Featured

Advent 2020: Revelation 21:22-22:5 (Christmas Eve)

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Thursday 24 December 2020 Revelation 21:22-22:5


The Text

22. I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 

23. The city had no need that the sun or the moon should shine upon it for the glory of God illuminated it and the Lamb is its lamp. 

24. The nations will walk by its light and the kings of the earth will bear their glory into it.

25. Its gates never close in the day, for there is no night.   

26. They will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it. 

27. Nothing unclean, anyone committing abominations, or falsehoods may enter into it, only those people written in the Lamb’s book of life. 

Chapter 22

1. He showed me a river of living water glimmering like crystal coming out from the throne of God and the Lamb.

2. In the middle of the town square, on both sides of the river, the tree of life bore twelve kinds of fruit, producing the fruit according to each month. The leaves of the trees were for the healing of the nations. 

3. The curse, all of it, will be no more. The throne of God and the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. 

4. They will see his face and his name will be upon their foreheads. 

5. Night will be no more. They will have no need of the light from a lamp or the sun because the Lord God will shine upon them and they will reign forever. 


Commentary

Our Advent readings have come to an end. This is the last one, as today is Christmas Eve. I had to make a choice, because the Christmas Eve reading is different than the one for “Thursday” of the week. I went with the textual conclusion, because the Christmas Eve reading is from Philippians. Besides, having been so long in this subject of Christ’s second advent, it felt right to continue there, and did it ever.

There is so much to say, but not at this present moment. Allow me, however, to make the following brief observations. The idea of light is woven throughout these verses, specifically the idea that lamps and the sun are no longer needed, and indeed, seem to no longer really exist. God and the Lamb — the Father and the Son, now are the light source for humanity. Along with this is the idea that night has been banished. The banishment of night goes along with the banishment of the curse. All bad things are wiped away.

A second big idea is healing. The tree of life somehow is nestled across both sides of the river of life, maybe as a bridge. This scene is located in the town square where everything is transparent gold. The tree produces twelve different kinds of fruits (there is that number again) and the leaves will heal the nations. That is some serious pharmacology there — the medicine we need is from this tree. Healing wounds, hurts, traumas, marriages, relationships, families, churches, and yes, even nations. I am reminded of the prophetic line from Isaiah, that it is by his stripes we are healed. Jesus was crucified upon a tree where his healing blood flowed. The tree of life has some kind of connection to that work.

One more curiosity that has intrigued me since my childhood. The kings are bringing their glory and honor into the city. This sounds like tribute. But that is insignificant. The bigger question is: who are these kings on the outside who are coming inside? Are they the nations needing continual healing? Why are there other kings and kingdoms in heaven? I have to admit, to me, it is a very confusing notion of which I have several possible explanations, but it is not appropriate at this time to share those.

Verse 5, I think, might be the most beautiful words ever etched. God and the Lamb, the Father and the Son, will shine and they will reign forever. Amen. Maranatha.


Questions For Application

  1. How do you think it is that God and the Lamb are the temple? What is the temple of the Holy Spirit right now? How might these two ideas blend into one thought?
  2. There seems to be a coming and going into the city — with gates being opened — and entry determined by registry in the books. How does that challenge your ideas of eternity?
  3. Here at the end, the curse is banished. What is the curse, and where did it start?
  4. What ways can we implement the teachings of Christ’s second advent into our nostalgia filled sappy Christmas celebrations?
Featured

Advent 2020: Revelation 21:9-21

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Wednesday 23 December 2020 Revelation 21:9-21


The Text

9. One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the last seven plagues came and spoke to me. He said, “Come here. I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 

10. He took me away in spirit to a large, high mountain and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven.   

11. The brilliance of it had the glory of God, like precious stones, like jasper stones sparkling like crystal.

12. It had a large and high wall, and twelve gates. Upon the gates were twelve angels and the names of the twelve tribes, the sons of Israel, were inscribed. 

13. There were from the east three gates, from the north three gates, from the south three gates, and from the west three gates. 

14. The city wall had twelve foundation stones, and upon those twelve were the names of the Lamb’s twelve apostles. 

15. The one speaking to me had a golden measuring stick so he could measure the city, its gates, and its wall.

16. The city is laid out as a four-cornered square. Its length is equal to its width. He measured with his stick twelve thousand stadia. The length, width, and height are equal. 

17. He measured its wall at one hundred forty-four cubits, as a human measures, so does an angel. 

18. The enclosure of the wall is jasper. The city is pure gold like clear glass.

19. The foundation of the city all had been adorned with all kinds of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedon, the fourth emerald,

20. the fifth sardonyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh golden stone, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst.

21. The twelve gates were twelve pearls. Each of the gates was one pearl apiece. The city square was pure gold like transparent glass. 


Commentary

This beautiful text is mostly a description of what the angel shows John regarding the heavenly city, New Jerusalem. It is fantastical to visualize in our mind, but the text is fairly straight forward, but there are three themes I’d like to call your attention to.

The first theme is the number twelve. Revelation is a book filled with numerology and symbolic use of numbers, and here it is no different. We have in our text twelve gates, twelve angels, twelve stones, twelve tribes, twelve apostles, and twelve different kinds of stones. In addition to that we have twelve thousand stadia as the length. I did not render this in miles in my translation — which is a little over thirteen hundred miles — because that loses the twelve mojo. It is twelve thousand stadia. Then the wall is measured at one hundred forty-four cubits — I didn’t render that in feet — about 216 feet — because the point is that the width is twelve squared — one hundred forty-four.

A second theme is the completely outlandish building materials. The gates are each made from a single grand pearl. I do not want to see the oyster that produced those pearls. Then there is the references to gold, pure gold, and what I think is transparent gold (v. 21). I have rendered ‘streets of gold’ as the city square’ because that is what I think is being referenced, the town center, something like a boardwalk of plaza. It is made of something like pure gold. The taxonomy of different precious stones is not only impressive it is dizzying. Jasper is mentioned three times by my count, as well as various other rare jewels. There seems to be some discussion about what exactly is meant by chalcedon–the ESV uses agate–but it is certainly an impressive list. It seems to me to indicate that heaven is such a place of plenty that rare and valuable building materials are used for common every day functions.

The third theme is size and dimension. If I understand it correctly, this city, this New Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven is equal in width, height, and length and it is a four cornered square. Heaven is then, a cube city of sorts. I don’t know how that works, but the size is enormous. Thirteen hundred miles long, wide, and high is roughly the size of North America but three dimensional. Heaven, if this description of New Jerusalem is indeed our eternal heaven, will be plenty big enough to house us all comfortably.


Questions For Application

  1. Which is more impressive to you, the building materials of this city or the size of it?
  2. Why do you think there is equal representation for the twelve tribes of Israel as well as the twelve apostles? (Side note: Do you think these twelve apostles names include Judas, or has his name been replaced with someone else, say, Paul?)
  3. Do you own any of these precious stones mentioned? Why do humans value these stones?
  4. Can you imagine walking around in this place?
Featured

Advent 2020: Revelation 20:11-21:8

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Tuesday, 22 December 2020 Revelation 20:11-21:8


The Text

11. I saw a great white throne. The earth and the heavens fled from the face of the one sitting upon it, but there was no place found for them.

12. I saw the dead who stood before the throne, both great and small. Books were opened, then another book was opened: the book of life. The dead were judged from what was written in the books based on their works. 

13. The sea gave up the dead in it. Death and Hades gave up the dead in them. They were all judged according to their works.  

14. Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire, which is the second death – the lake of fire.

15. If anyone was found not written in the book of like he was thrown into the lake of fire. 

Revelation 21

1. I saw New Heaven and New Earth, for the first heaven and the first earth vanished, and still the sea was not. 

2. I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

3. I heard a loud voice speaking from the throne, “Behold, the dwelling of God is will human beings. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and he himself will be God with them.

4. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will not exist, neither mourning, wailing, or pain. They will no longer be, because the first has vanished.

5. The one sitting upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Then he said, “Write! For these words are faithful and true.”

6. He said to me, “It is over. I am the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. I will give as a gift the water of life from the spring to the thirsty person. 

7. The one who conquers will inherit these things. I will be his God and he will be my child. 

8. But those who are cowards, faithless, desecrators, murderers, fornicators, magicians, idol worshippers, and all those liars their part is the lake burning with fire and sulphur. This is the second death. 


Commentary

First, let’s talk about verse 3. There are two textual difficulties and they make the reading of the text challenging. There is also a marvelous word association.

The textual variants are the word ‘people’. It has good authority, so I think it holds, but the meaning of the text is not changed — ‘they will be his’ and ‘they will be his people’ are no different, although I think the people was probably added later by someone familiar with the biblical material in the Old Testament. The real conundrum is an extra phrase ‘God of them’ at the end. The actual text we have goes like this, ‘and he himself will be God with them [God of them].’ I put the variant in the brackets. My gut tells me the harder reading, “God with them” is solitary, and a later scribe has added the ‘God of them’ as a teaching note to clarify anyone who might think human beings become a god alongside the One True God. Therefore, I have omitted the phrase in my translation. Check the study notes in your English Bible for more information on this.

The brilliant word choice is dwelling. Those following these Advent translations will remember I made a big deal about the use of the word ‘skin’ for dwelling in 2 Peter. Well, here, the dwelling of God is ‘skin’ again. In this context, it is definitely a reference to the Tabernacle and God’s dwelling. I think there a Christmas reference as well, as “Immanuel” means God with us, and that is the context of the dwelling of God here. The Lamb has arrived!

I could, I think, spend all day talking about this passage, but let me briefly point out seven things.

One–There are more than one book. There is the book of life, but there are others.

Two–People are judged, everyone, by what they do. I translate it works, the ESV translates it ‘what they had done.’ My translation is better. We are judged by our works. There is no way around it.

Three–Death and Hades give up their dead for judgment, then those two entities are cast, apparently void of people, into the lake of fire. I don’t know what that means, but that is what it says.

Four–People are thrown into the lake of fire after they are removed from Death and Hades.

Five–The old and new are contrasted — as the one on throne makes all things new. There is New Heaven, New Earth, and New Jerusalem. The old ‘vanished.’ I can’t even begin to imagine how that happens.

Six–Jesus says he is the alpha and the omega. These are simply the first and last letter of the Greek alphabet. The interesting part to me, and I don’t know I there is a technical reason for this or not, is that John spells out ‘alpha’ in the text in Greek but he just uses the letter omega.

Seven–Revelation 21:8 tells us who goes to the lake of sulphur and fire, and it is something we should all meditate on. The list begins with cowards and ends with liars.


Questions For Application

  1. Does it bring comfort or fear that there are record books in eternity?
  2. This ‘Great White Throne judgement’ seems to be the very very last, and it seems like it is a different kind of judgment that previous ones. How do you understand it?
  3. It is an unexpected emotional moment when the Lord wipes away tears and ends wailing, pain, and sorrow. How can we appropriate some of that emotional support now?
  4. In what area of your life are you most cowardly? What lies do you cling to?

Featured

Advent 2020: Revelation 20:1-10

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Monday, 21 December 2020 Revelation 20:1-10


The Text

Revelation 20

1. I saw an angel coming down from heaven. He had the key to the abyss and a great chain in his hand.

2. He seized the dragon, the ancient serpent who is the devil and Satan. He bound him a thousand years.

3. He cast him out and shut him in the abyss. He sealed it from above, so that he might not deceive the nations anymore, not until the thousand years were over. Then he will be unleashed for a little while.

4. I saw thrones. Judgment was given to those who sat on them. The souls of the people beheaded for their testimony to Jesus—because of the word of God, everyone who did not worship the beast or his image, and those who did not receive the mark upon his forehead or hand, these people lived and reigned with Messiah a thousand years. 

5. The remaining dead people did not live until the end of the thousand years. This is the first resurrection. 

6. Blessed and holy are those having a part in the first resurrection. The second death has no authority over those people, and they will be priests of God and Messiah. They will reign with him for the thousand years. 

7. When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison.

8. He will go out to the four corners of the earth to deceive the nations. He will gather together Gog and Magog into war. Their number will be as the sand of the sea.

9. And they went up upon the whole earth. They surrounded the encampment of the saints and the beloved city. Fire came down from heaven and consumed them.

10. The devil, the one who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and sulphur where also was the beast and the false prophets. They will be tortured day and night forever.


Commentary

One of the greatest proofs, in my mind, that the book of Revelation is true is the jumbled grammar and incoherent train of images. The writer of Revelation is clear in his words, it is not that he is difficult and undisciplined to read as say, Peter is. Instead, what I find is the words are choppy and disturbing. They have the feeling of someone reaching for a word to describe something which is indescribable. In other words, you have the words of someone who has seen something that is shaking him to the very core of his being.

Our Advent readings finish up with visions of the second advent, and John is trying to write down what he is seeing, but it is a mess. Take verse four, for example. Most English translations smooth this out, but I have left it intentionally choppy because that is the way it comes off the page at me. It reads like John is trying to say everything all at once: these people are dead but now alive and their on thrones and oh wait you need to know who these people are they are the ones who were beheaded and didn’t cave into the beast and who kept the testimony and they rejected the mark and they will reign a thousand years that is who these people are and you need to know that.

It carries the sense that immediately when he saw them, he knew exactly who they were.

Let’s take a moment and try to reconstruct a timeline of what the author is communicating to us. He tells us 1) An angel from heaven seized the dragon and cast him into an abyss. 2) Martyrs have been resurrected and they are beginning their rule, but everyone else is still dead. 3) These martyrs are priests and hold a special office in the eschaton. 4) After a thousand years Satan will be released to ply his trade of lies once more. 5) He will make war and surround the beloved city, Jerusalem. 6) Fire will come down from heaven and consume them. 6) At this point, Satan is cast into the lake of fire and tortured for ever.

I understand this timeline, but I do have questions. Chief among them: why let him out after a thousand years? This has troubled me since I was a little fundamentalist child reading my KJV Scofield Study Bible. The traditional answer is that children will born to those who survive the period of pain leading up to this wonderful thousand year reign who have never known temptation of trials. Satan is given opportunity to provide one final test of humanity.

Apparently, some, many indeed, take the bait.

The Bible lists Gog and Magog as the chief place where Satan finds an audience. There is great speculation about this, but conventional wisdom places the geography in Russia, although there is also a connection to India. My perception is that it is a borrowing of terms from Ezekiel that simply mean enemies and thinking of it geographically is futile. I could be wrong. Either way, Gog and Magog are funny names.


Questions For Application

  1. Have you ever had to write something down after you were shaken by events? How does that experience help you understand the biblical text in Revelation?
  2. Think about the angel seizing Satan. It is not really even a battle. Who is more powerful, the angel of the Devil? What does that tell us about the limitations of demonic power?
  3. Why do you think Satan will be released?
  4. Why would people listen to Satan and follow him after living in peace for a thousand years? Why does anyone? What kind of lies might he be telling? What kind of lies did he tell Eve and Adam?