Monday, May 31, 2010

Reflections on Revelation 8

    Revelation 08 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.
  2. I noticed that the seven angels who stood before God were each given a trumpet.
  3. Another angel, who had a gold container for incense, came and stood at the altar. This one was given a lot of incense to offer with the prayers of God's people on the gold altar in front of the throne.
  4. Then the smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God's people, went up to God from the hand of the angel.
  5. After this, the angel filled the incense container with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth. Thunder roared, lightning flashed, and the earth shook.
  6. The seven angels now got ready to blow their trumpets.
  7. When the first angel blew his trumpet, hail and fire mixed with blood were thrown down on the earth. A third of the earth, a third of the trees, and a third of all green plants were burned.
  8. When the second angel blew his trumpet, something like a great fiery mountain was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned to blood,
  9. a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.
  10. When the third angel blew his trumpet, a great star fell from heaven. It was burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on a third of the springs of water.
  11. The name of the star was Bitter, and a third of the water turned bitter. Many people died because the water was so bitter.
  12. When the fourth angel blew his trumpet, a third of the sun, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars were struck. They each lost a third of their light. So during a third of the day there was no light, and a third of the night was also without light.
  13. Then I looked and saw a lone eagle flying across the sky. It was shouting, "Trouble, trouble, trouble to everyone who lives on earth! The other three angels are now going to blow their trumpets."

Chapter 8 brings the opening of the seventh seal of the scroll which reveals the blowing of the seven trumpets, one by one. The seven trumpets were given to seven angels to blow, but before blowing them, another angel provided a dramatic introduction. Using a gold incense burner, this angel offered incense along with the prayers of all the saints which "went up in the presence of God from the angel's hand." (8:4)  He then refilled the incense burner with fire from the altar and hurled it to earth causing "thunders, rumblings, lightnings, and an earthquake." (8:5)  There is no mention of destruction accompanying these events. They seem aimed at dramatically getting everyone's attention for the blowing of the trumpets. With this introduction, the seven angels prepared to blow their trumpets.

The blowing of the first four trumpets are outlined in the remaining verses of chapter 8:
  • The first trumpet: "hail and fire, mixed with blood, were hurled to the earth," resulting in the burning up of a third of the earth, a third of the trees, and a third of the green grass. 
  • The second trumpet: A huge object, "like a great mountain," that was ablaze with fire was hurled into the sea. A third of the sea became blood from a third of the sea creatures being killed and a third of the ships being destroyed. 
  • The third trumpet: The judgment coming from the third trumpet is similar to that of the second trumpet. In this instance, though, the object falling to earth is a star and the waters into which it falls are the waters of earth other than the oceans - the rivers and springs of water. It is not the falling of the star into these waters that causes destruction but the poisoning of the waters from the star so that people who drink from the water are killed.
  • The fourth trumpet: A darkening of the heavenly lights is the result of this seventh judgment. We are told a third of the sun, moon, and stars was struck causing a third of them to be darkened. The effect is not a third less light, but a third less time of the day and night that have light. This would seem that the damage to the heavenly bodies changed their rotational course.
It is difficult to know how to interpret or understand all of this. Though there is undoubtedly symbolism in certain aspects of these descriptions, it seems best to understand the resulting destruction or judgment as being literal. The judgment and destruction that accompanied the opening of the first six seals was caused by evil mankind. Opening of the seventh seal has brought cosmic judgment and destruction. Up to this time in history mankind may not as a whole have recognized God and His hand in creation. But with these events preceding Christ's second coming, there will be no doubt in anyone's mind as to God's involvement in creation. Only the One who made it can destroy it in such a way as this. Mankind may cause some destruction of the creation that has been entrusted to him, but nothing so extensive as this. 

Friday, May 28, 2010

Reflections on Revelation 7

    Revelation 07 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. After this I saw four angels. Each one was standing on one of the earth's four corners. The angels held back the four winds, so that no wind would blow on the earth or on the sea or on any tree. These angels had also been given the power to harm the earth and the sea. Then I saw another angel come up from where the sun rises in the east, and he was ready to put the mark of the living God on people. He shouted to the four angels,
  2. (SEE 7:1)
  3. "Don't harm the earth or the sea or any tree! Wait until I have marked the foreheads of the servants of our God."
  4. Then I heard how many people had been marked on the forehead. There were one hundred forty-four thousand, and they came from every tribe of Israel:
  5. 12,000 from Judah, 12,000 from Reuben, 12,000 from Gad,
  6. 12,000 from Asher, 12,000 from Naphtali, 12,000 from Manasseh,
  7. 12,000 from Simeon, 12,000 from Levi, 12,000 from Issachar,
  8. 12,000 from Zebulun, 12,000 from Joseph, and 12,000 from Benjamin.
  9. After this, I saw a large crowd with more people than could be counted. They were from every race, tribe, nation, and language, and they stood before the throne and before the Lamb. They wore white robes and held palm branches in their hands,
  10. as they shouted, "Our God, who sits upon the throne, has the power to save his people, and so does the Lamb."
  11. The angels who stood around the throne knelt in front of it with their faces to the ground. The elders and the four living creatures knelt there with them. Then they all worshiped God
  12. and said, "Amen! Praise, glory, wisdom, thanks, honor, power, and strength belong to our God forever and ever! Amen!"
  13. One of the elders asked me, "Do you know who these people are that are dressed in white robes? Do you know where they come from?"
  14. "Sir," I answered, "you must know." Then he told me: "These are the ones who have gone through the great suffering. They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and have made them white.
  15. And so they stand before the throne of God and worship him in his temple day and night. The one who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them.
  16. They will never hunger or thirst again, and they won't be troubled by the sun or any scorching heat.
  17. The Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd. He will lead them to streams of life-giving water, and God will wipe all tears from their eyes."

Chapter 7 provides an answer to the question raised in 6:17, "the great day of Their wrath has come! And who is able to stand?" The question is prompted by the great suffering on earth that was set in motion by the opening of the first six seals of the scroll. Those able to stand are described in this chapter. We are told in 7:3 that further destruction on earth is held back until "the slaves of our God" are sealed on their foreheads. This seal symbolized protection from the further destruction that was to come and marked them with God's ownership. It is an action similar to the protection of Noah and his family from the flood, the Israelites from the plagues of Egypt, and Rahab and her household from the destruction of Jericho.

The seal was given 144,000 from among the 12 tribes of Israel. There is a lot of speculation about who this number might represent other than its literal meaning. I choose to take it literally, however. As stated in the Bible Knowledge Commentary, "The fact that specific tribes were mentioned and specific numbers from each tribe were indicated would seem to remove this from the symbolic and to justify literal interpretation."

Following the sealing of the 144,000 appears another group described as a "vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were robed in white with palm branches in their hands." (7:9)  This group was mentioned earlier in 6:9, though on this occasion they are wearing white robes and holding palm branches which would seem to signify spiritual triumph based on their salvation which they ascribed to God and the Lamb. This group is joined by the 24 elders, the four living creatures, and all the angels. One of the elders asks who these people are and then answers the question, "These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." (7:14)  Though this group did not survive the destruction physically that was brought on by the opening of the seals, they survived spiritually.

My understanding of the heavenly scene described here is that there are three groups present from earth:  1- The 144,000 Israelites who have been sealed for salvation, 2- The church, represented by the 24 elders, that has been raptured prior to this period of tribulation, and 3- the great multitude from every nation who were matryred during the tribulation and are now safe in heaven. Because of their matrydom, this last group now has the privilege of being before God's throne and being shepherded, or cared for, by the Lamb. No longer will there be tears.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Reflections on Revelation 6

    Revelation 06 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. At the same time that I saw the Lamb open the first of the seven seals, I heard one of the four living creatures shout with a voice like thunder. It said, "Come out!"
  2. Then I saw a white horse. Its rider carried a bow and was given a crown. He had already won some victories, and he went out to win more.
  3. When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, "Come out!"
  4. Then another horse came out. It was fiery red. And its rider was given the power to take away all peace from the earth, so that people would slaughter one another. He was also given a big sword.
  5. When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, "Come out!" Then I saw a black horse, and its rider had a balance scale in one hand.
  6. I heard what sounded like a voice from somewhere among the four living creatures. It said, "A quart of wheat will cost you a whole day's wages! Three quarts of barley will cost you a day's wages too. But don't ruin the olive oil or the wine."
  7. When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, "Come out!"
  8. Then I saw a pale green horse. Its rider was named Death, and Death's Kingdom followed behind. They were given power over one fourth of the earth, and they could kill its people with swords, famines, diseases, and wild animals.
  9. When the Lamb opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of everyone who had been killed for speaking God's message and telling about their faith.
  10. They shouted, "Master, you are holy and faithful! How long will it be before you judge and punish the people of this earth who killed us?"
  11. Then each of those who had been killed was given a white robe and told to rest for a little while. They had to wait until the complete number of the Lord's other servants and followers would be killed.
  12. When I saw the Lamb open the sixth seal, I looked and saw a great earthquake. The sun turned as dark as sackcloth, and the moon became as red as blood.
  13. The stars in the sky fell to earth, just like figs shaken loose by a windstorm.
  14. Then the sky was rolled up like a scroll, and all mountains and islands were moved from their places.
  15. The kings of the earth, its famous people, and its military leaders hid in caves or behind rocks on the mountains. They hid there together with the rich and the powerful and with all the slaves and free people.
  16. Then they shouted to the mountains and the rocks, "Fall on us! Hide us from the one who sits on the throne and from the anger of the Lamb.
  17. That terrible day has come! God and the Lamb will show their anger, and who can face it?"

Beginning with chapter 4, John is in the Spirit viewing a scene that is unfolding in heaven. Those present include God who is seated on the throne, Christ who is described as a Lamb, four creatures, and 24 elders. Chapter 5 told of a scroll with seven seals that John saw in God's hand. Christ was the only one in creation considered worthy to open the scroll and its seven seals. Now, in chapter 6, Christ begins to remove the seven seals. Though there are various opinions about the timing of the occurances set into motion by the removal of the seals, I see them all as being yet future. The events set in motion by the removal of the seals are dramatic enough I doubt we would be uncertain about whether they had occurred or not.

The opening of the first seal is described in the first two verses of this chapter. A white horse appears, symbolizing victory, and the horseman had a bow, though no arrows, and was given a crown and sent out "as a victor to conquer." (6:2)  The meaning might be interpreted as the coming of a world ruler, also referred to as the Antichrist, who establishes his reign without warfare, indicated by the lack of arrows with his bow. Though his reign may be established through peaceful means, his reign brings destruction as we will see with the removel of following seals.

Removal of the second seal reveals a second horse which is fiery red, whose rider is "empowered to take peace from the earth." (6:4)  He is given a large sword, a symbol of warfare, and "people slaughter one another," a result of war. We assume the new world ruler introduced with the removal of the first seal is still in power. Though he may attain his rule by peaceful means, peace will not be his mode of operation. We should remember that his rule has been given to him by God, not grasped by his own means. This is not about evil winning, but about God's judgement on ungodly mankind, using the ungodly to bring destruction on themselves.

The third seal is opened and a black horse appears, symbolizing famine and death. The horseman has a scale in his hand and unthinkable prices are announced for the purchase of food. A full day's wages are required to gain food for one meal, leaving no wages for any other necessity, nor are there wages enough for food if one is unable to work a full day or at all. Famine is an inevitable result of war, and famine will be a major cause of death in the Great Tribulation.

A pale green horse appears at the opening of the fourth seal. The horseman is named Death, and Hades followed after him. It appears that at this point the Great Tribulation has begun. This horseman is given authority to kill a fourth of the earth by sword, famine, plague, and wild animals. These first four seals have a sequence to them starting with the established rule of the Antichrist and resulting in the destruction of a fourth of the earth. One event, the warfare launched by this new world ruler, leads naturally to famine and then to plague. With the presence of food shortage and plague, the wild animals turn to mankind as a food source.

Opening of the fifth seal reveals "the souls of those slaughtered because of God's word and the testimony they had," under the altar. Presumably, these martyrs have been faithful witnesses during the period of reign by the Antichrist and were killed as a result of their witness. Although these martyrs are anxious for their blood to be avenged, they are told it will be a while longer until the number is complete of those who will be martyred.

As if all that has happened is not enough, the opening of the sixth seal initiates a cosmic calamity. There is a violent earthquake, the sun turns black, the moon turns red, the stars fall from heaven, the sky is rolled up like a scroll, and the mountains and islands are moved from their place. Who could survive all of this? Evidently many do, for they seek refuge in caves and pray that the mountains and rocks will fall on them rather than having to face the "wrath of the Lamb." By this time, there are no unbelievers. There are many who have not accepted or bowed down to Christ, but they now believe and they tremble. 

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Reflections on Revelation 5

    Revelation 05 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. In the right hand of the one sitting on the throne I saw a scroll that had writing on the inside and on the outside. And it was sealed in seven places.
  2. I saw a mighty angel ask with a loud voice, "Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?"
  3. No one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or see inside it.
  4. I cried hard because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or see inside it.
  5. Then one of the elders said to me, "Stop crying and look! The one who is called both the 'Lion from the Tribe of Judah' and 'King David's Great Descendant' has won the victory. He will open the book and its seven seals."
  6. Then I looked and saw a Lamb standing in the center of the throne that was surrounded by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb looked as if it had once been killed. It had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God, sent out to all the earth.
  7. The Lamb went over and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who sat on the throne.
  8. After he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders knelt down before him. Each of them had a harp and a gold bowl full of incense, which are the prayers of God's people.
  9. Then they sang a new song, "You are worthy to receive the scroll and open its seals, because you were killed. And with your own blood you bought for God people from every tribe, language, nation, and race.
  10. You let them become kings and serve God as priests, and they will rule on earth."
  11. As I looked, I heard the voices of a lot of angels around the throne and the voices of the living creatures and of the elders. There were millions and millions of them,
  12. and they were saying in a loud voice, "The Lamb who was killed is worthy to receive power, riches, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, and praise."
  13. Then I heard all beings in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and in the sea offer praise. Together, all of them were saying, "Praise, honor, glory, and strength forever and ever to the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!"
  14. The four living creatures said "Amen," while the elders knelt down and worshiped.

John continues in this chapter to describe the heavenly scene that was before him as he was present in heaven "in the Spirit." (4:2)  Here the scroll with seven seals is introduced. Chapter 4 concluded with worship of God, the One seated on the throne, by the four living creatures and the 24 elders. Then John noticed the scroll in the right hand of the One seated on the throne. Evidently the scroll had just then appeared for as soon as John noticed it a "mighty angel" proclaimed "in a loud voice, 'Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?'" (5:2)  But no one could be found anywhere who was worthy to open the scroll, a circumstance that was very disturbing to John, causing him to cry.

Then one of the elders told John to stop crying for there was One who was worthy to open the scroll. The elder referred to this One who was worthy as "The Lion from the tribe of Judah." (5:5)  But when John looked at this One who was worthy, what he saw was "one like a slaughtered lamb." Both descriptions undoubtedly refer to Christ, one representing His first coming and the other His second coming. This One is said to have seven horns, which are thought to represent His authority and strength as a ruler, and also seven eyes which we are told are the "seven spirits of God," which are thought to represent the Holy Spirit. (5:6)

Christ, who was the only one worthy to open the scroll, took the scroll from the One on the throne, and when He did, the four living creatures and the 24 elders all fell down before he Lamb. They sang "a new song" praising the Lamb because He is worthy to open the seals of the scroll, because He was slaughtered, and because He has redeemed people from every tribe, language, people, and nation for God.

Then the creatures and the elders were joined by many angels, making a number that was countless. In a loud voice they all praised the Lamb who is worthy "to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing!" (5:12)  Next, those in this heavenly scene were joined in their praise by all creation - "every creature in heaven, on earth, under the earth, on the sea, and everything in them." (5:13)  Together they praised both the One seated on the throne and the Lamb. In their praise they ascribed to them "Blessing and honor and glory and dominion to the One seated on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!"

So be it!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Reflections on Revelation 4

    Revelation 04 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. After this, I looked and saw a door that opened into heaven. Then the voice that had spoken to me at first and that sounded like a trumpet said, "Come up here! I will show you what must happen next."
  2. Right then the Spirit took control of me, and there in heaven I saw a throne and someone sitting on it.
  3. The one who was sitting there sparkled like precious stones of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow that looked like an emerald surrounded the throne.
  4. Twenty-four other thrones were in a circle around that throne. And on each of these thrones there was an elder dressed in white clothes and wearing a gold crown.
  5. Flashes of lightning and roars of thunder came out from the throne in the center of the circle. Seven torches, which are the seven spirits of God, were burning in front of the throne.
  6. Also in front of the throne was something that looked like a glass sea, clear as crystal. Around the throne in the center were four living creatures covered front and back with eyes.
  7. The first creature was like a lion, the second one was like a bull, the third one had the face of a human, and the fourth was like a flying eagle.
  8. Each of the four living creatures had six wings, and their bodies were covered with eyes. Day and night they never stopped singing, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord, the all-powerful God, who was and is and is coming!"
  9. The living creatures kept praising, honoring, and thanking the one who sits on the throne and who lives forever and ever.
  10. At the same time the twenty-four elders knelt down before the one sitting on the throne. And as they worshiped the one who lives forever, they placed their crowns in front of the throne and said,
  11. "Our Lord and God, you are worthy to receive glory, honor, and power. You created all things, and by your decision they are and were created."

Chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation deliver individual messages to seven churches located in Asia. Immediately following those messages John is given a vision of heaven which is described in this chapter. As would be expected, God is the central figure in this scene. While there may be a reference to the Holy Spirit in this scene, Christ was not yet present. Christ's appearance is inevitable, though, since the central truth of the book is His second coming.

Everything from this point in Revelation is future. John was told in 4:1 that he would be shown "what must take place after this." Not only should we note the future tense of this statement, but the empathic nature of it. These things MUST take place. There are many things in Revelation we do not understand as to meaning, detail, sequence, or timing, but we can know that all will occur.

Among the things in Revelation we do not understand are certain details in this scene of heaven John described for us. Beyond the beauty depicted by the two stones, jasper and carnelian or ruby, what is their significance? These were the first and last genstones worn on the high priest's breast. Is there significance in this? We don't know.  What is the identity of the 24 elders? This, also, is not understood, though there are various opinions. 24 is the number of representation in scripture so they undoubtedly are representative of something in particular. A common opinion is that they represent the church that has been raptured prior to this time. Supporting this opinion is the description of them wearing gold crowns such as those worn by victors, suggesting they have been judged and rewarded.

Verse 5 is thought to be a reference to the Holy Spirit in the description of the fiery torches burning before the throne. Then comes a description of four living creatures that are gathered around the throne. We are told what they are like but not what they are. One was like a lion, another like a calf, a third had a face like a man, and the fourth was like a flying eagle. All of them had six wings and were covered all around with eyes. These creatures are thought by many to represent the attributes of God. For instance, the lion representing majesty and omnipotence, etc.  Whoever or whatever these living creatures represent, they continually worship God the Almighty who is seated on the throne. Joining them in this worship are the 24 elders who "fall down before the One seated on the throne." (4:10) With their worship they acknowledge God's eternal nature, His worthiness to receive glory and honor and power, and His hand in creating all things. May we join them in this worship of the One who is worthy of all worship!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Reflections on Revelation 3

    Revelation 03 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. This is what you must write to the angel of the church in Sardis: I have the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. Listen to what I say. I know what you are doing. Everyone may think you are alive, but you are dead.
  2. Wake up! You have only a little strength left, and it is almost gone. So try to become stronger. I have found that you are not completely obeying God.
  3. Remember the teaching that you were given and that you heard. Hold firmly to it and turn from your sins. If you don't wake up, I will come when you least expect it, just as a thief does.
  4. A few of you in Sardis have not dirtied your clothes with sin. You will walk with me in white clothes, because you are worthy.
  5. Everyone who wins the victory will wear white clothes. Their names will not be erased from the book of life, and I will tell my Father and his angels that they are my followers.
  6. If you have ears, listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.
  7. This is what you must write to the angel of the church in Philadelphia: I am the one who is holy and true, and I have the keys that belonged to David. When I open a door, no one can close it. And when I close a door, no one can open it. Listen to what I say.
  8. I know everything you have done. And I have placed before you an open door that no one can close. You were not very strong, but you obeyed my message and did not deny that you are my followers.
  9. Now you will see what I will do with those people who belong to Satan's group. They claim to be Jews, but they are liars. I will make them come and kneel down at your feet. Then they will know that I love you.
  10. You obeyed my message and endured. So I will protect you from the time of testing that everyone in all the world must go through.
  11. I am coming soon. So hold firmly to what you have, and no one will take away the crown that you will be given as your reward.
  12. Everyone who wins the victory will be made into a pillar in the temple of my God, and they will stay there forever. I will write on each of them the name of my God and the name of his city. It is the new Jerusalem that my God will send down from heaven. I will also write on them my own new name.
  13. If you have ears, listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.
  14. This is what you must write to the angel of the church in Laodicea: I am the one called Amen! I am the faithful and true witness and the source of God's creation. Listen to what I say.
  15. I know everything you have done, and you are not cold or hot. I wish you were either one or the other.
  16. But since you are lukewarm and neither cold nor hot, I will spit you out of my mouth.
  17. You claim to be rich and successful and to have everything you need. But you don't know how bad off you are. You are pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.
  18. Buy your gold from me. It has been refined in a fire, and it will make you rich. Buy white clothes from me. Wear them and you can cover up your shameful nakedness. Buy medicine for your eyes, so that you will be able to see.
  19. I correct and punish everyone I love. So make up your minds to turn away from your sins.
  20. Listen! I am standing and knocking at your door. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in and we will eat together.
  21. Everyone who wins the victory will sit with me on my throne, just as I won the victory and sat with my Father on his throne.
  22. If you have ears, listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.

Chapter 2 addressed four of the seven churches and chapter 3 addresses the remaining three. The pattern is to offer both commendation and rebuke to these churches, pointing out their strengths and weaknesses. An exception in the first group of four churches was Smyrna which received no rebuke. In this second group of three churches, there are two exceptions to this pattern. Philadelphia also received no rebuke and Laodicea received no commendation. To the two churches receiving no rebuke exhortation was given to remain faithful, and to the one receiving no commendation, a word of hope was given: "As many as I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be committed and repent." (3:19)

We learn from Christ's remarks to the various churches not to give undue consideration to outward appearances. It is not the measure of strength a church possesses within itself that makes a great church, but its measure of spiritual strength. The church at Sardis, for instance, had a reputation among other churches for being alive, but Christ pronounced it dead. The Laodocian church was wealthy. We are prone to think of its potential for great works with such resources. But Christ said He wanted to "vomit" them out of His mouth, (3:16) for they saw their wealth as their strength rather than God. Then there was the church at Philadelphia that had "limited strength" (3:8) but had nevertheless kept God's word and had not denied Christ. There is a caution here for a church not to be smug about its standing with God because it considers itself to be doctrinally pure in its teaching. The commendation to the Philadelphia church was not that it accurately taught God's word, but that it kept God's word. It was obedient to His word.

Another caution lies in the message to the Laodicean church that Christ wanted to 'vomit' from His mouth because it was lukewarm. He would rather it were either hot or cold. Hot being spiritually alive and cold being spiritually dead. In either case the spiritual condition is clear. But being lukewarm there is the presumption of being alive when it is not. The presumption, though, is based, not in spiritual strength, but in material strength.

A vision of the goal for the victor is placed before each of these three churches in 3:5, 3:12, and 3:21. The victor is the one who endures while remaining faithful. Christ says the victor will . . .
. . . never have his name erased from the book of life.
. . . be made a pillar in the sanctuary of God.
. . . will be given the right to sit with Christ on His throne.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Reflections on Revelation 2

    Revelation 02 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. This is what you must write to the angel of the church in Ephesus: I am the one who holds the seven stars in my right hand, and I walk among the seven gold lampstands. Listen to what I say.
  2. I know everything you have done, including your hard work and how you have endured. I know you won't put up with anyone who is evil. When some people pretended to be apostles, you tested them and found out that they were liars.
  3. You have endured and gone through hard times because of me, and you have not given up.
  4. But I do have something against you! And it is this: You don't have as much love as you used to.
  5. Think about where you have fallen from, and then turn back and do as you did at first. If you don't turn back, I will come and take away your lampstand.
  6. But there is one thing you are doing right. You hate what the Nicolaitans are doing, and so do I.
  7. If you have ears, listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. I will let everyone who wins the victory eat from the life-giving tree in God's wonderful garden.
  8. This is what you must write to the angel of the church in Smyrna: I am the first and the last. I died, but now I am alive! Listen to what I say.
  9. I know how much you suffer and how poor you are, but you are rich. I also know the cruel things being said about you by people who claim to be Jews. But they are not really Jews. They are a group that belongs to Satan.
  10. Don't worry about what you will suffer. The devil will throw some of you into jail, and you will be tested and made to suffer for ten days. But if you are faithful until you die, I will reward you with a glorious life.
  11. If you have ears, listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. Whoever wins the victory will not be hurt by the second death.
  12. This is what you must write to the angel of the church in Pergamum: I am the one who has the sharp double-edged sword! Listen to what I say.
  13. I know that you live where Satan has his throne. But you have kept true to my name. Right there where Satan lives, my faithful witness Antipas was taken from you and put to death. Even then you did not give up your faith in me.
  14. I do have a few things against you. Some of you are following the teaching of Balaam. Long ago he told Balak to teach the people of Israel to eat food that had been offered to idols and to be immoral.
  15. Now some of you are following the teaching of the Nicolaitans.
  16. Turn back! If you don't, I will come quickly and fight against these people. And my words will cut like a sword.
  17. If you have ears, listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. To everyone who wins the victory, I will give some of the hidden food. I will also give each one a white stone with a new name written on it. No one will know that name except the one who is given the stone.
  18. This is what you must write to the angel of the church in Thyatira: I am the Son of God! My eyes are like flames of fire, and my feet are like bronze. Listen to what I say.
  19. I know everything about you, including your love, your faith, your service, and how you have endured. I know that you are doing more now than you have ever done before.
  20. But I still have something against you because of that woman Jezebel. She calls herself a prophet, and you let her teach and mislead my servants to do immoral things and to eat food offered to idols.
  21. I gave her a chance to turn from her sins, but she did not want to stop doing these immoral things.
  22. I am going to strike down Jezebel. Everyone who does these immoral things with her will also be punished, if they don't stop.
  23. I will even kill her followers. Then all the churches will see that I know everyone's thoughts and feelings. I will treat each of you as you deserve.
  24. Some of you in Thyatira don't follow Jezebel's teaching. You don't know anything about what her followers call the "deep secrets of Satan." So I won't burden you down with any other commands.
  25. But until I come, you must hold firmly to the teaching you have.
  26. I will give power over the nations to everyone who wins the victory and keeps on obeying me until the end.
  27. I will give each of them the same power that my Father has given me. They will rule the nations with an iron rod and smash those nations to pieces like clay pots. I will also give them the morning star.
  28. (SEE 2:27)
  29. If you have ears, listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.

John's revelation delivers its message to the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3. Chapter two addresses the churches at Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, and Thyatira. Churches today can learn from Christ's message to these seven churches. With a couple of exceptions, each church received both commendation and rebuke. Some more of one than of the other. Of the four churches addressed in chapter 2, only Smyrna received no rebuke. The Christians of the Smyrna church were undergoing severe persecution, and as has been the case throughout history, Christians who hold to Christ under persecution prove to be faithful in all respects. Those who are dying for their faith in Christ are able to see more clearly what is important and what is not and what is true and what is not. One whose faith is wavering or whose love for Christ is weak will not venture to die for their faith.

If many who are undergoing persecution are willing to give up their lives for Christ's sake, why is it so difficult for many who are not being persecuted to give their lives to Christ in service to Him? This was the primary issue in the church in Ephesus. The Christians there had "abandoned the love you had at first," (2:4) referring to their love for Christ. They had remained orthodox in their doctrine but had not retained their strong love for Christ. While on earth, Christ taught that our love for Him should exceed our love for all others including even our closest family members. Rather than being detrimental to our family, having a greater love for Christ will enhance our love for our family and will also help them to have a greater love for Christ which ultimately is of greater benefit for all.

Throughout these messages to the churches, the commendations they received were primarily for remaining true to Christ and His teachings. Ephesus is commended for enduring and for not tolerating evil. Smyrna is commended for remaining faithful under persecution. Pergamum's commendation is for "holding on to My name and . . . not deny(ing) your faith in Me." (2:13) And Thyatira was commended for "your love, faithfulness, service, and endurance. Your last works are greater than the first." (2:19) While some of the churches were digressing, this one was improving. 
Rebukes to the churches included: 
  • Abandoning their first love for Christ.
  • Having some in their midst who held to the teaching of Balaam and who held to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.
  • Tolerating the woman Jezebel, who called herself a prophetess, and taught members to commit sexual immorality and to eat meat sacrificed to idols.
The church will always have a tension between extending Christian love to all while not tolerating immorality in its midst. The strongest rebukes, however, are not for unbelievers who practice immorality, but for those who claim to believe yet practice immorality. These pose the greatest danger to the church and should receive the strongest disapproval of the church as they do from Christ.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Reflections on Revelation 1

    Revelation 01 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. This is what God showed to Jesus Christ, so that he could tell his servants what must happen soon. Christ then sent his angel with the message to his servant John.
  2. And John told everything that he had seen about God's message and about what Jesus Christ had said and done.
  3. God will bless everyone who reads this prophecy to others, and he will bless everyone who hears and obeys it. The time is almost here.
  4. From John to the seven churches in Asia. I pray that you will be blessed with kindness and peace from God, who is and was and is coming. May you receive kindness and peace from the seven spirits before the throne of God.
  5. May kindness and peace be yours from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness. Jesus was the first to conquer death, and he is the ruler of all earthly kings. Christ loves us, and by his blood he set us free from our sins.
  6. He lets us rule as kings and serve God his Father as priests. To him be glory and power forever and ever! Amen.
  7. Look! He is coming with the clouds. Everyone will see him, even the ones who stuck a sword through him. All people on earth will weep because of him. Yes, it will happen! Amen.
  8. The Lord God says, "I am Alpha and Omega, the one who is and was and is coming. I am God All-Powerful!"
  9. I am John, a follower together with all of you. We suffer because Jesus is our king, but he gives us the strength to endure. I was sent to Patmos Island, because I had preached God's message and had told about Jesus.
  10. On the Lord's day the Spirit took control of me, and behind me I heard a loud voice that sounded like a trumpet.
  11. The voice said, "Write in a book what you see. Then send it to the seven churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea."
  12. When I turned to see who was speaking to me, I saw seven gold lampstands.
  13. There with the lampstands was someone who seemed to be the Son of Man. He was wearing a robe that reached down to his feet, and a gold cloth was wrapped around his chest.
  14. His head and his hair were white as wool or snow, and his eyes looked like flames of fire.
  15. His feet were glowing like bronze being heated in a furnace, and his voice sounded like the roar of a waterfall.
  16. He held seven stars in his right hand, and a sharp double-edged sword was coming from his mouth. His face was shining as bright as the sun at noon.
  17. When I saw him, I fell at his feet like a dead person. But he put his right hand on me and said: Don't be afraid! I am the first, the last,
  18. and the living one. I died, but now I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys to death and the world of the dead.
  19. Write what you have seen and what is and what will happen after these things.
  20. I will explain the mystery of the seven stars that you saw at my right side and the seven gold lampstands. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the lampstands are the seven churches.

In this first chapter of Revelation which serves as an introduction to the book, John outlines how the book came about and his purpose for writing it.  The title of the book is descriptive. What is written in it was a revelation given to John while he was on the island of Patmos. The revelation came from Jesus Christ, who is "the firstborn from the dead" (1:5) and ruler of the kings of the earth, and is addressed to the "seven churches in the province of Asia." (1:4) The book's revelation is primarily of the future rather than historical. My understanding of it is as a revelation of what is to actually occur and not just allegorical or symbolic. That is not to say that there is not sybolism or allegory in the book, only that as a whole the book is not symbolic or allegorical.

The revelation came to John in a vision (in the spirit) on the day of the Lord (the Lord's day). The vision was initiated by a voice that came from behind John telling him to write what he saw and send it to the seven churches, which he lists. (1:10-11)  When he turned to see the source of the voice, he saw Jesus - "One like the Son of Man." (1:13) The description of Jesus was that of a priest with the long robe and gold sash. And yet his head and hair were like that of God Himself, as described by Daniel (Dan 7:9).  At this sight John "fell at His feet like a dead man" (1:17), a reaction most of us would likely have, and was told not to be afraid. It was Jesus who is our Savior and of whom we need not be afraid. John was again instructed to write what was revealed to him, which began with a revelation of what John was seeing at that moment. The seven stars in Jesus' right hand represented the angels of the seven churches, and the seven gold lampstands represented the seven churches.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Reflections on Jude

    Jude 01 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. From Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and the brother of James. To all who are chosen and loved by God the Father and are kept safe by Jesus Christ.
  2. I pray that God will greatly bless you with kindness, peace, and love!
  3. My dear friends, I really wanted to write you about God's saving power at work in our lives. But instead, I must write and ask you to defend the faith that God has once for all given to his people.
  4. Some godless people have sneaked in among us and are saying, "God treats us much better than we deserve, and so it is all right to be immoral." They even deny that we must obey Jesus Christ as our only Master and Lord. But long ago the Scriptures warned that these godless people were doomed.
  5. Don't forget what happened to those people that the Lord rescued from Egypt. Some of them did not have faith, and he later destroyed them.
  6. You also know about the angels who didn't do their work and left their proper places. God chained them with everlasting chains and is now keeping them in dark pits until the great day of judgment.
  7. We should also be warned by what happened to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and the nearby towns. Their people became immoral and did all sorts of sexual sins. Then God made an example of them and punished them with eternal fire.
  8. The people I am talking about are behaving just like those dreamers who destroyed their own bodies. They reject all authority and insult angels.
  9. Even Michael, the chief angel, didn't dare to insult the devil, when the two of them were arguing about the body of Moses. All Michael said was, "The Lord will punish you!"
  10. But these people insult powers they don't know anything about. They are like senseless animals that end up getting destroyed, because they live only by their feelings.
  11. Now they are in for real trouble. They have followed Cain's example and have made the same mistake that Balaam did by caring only for money. They have also rebelled against God, just as Korah did. Because of all this, they will be destroyed.
  12. These people are filthy minded, and by their shameful and selfish actions they spoil the meals you eat together. They are like clouds blown along by the wind, but never bringing any rain. They are like leafless trees, uprooted and dead, and unable to produce fruit.
  13. Their shameful deeds show up like foam on wild ocean waves. They are like wandering stars forever doomed to the darkest pits of hell.
  14. Enoch was the seventh person after Adam, and he was talking about these people when he said: Look! The Lord is coming with thousands and thousands of holy angels
  15. to judge everyone. He will punish all those ungodly people for all the evil things they have done. The Lord will surely punish those ungodly sinners for every evil thing they have ever said about him.
  16. These people grumble and complain and live by their own selfish desires. They brag about themselves and flatter others to get what they want.
  17. My dear friends, remember the warning you were given by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ.
  18. They told you that near the end of time, selfish and godless people would start making fun of God.
  19. And now these people are already making you turn against each other. They think only about this life, and they don't have God's Spirit.
  20. Dear friends, keep building on the foundation of your most holy faith, as the Holy Spirit helps you to pray.
  21. And keep in step with God's love, as you wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to show how kind he is by giving you eternal life.
  22. Be helpful to all who may have doubts.
  23. Rescue any who need to be saved, as you would rescue someone from a fire. Then with fear in your own hearts, have mercy on everyone who needs it. But hate even the clothes of those who have been made dirty by their filthy deeds.
  24. Offer praise to God our Savior because of our Lord Jesus Christ! Only God can keep you from falling and make you pure and joyful in his glorious presence. Before time began and now and forevermore, God is worthy of glory, honor, power, and authority. Amen.
  25. (SEE 1:24)

Jude wrote to address the problem of apostates that were stealthily working their way into the fellowships of believers and "turning the grace of our God into promiscuity and denying our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ."  (1:4)  He identified them as those the apostles spoke of when they said, "In the end time there will be scoffers walking according to their own ungodly desires."

Because of the deceptive tactics of these scoffers, Jude wanted to help the readers see them in a true perspective and thus not be taken in by them. Claiming to have knowledge, these people were really blaspheming what they didn't understand and following their own instincts "like unreasoning animals." (1:10) The further a people get from God's truths, the more they lose the ability to reason. It is a sign that can be seen in the present time. The topics of public debate and conversation make less and less sense. There is no logic or reasoning to them. Those who get caught up in these debates are simply following the instincts of a people who are "like unreasoning animals." A people who are disengaged from the truth.

Jude says this is no petty matter. There is a judgment already designated for these scoffers from long ago. They are like the Israelites who were saved from Egypt but were later destroyed because of their unbelief. They can also be compared to the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah who were destroyed for their sexual immorality and persversions. These scoffers were caught up in blasphemy of "glorious beings" that not even the archangel Michael would participate in even when it was the Devil he was disputing.

The readers should not become involved with these people or be drawn in by their flattery and then pulled into the destruction that awaits them. How are they to avoid this pitfall? It was not by engaging them in debate or trying to discredit them. It was, instead, by "building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, expecting the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ for eternal life." (1:20-21) In this way they could protect themselves from the threat of these people. From behind the protective barrier of God's love, they could then help others escape the threat. "Have mercy on some who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; on others have mercy in fear." (1:22-23)

Jude's benediction gave further encouragement. Christ could protect them and keep them from stumbling, keeping them safe to one day "stand in the presence of His glory." (1:24) 

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Reflections on 3 John 1

    3 John 01 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. From the church leader. To my dear friend Gaius. I love you because we follow the truth,
  2. dear friend, and I pray that all goes well for you. I hope that you are as strong in body, as I know you are in spirit.
  3. It makes me very happy when the Lord's followers come by and speak openly of how you obey the truth.
  4. Nothing brings me greater happiness than to hear that my children are obeying the truth.
  5. Dear friend, you have always been faithful in helping other followers of the Lord, even the ones you didn't know before.
  6. They have told the church about your love. They say you were good enough to welcome them and to send them on their mission in a way that God's servants deserve.
  7. When they left to tell others about the Lord, they decided not to accept help from anyone who wasn't a follower.
  8. We must support people like them, so that we can take part in what they are doing to spread the truth.
  9. I wrote to the church. But Diotrephes likes to be the number-one leader, and he won't pay any attention to us.
  10. So if I come, I will remind him of how he has been attacking us with gossip. Not only has he been doing this, but he refuses to welcome any of the Lord's followers who come by. And when other church members want to welcome them, he puts them out of the church.
  11. Dear friend, don't copy the evil deeds of others! Follow the example of people who do kind deeds. They are God's children, but those who are always doing evil have never seen God.
  12. Everyone speaks well of Demetrius, and so does the true message that he teaches. I also speak well of him, and you know what I say is true.
  13. I have much more to say to you, but I don't want to write it with pen and ink.
  14. I hope to see you soon, and then we can talk in person. (1:15) I pray that God will bless you with peace! Your friends send their greetings. Please give a personal greeting to each of our friends.

Though John's third letter is addressed to an individual, it concerns a church. Gaius, the person to whom it is addressed, was an upstanding Christian to whom John was appealing to extend Christian hospitality to those who had "set out for the sake of the name." (1:7) It was necessary for John to encourage Gaius in this because the leader of the church was forbidding church members to extend such hospitality and even expelling them from the church when they did. This leader, Diotrephes, seems typical of leaders who are insecure in their leadership and compensate by controlling.

In his encouragement of Gaius, John tells him that by helping those who have 'set out for the sake of the truth,' he becomes a co-worker with the truth. In contrast, if he were to buckle under to the demands of Diotrephes, he would be imitating "what is evil." (1:11) By doing what is good instead, he shows that he is of God. Gaius should not fear Diotrephes for Paul will deal with him when he comes to the church.

In verse 12 John comes to the point of his letter - for Gaius to extend hospitality to Demetrius who was one of those who had set out for the sake of the name. John attested to Demetrius' good character by offering three witnesses. The first witness was the testimony of everyone. The second was the truth itself. Demetrius' adherence to truth, which was obvious to anyone, provided witness of his character. It may have been this witness that gave evidence upon which the first witness, the testimony of everyone, was based. Then the third witness was John's testimony. This character reference for Demetrius should be sufficient for Gaius to risk offering hospitality to him.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Reflections on 2 John 1

    2 John 01 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. From the church leader. To a very special woman and her children. I truly love all of you, and so does everyone else who knows the truth.
  2. We love you because the truth is now in our hearts, and it will be there forever.
  3. I pray that God the Father and Jesus Christ his Son will be kind and merciful to us! May they give us peace and truth and love.
  4. I was very glad to learn that some of your children are obeying the truth, as the Father told us to do.
  5. Dear friend, I am not writing to tell you and your children to do something you have not done before. I am writing to tell you to love each other, which is the first thing you were told to do.
  6. Love means that we do what God tells us. And from the beginning, he told you to love him.
  7. Many liars have gone out into the world. These deceitful liars are saying that Jesus Christ did not have a truly human body. But they are liars and the enemies of Christ.
  8. So be sure not to lose what we have worked for. If you do, you won't be given your full reward.
  9. Don't keep changing what you were taught about Christ, or else God will no longer be with you. But if you hold firmly to what you were taught, both the Father and the Son will be with you.
  10. If people won't agree to this teaching, don't welcome them into your home or even greet them.
  11. Greeting them is the same as taking part in their evil deeds.
  12. I have much more to tell you, but I don't want to write it with pen and ink. I want to come and talk to you in person, because that will make us really happy.
  13. Greetings from the children of your very special sister.

John seemed to have a very focused purpose for this letter. Though it is addressed to "the elect lady and her children," it is traditionally accepted as a reference to a church. One that adhered to truth. His purpose was to caution the church against those who did not adhere to truth, encouraging them not to even extend to them hospitality.

John's message in this letter is very similar to that of his first letter, with a strong emphases on love. As in that first letter, he makes a close tie between love and obedience to God's commands. This thinking is outlined in verses 5 and 6. First he urges his readers to love one another, and then he states what love is. It is to "walk according to His commands." (1:6) Love, therefore, is a fruit of obedience. As with joy and similar attributes, true love cannot be a direct pursuit. Otherwise it will degenerate into unwise, sentimental activity. But if the focus is on obedience, love becomes a natural and healthy result. We love others because we love the Lord, and this love is founded in truth, which is the basis of healthy love.

John's primary concern, though, is truth. The threat against truth was great and to be swayed from this truth would not only result in loss of reward for the believers, it would defeat the purpose for which Christ died and for which many Christians had and were dying.  The falsehood that was threatening the Christian community taught that Christ did not come in the flesh. In other words, He was not God incarnate. If this were the case, Christ could not and did not accomplish His purpose in dying on the cross, nor was He resurrected from the dead following that crucifixion. If Christ did not come in the flesh, there was no death, and if there was no death, there was no resurrection. Thus, Christ did not defeat sin and death, and, as Paul stated in 1Corinthians 15:17, "if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins." So, though this false teaching may not have seemed of great concern on the surface, it stripped away the core of Christian teaching. It was a great deceit of which John had good reason to warn this church.

We get a hint of the degree of threat to which John considered this false teaching in his admonishion to this church. They were not to even give a greeting to these false teachers, let alone offer hospitality. To do so would be to share in their false teaching. So in the midst of his encouragement to these Christians to walk in love, this love was not to be extended to false teachers. The love John spoke of was based in truth, not deceit. Therefore, it had no bases. Any effort to show love would either be deceitful or an acceptance of the false teaching.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Reflections on 1 John 5

    1 John 05 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. If we believe that Jesus is truly Christ, we are God's children. Everyone who loves the Father will also love his children.
  2. If we love and obey God, we know that we will love his children.
  3. We show our love for God by obeying his commandments, and they are not hard to follow.
  4. Every child of God can defeat the world, and our faith is what gives us this victory.
  5. No one can defeat the world without having faith in Jesus as the Son of God.
  6. Water and blood came out from the side of Jesus Christ. It wasn't just water, but water and blood. The Spirit tells about this, because the Spirit is truthful.
  7. In fact, there are three who tell about it.
  8. They are the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and they all agree.
  9. We believe what people tell us. But we can trust what God says even more, and God is the one who has spoken about his Son.
  10. If we have faith in God's Son, we have believed what God has said. But if we don't believe what God has said about his Son, it is the same as calling God a liar.
  11. God has also said that he gave us eternal life and that this life comes to us from his Son.
  12. And so, if we have God's Son, we have this life. But if we don't have the Son, we don't have this life.
  13. All of you have faith in the Son of God, and I have written to let you know that you have eternal life.
  14. We are certain that God will hear our prayers when we ask for what pleases him.
  15. And if we know that God listens when we pray, we are sure that our prayers have already been answered.
  16. Suppose you see one of our people commit a sin that isn't a deadly sin. You can pray, and that person will be given eternal life. But the sin must not be one that is deadly.
  17. Everything that is wrong is sin, but not all sins are deadly.
  18. We are sure that God's children do not keep on sinning. God's own Son protects them, and the devil cannot harm them.
  19. We are certain that we come from God and that the rest of the world is under the power of the devil.
  20. We know that Jesus Christ the Son of God has come and has shown us the true God. And because of Jesus, we now belong to the true God who gives eternal life.
  21. Children, you must stay away from idols.

In the opening verses of this chapter John gives obedience as the identifying factor indicating that we love God and love fellow believers. Our love for God and fellow believers is also evidence of our faith in Jesus who is the Messiah. All of this is inseparable. In the previous chapter John makes it clear that if we do not accept Christ we are not of God, and also that if we do not love fellow believers we are not of God.  We cannot say we love God if we don't love fellow believers, and if we love fellow believers we are showing that we also love God. But simply saying that we have this love doesn't make it true. The way we know it is true is by our obedience to God's comands. One of His commands is to love fellow believers and our obedience to this command will be evidenced by our willingness to sacrifice for them.

All of this flows out of our faith in Jesus Christ. This faith in Christ enables us to conquer the world because He has conquered the world. We can be certain of the truth of these things because of the three that testify of them: that is the Spirit, the water, and the blood. We are willing to accept the testimony of men, but this testimony that comes from God is greater than that of men and we should be even more willing to accept it. Armed with this certainty, we can also be certain of two other truths: That we have eternal life, and that whenever we ask according to God's will, He hears us.

We are then encouraged to use this confidence in prayer to pray for fellow believers who we see committing sin. Pray that God will give them life. We should also pray that they will abide in Christ. In the closing verses of the letter John says that those who are in Christ are kept from the evil one and thus kept from sin. Throughout John's letter he has emphasized our need to abide in Christ. We must not only believe in Him, but abide in Him to fully benefit from our relationship with Him.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Reflections on 1 John 4

    1 John 04 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Dear friends, don't believe everyone who claims to have the Spirit of God. Test them all to find out if they really do come from God. Many false prophets have already gone out into the world,
  2. and you can know which ones come from God. His Spirit says that Jesus Christ had a truly human body.
  3. But when someone doesn't say this about Jesus, you know that person has a spirit that doesn't come from God and is the enemy of Christ. You knew that this enemy was coming into the world and now is already here.
  4. Children, you belong to God, and you have defeated these enemies. God's Spirit is in you and is more powerful than the one that is in the world.
  5. These enemies belong to this world, and the world listens to them, because they speak its language.
  6. We belong to God, and everyone who knows God will listen to us. But the people who don't know God won't listen to us. That is how we can tell the Spirit that speaks the truth from the one that tells lies.
  7. My dear friends, we must love each other. Love comes from God, and when we love each other, it shows that we have been given new life. We are now God's children, and we know him.
  8. God is love, and anyone who doesn't love others has never known him.
  9. God showed his love for us when he sent his only Son into the world to give us life.
  10. Real love isn't our love for God, but his love for us. God sent his Son to be the sacrifice by which our sins are forgiven.
  11. Dear friends, since God loved us this much, we must love each other.
  12. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is truly in our hearts.
  13. God has given us his Spirit. That is how we know that we are one with him, just as he is one with us.
  14. God sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. We saw his Son and are now telling others about him.
  15. God stays one with everyone who openly says that Jesus is the Son of God. That's how we stay one with God
  16. and are sure that God loves us. God is love. If we keep on loving others, we will stay one in our hearts with God, and he will stay one with us.
  17. If we truly love others and live as Christ did in this world, we won't be worried about the day of judgment.
  18. A real love for others will chase those worries away. The thought of being punished is what makes us afraid. It shows that we have not really learned to love.
  19. We love because God loved us first.
  20. But if we say we love God and don't love each other, we are liars. We cannot see God. So how can we love God, if we don't love the people we can see?
  21. The commandment that God has given us is: "Love God and love each other!"

John encourages his readers in chapter 4 to be discerning about a person's relationship with God, thus providing two tests of whether a person is of God or not. The first test is rather straight forward. Does a person confess that Jesus Christ came in the flesh? If so, this person is from God, and conversely, those who do not confess Jesus is not from God. By this simple confession we can know the "Spirit of truth and the spirit of deception." (4:6) The claim of a Christian that Jesus is the only way to God sounds conceited and intolerant to a worldly mind. Such a mind conceives that there are many roads to God as if one could devise their own pathway to get to God and God has nothing to do with it. But scripture tells us that there is only one way to God and it is through Jesus Christ. And it is by this confession that we can discern whether a person is from God or not.

John's second test of a person's relationship with God is that person's demonstration of love. He says, "everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God." (4:7) Everyone has the capacity to love their family members, but the one who knows God and is from God loves those who God loves, which includes all people. This, too, is our motivation for love - not that a person is or is not deserving of our love or that a person is lovable. Our motivation is that God loves them and we love God, if indeed we are from God. There is a flow to this love. It does not start with us. We do not decide to love God and then He returns our love. It is the other way around. God already loves us and we decide to return His love. God is the source of love and revealed His love to all mankind by sending "His One and Only Son into the world so that we might live through Him." (4:9) When we come to know of God's love for us through Jesus Christ and to accept that love and love Him in return, we also love others since He loves them. However, if we do not love others, it is made clear that we also do not love God nor do we even know Him.  If we claim to love God yet do not love even our Christian brothers, we are a liar. We deceive both ourselves and others. (4:20)

John goes on to tell us that although "No one has ever seen God," (4:12) we see Him in the atmosphere of mutual Christian love. Furthermore, such an atmosphere of mutual Christian love is possible because "He has given to us from His Spirit." (4:13) Those who abide in God become participants in the Spirit of God.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Reflections on 1 John 3

    1 John 03 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Think how much the Father loves us. He loves us so much that he lets us be called his children, as we truly are. But since the people of this world did not know who Christ is, they don't know who we are.
  2. My dear friends, we are already God's children, though what we will be hasn't yet been seen. But we do know that when Christ returns, we will be like him, because we will see him as he truly is.
  3. This hope makes us keep ourselves holy, just as Christ is holy.
  4. Everyone who sins breaks God's law, because sin is the same as breaking God's law.
  5. You know that Christ came to take away sins. He isn't sinful,
  6. and people who stay one in their hearts with him won't keep on sinning. If they do keep on sinning, they don't know Christ, and they have never seen him.
  7. Children, don't be fooled. Anyone who does right is good, just like Christ himself.
  8. Anyone who keeps on sinning belongs to the devil. He has sinned from the beginning, but the Son of God came to destroy all that he has done.
  9. God's children cannot keep on being sinful. His life-giving power lives in them and makes them his children, so that they cannot keep on sinning.
  10. You can tell God's children from the devil's children, because those who belong to the devil refuse to do right or to love each other.
  11. From the beginning you were told that we must love each other.
  12. Don't be like Cain, who belonged to the devil and murdered his own brother. Why did he murder him? He did it because his brother was good, and he was evil.
  13. My friends, don't be surprised if the people of this world hate you.
  14. Our love for each other proves that we have gone from death to life. But if you don't love each other, you are still under the power of death.
  15. If you hate each other, you are murderers, and we know that murderers do not have eternal life.
  16. We know what love is because Jesus gave his life for us. That's why we must give our lives for each other.
  17. If we have all we need and see one of our own people in need, we must have pity on that person, or else we cannot say we love God.
  18. Children, you show love for others by truly helping them, and not merely by talking about it.
  19. When we love others, we know that we belong to the truth, and we feel at ease in the presence of God.
  20. But even if we don't feel at ease, God is greater than our feelings, and he knows everything.
  21. Dear friends, if we feel at ease in the presence of God, we will have the courage to come near him.
  22. He will give us whatever we ask, because we obey him and do what pleases him.
  23. God wants us to have faith in his Son Jesus Christ and to love each other. This is also what Jesus taught us to do.
  24. If we obey God's commandments, we will stay one in our hearts with him, and he will stay one with us. The Spirit that he has given us is proof that we are one with him.

From the beginning of this letter, John stated his purpose to be Fellowship with God and the joy that accompanies it. This fellowship results from abiding in Him through Christ. It is this abiding that John has in mind throughout and keeping this context in mind is helpful to the understanding of chapter 3.

After reminding his readers of the honor they have as God's children, he then speaks of purifying themselves and refraining from sin. Here the abiding reference enters the discussion. In verse 6 he says, "Everyone who remains (abides) in Him does not sin." The 'abides' in parenthesis is mine. John is telling us that our actions reveal in whom we are abiding. We cannot be abiding in Christ and yet sin. It is not possible. Therefore, it must be the Devil who is the source of the sin. This is a complex topic. Is John here saying that if a person sins he, therefore, is not a Christian? In light of his remarks in the first chapter, I don't think so:  "If we say, 'We have no sin,' we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1:8-9) I understand his comments in chapter 3 to be saying that sin in the life of the Christian reveals that he is not abiding in Christ, not that it is an indication that he is not a Christian. Based on the verses in chapter one we see that it is possible for a Christian to sin, but not if he abides in Christ. I realize portions of the text in this chapter are not fully explained by this explanation, however, I do feel it captures the essence of John's thought.

As John continues the discussion, he points to love for fellow Christians as a prominent indicator of our true nature. He says, "We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers. The one who does not love remains in death." (3:14) Here John's statement seems emphatic: if we have no love toward other Christians, then we must not be a Christian ourselves. Christ, Himself, said that love among Christians would be an indication that we belong to Him. Furthermore, our love for one another is not determined by what we say, but what we do, and in this, Christ is our model. He gave his life for us and therefore, "We should also lay down our lives for our brothers." (3:16) We don't have to be a Christian to show acts of kindness toward other people. This in itself is not an indication of love or of our status in Christ. It is the willingness to go so far as to give our life for another that love, and also our true nature, is revealed.

John sums up this section in the last two verses: "Now this is His command: that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another as He commanded us.  The one who keeps His commands remains in Him, and He in him. And the way we know that He remains in us is from the Spirit He has given us. (3:23-24)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Reflections on 1 John 2

    1 John 02 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. My children, I am writing this so that you won't sin. But if you do sin, Jesus Christ always does the right thing, and he will speak to the Father for us.
  2. Christ is the sacrifice that takes away our sins and the sins of all the world's people.
  3. When we obey God, we are sure that we know him.
  4. But if we claim to know him and don't obey him, we are lying and the truth isn't in our hearts.
  5. We truly love God only when we obey him as we should, and then we know that we belong to him.
  6. If we say we are his, we must follow the example of Christ.
  7. My dear friends, I am not writing to give you a new commandment. It is the same one that you were first given, and it is the message you heard.
  8. But it really is a new commandment, and you know its true meaning, just as Christ does. You can see the darkness fading away and the true light already shining.
  9. If we claim to be in the light and hate someone, we are still in the dark.
  10. But if we love others, we are in the light, and we don't cause problems for them.
  11. If we hate others, we are living and walking in the dark. We don't know where we are going, because we can't see in the dark.
  12. Children, I am writing you, because your sins have been forgiven in the name of Christ.
  13. Parents, I am writing you, because you have known the one who was there from the beginning. Young people, I am writing you, because you have defeated the evil one.
  14. Children, I am writing you, because you have known the Father. Parents, I am writing you, because you have known the one who was there from the beginning. Young people, I am writing you, because you are strong. God's message is firm in your hearts, and you have defeated the evil one.
  15. Don't love the world or anything that belongs to the world. If you love the world, you cannot love the Father.
  16. Our foolish pride comes from this world, and so do our selfish desires and our desire to have everything we see. None of this comes from the Father.
  17. The world and the desires it causes are disappearing. But if we obey God, we will live forever.
  18. Children, this is the last hour. You heard that the enemy of Christ would appear at this time, and many of Christ's enemies have already appeared. So we know that the last hour is here.
  19. These people came from our own group, yet they were not part of us. If they had been part of us, they would have stayed with us. But they left, which proves that they did not belong to our group.
  20. Christ, the Holy One, has blessed you, and now all of you understand.
  21. I did not need to write you about the truth, since you already know it. You also know that liars do not belong to the truth.
  22. And a liar is anyone who says that Jesus isn't truly Christ. Anyone who says this is an enemy of Christ and rejects both the Father and the Son.
  23. If we reject the Son, we reject the Father. But if we say that we accept the Son, we have the Father.
  24. Keep thinking about the message you first heard, and you will always be one in your heart with the Son and with the Father.
  25. The Son has promised us eternal life.
  26. I am writing to warn you about those people who are misleading you.
  27. But Christ has blessed you with the Holy Spirit. Now the Spirit stays in you, and you don't need any teachers. The Spirit is truthful and teaches you everything. So stay one in your heart with Christ, just as the Spirit has taught you to do.
  28. Children, stay one in your hearts with Christ. Then when he returns, we will have confidence and won't have to hide in shame.
  29. You know that Christ always does right and that everyone who does right is a child of God.

John stated his intent for this letter in the first chapter:  Fellowship with God and the joy that accompanies it.  In 2:1 he says, "I am writing you these things so that you may not sin," but this is not a change in his direction. As he has already stated in chapter 1, "God is light, and there is absolutely no darkness in Him . . . if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin." (1:5,7) The statement, "fellowship with one another," is not fellowship with fellow Christians, but fellowship between us and God. Walking in darkness - sin - keeps us from this fellowship. Thus, John has written that the readers may not sin, and, accordingly, lose their fellowship with God.

On the other hand, however, the reality is that Christians do sin. But John wants them to know that there is a remedy for sin - Jesus Christ. Not only did He die that we might have forgiveness of sin, He continues to serve as "an advocate with the Father." (2:1) When we sin (not if), we do not need to continue in sin, or in other words, walk in darkness. We have an advocate, Jesus Christ, who "is the propitiation for our sins." (2:2) As quickly as we are aware of the sin, we need to allow our Advocate to intervene for us and remove the guilt of that sin, and thus, not allow our fellowship with God to be broken.

John has already stated in chapter 1 (verse 8) that "If we say, 'We have no sin,' we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us." Lest the readers think he is referring only to acts of morality or immorality, John points to another deception - our relationship with our fellow Christians. This, too, is sin, and the one who thinks he is walking in the light along with God, but hates his brother, is deceiving himself and is actually walking in darkness. His darkness blinds him and he doesn't even know where he is going. Many Christians are blindsided by this deception and do not see that their relationship with a Christian brother has affected their relationship with God.

John then moves on to address another deception Christians might have: love for the world and the things that belong to the world. John makes a rather strong statement concerning one who loves the world - "love for the Father is not in him." (2:15) Love for the Father and love for the world are incompatible and cannot exist together. But love for the world can be subtle and we can be deceived by it. John mentions as examples of love for the world, lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride in one's lifestyle. Especially deceptive in this list is pride in one's lifestyle. One may tell himself he loves God, but be unwilling to face the reality that if a choice must be made he will choose his lifestyle over God. He is deceiving himself and has a love for the world that he is not willing to admit. Nor does he admit that this love for the world is an indicator of his lack of love for God.

Yet another deception is the denial that Jesus is the Messiah. Included in this denial is the denial that Jesus is "the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through (Him)." (John 14:6) This deception tries to convince us that there are many ways to fellowship with God. But John says that anyone who denies that Jesus is the Messiah is a liar and an 'antichrist.' Furthermore, he says, "No one who denies the Son can have the Father." Therefore, they are deceived. There is not fellowship with the Father apart from the Son.

These are some of the deceptions Christians face. In light of them, John's advise is to "remain in Him, so that when He appears we may have boldness and not be ashamed before Him at His coming."

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Reflections on 1 John 1

    1 John 01 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The Word that gives life was from the beginning, and this is the one our message is about. Our ears have heard, our own eyes have seen, and our hands touched this Word.
  2. The one who gives life appeared! We saw it happen, and we are witnesses to what we have seen. Now we are telling you about this eternal life that was with the Father and appeared to us.
  3. We are telling you what we have seen and heard, so that you may share in this life with us. And we share in it with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.
  4. We are writing to tell you these things, because this makes us truly happy.
  5. Jesus told us that God is light and doesn't have any darkness in him. Now we are telling you.
  6. If we say that we share in life with God and keep on living in the dark, we are lying and are not living by the truth.
  7. But if we live in the light, as God does, we share in life with each other. And the blood of his Son Jesus washes all our sins away.
  8. If we say that we have not sinned, we are fooling ourselves, and the truth isn't in our hearts.
  9. But if we confess our sins to God, he can always be trusted to forgive us and take our sins away.
  10. If we say that we have not sinned, we make God a liar, and his message isn't in our hearts.

From the beginning of his letter, John states its purpose to be fellowship and joy. Fellowship with God and the joy that accompanies it. The truths John is proclaiming about fellowship with God and the accompanying joy are not new. They are truths that were evident from the beginning of the gospel age.

The foundation of these truths John proclaims is that God is light and no darkness can be found in Him. Fellowship with Him is found by walking in the light where He is. Walking in the light equates with living within the truths of God's revelation of Himself in Jesus Christ. If we live outside these truths we walk in darkness, and thus, outside fellowship with God. But if we walk in the light we have fellowship with God and "the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin." (1:7)

A key to walking in the light is to agree with God concerning sin. We might state it even more simply: walking in the light is agreement with God. If we do not agree with God and what He teaches, we sin and we walk in darkness. And we cannot disagree with God, and thus walk in darkness, and yet claim to have fellowship with God. Nor, are we walking in the light if we claim to have no sin, for we are disagreeing with God, we are deceiving ourselves, and there is no truth in us. John takes it another step. He says, "If we say, 'We have not sinned,' we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us." (1:10)

Again, the key to walking in the light and to fellowship with God is the acknowledgement of our sin.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Reflections on 2 Peter 3

    2 Peter 03 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. My dear friends, this is the second letter I have written to encourage you to do some honest thinking. I don't want you to forget
  2. what God's prophets said would happen. You must never forget what the holy prophets taught in the past. And you must remember what the apostles told you our Lord and Savior has commanded us to do.
  3. But first you must realize that in the last days some people won't think about anything except their own selfish desires. They will make fun of you
  4. and say, "Didn't your Lord promise to come back? Yet the first leaders have already died, and the world hasn't changed a bit."
  5. They will say this because they want to forget that long ago the heavens and the earth were made at God's command. The earth came out of water and was made from water.
  6. Later it was destroyed by the waters of a mighty flood.
  7. But God has commanded the present heavens and earth to remain until the day of judgment. Then they will be set on fire, and ungodly people will be destroyed.
  8. Dear friends, don't forget that for the Lord one day is the same as a thousand years, and a thousand years is the same as one day.
  9. The Lord isn't slow about keeping his promises, as some people think he is. In fact, God is patient, because he wants everyone to turn from sin and no one to be lost.
  10. The day of the Lord's return will surprise us like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a loud noise, and the heat will melt the whole universe. Then the earth and everything on it will be seen for what they are.
  11. Everything will be destroyed. So you should serve and honor God by the way you live.
  12. You should look forward to the day when God judges everyone, and you should try to make it come soon. On that day the heavens will be destroyed by fire, and everything else will melt in the heat.
  13. But God has promised us a new heaven and a new earth, where justice will rule. We are really looking forward to that!
  14. My friends, while you are waiting, you should make certain that the Lord finds you pure, spotless, and living at peace.
  15. Don't forget that the Lord is patient because he wants people to be saved. This is also what our dear friend Paul said when he wrote you with the wisdom that God had given him.
  16. Paul talks about these same things in all his letters, but part of what he says is hard to understand. Some ignorant and unsteady people even destroy themselves by twisting what he said. They do the same thing with other Scriptures too.
  17. My dear friends, you have been warned ahead of time! So don't let the errors of evil people lead you down the wrong path and make you lose your balance.
  18. Let the wonderful kindness and the understanding that come from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ help you to keep on growing. Praise Jesus now and forever! Amen.

Peter, in this last chapter of his second letter, points out his primary reason for writing both letters: "I awaken your pure understanding with a reminder, so that you can remember the words previously spoken by the holy prophets, and the commandment of our Lord and Savior given through your apostles." (3:1-2) By awakening their pure understanding, Peter wanted them to be able to discern the truth to which various teachers would lay claim, by holding their teaching up to the light of the teaching of "the holy prophets, and the commandment of our Lord and Savior given through your apostles." What he is suggesting is a procedure similar to what was used to detect flaws in pottery being sold in the market. Merchants would sometimes use wax to cover cracks and weak places. But by holding it up to the sun, one could detect the flaws. This was referred to as "sun-judging." So Peter is wanting his readers to be able to "sun-judge" the teaching of false teachers by holding it up to the light of scripture (the holy prophets) and of the commandments of Jesus which was given through the apostles. For us, this is all in scripture.

Peter proceeded to refer to a prominent claim of false teachers, or scoffers, that could be expected. They will claim that Christians wait in vain for Christ to return. To support this claim they state that "ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they have been since the beginning of creation." (3:4) This argument is based on the principle of "uniformitarianism," a view that the cosmic processes of both present and future can be understood solely on the basis of how the cosmos has operated in the past. Such an argument rules out divine intervention in the universal order, claiming that the universe is governed by natural laws, leaving no room for miracles. Based on this argument, says Peter, the scoffers claim that Jesus could not come again.
But the scoffers only recall from history what is convenient in support of their claim. They say all things continue as they have since the beginning of creation, but they ignore such events as the flood in Noah's time, which is a clear demonstration of God's intervention in creation apart from the natural laws. It is true that the flood was thousands of years in the past, and it may be thousands of years before Christ returns, but Peter reminds them that "with the Lord one day is like 1,000 years, and 1,000 years like one day." (3:8) God has a completely different perspective of time, which uses eternity as the point of reference, than do we with our temporal perspective. And if it seems that the Lord is delaying His return as if He were procrastinating, we need to understand that He is instead being patient, giving every opportunity for all to come to repentance so none will perish.

Therefore, as we await Christ's return, we need to wait with patience and "make every effort to be found in peace without spot or blemish before Him." (3:14) Also, we should "regard the patience of our Lord as an opportunity for salvation." (3:15) So, now we have been forewarned, and since we have, we can be on our guard and not led away by the error of these false teachers. Instead, we can "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." (3:18)