December 9, 2012

Scripture and Commentary, Week of Second Sunday in Advent

Monday after the Second Sunday of Advent


Morning - Ps.33, Is. 8, Mk. 2:23-3:6
Evening - Ps. 42, 43, Is. 9:1-17, Rev. 11

Revelation 11

Chapters 4-10 have shown God punishing the persecutor of the Church.  The comments have attempted to show that the chapters have pointed to and described the conquest of Jerusalem by the Roman army in 70 A.D.  Chapter 11 concludes the prophecy about Jerusalem.  It begins with a command to measure the Temple, which is a prelude to its destruction predicted by Christ in Matthew 24:2 (see also Amos 7:7-9).

There are two witnesses killed in the city, which are identified as two candlesticks standing before God (11:3-4).  This image comes from Zechariah 4, where the two lights are supernaturally enabled to accomplish their work in Jerusalem.  They represent, both in Zechariah and Revelation, the civil and religious authorities in Israel, each serving God in their respective fields.  As John writes this prophecy, corruption has ruined the Jerusalem Temple and government, and, instead of being enabled by God to accomplish their work, their corruption becomes so complete they cease to perform their tasks.  Thus, the two pillars of Jerusalem wither and "die," and their corpses lie in the streets unmourned and unburied.  In their places, anarchy and apostasy reign, and the people of the "holy city" (11:2) are plunged into deadly chaos and internal strife.

Verse 8 is important because it identifies the city in which the two witnesses die.  Some people are confused because the city is called Sodom and Egypt, but this confusion is easily dispelled when we see that these names describe the spiritual condition of the city by comparing it to Sodom and Egypt in Old Testament times when these places opposed God and persecuted His people.  The city is identified as the place where our Lord was crucified, Jerusalem
 Rather than mourning over the corruption and death of Biblical religion and government, the people celebrate.  Verse 10 says they "rejoice and make merry."  Why? Because when the Church and state functioned properly they testified that the deeds of the people were evil.  Now that they are "dead" the wicked think there is no more restraint on their sin.  They are free to plunge to the depths of wickedness with no one to reprove them and no law to restrain them.  Meanwhile, the prophets are raised from the dead and taken into Heaven, symbolic of God's blessing on true religion and good government.  The earthquake is the chaos that ensued after the fall of faith and government in Jerusalem, but at least some turn to God in the crisis (11:13).

The chapter closes with a hymn of praise from voices in Heaven, probably the martyrs (11:15).  Their song gives thanks to God because He has taken Jerusalem, which had become another one of the kingdoms of the world, and subjugated it under Him.  It is not a city of Biblical faith by any means, but it is under God by being under His judgment.  In this way all kingdoms and people will come under the rule of Christ; some as redeemed to glory, others to judgment.  Either way, He will rule all, and the destruction of Jerusalem shows that He has already begun to reign.

Tuesday after the Second Sunday of Advent


Morning - Ps. 48, Is. 9:18-10:4, Mk. 3:7-19
Evening - Ps. 46, 47, Is. 10:5-21, Rev. 12

Revelation 12

Chapters 4-11 have shown the judgment of God on the first persecutors of God's Church.  Chapter 12 turns to a second source of persecution, the Roman Empire.  This section of the book of Revelation shows the calamities God will bring upon Rome for its part in the suffering of His people.

The Child (12:5) is quite obviously Jesus, but the woman giving birth is not Mary.  This woman is a sign in Heaven (12:1) and represents the Old Testament Israel, for it was through Israel that God brought the Saviour into the world.  She also represents the New Testament Church.  Thus she represents the unity and continuity of God's people.
The dragon is obviously Satan, but he also represents Rome, as will be made clear in future commentaries, especially when we come to chapter 17.  The war in Heaven represents Satan's attempts to destroy God's people, and the stars he casts to the earth are Christians killed by the Romans in the growing persecution.  Yet God has not abandoned His church.  She flees to the wilderness and the brethren overcome the dragon by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony (12:11).  This means that the Gospel of Christ will overcome and defeat the Roman persecutors.  Rome, like all enemies of God's people, will come and go, but the Church will remain.  It may persecute the Church for a while (12:13, 17), but its end is sure and God's victory is assured; "Faith of our fathers, living still."  Therefore, the Church is to hold fast to the faith.  

Wednesday after the Second Sunday in Advent


Morning - Ps. 50, Is. 11:1-10, Mk 3:20
Evening - Ps. 49, Is. 12, Rev. 13

Revelation 13

If the beast in 13:1 sounds familiar it is because we have already met him in 12:3.   The difference is that in 12:3 he is the devil, and in 13:1 he is a personification of the devil sent to do the devil's work (13:4).  The sea (13:1) represents lost humanity, restless and tossed about by every wind of doctrine.  We will look at this beast more fully in coming chapters.  For now four things are important.  He gets his power from the devil (13:4), he speaks blasphemies (13:5), he makes war on the Church (13:7) and the majority of people follow him (13:7 & 8).

