Revelation 1 (day 1168) 13 March 2013

          1-3: The book of Revelation is enigmatic to say the least. It promises to reveal, but instead seems determined to obscure. It proposes to show “what must soon take place,” but the church still awaits the events described. The opening verses proclaim that God gave Jesus Christ the knowledge of what would happen; Jesus in turn gave it to an angel, and the angel was sent to Jesus’ servant, John. John, however, is not the end of the chain, for John wrote it down and shared it with the church, with instructions for those who read and those who hear to keep it because, he says, the time is near. I suppose the time still is. Many attempts have been made to identify the author of Revelation with the author of the fourth Gospel, but with little success. Revelation was probably written by a Jewish Christian from Asia Minor for whom Greek was a second language. More than that is difficult to determine.

4-6: The book is addressed to “the seven churches in Asia,” meaning what we call Asia Minor. The reference is, of course, to the seven churches mentioned in chapters 2 and 3. He offers them grace and peace from God, from the seven spirits before the throne (representing the seven churches), and from Jesus. That is followed by a triple ascription of glory to Jesus: the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the “ruler of the kings of the earth,” meaning perhaps that John’s allegiance is given to Jesus rather than to any earthly king, which might explain why he wound up on an island (Patmos, see verse 9). Likewise the church is described with a triple blessing: the church consists of those whom Christ loves, whom he frees from sins by his blood, and whom he made to be a kingdom of priests to serve God.

7: This appears to be an early hymn expressing the expectation that Christ will return.

8: God is the alpha and the omega (the first and last letters in the Greek alphabet), “who is and was and is to come” (as was already stated in verse 4), which is just a very long way of saying God is eternal.

9: There was apparently some kind of widespread persecution going on amid the churches of Asia Minor at the time the book was written (probably between 80 and 100 A.D.). To the Roman government both Christianity and Judaism were forms of atheism, and from time to time efforts were made to stifle the spread of the church. The prevailing theory is that John was exiled to the island of Patmos by the proconsul of Asia. Patmos is located about 50 miles southwest of Ephesus off the coast of Turkey in the Aegean Sea. John names seven cities (churches) in western Turkey to which he claims brotherhood, perhaps indicating that he is from that region. Patmos is a small, isolated, rocky island only a few miles long and about a mile wide. There is some evidence that it was once used as a penal colony of sorts. If you look at pictures of the island today (thanks to Google) you can imagine what it must have been like to be stranded there for any length of time. No wonder the man started seeing things.

10-11: “On the Lord’s day,” a Sunday, is when John says his vision began. He hears a voice behind him telling him to write down what he sees and send it to the seven churches.

12-16: The vision begins without further ado. He sees seven lampstands which we will learn represent the seven churches (see verse 20). In their midst is the fantastic appearance of a “Son of Man” with long robe, golden sash, white hair and beard, fiery eyes and bronze-like feet. The visions of Ezekiel come to mind. This figure will be identified with Jesus in a bit, but for now John is simply overcome by it. The seven stars in the man’s hand represent the seven angels of the seven churches (see verse 20). The two-edged sword represents the word of God (see Hebrews 4:12). The man’s face shining like the sun is a way of picturing the irresistible nature of the presence of the divine, and also represents the authority of God for judgment.

17-20: John faints. The man touches him and identifies himself as Jesus, repeats the command for him to write in a book what he sees, and explains the symbolism of the stars and lampstands, which I already explained above.

 

Revelation 2 (day 1169) 14 March 2013

1-7: Note that he is not to write to the seven churches, but to the angels of the seven churches. The idea is that when the church receives the communication it will receive it as a divine message, not just as an assessment from John. The first church addressed is Ephesus, on the Turkish coast almost due east of Athens, Greece. The word to Ephesus is to be sent as though it were from the one who holds the seven stars, etc. That is, from Jesus Christ himself. The identifying phrases used for the first 5 churches come directly from the description of Christ’s appearance in 1:13-16. The Christians at Ephesus are commended for their hard work, their patient endurance and their refusal to tolerate false doctrine. However, they are criticized for not loving one another as they did at the first. If they don’t shape up, their lampstand will be removed; this is a threat that the spirit of Christ will leave their assembly if the love of Christ is not present there. They are commended for hating the Nicolaitans, an early heresy mentioned by several of the early church fathers: Irenaeus charged them with unrestrained indulgence; Thomas Aquinas believed they promoted some form of polygamy. At the end of each church’s monologue a treasure is given “to those who conquer.” For Ephesus it is permission to eat from the tree of life; that is to say, eternal life.

8-11: Smyrna is on the coast about 30 miles north of Ephesus. The introduction of Jesus, the first and the last, is from 1:17. The congregation at Smyrna is poor and persecuted. They are under attack by the “synagogue of Satan,” probably a reference to a local Jewish group persecuting Christians in the city. The church is warned that some of them will be imprisoned and for some the suffering will be unto death. But they are told not to fear, that “whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death.” The first death is death to sin. The second death is physical death. Once again there is the hint of the reward of eternal life.

12-17: Pergamum is located 40 miles north of Smyrna about 10 miles inland on the river Caicus. It was the capital of the Roman province of Asia – “where Satan’s throne is” (verse 13). The two-edged sword is featured in the introduction to Pergamum, that feature of the appearance of Jesus that emphasizes the word of God that cuts both ways. The church is commended for not losing faith even when one of them, Antipas, was executed; remember, the earlier appearance of Jesus to John had the double-edged sword that emphasizes the word of God that cuts both ways. The church is commended for not losing faith even when one of them, Antipas, was executed, presumably for being a Christian. There are some things against them as well: Balaam, who blessed Israel in Numbers 23-24, was blamed in later Jewish commentaries for leading the Israelites astray to the Moabite fertility cults. That explains the reference to fornication. The Nicolaitans were mentioned above (verse 6). The church is encouraged to repent of these aberrations. Those who conquer in this case are to be given the hidden manna (perhaps a reference to the bread of the sacrament) and a white stone. The meaning of the white stone is obscure. It could be related to the onyx stones that Aaron was to have sewn into the breastpiece of his priestly garments, on which were inscribed the names of the tribes of Israel.

18-29: Thyatira was a commercial city located about 30 miles southeast of Pergamum through which the trading route passed which connected Smyrna and Pergamum to the rest of Asia. The introduction to the letter focuses on the flaming eyes and bronze feet of the Son of Man (1:14-15), which is an image of judgment and anger. At first they are commended for their works, but then we find the reason for Christ’s flaming eyes and bronzed feet: Jezebel. In the Old Testament Jezebel was the wife of King Ahab of Israel, the daughter of a Sidonian king who enticed Ahab and Israel to worship Baal (1 Kings 16:31). Likewise, this Jezebel in Thyatira is enticing them to do things against the teachings of Jesus and the church. She refuses to repent, and punishment is coming to her and to her “children,” that is, her followers. To the others, the faithful ones, no other requirement is given them but that they keep the faith. Those who conquer will be given the “morning star,” a reference to Jesus himself (see 22:16).

 

Revelation 3 (day 1170) 15 March 2013

1-6: Christ now sends a message to Sardis, which was situated about 30 miles inland from Smyrna on the Hermus River (and 25 miles south of Thyatira). All these cities are close together in western Asia Minor. Among all the churches Sardis seems to be the least faithful, with only a few who “have not soiled their clothes,” and they are promised that they will “walk with Christ,” which I believe is another allusion to eternal life. However, as faithless as the others have been, they, too, are offered the same reward if they repent. Here is the clear invitation to repentance and life that is given to every sinner, which means everybody.

7-13: Philadelphia was also in the Hermus valley, about 25 miles upstream from Sardis. Verse 7 is a quote from Isaiah 22:22, in which God declares that he will place on the shoulders of the Messiah “the key of the house of David.” So, Christ offers the church an open door that cannot be shut. In other words, their invitation is secure. They are weak but have endured the attacks of the “synagogue of Satan” (see comments on 2:8-11). Their place in the New Jerusalem is waiting for them.

14-22: Finally we have Laodicea, about 80 miles inland from Ephesus – so you see we have come around in almost a circle. Laodicea is lukewarm, he says. They are a wealthy congregation. They think they have everything they need, but they are mistaken. Their wealth has caused them to be turned into themselves and ignore those in need around them. The message to them is that Christ wants to come in to them and be with them if they will but open the door. Those who conquer – who accept the invitation – will rule with Christ in the kingdom of God.

 

Revelation 4 (day 1171) 16 March 2013

1-6a: Now John finds himself facing a door into heaven and is given an invitation to enter. He does so, and finds himself in God’s royal court inhabiting a throne surrounded by 24 elders on smaller thrones. God is indescribable – made of jasper and carnelian and surrounded by a rainbow, emanating flashes of lightning and peals of thunder. In front of God’s throne are seven flaming torches – the seven spirits of God (see 1:4, 3:1 and 8:2), and in front of them all an expanse that looks like a sea of glass or crystal. What a vision! The twenty-four surrounding thrones are occupied by elders in white robes wearing gold crowns, of whom we will read more later in the vision.

6b-11: Now John sees four fantastic “living creatures” full of eyes; one with a lion’s face, one with the face of an ox, one with human face and the fourth with the face of an eagle. You will find a similar description in Ezekiel 1:5-9. Their function is to sing the doxology of the eternal God, “who was and is and is to come.” Whenever they do so the 24 elders fall before the throne, cast their crowns at God’s feet and extol God for creating all things.

 

Revelation 5 (day 1172) 17 March 2013

1-5: John sees that God is now holding a sealed scroll. An angel shouts for someone who can open the scroll but no one steps forward. John begins to weep, but then hears one of the elders say that there is one who is worthy to open the seals, the “Lion of Judah,” the “Root of David.” The references are, of course, to Christ. There are seven seals, which will appear again starting in chapter 6.

6-10: A little slaughtered lamb, with seven (seven is the number of completion, of perfection) horns (the horn is a symbol of authority) and seven eyes (all-seeing) appears, and steps out from the elders to take the scroll, and the elders fall before the throne with incense and harp and begin to worship God. They sing a hymn to Christ, the slaughtered Lamb of God.

11-14: Now the angels, a numberless host, wheel around the whole assembly singing praise to the lamb, and then every creature God created joins in the praise. The four creatures shout “Amen” and the elders flop over and toss their crowns again.

Revelation 6 (day 1173) 18 March 2013

1-2: The four living creatures were described earlier (4:6-7), and mirror the four living creatures in Ezekiel’s vision (Ezekiel 1:10). John hears one of them summon the first of the “four horses of the apocalypse.” Commentators have speculated on the identity of the four with often fantastic imagination. The most appropriate interpretation of the white horse with the bow-wielding rider is that it represents the kingdom of Parthia, Rome’s major opponent toward the east. Parthia stretched from the Middle East into Persia and from the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf. The Parthians were the only bow-carrying cavalry in the world of that day, and were known for their white horses. Any reader in the 1st and 2nd century would have recognized the white horse and rider with bow as a Parthian military unit, and would have concluded that John is describing a threat to the Roman Empire at the hands of Parthia.

3-4: The second rider to be summoned is on a red horse and is to take peace from the earth. The Romans called their particular brand of subjection the “Pax Romana,” the “Peace of Rome.” John’s first readers would have concluded that the second rider heralded the doom of the Roman Empire.

5-6: The third horse is black, its rider carrying a set of scales. John hears a voice among the four living creatures chanting a formula for the escalation of food prices; but wine and oil, commodities mostly purchased by the wealthy, are unaffected.

7-8: The fourth horse is a pale green horse ridden by Death with Hades close behind. The prophecy is that a fourth of the population of the world will die from famine and disease, war and wild animals.

9-11: Remember that John is writing after a number of persecutions against the church have already taken place. When the fifth seal is opened he “sees” the martyrs of those persecutions asking how long it yet will be before they are avenged. God responds by giving them white robes and telling them to sit tight, that other persecutions are still to come and even more will be killed.

12-17: The destruction becomes world-wide with the opening of the sixth seal. The earth is split with a quake, the sun, moon and stars become partners in the suffering. John “sees” everyone on earth, rich and poor, powerful and weak, hiding in caves and begging to die quickly.

 

Revelation 7 (day 1174) 19 March 2013

1-6: Instead of the opening of the seventh seal, there is a break in the sequence as John’s vision continues with the appearance of four angels, which mirror the four living creatures of verse 4:7. The numbers four and seven play prominent roles in Revelation. Both numbers symbolize completion. Four is the number of completion as regards space (the four corners of the earth, for example) and seven is the number of completion as regards time (the seven days of creation, for example). The purpose of the four angels is to hold back the four winds. Ancient people generally believed that winds which blew in the four cardinal directions (north, south, east and west) were harmless and even beneficial, but the winds that blew diagonally across the compass were destructive winds. The symbolism here is that the four angels are at the corners of the earth holding back the winds of destruction until the servants of God have been marked for preservation. That order is given by an additional angel rising with the sun. The symbolism of the rising sun is an expression of life, in particular of resurrection and eternal life.

4-8: Much has been written about the 144,000 who are to be sealed. Here’s what I make of it: The number twelve also has symbolic power, and is also a number that signifies perfection or completion. 144 is 12X12, and John must surely mean the number to represent the completion of Israel. But I do not believe that he intended it to mean the completion of historic Israel and the Jewish people. It has to be that he intended it to refer to the Church as the completion of Israel. It is an interesting and oft debated but never adequately explained fact that the list of “tribes” in these verses is different from lists in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament the tribe of Levi was not included in the censuses or in the distribution of land. In this list Levi is included but the tribe of Dan curiously is not, and the tribe of Joseph is divided into Manasseh and Ephraim to preserve the number 12. There is evidence that in the early church it was believed that the antichrist would come from Dan because that tribe was viewed in a most negative light in the Old Testament (see, for example, Judges 17-18), and that may be the reason John excludes them. I note also that the 144,000 are to be sealed, but nowhere does it say that only 144,000 will be saved.

9-12: Now a great uncountable multitude (that’s where most of us will fit into John’s scheme) joins the scene and praises God and the Lamb in unison, loudly. Then everyone – the great multitude, the 144,000 who are “sealed,” the angels, the living creatures, the elders – erupts in song ascribing attributes of power and wisdom to God.

13-17: One of the elders, who is not named, approaches John and asks who these people are, the great multitude robed in white from verse 9. John turns the question back to him and he answers that they are the ones who have “come out of the great ordeal.” In other words, they have remained faithful through all the persecutions of the church. Note that they have not escaped the persecutions, but have remained faithful in spite of being persecuted. I suspect these verses provided great encouragement to those who were suffering. When the persecutions have run their course those who persevered are forever under the reign of God who provides all their needs and wipes their tears away.

 

Revelation 8 (day 1175) 20 March 2013

1-2: Now we return to the opening of the seals. The opening of the seventh seal results in the seven angels (see 1:4 and 3:1) being given trumpets. In other words, the seventh “plague” is the harbinger of seven more plagues!

3-5: Another angel appears to offer incense on the great altar of heaven and upon which the prayers of all the saints are gathered as a gift to God. The angel then takes a censer, fills it with fire and throws it upon the earth, causing storms and earthquakes; but God’s judgment on the world is just beginning.

6-7: The seven trumpets are now blown, the first four calling forth destruction and the last three summoning the “woes” of verse 13. The first trumpet summons a hail of fire that burns up a third of the earth – particularly the trees and the grass: vegetation, in other words. The description sounds like a meteor strike.

8-9: Another strike is made in the ocean, which destroys a third of sea life, including ships.

10-11: Yet another “meteor” strike is pictured, this time a falling star named Wormwood. Wormwood is a bitter herb (artemisia) that symbolized the bitterness of God’s judgment on the wicked. In John’s vision a third of the rivers and springs, the primary sources of drinking water, are made unpalatable.

12: The fourth trumpet signals the destruction of a third of the sun, moon and stars. Notice here that creation, as described in Genesis 1, is being dismantled: vegetation (Genesis 1:9-13); the sea (Genesis 1:9-10); fish and other sea creatures (Genesis 1:20); sun, moon and stars (Genesis 1:14-19).

13: There is no way of knowing whether John intends the eagle to be one of the four living creatures first mentioned at 4:7. Perhaps the eagle simply means that God is using nature to warn the world what was happening. Or perhaps the eagle represents Rome, the empire now exalted (flying in mid-heaven) but soon to witness God’s destruction still to be unleashed.

 

Revelation 9 (day 1176) 21 March 2013

1-6: The last three trumpet blasts signal the beginning of the “woes” mentioned in the last verse – as if there weren’t woes enough already. The seventh trumpet puts into motion “a star that had fallen from heaven,” probably a reference to Lucifer aka Satan (see Isaiah 14:12). As heaven’s opposite, John introduces the bottomless pit (also called the abyss) which in ancient lore was the place of punishment for demons, fallen angels and Satan. Satan is given a key to release evil upon the earth, the idea being that God will give the powers of evil one last hurrah before being forever banished. The locusts represent demons; they are not to damage the trees or the grass (there isn’t any grass anyway – see 8:7), but are to afflict only human beings with torment, but not death. That they afflict the earth for five months is a curious detail which some have explained by speculating that it represents the average lifespan of a locust.

7-12: The locust is a grasshopper-like creature whose head resembles that of a horse. It could be that John’s vision was influenced by the prophets: Joel tells of the destruction of a locust swarm (Joel 1:4), as did the prophet Amos (7:1). In Amos the locust swarm is connected somehow to royalty and that may have inspired John’s vision of locusts with crowns and human faces. The rest of the physical description of the locusts – women’s hair, lion’s teeth, scales, stinging tails – is fantastic, to say the least. It is a picture of utter horror. The demonic locusts are ruled by Destruction (that is the meaning of Abaddon in Hebrew and Apollyon in Greek). This first woe leaves the earth’s population in pain, but still alive. John’s apocalyptic vision pictures a great purging to take place before the new creation emerges.

13-19: The sixth trumpet sounds, and a voice emanates from the stanchions at the corners of the altar, which now is described as being golden (the altar appeared without explanation in chapter 6, verse 9). Voices play a huge role in Revelation, some 37 instances of solo and group voices are heard throughout, many of them only vaguely identified, as is the case here. The voice calls forth four more “angels” bound at the river Euphrates, who release a huge army that kills a third of the human race through their plagues of fire, smoke and sulfur. The basis of this particular vision likely has to do the great empires that grew up successively in the east: Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian and Parthian – the Parthians being John’s contemporaries and Rome’s primary opposition. Again, the description of the great cavalry is fantastic. It reminds me of some of the popular science fiction movies about aliens and robots: John’s Revelation is very likely the inspiration for much of Hollywood’s special effects.

20-21: You would think that after such horrors people would fall to their knees in repentance, but in John’s vision such is not the case. The people remaining behave even more wickedly than before, just like the spread of evil after the Garden of Eden and after the Great Deluge – in other words, typical human behavior. Idol worship, murder, sorcery and sexual immorality are especially prevalent (So, how is this different?).

 

Revelation 10 (day 1177) 22 March 2013

1-7: Chapter 10 is an interlude between the sixth and seventh angels in much the same way as chapter 7 provided an interlude between the sixth and seventh seals. Now entering the scene is a giant angel with a little scroll, come from the very presence of God. It is tempting to think that this angel is the Christ, but that is not likely given John’s descriptions of Christ throughout the book. The angel clearly represents the sovereignty of God over sky, sea and land. The Old Testament speaks of God using the clouds as a chariot (Psalm 104:3). The rainbow is part of the glory of the throne of God (Ezekiel 1:28), so this angel obviously comes directly from God. His face is like the sun (Matthew 17:2). His voice is like a lion’s roar (Joel 3:16). The seven thunders are perhaps meant to be a reference to the seven voices of God in Psalm 29. That the scroll is “little” perhaps means that it is a revelation of a coming event that will take place over a brief period of time. John is ordered not to record what the seven thunders said; it is a revelation for him only. He is told to anticipate a final revelation of the mysteries of God when the seventh trumpet is blown.

8-11: John is told to take the scroll. He tells the angel to give it to him, but the angel again orders him to take it. He must take the initiative in owning the revelation being given. He eats it, just as Ezekiel had eaten the scroll given to him by an angel (Ezekiel 3:1-3). John finds the scroll sweet as honey, as had Ezekiel, but bitter in his stomach; the scroll contains a revelation of more disasters yet to come, about which he is to prophesy.

 

Revelation 11 (day 1178) 23 March 2013

1-2: Having been told that he must prophesy, John is given a measuring rod and is told to measure the temple, altar and worshipers (does he mean count the worshipers?), but not to measure the exterior court. Many scholars believe that the purpose of the measuring is to preserve the temple and the worshipers from the woes and terrors to come. The court is excluded from the measuring; it will be given over to the nations (the Gentile world) for 42 months (= 3 ½ years).

3: The two witnesses may be a reference to John the baptizer (see Mark 1:2-4) and Elijah (see Malachi 4:5), both of whom are identified as harbingers of the Messiah’s coming and thus perhaps also harbingers of his return. Many scholars, however, believe it is meant to refer to Elijah and Moses because of the powers they demonstrated in the Old Testament accounts (see verses 6 & 7).The sackcloth is a symbol of grieving, which means that the prophecy of the witnesses will not be a happy one. The 1266 days is equivalent to 42 months according to Jewish reckoning. 1266 days = 42 months = 3 ½ years. The 3 ½ years answers to the ancient formula in Daniel: “a time, two times, and half a time” (Daniel 12:7) – a year, two years and half a year.

4-6: The two olive trees and two lampstands represent the two messengers (imagery that comes from Zechariah 4:3, 4:11-14). The two messengers have the power to destroy all who would destroy them, to withhold the rains (something Elijah in particular had the authority to do – I Kings 17:1), to turn water into blood (ala Moses – Exodus 7:20) and to strike the earth with plagues (again, like Moses).

7-10: The beast is one of the forms by which the antichrist is identified in apocalyptic literature. John sees that the beast will kill the two messengers and toss their bodies into the streets of Jerusalem. Isaiah was the prophet who referred to Jerusalem as Sodom and Gomorrah (Isaiah 1:9-10). I haven’t found a place where Jerusalem is called Egypt, but it is not difficult to find parallels between the two. The inhabitants of the city are allowed to gloat over the corpses for 3 ½ days, a symbolic number that is used to refer to an unspecified allotted time. It also might be meant to suggest that they were dead for just a little longer than Jesus, so as to avoid comparing them too closely to the Son of God.

11-13: The two messengers are resurrected and ascend into heaven in a cloud while the terrified crowds watch. John is using the past tense here even though he is clearly referring to things which he believes have not yet occurred, as if he is so certain of these things that he can speak of them as having already happened. He sees the onlookers destroyed by an earthquake.

14: Finally the second woe is passed! The description of it started back in 9:13.

15-18: The seventh trumpet sounds and John hears voices from heaven announcing the eternal reign of Christ. He also sees the twenty-four elders (see 4:4) bowing before God and hears them singing their praise to God for assuming his power and beginning his reign over the nations. The time has come for God to judge the dead, they sing, and to reward his servants and to destroy “those who destroy the earth” – the Satan and his minions.

19: John sees the heavenly temple open, revealing the Ark of the Covenant displayed in terrifying grandeur.

 

Revelation 12 (day 1179) 24 March 2013

1-6: With the opening of the temple of heaven John’s vision changes from the earthly realms to the heavenly realms; perhaps we should understand the transition to be from the physical to the spiritual world. And it is a strange world. A pregnant woman is pictured, “clothed with the sun,” standing on the moon, and wearing a crown made up of twelve stars – the zodiac, sounds like. John says the woman is a portent, a sign of some reality but not the reality itself. She is in labor. Another portent appears: a red dragon with seven heads and ten horns. Stars are swept from the sky by the dragon’s tail as he takes up a position in front of the woman in order to eat her baby. She gives birth to a son who is to rule with “a rod of iron” (Psalm 2:9), which identifies him to John’s readers as the Messiah. The child is “snatched away” and taken to the throne of God; clearly the child is intended to be Christ, who died and was resurrected and ascended to heaven. The woman escapes the dragon by going to a place in the wilderness prepared for her by God where she is cared for over a span of 3 ½ years. The woman cannot be identified specifically with Mary, but the child is obviously Jesus and the dragon is the power of evil that manifested itself in many ways – Herod, Pilate, Caiaphas, Judas – to destroy him. The woman’s retreat to the wilderness calls to mind the story of Israel entering the wilderness to escape the “dragon” Pharaoh.

7-9: A cosmic war breaks out. The forces of evil are led by the dragon, now clearly identified as the Devil and Satan. The forces of good are led by the archangel Michael. Here the vision seems to have been influenced by the apocalyptic elements in the book of Daniel (Daniel 12:1 – see also Jude 1:9). Satan and his angels are defeated and thrown out of the spiritual realm into (or down to) the physical realm; that is, the earth.

10-12: John hears a voice call out from heaven, the spiritual realm. The voice proclaims that Satan the accuser (see Job 1) has been thrown down – that is, cast out of heaven. He has accused “our brothers,” a reference to the martyrs and other faithful ones who have died, but they have countered his accusations with “the blood of the Lamb.” The phrase evokes memories of the old system of animal sacrifice in Israel; Christ is seen as the perfect lamb that takes away all sins. So, heaven rejoices, but woe to the earth for the dragon has now taken up residence there.

13-17: The previous two paragraphs seem to have been a flashback to explain how Satan came to be on the earth. In terms of chronology verse 13 follows on verse 3 and continues the account of the dragon’s pursuit of the woman and her child. The woman flees to the wilderness (as in verse 6) but now John tells us that she is aided by having been given “the two wings of the great eagle” – perhaps a reference to the fourth “living creature” mentioned at the beginning of the vision (4:7). The dragon tries to drown her with a flood, but the earth itself becomes a player in the drama and opens up to swallow the flood, and she is protected. The dragon then goes off to make war against “the rest of her children,” the Church. This part of the vision reads like an apocalyptic version of what has already historically taken place: the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus and the persecutions that sought to destroy his followers, “the rest of her children.”

The dragon takes up position on the seashore, still at threat.

Revelation 13 (day 1180) 25 March 2013

1-4: The number of characters in the book will continue to increase, but there are basically only four; two in the spiritual realm and two in the earthly realm. In each realm the characters will represent either those who are on God’s side or those who are against God. The woman and the dragon in the last chapter were opponents in the spiritual realm; she representing those on God’s side, and the dragon representing God’s chief opponent Satan. At the end of the chapter Satan, the dragon, was making war on the church (the woman’s children). We left the dragon on the seashore at the end of chapter 12; now as chapter 13 begins we are introduced to another antagonist, a
“beast.” Make that “other beasts.” The first “beast” of Revelation appeared in chapter 11. That “beast” arose out of the bottomless pit and killed the two “witnesses.” The current “beasts” (the first is introduced in verse 1, the other in verse 11) arise out of the sea and out of the earth. They represent the primordial chaos out of which God brought creation. In Jewish mythology God fought against two great monsters, Leviathan in the sea (see Psalm 74:14) and Behemoth on land (see Job 40:15. See also 2 Esdras 6:49 [in the Apocrypha], which mentions both monsters). In John’s vision the beast from the sea is quite an extraordinary creature, having ten horns with diadems on seven heads. Most scholars see in this a reference to the Roman Empire. The heads and the horns represent successive rulers of Rome. The seven heads refer to the fabled seven hills of the city of Rome, while the ten crowned horns represent the emperors from the time of Augustus. Rome gets its power not from God but from Satan, the
dragon of the last chapter. (I would say that the beast does not just represent Rome, but all those oppressive empires and powers on earth that claim god-like authority.) The blasphemous names on the heads of the beast likely are meant to represent the divine titles the Caesars gave themselves. The reference to leopard, bear and lion are from the book of Daniel (7:1-8), where these animals represent the successive empires that conquered Israel – Babylon, Persia and Macedonian/Greek under Alexander the Great. Perhaps we are meant to understand that Rome is as bad as all the others put together. The head with the mortal wound has never gotten a satisfactory explanation; perhaps the best one I’ve come across has to do with a cult that believed Nero would come back to life over and over again. “The whole earth followed the beast” refers to the emperor worship that had become popular during the last decades of the 1st century.

