Revelation 15 – Seven Angels

Read Revelation 15

Chapter 15, though brief, is an introduction to the final judgment set that is about to take place.  These judgments are known as the “bowl judgments” or the “bowls of God’s wrath.”  They are also the final judgments that are to take place and will see the final end and defeat of the dragon, the beasts, and all of sin and evil.

These judgments are likened to the plagues that came upon Egypt when God worked to free them from the hold of Egypt.  The plagues, like these judgments, were a punishment to the evil that enslaved them and their freedom is a foreshadowing of the freedom that all of God’s people will experience as well.

It is interesting to note here that the song that they sing in this chapter is the song of Miriam and Moses that was sung on the shores of the Red Sea after the armies of Egypt were defeated.  That event is intentionally paired with the final judgments on “Babylon” and the defeat of Satan and all his forces of evil.

The image of the Temple / Tabernacle that John sees is also linked directly with both the events in Egypt and those of the final defeat of Satan.  Ultimately this is the purpose and trajectory of the covenant that God makes with Abraham and all the following re-affirmations made with Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and the New Covenant that comes in Jesus Christ as well.  In fact, this has been the end to which God has been working since the fall of humanity into sin at the very beginning.  When the Temple / Tabernacle come into view we get, once again, the image of God’s presence and dwelling humankind.  The Tabernacle is the most connected image to the Exodus story, of course, but the Temple represents the same thing: the dwelling of God and God’s covenant promises to His people.

Out of this come the seven angels with the seven bowls of God’s wrath.  Behind them pours out smoke from the glory of God because of which no one could enter the Temple.  While the Tabernacle was open, none could yet enter because the final series of events had not been completed.  Soon, though, God’s dwelling will rest on earth and we will dwell with Him.



Revelation 4 – The Throne Room

Read Revelation 4

Image Credit: "Word of God"

Image Credit: “Word of God

John’s revelation and the bulk of what we often think about when we reference this book begins in chapter four.  After writing the letters to the churches from Jesus he looks and sees an open door and then is brought into the dwelling place of God.  One of the essential and non-shared characteristics of God is immortality, His eternal nature.  God stands outside of time, something we cannot comprehend.  He sees all of history in a glance.

Some have taken verses 1 and 2 as a particular reference to a theological concept known as the “rapture.”  This is an idea that God is going to take away all Christians from the earth at a particular point in time before the time of the “tribulation.”  Rapture theology, part of a doctrine known as “dispensational pre-millennialism” is fairly popular in the U.S., but has little bearing in the church universal, being only 150-200 years old.  It takes several disjointed verses throughout Scripture and pieces together an idea that is all about escaping the trials of this world.  I would put this on the same level as thinking that we know everything about a person based on 4 or 5 tweets or social media posts.  When we look at the greater arc of Scripture we see God’s intentional work to redeem and restore the world and creation from the damage of sin.  At the end of Revelation (spoiler alert) John sees a “new heaven and a new earth” and sees a “new Jerusalem” coming down to earth.  The “dwelling of God” will be with humans… not the other way around.

Image Credit: "DWELLING in the Word"

Image Credit: “DWELLING in the Word

John then turns to the vision of God that he sees, being in God’s dwelling place.  These images are quite abstract at times, perhaps even a little scary.  We can marvel at their magnificence while puzzling at their obscurity all at once.  However, like John’s vision of Jesus, all of these things are steeped in Scripture and have a rich wealth of meaning and splendor.  In fact, all of it is reflective of other points in Scripture where God has revealed Himself through visions and descriptions.  Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel all have visions of God on the throne, Isaiah 6 being the most well-known of the three.

The gemstones that John sees here reflect a brilliant image of God who, as Paul writes, dwells in unapproachable light.  Seeing the rainbow too is a very vivid and familiar symbol of God and His promises.

He then references 24 thrones and twenty-four elders around God’s throne.  Scripture references the number 12 many times in both the Old and New Testaments, referring to the tribes of Israel and, not at all by accident, the disciples of Jesus.  These 24 thrones and elders represent, then, the whole of the people of God all worshipping God along with the four creatures.  These creatures are quite similar to the creatures Ezekiel saw in His encounter with God and have six wings, like the seraphim of Isaiah’s vision as well.  These Seraphim, a particular type of angel, are around the throne of God always worshipping God.  Their “everywhere eyes” are also seen in Ezekiel’s vision, reflective of God’s “everywhere” vision; nothing goes unnoticed or escapes their vision.

Something that always seems to accompany the “theophany” of God, that is the revelation, experience, and appearance of God is that of lightning and thunder, reminiscent of God’s appearance on mount Sinai to His people.

A sea of crystal is an interesting image.  Throughout Scripture, the sea and the ocean often represent chaos.  They were present before God created the world, Scripture says, and it was from this chaos that God created everything.  Yet here, the sea is of glass, crystal.  It’s no longer dark, as in Genesis, and would be quite still if it was glass (like a pond on a calm morning).  Perhaps this is representative of God’s power over the chaos.  It could also be representative of the bowl for cleansing in the Temple and the true purity that is present in God’s dwelling place.

The main theme of this chapter is the worship that takes place.  Each of the beings and all that is represented here have a place in the dwelling of God, high and exalted in His presence, and yet all are bowing down to God, laying their crowns and all that they have before Him always and forever.



2 Thessalonians 2 – Antichrist

Read 2 Thessalonians 2

While this is the first time that Paul directly addresses the notion of an “antichrist” figure, labeled here as “the man of lawlessness,” it isn’t original to him.  In fact, the first mention of such a person, a sort of human embodiment of evil that comes with the power of satan, is in the seventh chapter of the book of Daniel.  Here this figure comes as the vision of a horn on a beast.

This figure shows up again in Daniel 9, 11, and 12 as well as the extra-canonical book of 1 Maccabees.  In each of these cases, this person, empowered by satan himself, comes to deceive and to claim the place of God in the world.  He/She does so by desecrating all that is seemingly holy and stop the worship of God, replacing it ultimately with the worship of him/herself.

Jesus also picks up this theme, directly referenced in Matthew 24 and Mark 13, with a more indirect reference in Luke 21.  All of these references, from Daniel to Paul, are directly related to eschatological (end times) discussion.

Throughout history, however, it has happened at least twice that a ruler from a foreign land has attacked Jerusalem, laid waste to the Temple of God causing the sacrifices and worship to stop, and desecrated the Temple in some way.  This happened after the life of the prophet Daniel, in 168 BC, when Antiochus IV Epiphanes sacrificed a pig on the altar of burnt offerings.

Later it would happen when the Roman military, led by Titus (a different Titus than the one Paul traveled with) attacked Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and raised it to the ground.  Several of the Roman Emperors in that time proclaimed themselves as “gods,” though none, I believe, did so in the Temple of God.

Over the years there have been many “antichrist” figures that have risen to power.  Each of these, in their own right, have fulfilled parts of what Daniel, Jesus, and Paul all warned the people of God about.  Yet none have lived up to the true “antichrist” described in Scripture either.

Honestly, though, finding the real “antichrist” is beside the point.  Christians have spent far too much time trying to determine who this person is.  Perhaps this president, or the next one.  Maybe it’s the Russian president or the Pope?  If we’re spending all of our time looking for who it is, or is going to be, we’ve missed the point of Paul’s teaching here.  The fact is that there are many who will come, evil people who will seek to defame and destroy God and his people, setting him/herself in God’s place… but only for a time.

This “antichrist’s” time is already numbered for, as much power as satan can give him, it as nothing before the power and might of our conquering Savior.



Luke 19 – Zacchaeus

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The Zacchaeus story coupled with that of Jesus’ visit to the Temple caps off a series of teachings largely relating to money, wealth, and blessings.  Jesus puts things in perspective, talking about not serving two masters, giving away wealth as part of entering into the Kingdom of God, and now we see a concrete example of this in Zacchaeus.

