Epistles of Thomas

December 16, 2008

Revelation 19-22

Filed under: New Testament — Thomas @ 0:31
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Revelation 19 begins the end. Babylon has been defeated, God’s people are rejoicing and the beast and false prophet are defeated and judged by the heavenly warrior and the army of God. The heavenly warrior “treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty” (19:15). This reminds me of that old song, The Battle Hymn of the Republic: “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord: He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored…” I just looked up the lyrics on Wikipedia and see that it is an abolitionist song. I had no idea – I just like Stryper’s rendition of it. I don’t think I have ever heard it sung elsewhere.

In chapter 20, final judgement is executed on Satan and also notably on death and Hades itself. Death is judged and thrown into the lake of fire. John’s vision makes clear that at the end only life will exist – exist for all those whose names are written in the book of life. This continues in chapter 21: “Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea” (21:1). It is significant that the sea is no longer present because it symbolises the forces of chaos and evil in the world. At the creation of the world in Genesis God is portrayed as the creator of all things, including the sea, showing that he has control over all things. In Revelation, his New Creation has no sea, showing that all the forces of evil are absent from it.

The New Jerusalem, the city of God, is described in some detail. Of most significance, John “did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendour into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honour of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (21:22-27). Amazingly, people will now be able to see God’s face and in contrast to those who accepted the mark of the beast “his name will be on their foreheads” (22:4). This does not mean we will literally walk around with YHWH tattooed on our heads though.

Revelation ends with John reiterating that he saw these things and they were so marvellous he attempted to worship the messenger. He then warns his readers against misusing this material by adding to it or taking anything away (22:18f). His last words tell us that Jesus is “coming soon” and he desires this to happen, as do we all. Maranatha!

December 13, 2008

Revelation 16-18

Filed under: New Testament — Thomas @ 16:32
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In chapter sixteen, God’s judgement is poured out on the earth. The angel in charge of the waters makes a statement in response to our horror at seeing this happen to fellow human beings: “You are just in these judgments, you who are and who were, the Holy One, because you have so judged; for they have shed the blood of your people and your prophets, and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve” (16:5-6). The altar itself responds with its own vindication of God “Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments” (16:7). God is declared to be just in punishing humans in this way because he is holy and they have sinned, not just against him, but against his people. Revelation 16:9 provides further evidence of their obstinacy: “They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him.” There is recognition that God is definitely in charge of these plagues; there is no question that he is causing them to suffer and they rightly assign the source of their trouble, but instead of blaming themselves and repenting for their actions which caused their suffering, they curse God (Cf. 16:11).

The rest of this section details the collapse of Babylon the Great. It is not referring to the actual city of Babylon in modern day Iraq because Rome was the Babylon of that period which opposed God and persecuted his people. Rome has long fallen and now Babylon refers to any and every world power or system which systemically opposes God. The spirit of Babylon has been rampant on both Main and Wall streets in the last decades and we are currently seeing the world reap its fruit. Not just in the US or the west but in every city which worships Babylon instead of God. Fortunately, there is still time for those who do not worship God to repent and turn to him. I was just reading in the New York Times today that Evangelical churches are recording huge attendance increases as people seek God in these tumultuous times. Unfortunately, the article takes quite a pragmatic approach to the issue when it should be urging people to get right with God before the end does come, either personally or collectively.

Speaking of the end for people, I read yesterday on the BBC about a $50,000,000,000.00 fraud by Wall Street broker Bernard Madoff, the former head of Nasdaq. His hedge fund turned into a giant pyramid scheme. Brad Friedman, a lawyer for some of the investors, said to the NY Times: “There are people who were very, very well off a few days ago who are now virtually destitute. They have nothing left but their apartments or homes – which they are going to have to sell to get money to live on.” It seems no exaggeration when Revelation says, “In one hour she has been brought to ruin!” (18:19). I wonder how many more houses of cards will collapse as people (investors) scramble to find security and truth in the midst of this calamity.

Revelation 13-15

Filed under: New Testament — Thomas @ 15:17
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In chapter 13, two beasts make their appearance. The first is the beast from the sea. In our textbook, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, the authors point out that a beast from the sea is a standard image in apocalyptic writing and refers to a nation rather than an individual. The chapter ends with reference to the mark of the beast, which will be given on the right hand or forehead and the number of the beast which is 666. The mark may be a contrast to the Law which called for scripture to be placed on the hand or forehead of faithful Jews. The number 666 probably refers to Caesar Nero and thus indicates the power of Rome over all people and the evil of the emperor.

Chapter fourteen contrasts those with the mark of the beast with those who have Jesus and therefore have God’s name written on their foreheads. Then the destruction of those who follow the beast is announced. The next chapter announces the final judgement with which God’s wrath is exhausted. God’s glory is so great in all of this that the temple is filled with its smoke and no one can see. We who worship God are thrilled with all of these events but those who worship the beast have only fear and terror.

Revelation 10-12

Filed under: New Testament — Thomas @ 15:14
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Chapter ten begins with a mighty angel appearing and presenting a tiny scroll to John. He swore by the Eternal Creator that there would be no more delay. At the end time the plan of God would be accomplished just as he said through the prophets. John is commanded to eat the small scroll and it tasted like honey in his mouth but was sour in his stomach. This is similar to Ezekiel 3:3 but in that account the scroll was not sour in Ezekiel’s stomach. His message was to the disobedient people of Israel but John is told, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings” (10:11).

In chapter eleven, the two witnesses are introduced; they are similar to the OT prophets. For example, 11:6 records “They have power to shut up the sky so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying.” This reminds us of Elijah in 1 Kings which culminates in chapter 18 when he demonstrated God’s power over Baal and Asherah and rain returned to the land. This is followed by the blowing of the seventh trumpet and history is brought to completion. Jesus will reign over the world forever and will judge all, rewarding those who followed him, and opposing those who opposed him.

Chapter twelve introduces an enormous red dragon which sends destruction on the earth. The dragon attempts to devour a woman’s son but cannot. The dragon is identified as Satan and his defeat is announced. The dragon cannot catch the woman who gave birth to his mortal enemy; “Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus” (12:17). Satan knows he is defeated but wants to attack Christians as long as he is able.

December 8, 2008

Revelation 7-9

Filed under: New Testament — Thomas @ 17:03
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In chapter seven Christians are comforted with the fact that after their turbulent lives on earth, facing persecution and hardship, they will be present with Jesus. Their robes will be washed white with the blood of the lamb. It is no mistake that a robe covered in blood is responsible for making Christians’ robes as white as snow. In chapter eight, the seventh seal is opened but instead of a conclusion we are introduced to seven trumpets. These seven trumpets unleash various hardships and punishment upon the people of the earth. This results in the destruction of one third of something. However, the entire process ends in failure because “The rest of the people who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts” (9:20-21).

I wrote a blog post some time ago wondering what it would take for God to get our attention today. Certainly earthquakes and fires and famine is not enough because these things happen quite often but people do not turn to God. We are even prevented from seeing God at work in these things. Why would God allow suffering in this world? Perhaps to prevent us from experiencing eternal suffering in the world to come. C.S. Lewis called pain God’s megaphone to wake up a complacent world. What do you think?

Revelation 4-6

Filed under: New Testament — Thomas @ 16:48
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Chapter four presents us with a scene illustrating God’s glory and holiness. It is a scene in which all creation is worshipping its creator within His magnificent presence. Chapter five introduces Jesus who as the slain lamb it able to open the scroll that John sees. Jesus is praised and worshipped just as God was in chapter four. He is honoured above anything in creation. Obviously, he is no ordinary lamb. Chapter six announces the opening of the scroll seal by seal. As each seal is opened something happens and John tells us the meaning. The obvious message to Christians is that they are vindicated and those who opposed Jesus realise the consequences of their actions. John’s description of the events is very gripping: “Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains” (6:15).

Just as there is equality among believers in knowing salvation through Jesus (e.g. Gal 3:28) so there is equality of station among those who opposed him. Regardless of their status in life they flee and try to hide from “the wrath of the lamb.”

Revelation 1-3

Filed under: New Testament — Thomas @ 16:35
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The first thing to notice is that this revelation is from Jesus Christ via an angel to John. It’s interesting that in Galatians 3:19-20 most interpreters believe that the mention of angels being involved in the giving of the Law is meant to lower its value. In Revelation an angel brings the message to John but no one believes that it is of less value than a message directly from Jesus. Revelation begins with seven letters addressed to seven churches. Seven is a number signifying completeness and indicates that this letter is for every church in every place. These seven churches are examples of the different kinds of churches that exist. Some are doing well and bringing glory to God, others are suffering at the hands of others or in sin. As we read this we can remember that “if the shoe fits, wear it.” Not all of these points apply to us but we should see where we and our specific church fit within this paradigm and seek to respond to Christ’s calling. Each letter ends with this calling: “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Awkward Message

Filed under: New Testament,Translation — Thomas @ 12:09
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I was reading the Message by Eugene Peterson today. Luke 20:27-30 caught my attention. It records the Sadducees’ question about whose wife a woman would be if she married seven brothers and had children with none of them. The Sadducees opposed the idea of resurrection and this question was obviously a popular one to boost their argument. What struck me was Peterson’s rendition of their question: “They asked, “Teacher, Moses wrote us that if a man dies and leaves a wife but no child, his brother is obligated to take the widow to wife and get her with child.” I have bolded the ending which is the part I have trouble with. Does anyone talk this way? Does it even make sense?

I compared this with some other translations. The TNIV translation is also awkward: “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.” At least the wording of marrying the widow is better but who says “raise up offspring”? The NIV said, “the man must marry the widow and have children for his brother” which seems much more natural in English. I wonder why the TNIV chose to change it. The only other popular modern translation that I can find that says “raise up offspring” is the ESV.

The best translation of this verse seems to be the NLT: “Teacher, Moses gave us a law that if a man dies, leaving a wife but no children, his brother should marry the widow and have a child who will carry on the brother’s name.” This renders it into natural English as well as appropriately explaining why this is happening.

December 4, 2008

Jude

Filed under: New Testament — Thomas @ 23:51
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I find Jude v3 to be somewhat humorous: “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that the Lord has once for all entrusted to us, his people.” The letter is only 25 verses long so why couldn’t he have written about both things? 🙂 If we read this as a rhetorical device comparing what he wishes the situation was with what it actually is it makes more sense.

Jude condemns those who are sinning and draws examples from the Old Testament and other Jewish literature. In one of his more interesting examples he states “But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not himself dare to condemn him for slander but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’” (v9). He is referring to a story in the Testament of Moses which was a contemporary Jewish document purportedly written by Moses but known by Jude and his audience to have been written by someone during their period. Many have questioned why a biblical writer would reference a non-biblical text for evidence in making his point. Jude’s evidence is all drawn from Jewish history (e.g. Balaam and Korah) so Jude must have felt that this reference strengthened his point with that audience. Further in v15 Jude references the First Book of Enoch which is another non-biblical book. We need to remember that Jude did not set out to write a letter that would be kept forever and held to be as authoritative as the Old Testament. He probably never dreamed that this could happen and was not concerned with only quoting “the Bible” in his letter. His focus was on warning them so that they would content for the faith. In using these other books to bolster his argument Holy Spirit is not canonising those other books but using their culture to speak into their lives. Furthermore, neither example violates any principles found other places in scripture. In fact, God’s angels do only what he wills and God will judge sinners for words spoken against him.

3 John

Filed under: New Testament — Thomas @ 23:31
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3 John was written to Gaius of whom John has heard only good things. He commends Gaius for walking in the truth. He also names names and declares Diotrephes to be a false teacher, “spreading malicious nonsense about us” (v10). He promises to deal with him soon. He also commends Demetrius, who is spoken well of by everyone, even the truth. He again concludes by promising to visit soon and see them face to face. The Greek idiom for “face to face” is rather humorous to English speakers. It says literally that he will see them soon and speak “mouth to mouth.”

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