5-8: The “beast” Rome will kill the saints, John says, and people all over the world will worship the dragon (Satan) who gave the “beast” its power, and will also worship the “beast” – all, that is, except the followers of Christ.

9-10: To sum up his report of the appearance of the first “beast,” John issues a call to the saints (believers) for faith and endurance.

11-17: The second “beast” authorized by the “dragon” John sees arising out of the earth (see above comment on verses 1-4). It has only two horns, and it is distinguished by its speech: it speaks like a dragon even though its horns are like a lamb. This second “beast” is subservient to the first, that is, to Rome. One explanation is that this “beast” represents the two “horns” of Roman authority to force the people to worship the emperor: the legal and religious systems set up in the Roman Empire to insure that everyone obeyed the laws. During the worst persecutions of the church that meant forcing Christian to either declare that “Caesar is Lord” or die. In other words, Rome sets itself up to be like the lamb Christ, and through the two “horns” of legal and religious institutions tries to enforce such blasphemy. The reference to great signs in verse 13 cannot be identified with any certainty, but it is supposed that techniques were used to influence a superstitious population into believing miracles were occurring. The “image for the beast” refers to statues of the Caesars scattered all over the empire, some of which supposedly were rigged to make it sound as though a voice were emanating from them. The “mark” given to worshipers of the beast is obscure; either something like the brand used for slaves or the certificate to prove a citizen had worshiped the emperor is intended.

18: The “number” of the “beast” is either 666 or 616, depending on which ancient manuscript you want to consider most authoritative. Nero was the cruelest Caesar in terms of persecuting Christians, and in Greek the sum of the numerical value of the letters for the name “Neron” (the Greek form of Nero) is 666. If you drop the final ‘n,’ the sum would be 616. In Hebrew the term for “Nero Caesar” also produces 666. A popular pagan cult had arisen to worship the emperor Nero, and the myth on which the cult was based was that Nero would someday return to rule the world. It may be that John is predicting the return of that tyrant as the Antichrist. However, it has been demonstrated often enough that numerology (the belief that numbers possess some occult significance) is untrustworthy. Given that the number 7 symbolizes perfection and completeness it may simply be that 666 is John’s way of saying that the “beast” is emphatically less than perfect.

 

Revelation 14 (day 1181) 26 March 2013

1: The Lamb, a figure of Christ, was first pictured in the heavenly temple before God’s throne (5:6). In this new image John sees the Lamb on Mt. Zion, the location of God’s temple on earth. This verse is the only place where God is called the Father of the Lamb. The 144,000 believers accompanying the Lamb are the same as the 144,000 from the 12 tribes of Israel mentioned earlier (7:4-8). There it was announced that the angels holding back the winds at the four corners of the earth would continue to do so until the 144,000 had been marked “with a seal on their foreheads” (7:3). The marking of their foreheads thus signals that the four angels might now be unleashed. A little later the command was given that the locusts released from the bottomless pit were to harm only those not marked with the seal of God on their foreheads (9:3-4). In the last chapter we saw that the second “beast” (Rome?) marked its minions on the wrist or forehead with its mark. Here, the followers of Christ are marked with God’s name on their foreheads to distinguish them from those who have the mark of the “beast.”

2-5: Now John hears the voices of the 144,000 singing a new song that only they could learn; that seems to be the purpose of setting aside these specific believers from the 12 tribes: to sing God’s song. He further specifies that they have not “defiled themselves with women,” a reflection of Old Testament laws concerning the division of the holy and the profane. The idea is not that women or sex are evil. In John’s day there was real reverence for the fact that the act of sex has power to produce life. Therefore persons who had special responsibilities in the temple making sacrifices to God or in the army fighting battles for God or etc. were to refrain from sex for a specified time to keep their sacred service separate from other, earthly, powers. Note that it is clearly stated that these 144,000 are to be regarded not as the only people saved, but merely as the “first fruits for God and the Lamb.”

6-7: An angel, the first of three messengers, offers all the people remaining on earth the opportunity to believe; to fear God and worship him.

8: The second angel declares that Rome is doomed, along with all the nations that have fallen under its sway.

9-11: The third angel announces that all those who bear the mark of the “beast” are doomed to eternal torment. Now that’s motivation.

12: So, the saints, the believers left on earth, have reason to endure the suffering ahead by holding “fast to the faith of Jesus.”

13: But, someone might ask, what of those who have already died by the time all this happens? Ah, says the Spirit, they are blessed. This verse is a familiar part of the Church’s funeral liturgy for believers.

14-16: Now Christ as the Son of Man appears crowned and seated on a white cloud with a sickle in his hand. Another angel emerges from the temple and gives the order to Christ (The order obviously must come from God’s throne, not from the angel.) to use the sickle to harvest the earth. The angel’s words are almost a quote from the prophet Joel (Joel 3:13). The Son of Man goes into action.

17-20: John pictures a fifth angel emerging from the temple, this one also holding a sickle. Another angel orders that one to reap the harvest of souls that would suffer God’s wrath. Obviously only God can give that order; neither Christ nor the angels can wield God’s wrath without God’s specific instructions. John sees the “harvest” gathered into a great wine press which produces an inordinate amount of blood when the “grapes” are trodden.

Revelation 15 (day 1182) 27 March 2013

1: So it turns out that the seven seals and the seven trumpets and the Son of Man with the sickle aren’t quite enough destructive power to express God’s wrath. Now John sees another seven angels (notice how the recurrence of the number 7 with regards to God overcomes the recurrence of the number 6 with regards to the “beast”) with seven more plagues.

2-4: This scene seems to jump ahead in time, for now the “beast” is conquered. So, is John foreseeing the time when the Roman Empire is no more? Probably he is not. By “conquering” he means refusing to worship the “beast;” remaining loyal to the Lamb. He pictures those who have kept the faith in spite of persecutions – the 144,000 – standing beside the sea of Glass (see 4:6) with harps, singing a song of praise to God, ascribing to God the title “King of the Nations” and declaring that all nations will join them in their worship. Notice that they sing “the song of Moses.” The Exodus from Egypt becomes the framework on which John’s vision is based. The sea of glass echoes the Red Sea, where Moses sang a song of victory to God (see Exodus 15 for Moses’ song which ends with “the Lord will reign forever and ever”).

5-8: Now John sees the “tabernacle of witness in heaven,” mirroring the tabernacle in the wilderness. Out of it come the seven angels with the seven final plagues. Dressed in white with golden sashes, they are each given a bowl of wrath by one of the four “living creatures” (see 4:6b-8). The heavenly temple fills with smoke, as did the slopes of Mt. Sinai (see Exodus 19:18).

 

Revelation 16 (day 1183) 28 March 2013

1: The seven bowls of wrath will be poured out quickly in succession. There will be no interlude between the sixth and seventh as there had been with the seven seals and the seven trumpets. As the climax draws nearer, the action moves more quickly and more surely. The seven angels are commanded by a loud voice from the temple to pour their bowls of wrath out upon the earth. We shall see that the bowls of wrath mirror the plagues God sent on Egypt through Moses.

2: The first bowl of wrath inflicts worshipers of the beast with painful sores (compare Exodus 9:8-12).

3-7: The second and third plagues taint the sea and rivers with blood (Exodus 7:14-24). The “angel of the waters,” counterpart to the great beast Leviathan, sings praise to God for avenging the blood of the saints, with an “amen” from the altar.

8-9: The fourth bowl of wrath turns the sun’s rays into a scorching heat. This holds the central place among the seven and has no counterpart in the Exodus story.

10-11: The fifth plague is a plague of darkness, reminiscent of the ninth plague on Egypt (Exodus 10:21-23).

12-16: The sixth plague dries up the Euphrates to make way for the invasion of “the kings of the whole world” to come from the east. It bears the echo of the parting of the Red Sea, does it not? The three spirits like frogs seem to be inspired by the second Egyptian plague (Exodus 8:1-7). They are evil spirits sent to influence the kings and assemble them at Armageddon for a last desperate invasion of Israel. The quote in verse 15 seems to be a mixture of several sources: 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3; 2 Peter 3:10; Isaiah 47:3.

17-21: The seventh angel pours out the seventh bowl of wrath into the air. A voice from the temple declares, “It is finished!” just as had Christ on the cross (John 19:30). A storm ensues, not unlike the hail storm of the seventh plague on Egypt – see Exodus 9:22-26. The storm is accompanied by an earthquake (compare Isaiah 29:5-6 which describes the siege of Jerusalem) which splits the great city (Babylon/Rome) into three, sinks the islands and levels the mountains and sends massive hailstones to fall among the people.

 

Revelation 17 (day 1184) 29 March 2013

1-6: One of the angels summons John to a scene in which the “great whore” who has consorted with the kings of the earth is revealed. The mystery of the identity of the great whore is pretty much solved in verse 9 where the seven hills of the city of Rome are clearly indicated: the great whore is Rome. The waters surrounding the woman likely represent all the people of the world who live under Roman rule – most of the known world of the day was ruled by Rome. The prosperity of the rich in virtually every country around the Mediterranean depends on trade with Rome and through Roman-controlled trade routes. That wealth is the “wine of their fornication.” The colors mentioned, purple and scarlet, along with gold and jewels and pearls are also in keeping with the picture of the wealth that Rome produces. It is interesting that John has to be taken into a wilderness, evoking again the story of the Exodus from Egypt into the Sinai dessert. For John, Rome is the new Babylon. Just as Babylon had destroyed Jerusalem, Rome was seeking to destroy the Church. He pictures Rome “drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of the witnesses to Jesus.”

7-8: The beast with seven heads and ten horns represents in general the rulers of Rome, but specifically it represents Nero, or at least the spirit of Nero which was against Christianity (thus the Antichrist). Some think John is writing just after the more or less peaceful reign of Vespasian who stabilized the empire after the disastrous reign of Nero. Vespasian was followed by Titus, and Titus by Domitian. Domitian was as insane and cruel and anti-Christian as Nero had been, and there were those who believed he was Nero’s reincarnation. That is why the “beast” was, is not, and is about to ascend again from the “bottomless pit,” the abode of the dead. Non-Christians, “the inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life,” will be amazed and dazzled by the reappearance of the “beast.”

9-14: The reference in verse 9 is clearly to the city of Rome, capital of the empire. John deepens the puzzle when he adds that the seven heads also represent seven kings. It is tempting to conclude, with some weight, that the five fallen are Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero. The one who is still living would then be Vespasian and the one who would come and rule only a short time would be Titus, who ruled only two years, from 79-81 A.D. The beast that was and is not has to be Nero, who ruled from 54-68 A.D. and had died before John had his visions on Patmos. The return of Nero (in the person of Domitian) would make him the eighth king. For the identity of the ten kings of verse 12 there is much less to go on. Perhaps it is meant as a general reference to those kings who ruled at Rome’s pleasure within the recognized boundaries of the empire. They will join Rome in making war on the Lamb, that is, they will join Rome in the persecution of the Church.

15-18: Unfortunately, these verses would seem to undo the neat little scenario described above, for here we have the ten kings and the beast hating the whore and destroying her. Under the rubric adopted above, that would mean Domitian would hate the city of Rome along with the minor kings around the Empire and would in fact destroy Rome. All of this is according to God’s instigation. However, that is not what happened; either John’s vision is wrong or our interpretation leaves much to be desired. You try to figure it out; I’m tired.

 

Revelation 18 (day 1185) 30 March 2013

1-3: John sees another angel, distinguished from the others by virtue of having great authority. For now, however, that authority is expended only on the task of announcing the reduction of Babylon/Rome. Verse 3 hearkens back to 14:8 where the same sentiment was expressed. There is a definite undercurrent running through Revelation that has to do with God taking the side of the poor and oppressed against the rich and powerful. In John’s day, Christianity was still largely a movement of the lower socio-economic classes of the Empire.

4-8: Another voice joins in, beckoning believers to “come out of her.” This is not a summons to an actual migration; rather it is an invitation to a migration of the heart and soul. Some scholars have argued that “my people” in verse 4 is intended as an invitation for the Jewish people to join the movement with Christ at its head. Others see it as a general invitation to those believers who have perhaps not been as faithful as they should have been. Verses 6 and 7 seem to have God commanding them to punish Rome, as if the believers themselves will be the instruments of God’s wrath. Another way of reading the passage, though, has the believers merely acting in the role of Moses in that they will be the ones to bear God’s pronouncement of the punishment to follow – the plagues of verse 8.

9-10: The outlying parts of the Empire are pictured standing helplessly by.

11-19: Those who benefited materially from Roman rule mourn. The voice from heaven pronounces their fate in verse 14. John pictures the kings, the trading merchants, the shipmasters and seafarers all crying out in despair over the sudden destruction of Rome.

20: In sharp contrast, the voice proclaims rejoicing among the saints, the apostles and the prophets. God’s judgment upon Babylon/Rome, says the voice, is on their behalf.

21-24: John sees a further sign of Rome’s end – a mighty angel casts a giant millstone into the sea, a demonstration of the drama with which Rome’s demise descended upon it. He sees the destruction of the city in terms of the silence of all those who once reveled in it; musicians, artists and artisans, millers, even lovers. Merchants, it seems are held to be sorcerers who merely deceived people into thinking the wares they provided would bring abundant life. Instead they had, in partnership with the beast, established a culture in which the chosen ones of God were slaughtered.

