Revelation 17 – Babylon

Read Revelation 17

What is Babylon?  This is a question we have to address in chapter 17.  We have seen several references to it during our journey through Revelation, but as we near the end the focus shifts onto Babylon and it’s eventual demise.

Babylon is described as a prostitute sitting by “many waters.”  In the Old Testament, those of the people of God or other nations who worship idols and followed false gods were often described as “prostituting themselves” before those gods.  This language of sexual intimacy as it relations to our relationship with God is not at all accidental.  Indeed there is nothing in the human experience that can really relate the depth of intimacy that God desires with us than that of a monogamous relationship between husband and wife.

Scripture uses such language to talk about God’s love for Israel which is described as a “bride” waiting for her groom.  In the same way, when Israel commits idolatry, it is as if she were committing adultery; the depth of the betrayal and hurt is that intense.  This, however, only further reveals the love that God has for His people as He continues to pursue them, working for their salvation.

Babylon, though, is the “great prostitute.”  The “many waters” that she sits by are the “inhabitants of the earth,” all those who have turned away from God.  When the angel takes John into the wilderness he sees this woman who is sitting on the beast, an interesting metaphor for showing that her actions and the beasts are very much related.  The beast being scarlet shows a similarity to the dragon we met earlier in chapter 12; the beast is the beast from the earth, that is the false prophet who led many astray to worship the other beast.

The women, whose name here is “Babylon the great,” is adorned with many great looking things.  Just as the things of this world often look great on the outside, so too does the great prostitute entice the people of the world to join her.  It seems also that she has partaken in the persecution and murder of God’s people again solidifying the idea that her actions and that of the beast are one and the same.

As the angel is explaining the mystery of the woman and the beast, we get a sense of imitation that is going on here.  The beast “once was, now is not, and yet will come.”  This could be a two-fold description of an imitation of Jesus who lived, died, and rose from the dead as well as perhaps being significant of a set of time periods where the beast will be present, then will not be prominent for a while, and then will return.  Evil is certainly persistent, and we can probably look back through history to see times when it seemed like evil was much more prevalent than at other times.

Following this is a series of references to seven hills, seven kings, an eighth king, and then ten more kings.  These have been interpreted in a number of different ways.  Seven hills could be an obvious reference to Rome, a city built on seven hills.  Hills and mountains, though, are also a reference to royalty and power, something that coincides with the references to kings.  The seven kings have been interpreted as seven emperors of Rome and also as rulers of some of the empires that had come before.  An eighth king comes along, a reference to the antichrist, to whom all the other kings give their power.

So, is Rome (the city or the empire) actually what is being referenced when we say “Babylon?”  Perhaps.  It is difficult to identify one specific interpretation that fits everything.  As we have seen throughout Revelation, though, these references to royal and political power that resist and stand in opposition to God could very easily be speaking to the totality of political, economic, and other worldly powers that turn from Christ and resist both God and oppress the people of God.  We can see examples of this throughout history and even in our present day governments.  Revelation could be revealing the trajectory of secular power, the governments of the world, that move away from Christian principles and even go so far as to oppress Christians.

If that is the case, it is also possible that the woman that is depicted here could be representative of the people of God.  As I said, this image of an elegantly adorned woman is one that is used in the Old Testament to describe Israel.  Perhaps what John is seeing here is not just the city of Babylon but rather, the people of God who have sold themselves out to the secular powers of politics, culture, civil religion, and anything else that promises some sort of hope but ultimately, as John records at the end of chapter 17, leaves her naked and ruined.

In this instance, perhaps Revelation is issuing a warning to the people of God not to follow the currents of the world, to stay separate and chaste from the idolatry that the world offers.  Certainly, this has implications for the church today as we have seen a dramatic shift toward cultural trends that demand we stay “relevant” and “up to date” on things.  Often times our emphasis on such things leads us away from the truths of Scripture for the sake of contemporary (here and now) significance.  When we turn toward these things as our hope and strength… perhaps we become the prostitute?

 

 



Day 356: 1 Peter 1-5; Courage in the Midst of Suffering

As we continue in our reading, we come to the books of first and second Peter.  Tradition holds that it was the Apostle Peter that wrote these two books, probably while he was in Rome.  Whether or not this is true, I guess, is besides the point.  Reading today you’ve probably picked up on a common theme that has been prominent, especially in the latter letters of Paul and these general letters that have gone out to the whole church.  As the Church continued to grow and spread out throughout the Roman Empire, it continued to face a great deal of persecution and struggle.  The Roman government acknowledged the Church as a sect of Judaism, something that was not necessarily beneficial to Christians.  The Jews has often been hostile to Roman rule, which caused many believers to be persecuted on behalf of the Jews.  More than that, the Jews themselves obviously didn’t accept the Christians as well, thus causing more persecution.  Many believers lost all that they had, their homes, businesses and any sort of ability to sustain a living for themselves and their families, all because they professed faith in Christ.  The further on we go in the first century, the more this becomes prevalent.

Peter, or the writer of First Peter, knew this and was writing into this very issue.  The Church had been scattered throughout the Roman Empire; this letter is addressed to the churches throughout what is no known as Turkey.  Peter also addresses this letter “To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion.”  He could mean a number of things here.  Returning once again to Dr. Robert VanVoorst’s book Reading the New Testament Today, VanVoorst writes that Peter could be referring to “spiritual exiles” in that all believers are spiritually exiled from the fully realized kingdom of God and reign of Jesus Christ here on earth.  Another reason could be an implication that the writer was looking to target a Jewish audience as well, using words like “exile” and “dispersion” which show up in the Old Testament a great deal.  In any case, it is clear that Peter is writing to many churches during a time of increased persecution.

One of the main points that Peter is making in this letter actually speaks directly into this time of trial and struggle and in many ways echoes the book of James.  Peter is imploring the believing community that they are called to live lives of faith and to testify to Christ Jesus, even if it brings them troubles in this life.  From the very beginning, Peter talks about the salvation that we receive in Christ Jesus, and continues by saying “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’

It may be easier in life to acknowledge faith in church and even in our speech with other Christians, yet hiding it from the rest of the world so as to not face persecution.  However, this is not the way that we as disciples of Christ are called to live.  In my discipleship class this year we have talked at great length about what it means to be a disciple of Christ and what that looks like in our lives and in the lives of the church.  Ultimately this is lived out in the calling that we have had since the beginning, To Love God and To Love Neighbor.  This is the greatest commandment that Jesus testifies to and that even Israel was called to.  This calling has two aspects, an inward action to love God and to love neighbor, and an outward action to show the love of God in our lives and to do that towards our neighbor.  Faith and Christian discipleship are not something to be lived out only in the Church building on Sunday mornings, they are things that are to be lived out EVERYDAY, they are the out flowing of what happens on Sunday morning.

What does this look like?  Peter addresses this by saying that it looks, first and foremost, like having Christ as the cornerstone of our  lives.  It also shows up in our submission to authority and respect of it in the world (whether we agree with it or not).  It shows up in how we love and treat our family, with love and respect.  It shows up in our vocations, even if it leads to suffering or persecution (a word I use in the lightest of senses because Christians in North America do not truly know what it means to be persecuted to the point of imprisonment and death).  It also shows up in our we interact with other Christians as well, which brings us back around to the notion of discipleship.  Peter exhorts the “elders” among them to be good shepherds of the flock, something that we often loose in our churches today.  Older folks do not feel that they can relate to the younger generations, or that the young have any desire to listen to them, but they do and the church is in desperate need of people that are solid in their faith to come alongside the young and immature so that they can be built up into Christ.

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.  And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.  Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.  Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.  And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.  To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.



Day 332: 1 Corinthians 5-9; Questions and Answers

There are two main purposes that Paul had in writing this letter to the church in Corinth.  The first reason, as we saw yesterday, was to deal with some pretty major issues that the believers were dealing with.  Some of the first things that we saw Paul addressing in this community of faith were divisions that had cropped up among them.  People were raising up the teachings of some higher than that of others and this was causing a divide among them.  After addressing that, we see today that Paul is moving on to what one of my Bibles calls “disorder” in the church.  I would say this is an understatement as the first thing that is brought up in 1 Corinthians 5 is that of incest.  To be honest, I think this passage is a bit shocking for many people to read as we don’t hear much about incest today… but issues just as horrific as this are present in church communities across the world aren’t they?

