that gives further light on what the sign indicates. After all, a sign points to something. A sign pointing the way to a city isn’t the city, but something that directs you toward the city. Jesus’s signs aren’t the Messiah, but they point his audience to the Messiah. Again, as a counterfeit to Jesus’s signs, the second beast performs signs that point to the counterfeit Christ. And just like the apostles in Acts performed miracles to point people to Jesus, and not to themselves, so the false apostle performs signs to point the earth-dwellers to the false Messiah.

Fire from heaven is quite an impressive sign to perform. Such fire is usually a sign of judgment, as we see in the contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18, where the Lord consumed Elijah’s offering with fire from heaven. Also in 2 Kings 1:10-14, God consumes 50 of the king’s men by fire from heaven when they come to arrest Elijah. And, of course, there’s the fire that comes from the mouths of the two witnesses in Revelation 11:5, which symbolizes the gospel message which judges the hearts of those who reject it. But the second beast’s fire is not a fire of judgment. Its purpose is to impress the people, and to lead them to the first beast.

Jesus warned of false Christs and false prophets coming and performing signs and wonders, such that they would, if possible, lead even the elect astray (Matthew 24:24). Of course, God’s people are secure–if nothing else, that much has been made abundantly clear in Revelation so far! But Jesus’s words help us to appreciate the power and draw of the miraculous that even God’s own can be tempted to follow after such miracle-workers.

In Revelation 2:2, Jesus warned the church in Ephesus about “false apostles.” It seems these were people within their own congregation that called themselves “apostles.” Which reminds us that such people don’t always come from outside the church wearing t-shirts that say, “I’m a false prophet–watch out for me!” Sometimes, perhaps often, such people are within our churches. In his first letter, John talks about the coming of “antichrist” and the fact that many antichrists have already come (1 John 1:18-23). But these antichrists revealed themselves for who they really are by being unable to remain within the fellowship of the faithful. For whatever reason, they left. Such antichrists “deny the Father and the Son.” This could mean that they reject the doctrine of the Trinity, but it could also mean that they refuse to submit to the Lordship of Christ and worship the triune God. This might be made apparent in a rejection of the authority of God’s Word, Scripture, which in turn would lead to a denial of the fundamental truths of the Christian faith (including the Trinity, and the fact that “Jesus is the Christ”–1 John 1:22).

Is the “antichrist” of 1 John the first beast of Revelation 13? Quite possibly, given that any authority that denies Christ his rightful Lordship, and persecutes his people, is acting as “antichrist.” It seems as if Revelation is pointing to a time at the end, prior to the Christ’s return, when the earth will be dominated by evil in such a way that the church will be on the brink of total demise. The ruler at that time could be the final, and perhaps worst, antichrist. Or it could be just the last of a long line of antichrists. I don’t think we have to take John’s words in 1 John 1:18 as predicting the coming of a single antichrist. He says his readers have heard of a coming antichrist, and John reminds them that, in fact, many antichrists have come, and that’s how we know it’s the last hour.

We ran out of time, so we’ll look at the second way beast number two fulfills his commission next time…

Happy Resurrection Day!

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. [1 Corinthians 15:3-20, ESV]

Doctor Who: New Series 10

This coming Saturday, April 15th, sees the start of the tenth series of the Doctor Who re-boot that began in 2005. It promises to be a momentous season, as it’s the last season for both show-runner Steven Moffat, as well as Twelfth Doctor Peter Capaldi.

WARNING! There may be some spoilers in what follows!

So, what do we know? As of the posting of this article, here’s the main stuff. First, the episode titles. Not all have been released, but we have these:

Episode No. Title Writer
01 The Pilot Steven Moffat
02 Smile Frank Cottrell Boyce
03 Thin Ice Sarah Dollard
04 Knock Knock Mike Bartlett
05 Oxygen Jamie Mathieson
06 Extremis Steven Moffat
07 The Pyramid at the End of the World Peter Harness
08 The Lie of the Land Toby Whithouse
09 The Empress of Mars Mark Gatiss
10 The Eaters of Light Rona Monro
11 TBA Steven Moffat
12 TBA Steven Moffat

