Revelation and Advent

Upon fifth thought, Revelation is an interesting read in the Advent season.  The season is not found in the scriptures, but is a church tradition.  We are of the view that tradition is neither good nor bad of itself. As long as church tradition is voluntary and helpful, let’s go for it.  when it becomes legalistic and routine, we need to move on or modify.

Two passages stand out to us in this season.  They have in common that perspective that the Christmas event is less about sugar plums and more about the conflict of light and darkness in the world.

Revelation  4 and 5 constitute a vision of the throne room of the Almighty.  Chapter 4 affirms the Almighty’s eternity and that he is the creator and sustainer of all things.  Chapter 5 looks to redemption.

Rev. 5:1-7 ESV
    Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. [2] And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” [3] And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, [4] and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. [5] And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
    [6] And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. [7] And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.

    There in Revelation is the difference in expectations.  Would the Messiah, the descendant of David, be a Lion or a Lamb.  Would he come and rule with a rod of iron?  or would he be smitten and afflicted?    In this chapter the two come together.  The Lion of Judah is the Lamb who was slain.  His worth and victory was by sacrifice rather than be domination.

Now for this apocalyptic view of the birth of the Messiah

Rev. 12:1-6 ESV
    And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. [2] She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. [3] And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. [4] His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. [5] She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, [6] and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days.

    The child (a figure of the Messiah) born of the woman (a figure of Israel) is to rule despite the opposition of the dragon (a figure of the Satan).  the time frame is not Bethlehem in the time of Caesar, but rather an future or maybe ongoing conflict.

What is interesting is that the Advent is about a powerful restoration of all things. We wonder what Revelation 5 or 12 would look like as a Christmas Card?


About the pace of the postings….

We have been engaged in the ups and downs of pastoral ministry – which is like the Dow Jones average, with it’s combination of expected and mysterious variations.  Lets just say that the Dow Activity Average has been high for the past month or two, and will continue through December.  We will post as we are able.

By the way, we advocate simplicity in holiday observations.  Somehow that 56 facet diamond, the Wii wand, and the Santa Christmas Cards don’t quite add to our spirits what we hope. 

“O come thout, Day spring, come and cheer, our spirits by thine advent here.”

Hebrews 1:1-4 – Texture in the Text

Here is a fascinating statement from one scripture about the varied nature of the rest of scriptural, and non scriptural revelation.

Hebrews 1:1-4   ESV
    Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, [2] but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. [3] He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, [4] having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

One can read the Bible as if it were flat, like a map.  There are markings but only in two dimensions.  Or one can read it and notice the variation, and see it more like one of those world globes with raised mountains and groves for rivers.  The anonymous author of the book of Hebrews starts with this presumption. He asserts that in contrast to the many and varied means of revelation, the final word is found in Christ.

What are these ways and means?  Luke spoke of careful research (Luke 1:1-4), Exodus speaks of God speaking and writing messages to Moses (Exodus 18-20), Prophets sometimes had visions (Isaiah 6), other times it says “the word of the Lord came to X…”, Psalm 19 speaks of the witness of Nature and of the scriptures, there was a provision for the High Priest to use divining tools (urim and thummim- Ex 28:30) to find God’s word, the scribes gathered Proverbs from many sources, some were freshly written (Solomon was said to have written many- I Kings 4:29ff).   So we see a variety of modes of revelation – from homework to visions.

There are a variety of literary styles and genre.  Clearly poetry differs from narration, law differs from wisdom, parables from discourses and so forth.  There are three languages: Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek.  There are many literary devices.

For this reason the Proverbs begin with a goal that the reader become skilled in understanding the sayings of the wise.(Pv 1:6)  It is not as easy as falling off a log.

We do not believe that the scriptures are unaccessable, but that the more one knows about the texture of scripture the better one understands it.




All and One – I Timothy 2:1-6

Notice the connection between all and one in this passage:

1 Tim. 2:1-7
    First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, [2] for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. [3] This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, [4] who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. [5] For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, [6] who gave himself as a ransom for all…   

Prayer in the church is not to be self-focused, but as large as the mission of God in the world.  His concern is for all people (think nations, ethnicities, ages, political views, economic categories, moral standing, friend or foe, etc). 

The all is tied to the one.  For the Bible does nto speak of Gods who have localized areas of control, but one god over all people.  God is one, and there is only one, THEREFORE his concern is for all.

Also the prayer for political leaders is not over so much who they are, but that the effect might be conducive for spiritual living and, in context, for the accomplishing of the mission of God.  The pagan Roman empire created a peace (Pax Romana) and roads over which missionaries travelled with considerable freedom.


Prophet meets Sage

In our congregation’s reading schedule we have been in Isaiah.  Now Isaiah contains some of the most elevated language of the bible – not just well known passages such as chapters 44, 53 and 55 and to think of it 2, 7, 9 and 11 regarding the Messiah and peace and justice.  It is a diamond field of great passages such as this.

Isaiah 33:5-6 ESV
    The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high;
        he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness,
    [6] and he will be the stability of your times,
        abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge;
        the fear of the Lord is Zion’s treasure.

In the New International Version that last phrase is:  “the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.”  So we have a good prophetic sounding affirmation of the majesty of God – a concern with his justice and righteousness – concepts that we tend to separate more than the biblical authors.  The last phrase is reminiscent of the prominent theme of wisdom literature – the Fear of the Lord.  This attitude of respectful awe and willingness to follow is seen in Wisdom Literature as an opening to Wisdom.  “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” is a well known statement from the opening chapter of Proverbs.

I have seen a few scholars suggest that the prophets and the sages (wisdom teachers) were in conflict – but this one suggests a harmony of purpose.

Hey, look what we found on Google images:


Isaiah 33:6


Galatians and Faith

Here are a couple of startling verses for these times when we use the words “inclusion” and “diversity” so freely.

Galatians 1:1
    Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—

Galatians 1:11
    For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel.

    The NIV on 1:11 says, “…the gospel I preached is not something that man made up.”

So then we can understand these words in terms of history and theology.  The meaning of what Paul is saying is not hard to grasp.  He is referring to his conversion (recorded in Acts 9 and repeated on other plaes as well.)  Paul and Luke say that no teacher, preacher, mentor or evangelist introduced Paul to Jesus;  Jesus himself made his own introduction on the Road to Damascus.

It is a passage that calls for a decision from the reader.  This blog is about reading the bible for what it says, not for what you have heard others say that it says.  It seems as if you can disbelieve Paul – that somehow he made it up, or was confused.  Perhaps he took a dream, from his sub-conscious, and believed that it was a message from God.   Or you can believe Paul, that he did encounter Jesus, after the crucifixion, on that dusty road.

Sooner or later, as we read the biblical text, we have to decide if we can believe or not.  Is there a God, are there miracles, did the Red Sea part for the Israelites, did Jesus heal the sick and walk on water, and can God speak to us clearly and truthfully?

This is one of those passages where you, the reader, will inevitably make a decision.  Neutrality is itself a decision – for if Paul’s message is true, you do not gain anything from neutrality.

This is why faith is a central theme in the scriptures, both the Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament.


This is a book that you love or hate.  Fresh Read happens to like dark coffee, dark chocolate, brown mustard, sour kraut and marzipan. (No, not not all at once.)  So of course we like this book as well.  It is not sweet.  It is a slap up side the head.  It says, “Death changes everything…it erases all that matters ‘under the sun’, so we better find out what does matter.”

Don’t try to outline it in a linear fashion.  Don’t obsess over seeming contradictions – a skilled author uses “contradictions” to get our attention.

Our favorite commentator is Jacques Ellul’s out of print Reason for Being, where he advocates a literary reading of the book, and sees not an outline so much as a tapestry of themes.  It is worth searching Powells, Amazon or your favorite source of used books to find this gem.

Our favorite short quote from the book:

Eccles. 2:24-26   ESV
    There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, [25] for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? [26] For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.

    Wisdom, as a gift of the Creator, is Qoheleth’s (“the preacher”) other option for the Rat Race.

FR is a preacher bc of this book, and some other personal narrative for another time. 


Psalm 19, Two Books

Psalm 19 speaks of the revelation from nature in the beginning.  this portion reminds us of a statement found in a confession of the Reformed Church tradition.  Generally this is a Fresh Read so we don’t quote theologians from previous centuries.  However, this was heard at a lecture on the spirituality of John Muir, the founder of the Sierra Club.  Muir was raised in the Scots Presbyterian tradition and his writings are filled with language of the scriptures – particularly the Psalms.   This quote is from the Belgic Confession, which sprang out of a time of great persecution by the state church against the reformers.  It speaks clearly and eloquently about the Two Books of revelation:

Article 2: About the Knowledge of God

Moreover, we know God by two means, first, by the creation, preservation, and government of this whole world. For it is before our eyes as a most beautiful Book in which all creatures, from the least to the greatest, are as certain letters and marks through which the invisible things of God can be examined and understood, certainly His eternal power and His divinity as the Apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20. This knowledge is sufficient for convicting any given people and rendering them inexcusable. But He also bears His very self to us, much more clearly and openly, in His holy and divine Word; indeed, as much as is expedient in this life for His glory and for the salvation of His own people.

Psalm 11, Don’t stop at verse 3!

Perhaps you have heard verse 3 quoted.

“when the foundations are being destroyed,

what can the righteous do.”

We hear it quoted with the thought by traditional people that morality has decayed beyond repair, and the institutions of faith and society are turning to dust.  OK, if that is your view of morality. (We tend to think that things are mixed – perhaps we have gained in the areas of race relations, while we have lost in the area of sexual responsibility.)  However, don’t stop at verse 3 because the Psalm does not either. 

Verses 1-3 present a dark picture.  The wicked crouch in the shadows to pick the good guys off one by one with their poison arrows.  There is a debate in verse 1 between the Psalmist and another, or maybe with himself – should I flee to the mountains like the birds? 

We have seen traditionalist take to flight.  They decide it is time to escape the culture – the schools, maybe even the electrical grid.  History would seem to show that when the floods come, no safe hill is high enough.

The Psalmist proceeds with the recognition that, even if our institutions are crumbling, God remains on his eternal throne.    The Lord sees and takes note of the wicked and the righteous.  He will certainly give the wicked their comeuppance.  It may not be today or tomorrow, but the judgment of God is coming.  It is like the Bob Dylan song, “Slow Train Coming”

People starving and thirsting, grain elevators are bursting
Oh, you know it costs more to store the food than it do to give it
They say loose your inhibitions, follow your own ambitions
They talk about a life of brotherly love, show me someone who knows how to live it
There’s slow, slow train coming up around the bend.

Verse 7 is interesting.  Instead of an inclusio– where he ends at the beginning point – the Psalmist takes us to a new thought.  He does not tell us that the foundations on the earth are in good shape, or are due to be rebuilt.  He seems to say, “Suppose the foundations are destroyed, all can not be lost.  The upright have God.”  God loves justice, and will bring it, we understand, on the earth.  The final thought is, however, that we will see his face.  This is not escapism – because the realism of the earthly fight is there.  He seems to say that there is Someone more that makes all this meaningful.

Don’t stop at verse 3, read the whole psalm.  it is not pessimistic, but ultimately and realistically optimistic.  It is optimistic because the world is not finally run by impersonal forces.  It is run by a Person.