 

Revelation 19 (day 1186) 31 March 2013

1-8: Now there is a great crescendo of voices praising God for judging the great whore and avenging the saints. They exult in her destruction and proclaim that the smoke from the fire that destroyed her would never die down. The twenty-four elders and four living creatures fall and worship. The voice from the throne summons the great multitude of the saved to praise God, and John hears their voices crying “Hallelujah!” They rejoice in God’s reign and proclaim the time for the marriage of the Lamb has come and his bride, “granted to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure,” is getting ready for the event. The linen gown represents the “righteous deeds of the saints.” I don’t want to get too obvious with my interpretations, but I believe the bride is the Church.

9-10: The angel in verse 9 is apparently the same one mentioned in 17:1; one of the seven angels of the bowls of wrath. He orders John to write down the blessing for those who receive an invitation to attend the wedding. John instinctively falls to worship the angel but is told not to do so. “Worship God!” the angel cries.

11-16: A white horse appears at the gates of heaven with a rider called Faithful and True. One cannot help but wonder if this is the same as the earlier white horse and rider sent out to conquer (6:2). The difference here is that the rider is clearly Christ himself, for his robe is dipped in blood and his name is Word of God. He is followed by the armies of heaven dressed in white to denote their purity as well. A two-edged sword comes from his mouth, recalling the description of Christ in 1:17. The image of the treading of the winepress is that the enemies of Christ must drink the wine of God’s judgment. The significance of the inscription of the words “King of kings and Lord of lords” is obscure and has never been adequately explained.

17-21: The angel of the sun summons the birds to a feast (compare Ezekiel 39:17-19). The armies of heaven destroy the army of the beast. In verse 20 the beast is accompanied by the false prophet who deceived on the beast’s behalf those who received his mark on their foreheads. Perhaps the interpretation of this scene is that the beast now represents Satan (an identity established earlier) and his prophet represents Nero or another persecutor of the Church. They are thrown into “the lake of fire,” only one image of hell we can find in the Bible, but the one that seems to have most captured the popular imagination. As for the armies of the beast, their bodies are left on the field of battle for the birds to devour. Not a nice picture.

 

Revelation 20 (day 1187) 1 April 2013

1-3: The last we saw of the dragon was in chapter 16 where the dragon, the beast and the false prophet were under attack from the armies of heaven. The beast and the false prophet were destroyed in the lake of fire and the reign of Christ was begun, but what of the dragon, the Satan? Now John’s vision shows him that another angel from heaven captures the dragon and locks it away in the bottomless pit for 1000 years after which it must be let out “for a little while.” Since most of the images and numbers in Revelation are clearly symbolic there is no reason to think that John intends this to be taken literally. Notice, though, that the Satan’s job is to deceive the nations, not just individuals.

4-6: The vision continues with the appearance of thrones on which are seated those who have been given the authority to judge. This is perhaps a reference to the twenty-four elders occupying thrones around the throne of God (4:4-5) but the connection is not certain or necessary. Those who were martyred for the faith (John specifically says “beheaded” here, but not all martyrs were put to death by beheading) are raised from the dead and are joined in this first resurrection by those who had not worshiped the “beast” nor were marked with the sign of the “beast” on forehead and hand. All of these are to reign with Christ for a thousand years. Others will not be resurrected until the thousand years period is over. Those who share in this first resurrection are not harmed by the “second death.” This was prophesied earlier in the book (see 2:11).

7-10: After a thousand years the Satan will be allowed to emerge from his prison to attempt once again to deceive the nations. Much ink has been spilled in an effort to identify Gog and Magog. Gog and Magog are mentioned elsewhere in the Bible, but never together except here in verse 8. Gog plays a role in the prophecies of Ezekiel, but even there it is not possible to identify it with a particular location. I think it is not likely that John meant the terms to specify any particular nation or place on earth. I think “Gog and Magog” is simply an expression he uses to refer collectively to every nation, much as we use the expression “high and low,” as in “I searched high and low for …” The Satan is successful in assembling a considerable number of enemies of God and they make one last futile attempt to take over control of the world, but their attempt is thwarted by an act of God. The Satan is then thrown into the “lake of fire” to join the “beast” and the false prophet.

11-15: John sees the final judgment of the world unfolding before the great white throne of God. The dead from the sea, from Death and from Hades are given up to judgment according to their deeds which he sees as written in books that recorded their lives and another book, the “book of life,” which contains the list of those whom God had determined from the beginning to be included in the new creation. Once the judging is completed, John sees Death and Hades thrown into the lake of fire, the “second death” which cannot be overcome. Death and hell are no more.

Revelation 21 (day 1188) 2 April 2013

          1-4: The idea of God doing away with the current heaven and earth and bringing about a new heaven and earth is not unique to Revelation. It is at least as old as the prophets of Israel (see, for example, Isaiah 65:17). The sea in verse one is surely intended to refer to the “deep,” that primordial ocean of chaos in the midst of which God placed the heavens and the earth (read again the creation story in Genesis 1), and out of which God constantly battled against the powers of evil. Leviathan was the ancient dragon of the sea in the Old Testament where there are several references to God warring with it (Psalm 74:14, Isaiah 27:1) and in the intertestamental writings as well (2 Esdras 6:49-52). John sees “the new Jerusalem” descending out of heaven in great splendor which he describes in detail a few verses further along. Jerusalem is the dwelling place of God among mortals, and the New Jerusalem is thus a sign that God is also coming down to dwell there. There will be no more suffering; no pain, no death, no mourning. Jesus had said that all of those things were merely the birth pangs of a new world aborning, and suffering would pass away when the birthing is complete (see Mark 13:8), and Paul fleshed out the idea more thoroughly (Romans 8:18-25).

5-8: John hears God announcing from the throne that all things will be made new. God was in the beginning at the first creation and is at the end when that creation is replaced with the new one. The thirsty (those who thirst for the living God) are given the water of life and will enjoy eternal life while the wicked will be cast into the “lake of fire.”

9-14: An angel takes John to see Jerusalem, now called “the bride of the Lamb.” The description given in these verses reminds us of the description of the new Jerusalem the prophet Ezekiel “saw” hundreds of years before (Ezekiel 40-48; note especially the last verse in that book). But, while Ezekiel saw the restoration of the twelve tribes of Israel, John also sees the twelve apostles honored.

15-21: Ezekiel, of course, saw the new temple in Jerusalem; John sees the whole city made new – not renewed, but replaced entirely. He is taken by the angel to measure the city, as Ezekiel had been concerned only with the measurements of the new temple. The gems in the foundations of the wall are reminiscent of the gems woven into Aaron’s priestly vest; 10 of the 12 gems listed here are identical with those worn by the high priests of Israel (see Exodus 28:17-20, 39:10-13. See also Ezekiel 28:13). In the New Jerusalem the foundation gems are for the 12 apostles rather than the tribes of Israel. The Church, in other words, has in John’s vision replaced the old sacrificial offerings system of Israel.

22-27: Whereas Ezekiel was given a vision of a new temple, John’s vision does not include the temple at all. God and the Lamb are the temple; that is to say, they will dwell in the city with the people and since they are present there is no need for a temple. The city is always open for anyone to enter who wishes. Of course, the only people are those “who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” There are no unbelievers, no evildoers and no wickedness. I like this vision!

 

Revelation 22 (day 1189) 3 April 2013

1-5: In Ezekiel’s vision there was a river flowing from the temple (Ezekiel 47:1-12) which grew deeper as it flowed. John sees a river flowing not from the temple but from the throne of God. It is lined with the tree of life which produces fruit all year round and leaves which are for “the healing of the nations.” This must be taken to mean the healing of the oppression and tyranny perpetrated by Rome and other governments. John sees God and the Lamb being worshiped by “his servants.” The identity of the servants is revealed by the comment that they will have his name written on their foreheads; they are the 144,000 set apart earlier in his vision (see 14:1). There will be no darkness in the New Jerusalem.

6-7: John’s vision ends with the angel assuring him that the vision he has been given is authentic, and it will begin happening very soon.

8-9: Once again John falls down to worship the angel, and once again the angel tells him to worship only God. The angel is only a fellow servant and not deserving of worship (see 19:10).

10-11: In Daniel’s apocalypse he is told to seal up the scroll for the things foretold are still a long way off (Daniel 8:26). John, on the other hand, is not to seal up the book for the time is near for the things revealed to begin. The angel tells John to let people be people; they have a choice to make and each one must decide how he or she is going to live.

12-13: The voice now speaking is the voice of Christ. All will be judged according to their deeds. Christ was at the beginning when the world was made and will be at the end when the new creation comes into being (compare 1:8, 21:6).

14-15: Christ blesses those who have “washed their robes,” that is, those who have repented and are seeking to live holy lives. There is a bit of a contradiction in verse 15 because we were told earlier that all the wicked people would be thrown into the lake of fire and the only people inhabiting the new world will be those who are righteous (see 21:8).

16-17: Jesus is identified as the source of John’s vision, and an invitation is extended to all who hear and are thirsty for the water of life; that is, all who sincerely seek to be doers and not just hearers of the word.

18-19: A warning is given not to alter anything that John has written under threat of losing the gift of eternal life in the new creation.

20: John repeats what Christ said to him in the last vision: “See, I am coming soon!” (verse 7), to which he adds an “Amen!”

21: Finally, John closes his book with a typical benediction. Satan and evil (Nero and his ilk) have been defeated. Pain and grief and even death itself have been banished. The faithful have entered the new world where they will live forever in company with God and the Lamb.         The Bible thus ends as it began; with creation. “Behold, I make all things new.” Even so, Lord Jesus, come!

 

Jude (day 1167) 12 March 2013

          1-2: Jude appears to have been a general epistle, sent out as a circulatory letter to a number of congregations rather than to any specific location. He identifies himself as a slave of Jesus Christ and brother of James, tantalizing but frustrating references to his identity. If he was the apostle Judas (not Iscariot) he was not the brother of the apostle James. If he was the brother of that James in Acts who is known as “the brother of the Lord,” then he would also be a brother of Jesus and not a slave of Jesus. The first verse contains a shadow of the problems plaguing the church by the end of the first century – internal evidence makes 80-100 A.D. a likely time for Judeto have been written – because it refers to those who are “kept safe” for Jesus Christ, implying some danger. Indeed, we will find there is much danger, not from persecution but from internal disturbances.

3-4: He gets right to the point. The church has been infiltrated by those who preach a different gospel from the one the apostles preached. He points out two specific differences in this paragraph: the first is licentiousness, and seems to relate to what theologians call antinomianism (against law). This was a corruption of early Christianity which held that since Christ had fulfilled the law, grace covers all our sins and so we can live any way we choose and do anything we like. John Wesley called this “a gospel of the flesh.” The second charge is that they deny Jesus Christ as Master and Lord. The issue here seems to be the argument about Christ’s identity as the Son of God. These were people who held that Jesus was an ordinary person like everybody else, and so his teachings were not especially authoritative. Most scholars think this is a reference to an ancient heresy known as Gnosticism, which claimed certain knowledge about God and the world not available to those outside their circle.

5-7: He offers three examples of what happens to those who oppose God: the Hebrews who rebelled against Moses in the wilderness, the angels who “fell from grace” (a prominent feature of Jewish mythology more so than that of scripture), and the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah who were destroyed because of their licentious behavior.

8: In reverse order he refers to Sodom and Gomorrah, the fallen angels, and the rebellious Hebrews.

9: This is a reference to an ancient Jewish legend about the devil contending with Gabriel for the body of Moses. His point is that even Gabriel did not dare condemn the devil (the chief of the fallen angels in Jewish legend) but left that to the Lord.

10: The troublemakers, unlike Gabriel, slander everything they don’t understand and are destroyed by giving in to their (perverted) instincts.

11: For the reference to Cain, see Genesis 4:1-16. Balaam’s story is in Numbers 22-24, but there is much legendary material about Balaam that doesn’t leave him in nearly the positive light of that story. In fact, later rabbis blamed Balaam for the sexual immorality that became prevalent among the Hebrews as reported in Numbers 25 (but in Numbers their immorality is not directly connected to Balaam).Korah’s rebellion is recounted in Numbers 16.

12-13: Fivecolorful metaphors are used for these troublemakers. They are rocks (or reefs, or blemishes) at the church’s fellowship meals, feeding on the church by taking pay for their “teaching.” They are waterless clouds, producing nothing of substance for anyone else. They are autumn trees without fruit, again producing nothing for others; twice dead, perhaps because they were once unbelievers, then became believers, but now are spreading teachings not in keeping with faith in Christ; uprooted because they have left the truth given them at first by the apostles. They are wild waves “casting up the foam of their own shame,” perhaps meant to compare the worthlessness of their teaching with the worthlessness of foam. They are wandering stars, which makes us think of comets which appear for a time and then seem to disappear into the utter darkness of space; but Jude is probably referring to passages in the non-canonical Book of Enoch in which stars are equated to angels and some of them rebel against God and are cast out.

14-16: Quoting the Book of Enoch, Jude asserts that the coming of these troublemakers was prophesied centuries before, and that God will subject them to judgment. They use their charisma to prey on others and satisfy their own lusts.

17-19: Finally, Jude nails the coffin shut: these people are exactly what the apostles warned you about, he says, for they prophesied that there would be “scoffers engaging in their own ungodly lusts,” which is precisely the way in which Jude has been describing them.

20-23: He now turns from condemnation of the “intruders” (verse 4) to encouragement of the faithful. Keep the faith, he tells them. Pray. Love God. Watch for Christ to return. Have mercy on those who are being swayed by these false teachers and save them if you can, but be fearful of having mercy on those who have participated in the lustful orgies sanctioned by the intruders.

24-25: A beautiful benediction ends the letter, serving once again as a reminder to his readers, both then and through the centuries, that God is able to keep them from falling.

3 John (day 1166) 11 March 2013

          1-4: The letter is addressed to an influential member of a congregation, location unknown, whose name is Gaius. This was during the time in the early church when much of the authority was still vested with the original apostles, but was beginning more and more to be exercised through traveling preachers sent by them to the various congregations. Sometimes there were disputes between the traveling preachers and the local leaders, and we will find that is the case here. 3 John was written for two reasons: 1) to solicit financial and other support from an influential local church member; and 2) to challenge the authority of someone on the local scene – one Diotrephes.

5-8: First, the fund-raising spiel. Gaius has been a valuable source for covering the expenses of the traveling preachers (here referred to as the “brothers” or, in some translations, “friends”), and John commends him for it and urges him to continue helping out. After all, they get no support from non-believers, and providing for them makes one a partner in the important work they do. Fund raising spiels haven’t changed all that much.

9-10: Diotrephes, obviously an official of some standing in the congregation to which John is writing, refuses to accept John’s authority, refuses to receive the traveling preachers John sends out and, what’s more, kicks those who do out of the church. John threatens to come there himself.

11-12: John entreats Gaius to imitate good people, not evil people. Demetrius, most likely one of the traveling preachers John has sent to them, is good people. He is nudging Gaius towards renouncing support for Diotrephes in favor of Demetrius.

13-14: He tells Gaius that he would like to come and speak to him in person, so cuts his letter short. It is hard to read this without seeing in it just a bit of a threat to Diotrephes.

15: The letter ends with the usual exchange of greetings, but we have to wonder if by “brothers” here (“friends” in the NRSV) he might still be referring to his beleaguered itinerant preachers.

2 John (day 1165) 10 March 2013

          1-3: There is general consensus among scholars that the author of 1st John also penned 2nd and 3rd John, though there is no widespread agreement as to whom the author might have been (see comments at 1 John 1). In 2 and 3 John he identifies himself only as “the elder.” There is also a great deal of debate over the identity of the intended recipient, “the elect lady and her children.” Most scholars today support the idea that the “elect lady” is not an individual but a congregation, and “her children” are the members of the church there. When John says that he knows “her” “in the truth,” he means that they have faith in Jesus Christ in common.

4-6: John is pleased that some of the members of the church are “walking in the truth,” his phrase for those who keep to the original apostolic witness. The implication, of course, is that some are not. Three essential requirements for fullness of life are upheld in this paragraph: walking in the truth, walking in love and walking in the commandment. Walking in the truth means to accept the testimony about Jesus Christ and his resurrection from the dead. Walking in love means to love God and neighbor. Walking in the commandment means to obey the law of loving one another.

7-11: We come to the purpose of the letter. There are teachers claiming to be followers of Jesus Christ who do not teach the truth. Here we get a rare glimpse of what some of these false teachers were peddling: they are saying that Jesus Christ did not appear “in the flesh.” That is, they are denying his human nature. It is likely that this is the same danger John alluded to in his previous letter (1 John 4:2).

12: Having delivered his warning, John immediately brings his letter to a close, saying that he plans to visit and converse with them face to face.

13: In keeping with verse 1, John greets the “elect lady” from her “elect sister,” ostensibly a reference to the congregation in which he is currently living.

This is, by the way, the shortest book in the Bible.

 

1 John 1 (day 1160) 5 March 2013

          1-4: Ancient witnesses believed that the gospel of John the three letters of John and the apocalypse of John were all composed by John, son of Zebedee, a disciple of Jesus. While it is impossible to assert the authorship with any certainty there is general agreement that the three letters of John were likely penned by the same author, and that the style and content of the letters match well with the gospel. The author does not identify himself (in 2 and 3 John he identifies himself only as “the elder”). The opening is unlike any of the other epistles, diving right into the revealed identity of Jesus and claiming to be an eyewitness to his ministry. The purpose of the letter, he says, is to provide a connection between Jesus and the readers so that they, too, may have fellowship “with the Father and with his son Jesus Christ” and with those who have seen.

5-10: There are 10 pairs of hypothesis and conclusion (“if-then”) statements in 1 John; five are in these verses. Verse 5, of course, is very reminiscent of the opening verses of John’s gospel, then follows the series of “if-then” statements. If we say we have fellowship with Christ while we live in sin, then we lie (the “then” is understood, of course). If we walk in the light (believe in Jesus), then we have fellowship with one another. If we say we have no sin, then we deceive ourselves. If we confess our sins, then he will forgive us. And if we say we have not sinned, then we make Christ a liar. In other words, we need Jesus.

 

1 John 2 (day 1161) 6 March 2013

1-2: Tradition has it that John wrote these letters when he was a very old man. The word “children” occurs 23 times in these three short letters. The tenderness with which he addresses them is evident throughout. Whereas Peter seems to focus mainly on wrongdoers and heretics, John focuses mainly on the church (with a side trip to see the antichrist, but only briefly). He urges them not to sin, but if they sin there is no need to despair because “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

3-6: Here’s the test: if you live like Jesus lived, then you know Jesus. If you claim to know him but don’t act like him, you don’t know him.

7-11: The key word is love. You can’t truly know Jesus and hate anybody. Love is light; hate is darkness.

12-14: He addresses children, fathers and youth in a six stanza poem that builds them up. The word to children is that they are forgiven, and thus know the Father. The message to the fathers is simply repeated; he is writing to them because they know Christ. The message to youth at first applauds them for conquering the evil one – a phrase I take to mean “you have renounced sin and accepted Christ” – and then for being strong and having internalized the word of God.

15-17: The “world” for John is primarily a reference to selfish desires. He cautions them not to seek the things of the world. Those things will pass away. Only the love of the Father remains forever.

18-25: Meet the antichrist. Or I should say, meet the antichrists. The antichrist here is not a reference to an individual but to a type. Those whom John labels “antichrists” were once part of church, but went out of it and began teaching doctrines that were not part of the gospel message. The very fact that the church was being split was for John a sign that the “end’ was near and that soon the kingdom of our Lord would be ushered in. Verses 22-23 give us a glimpse into the heresy to which John is alluding: a faction from within the church had begun to teach that Jesus is not the long expected Messiah, and not the Son of God. He insists that believing in Jesus as the Son of God is the mark of those who have had their sins forgiven and who seek to live as Jesus lived, in love with God and neighbor. The stakes are high: life eternal.

26-27: The word “anointing” here seems to refer to the basic teachings of the faith. If they have received that anointing they should be able to resist the antichrist and abide in Christ – that is, follow the Lord’s commandment to love and live as Jesus lived.

28-29: When the Lord returns he wants them to be able to stand before him unashamed because they have been faithful to the commandment to love. For John, righteousness is love, and Jesus is therefore the spiritual “father” of righteousness.

 

1 John 3 (day 1162) 7 March 2013

1-3: But righteousness is not yet the ultimate aim of our faith. The day will come when Christ is “revealed” (certainly a reference to his coming again), and those who love will be transformed into his likeness.

4-10: For John, there are two kinds of people in the world; the children of God and the children of the devil. Those who are righteous (loving God and neighbor) are God’s children. Those who are lawless are the devil’s children.

11-17: “Love one another” is the primary commandment. Any other way of living is sin, he says, using Cain as an example, and other examples quickly follow: Christians are persecuted because sin hates love, while their love for one another is proof that they have entered that life Jesus taught them, life that is abundant and eternal; Love leads to life, the absence of it leads to death; Hating others is tantamount to murder, but haters are really murdering themselves; Christ demonstrated his love by dying for us, in contrast to those who have plenty but refuse to help others who have little.

18-22: Actions speak louder than words, and so it is with love. Doing trumps saying and validates the state of our hearts even when deep inside we think we’re not being as faithful as we ought. Love in action emboldens us in our relationship to God and enables us to ask of God anything we wish.

23-24: Believe in Jesus. Love one another. That pretty much sums it up.

 

1 John 4 (day 1163) 8 March 2013

          1-6: John’s black and white view of things is contained in a number of dichotomies – life and death, light and dark, love and sin, to mention a few. Here he introduces another; spirit of truth and spirit of error. The spirit of truth testifies to Christ, the spirit of error testifies against Christ. He refers to false prophets who have gone out into the world as examples of the spirit of error. Early in the history of the church different factions formed, teaching different doctrines about Jesus’ true nature and what our response should be and what the future will hold for God’s people. Thus back in 2:18 John wrote that “many antichrists have come” (see also 2 Peter 2:1). Another dichotomy appears in verse 4 and following; the distinction between those who are “from God” and those who are “from the world.”

7-12: This paragraph is really the crux of John’s theology. Why does he insist that loving one another is the hallmark of the followers of Jesus? It is because God is love. God’s love was enfleshed in Jesus and demonstrated to the world in the death of Jesus as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. He even makes the claim that though God is invisible God is to be seen in our love for one another.

13-16: The concept of abiding is also important in John’s theology. The gift of the Spirit is the indwelling of God. God is with us and in us. Likewise, confessing Jesus as the Son of God is evidence that we abide in God. To live in love is to live in God. To live in love is also to have God live in us because God is love.

17-21: Love results in courage and a lack of fear. This boldness and fearlessness is exhibited primarily with regard to “the day of judgment.” Living a life of love for others is above judgment and there is thus no punishment to fear. Whoever is perfect in love does not fear; whoever fears is not perfect in love. God’s love in us is not selective: We cannot hate others and say we love God.

1 John 5 (day 1164) 9 March 2013

1-5: John comes full circle in the last chapter, insisting now that loving God and obeying God are one and the same. Obedience is tantamount to conquering, or overcoming, the world. By “world” here John means the “desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches” (2:16). To conquer the world means to overcome these temptations.

6-13: Water and blood in this context is a reference to the dual nature of Christ, human and divine – born fully human in the water of Mary’s womb, proven divine through his death (the shedding of his blood) and resurrection. The Spirit of God testifies to this understanding, he says. Whatever human beings say about him, God says that Jesus is his Son, and God’s testimony is greater than human testimony. God gave the Son. The Son gives life. Whoever has (that is, believes in) the Son therefore has eternal life. Whoever does not believe does not have (eternal) life.

14-17: The granting of forgiveness of sins is bestowed upon the followers of Jesus. Jesus himself said as much (see John 20:23). John makes a curious distinction between mortal sins, which cannot be forgiven, and sins that are not mortal sins, which may be forgiven. Many commentators believe he is thinking of Jesus’ saying about the unforgivable sin of “blaspheming the Holy Spirit” (see Matthew 12:32 and Luke 12:10).

18-20: The “evil one” is the current ruler of the world in John’s understanding of things, but the evil one is being overcome by those who are “born of God,” that is, those who believe in Jesus the Christ.

21: He ends by entreating them to “keep yourselves from idols.” It can be argued that the first commandment (“you shall have no other gods before me”) gets more attention in the Bible than any of the others. As long as we refuse to worship anything but God we will overcome the evil one. We will be in the world, but not of the world.

 

2 Peter 1 (day 1157) 2 March 2013

1-2: Simeon is a known alternate form of Simon, but it is doubtful that this letter was written by the apostle Peter or by the same author as 1 Peter if the apostle was not the writer of that letter. The styles are different, and there are indications within 2 Peter that it was written much later. We’ll try to point those out as we get to them. Primarily, though, the reason scholars almost unanimously agree on separate authors is that 2 Peter is nearly exclusively focused on enemies of the church and has absolutely nothing to say about the great teachings found in 1 Peter about the resurrection, about prayer, and about baptism.

3-11: It is apparent right away that the main emphasis of this letter will be an almost fanatic fidelity to the church of Christ. The lust and corruption of the world are to be avoided at all costs, and the utmost faithfulness is required to “become participants of the divine nature.” A stairway to perfection is prescribed: the believer is to proceed from goodness (which seems to be a general term with no specific attributes) to knowledge to self-control to perseverance (a better word here than “endurance”) to godliness to affection for one another to love. These are the qualities that produce fruit, and indeed are the proof that one is mindful of the forgiveness of one’s sins. The bar is set pretty high for entrance into the “kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

12-15: The author thinks his time on this earth is short, and while he is around he intends to keep reminding them of how they’re supposed to live, even though he says they are “established in the truth.” His purpose is to pound it into them so they won’t forget any of it after he is gone.

16-18: The author’s claim to authenticity is given: he (along with others) was present on the Mt. of Transfiguration with Christ. That would of course narrow the possibilities for his identity to Peter, James or John (Luke 9:28-36), and is one clue in favor of the author being who he says he is.

19-21: The author casts his message as a “lamp shining in a dark place,” and urges them again to be attentive. The prophecy he mentions here likely is meant to refer to the opening instruction given in verses 3-11.

 

2 Peter 2 (day 1158) 3 March 2013

1-3: Now comes the warning about false teachers infiltrating the church and introducing false doctrines. They are described in fearful terms, leading astray many believers. Many scholars believe he is denouncing a particular heretical branch that entered the church early on. It was called the “antinomian” schism. The word means “against law,” and a primary feature of the heresy was their belief that the grace of God was a license to sin. Paul described them very well when he characterized their attitude as being one of, “Therefore let us sin all the more that grace may abound” (Romans 6:1). This, by the way, is one of the clues scholars point to for a date much later than 1 Peter.

4-11: He assures his readers that God knows how to “rescue the godly from trial.” He does this by describing how God punished those who rebelled against him. God cast the rebellious angels into hell, he says, referring to a Jewish legend that has its roots in the story about the “sons of God” (in Genesis 6:1-4) impregnating human women and God responding by limiting the lifespan of human beings. God also destroyed the wicked people of the earth in the flood, saving Noah, Noah’s wife, their three sons and their wives. He continues with God’s destruction of the wicked people of Sodom and Gomorrah, painting Lot as a righteous man being tormented “in his righteous soul” by their lawlessness. If God could do all that, surely God can rescue the faithful from the enemies of the faith. These latter are characterized as being particularly depraved, even to the point of slandering the angels.

12-16: Obviously his opinion of such people is pretty sour. The reference to Balaam and the talking donkey is a story from Israel’s wilderness wanderings between Egypt and the Promised Land (see Numbers 22:21-30).

17-22: He is thorough in his denunciation of these enemies, reserving for them the most horrible punishment imaginable. Well, I suppose he could have come up with a few more things. Verse 20 indicates that these same people were once faithful members of the church but have fallen from grace and gone into a lifestyle that is incompatible with the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. (So much for “once saved, always saved.”)

 

2 Peter 3 (day 1159) 4 March 2013

          1-7: In spite of all the scholarly opinions to the contrary, the author of 2 Peter is trying to give every impression that he wrote 1 Peter as well. (One early theory for the difference in style was that someone other than Silvanus must have served as the secretary for the production of 2 Peter.) We see that the criticism being leveled against some in the church has centered on those who claim that there will be no second coming of Christ, no judgment, no new creation. Everything is just like it always was, they are saying. The author reminds them of the “fact” that, just as the world was destroyed by water it will soon be destroyed by fire. It exists as it has for so long because it “is being kept” for destruction. The idea of the world being destroyed by fire is suggested by a number of Old Testament texts (see, for example, Malachi 4:1) which the author regards as statements of fact.

8-10: Two points are made. First, God’s time is not our time, and we are mistaken if we think the prophecies are wrong just because the predicted day has not yet come. God is allowing ample time for the wicked to turn from their ways and be saved. Second, the day that is coming will be the end of the world as we know it, with the sky exploding and the earth melting.

11-13: Given this, he says, you’d best consider what kind of person you should be, because there will be new heavens and a new earth which will be populated only by the righteous.

14-18: Rather than think of the delay in Christ’s coming as evidence that the promise is vain, instead consider that the delay is God’s way of allowing all to be saved who will. At this point the author mentions Paul and “all his letters,” and seems to elevate the letters of Paul to the status of scripture. This is one of the indications that 2 Peter was written by a second or third generation Christian who was familiar with Paul’s letters. Regarding those, he says, there are certain people who twist Paul’s words to their own purposes, and the author urges his readers not to be carried away with such persons. Grow in grace, he tells them. Grow in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus. Glory belongs to Christ, and always will.

 

1 Peter 1 (day 1152) 25 February 2013

1-2: As with James and Hebrews the authorship of 1 Peter is uncertain. There is little internal evidence to his identity. He identifies himself as an apostle in the first verse, and as an elder in the church and as one who witnessed the crucifixion (5:1). He has a close relationship with Silvanus (Silas) and Mark, as did Paul. Although in ancient times it was accepted that the author is Simon Peter the disciple. In more recent times the popular view is that it was written around 67-68 A.D. following the first persecution of Christians in Rome. Both 1 Peter and James are addressed to believers “in the Dispersion,” James to “the twelve tribes” and 1 Peter to “the exiles.” 1 Peter is however specifically addressed to those who live in five regions in the Roman provinces of Asia Minor north of the Taurus Mountain range. It was a common thing for the early Christian communities to style themselves after some period of Jewish history; thus we have the “twelve tribes” in James and the “exiles” here. The “Dispersion” was the term used in reference to the scattering of the Jews following Assyrian and Babylonian conquests, but here (and in James) probably simply refers to those Christian communities scattered about the Empire.

3-9: He wastes no time laying out the basic teachings of the faith: the resurrection of Christ gives us new birth; the outcome of our faith is the salvation of our souls; God preserves believers for a future yet to be revealed; faith is that attitude of the soul that enables us to believe even when we have not seen.

10-12: Peter makes reference to the prophets who foresaw the coming of Christ and his suffering and death (see, for example, Isaiah 52:3-9) for our salvation, and avers that they knew their prophesies were for future generations – that is, for the people to whom Peter is writing.

13-16: So, he says, live for the future when Christ will be revealed (when he returns to rule). Prepare for it by living holy lives, striving to be like him. (The quote is from Leviticus 19:2.)

17-21: Three important ideas are contained here: First, the “time of exile” is the time from the resurrection of Christ until his return. Peter, along with all the New Testament writers, believed the return of Christ was imminent. Second, the ransom theory of Christ’s suffering and death is put forward – that Christ paid for our freedom from the law of sin and death with his own blood. Third, Christ’s work on our behalf was determined “before the foundation of the world.” This is an important and rather controversial idea because it means that God knew that every prior attempt to save humankind would fail.

22-25: Given all the above, he tells them their task is to learn to love one another because they are of one family – those who have been born anew through the gospel. (The quote in verse 24 is from Isaiah 40:6-8.)

 

1 Peter 2 (day 1153) 26 February 2013

1-3: Many commentators see in the first 2 chapters of 1 Peter a description of the pre-Christian, the new Christian, the maturing Christian, and the future hope of the followers of Jesus, albeit not in any easily discernable order. Here, however, we do have a list of the kinds of behaviors believers are expected to overcome once they come to faith: malice, deceit, insincerity, envy and slander. And the new believer is encouraged to earnestly desire the basic teachings of the faith (“the pure, spiritual milk”) so that spiritual growth will continue.

4-8: The image of Christ as the “living stone” developed out of the identification of Christ with the “cornerstone” of Old Testament prophecy. The author describes the church as a building made with living stones (see Isaiah 28:16). Christ is precious to believers. To unbelievers he is the “stone the builders rejected,” now become the stone that holds the building together (Psalm 118:22). The cornerstone was the stone at the apex of the main doorway arch which literally did hold together that wall. Continuing the metaphor, he sees unbelievers “stumbling” over the cornerstone (Isaiah 8:14); that is, they cannot make progress toward salvation because they refuse to recognize Christ.

9-10: “Chosen race,” “royal priesthood,” “holy nation” are all epithets applied to Israel in the Old Testament (for example, Exodus 19:5-6, Deuteronomy 7:6). The author now applies those terms to the church. Before Christ came, of course, Christians were “not a people.” Now, he says, Christians are “God’s people” (Hosea 1:10). It cannot be deduced from these verses that he means that the church has replaced Israel, but it can certainly be argued that these verses point to the early belief that the church was called into existence to be God’s people in much the same way as Israel had been called (and, in the estimation of at least some New Testament writers, had failed in that calling).

11-12: In the same way, Christians were becoming aliens and exiles, just like their Jewish forebears. He urges them to conduct themselves honorably before unbelievers so that the good name of Christ would be protected.

13-17: There are a number of places among the letters of the New Testament where believers are urged to obey and respect the governing authorities (see, for example, Romans 13:1). Lawlessness was not to be engaged in; the reputation of the church was of the utmost importance, especially in those places where the Christian faith was not well established. For the survival and growth of the church it was necessary to silence the foolish, to honor everyone (particularly the emperor!), to love one another, and above all to fear God.

18-25: It is clear that the early church appealed especially to the poor and underprivileged because of its message of mercy and salvation. Slavery was common all around the Mediterranean world, and it is likely that a significant percentage of the membership of many congregations was comprised of slaves. It would have been extremely important not to develop a reputation of stirring up trouble among the slaves, and we find a number of places in the New Testament where slaves are urged to be obedient, even if they are mistreated. In fact, the author insists here that suffering under the heavy burden of a harsh master was a credit to the slave, because it was a way of emulating the suffering of Christ. So, they are encouraged to be like Christ and do their work well and practice no deceitfulness (Isaiah 53:9). Christ trusted God and did not return abuse for abuse but suffered willingly. Believers are therefore freed from sin and the burden of the law because they are healed by Christ’s suffering (see Isaiah 53:4-5), but it was important for the survival of the church – and of each individual believer – to live exemplary lives.

1 Peter 3 (day 1154) 27 February 2013

1-6: Advice for husbands and wives is standard fare in the New Testament epistles. Note that the phrase “accept the authority” is used four times in 1 Peter: All Christians should “accept the authority of every human institution” (2:13); slaves should “accept the authority of your masters” (2:18); wives should accept their husband’s authority (3:1); and “you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders” (5:5). Here, however, the instructions to Christian wives seems to be specifically aimed at wives of unbelievers, in hope that their purity and reverence will win their husbands over to the faith. Inner beauty is more lasting and more to be sought after than outer beauty, he says – advice our modern narcissistic culture casts aside. (By the way, I have not been able to find any occasion in which Sarah referred to Abraham as her lord.)

7: Husbands are advised to honor their wives. After all, he says, “they too are also heirs of the gracious gift of life” – a rare concession of equality between men and women. I’m not sure why this particular point has anything to do with answered prayers.

8-12: Again relying on the scripture (the Old Testament – the only scripture he knew) to support his directions (see Psalm 34:12-16) the author presents a list of characteristics to be pursued: unity, sympathy, love, tenderness, humility, and so forth.

13-17: It is apparent that the author is writing during a time when followers of Jesus were often persecuted. His argument is that the best defense against persecution is to live an exemplary life. There’s nothing wrong with doing good, and if you are punished for doing good that is a good thing, a blessing because you are suffering for doing what God wants you to do.

18-19: This is a summary of the work of Christ. He, the righteous one, suffered for the sins of the unrighteous in order to save them. He was killed, but his spirit survived to visit the “spirits in prison” – that is, the dead. (This is the source for the line in the Apostles’ Creed, “he descended into hell.”)

20-22: Now he goes all the way back to the story of Noah and the flood in Genesis 7-8. God saved Noah, his wife, their three sons and their wives – 8 people in all – through water. Actually, they were saved by boarding a boat that carried them on the water. The flood event, he says, prefigures the ritual of baptism, which he sees as “an appeal to God for a good conscience.” The appeal is carried by Christ who, after his resurrection, now rules “angels, authorities, and powers.”

 

1 Peter 4 (day 1155) 28 February 2013

1-6: If you are willing to suffer for your faith that is a pretty good indication that you are maturing in the faith, and also gives you an inner assurance that you are forgiven. Early Christian teachers emphasized over and again that the goal of faith is to move from being guided by your own desires to being guided by God’s will. Verses 3 and 4 are significant – here is the difference between those who have had an honest encounter with Jesus and those who have not. Their lives are changed. Old habits based on human desires – licentiousness, passions, etc. – are replaced by habits based on the guidance of the Spirit. Unbelievers who used to be their companions are surprised and fall into slandering those who no longer enjoy their company. But all will be judged, both the living and the dead. Here the author returns to the idea that Christ preached the good news to the dead (see again 3:19). The dead through Christ will live “in the spirit” though no longer in the flesh.

7-11: First generation Christians, especially those who had known Jesus personally, expected the “end of all things” at any moment. The church had to make adjustments to expectations as time went by, and that it did so successfully is one of the great success stories of Christianity. Discipline, love and hospitality were therefore especially important: discipline, to keep the individual believer faithful; love, to preserve unity in the congregation; hospitality, to bring in as many as possible into the fold of the faith. The author exhorts his readers to heroic levels of faith and loyalty.

12-19: The letter is addressed primarily to those who are undergoing persecution for being Christians. Evil is against God and God’s people, and they can therefore expect to suffer for the faith. He encourages them to refrain from sin – listing a handful of the worst ones in verse 15 – so that their suffering will not be deserved and therefore will be counted as a sharing in the suffering of Christ. He tells them to redouble their efforts to be faithful, quoting Proverbs 11:31. Righteousness in this instance should be understood as law-abiding. Simply keeping the law does not suffice for salvation; therefore how can sinners expect to be saved – unless, of course, they obtain the forgiveness of their sins.

1 Peter 5 (day 1156) 1 March 2013

1-5: The metaphor of the church as a flock of sheep and the elder or leader as the shepherd goes back to the sayings of Jesus (see especially John 10:11), but also dates to the Old Testament where Israel is the flock and God or God’s chosen leader is the shepherd (as early as Numbers 27:17). In that vein the author urges the other elders to “tend the flock of God that is in your charge.” In order for that arrangement to work, though, it is imperative that those in the “flock” deal with each other humbly and not “lord it over” the others. It is also important that elders be respected by younger members of the community. Humility is an especially important attitude particularly in light of Old Testament teachings about God’s relationship with the proud as contrasted with God’s relationship with the humble (the quote in verse 5 is a direct quote from James 4:6 – one of the few places in the New Testament that quotes from other New Testament writers).

6-11: Humility is all important. Anxiety must be discarded, of course; faith cannot admit of such a thing. Discipline is essential. Alertness – not just for Christ’s return but also for the devil’s machinations – is also essential. The devil is personified as a roaring lion prowling about for unsuspecting souls. There is solidarity in suffering. The readers of this letter are not the only ones being persecuted – he’s telling them to trust that they are not alone in that. Persevere; Christ will come and save.

12-14: Silvanus would seem to be the one to whom the letter is dictated, reminding us of Paul’s use of secretaries. The mention of Babylon here is certainly a reference to Rome, which leads many to the conclusion that the letter was written from there.

James 1 (day 1147) 20 February 2013

          1: The very first verse of James presents problems for the Biblical scholar. Ancient tradition ascribes the letter (sermon?) to James the brother of Jesus, although there are arguments that “brother” may mean “half brother” or “cousin” or even simply “a member of the church.” Another theory is that it was a Jewish text (“James” is the English form of the Greek “Iakobos;” “Jacob” in the Old Testament) which made its way into the New Testament. There is little in James which could not be embraced by Jews. There is no mention of the resurrection, and the few specifically Christian references in it could easily have been added later. A telling clue, according to those who hold to this theory, is the reference to “the twelve tribes in the Dispersion.” This is a standard way of referring to the Jews who were scattered during the time of the Assyrian and Babylonian conquests of Israel. So, take your pick.

2-4: Right away we have a reference to persecution of some sort. The community’s faith is being tested. James tells them to endure, that being tested is the way faith matures.

5-8: The other side of the faith coin is doubt, which causes instability, in the community as well as for the individual.

9-11: One of the hallmarks of James is its solidarity with the poor and its antagonism toward the rich. If it is indeed a Christian work, it falls into line with early Christianity’s countercultural affinity with the poor and the powerless.

12-16: Here is an interesting take on temptation: it is neither instigated by evil or by God, but by the individual’s desires. Resisting temptation strengthens the soul; giving in to temptation destroys it.

17-18: Generosity, on the other hand, is instigated by God, and thus is a sign that the giver is attuned to God’s will.

19-21: The attitude necessary for receiving holy instruction is one of meekness.

22-25: Put what you receive (in the way of holy instruction) to work; otherwise it is worthless.

26-27: In the same vein, refrain from talking too much. The result of faith should be seen in your treatment of those on the lowest rung of society; widows and orphans.

 

James 2 (day 1148) 21 February 2013

1-7: A curious but undeniable logic is at work here. The tendency for most people is to treat the rich with special favor because they are powerful, and to ignore the poor because they are weak. But it is precisely the weakness of the poor that prevents them from ever being the oppressor, and the wealth and power of the rich that encourages them to oppress others. Therefore it is foolish to treat the rich as if they are more important than the poor.

8-13: It follows that you should love your neighbor as yourself; not higher than or lower than yourself but as yourself. “Mercy triumphs over judgment” is another way of saying “don’t stand in judgment of your neighbors; just love them.”

14-17: Faith without works is dead, says James. Martin Luther had problems with this saying, for we are justified by faith, not works. But James’ point is still valid. If we have faith in Christ we ought to behave like Christ and do good works.

18-26: It is interesting to compare James’ understanding of Abraham’s faith with Paul’s. Paul makes a big deal of Abraham’s faith apart from works (Romans 4:2-5). James points out that Abraham did actually put Isaac on the altar and raise the knife, and thus “faith was brought to completion by the works.” He put his money where his mouth was, we might say. To add to his argument James points to the harlot Rahab who saved Joshua’s spies at the risk of her own life: her faith was demonstrated by her actions, in other words (see Joshua 2:1-3 and 6:17).

 

James 3 (day 1149) 22 February 2013

1-5: Speech is controlled by the tongue, which makes the tongue a powerful instrument. It is likened to the bridle which guides the horse and the rudder which guides the ship. Indeed, in Proverbs the tongue is accorded the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:21). Therefore, those who spend their lives teaching others are undertaking an extreme risk, for the tongue – that it, the words that it forms – can set people afire. Rare is the individual that can handle such responsibility.

6-12: The tongue can no more be controlled than can a spring gush both fresh and brackish water, or a fig tree bear olives, or a grape vine figs, or salt water turn fresh. It is a dangerous tool; another reason why only a few should undertake to use it for instruction of others.

13-18: Envy and selfish ambition are named as the causes of wickedness and disorder, and a bit of reflection certainly confirms this. Wisdom “from above” is the antidote. The qualities listed in verse 17 are certainly the things that make for peace and should be sought at all costs.

 

James 4 (day 1150) 23 February 2013

1-10: He returns to a previous thought; that our ill behavior – even murder, theft, conflict and adultery – is caused by our own internal desires and cravings. These must be submitted to God’s control with repentance and humility; necessary conditions for God’s favor.

11-12: These verses perhaps shed some light on a similar saying of Jesus (see Matthew 7:1) about judging others. It is the function of the law to judge, not the individual. We may accuse, we may testify, but judgment belongs to God, via God’s law.

13-16: These verses gave rise to a famous quote from Thomas a’ Kempis in “Of the Imitation of Christ,” a still widely read devotional classic. A’ Kempis wrote, “For man proposes, but God disposes.”

17: This verse seems unrelated to the previous section or to what follows in chapter 5.

 

James 5 (day 1151) 24 February 2013

1-6: The final chapter begins with a withering diatribe against the wealthy who have contributed to the suffering of the poor.

7-11: Now he moves on to encourage his fellow believers. The clear implication is that the community (communities) to which he is writing is made up mostly of the very poor (which, by the way, argues for an early date for the writing of James, before Christianity had become more organized and moved into the cities where wealthy believers were drawn in). He encourages them to be at peace with one another and to endure with patience, like Job.

12: Compare Matthew 5:34-37.

13-18: Finally, he says, pray. Pray if you’re suffering. Praise if you’re cheerful. If you’re sick, call on the spiritual leaders in the church to pray for you and anoint you with oil. He does not claim that such a ritual will heal the sick, but that it will save them. The anointing with oil may well be intended as a sort of last rites: the story of Mary the sister of Lazarus anointing Jesus’ feet comes to mind (John 12:1-7).

19-20: In the same way, rescuing one who has “wandered from the truth” is an act of salvation. Whoever does that “covers a multitude of sins.” But is that a reference to the one who wandered or to the one who rescued? On that ambiguous statement the sermon (letter?) comes to an abrupt end.

Hebrews 1 (day 1134) 7 February 2013

          The letter to the Hebrews does not read like a letter, but more like a sermon. We don’t know who wrote it; Paul, Barnabas, Silas, Priscilla, Apollos all have their fans. We don’t know to whom it was written or from where it was composed. At some point early on someone penned the title “Letter to the Hebrews” to it, and that is the name that stuck. Perhaps it is called that because it treats the Jewish priesthood with great familiarity. But, none of these questions need burden us. Our task is to understand what it says.

1-4: The introduction is not a greeting but a faith formula, a creed. The “our ancestors” does indicate that the author and intended readers were Jewish Christians. The statement is about the Son, without giving his name (but of course that is not necessary). It lingers on the origin of the Son and on the exaltation of the Son, condensing his earthly ministry, told in all the gospels, into seven words: “When he had made purification for sins…” He is an “exact imprint of God’s very being,” an eloquent way of expressing the incarnation. He is now superior to the angels; but wasn’t he always?

5: Quoting Psalm 2:7 and 2 Samuel 7:14, the author demonstrates a relationship between God and the Son which the angels do not share.

6: This quote is more difficult to place, but is close to Psalm 97:7 except the psalm does not specifically mention angels.

7: Psalm 104:4 bestows upon the angels mighty and mysterious qualities.

8-13: Psalm 45:6-7, clearly a coronation hymn, describes how God has elevated the Son “beyond all your companions.” I am at a bit of a loss to explain why Psalm 102:25-27 is quoted in verses 10-12. Perhaps the idea that the heavens “will all wear out like a garment” is intended to show that the angels are not immortal, but the Son is? And, of course, only the Son, not the angels, are invited to inhabit an exalted position in God’s hierarchy as verse 13 has it, a quote from Psalm 110:1.

14: He asks a rhetorical question, intended to demonstrate that the angels are in service to the followers of the Son, Jesus.

The whole point, then, of verses 5-14 is to prove the superiority of Jesus Christ over the angels.

 

Hebrews 2 (day 1135) 8 February 2013

1-4: The argument continues: if angels are “in divine service … for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation” (1:14), then “we must pay greater attention” to their witness. If the angels’ message is valid, and if every sin is punished, and if we don’t heed the message, then we cannot escape punishment. That message was handed down to us from the Lord Jesus “by those who heard him,” (this means that the writer of Hebrews and his readers are second generation Christians) and God punctuated the message by adding miracles etc.

5-9: The coming world referred to here is that world of which the prophets spoke, where everyone will have God’s law written on the heart and sin and death will be no more. That world, he says, will not be under the control of the angels, but under the control of God’s faithful ones. He quotes from Psalm 8 to make the point. The problem is that people obviously aren’t in control. So, the subjection of the world cannot be to human beings. Jesus, however, fits what was said in the psalm; he was made lower than the angels, at least for a time, and suffered, tasting death “for everyone.”

10-13: Jesus, the “pioneer of our salvation,” was thus made perfect through suffering, and his suffering made him a brother to us mortals. He then quotes Psalm 22:22, Isaiah 8:18 and 12:2 show that the Lord was indeed made our brother.

14-18: Being like us and yet conquering the power of death makes Christ, therefore, conqueror of the devil. His act of conquest over death sets free all who feared death, and that means people, not angels. In order to do so he had to become one of us “in every respect,” and that qualified him to serve as the high priest who makes atonement for our sins (this, by the way, is the first time in the Bible Jesus is referred to as the high priest  – it will become a major theme of the book). His suffering was a test; therefore he can help all who are tested.

 

Hebrews 3 (day 1136) 9 February 2013

1-6: Jesus is referred to as “apostle and high priest.” As apostle he was sent (“apostle” means “one who is sent”) to bring to humankind the message of God’s salvation. As high priest he made the sacrifice to atone for our sins. Christ was faithful as was Moses, but Christ is superior to Moses, he argues, because Moses was a servant but Christ is Son. “God’s house” in these verses means God’s heritage – first the people of Israel, then the church.

7-19: He quotes a lot of scripture, primarily from the Psalms. Verses 7-11 paraphrase Psalm 95:7-11, and repeats selected phrases though the rest of the chapter. The author is using these passages to undergird the warning to his readers that they must stay on guard against evil, emphasizing that in the wilderness it was those who were disobedient who were punished.

Hebrews 4 (day 1137) 10 February 2013

          1-11: Repeating quotes from the last chapter, the author moves on to focus on the concept of God’s rest, a reference to the new world where God rules supreme, where sin and death are finally and forever vanquished. Since the people under Moses did not enter that new world (because they sinned), God’s “rest” is still out there as a prize to be won – another reason to “make every effort” to remain faithful.

12-13: God sees all. We already knew that, though, did we not?

14-16: Hold fast; approach the throne of grace with boldness to seek mercy and grace because we have a high priest in Jesus who has been through the same trials that we go through.

 

Hebrews 5 (day 1138) 11 February 2013

1-4: Some points about the high priests who have served in that office since the time of Aaron: 1)the high priest is in charge of offering sacrifices on behalf of the people so that they can be forgiven of their sins; 2) the high priest can deal gently with sinners because he shares their weaknesses; 3) the high priest must offer sacrifices for his own sins as well as for others; 4) the high priest doesn’t select himself (although in Israel’s history that has happened a few times when the high priesthood could be purchased from a foreigner who ruled Israel); 5) the high priest is chosen by God. This last point is the only qualification for becoming a high priest; the other items outline the dutiesafter attaining the office.

5-6: Christ qualifies as high priest because God chose him. (The quote in verse 5 is from Psalm 2:7, but also check John 8:54. The quote in verse 6 is from Psalm 110:4.) He thus satisfies the qualification for becoming the high priest.

7-10: Here are some corresponding points about Jesus: 1) He was designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek (verse 10); 2) he was resurrected from death because of his reverent submission; 3) he learned obedience through suffering; 4) he was made perfect (through his resurrection); and 5) he is the source of salvation for all who obey him.

11-16: None of this should be hard to explain, but it is hard to explain to the readers of this letter (sermon?) because they are not mature in their understanding of the faith. In other words, it is time for them to be weaned from their simplistic ideas and go on to more substantial teachings and concepts.

 

Hebrews 6 (day 1139) 12 February 2013

1-8: Having told them that they are still living on “milk” and aren’t ready for “solid food,” he now urges them to advance in their understanding. They should now be done with the basic teachings and move on. After all, they have repented. If, having repented, they fall back on their old ways, they are in effect crucifying Christ again and they are lost. I think the author is wrong on this count because I believe one might have to repent more than once and I believe God is always ready to receive a repentant sinner even if he or she is a repeat offender. Burning over a field that produces thorns does not destroy the field but merely readies it for future use.

9-12: The author is certain, though, that his readers aren’t among those who fall away. Their support of “the saints,” meaning the truly holy men and women among them or those who have passed their way, is evidence that they are made of good stuff, he thinks.

13-20: God has given promises of blessings through Abraham and through Jesus. These two “unchangeable things” (verse 18) give us hope for salvation. The author pictures hope as a tangible asset that “enters the inner shrine behind the curtain” where Jesus is the great high priest – our hope is in Jesus, in other words. The imagery of the inner shrine is of course taken from the arrangement of the tabernacle in the wilderness and the later temples in Jerusalem.

 

Hebrews 7 (day 1140) 13 February 2013

1-3: The story of Melchizedek is found in Genesis 14:17-20. The author of Hebrews makes a lot more of it than is there. The name Melchizedek occurs only twice in the Old Testament (Genesis 14:29 and Psalm 110:4), and eight times in the New Testament, all in Hebrews. Verses 1 and 2 repeat what we already know about Melchizedek; verse 3 adds legendary material. Melchizedek, it was supposed, had no parents since none are mentioned, and neither his birth nor his death is recorded which led to the legend that he was a supernatural priest. The author’s purpose, of course, is to elevate him as high as possible since he wants to make a comparison with Jesus.

4-10: Melchizedek is here shown to be greater also than Abraham because Abraham paid tithes to him; and greater than the entire priesthood of Israel because Levi, ancestor of all the priests, also paid tithes to Melchizedek through Abraham, being “in his loins” – that is, it was imagined that future generations somehow already existed within the body of the ancestor. Not a bad description of DNA, actually.

11-14: If the Levitical priests had been perfect there would have been no need for another priest like Melchizedek. But they weren’t perfect, needless to say, and so God appointed another high priest – Jesus – like Melchizedek, not from Levi but from Judah; in other words, outside the order of human priesthood: outside the law.

15-19: His argument gets a little obscure here, but hispoint is that the law is not able to make anything perfect (having only the power to condemn) and therefore, quoting Psalm 110:4 again, God appointed another high priest like Melchizedek who is the introduction of “a better hope.”

20-22: Jesus’ appointment to the high priesthood was accompanied by God’s oath; an authorization other high priests do not have.

23-25: All the other high priests died, but Christ is high priest forever and is thus available in every generation to grant salvation to all who approach God through him.

26-28: The imperfect law appointed the other high priests who daily have had to offer sacrifices for themselves as well as everybody else; the perfect oath (Psalm 110:4 again), however, appointed Jesus as high priest, and he offered his own body as the sacrifice for everyone’s sins, for all time.

Hebrews 8 (day 1141) 14 February 2013

1-7: What the author seems to have in mind is the very Greek idea that everything has a form on which it is based. The form is the reality of which the thing is a copy. The wilderness tabernacle, he is saying, was based on the form of the heavenly tabernacle – the true tabernacle – where Jesus as the great high priest now sits at the right hand of the “throne of majesty” which, in turn, corresponds to the mercy seat in the old tabernacle. The old wilderness tabernacle was based on the form or pattern of the heavenly one. In the same way the old covenant was based on the law, which is but a “sketch and shadow” of the new and better covenant based on “better promises” – that is, the hope of salvation.

8-13: Verses 8-12 quote Jeremiah 31:31-34 almost verbatim. The old covenant, he says, has been replaced by the new covenant, a covenant in which the heart of every believer will be attuned to the will of God and the law will be obsolete.

 

Hebrews 9 (day 1142) 15 February 2013

1-5: He describes the first tabernacle recorded in Exodus 40, which by New Testament times was part of Israel’s distant history and he admits that “of these things we cannot speak now in detail.”

6-10: He describes the ministrations of the high priest under the old order. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), the high priest offered sacrifices for himself and the whole community, and entered the Most Holy Place in the center of the tabernacle with some of the blood of the sacrifice. Leviticus 16 describes the ceremony. The author’s point is that this ritual was imposed as a stop-gap measure until “the time comes to set things right,” that is, until the sacrifice of the Son of God.

11-14: That was the old form of atonement given to Israel to atone for sins until the new form arrived. The new atonement has Christ entering the true tabernacle, the one “not made with hands,” (see 2 Corinthians 5:1) with the sacrifice of his own blood, a sacrifice sufficient to atone for all sins forever.

15-22: Under the old covenant blood was sprinkled on everything considered holy – the tent, the altar, even the scroll on which the law was written. The basic Jewish belief was that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” The death of Jesus, then, and the shedding of his blood sufficed for the forgiveness of the sins of the whole world, not just Israel. Another way of looking at it is that salvation and eternal life is the will of God for believers. The provisions of a will do not go into effect, however, until the death of the one who made the will. The death of the Son of God completes the requirement.

23-28: Christ offered himself as the sacrifice of atonement – a sacrifice that need only be made once for all – and just as human beings are decreed to die but once and then stand for judgment, so Christ died but once and will appear again to defend his followers (those who are waiting for him) in the judgment, that they may be saved.

 

Hebrews 10 (day 1143) 16 February 2013

1-10: The author of Hebrews sees the law as merely a precursor of the reign of Christ (the “good things to come”). The law specified the offerings to be made, and the fact that these offerings had to be made over and over again is a demonstration of their limitations. Since they had to be made over and over it is obvious that the “blood of bulls and goats” cannot take away sins for good. He paraphrases Psalm 40:6-8 to show scriptural support for his statement about the inefficacy of the law and how Christ’s coming is the abolishment of the law and the establishment of his reign. This is God’s will, that we be sanctified through the sacrifice of Jesus.

11-18: The offering by Christ of his own body provides the means by which sins are forgiven, once and for all. Paraphrasing Jeremiah 31:33-34 he shows how Christ establishes the new covenant in which God’s law and God’s will is an integral part of those who are sanctified. There is no longer a need for a written law, for it is written “on their hearts.” Through Jeremiah God had declared that their sins would not be remembered, and if sins have been forgiven and forgotten there is no longer a need to sacrifice animals.

19-25: That forgiveness, then, ought to result in certain things; steadfastness in the faith, encouragement of one another in love and good deeds, and “meeting together” regularly to uphold one another in faith and good works.

26-31: Those who persist in wrongdoing are therefore in danger of the judgment. The mention of the “fury of fire” that consumes God’s enemies is often used as evidence that hell is a place of flames, but the author is simply using imagery from the descriptions in the Bible about the burning of sacrifices on the great altar. Since the law of Moses provided for the death penalty if guilt could be established by at least two eye witnesses (see Deuteronomy 17:6), the author thinks it reasonable to expect that denying Christ must surely call for an even worse fate. “Vengeance is mine” is from Deuteronomy 32:35 (the “I will repay” was added at Romans 12:19). “The Lord will judge his people” is perhaps from Psalm 96:13. Given the author’s understanding of how things are to be, it is indeed a fearful thing to fall into God’s hands.

32-39: He reminds them of the time, perhaps not long past, when they were persecuted for their faith and had to endure extreme hardships. They were able to endure it only because of confidence in their faith. Hang in there, he tells them, because the Lord is coming soon (see Habakkuk 2:3).

 

Hebrews 11 (day 1144) 17 February 2013

1-3: Verse 1 is perhaps the most often quoted verse in Hebrews. The author is undertaking in this chapter to describe faith. It is “the assurance of things hoped for.” It is “the conviction of things not seen.” It is the understanding that God created all things.

4-7: He gives examples of the evidence of faith: Abel’s “more acceptable” offering of the best of his sheep; Enoch’s mysterious disappearance, proof that he had pleased God; Noah’s building of the ark.

8-12: He dwells for some time on Abraham as an example of the faithful life: he left his homeland to go to a strange place at God’s behest; and sired a son in his old age.

13-16: The actions of the patriarchs show that they were looking ahead to the fulfillment of God’s promises. They desired a better home and believed it would be given them. God, in answer, has prepared a city for them – a new world of peace and abundant life.

17-19: Abraham’s faith enabled him to be willing to sacrifice Isaac, trusting that God would still provide.

20-28: Other examples of faith are given, of Isaac, Jacob and Joseph; of Moses’ parents and of Moses himself when he was grown, shunning material wealth because he saw what glory lay ahead. Faith enabled him to stand up to Pharaoh, and faith helped him to trust in the blood of the lamb to protect his people from the angel of death.

29-31: Faith enabled the people to pass through the sea with water piled up on either side of them. Faith caused the walls of Jericho to collapse. Faith caused Rahab to harbor the spies Joshua sent into Jericho.

32-38: Quickly he “calls the roll” of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, the prophets and others, and lists all the suffering they endured.

39-40: He makes a surprising statement here, that none of them received the promised reward. Instead, they were waiting- along with the readers of this letter/sermon – for the institution of the reign of Christ and the perfection of his followers.

 

Hebrews 12 (day 1145) 18 February 2013

1-2: The author encourages his readers to keep the faith as did the saints of old. He tells them to “run the race with perseverance,” a very Pauline-like phrase (compare 1 Corinthians 9:24), but “cloud of witnesses” is unique to Hebrews, as is the designation of Christ as the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”

3-11: Although there have been persecutions, he assures them they have not yet suffered nearly as much as Christ suffered on their behalf. They should consider their hardships as the Lord’s discipline, and, quoting Proverbs 3:11-12, tells them to keep in mind that the Lord disciplines those he loves. He launches into a praise of discipline, comparing the Lord’s discipline to that of earthly parents. It seems painful while you’re going through it, he says, but you’ll be all the better for it.

12-13: These verses contain a rather curious saying. Perhaps we can paraphrase it thus: “Stand up straight and walk with a steady gait. So you made a few mistakes, but don’t let it get you down. You may be sore, but you’ll get well.”

14-17: Some practical advice follows: pursue peace, pursue holiness, help others to experience God’s grace and don’t let bitterness fester. And by all means, hang onto your faith; once you let it go it’s hard to get it back.

18-24: Now he provides a contrast between the old covenant and the new. The old covenant of the law emphasized the terror of being confronted by God. He describes the Hebrew people gathered at the foot of Mt. Sinai which glowed with fire (Deuteronomy 4:11). The people, even their animals, could not touch the mountain upon pain of death (Exodus 19:12-13). God is all mystery and terror. The new covenant, however, emphasizes the communion the faithful will have with God in the new Mt. Zion, the new Jerusalem. He pictures the faithful being greeted by the angels and by the faithful who have gone before. He sees them before God the judge and the “spirits of the righteous made perfect” (there was an early belief that a certain number of the saints would attain a position of holiness that allowed them to gather around God – see Revelation 14:1-5 for a fuller description) and, finally, Jesus himself, the one who established this new covenant. The blood of Jesus is seen as kind of counter to the blood spilled by Abel at the hands of his angry brother, Cain (Genesis 4:8).

25-29: The new world of the new covenant is an eternal world that cannot be shaken or destroyed. The old world of the old covenant, however, will be shaken (the quote is from Haggai 2:6-7) and will not remain.

 

Hebrews 13 (day 1146) 19 February 2013

1-6: The author suddenly turns from the future scene around Mt. Zion to address the present community of faith. Continue to love one another, he says, and let love also guide your actions toward strangers and prisoners. Fidelity in marriage is again upheld as a primary rule for the protection of the coherence of the faith community. Likewise frugality is named as an important virtue in the faith community because desire for wealth is paramount to a lack of faith in God’s power to care for them – there are several places in the Old Testament which have God declaring, “I will never fail you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6, 8; Joshua 1:5, 1 Chronicles 28:20). Verse 6 is from Psalm 118:6.

7-16: He encourages them to follow the faith of the ones who declared the gospel message to them. That message is constant; it doesn’t change. He tells them not to pay attention to those who insist on dietary restrictions. (We suspect that the letter was written near the end of the first century; it is surprising to find that there is still concern for those who were trying to convince new Christians to obey the Jewish dietary laws.) Again he draws a comparison between the sacrifices offered under the old law and the sacrifice offered by Christ of his own body and blood; just as the old animal sacrifices called for the remains to be burned outside of camp, so Jesus was buried outside the city walls of Jerusalem. Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed in 70 a.d., so Christians are encouraged to “go outside the camp,” that is, to leave the fold of Judaism and offer “sacrifices of praise” – in other words, preach the gospel.

17: For good order in the church he entreats his readers to obey their leaders so that they will be a source of joy to them.

18-19: He asks them to pray for him, and intimates that he is being held against his will and plans to visit them soon. This sounds like one of Paul’s letters, but most of Hebrews does not read at all like one of Paul’s letters.

20-21: This is a particularly beautiful benediction, unique in the Bible.

22-24: The mention of Timothy and Italy remind us of Paul’s letters as well. There is much speculation that (since the previous verses constitute a closing) these verses were added later in order make it look as though Paul were the author. The bulk of the evidence, however, seems to indicate that someone else wrote Hebrews.

 

Philemon 1 (day 1133) 6 February 2013

          1-3: The letter is from Paul and Timothy to Philemon, Apphia and Archippus. Timothy we know. Philemon is only mentioned in this letter, nowhere else; the same with Apphia. Archippus, however, is mentioned elsewhere. In the letter to the Colossians Paul closes with, “Tell Archippus to complete the task he has received in the Lord.” (Colossians 4:17). This leads to the tantalizing theory that this letter was not written just to Philemon but to the leaders of the church in his community, probably Colossae, although some scholars think the nearby town of Laodicea is the address to which the letter is sent and that this letter which we call Philemon is the “letter from Laodicea” Paul mentions in Colossians (4:16). Following that theory, the command for Archippus to “complete the task” is a reference to Paul’s demands for their treatment of Onesimus when he is sent back to them. In other words, Paul wants the decision to receive Onesimus gracefully to be a community decision, not an individual one. Even if Philemon is the owner of the slave Onesimus, he should give way to the wisdom of the church in dealing with the situation. But we get ahead of ourselves.

4-7: However, we have to concede that the “you” in this paragraph (and through verse 21) is in the singular form. Which of the three addressees, then, is Paul giving thanks for in this passage? Nearly everyone agrees it is Philemon, but it is possible that the “you” is intended as a reference to the congregation as a single unit and the singular form would thus be appropriate. In verse 6, where the NRSV translates “we,” some ancient manuscripts have “you” plural. Enough of this speculation: It is apparent that these are people Paul knows personally, and his greeting is most complimentary.

8-16: Now Paul is making an appeal and asking them to grant it for two reasons: because of their “love for all the saints and faith toward Christ Jesus” (verse 5); and because poor Paul is an old man in prison. In verse 10 we have the first mention of Onesimus, and every indication is that Onesimus is a runaway slave who has made his way to Rome (where scholars believe the letter was composed) and has become Paul’s attendant. The name means “useful” or “profitable,” and Paul makes a play on words from it, praising Onesimus for his usefulness to him. He wants to keep Onesimus with him, he says, but needs Philemon’s (or Apphia’s or Archippus’) consent. But he goes on to say that Philemon should receive him back not as a slave but as a brother. I doubt that he intends that Onesimus be set free, but he certainly does mean that because of their mutual faith their relationship has changed. On more than one occasion Paul has declared that in Christ there is no slave nor free (1 Corinthians 12:13, Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11).

17-21: Like the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37), Paul offers to pay whatever cost is involved in receiving Onesimus back. There may be an implication that Onesimus had stolen something when he ran away and Paul is offering to make it good. He pads his case by reminding Philemon that he, Paul, is responsible for his very being, probably meaning that Paul is the one who brought him to faith in Christ.

22: Although in prison, he is the consummate optimist. Get ready for me to come for a visit, he says.

23-25: He closes with greetings from others who are with him, all of whom we have met before. Epaphras was from Colossae (Colossians 4:12). Mark is John Mark (Acts 12:25), with whom Paul had a falling out (Acts 15:39), but now they seem to be back in good standing. Aristarchus from Thessalonica was one of Paul’s traveling companions (Acts 20:4 and 27:2, Colossians 4:10). Demas was another one with whom Paul had a falling out (2 Timothy 4:10), but now is reconciled. Luke is, of course, “the beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14) and, we think, the author of the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts.

Postscript: The early church father and martyr for the faith Ignatius, about 50 years after this, wrote a series of letters to churches in Asia Minor while he was on his way from Antioch to Rome to stand trial for treason. One of those letters was to the church in Ephesus, and in it he praises the bishop of Ephesus, whose name is given as Onesimus. Could the runaway slave of Philemon have become a bishop of the church in Ephesus?