Notes

  • A new companion, Bill Potts, will be joining the Doctor in episode 01.
  • Episodes 06, 07, and 08 comprise a three-part story, the first since New Series 3 (“Utopia”, “The Sound of Drums”, and “Last of the Time Lords”).
  • The Ice Warriors will return in Episode 09.
  • The Master will be back. Yes, you heard read that correctly.
  • Rona Monro, Episode 10’s writer, is the first Classic Series writer to write for the New Series. She was one of only two women to write for the Classic Series. Her story, “Survival,” was the last of the 1963-1989 run.
  • Episodes 11 and 12 comprise a two-part story that will feature a variety of Cybermen, including the original Mondas Cybermen from 1966, and the Cybus Industries Cybermen from 2006.
  • There will be a Christmas special, in which the Twelfth Doctor will regenerate. New show-runner Chris Chibnall will write the Thirteenth Doctor’s first scene.

The Who production team have done a good job controlling leaks, so there’s nothing here that hasn’t been announced officially in some venue (interviews, articles, etc.).

In the latest trailer, there’s a sequence at the end where the Doctor’s hand glows orange, as if the regeneration is starting. This might be just a tease, but, personally, I think it would be cool if the regeneration happened in Episode 12. No-one would be expecting it, and since the identity of the Thirteenth Doctor has not been announced, it would possibly be the biggest shock/surprise of the show’s history.  Even topping “Earthshock”‘s double-whammy (surprise, the Cybermen! Surprise surprise, Adric dies!). As cool as that might be, I doubt they’ll do it. I expect there will be an official “New Doctor” announcement in the Summer, with a simulcast show to help drum up publicity and prepare people for the Christmas special.

To whet your appetite for Saturday, here are the Season 10 trailers:

Those are the highlights. Your thoughts?

Sunday School Notes: Revelation 13:9-10

9 If anyone has an ear, let him hear: 10 If anyone is [taken] into captivity, he departs into captivity. If anyone [is] to be killed by a sword, he is to be killed by a sword. Here is the steadfastness and faith of the saints.

We spent our time discussing these difficult verses. It’s not the meaning of the verses that makes them difficult. The Greek is a little awkward when rendered literally into English, but the intention of the Greek is quite clear. And that’s what makes the verses difficult: the implications of these words not only for John and his audience, but for us today.

Verse 9 should sound familiar. In the letters to the churches (chapters 2 and 3), the Lord uses the phrase, “he who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” near or at the end of each letter. Jesus also used a similar phrase after delivering the parable of the sower (or, better, the parable of the seeds): “He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 13:9). This is a call for those to whom it has been given to understand to pay attention. After Jesus gave the parable, his disciples came to him asking about its meaning, and Jesus explained it to them. In the letters to the churches, Jesus calls on the members of those churches, and all who read the letters (including us) to pay attention to his words. He gives encouragement to those who are his own, those who “overcome,” that they will have an eternal reward. But these words are not for everyone. They are only for those that will hear them–i.e., his elect.

John is using that phrase in the same way here, I believe. Having just talked about the first beast, his blasphemies, and his intent to destroy God’s people, he calls on the church to pay attention to what’s being said. The gist of verse 10 is, if you’re being led into captivity–arrested, or otherwise taken away against your will–then go into captivity, and if you are to be killed by the sword, then be killed. If the reader doesn’t have the context of the letters, and all that has preceded chapter 13, this sounds bleak, hopeless, and fatalistic. But we must recall that Revelation is a letter of hope. John has been reminding us through his visions that our goal is not world domination. This physical world, as good and pleasant as it is, cannot be the final focus of our lives. We are not kingdom building here on earth. Our focus is on the eternal. God’s promises to us are heavenly rewards. This life is but a fleeting breath. Our few years here are nothing compared to eternity. If we suffer here, it’s a small thing compared to the glory that is to come. That thought shouldn’t make us negligent about the physical world. We ought to care about the planet, and our bodily well-being, since these are good gifts from God (see Genesis 1). But our hope is not here; our salvation and security is not in the things of this world.

With this thought in mind, John tells his readers that they should be willing to accept whatever comes their way as a result of their faithfulness to the gospel, and to Christ. If that means being led away, perhaps into exile as John was, then so be it. Or if it means paying the ultimate price, then Christians should be willing to face death for the Lord’s sake. And this is, indeed, the steadfastness, or the endurance, and the faith of the saints. By this willingness to take the consequences of standing firm in Christ, God’s people bear witness to their faith, and shine the light of the gospel broadly. And that steadfastness glorifies God.

This leads to some interesting questions, which we spent the rest of our time discussing: Does this mean we should offer no resistance to authorities when we are punished for our faith? Should we just lie down and passively take what comes our way? Is there a place for taking action against evil and injustice at the hands of the civil authorities? I’m not going into everything we discussed, but these are some thoughts we considered. First, we are privileged in the West to even be able to ask these questions. There are still countries in the world where ruling authorities wield absolute power, and private citizens have no legal mechanism to oppose them. In the West, particularly in the US, we have a Constitution and system of laws that can be used to make our case and uphold justice. We also have the ability to change bad laws and promote just legislation. As God has given us such privileges, we ought to make use of them, rather than try to subvert them, even in a good cause. For example, abortion is clearly a practice condemned by Scripture, and abhorrent in the sight of God. It is, therefore, right and proper for Christians to oppose the practice of abortion, and to try to influence governmental powers to work to protect life from conception to death. However, it is clearly wrong, indeed, hypocritical, to murder abortionists–one sin does not justify another. And it is also not biblical to destroy abortion clinics, even if there’s no loss of life, since such destruction of property is a criminal offense.

But what if the law of the land is contrary to the command of God? To what extent must the Christian obey the ruling authorities? I think this is the situation Revelation 13:9-10 describes. If the beast represents the government, whether it’s the Roman government, or some other oppressive regime that opposes Christ and his church, then this is what faithful Christians can expect. If the Christian has recourse within the bounds of the law to state his case and try for justice, I see nothing in Scripture to prevent him. However, if the state rules against him, then he must accept the punishment, knowing that divine justice is on his side, and divine judgment awaits those who rule unjustly against God’s people. Again, our fight is not against the rulers of this world, but against spiritual powers and principalities, and they have already been defeated at the cross.

This is how the saints endure. This is our testimony to the world, that our hope is not in political leaders and government, but in the Lord who is truly God of all.

We’ll start at verse 11 next time.

Who Review: The Armageddon Factor

There’s only one more segment of the Key to Time for the Doctor, Romana, and K-9 to find. The tracer leads them to the planet Atrios, which is in the midst of a devastating war with neighboring planet Zeos. Despite heavy casualties, the Atrian Marshall believes victory is close at hand. However, Princess Astra, sole survivor of Atrios’s ancient royal family, wants peace with Zeos and for the bloodshed to cease. But her attempts to communicate with Zeos go unheeded. When the TARDIS crew arrive, they are, of course, suspected of being Zeon spies. It doesn’t help that Princess Astra is abducted around the time of their arrival. The Doctor becomes convinced that Astra is the key to finding the sixth segment, so it is critical they find her. But all is not as it seems. Danger is close at hand for the Doctor and his friends as dark forces lurk behind the scenes. Someone will stop at nothing, even to the point of using those closest to the Doctor, to get the Key to Time…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

The final story in the “Key to Time” arc was written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin, a writing team whose previous efforts (“The Mutants,” “The Three Doctors,” and “The Hand of Fear” to name three) demonstrate they know how to do the job. While their Who stories are not always the best, most are good, and I think “Armageddon” is one of these better ones. They manage to keep “padding” down to a minimum (which is always a challenge for a six-parter) by making sure all the various story elements contribute to the plot, and they keep a good pace, with plenty of drama and humor in the script to maintain interest.

Episode one starts with what appears to be a scene from a soap opera, or some kind of propaganda film that extols the virtue of sacrifice for the sake of victory. The fact we see this on the television screens in the ruins of the hospital, filled with the wounded and dying, helps orient us to the situation on Atrios. The power-hungry Marshal will bleed the planet dry to win, but Princess Astra sees only death and destruction, and wants an end of it.

Slowly we peel back the layers of what’s going on. Astra’s messages to Zeos don’t ever seem to get through. Not even a bounce-back. The Marshal’s strange conversations with a mirror, and the little black cube on his neck. The way the tracer, the stick used by the Doctor and Romana to find the segments of the Key to Time, is drawn to Princess Astra, as if she is somehow connected to it. Then there’s the “Shadow,” who introduces himself as the Doctor’s adversary. Like the Doctor, he has been sent by a Guardian on a special quest. But as his name suggests, the Guardian he works for is not White, like the Doctor’s. This is all good use of the six parts, allowing the story time to unfold.

When the Doctor finally seems to figure out where the sixth segment is, one might wonder why he doesn’t simply retrieve it and leave. The way Baker and Martin have woven the plot makes it impossible for the Doctor to leave without dealing with the Marshal and the Shadow. The Marshal pilots a ship to launch a missile attack on Zeos. This will trigger the computer on Zeos to self-destruct, taking Zeos, Atrios, and anything else in its vicinity with it. And even if the Doctor manages to stop the computer, the missile strike will ultimately have much the same effect. The Doctor uses the Key to Time, with a fake sixth segment, to hold off the Marshal’s attack, but because it is impure, it will only hold him off for a limited time. By the time the Doctor is sure of the location of the sixth segment, there’s no time to replace the fake one with the real one. For a Who story to work, the writer needs to find a compelling reason for the Doctor to stick around and not just get back in the TARDIS and leave. Baker and Martin do a good job of that here.

With regard to that sixth segment, it appears as if the Doctor understood the secret early on. But later, he still seems uncertain. Perhaps the look of surprise when the Shadow tells him he’s been looking at the sixth segment all along was feigned, though I’m not sure. Romana certainly seems in the dark, though she notices the way the tracer reacts to things Princess Astra has worn. It’s only at the very end she cottons on. Maybe they both didn’t want to believe it, given what it would mean…?

This story introduces a new Time Lord: Drax, who was in the “Class of ’93” with the Doctor (or “Theta Sigma” as he calls him). Unlike the Doctor, Drax failed his exams in the Academy, and ended up traveling the universe as a repair man. He built the computer on Zeos for the Shadow, but was then imprisoned. Throwing Drax into the story in episode five could be seen as “filler,” but he does play an important part in helping the Doctor defeat the Shadow. He’s an interesting character, one that I wouldn’t mind seeing show up in the New Series.

The conclusion to the story, and the “Key to Time” arc is both understandable and unsatisfying. The Doctor sums up the dilemma well in his creepy “there is no more free will” speech that his gives to Romana with eyes rolled back. “I can do anything I want because I have the Key to Time!” he tells her. And he’s right: no-one should have that kind of power. It’s just a shame it took all this time and traveling to figure it out. If it wasn’t for the fact that many of the stories have been enjoyable, and the Doctor and Romana have been a pleasure to watch, one might be forgiven for calling the whole escapade a waste of time.

To sum up, this is a good story, and worth the Whovian’s attention. Possibly the saddest part is the fact it’s Mary Tamm’s last as Romana. Of the two Romanas, she’s my favorite. I like the fact we see her grow from arrogant academic to being a student again, and Mary does such a good job of showing that growth. In the hands of the right script writer, she could have developed her character further for another season or two. But that wasn’t to be.

Sunday School Notes: Revelation 13:8

8 And all those dwelling upon the earth will worship him [i.e., the beast], whose name has not been written in the book of life of the Lamb, the one who was slain, from the creation of the world.

“All those dwelling upon the earth” is, again, a reference to unbelievers. We’ve noted before a distinction between “earth-dwellers” and “heaven-dwellers” in Revelation. There is no third group; everyone belongs to one or the other category. The earth-dwellers are those who serve and worship the beast, while the heaven-dwellers serve and worship the Lamb. The earth-dwellers do not have their names in the book of life, whereas the heaven-dwellers do (see chapter 14).

The verb “worship” translates the Greek proskuneō, which is sometimes used in the sense of bowing in respect, or pleading before an authority. It’s most common use in the Greek translation of the Old Testament and in the New Testament, however, is in reference to worship, i.e., what the Israelites did in the Temple in Jerusalem, what the elders do to the One who sits on the throne in Revelation 4:10, and what the earth-dwellers ought to be doing before the Lamb. But they won’t because their names are not in the Lamb’s book of life.

