Revelation 1 – Seeing Jesus

Read Revelation 1

John begins his writing by orienting his readers to what is happening and the purpose of his writing.  The whole of this book is a revelation from God that is given to John to make known that which will take place soon.  Remember that we talked in 2 Peter about the dimensions of time when it comes to God’s actions and history.  In fact, all of what “is going to take place” is a New Testament reference to the Old Testament phrase “in the last days.”  This is a phrase that is often used by the prophets to talk about the time when the Messiah would come which means that, since Jesus came to earth, we are in those “last days”.

As he begins his writing, John also directs this letter to the “Seven churches” in the province of Asia.  Each of these churches is specific, however, the meaning of the number seven in Scripture is also important.  Seven is associated with the number of God, perhaps meaning that this letter, while given specific destinations, is also directed to God’s Church, the Universal Church made up of all those who put their faith in Him throughout all time.  Further evidence of this would be the introduction of God as being both “Alpha and Omega.”  Both would seem to indicate that the scope of this letter is much greater than simply seven churches at one point in time.

1bc068bd89998b7e40c90cc47ad06afbThe vision that John has of Jesus is pretty intense and packed with imagery.  These images can seem foreign to us, especially because our study this year has only contained New Testament passages.  However, Jesus is actually revealing Himself in a way that would have been familiar to both John and to readers of God’s Word (which at that time was only the Scripture there was).

John records that he saw 7 golden lampstands.  This may be a reference to the menorah, the lampstand with seven arms that was made for the tabernacle and the temple of God.  He then saw “someone dressed like a son of man.”  Both Daniel and Ezekiel, in their visions, also describe an image of the Messiah in this way.  Isaiah, in his vision of the Lord, sees God dressed in this way, perhaps reflective of the High Priest who also wore such a robe.

The golden sash that Jesus is wearing in this vision is also noted in another vision of Daniel.  A head of white hair suggests wisdom, as referenced in Proverbs; Jesus is often described in the New Testament as the “Wisdom of God.”  His eyes of fire suggest a “penetrating” or “refining” gaze; Daniel again sees this in his visions as well as the feet of glowing bronze.

Ezekiel hears a similar voice in one of his visions.  The rushing water is perhaps a reference to the “living water” that Jesus offers.  Out of His mouth, John writes, came a double-edged sword.  Isaiah makes references to this several times in His writing; the author of Hebrews also makes reference to the Word of the Lord being a double-edged sword.  Jesus is the Divine Word Incarnate (in the flesh).

Jesus then introduces Himself to John who has rightfully fallen down before Him in what was likely a mix of fear, reverence, and worship.  He says to John, “Do not be afraid.”  This too is a normal greeting for a Divine being to give to a human when a revelation is occurring.  There is obvious reason to be afraid, but Jesus reassures John and us that we need not fear because of who He is and what He has done for us.  This greeting becomes, for us, the basis in which we can approach the rest of the book:

“Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.  I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever!  And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”



Hebrews 11 – Faith's Hall of Fame

Read Hebrews 11

The 11th chapter of Hebrews is sometimes known as the “faith hall of fame” and it is an important part of the point that the author is trying to make here as well.  Often Christians have an idea that the Old Testament is all about the Law and works while the new Testament is all about grace and faith.  Nothing could be further from the truth, though.

While the Old Testament does emphasize the Law, it isn’t a “works-righteous” (work to earn your salvation) model.  In fact, the Law’s emphasis is all about heart and life change, the stripping of an old identity of slavery and the building of a new identity as the people of God.  For this to happen, though, faith is required.

Actually, all of the great people that followed God did so out of faith and we can see this here.  Many of these folks lived out their faith long before the law was every given too.  The faith, life, and actions of all of these people, however, pale in comparison to the life of Jesus Christ.  Whatever faith they showed, Christ’s was greater.  Whatever hardships, suffering, perseverance, etc. they showed,  Christ’s was greater.  But not only that, Christ did so perfectly and selflessly for the sake of the whole world.

What is revealed here in chapter 11 is the reality that God has never been one who has demanded “works” or “service” from those He calls in order to earn His favor.  Quite the opposite is actually true.  Out of Love, God calls each of us to Himself, desiring a relationship with us, desiring to free us from sin.  Because there is no way for us to do this for ourselves, God sent Jesus to make that way, to remove the barrier of sin, and to wash us so that we could stand before God once again as His adopted Sons and daughters.



Hebrews 9 – Outward and Inward

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Continuing on the theme of Christ’s fulfillment of the Old Testament and the Old Covenant, the writer of Hebrews now speaks specifically about the work of Christ as it relates to worship and the sacrificial system at the temple.  In the Old Testament, the sacrificial system was part of the cleansing rituals that took place so that people could come before God in worship.

In the Old Testament, the sacrificial system was part of the cleansing rituals that took place so that people could come before God in worship.  This applied, in a very particular way, to the position of the high priest on the day of atonement, when he would enter the Holy of Holies to make restitution of the people’s sins in the very presence of God.  The high priest used the blood of animals, sacrificed in the appropriate way, both for himself and for the people.  All of this, however, was just a matter of outward cleansing.

The true cleansing that takes place is one of inward cleansing.  Hebrews’ author points out that the sacrifice of animals is not able to clear the conscience of the worshipper; it was a matter of outward cleansing that points to a deeper cleansing that would happen through the blood of Jesus.

Throughout the Old Testament, there is a continual pointing forward to a future time when God would do something “new.”  He calls a people, they will eventually be a blessing to the whole world.  He gives the Law, but a time will come when it won’t just be an external thing but it would be written on the hearts of people.  He talks of sacrifices and offerings, but the true sacrifice God desires is an inward one.  He provides prophets, priests, and kings, all of which are shadows of what is to come.

All of this finds its fulfillment and deep meaning in Jesus Christ who, as the only way to the Father, provides a path from outward action to inward transformation, from outward washing to inward cleansing through His blood and God’s grace.



Hebrews 1 – God's Mic Drop

Read Hebrews 1

Throughout history, God has spoken to His people through a number of ways.  God brought forth great leaders for the people in Abraham, Moses, Joshua, the Judges, King David, and all of the prophets that He sent to the people of Israel.  All of these people and the events surrounding the testimony of Scripture are part of what we call “redemptive history,” God’s actions since the very beginning to bring about the salvation and restoration of His people.

All of this, the author shows us, culminates in the climax of God’s redemptive work through sending of His Son Jesus Christ to the earth.  Everything before pointed to the coming of the Messiah and everything after His coming was impacted by it.

The Son wasn’t simply just another prophet either or great Old Testament leader either.  Hebrews’ author makes it very clear that the Son is indeed God in every aspect of who and what God is.  He is the “exact representation of His being…” and, more than this, sits at God’s right hand ruling and reigning with God.

There are some important distinctions made here too between the authority and magnitude of the Son and other heavenly beings such as angels.  In the Old Testament, there is a tradition of angelic appearances, something that represents the work and power of God through a physical appearing of an Angel.  The author is careful here to set the Son apart from that tradition.  Jesus is much more than your average “run of the mill” angel.  He’s also greater than the great archangels that we encounter in Scripture too.

We could talk much more about the theology of angels, who they are and what they do, but the point that the author is trying to make here doesn’t actually have to do with whether angels exist.  Rather, the author is saying that, whatever exists in heaven or on earth, in the physical or the spiritual realm. the Son is vastly superior to all of it.  What’s more?  It is the Son, in all His superiority, who comes down to earth to become the atoning sacrifice for our sins that we may be reconciled to God through Him.



Introduction to 1 Timothy

Paul’s first letter to Timothy is the first of three books known as the “pastoral epistles.”  These letters get their name due to a large amount of administrative work that Paul does in them.

After leaving Ephesus on his fourth missionary journey, Paul likely realized that he would not be back to the Ephesian community for some time (if ever).  He then writes this letter to Timothy, to work out his charge to Timothy as well as to refute some heresy that had cropped up in the church in Ephesus.

Timothy was one of Paul’s beloved traveling companions who lived in Lystra.  He joined Paul on his second missionary journey and helped Paul to found the churches in at Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea.

Though his father was Greek, his mother and grandmother were devout Jews and brought up Timothy.  As such, he was very familiar with the Old Testament Scriptures, which Paul uses to teach Timothy about Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.

In his first letter, Paul gives some specific directions to Timothy regarding church leadership, laying out some of the details and qualifications for Elders and Deacons.  These words have given the church a blueprint for the role of these offices of ministry throughout the last 2,000 years.

Also in this letter, Paul addresses issues that have to do with the public worship of the church as well as dealing with false teachers and false teachings as well.  There were a number of different groups that were seeking to infiltrate the church and poison its teachings.  Paul also deals with the treatment of a variety of people groups within the church as well as a number of miscellaneous subjects that churches deal with, all while encouraging them to give honor and glory to God and live as a testimony to the Gospel message.



Galatians 3 – Old Testament Understanding

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God’s Grace is the same throughout Scripture

I have heard it said far too often that the Old Testament is all about the Law whereas the New Testament in all about grace.  The Old Testament encourages “works” whereas the New Testament promotes faith.  Painting in such broad brush strokes may reveal some general truths about things, but also may over-generalize the issue at hand.

As Paul is addressing the churches in Galatia, he is not doing so with a copious amount of books and commentaries on the life and teachings of Jesus. At this point, what we know as the New Testament was nothing more than a random assortment of letters and writings by some who were trying to make sense of everything that had happened as was happening in this new found faith.

Interestingly, though, Paul’s Old Testament understanding of who Jesus is and what He came to do is profound and deep.  It also directly challenges the broad generalizations that we tend to place Scriptures two testaments.

While it is true that the Law was given to prescribed how to live into the identity that God had given, the reality is that identity that we have from God has always been an act of grace.  Living into that identity has always been an act of faith, the so-called “works” a response to their identity.

Paul quotes and references more than a dozen Old Testament passages, all relating the message of the Gospel that has been given since the very beginning, culminating in the coming of Jesus.  God makes it possible for us to be reconciled to Him through the work of Jesus.  Faith, however, has always been a component of this; works were the result.

Where Israel got it wrong, and where we often do too, is that they thought that it was the works that make us who we are rather than the grace of God.



Acts 26 – Defense to Agrippa

Read Acts 26

This is not the first time that we have heard Paul use his story as a defense against the accusations brought against him.  However, this particular moment records something very interesting that perhaps we tend to overlook.  As Paul began to follow Christ he didn’t turn his back on the teaching of the Old Testament.  In fact, at this point, 25 years into his ministry, he was not guilty of breaking the law and traditions of the Jewish people, at least not the ones that they religious leaders are accusing him of.

Paul’s understanding of Jesus comes from a deep knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures, the only “Bible” that they had at that time.  He understands that, as he is a witness to Jesus Christ and the Gospel of the resurrection, the best witness to that among the Jews is to hold well the Old Testament Scriptures that point to Jesus as the Messiah.

Sometimes I think we too readily throw the Old Testament aside.  We think that because Jesus came, and because He represents a New Covenant, the old stuff doesn’t matter any longer.

While it is true that Jesus fulfilled the Law and through Him we have freedom from it, perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to cast aside the Old Testament teachings.  All of Scripture points to Jesus Christ as the Messiah.  The sacrificial system that was in place helps us to make sense of the need for Jesus’ sacrifice.  The Passover has a direct correlation and brings deep meaning to the sacrifice of Jesus.  The Law shows us our need for a savior.

Do you want to know Jesus better?  Read the Old Testament and see how it foreshadows the coming Messiah and the salvation, reconciliation, redemption, light, and renewed relationship to the world.



Day 357: 2 Peter 1-3; Trouble from Within

The second letter that is attributed to the Apostle Peter also contains encouragement to resist persecution, yet this time the main focus of his letter is about the trouble that is coming to the Church from within.  At the time of its writing, there were a great many false teachers and false teachings that had arisen from within the church, people that, as Peter says, had taken the writings of Paul and the Scriptures (which at that time would have been the Old Testament and possibly some of the Gospel writings) and twisted them.  These teachings were  fraught with teaching that only leads to their personal gain.  Peter writes:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.  And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

These two themes, persecution from outside the church and false teachings from within, have been something that comes up time and time again in the writings of the New Testament.  It is no secret that the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins by grace is something that the devil wants nothing to do with.  He works to thwart every advance of the Kingdom of God in every way that he possibly can.  This may sound a bit alarmist to many people, especially now days, but like Peter, I must insist that this is not only something that was going on in the days of the early church, it is something that has been plaguing the church since its beginning and continues to do so now.  Arguably, the church is facing more and more threats of false teaching from within its own walls in the 20th and 21st centuries than it ever has before.  Especially in North America, and in the United States where the freedom of speech that we all cherish protects and even allows people to speak false doctrine at will.  Please hear me on this, I wouldn’t trade the freedom of speech that we have for anything, but what I am saying is that the Church needs to wake up and see that this is happening and continues to happen!

This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing,following their own sinful desires.  They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”  For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.  But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

The Church has done a poor job in recent years of silencing the heretics and false teachers that claim to be ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Protestant and Catholic denominations have each seen their fair share of groups breaking away from the teachings of the church because of “new revelations” or “a new understanding of the Bible.”  We are familiar with some like Jehovah’s Witness, Seventh Day Adventists, and Mormonism.  Some new teachings that we have begun to encounter are those of the prosperity gospel, people like Joel Osteen who trade the message of the gospel of a “feel good message” through which he makes tons of money.  There have also been other developments within the religious spheres.  Scientology, the Atheist Church, and other like them have sprung up, proclaiming a way to better humanity without any need for God, Jesus, or the Gospel.

These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved.  For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error.  They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.

While an assault on the moral character of these individuals is not warranted by me, they are certainly sinners in need of grace just as I am, it is important to understand that there is false teaching and heresy that is still very much present among us.  Certainly their rights to say whatever they want to say are protected by the American Constitution, and for that we should be thankful.  This country affords us the ability to worship freely without fear of retribution or persecution from authorities and protects us (or at least it should) from persecution from others as well.  However, though the Bill of Rights doesn’t say this, it should also encourage us to be awake and alert to what we are hearing from the pulpit on any given Sunday.  There is NO Gospel apart from Jesus Christ.  There is NO Salvation apart from the grace of Jesus Christ that we receive through faith.  No amount of money, work, good deeds, or ‘spiritual’ experience can bring us back into right relationship with God.  We are all sinful, we will all continue to sin.  May we understand this and go forth, awake and alert, so that we may not be led astray.



Day 353: Hebrews 8-10; Covenant and Redemption Through Christ

Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man.  For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer.  Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law.  They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, ‘See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.’  But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises.  For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.

Today’s reading continues the discussion of the Jesus as the Great High Priest and brings brings it around to several aspects of Israel’s belief system that are also integral in understanding the person of Jesus Christ.  The writer of Hebrews opens chapter 8 by making the point of the argument from the past three chapters.  We then move on from there to see that Christ’s coming is the reality which these Old Testament shadows were pointing to.  Like the Tabernacle and the Temple were earthly shadows of heavenly things, so too were the priests of Israel shadows of the true office of priest which was fulfilled in Christ.

More than that, Christ as the Great High Priest is also the mediator of the covenant.  This is not the old covenant though, as we have seen, but a new, vastly superior covenant.  Again, like all these things in the Old Testament, the covenant was the basis for all of that was to come in Jesus Christ, and it was then fulfilled in Christ.  More than that, it was not done away with but renewed and made new in Jesus Christ who is the mediator of the New Covenant in His blood, the one He instituted on the night He was betrayed.

Now, at the end of Hebrews 8, the writer talks about the Old Covenant being old and obsolete.  While in many ways this is true, we no longer have to worry about the stipulations of the Old Covenant, what we often call the Law.  This if often what we call the basis for Christian freedom, along with our freedom from sin and death in Jesus Christ.  We are called to live in a manner that is pleasing to God and that spreads the love of Christ to all those we meet, but we are to do it in response to the grace that we have received, not to try and earn our own salvation.

The writer goes on to talk about the Redemption that we have in Jesus Christ, saying many of the same things that we have been saying.  Here is a portion of chapter 9 that I would encourage you to reread… it talks about the redemption that we have in Christ Jesus through the shedding of Christ’s blood in a better way than I ever could!

“But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.  For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.  For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established.  For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive.  Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood.  For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.”  And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship.  Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.  For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.  Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.  And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.



Day 336: 2 Corinthians 5-7; Ministry of the Body of Christ

It is interesting, as I read this letter, Paul keeps saying things and then making sure that he is clarifying what he is saying as not being something boastful, but rather to make sure that the recipients are understanding that the boasting that is happening is in Christ.  They are not saying anything that is happening is being done of their power, but through the work of the Holy Spirit, all of what is being accomplished is happening.  Paul is also making a great deal of effort to talk about the contrast between our hope for something beyond this world and the work that needs to still be done here.  The whole first part of chapter five is talking about the fact that, while we long to be with God, in our heavenly dwelling, we still need to recognize the fact that we are living in this earthly tent.  I think he is drawing on some of his other writings here when he is talking about walking by faith and not by sight.  At other times in the New Testament he talks about seeing God in the life to come, which will certainly make following God a lot easier.  For now though, we live and work in this world by faith in God through the Holy Spirit and we need to keep this in mind.

Paul goes on from here to talk about the ministry of the body of Christ here on earth.  As I was reading this I was thinking of Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17, how He prays for His disciples to be in the world but not of the world.  In many ways, they are to be what the people of Israel were to be in the world, the mediators between earth and heaven.  Jesus’ disciples and the Church were never meant to be people that withdraw from the world and don’t interact with it.  Neither are we supposed to be so intertwined with the world that we are unrecognizable from all those around us.  We are called to be “priests” of sorts, mediating between heaven and earth.  Paul puts a label on this as well: reconciliation.  This is really the crux of what Jesus came to do as well, in being justified through His blood, we are reconciled to God and put back in right relationship with Him.  Obviously that is not fully realized in the here and now, but it is the reality in which we live, reconciled in relationship to God.

He continues talking about this new reality, showing that not only are we reconciled in a sort of declarative way (like when someone is declared not guilty in a trial), we are made new in spirit as well.  In one of his more famous writings Paul says, “therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;  that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”  It isn’t a simple change of thought towards us from God, we are actually a new creation!  The old is gone… the NEW has come!

So what are we to do with this?  Paul talks about this in terms of the ministry of Christ on earth.  If this is the case, which it is, then it is to be our ministry on earth as well.  While we cannot do for other what Christ did for us, we are called to spread this good news to all people in Matthew 28!  This is the means by which we can participate in the ministry of reconciliation that Christ began here on earth.  Sure, there are a number of ways that we can do things in the social sphere to help those who are less fortunate, feed the hungry, stand up for the orphan and the widow as the people of God are supposed to do.  However, none of it really amounts to a hill of beans if we aren’t spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all that we meet.

Part of what Paul has to say today as well is a direct draw from the Old Testament.  Remember yesterday Paul was talking about the New Covenant and its superiority to the Old Covenant, yet we see here that Paul is drawing from the very basis of the Old Covenant as He talks about how believers should be living.  What is the Old Covenant?  “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.”  This is fulfilled in Jesus Christ through the reconciliation that He brings.  In Him, the Holy Spirit has been sent and God indeed dwells among us, in our hearts, and God is indeed our God.  Moreover, we wait for the day when this covenant will be fully realized, when Christ comes again and God dwells among us physically and forever.