Who is this beast?  He is Rome persecuting the Church and killing the Christians.  When the city of Rome burned in 64 A.D. Nero blamed the Christians and began a three hundred year policy of persecuting Christians.  This is the era of the catacombs, the Coliseum, and the fire.  No one knows how many Christians lost their lives during this time.  Shortly after John wrote Revelation, Peter was killed in Rome.  Paul soon followed him in martyrdom, along with countless others.

He is also identified as Nero and the dynasty of Caesar, who forced the Romans to worship them as gods and killed those who would not (13:15).  The mark of the beast (13:16) was a certificate that allowed those who had worshiped Caesar to travel and buy and sell merchandise (13:17).  To be caught without a certificate was to risk death at the hands of the Romans. Nero's name in Hebrew, John's native language, has the numerical value of 666 (13:18).  The second beast (13:11-17) is the religion of emperor worship enforced throughout the empire.

Thursday after the Second Sunday in Advent


Morning - Ps. 62, 63, Is 13:1-5, 16-22, Mk. 4:1-20
Evening - Ps. 66, Is. 13:6-15, Rev. 14

Revelation 14

Chapter 13 ended with the Church under the severe affliction of Roman persecution.  Chapter 14 opens with a picture of the Church in victory.  The 144,000, delivered from the judgment of Jerusalem, are joined by a great multitude of the redeemed praising God with a new song to God in Heaven.  Verse 4 refers to spiritual chastity as opposed to spiritual adultery.  The Church does not profane itself with the adultery of Caesar worship.  It remains chaste for God alone.

The second angel (14:8) tells of the fall of Babylon for making the nations follow her in fornication.  Babylon is Rome.  Just as John symbolically called Jerusalem "Sodom and Egypt" (11:8), he symbolically calls Rome "Babylon" because it persecutes the Church as Babylon once persecuted Israel.  But Rome also forced idolatry on her people.  This was done through the official pageants and ceremonies of the Empire, and also through the cult of emperor worship which required all subjects of Rome to offer a sacrifice and prayer to the Emperor.  The second angel pronounces the doom of Rome for this idolatry.

The third angel (14:9-11) proclaims the doom of those who worship the beast (emperor).  This message is to Christians hoping to avoid persecution by making offerings and prayers to Caesar.  To some it appeared very harmless.  They didn't have to believe Caesar was a god, or really worship him; they could just go through the motions, and Rome would let them live in peace.  But to God it was a betrayal of all that He is and stands for.  It was placing a man in God's place and obeying a man rather than God.  Above all else, it was placing their own selves and desires above obedience to God, and that is the worst kind of idolatry, for which the punishment is torment with fire and brimstone forever (14:10-11).

In contrast to those who worship the beast, those who die in the Lord, meaning to remain faithful to God, even at the cost of their own lives, are blessed because they rest from their labours and their works follow them (14:12-13).  They will be like the 144,000 and the myriads of martyrs worshiping God in the opening verses of the chapter.  They will reside in blessings and peace forever.

Verses 14-20 return to the wrath of God upon Rome for her persecution of the Church.  In a graphic image of suffering and death His angels are compared to reapers who harvest grapes and crush them in a press to extract the juice.  The press is the wrath of God, and the meaning is clear, the blood of the Romans will flow as they have made the blood of the Church flow (14:20).

Friday after the Second Sunday in Advent


Morning - Ps 73, Is. 24:16, Mk. 4:21-29
Evening - Ps. 77, Is. 26:1-19, Rev. 15 and 16

Revelation 15 and 16

Chapter 15 shows more of the plagues to be unleashed on the persecuting Romans, and the everlasting blessings of those who overcome the beast through faith in Christ.  There is an intentional contrast drawn between the persecutors and the persecuted.  The persecutors suffer immeasurable sorrow in time and eternity; the persecuted suffer for a while on earth, but live in blessed joy in eternity.  The persecuted may have died rather than receive the mark of the beast by bowing to Caesar, and the persecutors may appear to be the winners in this battle.  But, in reality, it is those who refused the beast and bore their afflictions who are the victors (15:2).  They are the ones who dwell in Heaven and sing the song of Moses (Ex. 15:1-21).

Chapter 16 shows the angels of chapter 15 pouring out seven vials of wrath upon those who have the mark of the beast (16:2).  Not only did these people worship the beast, they also participated with Rome in the persecution of the Church.  They have "shed the blood of saints and prophets" (16:6).  As in Rev. 13:1, the sea and rivers represent lost and rebellious humanity (16:3 & 4).  Specifically they represent Rome, which rules the unGodly, and actually leads the nations into unGodliness.  Turning the sea to blood represents the judgment of Rome and the death of the Roman Empire.  It represents famine and destruction and war, but also the second death of eternal condemnation.  It is noteworthy that the symbolic drying of the Euphrates prepares the way for invasion (16:12).  As John wrote Revelation, Rome controlled the west, but other empires and peoples held the east.  As Rome began to weaken, eastern tribes often raided the Roman boundaries.

The battle of Armageddon (16:16) symbolises the battles of Rome with the invading barbarians.  The kings of verse 14 are those nations, then under the heel of Roman occupation, which, seeing Rome's weakened state, invade and harass the frontiers, and even penetrate to the heart of the city of Rome.  Thus, verse 19 pronounces that Babylon (Rome) "came in remembrance before God" who gave unto her "the cup of the fierceness of His wrath" (16:19).

Saturday after the Second Sunday in Advent


Morning - Ps. 80, Is. 28:1-13, Mk. 4:21-29
Evening - Ps. 65, Is. 28:14-22, Rev. 17 & 18
Revelation 17 & 18

Chapter 17 is one of the most important chapters in Revelation because it identifies the beast, thus helping us understand the symbolism of chapters 12-20.    The chapter is given to show the judgment of God on the "great whore that sitteth upon many waters" 17:1).  Water again represents fallen humanity, and to sit on many waters is to rule many nations (17:15).  To be drunk with the wine of fornication is to revel in spiritual adultery, which is a symbol of unfaithfulness to God by serving false gods (Is. 1:21).  Thus, the great whore sells herself to false gods, and has led the kings of earth (nations under Rome's domination) to commit idolatry with her.  This refers to the blatant idolatry of emperor worship forced on people throughout the Empire by the Roman authorities.

In verse 3 John sees the beast with seven heads and ten horns again.  We met this beast in 13:1 and several times in the following chapters.  But in 17 its identity is more fully revealed. In fact, verses 7-18 give positive identification of both the beast and the great whore.  The beast has seven heads, symbols of seven mountains on which the woman sits (17:3 & 9).  Rome was known far and wide as the city on seven hills, and there can be no doubt that it is the place symbolised in this vision.  The seven heads also represent seven kings, which are emperors in the dynasty of Caesar (17:10).  Of these, five are fallen (dead), one (Nero) "is, "and the other (Galba) is yet to come (17:10).  But what does 13:3 mean when it says one of the heads was wounded to death, yet the wound was healed?  17:11 refers to the same incident.  The head wounded is Julius Caesar, killed by a coup.  But the beast did not die with him.  It lives on in the other six emperors.

The ten horns are the kings (17:12) of countries or peoples under Roman rule.  Thus, they have not received a kingdom as yet.  They give their strength (tribute money, men for soldiers, children as slaves) to the beast.  They also join the beast in its idolatry and in making war upon the Lamb (Christ).  But "the Lamb shall overcome them; for He is Lord of lords, and King of kings" (17:14), a title often claimed by the Roman emperors.  But the ten horns "shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire" (17:16). This is the rebellion against Rome that would occur among the nations held under Roman domination  This will be the way God's judgment is poured out upon Rome (17:17).

Verse 18 is the verse that really solidifies the symbolism of the beast and the whore.  It obviously refers to the woman of verses 1-6, and it is the angel's revelation of the woman's identity.  She is a city and that city "reigneth over the kings of the earth."  No one in the churches John wrote to would fail to recognise this woman as the city of Rome.  So the beast is Nero, but includes the full line of recent and future emperors, the city of Rome, and the Roman Empire.  The symbolism of the beast and the great whore include all of these entities.

Chapter 18 announces the fall of Babylon.  Again the reference is to Rome, for the angel is still talking about "Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth" (17:5).  The habitation of devils and foul and unclean things shows the depths of depravity into which Rome has plunged (18:-3).  Her sins, like the tower of Babel, have reached heaven (18:5). Her downfall will come upon her swiftly, as in a "day" (18:8).  Her chastisement will be complete (18:8) and those who followed her in her sins will mourn her ruin (18:9-19).  But others will rejoice for God has avenged her for them, and her reign of death has ended (18:20).  Verses 21-24 show the utter ruin of Rome, for, "in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints" (18:24).

The Church is commanded to come out of her and be not partakers of her sins that it may be spared her punishment (18:4).  This "Exodus" is spiritual rather than literal.  It means to have different values and life-styles as well as different beliefs.  It means to be not conformed to the values and ideals of Rome, but to be given the values and ideals of God (Rom. 12:2).

Sermon, Second Sunday in Advent

Finding God in the Bible
Psalm 119:1-16, Romans 15:4-13, Luke 21:24-33
Second Sunday of Advent
December 9, 2012

Advent calls us to step away from frantic activities and commercialism, and to quietly reflect on the things of God. Things like, what does it mean that God came to earth in Bethlehem?  And, what does it mean that this same Jesus will come again?  Thus we are reminded of the two Advents of Christ: the first in humility as "the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world," the second as the Lion of Judah who will come again "to judge the quick and the dead."
Yet, there is another way in which Christ "comes" to us.  This is not a visible Advent or Return.  It is not heralded by angels or trumpets.  It is a spiritual advent as Christ's Spirit comes to those who love Him.  When a soul seeks Him in prayer, He comes.  When His Church worships Him, He comes.  When we kneel at the communion rail, He comes.  When we open the Bible, He comes.  He is here now.

People often tell me they don't feel God's presence with them.  They don't feel His presence in church or at prayer or in the every day things of life.  The Bible never tells us to "feel" His presence.  The Bible simply tells us He is with us, and leaves it to us to believe it in faith.   We know He is with us because He says He is, and we believe His word.
I believe we can be aware of living close to God, or of living apart from Him.  We become aware of this, not through a "feeling" inside of us, but through comparing our thoughts and actions to the clear teachings of Scripture.  We know we are close to God when we are living for Him in faith and obedience.  We know we are living apart from God when we neglect the things of God, either intentionally or unintentionally.  We know we are living apart from God when we neglect our God given duties to our family, community, or church.  We know we are living apart from God when we neglect the Church, the prayers, the sacraments, and the Bible.  Perhaps that is why, on this Second Sunday in Advent, when we begin again to reflect upon the doctrines of the Christian faith, we turn to the Holy Bible, and to Christ coming to His people in His Word.

When we talk about the Bible we generally talk about two things; its Divine origin, and its Divine subject.  To say the Bible has a Divine origin is to say the Bible comes from God.  This is what we mean when we call the Bible, "the word of God."  Somehow, God put His words into the minds of men, and enabled them to speak and/or write them exactly as God gave them.

The Old Testament is very clear about the Divine origin of the Bible.  God spoke to Adam and Eve.  God spoke to Noah.  God spoke to Abraham and Sarah.  God spoke to Moses, Jeremiah, Jonah, and Isaiah.  All of these people received revelation directly from God, which is recorded in the Bible.  The prophets always prefaced their messages with words like, "The word of the Lord which came to Jeremiah from the Lord."  They often spoke the word of God at great personal sacrifice.  Jeremiah is well known for enduring persecution.  Others suffered also, so many that, before our Lord prophesied judgement on Jerusalem in Matthew 24 and 25, He wept over the city, saying, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee" (Mt. 23:37).

The New Testament is also filled with references to its Divine authorship. The Gospels record the ministry and teachings of Christ, which He gave to the Apostles and commissioned them to, "teach all nations" (Mt. 28:19).  The Epistles teach the faith Christ committed to the Apostles.  "I have received of the Lord that which I also delivered unto you," wrote Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:23.  Peter said the Scriptures are the result of holy men speaking "as they were moved by the Holy Ghost (1 Pet 2:21).  John said he wrote the Book of Revelation at the direct command of Christ (Rev.1:11).  Then there is that magnificent statement in 2 Timothy 3:16, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God." I am sure you have heard many times that the original Greek says all scripture is, "God breathed," or, "breathed out of the mouth of God" as His word.

So the Bible has a Divine origin.  The Bible also has a Divine subject.  The Bible is about God.  In the Bible alone we find what God wants us to know about Him.  The Bible teaches us about the Trinity, the cross, and the resurrection.  The Bible teaches us of the Divine Wrath that hates our sins, and the Divine Love that gave Himself for our sins.
The Bible teaches us how to have peace with God.  The Bible puts forth the unique and surprising view that we can only have peace with God if God gives it to us out of His own free grace. The Bible teaches that we can't be good enough to save ourselves because we can't atone for our sins.  The Bible teaches that knowledge won't save us because knowledge can't create in us the ability or desire to do what we know.  We need a complete moral/spiritual transformation of the very core of our being, based on a complete and eternal atonement for sin, and that can only be done by God Himself.

The Bible teaches us how God wants us to live. We hear much talk today about finding your passion and following your dream, but the Bible talks about receiving a better passion and a better dream from God.  It tells us that our greatest passion can be to love God with all our heart, soul and mind, and our neighbor as ourselves.  It tells us to let other passions go and to embrace the passion of doing the will of God.  It talks about learning to love what God loves, and learning to desire what God wants to give.  It talks about loving truth, and righteousness, and holiness, and self-sacrifice.  It talks about learning that in our relationships with others, it is more blessed to give than to receive, and that, rather than living for the next trinket or amusement, real happiness is found in living for God.

"Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen."