Day 364: Revelation 17-19; The Fall of Babylon and the Marriage Supper

In many ways, today’s reading has a lot to do about sex.  At first glance this seems rather odd to us as we have been talking about the end times and all that is to come, and suddenly we are talking about a prostitute and a great beast and all the sexual immorality of the earth.  But, if we think back over the course of our reading of Scripture again we will remember that God and the prophets often refer to Israel’s idolatry as a form of spiritual prostitution, and God often relates their running after God to the same idea as adultery.  The vision we get of Israel is of a young woman that the Lord saved from her misery, pulled her out of the proverbial mud, cleaned her up and adorned her with white robes as a bride.  However, this bride was unfaithful to Him, going off and prostituting herself to other gods.  At times the prophets said that she would welcome in anyone that she encountered on the street corner.  This is how bad things had gotten in Israel, yet even in that God still welcomed her back.

We get a lot of this same vision today, however we see it on a much grander scale applying to the people of the world.  They have gone off and prostituted themselves to the beast, to the antichrist and opened themselves to him.  The reason that sexual imagery is used here, I think, is to communicate the depth of personal giving that is taking place in the hearts of those who follow the antichrist.  Not only do they sin by not listening to  God and not living in the way that He would have them live, they have given their whole selves up to the antichrist in the way that God so desires them to turn to Him.  It is this depth of knowing, this depth of giving that conjures up images of marriage and sex, the deepest self giving that we know as humans.  It is important to note here too that, as detestable as this sounds, even John marveled at the beast and the prostitute which I think goes to show how incredibly enticing this will be.  While I don’t know about what this is or could be actually pointing to, but I know that there is a sinful lifestyle out there that, though we may condemn, we also often stop to take a second look.  We too must be careful because the beast is out there seeking whom he may devour.

So from here we see an angel that is calling out and declaring the fall of Babylon.  Now, in Hebrew literature, Babylon is the symbol of all evil, idolatry, and eternally the enemy of God.  This started being true in the Exile, when the Babylonian army destroy the Temple in Jerusalem.  From then on, they were labeled as the enemies of God.  Some have taken these references to Babylon to mean that, in the last days, the antichrist will actually seek to rebuild the city of Babylon and will rule from there.  I don’t necessarily agree with this notion, though I don’t see it as being out of the realm of possibility either.  Remember that this whole time we have been talking about the fact that these Scriptures do not necessarily denote a series of events, but rather a broad brush stroke of what is to take place before all things come to their already given conclusion.  Babylon, like the beasts and much of the other vivid imagery may just be an image, a grouping of the enemies of God.  In this instance, the angel is communicating to us that the enemies of God have fallen, no longer to rise.  This could mean spiritually there is no turning back for them, or it could mean that in this instance they are truly defeated.  In any case, what we see is that “Babylon,” despite all of her good looks, fine clothing and jewelry, and all that she offers to entice the people of the earth, at some point this will come to an end, that she will not do business anymore, and that the true lie of all she does will be exposed.

For this, all those in heaven rejoice!  Not simply because the truth of Babylon has been exposed to the whole world, but because God has judged her accordingly and she is indeed fallen.  Later we see Jesus coming on a white horse and throwing down Satan, the beast, and capturing him.  All of heaven rejoices at this happening!

Finally today, we get a chance to talk about the marriage supper of the Lamb.  This is an image of a great feast that will take place in heaven with all believers, those whose names are written in the book of life.  Jesus invites everyone to His table, all those who believe in His name are welcome there.  When we celebrate communion together as a church, not only “do this in remembrance” of Jesus’ last supper, but we do it in anticipation of this event that will take place in the future as well!  There will be a time when Satan is defeated and sin is no more and all those who believe in the name of Jesus and have been saved by grace, through faith in Him, will sit down at His table and feast with Him!  What an exciting prospect to be a part of this some day!  This is what we look forward to at the end of time, being in the presence of our Savior and Lord, sitting and eating at His table, being free from sin, death and persecution forever and ever, amen!

(I would like to mention, that the articles that I am referencing as “related” are those that have been suggested by wordpress and do not necessarily support of coincide with the beliefs that I hold or write about.  I neither cast my unknowing support to them nor do I say that they are wrong, simply conversational partners in this journey through the Scriptures.)



Day 363: Revelation 13-16; The Beasts, The Mark, and the Bowls of Wrath

Today we get the dubious pleasure of meeting more beasts and seemingly crazy images that John is being shown in this vision.  Right off the bat we meet two beasts.  The first one is a beast the arises out of the Sea and has many of the same features as the dragon from yesterdays reading.  In fact, the dragon gives in the power that it has and “his throne” on earth.  There have been many interpretations about what this image means.  Some have interpreted it as a symbol of the Roman empire and its rule in the world.  At this time the Roman empire was heavily persecuting Christians throughout the known world, times were rough and the empire itself probably seemed like a beast of sorts, trying to stamp out the Christian movement while it was still in its infancy.

Other’s have seen this beast as the antichrist, a false messiah that will show up in the world speaking great words and drawing many to himself as he has great authority on the earth.  This has been interpreted to signify a particular human or perhaps a government and perhaps even a corporate institution that will both wield authority and also set itself up as a sort of “savior” of the world.  Like we have held all along though, this Scripture is not meant to point out any one specific thing as being exactly what John is seeing here, but rather to serve as a warning, like Jesus’ words in Matthew 24, that there would be those that would come that would try to draw people, especially believers away from God.

We also meet the second beast today, one that rises out of the land.  Where these beasts come from are rather significant in the Hebrew worldview.  Remember that water symbolizes death and chaos, from the time before creation was created.  It was out of the swirling waters of nothingness that God created everything and it is out of this same chaos that the first beast comes from.  However the second beast is one that arises from creation itself, from the land that has been long plagued with sin.  Perhaps this represents a different nature to this second beast.  It is clearly seen that this second beast has a direct impact on the relationships of people as well as commerce and even the ability to live and make a living.

Together these three, the dragon, the beast from the sea, and the beast from the earth have been called the “unholy trinity.”  This is a direct opposition to the Triune nature of God, and these three directly oppose God.  In some ways this makes sense in that the dragon is seen attacking the woman, trying to thwart the overall plan of God, the beast from the Sea comes from the same place that we see John talk about Jesus, the Divine Word made Flesh, coming from in the very beginning.  The second beast then would be in contrast to the Holy Spirit, working within the hearts of humanity, working against their relationships with each other and with God.  While this is an interpretation, the number that is given for this seems to coincide with this a bit.  John gives the number 666 as the mark of the beast, but also says that understanding this number calls for wisdom.  It could mean a lot of things, but the significance of the three numbers that are all one less than seven, a number representing the divine, does seem to suggest something.  The three numbers often represent God, the three persons of God, and the number seven represents wholeness or completeness.  It would stand to reason then, that God’s number could easily be 777.  With that being said, the number 666 represents imperfection, only an attempt to be divine, to have any sort of power.  It is only with the One True God that the fullness and completeness of Divine power, love, and grace and be seen.

Finally today I want to draw our attention once again to the working of God’s wrath in Revelation 16.  These are very powerful images that come to us, visions of God’s wrath being poured out on the earth from bowls.  In some ways it is very difficult to even read about and these images bring to our minds questions about how the God of Love could do such things.  Once again I think it is important to remember that God’s love is actually the source of God’s wrath.  When sin entered the world, all of creation was corrupted and set on a path of sin.  From that time on, oppression and injustice were present.  We see this throughout history and especially when it comes against the people of God, the wrath of the Lord is kindled.  This isn’t judgment out of anger, it is the deep deep passion of God’s love for His creation that has been aroused to righteous anger.  The Lord is indignant because all He has created which He loves so much is being torn apart by sin.  As we read about these bowl judgments we see that it is said time and again that people would not turn to God, that instead of repenting they would curse God and not worship Him.  Ultimately this is the goal of God’s wrath and judgment upon creation; it was when He was judging Israel, it is now, and it will be when these come to pass in whatever form they come in.  God is trying desperately to get the attention of those who refuse to follow Him and in so doing He is also punishing the sin that has plagued all of creation.