We talked for a little while about the fact the “earth-dwellers” are all non-Christians, and hence worship the beast. In other words, they don’t follow after the Lord, nor do they worship him. Instead they place their trust in the secular world, in the ruling authorities, and, perhaps by default if not overtly, worship idols and false gods. We were reminded of the passage in 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12, which says:

The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. [ESV Translation]

As we have seen, and will continue to see, this beast is certainly out to deceive by means of signs and wonders. He attempts to imitate Christ, posing as a false Messiah, just one of the ways he commits blasphemy against God and His people. In 2 Thessalonians, Paul reminds us that the refusal of the “earth-dwellers” to love and worship the Lord is not because they are stupid, or lack the necessary information or evidence. They have been overcome by a strong delusion, and are unable to believe the truth. This is a fact we must remember as we reach out to our unbelieving family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. It’s so easy to become frustrated with people, and wonder if we’re saying the wrong things, or we’ve overestimate their mental abilities. There are a lot of smart atheists in the world, and there are good things we can learn from them. By what we call “common grace,” the Lord has allowed those who are His enemies to gain a measure of insight and wisdom, and to attain knowledge and expertise that is valuable. It is foolish for us to dismiss all unbelievers as worthless and ignorant. We must recognize that though they have understanding and intelligence, they are also under a delusion, so they will not give glory to the One who has so gifted them. In Ephesians 6, Paul says that our battle isn’t against flesh and blood, but against spiritual powers. It’s not the people we’re battling against, but the delusion. This is why our evangelism must be with love and compassion, with the desire that our fellow creatures, made in the image of God, might be set free from the bondage of deception and come to embrace the truth in Christ.

We then tackled a couple of translation questions. First, the passage literally says “those dwelling upon the earth will worship him, he whose name has not been written…” The “he whose name” is not in reference to the beast–obviously his name hasn’t been written in the book of Life! And, as we’ll see in chapter 14, this is in contrast to God’s people whose names have been written in the book. But “those dwelling upon the earth” is plural, so shouldn’t it say, “those whose names have not been written…”? One of the principles of textual criticism–the process by which scholars attempt to determine what the author actually wrote from a group of differing manuscripts–is that the “harder” reading is usually the original reading. More often than not, a scribe will attempt to correct a hard reading (hard either grammatically or theologically). Scribes don’t usually try to make easy to understand passages more difficult. For that reason, scholars tend to favor the singular verb here. I think John intends us to see that each one of those in the group of worshipers is accountable for his action. Those who worship the beast are excluded from the book of life not as a group, but as individuals. Each person in that group has a name, and that name is noticeably absent from the book.

The second translation question has to do with the way the verse is to be understood. The Greek can read two ways. Either the beast-worshipers’ names have not been written in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world, or the beast-worshipers’ names have not been written from the creation of the world in the Lamb’s book of life. The difference is subtle, but important. In the first, we have the emphasis on the fact that the slaying of the Lamb was foreordained from the creation of the world; in the second, the emphasis is on the fact that the names in the slain Lamb’s book of life were determined and written from the creation of the world. The first reading seems the most natural way to take the verse, and it’s certainly true that the cross was planned from the beginning of time. However, we have seen the phrase “the Lamb who was slain” already in Revelation 5:12. The second part of the phrase, “from the creation of the world,” is not part of the Lamb’s description in 5:12. Indeed, for John it seems the fore-ordination of the Lamb’s death is not as important as the fact he was slain. It’s a point of encouragement to the suffering believers in the churches to whom John writes that the Lord of glory, the one who has overcome and redeemed them, was one who also suffered, even unto death. Christ identifies with his people, and has invested himself in their salvation. This is the one who is in control of the beast and all that he does. Does it not make better sense that John would want to remind his readers that, a) the names in the book of life have been settled from the beginning, so Christ’s followers can be secure in their salvation, no matter what happens to them physically, and b) that it’s the slain Lamb, the one who died for them, that superintends their persecution, and who will ultimately see them rise victorious? I think so. 🙂

Lord willing, we’ll continue next time with verses 9 and 10 of chapter 13.