Seven Angels

Image by Photo Mix from Pixabay

 

Acts 5:27-32

Revelation 1:4-8

John 20:19-31

Psalm 150

The Revelation to John begins with this all-important statement. This is a Revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him so that he might show his servants what must very soon take placePhillips

One of the later early Fathers of the church, Apringius of Beja in the Sixth Century, had this comment on verse 1. From this we learn that this book is called an Apocalypse, that is, “revelation,” which manifests those secrets which are hidden and unknown to the senses, and that unless Christ himself reveals them, he who perceives the revelation will not have the strength to understand what he seesACCS

These words are a powerful reminder to all of us that understanding Scripture requires the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Understanding the Word of God requires us to be open to receive it, not knowledgeable to figure it out on our own. This is especially true when reading Revelations.

We in the Western world have grown up with a mix of ancient Greek philosophy and Renaissance intellectualism, i.e., the scientific method, whether we know it or not. In practical terms, we are trained to read everything as true or not true. With that thinking, verse one above means that God told Jesus to tell John about events that are to come.

But we Western Christians have a difficult time understanding that Revelation, and the whole New Testament, is the product of Hebrews. Yes, even Luke’s father was Jewish and raised his son as a Jew. Scholars today tend to believe that much of the NT was first written in Hebrew. It makes sense because nearly all the first Christians were Jewish.

If John first wrote the Revelation in Greek, he was still a Jew who thought in Hebrew, then translated into Greek. It is likely the visions he experienced were in Hebrew because that was the language John best understood.

The proper Hebrew reading of Holy Scripture expects us to see 1) what is direct and obvious. Then we look for what is 2) hinted at. Next comes 3) how the text comments on or compares with other scripture. Finally, and most importantly, we must look for 4) the deep meaning.

We can do the first steps on our own to a large extent if we remind ourselves to do them. It is at step 4 that we must seek the Holy Spirit. Some call it the hidden meaning as Jesus did a few times. Yet, it is hidden only from those who lack proper guidance.

The Holy Spirit can come to us in many forms, including fellow Christians who share their insights on the text. In fairness, we each have our talents. Some of us can only see what’s on the surface. Our brains are too linear to connect a phrase in Revelation with one in Genesis. Others of us see the whole range of scripture in its interconnectedness. A few can experience flashes of understanding that can only come from God. Together, we can help each other understand.

Most Christians tremble at the mention of studying Revelation and with good reason. It is page after page of strange images that have little relevance in modern America.

A common translation of verse 4 is, John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. ESV

It is too easy to slide on by this sentence with the surface knowledge that John is writing to 7 churches while sitting beside 7 spirits/angels next to the throne of God listening to Jesus talk about what is to come.

With level 2, we wonder what John meant with him who is. When we check the Greek, we see that the wording is, from the being who was and who is coming. I checked about eight English translations, and they all have just about the same form as the ESV, including the phrase him who is. The Message does replace the word being with God, which appears to be the best understanding, given the context. If John is at the Throne of God, it’s not too big a leap to believe the blessing comes from Him. But don’t forget that the blessing also comes from the 7 angels and Jesus the Messiah.

With level 3, we connect the 7 churches with those listed in the next chapters. We connect the number seven with the seven days of the creation story and with the most important of the perfect numbers—along with 1, 3, 10, 12, and combinations of them. We note that the phrase who is is a name of God from the Pentateuch. We will see the 7 spirits later in Revelation. We have already read about the death and resurrection of Jesus, so have no trouble with him being called the firstborn of the dead.

As for the 4th level, this is an introductory sentence with little intention of hiding deeper meanings, but, both grace and peace is in the blessing. It echoes the words in the Gospel of John, chapter 1:16. Indeed, every one of us has shared in his riches—there is a grace in our lives because of his gracePhillips

Look also at Luke 1:19. “I am Gabriel,” the angel answered. “I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and tell you this good news. Because you do not believe what I have said, you shall live in silence, and you shall be unable to speak a word until the day that it happens. But be sure that everything that I have told you will come true at the proper time.” Phillips Here we have one of the seven angels speaking to Zacharias about the birth of John who would announce the coming of the Messiah. There is a double meaning within this quote also. The good news was intended to be the coming birth of John, but it is also the message that the Messiah brings to all the world.

The phrase, the ruler of kings on earth, should not be ignored. When we look back at the trial of Jesus before Pilate, Pilate could find nothing wrong with Jesus, as we read in Luke on Palm Sunday. John’s Gospel has Pilate in the same position, until this exchange. “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” Jesus answered, You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.” NIV

No doubt when Pilate sent his report to Rome, he explained that Jesus claimed to be a king. That was reason enough for his execution. More importantly, Jesus’ answer to Pilate explains the phrase the ruler of kings on earth in Revelation. As God’s representative on earth, Jesus has absolute power over every life on earth, including kings, rulers, and the elite.

Notice the last verse of today’s reading. I am the Alpha and the Omega (Greek), the Alef and the Tav (Hebrew), the A and the Z. Also, notice that this is God speaking. In Revelation 21:6 the title is again given to God. This title appears in the Bible only three times, all in Revelation. The third is found in 22:13. “Look, I [Jesus] am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the EndNIV The Son of God claims the name of God.

 

Read my earlier comments on this theme here.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

The Sounds of Weeping and Wailing

Easter

 

Isaiah 65:17-25

1 Corinthians 15:19-26

John 20:1-18

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

This passage of Isaiah is associated with Easter because of verse 17, and the images that follow. Pay close attention now: I’m creating new heavens and a new earth. All the earlier troubles, chaos, and pain are things of the past, to be forgotten. Look ahead with joy. MSG

In Jesus’ day, this passage was believed to describe what the Messiah would do. I shall create Jerusalem as a joy, and her people as a delightJSB In our Messianic zeal, let’s not get carried away. This passage describes the work of God, not Jesus. At some point, human history will cease, and God will create a whole new universe. Humans will be created with bodies like that of Jesus. We will no longer have social, racial, intellectual, economic, or political divisions.

The Other will be an extension of Me. The thoughts and motives of the Other will be the same as Mine. The Other will not fear Me, nor Me the Other.

As it is now when I meet a stranger, I must decide if he is a friend/foe, my equal/better, pleasant/nasty, artist/truck driver. Even as we become acquainted, there are new things to learn. Anyone married for 50 years can tell you they still don’t understand the other person, even as they finish each other’s sentences.

Millions of people experience the gripping fear of being alone; of always being misunderstood; of being an alien in a strange world. Suicides are a common result.

I have recently read about the 1683 attempt of the Ottoman Empire to capture the city of Vienna as the gateway to conquering all of Europe. Western Christians see this simply as a Christian victory over Islam, and worse: the victory of Good over Evil.

The reality was very different. The makeup of the opposing armies was a mixed bag. To keep it simple, Moslems fought with the Christians and Christians fought with the Moslems. The king of France, as well as several small Christian nations, supported the Ottomans and several Moslem nations supported the Christians. It was not a war between the Christian God and the Moslem Allah. It was mostly a political battle dressed up in religious clothing.

Wars are great for evil. The Great Lier works hard to get us to attack each other. He especially loves it when we fight over God.

None of that will happen in the New Jerusalem. We will be new people, and the Great Lier will be gone. No, we cannot blame all our troubles on Satan. You and I are perfectly capable of assuming the worst about others.

In our new forms in the New Jerusalem, we will know and understand each other, so we will have nothing to fight about. Never again shall be heard there the sounds of weeping and wailingJSB

But look at this. He who dies at a hundred years shall be reckoned a youth, and he who fails to reach a hundred shall be reckoned accursedJSB According to Isaiah, we will die in the New Jerusalem.

Can that be right?

The simple answer is, Yes. Isaiah said it, it must be true.

But Easter is about defeating death. The Messiah died a normal death. He entered the realm of Hell where he did battle with the fallen Angel of Death. Having defeated Death, the Messiah returned to the earth to report on his success.

In John 14:18-20, we read, I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. ESV

Matthew 19:28-30. “Believe me,” said Jesus, “when I tell you that in the next world, when the Son of Man shall sit down on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones and become judges of the twelve tribes of Israel. Every man who has left houses or brothers or sisters or fathers or mother or children or land for my sake will receive it all back many times over, and will inherit eternal life.” Phillips

Eternal life is not a developed concept in the Old Testament. New Life, yes. Jesus brings a different tone to the Life-After discussion. Pharisees of Jesus’ day already believed in eternal life, but they had only a vague notion of how that would happen. Only Jesus, as God’s only special and perfect Son, could pull it off. While Pharisees could speak of a new life without sin, they could not imagine how it could happen.

We now know that God must destroy all the sources of evil, much like the Jewish practice of searching out and destroying all the leavening agents in the house at Passover. Without darkness, there will be only light; without hatred, there will only be love; without sin, there will only be perfection.

 

Read my earlier comments on this theme here.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence