Revelation 1—5

 

Seven Sevens

Photo from page 53 of Lost in Translation vol 2 by John Klein and Adam Spears

 

 

Revelation 1—5

Monday, December 1, Revelation Chapter 1

The common assumption today is that Revelation is intentionally written is such a way that outsiders could not understand it.  By the time John wrote, the Romans were persecuting Christians, so the sections referring to Rome had to be hidden.  That is probably not the case.

John, at the time he wrote Revelation about 95 AD (when he was in his 90’s), was a prisoner on the island of Patmos.  It is a small island near Ephesus with small settlements, mostly for fishing.  He was free to roam the island and do as he liked, but he could not leave.  As the last surviving Apostle, every Christian who could afford it went to visit.

John received a vision of Heaven that is very like the ones received by both Ezekiel and Daniel.  He received messages dealing with the end times that have much in common with both the Old Testament and the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles.  What is found in Revelation would not cause Christians or Jews any more trouble with Rome than they already had.

We have a problem in this short study.  To fully understand the Message from God to us, we need a basic understanding of how God has been communicating his Message to us since the beginning of time.  I will point the way, but much more study will be needed to understand all of the points.  Therefore, I recommend the three volume Lost in Translation books by John Klein and Adam Spears.  They are pastor and Congregational Leader of a Messianic Hebrew congregation in Bend, Oregon.

Chapter 1 of Revelation is an introduction of the first major section, the 7 letters.  We will see the number seven many times in Revelation.  Most of us know it is the number most closely associated with God, being one of the numbers of perfection.  It is perfection in part because it is the number of completion.

Verses 1-2:  This is the revelation which God gave to Yeshua the Messiah, so that he could show his servants what must happen very soon. He communicated it by sending his angel to his servant Yochanan [John], who bore witness to the Word of God and to the testimony of Yeshua the Messiah, as much as he sawCJB  We learn first that the message is from God to Jesus, second that Jesus had his personal angel deliver the message to John and third that the message was the Word of God.  Far from being a nearly irrelevant book until the end times, it is a book for us in the here and now.  It is the Word of God.  How more relevant can it get?

In verse 3 we learn that the time is near.  However, the Greek word is kairos which is more accurately a season of time, which fits with the images of Ezekiel and Daniel.

Verse 8 I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the AlmightyNIV  In Hebrew it is Aleph and Tâv and in English A & Z.  Biblically, God created the universe and He will supervise the ending of the universe.  God is First and Last.  And He is in control of the Last.

Verses 17-18:  When I saw him, I fell down at his feet like a dead man. He placed his right hand upon me and said, “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last, the Living One. I was dead, but look! — I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys to Death and Sh’olCJB  Jesus is the First and the Last.  And he is in control of the Last because he now has the keys to both Death and Sh’ol (Hades, Hell).  The game is over, the Great Liar cannot win.

As pointed out above, the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet are Aleph and Tâv.  Every letter in the alphabet has a meaning because they began as pictographs.  Aleph means “first, strong,” and Tâv means “sign of the cross or tree.”  The first five books of the Bible are called by God, Torah.  Those letters ‘read’ “Behold the man nailed to the sign of the covenant.”

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earthCJB  Ten words, but in Hebrew it is seven words.  Seven at the beginning.  The middle word, word four, is the letters Aleph Tâv.  There is no English word for it, so it is never translated, yet it appears throughout the Hebrew Bible.  Every appearance is to remind us that the First and the Last is in the center of everything.

The first sentence of the Bible is perfect because it contains seven words.  It is perfect because it places God in the center of those seven words, therefore, in the center of everything.  It is perfect because it gives us our first look at the menorah.

We Gentiles consider the menorah an odd symbol for Israel and, oh yes, it was used in the Temple.  Actually, the menorah is woven into the Bible in countless ways.  It is important for us in this study because it is one of the keys to understanding the Revelation.

I turned around to see who was speaking to me; and when I had turned, I saw seven gold menorahs. CJB  Seven menorahs.  The menorah is a lampstand with seven separate lights.  So we have 49 lights total.  Each of the seven menorahs has a center lamp, designed to hold all the oil for all seven lamps.  It feeds the oil through tubes to the other lamps.  In the Temple, the center lamp was always the source for lighting the other lamps.  That center lamp is number four, counting from right to left (as in reading Hebrew) and represents the Aleph Tâv, the First and the Last, the center of all Light and all Life.

John saw seven menorahs with one being the center, or number four menorah.  In Revelation the center light of the center menorah will turn out to be the Messiah.  In verse 13, we read and among the menorahs was someone like a Son of ManCJB  Son of Man was Jesus’ favorite title for himself, but John uses it here and in only one other place (14:14).  The term stresses the humanity of the Messiah.  The description of that special human is, however, of the Godly nature of the Messiah.

