Revelation 5:6 and Little-Known Christmas Imagery

154Lots of images are well known for Christmas–shepherds, angels, wise men, Mary in blue, baby Jesus in a manger. There is a less well known image of what Christmas means in Revelation:

Then, in between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a Lamb, standing as if it had been slain.

This one sentence says quite a bit about who Jesus is. The Lamb is Christ, because he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. It had been slain because Jesus was crucified and died, although the Lamb is alive now because he was also raised from the dead.

Then there is the location of the Lamb. The throne is God’s throne. The four living creatures represent creation. The twenty-four elders are representative of Christians and the Church. So…Jesus Christ–who died and was raised again–is in the middle of the way between the throne of God and creation, and he is in the midst of the Church. This makes sense because Jesus is God, he came into creation in the Incarnation, and the Church is the Body of Christ on earth.

This image is packed full of meaning, and it could only exist because of Christmas and the Incarnation.

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Hebrews 6:1-3 and Deepening Faith and Growing in Christ

Have you ever met someone who was a Christian, or at least claimed to be one, and never really changed? They never grew in their faith. They never seemed to have more love of God or neighbor in their hearts. And they always seem to talk about the same subjects when it comes to religion?

This is not what Christianity is supposed to be about. Christianity is about being recreated in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ one step at a time. It is about changing from the inside out, through the power of God, into the person we know we ought to be. It is about allowing God to live in us so that his love can be shed abroad in our lives and the world around us.

Interestingly, the Bible knows it can be difficult for people to get past the initial stages of the faith and grow in Christ. Hebrews encourages Christians:

So let’s press on to maturity, by moving on from the basics about Christ’s word. Let’s not lay a foundation of turning away from dead works, of faith in God, of teaching about ritual ways to wash with water, laying on of hands, the resurrection from the dead, and eternal judgment—all over again. We’re going to press on, if God allows it.

Faith. Not trying to earn our salvation. Arguments over baptism. Arguments over ordination. What the resurrection is. The end of the world. This is like a laundry list of topics most churches and denominations argue over and discuss. Frequently. As a matter of fact, if the majority of Christians stopped preaching, teaching, and discussing these topics, I do believe most pastors would be silent and most congregations could hear a pin drop in them.

Perhaps the reason we do not have so many more people living out the Christian faith in such obvious ways as to be considered salt of the earth people or living saints is because they are not moving past the basics about Christ’s word. Perhaps if we spent more time trying to grow deeper in our faith and less time talking or arguing about these topics, we would see more changed lives. Perhaps if we tried to seriously become disciples of Jesus and less time trying to prove why other groups of Christians are wrong, we would see the Kingdom of God come with power.

Just a thought.

Mark 15:29-32 and Unexpected Prophecy

Peter_Gertner_-_Crucifixion_-_Walters_37246It is no surprise to Christians that most of Jesus’ life and ministry were the fulfillment of prophecy. You can find books, charts, pamphlets, and web pages dedicated to showing how many different prophecies Jesus fulfilled during his ministry and how many are still yet to be fulfilled at the Second Coming. Some may debate exactly on which list certain prophecies should be, but all agree Jesus’ ministry was foretold well before it happened.

Here is an unexpected prophecy, because it came from an unexpected source:

29 Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!’ 31 In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.’ Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.

This is from Mark and his telling of the crucifixion. Now look at this passage from an older source:

12 ‘Let us lie in wait for the righteous man,
because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions;
he reproaches us for sins against the law,
and accuses us of sins against our training.
13 He professes to have knowledge of God,
and calls himself a child of the Lord.
14 He became to us a reproof of our thoughts;
15 the very sight of him is a burden to us,
because his manner of life is unlike that of others,
and his ways are strange.
16 We are considered by him as something base,
and he avoids our ways as unclean;
he calls the last end of the righteous happy,
and boasts that God is his father.
17 Let us see if his words are true,
and let us test what will happen at the end of his life;
18 for if the righteous man is God’s child, he will help him,
and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries.
19 Let us test him with insult and torture,
so that we may find out how gentle he is,
and make trial of his forbearance.
20 Let us condemn him to a shameful death,
for, according to what he says, he will be protected.’