Unfortunately, these are not things that we often here anymore.  We talk a length about the love of God and the compassion that He and stuff.  These are all well and good… however it leaves a lot of questions to be answered when we read of God’s judgment on creation.  The fact of the matter is that God is a God of love, but He is also a God of justice and we have to hold both of these things in His hand.  We like to think that everybody is just going to be happy in the end, but as that end approaches there will be those that won’t be happy about it, those that have chosen to reject God and oppose Him.  While there will be ample time for them to repent, with lots and lots of warnings as we clearly see here, there will be a time when the end will come and the choice to oppose God and refuse Him will be final.  Again this is unfortunate; my heart aches even as I write this, but it is the reality that we are presented with in Scripture… no matter how much we don’t want to hear it.  Jesus Christ offers us the hope of salvation by grace alone through our faith in Him.  All we need to do is accept Him as our Lord and Savior and believe in His Name.  We never know how much time is actually left which means that we need to be sharing the Gospel of Grace with everyone all the time!

(I would like to mention, that the articles that I am referencing as “related” are those that have been suggested by wordpress and do not necessarily support of coincide with the beliefs that I hold or write about.  I neither cast my unknowing support to them nor do I say that they are wrong, simply conversational partners in this journey through the Scriptures.)



Day 362: Revelation 8-12; Trumpets, Witnesses, and a Great Battle

We talked a bit about judgment and wrath yesterday, however we did not speak of one important aspect to God’s wrath and God’s judgment, something that I think needs to be mentioned here as we continue in our journey to the end of all things.  If we think back to the prophets, we see the warnings of the impending doom that come from the mouths of the prophets, warnings of the judgment AND a call to turn to God, to repentance so that the judgment may be averted.  While many of these images are unique to the book of revelation, they do hold similarities to those warnings spoken by many of the prophets about the judgment that would take place on Israel, Judah, and Jerusalem.  Here too we see God working to get the attention of all people, working to call them to repentance that they may turn to Him and be saved.  The image of the trumpets then, is not one that is so strange as trumpets and horns have been used throughout the ages to communicate with and get peoples’ attention.

I’m kind of at a loss for words in what to write next.  As we are walked through the judgments we see a great number of people dying and horrible natural disasters.  There is this meteor that falls into the water of the earth called “wormwood” which is the  name of a very bitter plant.  It could be representative of the bitterness of God’s judgment.  We also see that only a portion of the world’s population was killed, which means that there are limits to the judgments that are being poured out, at least for the time being.

There is really so much to write about here in these five chapters, we see a number of angels and demons working in different ways.  The demons seem to be working to torture and tempt those still on earth, working against God to continue to keep humanity on its destructive and sinful paths.  The Angels also seem to be at work, warning humanity of its impending judgment, carrying out the work of the Lord.  We also see that there are “witnesses” that show up as well.  In the “Left Behind” series these witnesses are Elijah and Moses who come back to earth with supernatural powers.  Actually, many of the signs that they do are indicative of the things that both did while they lived on this earth.  They were also present at the transfiguration of Christ before He journeyed to Jerusalem and to His death.  It could also be symbolic of the witness of the Word of God to the people, the two could simply represent the Old and New Testaments.  In any case, these join with the work of the Angels and that of the believers in declaring the Word of the Lord and warning humanity of the impending judgments and encouraging them to believe in Jesus.

Finally today we come to a somewhat extended narrative in this vision about “the woman and the dragon.”  There is a lot that takes place in chapter 12 and we will be revisiting it in further chapters as well.  John says that “a great sign appeared in heaven.”  This sign was that of a woman that was dressed like the sun, and had a great deal of imagery about her that is similar to one of the dreams of Joseph way back in Genesis 37.  It is enough to say that with this imagery, most people think that she is representative of the people of God.  In fact, we have talked about Israel being represented in the Bible as a woman adorned for her bridegroom, who is God.  Here she is pregnant and gives birth to a Son, another image of Jesus present in Revelation.

The dragon is also there, ready to snatch up the baby, who we are told is “the one who is to rule all the nations…”  Many people associate this dragon with Satan, with the different heads and crowns and horns to represent his earthly rule over the kingdoms of the world.  Some have also seen this as an image of the Roman empire, or perhaps corrupt world governments in general throughout history.  However, what we see is that the powers of evil were working against the plan of God, trying to prevent the coming of Jesus and the salvation that He brings.  We saw this with Herod at Jesus birth and we tend to see it often in our lives with those that persecute Christians and repress the freedom to worship God.

The deeper imagery here is revealed in verse seven of chapter seven, of a great war that is going on between the angels of God and the dragon, the evil powers that would seek to enslave and destroy all things.  While we may be naive as to what is going on all around us, there is a great war that is being waged between good and evil, between God and Satan.  This is something we tend to dramatize, glorify, and even over emphasize.  I think though that the point here really is that we need to make sure that we are aware of what is going on around us in our world today.  Satan would have us believe that he doesn’t exist, that demons don’t exist, and that he is not working against us to bring about our destruction.  What John is showing us here is that there is definitely more to this world than what we see with our eyes.  This doesn’t necessarily give us the right to start attacking corrupt governments, destruction groups, or evil people, but rather to pray against them, pray for them, and ultimately trust that God is on our side and that He is fighting for us.

We see clearly that the dragon is defeated here.  He has been thrown out of heaven and though he is still on the earth seeking those that he may devour, his doom has been sealed and his final defeat assured.  It is only a matter of time really, which is yet another thing that John is communicating here.  Has he had been encouraging the churches with his letters, so to does he encourage them now by laying out this vision that we might persevere with the assurance that the end of this story has already been told, and that our victory is assured in Jesus Christ the only true King and ruler of this world.

(I would like to mention, that the articles that I am referencing as “related” are those that have been suggested by wordpress and do not necessarily support of coincide with the beliefs that I hold or write about.  I neither cast my unknowing support to them nor do I say that they are wrong, simply conversational partners in this journey through the Scriptures.)



Day 361: Revelation 4-7; Worship, Seals, and Horsemen

The first thing that we see after the seven letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor is John’s description of what is going on in the throne room of heaven before the presence of God.  John is drawn up into heaven, or perhaps what we talked about in the prophets as being the spiritual realm that exists alongside of ours.  We often think of heaven as being this far away, very distant place in which we get to go when we die and escape from this world.  However, the prevailing vision of the prophetic literature as well as the Hebrew culture is that of an “alternate reality” of sorts that exists alongside of our own.  Things that happen in this world are but shadows of that which happen on the other side of the divine.  This is why we have seen things like the Temple, the house of God and the center of the universe for Hebrew culture, illuminated in visions and other theophanies where the barriers between the physical and the spiritual worlds “break down.”  As we continue to read through Revelation, remember that this is one of the things that John is likely thinking right now.  His experience is like that of Isaiah, Moses, and other people in Israel’s past that have experienced a direct encounter with God, and this would be the way in which he understands what he sees.

What we see today, first and foremost, is the worship that is taking place around the throne of God.  John is drawn up into the heavenly realm in which he is able to witness the true nature of worship.  This too has been something that has been talked about through the Scriptures time and time again.  Isaiah witnesses this in the narrative of his calling in Isaiah 6, many of the prophets talk about the nature of true worship, and Jesus Himself, when talking to the woman at the well in the Gospel of John talks about the true worship of God being that of worship in Spirit and Truth.  While the worship at the Temple may have been representative of the worship of God, it was but a shadow of the true worship which is always taking place around the throne.

In this vision we encounter some strange images which are not the first that we will encounter.  We see four living creatures, like those in the visions of Ezekiel, and 24 elders, and so on and so forth.  We have talked about these a little bit in some of our discussions about prophetic literature, and there are different people who would say that they mean different things.  Perhaps they do represent all of creation, perhaps they are some sort of divine guardian.  In all honesty though, the interpretation of what they represent is really peripheral to the nature of what they are doing which is worshiping God with their whole being.  We also encounter a great deal of numbers within the visions of the prophets and here again in John.  We’ve talked about this since the beginning of our journey through the Bible as well.  Numbers are quite often important and very often are representative of things.  The number 3, for instance, represents the trinity, and along with 1 and 7 are representative of the Divine.  Seven is also the number of completion representing the whole of whatever it is referencing.  Some have said that the “seven letters” represent God’s message to the whole Church and the “seven spirits” of God represents the fullness of God’s nature.  Seeing the “24 elders” has often be representative of the fullness of the people of God, the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 Apostles (representing the whole Church).  Again, while these numbers are important, they pale in comparison to the fullness of the meaning of what they are all doing, which is worshiping God with all of their being.    This is the image of worship that we are given, true worship in which we are called to participate as the people of God.  Notice that this worship is worship in Spirit and in Truth, it is fully about God, focused only on Him.  Every tribe, tongue, and nation is present, and there is, as has been stated so many times in the epistles, no differentiation between them except for the understanding that they are from different backgrounds.  All are worshiping God; no longer to petty inter-racial or stupid stylistic worship conflicts mean anything, because the only thing that matters is God.

There is really so much to write about in these chapters that books and books could be written, and have been written.  In our reading today we also encounter the narrative of the opening of the seven seals.  While there is much to talk about when it comes to this particular mini-vision I think what I am going to choose to talk about is not the individual seals, though I would be happy to engage that some other time, but rather the greater picture of what is happening and how we understand it in light of the whole narrative of Scripture.  First of all, we need to remember that once again we are seeing that number seven… in fact we see three sevens coming up with the different “judgments” that will take place: Seals, Trumpets, and Bowls.  What I think is important to remember here is what we learned about judgment and wrath from the prophets.  Again, this would be the main way that John would understand what he is seeing here.  God’s judgment and God’s wrath are poured out on the earth here, but all of this, remember, arises from God’s unquenchable love for His creation.  This is an interesting paradox because out of intense love God rises up to judge the earth… like a parent who so longs for their child to live in the right ways and will even punish them for not doing so, God also arises out of this intense love and moves against the sin, the injustice, the oppression that so plagues all of creation.

What we need to understand here too is that John is not necessarily laying out a perfect sequence of events, each of which must happen before the next so that the end of time can come.  This notion of a timeline that is hidden within the books of the Bible and needs to be pieced together has been popularized by those holding to the notion of “Pre-Millennial Dispensationalism” and also the wildly popular “Left Behind” series.  While these folks hold very true to the doctrine that they have pieced together using segments of Scripture from all over the Bible, a method we call ‘proof texting,’ their reading of the book of Revelation and the theology that they come up with does not jive with the union of the whole of the Bible.  John is interpreting what he is seeing here, a vision that is “out of this world” in a way.  Yet it is important to understand, as this is part of the greater narrative of God’s Word, that we understand that God is not suddenly acting different here, doing something completely off the wall at the end of His book as if there is supposed to be some sort of crazy plot twist to thrill the reader.  God has always been working towards this end, an end that sees all of creation brought back to perfection when He again dwells with us here on earth.  God has always been working against evil, working to restore creation and reconcile humanity.  As we read, let us remember what we have already learned, what we have encountered in Scripture, what we have talked about for the past year, and let us look into these words and some of these strange images using that lens, the lens of Scripture, not our own desire to see what we want to see.

(I would like to mention, that the articles that I am referencing as “related” are those that have been suggested by wordpress and do not necessarily support of coincide with the beliefs that I hold or write about.  I neither cast my unknowing support to them nor do I say that they are wrong, simply conversational partners in this journey through the Scriptures.)



Day 360: Revelation 1-3; Introduction to Revelation

At last, after a long journey through the Bible, through the story of God’s redemptive work throughout history, we have come to the final book, the conclusion of it all: the book or Revelation.  The Revelation of Jesus Christ to John is the conclusion of the this epic journey that we’ve been on, focusing on the what Jesus reveals as the final chapters of this story.  John, who is often considered to be the Apostle John, who wrote the Gospel of John and possibly the three letters attributed to John, is also considered to be this writer here as well.  The Apocalypse of John, as this book is commonly called, happened on the Island of Patmos, an island off the coast of what is now Turkey.  John was here, exiled probably from the city of Ephesus, and on this Island Jesus reveals Himself, all that He will do, and (spoiler alert) how He will bring all things to the perfect ending that has been foretold since the beginning.

Revelation is one of the hardest books in the Bible to read, and even harder to interpret and truly understand.  Some of the greatest theologians in the world have decided not to write commentaries on the book of Revelation because of its difficult nature.  Other’s have taken it as a code, a mystery that needs to be dug through and uncovered to find out the true meanings, dates, times, and even characters that this book will show them.  Discussions around the end times have only intensified in the last 15 to 20 years with the writing of the Left Behind series and what seems to be the increase in the idea of the Rapture and other various means of escape from this world before it all goes south.  However, this book needs to be read just as the rest of the Bible, not as a code some mystery to be revealed, but as part and parcel of God’s self-revelation to His people.  The book is written in apocalyptic style, meaning that it is different than that of a “prophetic style” in that John is writing down this vision, this revelation about things that are to come.  Like the book of Daniel, and sections within the prophets, John is not writing in a way that he would name certain people, events, or even nations that hadn’t necessarily happened (or existed) yet.  What we are seeing here are broad brush strokes about the trajectory of what is to come, the cosmic battle between good and evil, and the ultimate outcome when things come to their final conclusion.  This is the reading that we will take as we walk through this final book in these final days of our journey through Scriptures.

Our reading today starts with the prologue of revelation, truly an introduction to all that we are about to encounter.  The true introduction to this, is that of the revelation of Jesus, the center of all that we are about to encounter.  Like the Gospel of John, what we get at the beginning of this book is a prologue, a prelude for all that we will encounter, and a model of how we are to understand what we read.  As with the Gospel of John, we see that Jesus Christ is at the center of all things from which all things before and after radiate outward.  John writes:

‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty…’
Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest.  The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters.  In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength…
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.’

John then goes into writing the letters that Jesus tells Him to the seven churches in Asia minor, what is now modern day Turkey.  Each of these Churches have an individual letter written that addresses various issues and needs that they had been dealing with.  Though they may have been struggling with different things, and may even have wavered from the right path and even struggled in the midst of persecution, Jesus’ words are to encourage them to keep the faith and to keep on faithfully following Him lest they completely fall away.  Times were rough for the Church, there was a great deal of struggling that was taking place, yet in all of this, Jesus was present and remained faithful to them.  These letters, as we read them, also have encouragement for our churches as well.  We too face a number of struggles and issues that seek to sway us from the path that Christ calls us to walk.  The words of our Lord encourage us to remain faithful to all that He has called us to in the midst of struggles, persecution, and trials even if it may not be easy.

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.
The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father.  And I will give him the morning star.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.



Day 359: 2 John, 3 John, and Jude; The Final Epistles

Each of the last three Epistles that we read today has a bit of a different theme.  The two epistles that are credited to John are written by the same person that wrote the first epistle of John, and then there is Jude.  Some think that Jude, who claims to be the brother of James, who would have been the half brother of Jesus and perhaps the same James that wrote the book of James.  It is also possible that Jude was Judas, who is mentioned in Luke 6:16 as one of the disciples of Jesus who was the “son of James.”  This is not Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Jesus, but the lesser known Judas who was also a disciple of Jesus.

2 John:

The main theme of 2 John revolves around relationships with one another. John, drawing from Jesus teachings in the Gospel of John, talks about loving one another and loving God.  He points out that this isn’t a new commandment that is being given, but simply an extension of what they already know and believe.  John records Jesus’ talking about love in John 15, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”  What is love?  Loving God is walking according to His commandments for our lives.  What is God’s commandment for our lives?  Remember… Shema!!  We are called to love God and love our neighbor!  This is really what it all boils down to, this is what Jesus teaches, and as believers this is what we are called to.

To go along with this, John talks about being aware of false teachers.  I think it is interesting that he says that those that come to them without “this teaching” which has to do with loving by following God, should be rejected by them.  Could it really be that easy?  Could it be that we have a Church have maybe made the whole message of God, the incarnation of Christ, and all of our theology and doctrine into a much more complicated message than it needs to be?  Could it be that, as John said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”  John writes at another point, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”  All of this is revolving around the same thing, the love of God for us and our love for Him!

3 John:

John’s third letter was written in much the same manner as his second letter.  Keeping in mind that John’s writings are always revolving around the same themes.  Here he is talking about how the faith community should be accepting outsiders.  In these days it was likely that there were many people that were coming in and out of the communities as they traveled around.  It was also likely that there were some that would have tried to take advantage of that in many different ways.  If these folks are anything like I am, or perhaps we are today, we tend to be wary of those who come as new folks in our communities.  Often times we tend to act nice but ask questions that are “tests” to make sure they will fit in with us.  John says that we should be accepting of those that come into our communities especially for those that are travelers.  In what we do and how we treat them, the name of Jesus will be spread for the better or the worse.  Of course there will be those that are bad, evil, wrong-doers and they could damage the community, yet if we are showing love to them and love to each other they will either have nothing bad to say about us, or be won over by the love of Christ.  Friends, we should aspire to this at all times.

