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Exclusively published to the Touchstone website each week, these Daily Reflections are brief commentaries on the lectionary readings contained in the St. James Daily Devotional Guide. The reflections are penned by Patrick Henry Reardon, editor of the Daily Devotional Guide and a senior editor of Touchstone. Father Reardon provides here a very brief directional clue for one of the texts each day. Long-time readers of the Daily Devotional Guide will find these reflections an additional help to their reading of Holy Scripture which they can print and keep with their Guide.

The Daily Reflections will be updated weekly.

 

Sunday, November 10

1 Timothy 6:11-21: The epistle closes with a rousing
pastoral exhortation, of the sort useful for ordination services. The
expression "man of God" places Timothy in an impressive line that included
Moses (Deuteronomy 33:1) and other prophets (1 Samuel 2:27; 1 Kings 12:22;
13:1). He must remember the profession (homologia) that he made at his
baptism (verse 12), a profession related to the homologia that Jesus made in
the presence of Pontius Pilate (verse 13). This profession (cf. Hebrews 3:1;
4:14; 10:23) is our first explicit reference to the recitation of a creedal
formula at the time of baptism. From the closing verses of Matthew we know
that the earliest baptismal creed (like all the later ones that followed it)
was Trinitarian in structure and content. Verses 15-16 seem to be borrowed
from an early Christian hymn (cf. also 1:7; 3:16; 2 Timothy 2:11-13).
Timothy?s task as a pastor was essentially conservative. He was to hand on,
intact and carefully guarded, the "deposit" (paratheke) that he had
received. He was, therefore, to eschew, not only "profane and idle
babblings," but also the subtleties of argumentative dialectics
(antitheseis) that were only a pretence of knowledge (verse 20). Paul
manifestly saw the truth of the Gospel in danger of being lost by pastors
who replaced it with the working of their own minds (verse 21).

Monday, November 11

Revelation 1:1-8: From the start this most interesting
book describes itself as a written prophecy (verse 3; cf. 19:10;
22:7,10,18,19). In the early Church prophetic utterance played a major role
in the determination of practical matters, such as the proper direction to
be taken by missionaries (Acts 16:6-7) and the choice of men to be ordained
(1 Timothy 4:14). Indeed, the prophets in the New Testament are mentioned
with the apostles (1 Corinthians 12:27-29; 14:1-5; Ephesians 2:20), and we
even know the names of some of them (Acts 11:27-30; 15:32). The present book
contains seven references to these prophets (10:7; 11:8; 16:6; 18:2024;
22:6,9). As a written prophecy, this book was intended to be read aloud to
the congregation at worship (verse 3). In Holy Scripture, prophecy is
conceived in terms of insight more than foresight (and, truth to tell, some
of the biblical prophets foretold very little, if anything at all), but
insight does often lead to foresight, so the present book also contains
predictions. Such predictions were clearly intended to refer to matters soon
to occur (verse 1), and John, it must be stressed, was writing for his own
time. Consequently, a correct understanding of what John wrote must be based
on the understanding of his first hearers and readers, the very people he
had in mind when he wrote this book. Therefore, any modern interpretation of
Revelation that by-passes or ignores the understanding of John?s earliest
audience runs the risk of becoming pure fantasy. A good rule of thumb for
the interpretation of this book, then, is the simple question, "Is such and
such an understanding of this or that verse of Revelation one that would
have been in the mind of those who first read it?" This rule of thumb will
eliminate those interpretations of Revelation that find in it all sorts of
purely contemporary interests, such as the current State of Israel, the fall
of the Soviet Union, the invention of helicopters, and so on. (Yes, I have
read authors who found all of these things in the Book of Revelation, and
much more.) The book itself was addressed to seven particular churches found
in Asia Minor (verse 4). It contains visions, that is, "all things that he
saw" (verse 2), an expression found fifty-four times in this book.
Nonetheless, Revelation begins like an epistle "grace to you and peace"
(verse 4) exactly like the epistles of Paul.

Tuesday, November 12

Revelation 1:9-20: John?s vision comes "on the Lord?s
Day" (verse 10), Sunday (1 Corinthians 16:2), the very day when the seven
churches of Asia Minor were celebrating the Lord?s Supper, "the breaking of
the Bread." This service of worship normally began on the night when the
Sabbath came to a close and Sunday began; it lasted through the night and
ended on Sunday morning (Acts 20:7,11). John describes himself as being "in
the Spirit," a technical term referring to prophetic inspiration (Numbers
11:25; 2 Samuel 23:2; Ezechiel 2:2; 3:24; Matthew 22:43). Like Ezechiel,
John "fell as one dead" (verse 17), a description of the biblical phenomenon
known as being "slain in the Spirit." Such was John?s response to this
inaugural vision (comparable to the inaugural visions of Isaiah and
Ezechiel) of Christ in glory, standing in the midst of the Menorah (verse
12), clothed as the High Priest (verse 13; Exodus 28:4; 39:29; Sirach
50:5-12). The versatile "right hand" of the Lord can simultaneously hold the
Pleiades (verse 16) and still be laid gently on the downfallen John (verse
17). In this vision Christ is otherwise frightening, with His white hair
(verse 14; Daniel 7:9), the sword of the Word issuing from His mouth (verse
16; cf. 2:12,16; 19:15; Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12), His feet like refined
brass (verse 15; Ezechiel 1:7). Here He is twice called "the First and the
Last" (verses 11,17), an expression that will also appear in 2:8 and 22:13.
Drawn from the Book of Isaiah (41:44; 44:6), this expression corresponds to
"Alpha and Omega" (verses 8,11), the first and final letters of the Greek
alphabet. Christ is, then, the beginning and end of language, the defining
content of all intelligible meaning. He is, in short, the Word. He died and
rose again and lives forever (verse 18; Romans 6:9). Hence, He hold the keys
of death and the underworld (verse 18; cf. 9:1; 20:1).

Wednesday, November 13

Revelation 2:1-7: Among the early Christian
churches, that of Ephesus was particularly renowned for the strictness of
its doctrinal purity. This was a book-burning congregation (Acts 19:19),
which brooked no heresy. The apostle Paul, who had labored at Ephesus for
three years, stressed the importance of doctrinal orthodoxy to all who
ministered and taught there (Acts 20:29-31; 1 Timothy 1:3-7,18-20; 4:1-3;
5:17; 6:3-5,20; 2 Timothy 1:13-15; 2:14-18; 3:13; 4:2-5). In contrast to all
of Paul?s other epistles, he mentioned no heresies in his Epistle to the
Ephesians. Well into the second century, we know the reputation of the
church at Ephesus for its doctrinal purity (cf. Ignatius of Antioch, To the
Ephesians 6,2; 9.1; Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 1.26.3). Here in
Revelation 2 the church at Ephesus is commended for dealing with certain
heretics called the Nicolaitans (verse 6), who apparently taught sexual
immorality (2:14-15). The church was also obliged to deal with false
apostles (verse 2), concerning whom the apostle Paul had earlier given
warning to the elders of Ephesus (Acts 20:29; cf. 2 Corinthians 11:13-15;
Didache 11). The problem at Ephesus, then, was not a lack of orthodoxy, but
a lack of charity they had forgotten their first agape (verse 4). At one
time they had known fervent love (Acts 20:36-38), but now it had grown cold.
John?s words to them here stand forever as a warning to those whose zeal for
doctrinal purity obscures in their minds the need for true charity. Even
though the Ephesian Christians are here commended for their "works," labor,"
and "patience" (verse 2; cf. exactly these three words in 1 Thessalonians
1:3), they have somehow fallen away from their "first works" (verse 5), as
they have from their "first love." The paradisiacal imagery of verse 7 comes
from Genesis, of course, and will appear again in the final chapter of
Revelation. The first of these seven letters to the Asian churches, then,
makes it clear that the most serious dangers facing those churches did not
come from external threat and persecution, but from spiritual problems
within.

Thursday, November 14

Revelation 2:8-11: Smyrna, the modern Turkish city of
Izmir, was a seaport rivaling and then surpassing Ephesus. The Book of
Revelation is our earliest historical witness to the presence of a Christian
church at Smyrna, but it does not indicate when or by whom the place was
evangelized. A second century bishop of that church, the martyr Polycarp,
one of the most revered men in early Christian history, personally knew the
apostle John at one end of his ministry, and, at the other end, was the
friend of Irenaeus of Lyons in Gaul, who lived to the dawn of the third
century. Polycarp thus became the very embodiment of primitive Christian
tradition, and because of him Smyrna?s status among the early churches
rivaled that of Ephesus. At Smyrna there seems to have been considerable
conflict between the Christians and the local Jews, who are here referred to
as "a synagogue of Satan," not even worthy to be called real Jews (verse 9).
Even in the mid-second century the Jews of Smyrna took steps to prevent the
Christians from recovering the body of the martyred Polycarp (The Martyrdom
of Polycarp 18.1). The four verses here under consideration indicate that,
unlike the situations in Ephesus, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, and Laodicea,
in Smyrna the problems faced by the church came largely from without. Thus,
unlike the Ephesians (2:5), the believers are Smyrna were not told to
repent. John did warn the congregation, however, that they would soon be
severely tested (verse 10). How many Christians perished in that testing? It
is very difficult to say, but we do know that Polycarp, who was martyred in
A.D. 155, was the twelfth name on the list of martyrs at Smyrna (The
Martyrdom of Polycarp 19.1). Those martyrs, in any case, were promised the
"crown of life," an athletic image indicating their victory in Christ
(Philippians 3:14; 2 Timothy 2:5; James 1:12; 1 Peter 5:4). The "second
death" in verse 11 refers to eternal damnation (cf. 20:6.14.15; 21:8).

Friday, November 15

Revelation 2:12-17: Pergamos is now the Turkish city of
Bergama, which is about one-tenth the size it was in antiquity; it has had
an unbroken history since the fifth century B.C. There is a still a small,
poor congregation of Christians at Bergama, the direct descendents of that
congregation to which was addressed the Book of Revelation. One may also see
there the ruins of a once magnificent church dedicated to St. John by the
Emperor Theodosius in the fourth century. Thanks to the excavations begun
under the auspices of the Museum of Berlin in 1878, we know quite a bit
about the ancient city. The problems in the church at Pergamos seem to have
been largely internal. There was a laxist group, apparently to be identified
with the Nicolaitans (verse 15), who advocated sexual immorality and the
eating of sacrifices made to idols (verse 14). Those internal problems were
compounded, nonetheless, by external pressure in the form of occasional
persecutions, during one of which there perished the martyr Antipas (verse
13), identified by Christian tradition as the first bishop of that city
(with an annual feast day on April 11). So resolute was the opposition to
the Gospel in that city that Satan was said to throne there, perhaps a
reference to the temple of the god Asculepius, whose symbol was a staff with
a coiled serpent. That image, now universally known as the symbol of the
healing professions (for Asculepius was the god of healing), would have
reminded the early Christians of the serpent in Genesis 3, who will reappear
several more times in the Book of Revelation (cf. 12:9 and 20:2, for
instance). Pergamos also boasted temples to Zeus and to Roma, the deified
personification of the empire. In verse 16 Jesus says that He will come
quickly, a promise repeated six more times in Revelation (3:11; 16:15;
22:7,12,17,20).

Saturday, November 16

Revelation 2:18-29: Thyatira, the modern Akhisar, was
a city more modest than the previous three. The church in that city, too,
was praised for its works, love, service, faith, and patience (verse 19). In
spite of that praise, the congregation was tolerating in its midst the
activities of a pseudo-charismatic woman whom John likened to the ancient
Queen Jezebel of Israel, the Phoenician feminist responsible for so many of
the ills condemned by the prophet Elijah in the ninth century B.C. (verse
20). The moral offenses of the woman at Thyatira, which included the
advocacy of sexual sins and the eating of food sacrificed to demons, seem
similar to those of the Nicolaitans, but in the present case John took care
to single out an individual rather than to talk about a group. Against her
he prophesied a dire judgment (verses 22-23). She seems also to have been a
sort of mistress of the occult, here called "the depths of Satan" (verse
24). But John does not condemn solely that woman; he speaks very critically,
in addition, of the church that tolerated her (verse 20). Toleration, which
everywhere today is regarded as a virtue to be cultivated, is everywhere in
the New Testament regarded as a vice to be avoided (for example, Romans
1:32). In the instance studied here, the church at Thyatira was permitting a
very forceful woman, who claimed the authority of a prophetess, to bring
moral havoc into the congregation. Perhaps they were intimidated by her
influence, or simply reluctant to deal harshly with a woman. John, as we
see, suffered from neither that intimidation nor that reluctance. In the
present text he accomplished the moral equivalent of that robust
defenestration suffered by the aging Phoenician princess of Samaria an the
day that Jehu came a-riding.




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