Monday, June 1, 2020

READ IT! - Introduction to Revelation 2-8


Readings for this week

Monday: Revelation 2
Tuesday: Revelation 3
Wednesday: Revelation 4
Thursday: Revelation 5
Friday: Revelation 6
Saturday: Revelation 7
Sunday: Revelation 8


Introduction to Revelation 2-8

Chapter 2 

The next section of the book contains Jesus’ letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor. John directs the record of his visions to the seven churches in the province of Asia, which incorporated approximately the western third of Asia Minor. His words to the churches contain evidences that he was familiar with the local conditions and traditions of these churches, which may have been personally known to him from his association with that area. His reason for selecting these seven churches, as well as the order in which the churches are listed, probably has to do with geography and communications: The cities in which the churches are located are all centers of communications, and a messenger bearing Revelation to the cities would arrive in Ephesus from Patmos, travel by a secondary road north to Smyrna and Pergamum, and then go east on the Roman road to Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. 

To the Church in Ephesus 

John begins with Jesus’s letter to the Church in Ephesus. Ephesus was the center of commerce in first-century Asia Minor. It was home to the Apostle Paul, his disciple, Timothy, and later, the Apostle John. According to church tradition, John was accompanied to Ephesus by Mary, the mother of Jesus. It is believed that she lived here for several years, and that she died here and was buried near what was later named Mary’s Church. This church was the location of the First (431) and Second (449) Ecumenical Councils.

Ephesus was the major sea port on the coast of Asia Minor, constructed with beautiful white marble and architecture that rivaled that of Rome. The Arcadian Way (the way of the sea) went directly from the port of Ephesus to the great amphitheater that we read about in Acts 19:23-41, where the crowd rioted because the spread of Christianity was impacting the sales of idols.

During the first century, there were two primary deities worshiped in Ephesus – Artemis (Diana) and Caesar (actually, multiple Caesars, beginning with Augustus, later Nero, Domitian and, finally, Trajan). Additionally, there are indications that the cult of Mithras also had a foothold in the Roman legions housed in Ephesus. Each of these false gods has a part to play in the Apocalypse of John.

The mystery religion of Mithraism likely began in the first century BC or early in the first century AD, as an attempt to explain a great crisis in astronomy. Greek astronomers discovered ancient writings that claimed the sky was in Taurus during the vernal equinox instead of the normal Aeries, indicating that someone had at some point “killed” Taurus. They believed that whoever had the power to kill Taurus also had power over “the seven stars” of “the heavens” – those being the sun, the moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. They didn’t know that the earth’s “wobble” would take it through each of the signs of the Zodiac, changing every 2160 years. That “something” had to be bigger than the heavens, and it controlled the seven stars – which would lead departed souls from earth to the heavens. For adherents of this ‘mystery religion‘, Mithras was identified as the “something” controlling the universe. He had a miraculous birth in a shepherd’s cave, he was visited by Magi, and he died and was resurrected, along with many other similarities to Jesus and Christianity. At the time John was in Ephesus, Mithraism was competing with Christianity, and by the time of Constantine in the early fourth century, it was the primary religion competing with Christianity. And so it is that John identifies Jesus as: “Him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lamp stands.” This is in direct opposition to Mithras, who was believed to hold the “seven stars” – the path from earth to the heavens – in his hands.

In Ephesus, there were two incredibly large Agora, places of buying and selling. In order to buy and sell in the marketplace, everyone had to burn incense and declare that Caesar was lord. If you needed food, or water, or clothing, or goods, you could not get into the Agora without worshiping Caesar. By the time Domitian came to power, you could be put to death if you did not declare him lord and have his mark on you or your goods. The Nicolaitans were Christians who believed that since Caesar was not God, they could still burn incense to him for the sake of convenience. If they needed fire, they could go to the Temple of Hestia (goddess of hearth and home) and burn incense to her in order to get fire, because they ‘knew’ she was not God. If they needed food, they could go to the altar of Caesar, burn incense in his name (while ‘knowing’ he was not God), and receive freshly-sacrificed meat. It appears, though, that this practice was not condoned by the Ephesian church: “But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.”

Ephesus was the center of worship of the goddesses Artemis and Cybele, housing the Temple of Artemis – one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. In this Temple, criminals could come to seek sanctuary, and as long as they didn’t leave the grounds, they couldn’t be prosecuted. Additionally, it was believed that Artemis would protect women who were in childbirth, with some records indicating that 250,000 women each year came to the temple for such protection. In the center of the Temple of Artemis was a large enclosed garden, called the ‘Paradise of Artemis’. In the center of this paradise were two intertwined linden trees. This tree was called by the Artemis worshipers, ‘The Tree of Life’. Jesus promises that “to him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” – not the paradise of Artemis. In the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (Septuagint), there are two words for ‘tree’ – dendron and xulon. Dendron is used almost exclusively for all living trees. However, xulon, which is used to denote dead wood, is used less often, but is the same word used for Jesus being hung on a tree. When John describes the tree of life in the paradise of God, the tree (xulon) of life is the cross!

While we know a lot about Ephesus and the Ephesian church, we do not really know what problems they are dealing with in Revelation. They seem to have resisted the blatant worship of other gods that was constantly going on in the city, yet it appears they were guilty of another form of idolatry – one of the heart. Jesus says to them that they have forgotten their first love, but what does this mean? It is possible that while the Ephesians had done a great job in following all the rules regarding not worshiping other gods, they had perhaps forgotten to love their own God. And how is it that we love God? By loving others. 

To the Church in Smyrna 

Next, John records Jesus’s letter to the Church in Smyrna. The city of Smyrna sits on the modern-day location of the city of Izmir. Smyrna was founded as a port city in the region of Anatolia (which means "land of the rising sun") on the Aegean sea. Smyrna is situated on the Hermus valley which was known for its fertility, and its location was important to the romans as a transportation hub for shipping of Roman soldiers during the time of the Second Temple in Judean history as well as during the timeframe of the Early Church. The Romans used the surrounding cliffs and mountains as naturally occurring battlements. These mountain walls were known as the crown of Smyrna and were kept lit by watch-fires at night.

Smyrna was home to one of the ancient world’s largest marketplaces, the agora. It also had a significant Jewish population from the diaspora, which was a key part of the spreading of the gospel here… and also a major source of some of the early church’s major conflicts.

The church in Smyrna is the only church of the seven John addresses in the book of revelation that does not receive a scolding for its behavior. Based on archaeological records as well as clues from John’s letter, the church in Smyrna was very likely made up of the poor of the city… who stood in contrast to many of the Jews of Smyrna who were more well-off. Apparently, The Jews of Smyrna in particular were one of the main groups who were out to persecute the church because of their religious difference. This might be what John is referring to when he says: "I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan."

Towards the end of the first century and the beginning of the 2nd century, the leader of the church at Smyrna was a man named Polycarp. Polycarp was one of John’s disciples, and he as well as several other believers in Smyrna were some of the first Christian martyrs. Polycarp actually narrowly escaped martyrdom on several occasions before he was finally killed at the age of 87. He was a widely respected leader in the church at Smyrna by then. Orders from Caesar had placed the Christians in Asia Minor under extreme pressure to convert to the cult of the emperor. When the local authorities came to arrest Polycarp, they gave him the opportunity to declare that Caesar was god, and go free. But Polycarp politely refused to this. This may provide some context for the words John writes to the church: “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” When John speaks of a crown, he is not talking about the kind that a king wears, but rather the wreath that would be given to the winner of a race. His point is that if the church in Smyrna was persecuted, they would in fact be rewarded for their perseverance of faith. 

To the Church in Pergamum 

Pergamum was the seat of political power in Asia Minor, and it was also home to the frumentaria, a Roman garrison that protected food shipments through the major trade route from the Aegean into Asia Minor.

When we read John’s letter to the church in Pergamum, we must wonder why John twice refers to this city as a place where Satan rules.

It’s possible that these people might have been some of the early ones to declare their rulers as gods after they died… turning their tombs into shrines of heroes. It’s likely that the Caesars were in part inspired by the practices at Pergamum and adopted them as well, starting with the Caesars of the outlying provinces and eventually leading to the Caesars at Rome being deified upon death, and ultimately with Domitian declaring himself to be a god while still living.

The Acropolis at Pergamum contains the ruins of Trajan’s temple. He ruled Rome from AD 98 – 117. This place may be what John is referring to when he says “Satan’s throne” due to the horrors committed against early believers there who refused to worship Caesar.

An alternative option rests in the agora (or marketplace) also located on the Acropolis. This is where the rule of burning incense to Caesar in order to be able to purchase and trade in the marketplace may have initially started.

This tradition eventually made its way to Ephesus and was so widespread that nobody could purchase or trade, or even get food, water or fire, or acquire meat without declaring Caesar was god, with death as possible punishment.

This is most likely what John is talking about when he refers to the “beast” (probably Nero or Domitian): “He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name.” (Revelation 13:16-17)

Another option might be the Theater of Pergamum, which held a lot of influence over the public. It sat on the Acropolis and seated about 10,000 people, and was the biggest of many others here. It was dedicated (like every Hellenistic theater) to Dionysus, the god of wine and orgy. It was adjacent to his temple, and immediately before the shows, the public would get drunk off the free wine offered there and then go watch the show, which was typically sexual in nature. After the show, a lot of them would drink some more and gorge themselves on raw meat which led to a lot of frenzied “visions” and vomiting, followed by rendezvous with the temple prostitutes.

John mentions the character of Balaam in his letter to them, the sorcerer from the book of Numbers that the Moabites hired to curse Israel. God would not let him curse but only bless them… so he came up with another plan to lead them astray through prostitution and idol worship. He is saying that the same temptations that Israel had in ancient times were still around in the present.

People from all over Rome would show up at the Asklepion to be healed. Some would stay and wait for years. Those who were healed would record how Asclepius had healed them on a large white stone and sign their name to it. This is probably why John writes: “To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.” His point is that the local church has no need of what the pagans rely on, whether it be from a frumetaria or Asclepius. He says that if they overcome then they will get their own white stones from Jesus. 

To the Church in Thyatira 

Thyatira is located on the Lycus River, roughly forty miles to the east of Pergamum. It was a city founded on trade, manufacturing its own wool and purple cloth. Historical accounts relate that Thyatira was the location of many influential trade guilds, all of which paid allegiance to one or more of the patron gods of the city: Tyrimnos and the Roman Caesar – both of whom were recognized as sons of Zeus.

This is the only one of the seven letters to refer to Jesus by His title “Son of God”, probably in contrasting response to the worship traditions there. Affiliation with of one of the trade guilds coincided with partaking in the guild feasts. At the feasts, all the food and wine would be sacrificed to Tyrimnos or whichever god associated with that guild. Everyone there was required to partake in the sacrifice as well as various public sexual acts. This would have been an obvious problem for Christians living there.

The ‘Jezebel’ that John refers to is likely a figurative person in the city and not an actual person. Jewish Christians in Thyatira would have identified “Jezebel” as the name of one of the most loathed figures in their history. The Jezebel of the Hebrew Bible led Israel into worshiping Baal. John is contrasting her with the systems of the current day that were attempting to get Christians to fall in line and worship the contemptible gods of the culture. This figure is condemned by John for leading others into sin more so than anything else. 

Chapter 3 

To the Church in Sardis 

Sardis was an important Roman city in the Hermus valley, and was located at the center of the mail route that included the Seven Churches in Revelation. Mount Tmolus overshadows the city, and the ruins of a defensive stronghold can still be seen on top of it. Sardis became rich and influential as a consequence of gold being found in the river that went through it, the Hermus River. It’s likely that Sardis is one of the areas that many Jews settled during the diaspora. Sardis is home to the largest known synagogue of the time period, decorated with marble and detailed mosaics. It sat in front of the Roman gymnasium. The remains of early churches in Sardis were discovered near the Temple of Artemis, and a fourth-century chapel was constructed into the rear of the temple’s ruins. Sardis also had a wealthy textile industry. Sardis was destroyed by an earthquake in AD 17 and was only partially rebuilt. 

Emperor worship was common in Sardis. Caesar is ‘King of King and Lord of Lords’ was carved in doorways and arches all over the city. Caesar Domitian even demanded that his wife refer to him by this title. John is very clear about who he thinks is the true King and Lord in his letter.

Sardis was an epicenter of worship for the Greek goddesses Cybele and Artemis. According to myth, Agdistis was initially born from the ground where Zeus’ semen fell as a hermaphroditic demon. The other gods were fearful of Agdistis and castrated its male sex organ, which then fell to the ground and became an almond tree. After this, Agdistis turned into the goddess Cybele. Later, Cybele fell in love with her son/grandson, Attis, and took him in as a lover. One day, in a fit of jealousy, she drove him insane and he castrated himself and died, but was then resurrected as a pine tree. In response to these myths, the people of Sardis worshiped Cybele and regarded almond and pine trees in reverence. Additionally, they held fertility festivals in honor of Attis’ re-birth, where everyone would parade down the main street in Sardis in white robes while cutting themselves. When they got to the shrine, a few people would be castrated and would offer their parts to Cybele. Those who left with blood on their robes were thought to have received Cybele’s blessing. This type of practice appears to have ended after the second century. 

To the Church in Philadelphia 

Philadelphia lies halfway between Laodicea and Sardis on the Roman mail route through Asia Minor. Not much is left of the city which makes archaeology difficult. Nevertheless, many written records exist form this time period from neighboring cities, including from early church leaders like Polycarp, showing that Christians were often persecuted by Jews.

Domitian reigned from AD 81-96 and heavily persecuted Christians as well, however, it appears to be that most of the Christians in Philadelphia escaped this persecution. This may be what John is referring to when he writes, “Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth. I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.”

The city was also heavily impacted by the same earthquake that destroyed Sardis in AD 17. It was located near the fault line and had many aftershocks for over two decades afterwards. The people were constantly afraid and fled to the hills often.

The city was founded by the kingdom of Pergamum during the second century B.C. and was renamed several times eventually becoming “Philadelphia”, the name given to the city by Eumenes II in honor of Attalus II, a brother he loved dearly.

In 17 AD, Tiberius paid to rebuild the city, and its name was changed to Neo-Cesarca, much to the chagrin of its citizens. This theme of renaming is also seen in John’s letter when he writes to them Jesus’ words: “I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name.” 

To the Church in Laodicea 

Laodicea is situated in the Lycus River Valley in southwest Turkey, in a location that used to be the Roman territory of Phrygia. It was on the Roman mail route with the other six cities addressed by Jesus through John in his Revelation.

One of the answers to figuring out the context of the letter to Laodicea may be in understanding its water supply. Colossae was about twelve miles east of Laodicea and was was well-known for its cold refreshing water, which originated from the melting snow atop Mount Cadmus. Hierapolis was about seven miles north of Laodicea and was known for being a large Roman city with centers devoted to the worship of Apollo and, later, Caesar – Domitian, in particular.

Perhaps its most well-known attraction was its hot baths, sourced by hot springs, which were used to treat illnesses. Laodicea was between Colossae and Hierapolis. This is the place where the western cold streams and the eastern hot streams converged. This mixing of mineral-rich hot water with cold water caused the drinking water of the area to taste terrible and be lukewarm. The water flowed via aqueduct into clay pipes in the town that would frequently become clogged due to the high mineral concentration in the water. The water helps provide some context to John’s letter where he reports that Jesus is about to spew them out of his mouth like lukewarm water since they are neither hot nor cold, neither healing nor refreshing.

Laodicea was also destroyed by an earthquake in AD 60. When Nero offered them aid in rebuilding their city, they wrote back to him, saying that they were rich and could rebuild it themselves. So it makes since that John calls them out on their pride. 

Chapters 4-5 

In the next section of the book, John sees a vision of the Throne of God. The Throne of God appears, surrounded by twenty-four thrones with twenty-four elders seated in them. The four living creatures are introduced. A scroll, with seven seals, is presented and it is declared that the Lion of the tribe of Judah, from the "Root of David", is the only one worthy to open this scroll. When the "Lamb having seven horns and seven eyes" takes the scroll, the creatures of heaven fall down before the Lamb to give him praise, joined by myriads of angels and the creatures of the earth. 

Chapters 6-7 

In the next section seven seals are opened.

First Seal:

A white horse appears, whose crowned rider has a bow with which to conquer.

Second Seal:

A red horse appears, whose rider is granted a "great sword" to take peace from the earth.

Third Seal:

A black horse appears, whose rider has "a pair of balances in his hand", where a voice then says, "A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and do not damage the oil and the wine."

Fourth Seal:

A pale horse appears, whose rider is Death, and Hades follows him. Death is granted a fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and with the beasts of the earth.

Fifth Seal:

"Under the altar", appears the souls of martyrs for the "word of God", who cry out for vengeance. They are given white robes and told to rest until the martyrdom of their brothers is completed.

Sixth Seal:

There occurs a great earthquake where "the sun becomes black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon like blood." The stars of heaven fall to the earth and the sky recedes like a scroll being rolled up. Every mountain and island is moved out of place. The people of earth retreat to caves in the mountains. The survivors call upon the mountains and the rocks to fall on them, so as to hide them from the "wrath of the Lamb".

Interlude:

The text then comes to an interlude where the 144,000 Hebrews are sealed. 144,000 from the Twelve Tribes of Israel are sealed as servants of God on their foreheads (note that Dan is missing). A great multitude stands before the Throne of God, who came out of the Great Tribulation, clothed with robes made "white in the blood of the Lamb" and having palm branches in their hands.

Seventh Seal (which introduces the seven trumpets):

There is "silence in heaven for about half an hour." Seven angels are each given trumpets. An eighth angel takes a "golden censer", filled with fire from the heavenly altar, and throws it to the earth. What follows are "peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake." After the eighth angel has devastated the earth, the seven angels prepare to sound their trumpets.

Chapter 8 

In the next section, the seven trumpets are sounded.

First Trumpet:

Hail and fire, mingled with blood, are thrown to the earth burning up a third of the trees and green grass.

Second Trumpet:

Something that resembles a great mountain, burning with fire, falls from the sky and lands in the ocean. It kills a third of the sea creatures and destroys a third of the ships at sea.

Third Trumpet:

A great star, named Wormwood, falls from heaven and poisons a third of the rivers and springs of water.

Fourth Trumpet:

A third of the sun, the moon, and the stars are darkened creating complete darkness for a third of the day and the night.










Sunday, May 31, 2020

READ IT! - Introduction to Revelation 1


Introduction to Revelation 1

Context of Revelation 

Author: John of Patmos 

Was he John the Apostle? John the Presbyter (the “Elder”)? Some other John?

“If the author of Revelation was indeed one of the apostles, it would seem implausible that he would list the names of the apostles as a group distinct from himself. The Greek of the Gospel of John is simple, but grammatical. The Greek found in Revelation, however, is described by Raymond Brown as ‘the poorest in the [New Testament] to the point of being ungrammatical, which probably reflects one whose native language was Aramaic or Hebrew.’ Though inconclusive, these hints serve to show that the authorship of Revelation cannot be known with certainty. There is no way to verify whether John the Apostle, John the Presbyter, or some other unknown John was actually the author. The name "John" was, evidently, a common name among the early Christians. Therefore, possibilities abound.” 

Date: About A.D. 95.

“The earliest external evidence for the date of Revelation is the statement from Irenaeus (c. A.D. 130-c.200) that the book was seen at the end of the reign of Domitian. Domitian was emperor from A.D. 81 to 96, so this account would suggest a date of authorship around A.D. 95-96. After the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in A.D. 70 by Titus, ‘Babylon’ had become a symbolic name for Rome in Jewish literature. This symbolic association is used by the author of the epistle of First Peter as well. The designation originated, in part, due to it having been Babylon that had destroyed the first Jewish temple and Rome which had destroyed the second. The designation also associated the Rome of that day with the decadence, wealth, and great power of the Babylon of 600 B.C. This type of symbolic language implies that Revelation was written after the destruction of the Temple by Titus. A date after the Temple's destruction would also fit the description of the Temple in 11:2 where John writes that the temple's outer court has been ‘handed over to gentiles - they will trample on the holy city for forty-two months.’” 

Place of composition: Western Asia Minor 

Audience: Seven churches of Asia Minor 

Themes of Revelation 

“Revelation affirms Christianity’s original hope for an immediate transformation of the world and assures the faithful that God’s prearranged plan, including the destruction of evil and the advent of Christ’s universal reign, is soon to be accomplished. The book presents an apokalypsis (unveiling) of unseen realities, both in heaven as it is now and on earth as it will be in the future. Placing governmental tyranny and Christian suffering in cosmic perspective, Revelation conveys its message of hope for believers in the cryptic language of metaphor and symbol.” 

Methods of Interpretation

(1) The preterist approach believes that “Revelation is simply a sketch of the conditions of the empire in the first century.” Although one cannot divorce the interpretation of this book from its occasion this view cannot adequately handle all the data of Revelation, for the author makes plain that this work is a work describing the future.

(2) The historicist view (or continuous-historicist view) “contends that Revelation is a symbolic presentation of the entire course of the history of the church from the close of the first century to the end of time.”

(3) The futurist approach usually argues that “all of the visions from Revelation 4:1 to the end of the book are yet to be fulfilled in the period immediately preceding and following the second advent of Christ.” “The more literal an interpretation that one adopts, the more strongly will he be construed to be a futurist.”

(4) In the idealist approach, “the Revelation represents the eternal conflict of good and evil which persists in every age, although here it may have particular application to the period of the church.” But like the preterist view, this approach does not do justice to the predictive elements in the book. 


John’s Numerical Symbols: The Mystical Number of the Beast

“Whoever this figure is, the author is certain that the first century recipients of his letter would be able to decipher his meaning. This would seem to go against current trends in popular theology, where it is asserted that the beast is an unknown future figure. The word ‘anti-christ’ nowhere appears in Revelation. In most surviving texts the number given is 666, but in both Greek and Hebrew manuscripts the number 616 appears instead. This variant was known to Irenaeus as early as the late second century. Many theories have been advanced, but it appears most probable that this number symbolizes the name of Nero. Before the use of Arab numerals, the letters of the Hebrew and Greek alphabets were also used as numbers, the value corresponding to the place in the alphabet. An example from English would be the letter A equaling the number 1, and so on. In this practice, by adding up the values of component letters that total the number of a person's name ‘the number of a human being’ is obtained. In Hebrew, the letters of ‘Neron Caesar’ add up to 666.”

“This is not the most common spelling of Caesar Nero's name, however, which can also be spelled without the final ‘n.’ In such a case, where the final ‘n’ is dropped, the name adds up to 616. Hence a possible explanation for the alternative rendering in the manuscript evidence. The evidence of the 616 number in the manuscript record at the very least allows for the possibility that in the understanding of some early Christian scribes, Nero was the implied figure.”

“Two other possibilities exist, for the Greek spelling of ‘Caesar God’ adds up to 616, as does the Latin spelling of ‘Caesar Nero.’ None of these interpretations necessarily exclude the others.” 


Domitian as Nero Revived

“In Revelation, the Nero legend is associated with the beast from the abyss and with the ‘eighth’ king who is at the same time ‘one of the seven’ emperors. The question immediately arises as to why Nero's name is being used if Domitian is the ruling emperor at the time of John's writing. The revived Nero legends all appear after the fall of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 C.E., giving further indication as to the time of Revelation's composition, and again, excluding Nero as the ruling emperor. Just as ‘Babylon’ was used by the early Christians as a pseudonym for Rome, it appears that ‘Nero’ was being used for Domitian. The historical Babylon had destroyed the first temple, just as Nero was the first emperor to brutally persecute the Christians. As the recipients of John's letter began to see themselves as the recipients of imperial persecution, it would have appeared to them that Nero had in fact been revived, if not physically, at least in spirit. This is not just an idea of the Christians, for both Juvenal and Pliny the Younger, both writing just after Domitian's reign, regarded Domitian as the second Nero. This explains how John could refer to the current emperor as the eighth, and yet at the same time as one of the previous seven: Domitian was Nero returned.” 

Chapter 1 

The book begins with a prologue, starting with the author’s self-identification and the basis for his authority – divine revelation. The text is identified as a “revelation” of what “must soon take place.” The revelation was sent from God to Jesus to the angel to John to the churches.

The next part contains greetings and a doxology. The letter is addressed to the seven churches in the province of Asia. A blessing of grace and peace is given to the reader from “the one who was, and is, and is to come.” The “seven spirits before the throne” and Jesus Christ also send their blessings.

Jesus is identified as…

The faithful witness
The firstborn from the dead
The ruler of the kings of the earth
Our lover
Our liberator from sin
The one who made us a kingdom of priests
Worthy of praise

We then come to the doxology:

“Look, he is coming with the clouds,
and ‘every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him’;
and all peoples on earth ‘will mourn because of him.’
So shall it be! Amen.”

The next part of the book is John’s vision of Christ. Here, the writer identifies himself as John, and says that he, like others, has endured suffering for Jesus, and that he is on the island of Patmos because of the testimony of Jesus. He says that he was “in the Spirit” on “The Lord’s Day” when he heard a trumpet-like voice behind him telling him to write down what he saw and to send it to the seven churches. He then turned to see seven gold lamp stands, and a fiery man, bright as the sun, holding seven stars in his hand, and with a sword coming out of his mouth. John then faints and the man touches him and tells him not to be afraid. The man identifies himself, saying, “I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” The man then says that the seven stars represent seven “messengers” and the seven lamps represent the seven churches.













Saturday, May 30, 2020

READ IT! - Introduction to 3rd John



Introduction to 3rd John 


Context 

The Third Epistle of John is attributed to John the Evangelist, traditionally thought to be the author of the Gospel of John and the other two epistles of John. The Third Epistle of John is a private letter composed to a man named Gaius, recommending to him a group of Christians led by Demetrius, which had come to preach the gospel in the area where Gaius lived. The purpose of the letter is to encourage and strengthen Gaius, and to warn him against Diotrephes, who refuses to cooperate with the author of the letter.

Early church literature contains no mention of the epistle, with the first reference to it appearing in the middle of the third century. This lack of documentation, though likely due to the extreme brevity of the epistle, caused early church writers to doubt its authenticity until the early 5th century, when it was accepted into the canon along with the other two epistles of John. The language of 3rd John echoes that of the Gospel of John, which is conventionally dated to around AD 90, so the epistle was likely written near the end of the first century. 

Chapter 1 

The letter begins with a salutation where “the elder” greets his “dear friend” Gaius, whom he “loves in the truth.” He says, “Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.”

He then commends Gaius for his faithfulness, saying, “It gave me great joy when some believers came and testified about your faithfulness to the truth, telling how you continue to walk in it. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”

He then commends Gaius for his hospitality, saying, “Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. Please send them on their way in a manner that honors God. It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth.”

He then condemns Diotrephes, saying, “I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us. So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.”

He then recommends Demetrius, saying, “Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God. Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone—and even by the truth itself. We also speak well of him, and you know that our testimony is true.”

He then gives his final greetings, saying, “I have much to write you, but I do not want to do so with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face. Peace to you. The friends here send their greetings. Greet the friends there by name.”























Friday, May 29, 2020

READ IT! - Introduction to 2nd John



Introduction to 2nd John


Context

The doctrines of Doceticm and Gnosticism had made inroads among the followers of Jesus in the latter half of the First Century. Some said that Jesus never assumed human flesh, but only had the appearance of flesh, because they were scandalized that Divinity would soil itself by associating so closely with matter. Others said that Christ was raised as a spirit only, and did not experience a bodily resurrection. In this epistle John condemns such doctrines in no uncertain terms with the statement that such persons were antichrist.

Chapter 1 

The letter begins with a salutation. “The elder” greets “the lady chosen by God” and her children. And he offers a blessing, saying, “All who know the truth love them because of the truth, which lives in them and will be with them forever. Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, will be with us in truth and love.”

He then discusses the issue of maintaining the truth in love. First, he discusses practicing the truth, saying, “It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us. Dear lady, I am not writing you a new command. From the beginning, he said to love one another. And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands.”

Second, he discusses protecting the truth. He says to guard against doubt and defeat. He says, “I say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. They are the antichrist. Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully.”

He also says to guard against defection and defectors, saying, “Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God. Whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them. Anyone who welcomes them shares in their wicked work.”

He then offers his final Greetings, saying, “I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete. The children of your sister, who is chosen by God, send their greetings.”


















Monday, May 25, 2020

READ IT! - Introduction to 1st John 2-5


Readings for this week


Monday: 1st John 2
Tuesday: 1st John 3
Wednesday: 1st John 4
Thursday: 1st John 5
Friday: 2nd John 1
Saturday: 3rd John 1
Sunday: Revelation 1


Introduction to 1st John 2-5

Chapter 2 

John continues to discuss to the topic of fellowship and how its provision is through the death of Christ. He says, “My dear children, I write this so that you won’t sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for the sins of us and the whole world.”

He then discusses the imperatives of fellowship such as obeying God’s commands, saying, “We can be sure that we know him if we keep his commands. The truth is not in those who say ‘I know him’ but ignore his commands. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.”

And he adds:

“Dear friends, this new command is really the old one that you’ve always known from the beginning. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still walking blindly and stumbling in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light.”

He then presents a poem on the prerequisites of fellowship or the status of the believers:

I am writing to you, dear children,
because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.
I am writing to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
because you have overcome the evil one.
I write to you, dear children,
because you know the Father.
I write to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men,
because you are strong,
and the word of God lives in you,
and you have overcome the evil one.

He then discusses the impulses against fellowship or loving the world, saying, “Do not love the world or anything in the world – for those who love the lusts and prides of the world don’t have the Father’s love in them. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.”

He then moves on to the topic of false teachers and how to recognize their deception. The first proof is their abandonment. He says, “Dear children, this is the last hour. You’ve heard the antichrist is coming, but many antichrists have already come. We know it’s the last hour because all these antichrists emerged from within us… but they didn’t really belong to us. They’re exit proves that they didn’t truly belong to us.”

The second proof is their denial that Jesus is the Christ. He says, “But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth – that’s why I’m writing to you. Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.”

The third proof is the anointing of the Spirit on the believers. He says, “As for you, see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you so that you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us—eternal life. I’m writing this because of those who are trying to lead you astray and not because you needed to be taught. You have kept his real anointing which teaches you about all things - and it taught you to remain in him.” 

Chapter 3 

He then moves on to the topic of eschatological hope which is motivation for holy living in the present. Hope produces holiness. He says:

And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed. If you know that he is righteous, then you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him. See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world doesn’t know us is because it didn’t know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.”

He then offers a proleptic view of sanctification, saying:

“Everyone who sins is a law-breaker. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins – because there’s no sin in him. If you live in Jesus, you no longer live in sin. If you continue living in sin, then you don’t really see or know him. Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them. They cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. This is how to tell the difference between the children of God and the devil: Those who don’t do right and who don’t love their brothers and sisters are not God’s children.”

He then goes on to discuss love as the basis for assurance. And he offers some examples, starting with the negative example of Cain from the Hebrew Bible, saying, “You heard from the beginning that we should love one another. Don’t be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous.”

He adds, “Don’t be surprised if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.”

He then points to the positive example of Christ, saying, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”

He adds, “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?”

He continues to discuss assurance and addresses the issue of discernment through the witness of the Spirit. He brings up the topic of the condemned heart, saying, “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know it’s because God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.”

He then discusses the confidence we can have before God, saying:

“Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.” 

Chapter 4 

He then talks some more about false teachers as well discernment of false spirits. And he provides an objective test regarding doctrine, saying, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God and is the spirit of the antichrist, which you’ve heard is coming but is already in the world.”

He also offers a subjective test by the witness of the Spirit, saying, “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them instead of to us. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.”

He then talks about how love is essential to sanctification. First, he reminds them of the exemplary love displayed in the death of Christ, saying:

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God, but God lives in us and his love is made complete in us if we love one another.”

He also points to the witness of the Sprit to the death of Christ, saying, “This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.”

He then talks about how love removes fear, saying, “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear. The one who fears is not made perfect in love, because fear has to do with punishment.”

He then talks about how divine love prompts brotherly and sisterly love, saying, “We love because he first loved us. Liars claim to love God while hating a brother or sister. Those who don’t love their visible brothers and sisters cannot love an invisible God. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” 

Chapter 5 

He then talks about faith, and how it is assurance in our hearts, saying, “All who believe that Jesus is Messiah are born of God. Everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands… which are not burdensome. This birth and faith is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who overcomes the world? Only those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God.”

He also talks about faith and assurance brought by the witness of the Spirit, saying:

“Jesus is the one who came by water and blood… and the Spirit of truth testifies it. For there are three that testify in agreement: the Spirit, the water and the blood. We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because he gave it about his son. Whoever believes in the Son of God (those who don’t are calling God a liar) accepts this testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. If you have the Son, you have life; if you don’t, you don’t.”

He then discusses the advocacy of Christ which is the basis for our present confidence before God. He says:

“I write to believers in the Son’s name so that you may know you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us… and if he hears us we have it—whatever we ask. If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I’m not talking about those sins that lead to death. But know that every wrong action is sin… and not every sin leads to death.”

He then summarizes his points on assurance, saying:

“Anyone born of God does not continue to sin because the One who was born of God keeps them safe so the evil one cannot harm them. We are children of God, and the whole world is under the control of the evil one. The Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ, who is the true God and eternal life.”

And the letter ends abruptly with the command, “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols…”