Sunday, November 9
Revelation 3:14-22: With respect to the church at Philadelphia, we observed that John had no criticisms to make. Writing to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pegamos, Thyatira, and Sardis, he paid some compliments and made some criticisms. Writing to the Christians at Laodicea, however, John has nothing at all encouraging to say! He is unable to find a single item for which to praise that church. To JohnŐs thinking, the church at Laodicea is a lackluster group of slackers living in an affluent, self-satisfied society. Although this church was been evangelized by PaulŐs companion Epaphras (Colossians 4:12-13), it has lost its fervor and is now mediocre (verse 16). The city itself is famous for three things: (1) large banking interests, (2) textile industry, and (3) a special eye-salve that the great physician Galen called "Phrygian powder." John alludes to all three things in verse 18, where the church at Laodicea is told to come to God for (1) gold refined in the fire, (2) clothing to cover its nakedness, and (3) a special anointing of its spiritual eyes. The Laodiceans must admit, in short, that they are "poor, blind, and naked" (verse 17). There are three points of Christology to note in this letter to Laodicea: (1) Christ in the past; the relationship of Christ to creation (verse 14; cf. Colossians 1:15-18; Hebrews 1:1-3; John 1:3). (2) Christ in the present, exhorting and inviting His Church, communing with those who open to Him (verses 19-20; cf. 19:9; Luke 22:28-30). (3) Christ in the future, rewarding those who vanquish in His name (verse 21; cf. Matthew 19:28). The image of the divine throne appears over forty times in the Book of Revelation, and it will dominate this next chapter.
Monday, November 10
Revelation 4:1-11: The scene portrayed in this text is the throne room of heaven, where all GodŐs holy ones (for such is the meaning of "saints") are engaged in the eternal worship. In Chapters 2 and 3 John has warned the Christians of the seven churches of Asia that judgment is imminent. He has endeavored to strengthen them for an impending outbreak of chaos and disorder. In the present chapter, John turns their vision on high, to the throne of God, which is the source of all order. Like Amos, Isaiah, Micah, and other prophets, John slips into an ecstatic trance, a rapture in which he is seized by the Holy Spirit. He hears a voice, and a mysterious door opens (verse 1). He is introduced to the heavenly worship before GodŐs throne (verse 2), over which is the rainbow of the covenant (verse 3; Genesis 9:12-17). The dominant color is green, the symbol of spring and hope. As in the temple of Solomon (1 Kings 7:23), which was modeled, after all, on the heavenly throne room, there is "a sea of glass, like crystal" (verse 6), symbolizing the chaos over which the Holy Spirit brooded in Creation. Other details remind us of Isaiah 6 (which is also read today) and Ezechiel 1. This should not surprise us, because in all of Holy Scripture we are dealing with the same God and the same heaven. The hymn, with which the chapter closes, concentrates on Creation. Recall that this vision takes place on Sunday (1:10), the first day of Creation.
Tuesday, November 11
Revelation 5:1-7: Because the earliest Christians were Jews, their experience of worship was tightly tied to the experience of the synagogue style. In the weekly worship at the synagogue, a special liturgical moment came when a reader took the Sacred Scroll of GodŐs Word, opened it, read it to the congregation, and then explained it. For Christians, this solemn rite held a particular significance, because those Christians believed that the Words of Sacred Scroll were completed and fulfilled by Jesus the Messiah. Thus, the opening, reading, and interpretation of the Sacred Scroll was regarded as a symbol of what Jesus accomplished in His ministry, death, and resurrection. There is a story bearing this symbolism in Luke 4:16-21, where Jesus Himself tool, read, and interpreted GodŐs Word in the synagogue at Nazareth, finishing by referring the entire Text to himself. That Lukan passage at the beginning of JesusŐ earthly ministry forms a literary inclusion with the action of Jesus at the end of Luke, where the risen Lord explains the meaning of Holy Scripture to the Church by referring it to His own ministry, death, and resurrection (24:25-27,32). That is to say, the Church believes that the ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ the Lord has an exegetical quality; it is interpretation in act. This primitive conviction of the Christian faith that only Jesus can "open the Scroll" is at the heart of what John now sees in the throne room of heaven (verse 7). The Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, can open this Scroll precisely because He died and rose again (verse 9). This Lamb "stands" before God, standing being the proper posture of a priest (cf. Acts 7:55-56; Hebrews 10:11). Although the image of Christ as the Lamb is common in the New Testament (John 1:29,36; 19:36; Acts 8:32; 1 Corinthians 5:7; 1 Peter 1:18-19), it is utterly dominant in the Book of Revelation, where it appears twenty-eight times. The Lamb in Revelation 5 stands in His immolated, mactated state, "as though slain," still bearing in His flesh the wounds of His Passion (cf. John 20:25,27). This picture of Jesus as the wound-bearing Lamb, opening the Scriptures, is strikingly parallel to that of the risen Lord at the end of LukeŐs Gospel (Luke 24:38-46).
Wednesday, November 12
Luke 14:25-35: This section of Luke, containing a series of dominical sayings relative to the cost of Christian discipleship, includes two parables not found outside of Luke (verses 28-33). Both parables, the tower-builder and the warring king, have to do with "counting the cost." Good beginnings are all very well, of course, but the real test of the Christian life lies further down the road. Fervent and devout feelings, especially during the early stages of the life in Christ, must not be confused with a personŐs true spiritual state. Feeling holy is not the same thing as being holy, and time will test all things. These two parables, then, convey much the same message as the parable of the ten maidens waiting for the bridegroom in Matthew 25; namely, the need to prepare for the full length of the appointed task. The parable of the salt in verses 34-35 has parallels in Mark 9:49-50 and Matthew 5:13, but a comparison among these three texts shows in LukeŐs version a greater emphasis on the hearing of the Word (verse 35). Unlike MatthewŐs version, this text does not identify the salt as the Christians themselves, and unlike Mark, there is nothing about the salt as burned in sacrifice. In LukeŐs version the accent falls on salt as a preservative over a period of time; its sense, then, is related to the two parables that immediately precede it. All three parables are related to the Cross (verses 25-27), which is the dominant symbol of the cost of discipleship. The idiomatic meaning of "hate" in verse 26 is "to love less," as in Genesis 29:31-33 and Malachi 1:2-3.
Thursday, November 13
2 Chronicles 15: Asa (913-873) was JudahŐs initial "reform" king, in this respect a forerunner to Hezechiah and Josiah. He was the first of those very few kings of whom it was said that he "did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, as did David his father (1 Kings 15:11).
When Asa came to the throne as DavidŐs fourth successor, the realm was not doing very well. During the reign of AsaŐs grandfather, Rehoboam, JudahŐs financial state had been greatly weakened by incessant war with the Northern Kingdom (15:6) and by an invasion from Egypt (14:25f). Hardly better was the nationŐs spiritual state, for idolatry and gross immorality were rife (14:22f). Rehoboam was followed on the throne by AsaŐs father, Abijah, but the latter too "walked in all the sins of his father, which he had done before him" (15:3).
These problems seem not to have daunted the young Asa, who cleaned up JudahŐs idolatry and immorality with such dispatch and efficiency that First Kings could account for the work in a single verse (15:12).
Although the longer description of AsaŐs reign in 1 Chronicles 14-16 describes in greater detail some of the more serious problems he encountered, there is reason to believe that AsaŐs greatest single headache came from his . . . . grandmother!
Had AsaŐs accession to the throne followed traditional policy on the point, this grandmother, known to history as Maacah the Younger, would have retired to spend her remaining days rocking and knitting in some quiet corner of the palace, occasionally stopping to dandle a grandchild or take some cookies from the oven. Her role as queen mother, or gebirah, would have been assumed by AsaŐs own mother.
As it happened, however, the old lady did not step down, and evidently, on the day that Asa took the throne, no one in the realm was sufficiently powerful to make her step down, not even the new king.
Maacah doubtless enjoyed occupying what was a very powerful position in ancient courts. Since royal sons were hardly disposed to decline reasonable requests from their mothers (cf. 1 Kings 2:17), it was no small advantage for other members of the court to cultivate the favor of the gebirah. Her special place in the realm is further indicated by the fact that the Books of Kings normally list the names of the mothers of the kings of Judah.
The case of Maacah demonstrates that an especially shrewd gebirah, were she also unscrupulous, might manage to maintain her position at court even after the death of her son. A woman so powerful, after all, was able to put quite a number of people in her debt over the years, influential and well placed individuals on whom she might rely later on to keep her in power. The BibleŐs truly singular example of this was Athaliah, the mother of Ahaziah, who actually usurped the realm itself during the years 842-837 (2 Kings 11).
Maacah herself never went so far, but she did manage to hold on to her privileged position at court after the accession of Asa (1 Kings 15:10). She had been around for quite a while and was well acquainted with the ways of power. Named for her grandmother, Maacah the Elder, a Geshurite princess married to David (2 Samuel 3:3), this younger Maacah was a daughter of Absalom. She was still a child during the three years that she spent with her father in his exile in Geshur (2 Samuel 13:38). Doubtless it was there that she first learned the ways of idolatry.
For Maacah was most certainly an idolater. Raised in the easy-going atmosphere of her Uncle SolomonŐs court after the death of her own father, she further learned the lessons of idolatry along with the habits of political power. Given in marriage to her cousin Rehoboam, who would eventually succeed Solomon on the throne, Maacah knew that someday, when her son Abijah became king, she would become the gebirah. She longed for the day.
That day, when it came, did not last very long, for Abijah reigned only three years. No matter, for the determined Maacah somehow found the means to stay in power for a while longer. Except for her idolatry, Asa might have left her in place for good. But the king, as his position grew stronger, was in a reforming mood, and Maacah stood in the way of his reforms. "You know, Granny," he finally said to her one day, "itŐs about time for you to take up knitting" (1 Kings 15:13; 2 Chronicles 15:16).
Friday, November 14
Revelation 6:9-17: Besides the evils that afflict the people of the world, John knows of a special harm visited on Christians. After his description of the four horsemen, therefore, he speaks of the bloody persecution endured by believers (verses 9-11). Their blood (in the biblical idiom, their souls, because the soul is in the blood, according to Leviticus 17:11) has run down the side of the altar of sacrifice and pools at its base. They are martyrs, which is the Greek word for "witnesses." Like the blood of Abel, their blood cries out to God, "How long?" (Compare Isaiah 6:11; Zechariah 1:12; Habakkuk 1:2; Daniel 8:13; 12:6) The vengeance for which they pray is not a personal vindictiveness (for Christians always forgive their enemies and wish them no harm; this is an absolute rule, allowing no exceptions), but a petition for the fulfilling of GodŐs righteous historical purposes. They must wait, however, until the full measure of the martyrs is complete (compare Hebrews 11:40). Their white robes signify their participation in eternal life (cf. 7:13-17). The opening of the sixth seal declares those things that precede the end of the world and the final vindication of the saints. First come the perturbations of the earth (verses 12-14), and then the effects on human beings (verses 15-17). The sequence of these afflictions follows the order of creation in Genesis 1, namely, (1) earth, (2) sun, (3) moon, (4) stars, (5) firmament, (6) land, (7) man. What John sees, then, is a kind of de-creation, a reversal of what God established, the collapse of the universe. In the opening of the fifth, sixth, and seventh seals, we also detect the same four colors that accompanied the first four seals: thus, fifth seal, white robes; sixth seal, red moon and black sun; seventh seal, the green grass. There is a great irony in the image of the "wrath of the Lamb." Indeed, a wrathful lamb is unimaginable except to the enemies of God. The wrath, of course, does not come from the Lamb who shed His blood for the worldŐs redemption and who hates nothing that He has made. The wrath comes, rather, from within the enemies themselves, who insist on seeing God as an enemy.
Saturday, November 15
Revelation 7:1-10: The two visions in this chapter still pertain to the sixth seal. The opening of the first six seals has unleashed enormous sufferings on the earth, so prior to the opening of the seventh the vision of St. John faces the question, "Who shall stand? Who will be able to endure? Who will persevere to the end?" And JohnŐs answer is, "the servants of God." Prior to the releasing of the final tribulation, therefore, the servants of God must be sealed. Their number 144,000 is a massive combination of the perfect number twelve ( 3 x 4, or the divine number multiplied by the human number; that is to say, the multiplied combination of God and man) multiplied to a gross and then multiplied again by a thousand. That is to say, a very big number that no man can count to (verse 9; cf. Genesis 15:5). The final preservation of GodŐs elect was foreshadowed in their deliverance at the time of the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Because of a prophecy that told them all to flee (cf. Eusebius, Church History 3.5.3), no Christians were in Jerusalem when the city came under siege. Although up to a million Jews perished during the horrors of that siege and downfall, not one of them was a Christian. The physical deliverance of those Christians thus became the symbol of the spiritual deliverance of GodŐs elect in the final tribulation. (And this latter deliverance is spiritual, not physical. There is no suggestion in Revelation that believers will be "raptured" away and spared the sufferings of the rest of the earth. Indeed, Revelation has a great deal to say about the sufferings of Christians during the final times.) In order to be spiritually spared, they must be sealed. This sealing of GodŐs servants is done with the mark of the "tau," the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet (Ezechiel 9:1-7), which at that time was still cruciform. That is to say, GodŐs servants are sealed with the Sign of the Cross on their foreheads, which in fact was very early part of the rite of baptism (cf. Tertullian, Against Marcion 3.22). To be thus sealed was a sign that Christians belong to God (cf. Isaiah 44:5; 2 Corinthians 1:22; Galatians 6:17; Ephesians 1:13; 4:30; John 6:27). This sealing with the mark of the true Paschal Lamb fulfilled the promise contained in that earlier marking of Israel with the sacrificial blood of its type (Exodus 12:21-23). Both Ezechiel and Exodus are important for the understanding of this seal. EzechielŐs reference was to the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C., of which everyone was aware who saw the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The passage in Exodus 12 had to do with the final of the ten plagues visited upon Egypt, the slaying of the firstborn sons. This sealing in Revelation, then, involves a new Exodus, in which GodŐs people will be delivered, not left to share in the sin of the earthly Jerusalem.