Jude:

Finally, we come to the book of Jude.  In many ways, the book of Jude is a review of what we have already read in 2 Peter chapter 2.  Many people believe that the second chapter of second Peter was actually an adaptation of the letter that Jude wrote.  I suppose it could be the other way around, but based on the writing style, it seems as those Jude was rushed while Peter elaborates on what Jude said.  As we transition into the last book of the Bible, and begin to see a greater perspective of the “false teachers” in the world and the greater battle between God and evil, the words of Jude ring loud and clear.  There are many people in the world that are lost in lives of sin, giving themselves over to the desires of the flesh.  Sadly, there are many who would even be considered leaders in that, guiding others into a life of sin.  As was mentioned in 2 Peter, we need to be careful not only of those people, but of those from within the Church that preach a Gospel other than of Jesus Christ crucified.

Jude writes to conclude his letter, “But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ.  They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.”  It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.  But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit,  keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.22 And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.

 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”  (arguably this is the greatest doxology in the Bible).



Day 318: Acts 3-4; What We Have Seen and Heard

So the Church has begun to grow and the Spirit of the Lord is alive, active, and moving throughout the believers and the Apostles as they preach the Gospel and heal.  The first narrative that we read today is so very interesting.  I have to wonder what Peter and John were thinking, or if they were even thinking when they encountered this lame man.  How did the Spirit work through them?  Or did it just come to them and they went for it, like calling an audible on offense or something.  When I read this I envision two men walking through the Temple gate with their eyes set on where they were going until they were distracted by the faint, distant voice of a man asking for money.  This voice is not distant because of any physical distance, but because of their focus on the task at hand, yet suddenly it is very near and very real.  They stop, turn, and look directly at the broken man.  Without missing a beat Peter says, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”  He grabs the man by the hand a pulls him up.  I wonder if there was some interaction here, or if they just turned and went on their way like it was nothing.  I wonder if they invited the man to go with them or if he just followed them because he was so excited.  In any case, what we are seeing here is only the beginning of the Church’s continuation of bringing the wholeness, healing, forgiveness of Jesus, the very elements of the Kingdom of Heaven into reality here on earth.

From there, as they walk into the Temple, all the people see the beggar and are in aw of his ability to walk.  Peter is once again filled with the Holy Spirit as we get the second sermon preached by Peter in as many chapters:

Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk?  The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.  And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.
And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers.  But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled.  Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.  Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you.  And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’  And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days.  You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.”

Because of what happened the religious leaders arrested Peter, John, and the no-longer lame man, however we read that because of what had happened and the testimony of Peter almost 5,000 people became believers!  I think that this is so crazy to us, sometimes it doesn’t even compute!  Do we expect that when we hear the Word of God on a Sunday morning that people are going to become believers?  Somehow I think that we would claim to hope that this would happen, even though we don’t expect that it will…

In any case, the next day the religious leaders question Peter, John, and the no-longer lame man and Peter once again is filled with the Holy Spirit and speaks to them in such a way that they cannot find any fault.  This whole scene has a lot of echoes back to the questioning of Jesus, except this time the people are all for Peter and John, not against them as they were against Jesus.  The religious leaders find themselves in a very unfamiliar and uncomfortable predicament.

Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well.  This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.  And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

When it comes down to it, even with the aid of the Holy Spirit, Peter and John are both witnessing to what they have seen, heard, and experienced in their lives.  While they have the wonderful pleasure of seeing it unfold before them, it is the boldness for the faith and the work of the Holy Spirit that is speaking through them.  Friends, this is the same Holy Spirit that has been placed in our hearts as well.  I am speaking from a purely North American context, but we don’t speak with half the amount of conviction or faith that Peter and John speak and we have experienced the grace, love, and forgiveness of Jesus in very much the same way.  More than this though, we don’t have any fear of reprisal here… NONE whatsoever.  We are free to preach, to speak, to testify to the faith that has been given us!  We can tell people what we have seen, heard, and experienced as well and we do so with such timidity…  The Holy Spirit has been poured out on us!  We have experienced Jesus’ saving grace!  We are given the opportunity to speak each and every day to those around us!  Brothers and Sisters testify to the grace of Christ!  Fear not for God is with you!



Day 292: Mark 7-9; Transfiguration

Today we read about the ministry that Jesus continues to do as He moves from Galilee to other parts of the region of Canaan as He begins to make His way towards Jerusalem.  There are a lot of familiar narratives that take place in today’s reading, much of which we read in the Gospel of Matthew and will read again in the Gospel of Luke.  There is a noticeable shift in Jesus’ ministry in the Gospel of Mark over that of the Gospel of Matthew in that Jesus is interacting with many Gentiles and healing people outside of the Jewish heritage more so than he did in Matthew.  Some people might consider this a discrepancy in the Gospels, but the reality of the matter still has to do with the audience that these writers are writing to.  Matthew’s goal was to show that Jesus was the Messiah that the Jews were waiting for, therefore he focused a great deal on the like and ministry of Jesus with the Jews.  Mark’s purpose of writing was to show the events of Jesus’ life as they pertained to all people, therefore he isn’t so concerned with who Jesus is interacting with as much as He is concerned with the content of the interactions.

In light of the repetitive nature of today’s reading, not that repeating things like this is bad, I would really like to take a moments to talk through something that we didn’t have a chance to talk about in the book of Matthew, that is Jesus transfiguration.  We are presented with a narrative that contains within it images that are similar to those of the prophets and even the book of Revelation.  Jesus, while on the mountain with His three closest disciples, is “transfigured” before them.  This word ‘transfigured’ comes from the Greek word μεταμορφόω (pronounced metamorphoō – from which we get the word metamorphosis) and literally means to undergo a change in physical or external form or a spiritual transformation.  For me, this conjures up images of the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly, something that is rather commonplace turning into something of extraordinary beauty.  Yet the text tells us that this was like nothing they had ever seen before.  Jesus’ clothes were whiter than any garment could be bleached.  John Calvin, in his commentary on the transfiguration says this about what the disciples saw:

“His transfiguration did not altogether enable his disciples to see Christ, as he now is in heaven, but gave them a taste of his boundless glory, such as they were able to comprehend… Thus in ancient times God appeared to the holy fathers, not as He was in Himself, but so far as they could endure the raise of His infinite brightness… There is no necessity for entering here into ingenious inquiries as to the whiteness of his garments, or the brightness of his countenance; for this was not a complete exhibition of the heavenly glory of Christ, but, under symbols which were adapted to the capacity of the flesh, he enabled them to taste in part what could not be fully comprehended.”  -John Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark and Luke; Vol. 1.

Every commentary that I have read talks about the Transfiguration as being a very particular revealing of Jesus divinity in a life in which His humanity is often emphasized.  Sometimes I think we forget this contrast, this paradox of Jesus being both completely human and completely divine at the same time.  Calvin points out here that what the disciples are seeing is a “translated” image of the true glory of Jesus, seen in a way that the mortal disciples would be able to comprehend.  God’s true glory is like a completely foreign language to us, so foreign in fact that we have absolutely no way of comprehending it.  In every vision that we see recorded of God, we get a description of human(ish) features and are so much more real, more glorified than we are, and yet this is still just a translation of the true glory and nature of God, something we will never know truly on this earth.  The Transfiguration is an in-breaking of the heavenly, divine aspect of Jesus into this reality.  Jesus divinity is confirmed by the voice of God here, in the same Words that were used at Jesus’ baptism: “This is My Son whom I Love.  Listen to Him!

Some commentaries on this event talk about the significance of Elijah and Moses appearing and talking with Jesus in this time.  Moses and Elijah were two of the greatest figures of the Hebrew Scriptures, both of which were taken away.  There are suggestions that this happens for the disciples benefit, to prove to them that Jesus is not a reincarnation of either one, but is exalted above both of them.  Another suggestion is that Elijah represented the prophets while Moses represented the Law.  Both of these could be true, or at the very least can help to color our reading of this passage.  However, I think that we would be remiss if we thought that those things were more important than what is happening with Jesus in this time.  We are seeing the true Divine, Son of God in the fullness of His glory, or at least what our human minds can understand.  One other thing is very true about this reading in all three Gospels in which it is recorded, from this point on Jesus sets His face towards Jerusalem, to His eventual death, and never looks back.