Wednesday, December 29, 2004
Chapter 19 breaks out into songs of praise and adoration. We learned in 17:12-14 that the beast, and the kings allied with him, make war upon Christ. Now in 19:11-21 we see Christ coming forth from heaven in judgment to overthrow them. Here is the second coming of Christ and the end of the present age (cf. 2 Thess 1:6-8).
Unless there are good reasons to the contrary, we must assume that the events of 20:1-6 follow immediately upon those of ch. 19. It is reasonably clear that the author intended a continuous narrative in chs. 18-20. These chapters describe the destruction of Babylon, the marriage of the Lamb, the victorious return of Christ and his victory over his enemies. These enemies constitute a triumvirate of evil—the beast, the false prophet, and Satan. These 3 are closely linked in ch. 13 and ch.16:13. The destruction of the beast and false prophet is narrated in 19:17-21, and the destruction of Satan, the last of the evil triumvirate and their inspirer, is described in ch. 20. The destruction of Satan is accomplished in two stages: (1) he is first bound and incarcerated in the bottomless pit for 1,000 years that he might deceive the nations no more (20:3) as he had done through the beast and false prophet; (2) he is cast into the lake of fire after the 1,000 years, the same place to which the beast and false prophet were consigned 1,000 years previously.
The new heaven and new earth are depicted in 21:1, 3 and the description of the holy city, the new Jerusalem, is given in 21:2, 9. What 5 things are said of the city in v.2 which distinguish it from the cities of this world? Whose voice is heard in vss 5-8 and what does it graciously offer? What is its solemn warning? The vision of the city of God is a symbolic picture expressing spiritual realities (21:9-21). Thus, the size of the city (21:16) expresses the same thought as the phrase “which no man could number” in 7:9. The shape of the city suggests its perfection of design and permanence; the gold and precious suggest its brilliance and perfection of quality, etc., etc.
This is the better city for which we followers of Jesus Christ aspire. And so we say with John, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”
The author returns to continue the forward progress of the narrative. Chs. 15-16 present the outpouring of the seven bowls of wrath. How does this series relate to the preceding series of seals and trumpets? The bowls of wrath develop out of and constitute the seventh trumpet. The 7th trumpet is the 3rd woe, and the 3rd woe must be the “7 last plagues” or the bowls of wrath.
Like the 7th seal and the 7th trumpet, the 7 bowls of wrath bring us to the second coming, the time of the climactic and final outpouring of God’s wrath. Note that the 6th bowl makes explicit mention of Armageddon (16:16), the 7th bowl of the fleeing away of the islands and the mountains (cf. 6:12-17 and the 6th seal). Note also how the 7th in each series bears similarities to each other that relate them all to the end. The three series control the forward movement of the book’s action.
Ch. 17 presents the city Babylon as the great prostitute, a symbol for apostate world civilization and culture supported by demonic world rule (1st beast) and false religion (2nd beast). She is world civilization and culture under the demonic control of lust, love of gain, pride and corruption. Contrast this woman and her brood with the woman of ch. 12 and her seed (cf. 17:1-6 and 12:17). Note that 2 different meanings are assigned to the heads of the beast. Also note the difference between the heads and the horns. It seems that the horns arise later than the 7 kings and belong to the time of the end. The author intends to show the doom of Babylon. What suggests the future of those who are her destroyers?
Ch. 18 details the destruction of Babylon. What 2 aspects of Babylon’s destruction do the messages of the 2 angels emphasize? Who laments Babylon’s fall? Why do they mourn—i.e., what was the cause of their lament? Note the difference between the points of view of heaven and of the world. Cf. Isa 13; 47; Jer 1; 51; Eze 27. What does the action of the angel in 18:21 suggest regarding God’s purpose towards Babylon (note how many times “no more” appears in vss 21-24). No more will the city of wickedness shed its evil.
Tuesday, December 28, 2004
The first part of ch. 11 deals with the Church as God’s sanctuary (11:1-2) and the 2 prophets of the end time bearing witness in the world (11:3-13). The “measuring” is to mark out what is to be preserved (God’s people). The identity of the 2 prophets is debated but this should not hide from us the fact that their ministry, suffering, death and ultimate triumph is securely under the control of God’s will. Note the interlocking imagery of “forty two months” (11:2) = “1260 days” (11:3; 12:6) = “time, times and half a time” (12:14). The second part of ch. 11 deals with the time of the end (11:14-19). The 7th trumpet is now sounded (11:15). The announcement is made that the kingdom of the world has now become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever. In spite of the wrath of the nations, who triumphs in the end?
Chs. 12, 13, and 14 form a long interlude between the sounding of the 7th trumpet and the 7 last plagues, the bowls of wrath. They instruct and assure believers about the events of the rapidly approaching end. Ch. 12 gives a symbolic picture of the birth of Christ and of his return to the throne of God . It also shows the power and malice of Satan as the enemy of Christ and the people of God. In ch. 13, Satan wars against the saints employing two main instruments: the beast from the sea and the beast from the earth. The beast from the sea represents totalitarian world power, hostile to the true God, subservient to Satan, and claiming worship for itself. The beast from the earth represents false religion in the service of the state and supporting its claims by false miracles and signs.
Chapter 14 is introduced to comfort and assure believers. Ch.14:1-5 presents a picture of true followers of Christ under the symbols of the Lamb and the 144,000. They have been protected and preserved (the names on their foreheads), are triumphantly participating in heavenly worship, and singing a new song, a song of redemption. Verse 13 is an encouragement to believers who may have to die for their faith.
The white horse is probably a reference to a conqueror inciting warfare and misery. The events of the seals build in intensity to a climax at the 6th seal which brings history to a close in judgment called “the wrath of the Lamb” (6:12-17). Between the 6th and 7th seals, there is an interlude (ch. 7) designed to be a comfort to believers and showing them hope in the midst of mayhem and carnage. This chapter pictures them first on earth and then in heaven with everlasting life.
In ch. 8 the 7th seal is broken and the action interrupted by the interlude resumes. The opening of this seal brings the silence of horror for half an hour for the calamities now to come. The 7th seal contains and introduces the 7 trumpets. With the opening of the 7th seal, the contents of the scroll are now revealed in the series of the 7 trumpets which develop out of and constitute the 7th seal. The trumpets are sounded in accordance with the prayers of the saints. They are highly symbolic representations of the beginning judgments God will pour out upon men during or at the end of the tribulation period, the last climactic hour of the struggle between the Lamb and the Dragon. These are the beginnings of the wrath of God which will be consummated with the return of Christ.
After the 4th trumpet is an announcement of “3 woes to come,” which are then identified with the last 3 trumpets. The arrival of the 3rd woe is connected it with the 7 bowls of wrath. The 3rd woe is announced as coming shortly (11:14) and immediately the 7th trumpet is sounded (11:15). The 7th trumpet brings the opening of the heavenly temple of God (11:19), from which later come the 7 angels with the “7 last plagues,” the bowls of wrath (15:5-8). It also brings an announcement that the kingdom of the world has become Christ’s (11:15) and his reign shall now commence, a statement which brings the action again down to Christ’s second coming. Please note in all of this God’s control over all that happens (9:1, 4, 13, 14, 15).
Thursday, December 23, 2004
The book was written by the Apostle John (at the direction of the exalted Christ) to encourage believers in a time of suffering under the Roman Empire’s tyrannizing emperor worship, most probably that of the emperor Domitian (81-96 A.D.). But it has relevance to believers in every age.
The vision that John sees in chapter 1 is of the exalted Christ; it is a highly symbolical portrait, an aspect of which is repeated in each of the messages to the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3. Each element bears upon the particular church’s needs and shows Christ’s universal sufficiency for the needs of all churches.
Chapters 4 and 5 bring us into the main vision of the book. Persecution of the churches has begun; with the prospect of even greater suffering ahead (cf. 2:10, 13, 3:10), every thoughtful believer would be troubled about the future. The vision of the throne scene controls all the action in the book and is designed to assure the anxious disciple that God is in control behind and above all the changes and uncertainties of earth.
In ch. 4, try to visualize the location in relation to the throne and the throne Occupant the following: (1) the lamps of fire; (2) the four living creatures; (3) the thrones of the elders; (4) the sea of glass. Reflect on the nature and character of heaven’s worship and how it illustrates the words of the Lord’s Prayer—“as it is in heaven.” In ch. 5 the Throne Occupant holds in his right hand the book of the future (a scroll), probably a testamentary will with the seals of the witnesses. Note who alone is worthy to open the seals of the book. The passing of the book to the Lamb indicates that both the Father and the Son are in complete control of all future events on earth. Observe Christ’s relation to God, his reception of heaven’s worship, and that of all creation (cf. John 10:30; Col 1:16, 17; Heb 1:6). Look at the worth and power of Christ’s atoning sacrifice and how this reassures and comforts us who are still on earth fighting the good fight of faith.
Our modern spirit of falling under the influence of heresy is not a modern phenomenon. It has been a plague in the church since its inception, as all three letters reveal. The are deceivers in the church, leaders defying the authority of the apostles, even ungodly people given way to “dreams” as an excuse to ignore Scripture and follow after their own lusts.
What can you do to avoid falling prey to such persons? One, love one another by obeying the commandments of Christ. If someone raises the question of what love is, respond that it is following Christ’s commands. Two, do not swerve from sound doctrine, especially about Christ – that he became incarnate and saved us by his mercy. Three, strive after holiness and do not give way to the flesh.
Love, truth, holiness – these are the marks of the true Christian and certainly should be of those who profess to be teachers. Furthermore, support the ministry of those who do remain faithful to the gospel. Show appropriate reverence to the mysteries of the faith. Do not speak rashly and arrogantly about spirits and matters that are beyond our earthly experience. Be merciful to others. Most of all, entrust yourself to the care and protection of your Lord. It is he, not you, who will keep you from falling.
Wednesday, December 22, 2004
1 John is a small book, only five chapters long. At the same time, it is an incredibly dense book, filled with a richness of detail and depth that readily repays repeated reading. Scholars of the Bible produce commentaries on this book many times longer than the efforts devoted to books such as 2 Peter. So, in this setting we must be content with the
lightest brushing of the surface of this valuable epistle.
John writes to believers with one overarching aim: to make his readers partakers of the same fellowship that Christ and his apostles enjoyed. He begins by pointing out that participation takes place in the light, because God is light. The basis for this is not merely divine appointment, but holy necessity based on God’s nature. A believer is brought by God to honest confession and earnest repentance. The Holy Spirit then guides the believer into unity with the brethren, and to an understanding of the sharp distinction between good and evil, light and dark, the heavenly realm and the earthly world. The Christian is confident of God’s steadfast support through trials and tribulations, of the promise of eternal life, and of Christ’s promised return.
Not only is God light, but God is righteousness. It is part of God’s nature to be righteous, but not ours. Only when God gives us a new nature is it our nature to do righteousness. When we are conformed to God’s likeness, we are born of God. John presents this concept as a familiar one that continues to take away one’s breath with the wonder of
the idea. The nature of God’s love for his children is astonishing.
The ultimate condition of fellowship with God is love. God is love, writes John. Love is the endpoint, the consummation of righteousness in the light. Love is the crowning principle of the Christian life, the reigning aspect of the Christian’s relationship with God.
The combination of light, righteousness, and love renders fellowship with God complete. This relationship also results in demands of loyalty to God and his law, assurance of victory over Satan and his minions, and victory over the fallen society of man. The believer, born of God, is to keep himself from sin. We are to know the True God, and find our being in him.
This short book is in a sense the last will and testament of the apostle Peter. He addresses it to all Christians, urging three things: continued sanctification, watchfulness for error, and expectation of the Lord’s return. Peter explains his purpose in writing the letter in
3:1-2. He desires believers to remember the words of Holy Scripture.
Peter is specifically concerned in chapter one with growth in the Christian life, increasingly putting sin to death and obeying Christ in all aspects of life. By virtue of our salvation we ought to desire the godly qualities listed in verses 5-7. Why? Because the desire for these qualities is evidence of a changed heart that desires to think God’s
thoughts after him, and obey out of a love for Christ. If these qualities are absent from a person’s life, then the evidence of that person’s salvation is absent, and perhaps they are not bound for heaven, but hell. Peter wants believers everywhere to not forget these truths.
Peter also warns of the danger of error creeping into the church. He begins in 1:19-21 by asserting the primacy of Scripture as interpreted by the church as a body, not individuals working by themselves. This seems a strange concept in our time and culture, where individualism is king. Peter is not advocating church approval of revelation in the sense
of the Roman Catholic Church. He is arguing that Christians together can agree on what the Bible teaches, and in this way the true meaning of Scripture can be known. The false teachers he warns about in chapter two bring their own, individual interpretations to the church, insisting their version is the right one. Peter makes it clear these men will reap
suffering in hell for their attempts to mislead God’s church.
Peter ends his epistle with a reminder that Christ is coming again, and Christians therefore should be concerned not with the timing or circumstances of Jesus’ return. Instead, believers should be focused on growing in grace and knowledge of the Lord, that they might avoid error and proclaim the truth of God’s salvation as they become more like Christ. Do we today have the focus described in this letter, or are we concerned with issues of no eternal value?
Tuesday, December 21, 2004
How does a Christian handle suffering, especially suffering for being a Christian? 1 Peter tackles this subject. One, keep your eyes focused on the inheritance that is yours. What matters most is what is most secure. Two, regard your sufferings as trials that test your faith, as fire tests gold. Three, know the privilege of what you possess. The prophets and great saints of the Old Testament longed to know what you know – the work of Jesus Christ. Four, concentrate on living a holy life regardless the circumstance. Five, recall what Christ has done for you on the cross, ransoming you from your sins. And that’s just chapter 1!
The first half of chapter 2 lays the foundation for understanding the role of the church. Together, as a church, we are living stones being built up as one spiritual house for God. Together, we are a chosen race, a people for God’s own possession. Do you understand that belonging to a church is not the same as belonging to an organization? The church is the temple of God, the body of Christ, a nation belonging to God. A Christian cannot be an isolated worshipper and servant of God who happens to get together with like-minded people. A Christian, by definition, belongs to the church of Jesus Christ.
How should we live in a godless culture? The rest of chapter 2 and 3 tells us, by being good citizens and obeying our authorities, whoever they are and however they treat us. We commend ourselves to God’s care and trust him to protect us and use us for his service. We may be in a bad work situation or a bad marriage. What matters is how we live for Christ. We are to remember the truth of Jesus’ own words, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10).
Chapter 5 includes good instructions for the church: Elders are to diligently shepherd the flock; the flock, in turn, are to be subject to the elders. All of should humble ourselves before God. It all comes down to this. How willing are we to submit to God through whatever trials come our way? How willing are we to trust him? Do we believe 5:10?
Friday, December 17, 2004
James may be the first completed New Testament book, written as early as A.D. 45, possibly by James the brother of Jesus (Galatians 1:19) and leader of the Jerusalem church. James does not call the reader to become a Christian, but rather how to behave like one. In chapter 1, James states how to rely on God to relate to positive and negative life experiences. Good is a gift from God, while malevolence and destructive behavior such as anger, vanity, is introduced by man (12-18). He challenges us to not only aspire to understand the Word, but to live it. In chapter 2, James argues that faith must have as an outcome love and equity, and that faith is demonstrated through good works. In chapter 3, James warns the reader about controlling the tongue and differentiating gaining wisdom about the kingdom of God from our acquired worldly views. In chapter 4, James observes that human passions are often found to be opposed to God’s will and constant vigilance is needed to avoid such dangers. In chapter 5, he singles out the rich for special admonishment, calls believers to be patient while facing suffering, and concludes with advice regarding the pursuit of happiness, being prayerful, and confession.
This book is best remembered for its references to works or deeds as an overt sign of faith: “What good is it ... if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?” (2:14). Questions arise regarding possible incompatibilities with Paul’s proclamations. In Romans 5:1, Paul writes, "Therefore being justified by faith," following Romans 1: 17, "the just shall live by faith." The difference is emphasis. James makes the point that having correct theology is insufficient in itself, noting that even demons believe in God. He calls us to live our faith in such a way that “justifies” our faith to our fellow man. Paul, on the other hand, is concerned to clarify that our imputed justification (that makes us righteous in the sight of God) is an act of grace. Ephesians 2:8-10 bring the two together: “For by grace you have been saved through faith…not a result of works... For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Thursday, December 16, 2004
Hebrews is difficult reading but very rewarding for those who work at it. Do not bog down in the details and lose sight of the chief subject, the kind of High Priest we have. Always remember that our High Priest is Jesus, the eternal Son of God. He is the author of a better covenant, a covenant not like the one which God made at Mt. Sinai through Moses. He will write his law upon the heart (not upon tablets of stone) and will forgive sins and remember them no more.
In chapters 9 & 10 the writer shows the superiority of the New Testament to the Old. The OT tabernacle/tent, with its priesthood and sacrifices, was merely a shadow or type of the true tabernacle. Sacrifices made under the OT system were repeated endlessly from one generation to another, but they could never remove sin. In the NT, eternal redemption is obtained for us by Christ through the one sacrifice on the cross.
Chapter 9 concludes mentioning two appointments scheduled for all people: death and judgment. Mankind would like to avoid them but they are appointments which must be kept because God scheduled them. There is no RSVP! God also scheduled the appointments for when his Son would die and when his Son would return. At Christ's first coming, he came to take away the sins of many. Now Christ will return again from heaven, not to deal with sin this time but to take his people home. Because of the cross we can look forward to the "momentous event" with eager anticipation!
In 10:19-25, the writer sums up the main themes of Hebrews: do not go back to the shadows and types of the OT dispensation but press on in the new and living way which is prepared for you by the blood of Jesus----you can boldly enter the Holy places because you have such a great High Priest. In that passage the readers are exhorted to draw near in full assurance of faith, to hold fast in unwavering hope, and to consider how to stir up one another to love. Those three themes, faith, hope and love will be worked out in that order in the final three chapters, 11, 12, and 13.
The subject of the priestly office of Christ is continued in chapters 5-8. The author of
Hebrews focuses on this subject because the Jews regarded the office of High Priest as an essential part of their religion, and it was therefore necessary to show that in Christianity there was a High Priest in every way equal to the Jewish High Priest. The author will show that Christ, the Son of God, was in fact a High Priest more than equal----in his qualifications for the office, in his character, in his order, in the permanency of his priesthood, and in that he was the mediator of a better covenant from a better place.
What is the function of the office of priest? To offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. The sacrifices are to make atonement for sin. Only Jesus could offer a sacrifice that would make atonement. Jesus was the priest making the sacrifice as well as the offering itself.
In verse 10 of chapter 5, the author informs the readers that the Lord Jesus was designated by God a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek, and although there was much to say about that subject, they had become dull of hearing and were not ready to receive it. They are rebuked for making such little progress in Christian doctrine, and they are given a solemn warning about the danger of not progressing in the faith. May we heed this warning. May we not become dull of hearing but gird up the loins of our mind. When Christian doctrine is understood and possessed in the heart it leads to Christian living. Growing in the knowledge of God should be what all Christians aspire to----it is our calling.