Revelation 10 – Sweet and Sour

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The happenings of chapter 10 seem somewhat disjointed from the events that surround this chapter.  However, the imagery that is contained here is once again intimately connected to Old Testament prophetic writings.  Because of this, we can once again see a connection between God’s work in the Old Testament and that of the New Testament.  Remember that the Old Testament is an important anchor for our reading here, revealing to us that God is continuing to work out His plan of for saving the world and defeating evil.John records another interlude, a break in the action before the 7th trumpet is going to sound.  Once again, a “mighty angel,” perhaps the same one that we met in chapter 5 appears with a scroll.  This time, however, the scroll is much smaller and is open, different from the scroll with the seven seals.

John records another interlude, a break in the action before the 7th trumpet is going to sound.  Once again, a “mighty angel,” perhaps the same one that we met in chapter 5 appears with a scroll.  This time, however, the scroll is much smaller and is open, different from the scroll with the seven seals.  The angel’s appearance draws from a great deal of Old Testament imagery as well.  Most people are familiar, at least in part, with the story of Noah; the angel with a rainbow above his head is a reminder of God’s promise never again to destroy the earth with a flood.  Ezekiel also sees an image like this in his first vision.  Given the Exodus imagery that we’ve already seen, the pillars of fire may be reminders of God’s guidance in that time as well.  His face “like the sun” is similar language to many encounters with angels or with God, which we call theophanies, and is the same language used to talk about Jesus in the transfiguration and at the beginning of Revelation.

Placing his feet on both land and sea gives the impression of power over the whole earth and with a roar like a lion, perhaps we are getting the impression that the “Lion of the Tribe of Judah,” that is Jesus, is claiming His Lordship over all things. Hosea speaks to a similar vision late in his book.

John then hears thunder in response to this roar which is often symbolic for the punishment that comes from God to the wicked.  This is more than likely connects what we have been reading to the moment now, linking the judgments to God.  As John continues to record, he is given directions not to tell what the seven thunders have said.  Something similar happens several times in the book of Daniel (chapters 8 and 12), perhaps indicating something to deep or great for us to know at this time.  At the end of Revelation, however, John is instructed not to seal up any of the words he has written.  Some knowledge, it seems, may be time sensitive, but in the end, God’s plan and love will be revealed to all.

Verses 5 through 7 are all likely linked to the persecution that was taking place at the time John wrote the book of Revelation.  These are also words of hope for those who have faced and will face persecution in their lifetime.  This link comes from the name that is given to God here: “him who lives for ever and ever, who created the heavens and all that is in them, the earth and all that is in it, and the sea and all that is in it.”  The name reflects the name that Jesus was introduced by in Revelation 1 and also communicates God’s full and total reign over all things.  The oath that is sworn here is reflective of the covenant promise that God made with His people, starting with Abraham, and continuing throughout the Old Testament.  Here too God is swearing to bring His people into the true promised land, a promise that will never fade no matter the circumstances we find ourselves in.

Finally, we see John taking part in the action, taking the scroll from the angel.  A similar scene unfolds in the books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel.  Oddly, John is told to eat the scroll, which will taste sweet in his mouth but turn sour in his stomach.  The eating of the scroll is symbolic of the taking in of its words, grasping fully what they say and making them a part of you.  We use similar language when we talk about reading the Word of God.

At first, for John, the scroll tastes sweet, just as the message of the Gospel is like honey on our lips.  It is sweet, inviting, and very desirable.  However, the message of the Gospel isn’t an invitation to the easy life, there is suffering that is involved.  Jesus talks about this in the Gospel of John saying, “In this world, you will face trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.”  This too is an indication for us of both the arc of the narrative being revealed here in Revelation and the path that we are on as followers of Jesus Christ.  Still, as John is called to prophesy about what he is seeing, to and about all the peoples, nations, languages, and kings, we too are called on this outward trajectory, living into the great commission and preaching the Gospel to all people.



Revelation 6 – Break the Seal

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This chapter is known for the images of the “Four Horsemen of the Apocolypse” which are represented here by the events that follow the opening of the four seals.  These events represent the beginning of what some call the “tribulation”, a time when the inhabitants of the earth face the wrath and judgment of God.  Depending on your view of the timeline of the “End Times”, particularly if you believe in the rapture and hold to a “dispensational pre-millennialist” view, Christians aren’t present for this.  In this view, God spares Christians His wrath while judging the unbelievers in hopes that some will turn back to Him.  We will talk about this particular view in a later posting.

Reformed Theology, holds to a different view called amillennialism.  In this, there is no escapist mentality but instead, the church is present and active in the “Last Days,” still fully engaged in mission with God to spread the Gospel and fulfilling the great commission.  Again, we’ll talk more about this when the time comes.

The four horsemen have become somewhat mythical in their and prevalence in places outside of Scripture.  John’s descriptions of them provide many with wild and often confusing images.  Often we want to spend time trying to figure our who or what specifics these represent.  For example, the first horse, the conqueror, has often been portrayed as Jesus Himself.  With the color white which is the color the purity, a crown, and no outwardly negative things associated with his arrival, this could be a decent fit.  However, being bent on conquest doesn’t necessarily fit the Biblical image of God’s Son, the humble servant.  So perhaps, then, this is actually the antichrist.  Satan, afterall, masquerades as an angel of light.  This could very well be the case.

Another thought, one that falls a bit more in line with the themes of the other horsemen is that this is a “spirit of conquest.”  What does this mean?  Possibly that, in these last days, there will be a human desire and push to rule over each other, and not in the nicest of ways.  Remember that when we talk about the “last days” we are talking about the Scriptural reference to the time after the Messiah has come.  In the Old Testament prophecies, this is what is meant here; it is not necessarily an undetermined time that signals Christ’s return.

The fact that this spirit, like the other horsemen, was brought forth, or at the very least allowed to come forward by heaven suggests that this is part of God’s plan and purpose.  Certainly, there is Biblical precedent for this, looking at the kingdoms of Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome as well as Paul’s words reminding us that there is no authority on earth except that which is given by God Himself.  I think we can say that we’ve seen evidence of this throughout the last 2000 years as well from both individuals as well as governments.

As Jesus continues to open the seals we see similar spirits, depicted as horsemen, that are allowed to go out from heaven.  Each has its own task and ability to disrupt creation and human life.  It is also important to note that, with the third rider, there is a limitation placed on its ability to harm.  While these judgments and happenings can take their toll, none is more powerful than God.

Taking all four of these together, there is an argument that could be made that these four horsemen represent the effects of sin on the world.  That the devastation, disruption, and damage that they cause on all creation and human life, the consequences of sin, are a form of judgment in and of themselves.  This too would fall in line with the idea that these represent a number of spirits that are loosed on the earth.

Opening the fifth seal brings about a totally different set of images, that of martyrs.  The souls that are under the altar are indicative of the sacrifice that they have made for the sake of the Gospel.  In Old Testament sacrificial rites, the blood of the sacrifice was poured out on the base of the altar.  Yet these souls are not dead but instead are alive, representing the life that is had in Christ.  Because of their commitment to the Gospel, the fact that they did not back down or deny Christ, they are given white robes representing their purity (in Christ).

One theme that comes along with this image is also something that gains credence throughout Scripture, the continuing persecution of the church.  Jesus references this in the Gospel of John and it is mentioned in other places throughout the New Testament.  Here the Lord acknowledges it, that it will continue until the end, something we have certainly seen more vividly in recent months in the middle east.  This too, however, has a limit, and when it is reached, we can be assured that Christ will return victorious.

The events of the 6th seal are reminiscent of a number of visions that the prophets had in the Old Testament.  Some of them even Jesus attested to in His discussions about the “end times.”  When God shows up there is often an associated earthquake that takes place (Isaiah 29:6; Ezekiel 38:19; Psalm 97:4; Exodus 19:18). The sun’s darkening (Isaiah 50:3; Matthew 24:29) and the resulting red glow of the moon (think of a lunar eclipse) are also events that are said to take place with the opening of the sixth seal.  Stars falling from the sky (Isaiah 34:4), as well as the changing of the sky (2 Peter 3:10), are magnificent events the John sees.  Each carries with it Scriptural imagery, much of which would have been familiar to those familiar with the Old Testament.

Last on the list for the 6th seal are the removal of islands and mountains.  This too may seem a bit random and disjointed, however, it carries with it very familiar Scriptural imagery as well.  Many times in the Old Testament we see the coming of the Lord being heralded by the removal of obstacles.  Psalm 46:2, Isaiah 54:10, Jeremiah 4:24, Ezekiel 38:20, and Nahum 1:5 each reference events similar to this as well as the Isaiah’s words of comfort to the people of Israel in chapter 40.  Many of these carry the theme of prophesying Jesus’ first coming which is picked up by John here in talking about the second.

So what are we to make of these?  Events similar to these have certainly taken place throughout the years which is why searching for a single one as a focal point is futile.  Does that mean that they are meaningless to us, that they won’t happen at some future time, or that it is simply symbolism?  Not necessarily… But perhaps the point here, like the rest of Revelation, is not to be looking for specific times, places, people and events, afterall Jesus says that no one knows the time and to not believe those that say “this is the Christ.”  Perhaps, instead, these things are set to be reminders, signals for the faithful and unfaithful alike, that God is still at work and that we are in the “last days.”  Perhaps, like a weather alert causes us to consider weather conditions, so too should these things give us pause and cause us to evaluate how well we are loving God and loving our neighbor…

Therein may lie the true purpose of the book of Revelation as God says in Revelation 1:3, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.”  Like all prophecy, the message is meant for God’s people in the moment with meaning for the now, not a cryptic message about the future that needs to be deciphered.  Afterall, “revelation” is a “revealing,” not a hiding.



Revelation 1 – Seeing Jesus

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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.”



John 19 – Behold Your King

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After Jesus has been with Pilot and the people are shouting over and over that He should die, Pilot does something quite unique.  He takes Jesus out and sits Him down in the “Judgement Seat.”  What beautiful irony.  Jesus is sitting in the very seat that will be His for eternity, at the right hand of the Father, and yet no one recognizes it.  In fact, that shout all the louder to have in crucified!

The Pilot says something that I’m sure they didn’t want to hear: “Behold your King.”  Interesting… hundreds of years earlier, as recorded in 1 Samuel 8, the people of Israel cried out to God for a king, someone that would lead them.  God’s own people rejected God as their true King for the sake of an earthly one that would lead them.  Here, once again, the people stand before God the Son, the descendant of King David Himself, and reject Him.  “We have no King but Ceasar,” they say.  Once again, what beautiful irony.

More important than this, though, is the truth Jesus speaks to Pilot before all of this: “You have no authority over me at all unless it had been given to you from above.”  Jesus speaks once again to the reality that all of this was taking place because it had to.  In the face of Israel’s rejection of God and the Jewish rejection of Jesus, God continues to show His steadfast, faithful love to humankind, sending His Son to die so that they might find light and life in Him.

All of this took place to fulfill Scripture, which, ultimately, is the purpose of John’s writing.  Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, John’s Gospel reveals to us the prophesied Messiah, the Divine Son of God, the one true Savior.



John 11 – Raising the Dead

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It’s hard to imagine that a miracle so great as raising someone from the dead warrants the harsh reaction of the religious leaders that we see here.  But for them, it was the last straw.  It isn’t entirely clear here why it comes down to this, but in the end, they put forth a plot to capture and kill Jesus.  For John’s Gospel, this is the turning point in Jesus ministry, the divide between the book of signs and the book of glory.

Yet even in the midst of all the scheming and plotting, God’s will and plan are still being worked out.  Remember in Matthew 27, when the people screamed for Jesus’ blood to “be on us and on our children”?  Here we see yet another irony as Caiaphas speaks to the current predicament: “it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”  Little does he know how right he is.

All of this, as Jesus often reminds us, has to happen for His glory to be revealed.  As we begin to shift our focus from Jesus’ earthly ministry to His glorification on the cross, we need to keep in mind the recurring themes that John infuses into His writing.  First, Jesus is the light of the world, the one who gives true sight, but the world hates the light and does not recognize it.  The Pharisees are still in the dark here.

Second, and more importantly, Jesus is the great I AM, and the way that this is going is, as He reminds us here, the only way… He is the only way for life, freedom, and true sight.  As Jesus moves forward now, His actions will expand the resurrection from local, one man, to a universal reality.



Matthew 11 – What you See and Hear

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Have you ever had something happen to you where you asked yourself, “Is this really happening?”  Maybe it’s a dream vacation, surprise birthday party, or a visit from a special person.  In any case, you enjoy the time, but there comes that “pinch me I think I’m dreaming” moment when we question reality.  This is also true in negative events; difficult diagnoses, the death of a someone close, and life changing events all make this list.

Sometimes we have trouble accepting what our eyes and ears tell us.  We either have trouble believing or we don’t want to, but eventually the reality of the situation sets in.

John the Baptist struggled with this and he was not alone.  Many saw Jesus perform miracles and struggled with doubt and disbelief.  Matthew, who has been writing so that the Jews would believe, calls out their lack of faith here.  Jesus quotes the Old Testament Scriptures regarding John and Himself, referencing the many signs the Messiah was supposed to perform, and yet still they do not believe.  He even points out that the people went out to see John in the wilderness because they thought he was a prophet, yet they still struggled to believe.

We are not that different are we?  For those of us raised in the church, conversations about faith, Scripture, and Jesus are quite normal.  Yet when it comes to belief in difficult situations, we find ourselves wavering a little, not sure if God can handle our situation.  Jesus responds to those thoughts: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  Jesus’ invitation to those people and us is to trust Him and believe what we have seen and heard; allow Him to be the Savior that He is.



Matthew 2 – Just what the Prophet Said

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As I wrote about in the Introduction to Matthew, one of Matthew’s main purposes is to show the Jewish people that Jesus is the promised Messiah.  This can be seen already in the first chapters of his Gospel writing.  The Magi, in their seeking of “King of the Jews” (a reference to the sign that would be posted on Jesus’ cross), the chief priests reference Micah 5:2.  The flight to Egypt fulfills Hosea’s words in Hosea 11:1 and sadly, the killing of so many children in Bethlehem and its surrounding area fulfills the words of the prophet Jeremiah 31:15.

There are other overtones that are present in these Scripture passages as well, ones that may not resonate with us directly, but that would have been at least familiar to the Jewish people of that time.  The action of going from the land of Canaan, what is now called Israel, to Egypt to escape danger is one that has happened several times in the Old Testament.  Abraham found himself in Egypt (Genesis 12:10-20) as did Jacob.  Remember the story of Joseph, how the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt and eventually escaped by the hand of God.

It is an interesting twist now that the Son of God must escape Israel, through the warning of God, and run to Egypt.  At the same time, many of Jesus’ movements mirror those of Israel which is not necessarily a “fulfillment” of Scripture, however, there are some interesting echoes and parallels there.

Jesus is considered the “true Israel.”  References to “God’s servant” made in the Old Testament draw on Israel’s purpose as God’s people which is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  While this fulfillment comes in the form of perfect obedience to God, many of the parallels we see draw the Old Testament forward to their fulfillment in Jesus Christ.



Day 333: 1 Corinthians 10-13; Worship, Spiritual Gifts, and Love

Today’s reading, apart from chapter 10, have much to do with the corporate aspect of worship in the sense that Paul is talking about “rules” in worship as well as the use of spiritual gifts.  In fact, chapters 11-14 all have to do with pretty much the same thing: corporate worship.  The thing about these chapters is that each one of them often gets used for some reasons that weren’t necessarily part of the original meaning.

In chapter 11, Paul addresses head coverings in worship.  This was likely an issue for the Corinthian church in general and Paul is not necessarily speaking to the whole church here.  It is possible that things were happening in worship involving head coverings that were becoming distractions for worship, therefore Paul set some guidelines for them.  Notice though, that in the midst of this discussion, Paul draws it all back into the center, which is Christ.

In the same way, Paul addresses things that are happening around the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  The greater story, we read, is that there was division at the Lord’s Table because of class, wealth, and work and this is not acceptable.  Paul writes, “In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it.  No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.  So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk.  Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing?

We see here too that Paul uses the words of Jesus’ institution of communion and then goes on to point out that one thing that needs to happen during communion is the act of self examination.  By not doing so, Paul says, we are sinning against the body and blood of Christ.  These words are used a great deal in communion and communion preparation liturgies which I think is a good thing, self examination is one thing that we are called to do as Christians.  Sadly, these words have also been used to keep people away from the Table of our Lord, and I don’t think this is right at all.  The Lord’s Supper is a place in which we are welcomed, a place that Christ invites all His people to, and it is clear that all of Christ’s people are sinful by nature (even though we are redeemed).  It is not by human judgments that we are judged, but before God, and when we come to the table we need to remember, above all else, our identity in Christ Jesus as those that are forgiven and justified.  Here Paul is addressing systems of inequality that were present in the Church that were “dishonoring” others at the Lord’s Table, something that is unacceptable in the Church and to God.

Paul then turns his attention to the use of spiritual gifts in chapters 12-14.  I know what you are thinking, “isn’t 1 Corinthians 13 the chapter about love?”  Yes, it is.  However this is another passage that often has been used outside of the context for which it was originally meant.  Paul is talking to the church in a corporate setting here, for both the spiritual gifts and the “love chapter.”  There were a lot of things that were going on in worship, much like the head covering issue and the issues with the Lord’s Supper.  Paul is concerned here that there are things drawing people away from the center of worship, that being Christ.  The use of spiritual gifts had become showy and attention seeking, which is why Paul wishes that the less showy gifts would be the ones that they excel in.  He also talks about women, both speaking and dressing, which doesn’t have anything to do with women in church leadership positions (the precedence for which is set by Lydia in Acts 16), but has more to do with dealing with a particular culture in a particular city where the women’s action in worship was both distracting and tended towards the temple cult worship of pagan gods.  In this case, Paul says that women are to be silent.

Ultimately though, what Paul is getting at here has a lot less to do with how to use these gifts as much as the “why” of using them.  Why do we have spiritual gifts?  Why do they manifest themselves in worship?  Paul very clearly points out that it is for the edification of the body, NOT for individual gain.  Like the teaching on prayer that Jesus does, pointing to the leader that prays loudly on the street corner and receives nothing but public attention, so too would worship be if spiritual gifts were used in such a way.  What does love have to do with it?  It is what surrounds all of this… using spiritual gifts in such a way that we are (you guessed it) loving God and loving neighbor! The Shema!  When the use of spiritual gifts becomes more about showmanship than about worship, we find ourselves in the wrong… Yet these gifts are still present (even today) and are meant to be useful for building up the Body of Christ, and that is how they are meant to be used.

The following is another paper that I have written in the past.  It has more to do with 1 Corinthians 14, which isn’t necessarily part of our reading today, but has everything to do with the chapters that we did read today.

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Pericope Paper: 1 Corinthians 14:1-25

Introduction.  All people everywhere seek to pursue what is best, to do otherwise would be nothing more than a foolish and empty pursuit.  Christians are called to pursue the things of the Lord and the live above the prevailing worldly culture.  “Live above the culture,” Paul seems to say, “don’t just blend in, be intentionally different.[1]”  This is the main point of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.  After talking about the church, and the dealings that the people there were having, Paul begins to talk about spiritual gifts. He writes that they should live their lives in the way of love and seek after spiritual gifts and particularly the gift of prophecy.  Paul goes on to explain that prophecy is a better spiritual gift because it helps to build up all those who hear it, rather than speaking in tongues which is more of a conversation between the person and God.  Paul wants all those to whom he is writing to have the gift of speaking in tongues, but it would be better if people had the gift of prophecy, which helps to build up the church as a whole.  Prophecy is greater and better than speaking in tongues, unless there is someone who can interpret the tongue, in which case the message of the one who is speaking in tongues can be understood.  If one really thinks about it, what good is a message in a language that cannot be understood?  A similar argument can be made of that of an instrument, or group of instruments that plays a song with indistinguishable or out of tune notes.  If people don’t recognize an instrumental sound, how can they react to it?  So it is with people that hear a different tongue.  If people want to have spiritual gifts, they should work to develop gifts that help the church as a whole.  Those who speak in tongues should pray for interpretation.  If one should pray in a tongue and doesn’t understand it, they are only praying with the spirit and their mind is unfruitful, so pray and sing and worship the Lord with both the mind and your spirit.  Though Paul is thankful for his gift of speaking in tongues, it would still be better for intelligible words to be spoken in the church rather than tongues.  Though tongues are a sign of the Holy Spirit, the really don’t help unless there is someone to interpret.  If someone that is not a believer comes amongst a group of people speaking in tongues, he will not understand and probably think everyone is crazy.  On the contrary though, if a group of people are prophesying and an unbeliever comes into the group, he will hear and understand what is being said and know that God is there[2].

Paul brings up several different principles that could and should be applied to everyday Christian life.  Everyone has gifts that can be used in the church today, but what Paul is addressing here in particular are spiritual gifts.  Paul’s goal is to further clarify the proper use and further development of spiritual gifts. One of the main theological principals in this particular passage excerpt in Paul’s letter to the Church in Corinth is that the people of the church and the church as a whole should seek to strengthen and use the gifts God has given them to help the church grow and to spread God’s kingdom to unbelievers.

Contextual Meaning.  The church in Corinth, like the Christian Church at the time was a relatively new entity.  The city of Corinth however, had been in existence for far longer.  In the time of Paul’s journeys and letters to the church in Corinth, the city had become a large thriving trade port, and the new capitol of the Achaea province, and home to somewhere around 100,000 people[3].  Because of its strategic placement and its great dealings and commerce with traders, it was a place of great importance and great prosperity.  With the vast amounts of people from many different parts of the world, there were many different religions and cults that thrived there many of which practiced sexually immoral activities.  The city’s upper class was concerned with only one thing as well, the accumulation of wealth.  Corinth became known, because of these things as a city of evil and use of the word “Corinthian” even became an adjective, associating that which was being described as immoral or sexual[4].

Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth comes to them in the midst of all this as an answer to the questions and assumptions of the Corinthian people.  At the time that Paul write his first letter to the Corinthian church, many sins were running rampant throughout the church there.  Many people in the Corinthian church had developed the opinion that they were free to do whatever they wanted.  They abused their Christian liberty in many ways and had great spiritual pride.  These sins were all an extension of the Corinthian culture that prevailed during the time[5].  Paul wrote to combat these issues and direct them in the ways of properly living as a Christians.  To the Corinthians at the time, what Paul had to say flew drastically in the face of the way they were living; they were literally polar opposites.

After expounding for several chapters on the worldly issues that the Corinthian congregation was facing, Paul turns his attention to things inside the church and the spiritual matters that plagued its congregation.  One particular issue that Paul addressed that was pertinent to them at the time was the issue of spiritual gifts and their proper use.  The congregation in Corinth had seen obvious signs of the spirit moving though the manifestation of various spiritual gifts and Paul says that he would not have them be ignorant about them[6].  Whether or not they had any knowledge of them before this letter is unclear[7], but if other aspects of Christianity were being bent to fit into the culture of Corinth, it would be fair for Paul to assume that the gifts of the Spirit could be and probably were misunderstood.  Paul seeks to fix that in the later chapters of first Corinthians when he talks about the various gifts that the spirit has to offer and how useful they all are.  He also, to quell the quarreling and division that was going on in the church at the time, makes the point that all spiritual gifts come from the same Spirit.  Paul makes it very clear by the end of chapter twelve, that though there are many parts of the church, like there are many gifts of the spirit, they are all useful and necessary.

Paul wants the people of Corinth to pursue all Spiritual gifts so long as they make sure that love, which is most important, is kept in the forefront of their minds.  This is why he starts chapter fourteen with a continuation of chapter thirteen, “follow the way of love[8],” or “pursue love[9].”  These words clearly set love apart as the number one thing that the church in Corinth should be pursuing.  Calvin says that love “should take an honored place in their dealings with each other” and by doing so the use of spiritual gifts would be kept under control[10].  He is saying this because of the apparent abuse of the gifts they were being given, this is his way of turning them from their self-seeking attitudes and help focus them in on what is most important[11].

After making clear to the Corinthian church that what is more important than any gift is love, He ventures into tackling not just a dispute between two spiritual gifts, but the reason why certain gifts should be used more and are more edifying to the church body.  Again, Paul is making it clear that he wants the church to pursue all spiritual gifts but he sets apart prophecy as a gift that is better than others, especially the gift of speaking in tongues.  It isn’t that Paul doesn’t think much of the other spiritual gifts, he is just establishing, as Calvin writes, the “pride of place” that prophecy should get[12].  Naturally though, words like this require some explanation.  One cannot just simply say that one spiritual gift is better than another without giving some sort of a reason for it; they are gifts of the spirit given by God as a sign of God’s presence.

To really understand Paul’s argument, one must truly understand what some of the words he used mean.  Prophecy is a word that is often misunderstood to simply the telling of the future, but this is not the only meaning this word can hold.  Prophecy in the context that Paul was writing about is the gift of speaking an inspired message which often times had to do with obedience to God.  Many times this included Old Testament writings or inspired utterances directed at a person or people[13].  The gift of speaking in tongues on the other hand, was understood as to speak, tell or proclaim[14] something in a different language, tongue or even a strange spiritual language that is not of this world[15].  Without too much thought one can see that these gifts, though both are inspired by the spirit, are very different and can have very different effects on the church body.  In this context Paul continues his defense of his statement that the gift of prophecy is better than the gift of tongues.

The gift of speaking in tongues, though great and awe inspiring comes with some obvious disadvantages.  If someone starts speaking in a different language suddenly, no one will know what that person is saying.  It is because of this that Paul says that anyone speaking in tongues speaks only to the Lord.  Calvin points out that the gift of tongues is more “showy” than that of prophecy, probably due to the fact that when someone does begin to suddenly speak in a language other than their own, people can be filled with awe and wonderment, which is not necessarily the case when it comes to the gift of prophecy[16].  Paul points out here that this thought process is obviously flawed because speech in another language, though miraculous, does nothing for the church in the way of helping it or building it up.  Notice though, that Paul does not say that it is bad to speak in tongues, just that it is not helpful to the church body as a whole unless, as he goes on to say in v. 13, there is someone to interpret the speech.  This is an excellent rebuttal to a question that could have easily been asked, as Calvin again points out.  Paul wanted to make sure that there is still an opening for the gift of speaking in tongues and to make sure that it was known that the gift was not useless[17].

Prophecy is the contrast that Paul makes to his audience in Corinth.  He says in v. 3, “But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation[18].”  This is yet another reason to support Paul’s argument of prophecy being better than speaking in tongues.  When a non-believer is present, He says later in v. 24, he will hear, understand and possibly be convicted by the prophecy[19].  In this way then, the church as a whole will be built up and the Word of the Lord and the good news of the Gospel spread.  This is simply a hypothetical statement that Paul makes, but one to prove his point.  If an unbeliever hears someone speaking in tongues, he may think that the person speaking is mad.  This encounter with a manifestation of the Spirit does not produce a conversion[20].  On the contrary though, an unbeliever that hears someone speaking in tongues is convicted, converted, and worships God because of it.  The application for the Corinthians here is rather obvious and as Paul works through is explanation he offers more and more examples and reasoning for what he is saying, thus making his argument irrefutable.

Contemporary meaning.  Point for point, Paul’s desire is for the church to be built up through the use of the gifts of the spirit.  In his entire explanation of why he thinks prophecy is better than speaking in tongues, he bases his argument on the good that it would do for the church as a whole.  If the gift of tongues could do this better, Paul’s letter would have reflected it.  This idea or building the church as a whole and working for the betterment of believers is not something uncommon to the church today either.  In the pursuits as a Christian community, the church, and its people, should seek to do what it can to build up those around them and win people over for Christ.

One thing that makes sense and something that Chester points out is the somewhat negative acceptance that the gift of tongues receives from those on the outside[21].  This can go for both Christians and non-Christians alike.  If someone walks into a church next Sunday and hears someone speaking in tongues, they probably won’t know how to take it.  If one doesn’t understand it, and has never heard or heard of it before, it will very possibly be a turn off for them.  On the other hand though, the person could be in awe at the gift.  What Paul is saying though is that if there is no interpretation for what is said in tongues, the message that was coming through it, which was presumably from God, is lost and no one is edified or built up because of it.  Again, this is why Paul calls for interpretation when speaking in tongues.  This is a principle that should and often is applied in churches today.  In many Pentecostal churches and others that believe in and allow the speaking in tongues gift in public worship, an interpretation is not only expected but anticipated when a person proclaims something in a different tongue.  This is in direct line with what Paul says in First Corinthians.  Instead of having random utterances and proclamations that disrupt the service, this gift is used as a channel to proclaim God’s message and build up the body.

One doesn’t often hear of the gift of prophecy in church anymore.  Though it is still relevant and applicable with today’s Christians, the greater point that Paul is trying to make is what the Church body should look at; the gifts of the Spirit should be used to build up the church and win people over for Christ, not for self edification or showiness.  Paul makes this point over and over again.  His entire argument is based on it, and the application that Christians today can take out of it comes also from it.  Paul likens the misuse of spiritual gifts poorly played, out of tune instruments.  An audience would hardly stand for a performance where instruments were indistinguishable and played incorrectly.  Likewise, the misuse of Spiritual gifts both then and now can turn a captive crowd away from the gospel and therefore give a bad name to the church and the people in it.  Furthermore, the name of Christ and the message of salvation are tarnished when Spiritual gifts are abused.  Christians must avoid these things in an effort to spread the good news.

Paul summarizes this point very well earlier in his letter when he says, “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial[22].”  Paul makes this point time and again to address the argument of Christian Freedom, an issue that was highly used by the Corinthians to defend their actions[23].  Paul goes on to say, “”Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive.  Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others[24].”  Paul’s point here that as witnesses for Christ Jesus, we should be pursuing thing that are for the good of others.  It isn’t that the gift of tongues was bad; it was that it was being used improperly.  Even with the best of intentions, today’s believers can misuse and abuse God and the gifts He gives them.  Paul reminds every Christian everywhere that there is a higher calling, to sets their minds on things above[25] and not waste time in the foolish pursuits of the world.

Paul sums up his argument about Spiritual gifts rather elegantly at the end of chapter four-teen when he says “Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way[26].”  As a church body, Christians should always be encouraging of the use of spiritual gifts.  As Paul says at the beginning of his argument, “Pursue spiritual gifts,” but follow in the way of love[27].  This is the application, and even the calling for Christians today.  God has blessed Christians with gifts, this is an obvious fact; it now lies on those being blessed to work to build up the church and help to spread the message of grace and salvation to all people.


[1] Life Application Study Bible, New International Version.  (Grand Rapids, Zondervan: 1991).  Pg. 2059.

[2] Today’s Parallel Bible.  New International Version, 1 Corinthians 14:1-25 (Grand Rapids, Zondervan: 2000)  Pg 2631-32.

[3] Bimson, John J. ed .”Baker Encyclopedia of Biblical Places.”  (Leicester, Inter-Varsity Press: 1995). Pg. 92-93.

[4] Myers, Allen C. ed.  The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary.  (Grand Rapids, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: 1987).  Pg. 235.

[5] Grocheide, F.W.  “Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians.”  (Grand Rapids, William B Eerdmans Publishing Company: 1953). Pg. 16.

[6] 1 Corinthians 12:2  NIV

[7] Grosheide, “Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians.”  Pg. 279.

[8] 1 Corinthians 14:1 New International Version

[9] 1 Corinthians 14:1 New American Standard Bible

[10] Calvin, Jean.  “The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians.”  (Grand Rapids, William B Eerdmans Publishing Company: 1960). Pg 285.

[11] Calvin.  “The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians.”   Pg 285.

[12] Calvin.  “The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians.”   Pg 286.

[13] Goodrick, Edward W. & John R. Kohlenberger III.  “The Strongest NIV Exhaustive Concordance.”  (Grand Rapids, Zondervan: 1999).  Pg 1588.

[14] Goodrick.  “The Strongest NIV Exhaustive Concordance.”  Pg 1566.

[15] Goodrick.  “The Strongest NIV Exhaustive Concordance.”  Pg 1538, 1553.

[16] Calvin.  “The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians.”   Pg 285.

[17] Calvin.  “The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians.”   Pg 290.

[18] 1 Corinthians 14:3 NASB

[19] 1 Corinthians 14:24 NIV

[20] Chester, Stephen J.  “Divine Madness?  Speaking in Tongues in 1 Corinthians 14:23.”  Journal of the Study of the New Testament.  (London, SAGE Publications: 2005). Pg 417.

[21]Chester.  “Divine Madness?  Speaking in Tongues in 1 Corinthians 14:23.”   Pg 419.

[22] 1 Corinthians 10:23a NIV

[23] Calvin.  “The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians.”   Pg 220.

[24] 1 Corinthians 10:23b-24 NIV

[25] Colossians 3:2 NIV

[26] 1 Corinthians 14:39-40 NIV

[27] 1 Corinthians 14:1-2 NASB



Day 305: Luke 21-22; Scripture Must Be Fulfilled

One of the beauties of the three Synoptic Gospels is that you read a lot of the same material over and over again, each time from a bit of a different perspective.  As we have mentioned before, the Gospel of Luke is much more like a movie documentary that is concerned with getting all the facts and details in the right order.  Unlike Matthew, who is writing to a Jewish audience, showing them all the different ways that Jesus is the fulfillment of Scripture, Luke doesn’t spend a great deal of time linking Jesus’ actions to scripture.  So, when I was reading through today’s reading I was surprised to find, nestled in between a couple of sections, a small part about how Jesus was to fulfill Scripture in His death.  In fact, all of Jesus life death and resurrection were a direct fulfillment of Scripture.  There were over 350 distinct prophecies that had to do with the Messiah and Jesus fulfilled every one of them!

It is important that we remember this.  Today we begin going through the narrative of the death of Jesus for the third time in less than a month.  While these scenes are often taken as horrific and sad, they are also part of the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is important that, while we are and should be very familiar with them, we don’t box them into their own little category.  We need to hear this narrative, and all of Jesus life while keeping in mind the greater context of Scripture.  It helps  us to better know who Jesus is, why He came, and what exactly His death accomplishes for us!

As Christians, it is important for us to be familiar with these Scriptures.  It is also important for us to be familiar with the Scriptures that Jesus fulfills.  These prophecies and narratives, as well as the many things written about them in the New Testament are at the very core of what we believe as followers of Jesus Christ.  It is also important for us to know what they mean for us.  If someone asks you, “what does Jesus’ death on the cross mean?”  We need to be able to answer them effectively.  Interestingly enough, my typical answer for this would have been somewhat vague and perhaps very simply put, because I hadn’t thought about it much.  This semester though, I’ve had the opportunity to take a class on the creeds and confessions of the Church, of which we looked primarily at the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism.  These are great tools for Christians (and non-Christians) to look at as the stand as a witness and summary of what the Church believes supported fully by Scripture.  Not only are they good summary statements of our beliefs, they are also great teaching (and learning) tools for us as we grow deeper in our faith.

While I would never elevate these documents above or even to the same level as Scripture, they are definitely important and good as seek to continue to grow in our faith!  I would encourage you to take a look at them.  Belgic Confession Article 21 is a great place to start when talking about atonement through Jesus Christ.  The Heidelberg Catechism has a great deal to say about Jesus Christ as well, starting at Question & Answer 29 and continuing all the way through 52.  May they be a guide and a companion for you today and tomorrow as we once again encounter the narrative of Christ’s death and Resurrection.



Day 279: Matthew 1-4; Intro to the New Testament, The Gospels, and Matthew

The New Testament Photo Credit: www.thinktheology.org

The New Testament
Photo Credit: www.thinktheology.org

And so we come to it at last, the New Testament, the fulfillment of God’s promises to send a Messiah, the fulfillment/expansion of the covenant that God made with His people.  In the New Testament, the term “God’s People” also takes on a new meaning as the promise of reconciliation and redemption extends outward from the people of Israel to encompass the whole world!  In addition to this, we see the culmination of God’s work throughout the whole of the Old Testament to bring about the coming of Jesus in the New Testament and the fulfillment of hundreds of prophecies and covenantal promises that had been spoken of for over 1000 years, all coming to fruition in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.

The Gospels are the first books of the Old Testament, four books that recount the life and work of Jesus Christ from His birth all the way to His ascension.  Each book is written by a different person, two Apostles, Mark who was an associate of Paul, and Luke (also the author of Acts) who was a doctor and one of the first gentile Christians.  Each of the Gospels is written to a different audience with a different purpose.  This will become apparent as we read through each of these books, however here is some basic information about each of the four Gospels, taken from both the NIV Life Application Study Bible (Tyndale House Publishing, 1991) and Reading the New Testament Today by Robert E. VanVoorst (Wadsworth, 2005).

Wordle of the Gospels Photo Credit: www.petergalenmassey.com

Wordle of the Gospels
Photo Credit: www.petergalenmassey.com

Matthew: Written specifically to the Jews in an effort to prove that Jesus was indeed the Messiah that the prophets foretold and was the eternal King in the line of David.

Mark: Written to Christians in Rome to encourage the Christians who were undergoing persecutions by relating the sufferings, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Mark is said to be the first of the Gospels written.

Luke: Written to “Theophilus” which mean one who loves God, but also to Gentiles and people everywhere in an effort to present an accurate account of the life of Christ and also to present Christ as the perfect human and Savior.  Luke also makes an effort here and in Acts to challenge believers to be more devoted to the faith, especially its growth and defense.

John: Written to Christians and searching Non-Christians to prove that Jesus is the divine Son of God, the Word of God incarnate, and also to deepen faith in Jesus as Son of God and the giver of life, and to encourage readers to confess this faith  openly in the face of threats from synagogue authorities.

The Gospel of Matthew Photo Credit: www.spreadjesus.org

The Gospel of Matthew
Photo Credit: www.spreadjesus.org

As I said, the book of Matthew was written to a primarily Jewish audience, which is apparent right from the beginning of the book.  If you remember some of the culture we learned about the Hebrews, which are now referred to as “the Jews,” the orientation of their lives was towards God, which for them meant looking backward to creation and backing into the future.  This is a bit different than contemporary orientation of looking toward the future.  So naturally we being with a genealogy, a way of linking Jesus Christ with the ancestors of Israel, all the way back to Abraham and the original calling of the people of God by God Himself.  In effect, Matthew is proving right off the bat the Jesus is a decedent of Abraham and from the house and line of King David, two prerequisites for the coming Messiah which, as was said earlier, was one of the purposes of Matthew: to prove that Jesus was the Messiah, the predicted King that was to come, in the line of David, to set up God’s Kingdom here on earth.

Saint Matthew Icon Photo Credit: www.internetmonk.com

Saint Matthew Icon
Photo Credit: www.internetmonk.com

Matthew does a great deal of linking the Old Testament Scriptures to the person and work of Jesus Christ.  There are multiple ways in which he does this.  The genealogy which we just talked about is just one way.  Matthew’s account of the angel visiting Joseph also signifies a divine happening, a message directly from God.  Matthew points to this as well, something he does throughout his book.  He writes, “All this took place to fulfill…” In this case, the happening of Mary’s conception took place to fulfill with Isaiah wrote about in Isaiah 7, “The virgin will be with child…”  Interestingly enough, the course of Jesus’ life in the book of Matthew actually mirrors that of the course of Israel’s life as well going to Egypt to escape death while he was very young, a wilderness experience which lasted for 40 days (a mirror of Israel’s wilderness wanderings), and a Baptism before he began His ministry (which is reminiscent of Israel crossing the Red Sea and the Jordan before entering the promised land).  This too, we see was “to fulfill all righteousness” as Jesus says.

Today we also see a taste of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry as well.  The very route the Jesus took, Matthew says, was to fulfill what is written in Isaiah 9 about those being in darkness who have seen a great light.  From there he begins calling disciples, preaching and healing the sick.  For one reason of another, the work of Jesus as it has been preached in the Church is often boiled down to His work on the cross to die for our sins.  While this is a very major part of the work of Jesus, we also need to remember that His work was also with the sick, the poor, the homeless, and all those who were downtrodden.  As we will see in the coming chapters of books, Jesus work in the world is the very embodiment of what Israel was suppose to be, an assault on the powers of darkness in the world.   In many ways, Jesus too is an example of the outpouring of the wrath of God against sin, disease, and all forms of injustice.  He has come to bring healing, forgiveness, and restoration… the true nature of the Kingdom of heaven.