The description is like those in Ezekiel and Daniel when describing God or the coming Messiah.  We also see him holding seven stars, typical symbols for angels, but sometimes for saints.  Each of the seven congregations to ‘receive’ a letter has its own angel, but each has its saints as well.

Tuesday, December 2, Revelation Chapter 2

Chapters 2 and 3 should be taken as one chapter, for they cover the seven letters which make up a unit.  Each letter contains 1) a description of Jesus, 2) congratulations (except Sardis and Laodicea), 3) rebuke (except Smyrna and Philadelphia) 4) exhortation, and 5) a promise.

We generally speak of these letters as going to churches, but the Greek word used is ecclesia, meaning congregation.  Cirice is the oldest English word for ‘meeting place’.  Over the centuries it morphed into church.  Because the early church well into the second century met in synagogues, this is probably the best reading of verse 1:  To the angel of the Messianic Community in EphesusCJB  More accurate but more difficult for most of us is To the malach of the Kehillah in EphesusOJB

More important than ecclesia is the message that the angel had some work to do in Ephesus.  It had been the rock star of early Christianity and was Paul’s favorite.  He sent Timothy to spend the rest of his life helping them.  He is not mentioned in this writing and may have died by then.  It does not matter for the Ephesians were losing their luster.

We learn the following in this letter:

Jesus holds seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven menorahs.

The congregation is commended for doing good deeds, toiling, persevering and being unwilling to tolerate evil men, the Nicolaitans, a group of pagan priests leading the people away from God.  They have not grown weary.

The congregation is rebuked for having left their first love.

The congregation is exhorted to remember where they have fallen, repent and return to their good deeds.

The congregation will be rewarded with the fruit of the tree of life and eternity in Paradise.

There is another layer to the menorah image that leads us to a more complete understanding of the role of the Messiah in the Bible.  Adam (mankind) sinned and was banned from Paradise.  God immediately placed His salvation plan into operation.  Step one was to cover them.  Adonai, God, made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed themCJB  But this covering was more than mere leather, it included, and includes, the protective covering of the Holy Spirit.

Where did the leather come from?  Not a question I had ever thought of.  The obvious answer leads us to the first blood sacrifice.  God killed animals to cloth his humans.  Their blood sealed the first covenant between God and man (Adam).  Adam sinned but was sorry; he repented and tried to stay as close to God as he could.  He represents the blood sacrifice which is the symbol for the lowest level of covenant relationship: service.  That is why Paul always referred to himself as a servant of Jesus.

Every single human who has ever lived, or ever will live, will be a slave-servant; either to Jesus or to Satan.  There are no other possibilities.  If I refuse to make a choice, Satan is the default master.  Salvation can only come by choosing Jesus.

Ephesus clearly chose to serve Jesus and their reward will be great.

Smyrna also chose Jesus.

From their letter, we learn that Jesus is the First and the Last, who was dead and has come to life.

The congregation may live in earthly poverty, but they are rich.  They are blasphemed by those who falsely claim to be Jews. (Actually Greek philosophers who were Gnostics.)

God had no rebuke for this congregation.

The congregation need not fear the coming suffering of ten days.  The suffering is still going on.  Be faithful, even to death.  In the Bible, the number 10 is used 242 times. The designation “10th” is used 79 times. Ten is also viewed as a complete and perfect number, as is 3, 7 and 12. It is made up of 4, the number of the physical creation, and 6, the number of man. As such, it signifies testimony, law, responsibility and the completeness of order.  In Genesis 1 we find the phrase “God said” 10 times, which is a testimony of His creative power. God gave the 10 Commandments to man. Ten therefore represents man’s responsibility to keep the commandments. A tithe is a 10th of our earnings and is a testimony of our faith in the Lord.  The Passover lamb was selected on the 10th day of the 1st month (Exodus 12:3), as was Jesus, the Lamb that takes away the sins of the world (John 12:28 – 29; 1 Corinthians 5:7). The 10th day of the 7th month is the Holy Day known as the Day of Atonement. From biblestudy.org

The congregation will receive the crown of life and exemption from the second death when Satan receives his final ‘reward’.

We learn that Jesus has a two-edged sword (for judgment).

The congregation dwells in Satan’s throne, yet holds to Jesus and the faith.

Yet some in their midst follow Baal and the Nicolaitans.

The congregation is exhorted to repent.

The congregation will receive the reward of manna and a white stone on which is written a new name that nobody knows except the one receiving itCJB

The white stone was used in ancient courts.  When a case had been heard against the accused, the judge would place a stone on the table, black for conviction or white for exoneration.  We can add that white stands for purity.

This white stone for Smyrna also represents a renaming of the faithful.  Abraham received that name at the age of 99 when God told him Abraham and Sarai, whom he should now call Sarah, would have a son who would provide Abraham the promised multitude of descendants.  Each of us who remain true to the faith will receive our new names in Paradise, written in Hebrew on white stones.

The letter to Thyatira describes Jesus as having eyes like flames and feet of polished bronze.

With those eyes, Jesus knows the congregation’s love and faithful service, even greater now than when they began.

His rebuke is that they follow Jezebel into immorality.

Jesus exhorts the congregation to hold fast, do his work to the end.

Their reward will be authority over nations with the morning star; they shall rule with an iron rod.

That last comes from Numbers 24:17:  I see him, but not now;   I behold him, but not near.  A star will come out of Jacob;   a scepter will rise out of IsraelCJB  The scepter is the iron rod and the star is the Morning Star, another name for the Messiah.  It was not a common name until the writings between the Testaments when the Bright Morning Star, the Messiah, was looked forward to.

Remember that the center lamp of each menorah serves as the source of oil for the other six lamps; it is the servant lamp.  As such, it is also the very symbol of the Messiah, in both Judaism and Christianity.  Jesus both serves us and provides us what we need to live.

As the Morning Star, we are reminded that Jesus is the light of the world.  But also notice in the passage in Numbers that Jesus shares with Jacob.  The image is of Jacob, like his father and grandfather, being the forerunner of the Messiah.  At the same time Jacob represents the Bride of the Messiah.  The idea of Jesus taking his followers as his Bride is not new in the New Testament.  It has its roots as far back as chapter 3 of Genesis.  Jacob is the Bride in that he represents all those who choose God over Satan.

Wednesday, December 3, Revelation Chapter 3

This is the only reference to Sardis in the Bible.  The city was a major military city in Roman days and was the city that invented and produced electrum, a laminate of gold and silver used by pagan priests to divine the intentions of the gods.

Jesus is said to be the one who has the sevenfold Spirit of God and the seven starsCJB  or the seven Spirits of GodPhillips  Those seven Spirits are represented by the seven congregations.

The congregation is commended for having a few worthy to walk in Heaven dressed in white.

The congregation is rebuked for doing very little.  They are dead in deeds.

The congregation is encouraged to hold fast to what they know and keep watch for when Jesus returns.

The congregation will be rewarded with white clothing and the promise that their names will never be removed from the Book of Life.  Jesus will personally speak their names to God.

Sardis, more than the other six, is a congregation most like the US.  They find it difficult to remain faithful in a land of plenty.  It is difficult to identify with the poor when one is rich.

Remember what you received and heard, and obey it, and turn from your sin! CJB  Very much the message Moses delivered to the stiff-necked people in the desert.

Philadelphia is next on the list of letters.

They are said to possess the key of David.  This is actually a statement about the Messiah having the keys of death and Hades.

The congregation is commended for keeping the Word even with little power.

The congregation is not rebuked.

The congregation is encouraged to hold fast to what they know and keep watch for when Jesus returns.

The promise is that the congregation will become a pillar in the Temple of God and that Jesus will write the true Name of God on them.

The city is linked to David by the reference to the city of my God, the new JerusalemNIV  David founded the earthly city of Jerusalem with the promise that the Messiah would usher us to the Heavenly City of Jerusalem.

In spite of the fact that the city is identified with evil, See how I deal with those of Satan’s synagogue, Phillips God still promises a marriage relationship by giving them, and us, His name.

The letter to Laodicea closes this first major section of Revelation.

Jesus is the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the Ruler of God’s creationCJB

There is no commendation.

The church is rebuked for being lukewarm.  You keep saying, ‘I am rich, I have gotten rich, I don’t need a thing!’ CJB

My advice to you is to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich; and white clothing, so that you may be dressed and not have to be ashamed of your nakedness; and eye salve to rub on your eyes, so that you may seeCJB

The reward:  I will come in to him and eat with him, and he will eat with me.  I will let him who wins the victory sit with me on my throneCJB

Laodicea in ancient times had many natural springs, both hot and cold, where people came to take the healing comfort of the water.  That is good, but God wants his people to be hot, not lukewarm.

Being rich is only about a proper relationship with God through Jesus.  Without that relationship, we are wearing the emperor’s clothes, naked without realizing it.

 Here, I’m standing at the door, knockingCJB  This may be the single most important sentence in Revelation.  We will look later at the process of marriage in ancient Jewish tradition, but here we see the Groom standing at the Bride’s door.  This is the moment of final decision.  The time of courtship and negotiations is over.  Now, let us be married.  But the Bride still has the option of refusing to open the door, even though she has signed the legal document that has been sealed for the wedding. Jesus will not force anyone to be his Bride.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer preached on the first Sunday in Advent, 1928.  When early Christianity spoke about the return of the Lord Jesus, it was thinking first of all about a great day of judgment.  And as alien to Christmas as this thought may seem to us, it derives from early Christianity and should be taken seriously.  When we hear Jesus knocking at our door, the first thing that happens is that our conscience awakens:  Are we properly prepared?  Is our heart capable of becoming his dwelling place?  Hence the time of Advent becomes a time of introspection for us…. It is so peculiar because we so often encounter God’s footprints in the world together with the footprints of human suffering, of the cross on Golgotha.  We have grown so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of the coming at Christmas that we no longer sense the awe that God’s coming should awaken in us.  We have become dulled to the message; we only register what is welcome in it, what is pleasant, forgetting the powerful seriousness of the fact that the God of the worlds is approaching us on our small earth and now makes claims on us.  God’s coming is truly not merely a message of joy, but first of all horrifying news for every person with a conscience.

Thursday, December 4, Revelation Chapter 4

Chapters 4 and 5 prepare us for the next big section of sevens, that of the seals.  Beginning in chapter 4, John is spirited into Heaven to the Throne Room of God.  In thinking of the great wedding in Heaven, God is Father of the Groom.

After these things, I looked; and there before me was a door standing open in heaven; and the voice like a trumpet which I had heard speaking with me before said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must happen after these things.” Instantly I was in the Spirit, and there before me in heaven stood a throne, and on the throne Someone was sittingCJB

These first two verses have been taken by many as a picture of the rapture.  As can be easily seen, the word rapture does not appear in the Bible.  It was never used in reference to the Bible until 1830 when Edward Irving first suggested it to be a part of the end times.  The basic idea is that all of the faithful followers of Jesus will be instantly taken to Heaven long before Jesus returns to earth.

The command, “Come up here, is the key to the idea of rapture.  God commanded not only John but all his followers.  It is understood that John witnessed the future, that he heard God call every follower on that great day of rapture.

John writes, Instantly I was in the Spirit, which clearly means his body remained on earth.  Further, he wrote, I, not we.  Indeed, he later wrote Revelation while on the island and lived a few more years on earth before being buried like the rest of his fellow Apostles.  It is incredible to me that an entire concept can be built on these two verses.

In the next verse we read, The One sitting there gleamed like diamonds and rubies, and a rainbow shining like emerald encircled the throneCJB  Now, where have we read about a rainbow before?  Genesis chapter 9 for sure, but also Ezekiel 1:28.  This brilliance around him looked like a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day. This was how the appearance of the glory of Adonai looked. When I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of someone speakingCJB  Color plays an important role throughout the Bible, culminating in Revelation.

The rainbow is more than a sign of the covenant not to destroy humans with water again.  It is built into the essence of God and surrounds him at all times.  As we know from school, a rainbow is made when light is refracted, that is, split up.  We also know it only comes from pure light, that is, white light.

Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and on the thrones sat twenty-four elders dressed in white clothing and wearing gold crowns on their headsCJB  Notice first the white.  It is the symbol of purity and also of marriage.  The gold crowns indicate nobility.  There is little disagreement that 12 of them are the leaders of the 12 tribes of Israel and the other 12 are the Apostles.  Judas?

John sees In the center, around the throne, were four living beings covered with eyes in front and behindCJB  These must be the four cherubim we generally call archangels; Michael (Warrior of God), Gabriel (Redeemer of God), Raphael (Healer of God), and Uriel (Light of God).  The second two names are found in the teachings of the rabbis called the Oral Tradition.  Some rabbis included Raguel, Remiel and Soraqael for a total of seven cherubim.  I think four is the correct number, but I would not be shocked to learn that God has millions of cherubim.

When these cherubim are not praising God, they are sent by God on special missions to deal with Satan, as well as with you and me.  God created three orders of angels; cherubim, seraphim and teraphim.

Seraphim are the middle order of angels and do most of the messenger work for God.  They would have been the ones singing to the shepherds of the birth of the Messiah.

The teraphim are the lowest order, but are the only ones that are capable of taking human form.  Every person on earth is said to have a guardian angel, but their mission is not to prevent us from sinning or protect us from being abused.  They encourage us to “run the good race.”

We do need to know two other cherubim, though we may never know their true names.  The one we call Satan (Lucifer) lead a rebellion against God and was cast out of Heaven for it.  He teamed up with another cherub now called Abaddon, the angel of death, to lead one-third of all angels with them.  That angel had been the Angel of Life.  All those angels had their names stripped from them so completely that they do not remember them.  Only God knows Satan’s name.

Satan’s sin is the greatest because he was the cherub charged with protecting humans.  Instead, he led them away from God.