It is entirely possible that Zacchaeus had been following Jesus in His approach to Jericho and now that He was inside the city, wanted to get a look at Him.  I’m sure He didn’t expect Jesus to ask to come over to His house.  However, the transformation that takes place in Zacchaeus’ life in the presence of Jesus and the application of His teaching is profound.

Contrast that with Jesus’ entrance into the Temple after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  Whereas salvation had come to the house of a “sinner,” the Temple, the place where the people worshipped and sacrified to God was anything but the picture of salvation.  In fact, the Temple had become a place in which exploitation was the way of life rather than worship.  Think about what Jesus said just a few chapters earlier, “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come.”

God’s Temple had become a place where people were exploited for their religious duties and desires.  To sacrifice, you had to have the “perfect” animal that only they sold.  To donate, you had to use the Temple currency which you could get, at a price.  The difference between God’s economy and that of humans is stark: while Zacchaeus is giving away and repenting, the religious leaders continue to cheat, exploit, and hoard money in God’s name… and we wonder why Jesus is angry?



Day 365: Revelation 20-22; The New Heaven and The New Earth

As we close this journey that we began a year ago, we come also to the final scenes of John’s vision in Revelation, and the final goal of what God has been working towards since the very beginning of this story.  This vision, this end purpose, the final will of God which we see in Revelation chapter 21, is that which we are told about in both our reading today and also that which we have heard about for for the past 364 days.  God’s ultimate goal, God’s overall will for creation has always been reconciliation… and that is what we see here today, reconciliation and restoration… a return to Eden, to paradise, to a time when all of creation lives in the presence of God for all time.

You see, what we read here today is the second high point of salvation history, the first being the salvation brought through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  To think, though, that the scope of this salvation is limited simply to humans would be a gross understatement.  Sadly, however, this understanding of salvation is that which runs rampant in the church today and is perhaps a symptom some of the greatest misunderstandings of discussions about the end times and all that will take place.  For too often we’ve pared down Jesus’ salvation work to the saving of human souls so that they can go to heaven when they die.  Again, this is a sad understatement of God’s plan of salvation throughout the Bible.

This thinking, as I said, is held by many people and often leads to an “escapist” mentality of the end times.  Whether it be from natural death or the second coming of Christ, the prevailing opinion that seems to have taken mainstream Christianity by storm is that of the hope of “getting out of here” to be with Jesus.  Thinking like this has become rather prevalent in the idea of the rapture, the idea that Christian’s somehow get to be taken away from the earth in these last years so that they don’t have to endure the awful judgments and trials that are described in Revelation.  While one can understand the desire to not be around destruction of that magnitude, if indeed these are literal things that are going to happen on earth.

However, what is very clear here at the end of Revelation is that this escapist mentality is not what is described in the vision that is given to John.  In fact, it is not what has been shown for us throughout the whole of Scripture.  When sin entered the world, all of creation was affected, and the effect was systemic.  From that point on, God has been working His will through the people that He has called, to bring about the restoration of all creation, so that all things would be reconciled to Him.  How do we see this?  Because what is described to us in these final chapters is that of Heaven coming to a renewed and restored creation.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”  And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.  The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.

There are several characteristics of this New Heaven and New Earth that we see here.  We hear the voice from heaven saying that “The dwelling of God is with men.”  More than this, in the words that follow John describes the New Jerusalem as being without a Temple.  This is interesting because the Temple was THE center of Jerusalem and the center of all religious life for the Hebrew people.  However, when the New Heaven and the New Earth are present, and God is dwelling with people, there is no need for a center of Worship because God will be the center of worship.  Jesus is the light and there is no need for the sun.  In short, God is the source of everything, the sustaining force of all that will be present in this new Eden.  I think this is even more interesting because this has been the Hebrew view of reality all along.  God is the center, the source, the completion of all being.  As John writes, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

From the beginning to the end, all things have been and continue to be through God.  He is the sustaining force of all creation and at the same time is working to redeem it, restore it, and reconcile it back to Himself.  This is the end of the story, the true end of all things… the conclusion of our journey both through Scripture and in life.  This is the fulfillment of the Covenant, the completion of the people being God’s people and He being their God.  This too is the truest and fullest realization of the Kingdom of Heaven as it comes to earth when the true King comes in all of His glory, splendor, and majesty on the day that only the Father knows.  Maranatha!  Come Lord Jesus.

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Day 354: Hebrews 11-13; By Faith (Israel's Hall of Fame)

Keeping in mind that the whole of this book was written as an encouragement to those believers who were facing persecution, especially from the Jews, and to those who were believers but may have been backsliding into Judaism.  With that in mind, there isn’t much else to say that isn’t eloquently spoken about in chapters 11 and 12.  So, I encourage you to read them again and remember all that we have covered over the last year.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  For by it the people of old received their commendation.  By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.  By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God.  And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.  By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.  By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise.  For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.  By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.  Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.  For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.  If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return.  But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”  He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.  By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau.  By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff.  By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.

By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.  By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.  He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.  By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.  By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.

By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned.  By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days.  By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of GideonBarakSamsonJephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions,  quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.  Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.  Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.  They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.  In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.  And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.  For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”



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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Day 352: Hebrews 5-7; Jesus the Great High Priest

Did you ever have that one pastor that didn’t seem like he lived in the real world and couldn’t relate to anything or anyone?  Have you been at a church that has cycled through pastors more times than you’ve had birthdays in the past year?  Sometimes it seems like those that have felt to call to lead the church are the ones that are buried behind a barricade of books and an office door that is too often closed.  Other times is seems like the right people for the job keep moving on to other churches or opportunities.  So many things in life are disappointing; either very good and too temporary, or a bad fit and seemingly way to permanent.  Today’s Scripture though, tells us that Jesus is neither.  Jesus is perfect and permanent!

If you take some time to think about the potential for a Messiah coming, and then remembering that the Messiah was actually God that was incarnated into human flesh, it doesn’t take long to realize that there could have been many things that could have gone wrong with this.  God is holy, perfect in every way.  In some cases, people can and have accused God of being so far removed that He could never fully understand the hurt, pain, and difficulty that we face in life everyday.  Some would consider God to be both unknowable (agnostics) and/or completely disconnected from the world (deists).  In any case, these are both potential understandings for God and could have been how Jesus came to earth, so wholly different that he wouldn’t fit in anywhere and really wouldn’t have understood what human life is really like.

On the other hand, the sending of a Messiah that took on human flesh, and lived a human life in all its fullness is also one that is abundantly temporary for our situation.  We all know that the death rate has held pretty steady at 100% for all of recorded history.  There had been and have been plenty of “messiahs” that have come before and after Jesus whose existence on this earth and in this life was cut short… very short.  Their grandiose claims cut short, followers were left to pick up the pieces and figure out what to do next.

Jesus is neither of these.  Jesus is neither just a human or just divine, He is perfectly both.  To accomplish what He came to do, He has to be both.  As the end of Hebrews 4 says from yesterday’s reading, “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

The writer of Hebrews goes on to talk about Jesus as fulfilling the office of high priest, the one who intercedes for the people to God.  In the past, these high priests were human and had to offer sacrifices for their own sins before the could come before the Lord and offer sacrifices on behalf of the people.  Yet Jesus, the Great High Priest, knew no sin and as a matter of His intercession for us, offered Himself as the sacrifice, thus cleansing us from our sins forever.

For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.  He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness.  Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people.

Yet Christ takes on this office and brings it to its fulfillment.  In fact the nature of the office of priest and all of the Hebrew Sacrificial rites point towards Jesus and the sacrifice that He made.  Without them we would really have no context in which to truly understand the fullness of Jesus work in life and in death.

I like how the writer of Hebrews continues on to talk about the certainty of the promise of God that we have in Christ Jesus.  Because of all that had happened before, and God’s continuing work through His people leading up to Jesus Christ, we can know and have full assurance that through Christ we too can be sure of the promise of God in our lives as well.



Day 351: Hebrews 1-4; Introduction to Hebrews

Today we make a transition out of the Pauline Epistles and into what is known as the “general epistles.”  These books, Hebrews – 2 Peter, and Jude, are books that are written not to a specific church or person, but rather to the general audience of the Church throughout the Roman empire as it continued to grow and address a variety of issues and subjects, which compliment Paul’s writings well.  Paul is not considered to be the author of any of the general epistles either.  Most of the authors’ names show up in the title, with the exception of the book of Hebrews, whose author is anonymous.

The book of Hebrews is the first and longest of the general epistles.  There has a been a great deal of debate throughout the years about the authorship of this book.  Dr. Robert VanVoorst, in his book Reading the New Testament, points out that there have been many suggestions as to who Hebrews was written by.  Some, though this is not generally accepted anymore, suggest that Paul wrote this book.  This has been largely dismissed due to the major grammatical and stylistic differences between the writing in Hebrews and that of the Pauline letters.  VanVoorst writes, “The first author to cite this epistle was Clement of Rome (around 96 C.E.), although he does not say who wrote it… From the Earliest times in church history, whenever Hebrews’ authorship was mentions there has been great dispute about it.  Tertullian (in the second century) was the first to suggest Barnabas as its author.  The Protestant reformer Martin Luther in the sixteenth was the first to suggest Apollos, and this is a common conclusion today.  Adolf von Harnack, the greatest church historian of the nineteenth century, proposed that Priscilla was the author, which if true would make Hebrews the only NT book to be written by a woman.  (This makes an intriguing explanation for Hebrews’ anonymity.)   All in All, the argument about authorship is full of conjectures.”

While the author may not be known, it is very clear that this letter is written to the Church in general, and especially to Jewish converts to Christianity that might have been backsliding into Judaism.  It could also be that Jewish pressure on the Christian Church was on the rise and this was a letter written by one of the leaders of the Church to encourage those who were facing persecution from the Jews.  Many people think this letter was written in the mid 60’s A.D. because of its many references to the Temple which was destroyed when the Romans put down a Jewish revolt in A.D. 70 and destroyed for the final time, the city of Jerusalem and the Temple.  However, it isn’t abnormal for those writing after A.D. 70 to write as if the Temple of God is still standing, something common because of the beliefs that the Jewish people held about the house of God and the deeper nature of God’s existence and presence.

Though it is fun to know the context in which the letter is written, it is the content which is significantly more important and to which we turn now and for the next couple of days.  In some ways, Hebrews could be seen as an exposition on the speech that Stephen gave in Acts 7, when he was before the counsel of Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem.  Remember how he walked through the story of the people of Israel and God’s faithfulness, how it all led up to God’s salvation in Jesus Christ, their Messiah?  Well, we see a great deal reference to the Jewish religious systems here in the book of Hebrews as the writer references God’s work in the past and how it points to Jesus as the Messiah and then continues on into what that means for the believers, the Church, and the world.

You can see this general trend even in the beginning chapters of this book, our reading for today.  The author begins by making the point that God isn’t doing something new here, He has always been speaking through various means.  Whether Abraham, Isaiah, Moses, David, or any of the priests that Israel had, God used them to reveal Himself.  Yet now “in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.  He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.”  It is not as though God is doing something different here, He continues to speak and reveal Himself, the truest revelation of which comes in the form of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, the Word made Flesh.

We see also that the author is making tons of references to Old Testament Scriptures and again, to Jewish religious systems.  He talks about the high priests, the prophets, Israel’s rejection of God, Joshua, Moses, and Abraham in the first four chapters.  Obviously, whoever was writing this was very acquainted with the Scriptures.  In many ways, one of the messages of the book of Hebrews is the understanding that we can’t fully know or understand Jesus without understanding all that God had been doing in redemptive history to work up to His coming.  As we have said time and time again, the who religious cult of Judaism and the sacrificial rites, the religious structures, the providence of God in their lives, and even the giving of the law all point towards this greater event in the coming of the Messiah.

Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.  For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.