We’ve seen hundreds of clergy, religious leaders, and pastors brought into the public eye for the criminal sexual abuse that they had been committing over the course of many years.  The Roman Catholic church is still reeling from the vast number of pedophilic church leaders that were brought into the public eye over the past decade.  Even more people turn a blind eye to the domestic issues of people within our congregations as well.  Child and spousal abuse run rampant throughout our communities and we look the other way.  I wonder what Paul was referring to when he was talking about the boasting of the church in Corinth.  Could they have been honestly been proud and boasting about this man and his “father’s wife” (aka. HIS MOTHER)?  Or maybe it was that they were boasting about the great community that their church had while turning a blind eye to this particular happening.

That might hit a bit more close to home for us.  We talk often about our churches and how we can make them more welcoming, ignoring the fact that people in oppressive relationships walk through our doors every week and we do nothing for them.  Paul doesn’t mince words when he talks about this stuff going on.  “A little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough,” he says.  He says too that we need to get rid of these people; remove them from the body.  Now, I think that this may seem a bit harsh, especially for today’s standards.  What about “let him who is without sin cast the first stone?”  It is true that, even as a community of faith, we are all sinners.  Yet in our redemption through Christ’s blood we are called away from a life of sin and into that of Christ.  Anyone living in sin like this, blatantly disregarding the Word of God, ought not to be allowed among other believers who may also fall into this lifestyle.  Church discipline is one of the most difficult things that a Church has to do, and it is not the Church’s way of allowing itself to be the judge and jury, but rather something that is done in love in an effort to correct and reconcile a person or people.  Never are we called to hate the sinner, lest we would find ourselves filled with self-hatred, but rather to understand that the Love of Christ is poured our for them as well as us, in equal measures.  Corrective action such as church discipline, like that which Paul speaks of here, is ultimately meant to awaken someone to that love so that they may turn from their ways and be healed.

The second main purpose of Paul’s writing this letter to the church in Corinth is to answer questions that the church apparently asked him in a prior correspondence.  Paul makes a sharp transition towards these questions, which he will address throughout the rest of this book, in chapter seven.  These folks had a lot of interesting questions that came up for Paul.  While Paul addresses a great many things around the subject of marriage and singleness, as well as that of food that is sacrificed to idols, and even Christian freedom, all of it revolves around the same point: keeping Christ at the center of it all.  Note that Paul advice on marriage doesn’t have so much to do with marriage as much as it has to do with living a life that is pleasing to God and ultimately following and growing in Him.  Even for those that are “unequally yolked” in marriage to a non-Christian, Paul encourages them to continue in that relationship.  He says that the unbelieving spouse will be “sanctified” by the believing spouse.  There is much discussion around this topic, but what Paul writes here is quite clear.  The use of the word ‘sanctified’ is also very telling as sanctification has to do with the continuing work of the Holy Spirit on the lives of people.  Perhaps Paul is revealing how the Holy Spirit would be working in the lives all family members through the life of a believing member.

Paul has much to say, and I think it deserves noting here, about divorce as well.  “To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband.  But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.”  In a culture where divorce happens to almost one in every two marriages, even in the church, this is a very telling statement and I think that it stands pretty well on its own.  There are often debates about situations of spousal abuse, etc.  I would submit that these are not what is being addressed here and are special situations.

Finally, Paul turns his attention to Christian freedom.  A lot of what he says here also stands on its own and needs little explanation.  The main thrust of what he is saying is that, like he writes to the church in Rome, being free from sin and given salvation does not grant the right to live however we want.  Paul didn’t do whatever he wanted, instead he did whatever was NEEDED to win more people for Christ.  This, I think is very important, and not something that we can just do when the need strikes.  Like an athlete that trains for each game, not knowing what will happen when he or she plays, Paul too says that he did and we must work hard so that we can be ready to win people for Christ at any time, wherever we are.



Day 330: Romans 14-16; Building Up the Body

Yesterday we began the final section of Romans which brings us from the reality in which we live, the forgiveness we have found in the grace of God through Jesus Christ, to the response which we should have towards that grace.  Remember that this response is one of gratitude, the third part of journey of “guilt, grace, gratitude” and has much to do with the living out of our faith and the freedom from sin that we find in Christ.  Because we are dying to our old selves and putting on the new self, that is Jesus Christ, there is a sort of inner transformation that takes place.  This doesn’t necessarily happen all at once, where as soon as we accept Christ we are perfect little angels, but rather over time.  This process is called “sanctification,” the continuing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives to transform us and make us more like Jesus Christ each and every day.  Part of this is the living out of a life of gratitude towards God, emanating His love, grace, mercy, compassion, and so much more in every situation that we find ourselves in.

Again though, we find that this isn’t about simply about an individual’s inner transformation.  Too often in the American Church, which is plagued with individualism, we make things simply be about “me and Jesus.”  There is an element of this in the Christian faith to be certain.  Every one of us have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and each one of us will have to stand before the throne of heaven at the end of time.  Yet this emergence of “me and Jesus” thoughts is really a recent happening.  With the enlightenment, modernism, and now post-modernism leading the philosophical ideal, individualism and its associate relativism have marred the community of faith with its influence.  Yet Paul makes a point here at the end of his letter to the church in Rome that Christian faith is not simply to be an individual thing, it is to be something lived out in the community of faith, mutually building each other up as we continue to be transformed and made more and more like Christ.

This shows up in Paul’s writing to the Romans, and in other epistles as well with His addressing issues that have cropped up in the church.  We see Paul writing about the different things that people eat, about what is “clean” and what is “unclean,” and later we’ll even see what Paul has to say about spiritual gifts and how the impact the body of Christ.  Really though, what this has to do with is passing judgment on others within the body of the Church.  Paul is encouraging the believers in Rome not to sweat the small stuff as it were.  There are many things that people do differently and they are more than likely convinced that they are doing things right.  We see this all the time in church don’t we?  We judge how other people are worshipping, what other people are wearing, how they are controlling their kids, what they do for a living… the list goes on and on.

Yet Paul’s point here is that what people do they do before the Lord much more than they do before any person.  In this sense, individuality within the Christian community is something to be honored and understood.  If someone is singing with their hands in their pockets, their heart is still before the Lord.  If those pockets are bluejeans rather than dress pants their heart is still before the Lord.  If that person’s kids are running around church after the worship service is over, their heart is before the Lord (there are safety concerns of course which is a bit more of a public affair, but this is not a judgmental thing).  In all these things we are the Lord’s and we need to keep this in mind.  Paul’s command here is to not pass judgment on each other.  When judgment is passed it only serves to place a stumbling block in the community, not just in front of the one being judged.  It is a stumbling block that more than just the judged can fall over too.

So what then is the point of community?  Mutual edification… building each other up in Christ Jesus.  While there are things that we do that are between us and God, ways that we worship and live our lives that others might not necessarily agree with, that doesn’t mean that we aren’t in a position where we could grow a little bit.  Even those with the deepest convictions about their lifestyle, their worship style, or any other style can learn from those of other styles and convictions.  And those that aren’t so sure about themselves should find the church a place in which they can come and grow in Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit through the encouragement of the community of faith, not a judgmental group that only want you to do things the way you do them.  What does Paul say right off the bat today?  “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him (or her), but not to quarrel over opinions.”  These opinion issues only serve to weaken the already weak and to drive a wedge between brothers and sisters in Christ.  Let us use our faith and our gifts to build each other up, so that together we may all grow in the Spirit and knowledge of God and be formed day by day into the image of Jesus Christ.



Day 326: Romans 1-3; Introduction to Romans

Today we being the transition into the largest section of the New Testament, and one of the last sections as well.  These are known as the ‘epistles.’  they are composed almost completely of letters that were written by Paul, Peter, & John.  A few of them are are written by others or have somewhat disputed authors (in that there is not agreement on who exactly wrote the book), but all are really exposition on faith in Christ Jesus, drawing from the teaching of the Old Testament Scriptures and of Jesus and how both of these are now interact to form and shape the faith of the Church as it grows and develops.  We will see the authors address many issues from salvation by grace alone to the formation of church government and the qualifications for its leaders.

The book of Romans itself is the largest of the Epistles and arguably the most well known.  Paul, the author, lays out the whole argument of faith in God from the very beginning, taking us through what has become known as “Romans’ Road,” or the journey of Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude.  He is writing to an audience in Rome, a place that He hasn’t yet been able to visit, trying to build up the church there and empower them in their faith as they face persecution and rejection.  As we can see from our reading today, it is clear that there are both Jews and Gentiles present in the audience that this would have been read in.

As we begin our reading of the book of Romans, we see Paul expressing his desire to come and visit the Roman church.  Clearly this book was written before the events that we read yesterday when Paul was actually in Rome.  It is also important to note here that Paul feels himself called to be an Apostle.  I like how he writes “set apart for the Gospel of God,” which is really true if we remember back to Paul’s encounter with Jesus in Acts 9.  God really had chosen him to be the instrument He used to carry the Gospel to the Gentiles, something that we see laid out pretty clearly here.  More over, Paul’s words: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek,” are quite interesting if you contrast them with his old life.  What a turn around he has experienced!

From here, Paul goes on to lay out the journey of faith and, in so many words, explains the process of going from condemnation and judgment under the law to righteousness through faith by the grace of God alone.  Basically, Paul begins with the story of Israel, talking about how God revealed Himself to them and they didn’t listen.  Yet he doesn’t say with Israel and points out that God has been revealed to everyone throughout the entire world through the very creation that He created.  In theological terms, this is called “General Revelation.”  The glory of God, the very existence of God is revealed simply by looking at the greatness of creation all around us.  Indeed this is a response to so many of the psalmists who wrote things like “all of creation declares your glory.”  Paul makes the point as well that because of this general revelation of God to all people, no one has an excuse not to turn to God.  In other words, because of all that God has given us on this earth, we cannot use the excuse “I never heard of God” or “I never saw God.”

Paul goes on to say then that God is both righteous and justified in His judgment of humanity.  For some were given over to the desires of their flesh, the sin of this world in worshiping idols and practicing all manner of unrighteousness.  Whether these folks knew God or not, they were sinful to the core.  An argument could be made here that the the people Paul is referring to at the end of Romans 1 were not the elect, but were those who never turned to God.  Whether or not this is the case really is besides the point though as Paul goes on in Chapter 2 to show that even those who follow God and judge those people will be judged themselves because they too sin by doing these things.  He then clarifies by saying that God will judge all who sin whether they knew the Law of God or not.

Interestingly, Paul takes a bit of a turn here, pointing out the necessity and purpose of the Law.  He also goes into a talk about identity, building upon the argument he has made about the equality of God’s judgment for all.  Paul points out that identity is not a matter of physical happening, or anything else for that matter, that makes a Jew and Jew and a Gentile a Gentile.  It is (hear the shema echos here) a matter of the HEART!  “Inward circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.”  So, is there any advantage to being any particular race?  Paul says, “By No Means!”  The Jews were recipients of the Law of God, and God revealed Himself in a special way to them, but that didn’t make them any more faithful or save them in any special way… they are judged just the same.  In fact, in some ways they have even less excuse because with God’s Law brings a greater knowledge of sin.  But as for sin, there is no difference.  All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

So what then?  Are we to remain in sin?  Are we hopeless?  Paul ends, and so will we, with one of the greatest statements of faith and salvation through grace that is written:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and [all] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.  It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.  For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.  Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.  Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.



Day 325: Acts 24-28; Paul's Defense of the Gospel

We come today to the final chapters of the book of Acts.  If there ever was an into “all the world” as Jesus charged the disciples with back in Acts 1, Rome would be that place.  For all intents and purposes, Rome was the center of the world.  This was, however, where God was calling Paul to go and it was where Paul demands to go too!  Before he can get there though, he stands trial before a whole host of Roman rulers, all of which say the same thing: “this man has done nothing to deserve death.”  Crazily they all decide at different times that Paul has really committed no crime and, if it weren’t for the appeal that he made to Caesar, he would have gone free.  Something tells me that the Lord knew this and the Holy Spirit prompted Paul to say that even when it might otherwise not had been necessary.

I don’t really have a great deal to say about all that happens in today’s reading.  Paul delivers three very well thought out, well articulated defenses in our reading today, laying out the reasons why he is not guilty of anything while also delivering the Gospel message to many of the ruling class of the Roman empire.  These were people that would probably have not heard the Gospel before now, being that for the most part those that were interacting with the Apostles and other believers were likely common folk, much like the fishermen from which Jesus chose His disciples.

There are some pretty miraculous things that take place on Paul’s journey to Rome.  He gets shipwrecked on an Island and miraculously everyone on the boat survives, just as Paul said they would.  The natives on the Island are all very welcoming to Paul and the Roman men, something that was likely hit or miss back then.  Paul survives a snake bit from a cobra, something that clearly other people had died from judging by the reaction of the natives that were with them.

Most interesting, and what I think we’ll end this journey through Acts with, is the narrative of what happens just before the ship runs aground.  He tells them that they need to eat because they haven’t in a long while and they need to recover their strength.  So, in the midst of a storm, when it looks like all hope is lost, Paul takes bread, gives thanks, and breaks it before them and eats.  What a beautiful picture of the Lord’s Supper we see here presented before us.  In the midst of the tumult of life, God beckons us to His table, to sit down and rest, to recover our strength and find hope once again in Him.  I don’t know that this was the intent of the author as He was writing these last chapters, or if this was the purpose and lesson that God or Paul was trying to teach in this action.  What I do know is that this is something that holds true for us today, tomorrow, and always.  God has a plan for our lives and the Holy Spirit is active in guiding us on the way.  And at any time, amid the craziness of our hectic lives, Jesus says, “Come all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”  We too can find encouragement in God who is with us each and every day and is working all things together for us who love Him and are called according to His purpose.



Day 294: Mark 14-16; The End of the Book of Mark

The last 3 chapters of the Gospel of Mark, that which we have read today, are relatively unremarkable when it comes to the content of Jesus’ last days and its similarity to the other Gospels.  Granted, Mark’s writing style and quick moving through it are certainly different than that of Matthew, Luke, or John, the same material and details are still covered in the Gospel of Mark.  What I would like to discuss today is the unique and somewhat confusing ending of the book of Mark, and some of the issues surrounding the “additions” that were placed after Mark 16:8.

Before we do this, though, there is a very unique and obscure passage at the end of Mark 14, after Jesus is arrested we read these two verses about a “young man” who runs away naked after the officials try to arrest him with Jesus.  Considerable work has been done to ascertain the truth behind this person, who he was and why he was there.  While I think that this is an intriguing line of thought to follow, I think that focusing on him and trying to figure out if he was one of the disciples or anything of the sort is really missing the point of the passage.  Some have even tried to link him to the “young man” of Mark 16:5 who was sitting in the tomb after the stone was rolled away.  I think it would be foolish to say that these people are one in the same, especially considering the accounts of the other Gospels that say that it was an Angel of the Lord that rolled back the stone.  Arguments have been made for this idea simply by the fact that they use the same words to describe both characters.  This is a weak argument at best as the descriptor of “young man” applies in many different situations.  In any case, whether or not they are the same person, I think that when we look at Hebrew culture of the day we see a much greater purpose for the story of the young man running away naked.  Jesus has recently told His disciples that they would all fall away from Him, a comment that they vehemently denied themselves.  Yet, when Jesus was arrested, they all did fall away even to the point of shame.  See, in the Hebrew culture, to show one’s nakedness was a source of great shame.  I think, perhaps among other things, Mark is trying to convey the truth of the deep denial and rejection that set in with Jesus disciples, accompanying their fears as He was arrested.  They were truly exposed, their weaknesses laid out before the Lord.

The other really interesting thing that is presented to us here at the end of Mark is how he ends his writing.  The young man, assumed to be the angel of Matthew 28, says to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” So what do they do?  “They went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”  The End.

What an ending right?  The most monumental, reality changing event in the history of the cosmos has just happened and no body tells anyone about it because they are afraid.  This actually fits in with the motif that has been created around this fleeing young man that we just talked about.  No one says anything, they just run away.  Now, there seems to be more to the story here as there have been additions that were added to the book later.  Whether or not they were added by Mark, or others along the way, they have made it in the canonical Bible which means they are of some significance.  They all, with the exception of the last few verses, carry with them the same theme of doubt and disbelief, a particular interpretation of the post resurrection disciples’ reaction to all these events.  Then Jesus shows up to all of them and rebukes them for their lack of belief and sends them out with power and authority.

I think that a focus on Mark’s audience here makes a big difference in these passages.  Remember that Mark is writing to a Gentile audience, likely Christians in Rome that are under great persecution.  Mark has just laid out for them the whole of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and then ended it by saying, “everyone was afraid, no one said anything, and no one believed.”  I wonder if this isn’t Mark’s particular way of pointing out the Roman Christians’ own reaction to the persecution that they were facing.  If we think of it in this way, I would suggest that not only do these obscure passages make sense but so too does the end of Mark and the few additions (written by whomever they were written by) make sense.  Our tendency is to fall away when we are faced with trials and persecution.  We cannot rely on our own strength.  We would even give in to being shamed by our own actions out of fear.  It isn’t until Christ shows us to strengthen us that we have the strength and courage to move outside of ourselves and tell the good news of the Gospel in the face of all resistance.  May we too find strength from this message, and hope as we ourselves are a light for the nations.