The scene ending this chapter is a visionary description of the constant worship of God.  Some who read this and similar passages conclude that Heaven will be boring, having to bow before God without ceasing.

We cannot forget that John records images of visions in poetic form.  Yes we will worship God, doing it as we talk, run, play, sing, eat, in short, in all we do in our new bodies in the New Jerusalem.

Friday, December 5, Revelation Chapter 5

Next I saw in the right hand of the One sitting on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals; and I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” CJB

John enters the room to find weeping because no one is able to open the scroll with seven seals.  Clearly, God could open the scroll in his right hand, but that is not the point.  It is not for Him to open.  As we will soon learn, only the Messiah, God’s Son, is supposed to open it.  Think for example of a private in the army delivering a sealed envelope to the office of the general.  Neither the private nor the secretary would dare to open the envelope.

As to the scroll, it is important that it has writing on both sides.  We find this same image in Exodus 32:15.   Moshe turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets inscribed on both sides, on the front and on the backCJB  We need to know that this unusual form of writing on two sides was generally reserved for the marriage contract.

We often misunderstand the Exodus passage to mean that Moses brought the Ten Commandments down the mountain (think Charlton Heston).  Actually, what he carried was the first five books of the Bible, the Torah.  God writes small.

When John realized that the book (which is not the Book of Life as if often claimed) cannot be read by anyone there, I cried and cried, because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or look inside it.  One of the elders said to me, “Don’t cry. Look, the Lion of the tribe of Y’hudah, the Root of David, has won the right to open the scroll and its seven seals.” CJB  Only the Messiah could open the scroll legally because he is the Groom and the scroll is the Marriage Contract.

All ancient Jewish marriage contracts were signed by seven people, but only the groom was allowed to open it once it was signed.  The reason is that the contract contains information about the bride and even though the bride and groom helped write the contract and know what is in it, it is opened in public as a part of the wedding and read by the groom who then announces his bride to be pure and ready for marriage.

The marriage contract was generally written and signed a year before the marriage.  Thus it was that Joseph was faced with a difficult problem when he learned his bride was already pregnant.  In Matthew 1:19 we read,   Her husband-to-be, Yosef, was a man who did what was right; so he made plans to break the engagement quietly, rather than put her to public shameCJB  After an angel explained the details, he made a different choice.  Instead of simply canceling the engagement, suggesting he had a change of heart, he chose to open the contract and tell those gathered that he found Mary to be pure and ready for marriage, but only after he had paid a price equal to what she would have to pay for promiscuity.

At Christmas time, we slide right past this all important event.  Like Joseph, Jesus will stand in Heaven and read from the contract that you and I are pure and ready for The Marriage, even knowing our sins because he has already paid the price for those sins.  From our standpoint, reading the contract includes naming the Bride.  If my name is not there, I have a problem.

Then I saw standing there with the throne and the four living beings, in the circle of the elders, a Lamb that appeared to have been slaughtered. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the sevenfold Spirit of God sent out into all the earth.  He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of the One sitting on the throneCJB  Our Groom come to read our Marriage Contract.

The angels said, You are worthy to take the scroll and break its seals; because you were slaughtered; at the cost of blood you ransomed for God  persons from every tribe, language, people and nationCJB

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

 

 

God, Restore Us!

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First Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 64:1-9
Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:24-37

 

We must not inordinately fix upon the chronology of what is said in Scripture, because frequently the Holy Spirit, having spoken of the end of the last times, then returns again to address a previous time, and fills up what had before been left unsaid.  Nor must we look for a specific chronology in apocalyptic visions, but rather follow the meaning of those things which are prophesied.   Victorinus of Petrovium 280 AD

Chapter 13 of Mark is a difficult chapter, not just because it deals with the end of times.  It is filled with images such as those found in Isaiah and the other prophets, images which paint a dark and disturbing picture.

Once we realize that Jesus is freely quoting the prophets and using them to point to himself, the difficulties with this chapter are reduced to manageable proportions.  As always, Jesus says not even he knows when the end of days will come.

The difficulty is the statement, I tell you that this generation will not have passed until all these things have come truePhillips  The phrase, this generation, always means the people living at that time in the Bible.  It is a common phrase used by prophets down through the ages.  But we cannot forget that prophets speak to the current and to distant times simultaneously.

As Jesus spoke, he knew that thousands of the people around him would experience apocalyptic death and destruction.  He may not have known the exact year, but he knew Rome would destroy Jerusalem and the Judgment of God would be visited on this generation.

At the same time, in true prophetic style, Jesus spoke of what we now call the end times, the final apocalypse.  When you see the buds form on the fig tree, the end is near.  Even the most faithful believers have to agree that Jesus did not give us much of a clue.  Fig trees bud every year.