21 Thus they reasoned, but they were led astray,

for their wickedness blinded them,
22 and they did not know the secret purposes of God,
nor hoped for the wages of holiness,
nor discerned the prize for blameless souls;
23 for God created us for incorruption,
and made us in the image of his own eternity,
24 but through the devil’s envy death entered the world,
and those who belong to his company experience it.

If you are not familiar with this passage, that is because it is from The Wisdom of Solomon, a book that was written sometime between 20-200 years before Jesus was born. This book was included in the Greek version of the Old Testament, called the Septuagint, which was the version of the Old Testament used by the Early Church. This version of the Old Testament had a few extra books that were originally composed in Greek, not Hebrew or Aramaic, and is the basis of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Old Testaments. This is why they have “extra books” in their Bibles.

For most Protestants, these books are considered either deutrocanonical–a second canon of Scripture which are not a part of the original canon of Old Testament Scripture (this is actually the Roman Catholic understanding as well)– or apocryphal–books that are outside of the canon all together and may or may not be of value to read.

I like to see this passage as proof that the Holy Spirit can speak in ways and places in which we do not always think, and yet the Truth is always the same. More often than not, God is bigger than we think and uses any means possible to prepare people for the reality of Jesus Christ.

Matthew 24:36-44 and The Rapture

Left_Behind (1)The doctrine of the rapture is a relatively recent one in the life of the Church, only having been around for almost 200 years. My general opinion on new doctrines is to receive them with a healthy dose of skepticism until they have stood the test of time. Some may argue with me that 200 years is the test of time, but we are talking about God’s special revelation in this world, which began 4000 years ago with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and culminated 2000 years ago with the Incarnation of Jesus Christ and the writing of the New Testament. Two hundred years in light of those numbers is just a drop in the bucket.

Nevertheless, one way to investigate new doctrine is to look at some of the Scripture used to prove it. One major passage comes from this section of the Gospel according to Matthew:

36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. 42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready,because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

Here is the argument: two will be there; one will be taken and one will be left. This is used as proof positive that the living saints, the true Christians, will be taken out of this world before the end will come.

But that is not what this passage says at all, quite the contrary. Verses 36-39 give the background for how to understand the rest of the verses. In the days of Noah, after the ark was completed, Noah and his family entered the ark. Then the floods came and took them all away. Took who away? The people eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. In other words, all of the people who were not Noah or his family were taken away by the floods. These are the evil people of the world who are taken away by God’s judgment.

Now look at the rest of the passage. Two are in a field where one is taken and one is left. Two are grinding and one is taken while the other is left. In this teaching of Jesus, being taken is not a good thing! The ones being taken are equated by Jesus with the ones who were taken away by the flood. They were not the righteous. The righteous were spared being taken.

Whether the rapture is true or is not true will be a long debate over the next several decades, I am sure. One thing is certain, though. Supporters of the doctrine of the rapture cannot use these verses from Matthew as support for the doctrine without taking them out of context and giving them the exact opposite meaning that Jesus gave to them. That is not something I would ever want to do with Scripture.

Zechariah 6:11-13 and The Priest-King in Israel

ZechariahsplashZechariah had his prophetic ministry after the exiles returned from Babylon in the 500’s BC. During this time, he spoke on the Lord’s behalf concerning the rebuilding of the Temple, of the restoration of the Kingdom of God, and of many other visions. One in particular is very worthy of note. It is a vision of the role of priest and king being unified in one person. This, according to Jewish custom, tradition, and law ought not to happen, as the king needs to be a descendant of David (tribe of Judah) and the high priest needs to be a descendant of Aaron (tribe of Levi). Yet here is the prophecy:

11 Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest, Joshua son of Jozadak. 12 Tell him this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the Lord. 13 It is he who will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two.’

First, it should be noted that Jesus is the Greek version of Joshua, both meaning salvation. So this high priest named Jesus will be crowned king, will also be called Branch (Jeremiah 33:15-16), will build the temple, and bring harmony to the roles of king and priest. This is another fabulous example of how God works. When he will do major things, he will let everyone know beforehand that he is going to do them. That way, when they happen, people will know that he is God. Jesus is our high priest. He is King of kings. He raised his own temple on the third day and built a new Temple of the Holy Spirit in the Church. He offered a perfect sacrifice for us, and he delivered us from our enemies.

Zechariah saw all of this almost 500 years before Jesus was born. God is wonderful!

Zechariah 2:10-11 and The International Scope of the Church

Bible Series ZechariahI love when I see clear references to the Church in the Old Testament. There are so many different prophecies that may or may not be interpreted to be the Church, and then there are some that are obvious upon first reading. Take this section from Zechariah:

10 Rejoice and be glad, Daughter Zion,
        because I am about to come and dwell among you, says the Lord.
11 Many nations will be joined to the Lord on that day.
        They will become my people,
            and I will dwell among you
            so you will know that the Lord of heavenly forces sent me to you.”

Jesus, God the Son, dwelt among us. The Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, continues to dwell among us. The Church opened up the Covenant People of God to all nations, not just the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This is a view of the restoration of Jerusalem and the Covenant People beyond the scope of what most Jewish people would have thought, and it is given around 500 years before Jesus was born.

I love how God prepares and foreshadows what he is going to do well in advance!

Zephaniah 3:1-4 and The Impossibility of Legislating Morality and the Need for the Holy Spirit

bible-zephaniahKing Josiah of Judah was probably one of the greatest kings in Israel’s history. His story is recorded in 2 Kings 22-23. He followed two horrible kings who led the people terribly astray from the Lord, Manasseh and Amon. But during Josiah’s reign great reforms were accomplished and the Lord even relented of the judgment he was going to send on Judah because of Josiah’s faithfulness. It always amazed me, therefore, how quickly the people fell back to worshiping false gods and doing detestable things after Josiah died.

As I read Zephaniah, I realized that his prophetic ministry was during the reign of Josiah (Zephaniah 1:1). With that in mind, look at this passage:

Doom, obstinate one,
        the defiled one,
        the violent city.
She listened to no voice;
        she accepted no discipline.
She didn’t trust in the Lord,
        nor did she draw near to her God.
The princes in her midst are roaring lions.
        Her judges are wolves of the evening;
        they leave nothing for the morning.
Her prophets are reckless, men of treachery.
        Her priests pollute that which is holy;
        they do violence to the Instruction.

Josiah may have loved the Lord with all his heart, and he may have legislated the destruction of the high places, the temples to the false gods, and re-instituted the festivals to the Lord in a cleansed Temple, but he could not change the people’s hearts. The civil leaders, the princes and judges, were still corrupt. The religious leaders, the prophets and priests, were still false. It is no wonder that the nation reverted so quickly after Josiah died to its idolatrous ways. Josiah could change external actions, but not internal spirits.

The amazing thing about Josiah is that the Lord, full of grace and mercy, actually held off judgment during Josiah’s lifetime because of his faith. The rest of the nation had not repented of its sins, nor did it feel the need to repent, yet the Lord counted Josiah’s faith-filled life as worth holding back the coming judgment.

The only way for true reform is with the power of the Holy Spirit to change our lives, our hearts. And the only way to access the presence and power of the Holy Spirit is through a relationship with Jesus Christ. Legislation morality or appropriate behavior will never work, as evidenced with Josiah. The corruption in people goes too deep once it is there. The people were merely waiting for Josiah to shuffle off this mortal coil so they could get back to the pagan ways they desired. True change can only come through God. This is a good reminded for anyone in any type of leadership at all. We can be as faith-filled as Josiah, and we can see tremendous blessings like he did, but if it was our wills superimposed on the people around us, it will not last. We need to seek the Lord for our people and help them learn to seek the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in their own lives so real, lasting reformation can take place.