And since you don’t know when that time will come, be on guard! Stay alert. NLT

Paul, once again, helps with you are not lacking any spiritual gift and are eagerly awaiting the revealing of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah.  He will enable you to hold out until the end and thus be blameless on the Day of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah. CJB

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

1 John 4—Jude

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Monday, November 24, 1 John Chapter 4

The Spirit who is in you is more powerful than the spirit in those who belong to the worldPhillips  We who belong to God have His Holy Spirit to guide us, we need only listen for His voice.

This, then, is how we can tell the difference between the Spirit of truth and the spirit of errorPhillips  God is Truth.  Jesus said I am the way, the truth, and the lifeKJV  This is a major concept for the Apostle John, whether he wrote the letters before or after the Gospel does not matter.  The concept of God as Truth is all over the Old Testament and for John, it became a central theme.

Paul Tillich said in one of his sermons, For us, statements are true or false; people may have truth or not; but how can they be truth, even the truth?  The truth of which the Fourth Gospel speaks is a true reality—that reality which does not deceive us if we accept it and live with it….

How do we reach this truth?  By doing it….This does not mean being obedient to the commandments, accepting them and fulfilling them.  Doing the truth means living out of the reality which is He who is the truth, making His being the being of ourselves and of our world….

The truth which liberates is the power of love, for God is love.  The father of the lie binds us to himself by binding us to ourselves—or to that in us which is not our true self.  Love liberates from the father of the lie because it liberates us from our false self to our true self—to that self which is grounded in true reality.  Therefore, distrust every claim for truth where you do not see truth united with love; and be certain that you are of the truth and that the truth has taken hold of you only when love has taken hold of you and has started to make you free from yourselves.

In verse 16 we read God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in themNIV  Dietrich Bonhoeffer was asked to baptize his eight month old nephew, Thomas, in 1932 at his parent’s home often done in those days.  Here is part of his sermon based on verse 16 b.  This word is to be spoken today over this child.  And not the way one might give him just any other word of one’s choice—as they say—to take along on his way in life, but rather with the very particular claim that this is God’s word at this time over this child; that means that this word becomes real at this moment and shows itself to be true and valid.  God is love—from today on in the life of this child, that is no longer a general word of wisdom or unwisdom for his life, but is the real, only indestructible basis on which his whole life is built.  It is truth, and it is reality.  That is the meaning of baptism.

In 1943, Thomas was eleven and played the piano for his sister’s wedding in the same home.  Bonhoeffer was to have performed the service but was arrested shortly before.  None-the-less, he wrote the sermon.  Thomas went on after the war to become a notable theologian in his own right in Germany and lives today as proof of the power of the Word of God.

Tuesday, November 25, 1 John Chapter 5

It is not possible to love God but fail to love people.  Given that our love is imperfect, our love for God equals our love for people, the more love the better.  God gives us commands, but they are not the hundreds of rules established by religious organizations, they are the commands to love.

Matthew 11:28-30:  Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. NIV

Heaven has plenty of room for people who never enter a church, which is not a command.  We best worship God by being kind to people, doing what we can to fulfill their needs.  Church is a place to refresh ourselves for that work, to renew by hearing the Word.  Church is important, but only if it helps us do the real work of God.

The Spirit, the water and the blood.  This section directly attacks the Gnostics who contended that Jesus was not both man and God.  Some contended that Jesus was just a simple man until the Messiah entered and took over control of the body, leaving him before the crucifixion to die alone, the most common view in John’s day.  Others argue that Jesus appeared as the Messiah without birth and that he lives still on earth because he cannot be killed.  There are many variations on the theme.

John says, no, no, no.  The Son of God gave up the glory of being a Prince in the Kingdom to become a mere human through natural birth; to live a normal human life while growing in the knowledge of God just as you and I have to; to make the decision to follow God’s will for him by being baptized with water; and by allowing, even forcing, the authorities to execute him, to bleed him.  Only in that process was it possible to defeat sin.  Through it all the Holy Spirit acted as an intermediary between God and Jesus.

The Spirit, the water and the blood; all testimony from God.  Life comes to us through Jesus.

The sin leading to death was probably the sin of Gnosticism, since that is what John had been writing about.

We know:  a restatement of his main points.  Remain true.

Wednesday, November 26, 2 John

This short letter is also clearly from the Apostle John.  This time he does include a salutation, though without specific names.  His purpose is to remind churches to train and correct the traveling evangelist of the day.  Do not allow any to preach false doctrine.  The lady could be either a person or a church.

John returns to his image of walking in love, even saying that the command of God is to love.

In verse 7, he specifically describes the Gnostics who were traveling around with their false teachings.  Watch for them, try to correct them, but do not be taken in by them and do not allow them to stay and spread their false notions.  Stay true to the faith.

Thursday, November 27, 3 John

This third letter of John has a similar message, but deals with a specific incident.  John had, like Paul, sent trusted disciples out to preach the word.  John first commends Gaius (a Roman name) for supporting some of those disciples.  In doing so, he was being faithful to Jesus.

It seems that Diotrephes had taken control of whatever church Gaius was part of.  Diotrephes was eager for the power of his position and did not want anyone to threaten it.  He may also have been Gnostic, but that is not mentioned.

Demetrius is mentioned as a faithful servant, though we do not know any specifics.

The outcome remains a mystery.

Friday, November 18, Jude

It seems obvious at first that Jude was the brother of James and Jesus, but he may be using the brother to mean spiritual brother.  If so, it is possible that he is the Jude (short for Judas) of the Apostles.  There are some problems with that.  He was Judas son of James and the letter never suggests that he was an Apostle.

This letter was almost certainly written by the youngest brother (half-brother) of Jesus, probably in the mid-sixties.  The purpose was similar to that of 2 Peter, to fight the early ideas of Gnosticism.

One of the tenants of the Gnostics was that Jesus said we could do anything we wanted to, nothing was a sin.  Jude said they pervert the grace of our God into a license for immoralityNIV  The idea that the Grace of God allows us to do anything is clearly a distortion of the teaching of Jesus and the Word of God.  These were the people who were not of the Truth in the letters of John.

Jude reminds us, as did Peter, that God punished people who disobeyed, even Moses and David.  Those who sin can expect the same.  We are called to follow Jesus in love for others, not self.

Verse 9 is based on the Assumption of Moses, an apocryphal book never accepted as scripture but widely known in the First Century.  Jude is rejected by some to be scripture because he quoted from non-scripture sources.  Most argue that any source supporting the love of God is worthwhile.  It would be somewhat like us quoting from a popular book of today.

Verse 11 gives us three sins from the Old Testament: the selfishness of Cain, the greed of Balaam and the opposition to God of Korah.  Those are cases we can study and learn from, the example of how not to do.

Verses 12-13 give a wonderful description of the false teachers, all noise, no Truth.

Verses 14-15 quote another popular apocryphal book, Enoch, without a doubt the most popular of the apocryphal books and one that had strong influence on the New Testament as a whole.  It does stay within the Old Testament message.

Jesus did try to prepare us for the false teachers, as verses 17-19 remind us.  Yet the battle is on-going and will only be won by Jesus in the last day.  We must ignore what is false and build ourselves up with the Truth.

The last two verses are a beautiful and fitting ending to all the letters.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

MAKE A JOYFUL NOISE UNTO THE LORD

Child choir competition-2

 

Psalm 100

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

Ephesians 1:15-23

Matthew 25:31-46

 

These readings are all about sheep, the human kind.  The Bible, Old and New, is filled with images of sheep representing humans; they are a parable of humans.  We do not like to think of ourselves as being as dumb as sheep, but in the eyes of God we may be.  What we most have in common is our need to be led.  We get into a great deal of trouble on our own.  We need a shepherd.

The similarity of Ezekiel and Matthew in these readings is beautiful.  We should not forget that Jesus quoted the Old Testament and the familiar parables of his people, he seldom created new material.  He often turned the quotations in a new direction, giving them not new but fresh meaning.  He never said anything that was not already in the Scriptures; he did remind his listeners of what the Scriptures meant.

Ezekiel spoke of good sheep and bad sheep that the shepherd, David (meaning the Messiah), would separate them to protect the good.  In Jesus parable the bad sheep become goats.  Most working people ate goat meat once a week to once a month because of the expense.  Sheep was far too expensive to eat except at Passover.

Yet when Jesus spoke of the goats as bad, the people at once knew what he meant.  Goats have a mind of their own.  They can be hard to live with.  Both my parents had stories of goats attacking them.  Besides, their meat is tough and stringy.

What did Jesus mean?  The same thing Ezekiel meant.  God has given his Messiah, his own Son, authority to decide who is faithful to his Word.  The words of Jesus are chilling; whatever you did for one of the least of these…. NIV  There was a strong tradition in Jesus’ day to be kind to strangers because you could never know when one of them would be an angel of God.  Jesus took that familiar notion a step farther by saying it might be me.

Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians was powerful and included the hope That God, the God of our Lord Jesus Christ and the all-glorious Father, will give you spiritual wisdom and the insight to know more of him: that you may receive that inner illumination of the spirit which will make you realise how great is the hope to which he is calling you—the magnificence and splendour of the inheritance promised to Christians—and how tremendous is the power available to us who believe in God. Phillips

Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. KJV

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

2 Peter 2—1 John 3

1Peter02v19to25_2005

 

Agnus Day appears with the permission of www.agnusday.org

Monday, November 17, 2 Peter Chapter 2

This chapter begins with the discussion of false teachers.  Jude has a similar description of the problem.  An important point is that truth and lies exist all round us and we have to be able to discern which is which.  These false teachers were Gnostics.

The reference to Noah reminds us that God will rescue us from destruction.  We need not die with the rest of the world.

The people who follow their filthy bodily lusts and despise God’s authorityGNT will even challenge the angels.  They are only interested in themselves.

Verse 15, Balaam was one of the old gods worshiped in the region, one that the Israelites often reverted to themselves over the centuries.

Verse 19 is a powerful statement about sin:  They promise them liberty. Liberty!—when they themselves are bound hand and foot to utter depravity. For a man is the slave of whatever masters himPhillips  Better to never know Jesus than to turn against him rather than obey and follow the Master.

Tuesday, November 18, 2 Peter Chapter 3

We cannot forget that God destroyed the world once with water and will destroy it again with fire.  When?  Verses 9-10:  But do not forget one thing, my dear friends! There is no difference in the Lord’s sight between one day and a thousand years; to him the two are the same. The Lord is not slow to do what he has promised, as some think. Instead, he is patient with you, because he does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants all to turn away from their sins. GNT  The end will come like a thief. NIV

Look forward to that time and prepare for it.  The fire will destroy sin, so we need to avoid sin.

Peter recommends reading the letters of Paul.  But do not twist his sayings to fit what you want.  Seek to understand the truth of his message.

The last recorded word from Simon Peter to the world is Amen, ‘may it be so’.

John01v01to18_2008

 

Agnus Day appears with the permission of www.agnusday.org

Wednesday, November 19, 1 John Chapter 1

Unlike most of the New Testament letters, none of these three are identified by the author.  None-the-less, everyone from the early church identified the author as John the Apostle and there is little disagreement today.  The writing has so much in common with the Gospel of John and was clearly written by an old man that they are almost impossible to have been written by anyone else.  John was the only one left who knew Jesus personally.

These letters were probably written around 90 AD, near the time of John’s writing of Revelation followed closely by his death.  If anyone doubts the authorship, verse 1 should answer the question:  The Word, which gives life!    He existed from the beginning.  We have heard him,  we have seen him with our eyes, we have contemplated him,  we have touched him with our hands! CJB

If anyone still doubts, the next few verses are so much like the first part of the Gospel that the case is solid: John wrote both.

If we claim to be without sin NIV is a common theme in the New Testament and the solution is always the same:  the blood which his Son shed for us keeps us clean from all sinPhillips

Thursday, November 20, 1 John Chapter 2

I write this to you so that you will not sinNIV  John is not claiming he is without sin, nor does he suggest we can be without sin.  He only wants to encourage us to avoid sin.  But when we fail, He is the atoning sacrifice for our sinsNIV

In verse 7 John points out that the command to love is an old one, found in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, restated and commanded by Jesus as well.

John expands the idea with Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. NIV

Verse 15 takes the idea farther.   Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in themNIV  We live in the world and the world is filled with sin.  We must live in the world, but we do not have to live in sin.  We must learn to shun the sin of the world, not with hate but with love.  Love what is good.

John says we are in the last times, that the antichrist has come, then adds even now many antichrists have comeNIV  He understands that the things described by Jesus will happen over and over.  Which antichrist will be the last one?  We cannot know.

Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the SonNIV  Remain in union with himGNT

Friday, November 21, 1 John Chapter 3

Children of God.  What a blessing to work for.  God loves us and by His Grace He forgives us our sins.  He wants us to work to become perfect and forgives us when we fail.  But we must stay the course.  The only alternative is to give in to sin.

How do we avoid sin?  Think of other people.  Put yourself in their place.  Do you want someone to say that about you?  Do you want someone to do that to you?  Build up, do not tear down.  As an example, I once called a student (high school) ignorant in class.  That, while it was true, was a tear down.  Something like, ‘you still have much to learn’, would have been more helpful.

We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each otherNIV  To love is life, to hate is death.  Only love can defeat death.

In this age of constant warfare, refugees, and homelessness, death is ever present even before physical death.  Being forced to leave all you have known, to have no firm home, is to face death.  Only love can conquer that death.  Only feeding the homeless out of love can defeat that death.  Only smiling with a refugee and sharing a moment of his suffering can relief come.  Sometimes all we can do is be there; hold a man’s hand as he dies, weep with the mother whose child just died, stopping for just a second to say hello to someone sitting on the sidewalk.

Verse 17:  If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? NIV

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence