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Advent 1, Year C, Zechariah 14:4-9

In my opinion, there is no more Christological Old Testament book than Zechariah. Word for word, it punches way above its weight. This is especially true in the latter section of text, beginning around Chapter 9. The lectionary reading to start the advent observance doesn’t disappoint. Nestled here in the ‘fly-over country’ of the Bible which most Christ-followers skip are words with deep messianic meaning.

“On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives . . . [it] shall be split in two from east to west.”  Zechariah 14:4

This is probably the idea Jesus is alluding to when he says, rather bluntly, that if we ask for a mountain to be moved in prayer, it will be moved into the sea in Mark 11:24. It should be noted by the interpreter that Mark puts this after the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, a theme which is prevalent in Zechariah (c/f 9:9)

What specifically interests me about the Zechariah reading is the eschatological emphasis.

“On that day there shall be no light, cold, or frost . . . neither day nor night . . . living waters shall flow out of Jerusalem . . . and the Lord will be king over all the earth.” Zechariah 14:6-9

It doesn’t take a brilliant scholar to point out these ideas also emerge in the ending chapters of The Apocalypse.

“The sea was no more . . . behold the dwelling place of God is with man . . . and God himself will be with them as their God . . . To thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payments . . . and I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God . . . and there will be no night there . . . the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding is fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed.” (from Rev. 21:1-6, 22-25, 22:2-3).

There are, then at least three identifiable themes that emanate from Zechariah 14.

  1. One is the literal earth shattering nature of the coming of Messiah. When partnered with Jesus’ prayer words when he is standing in a place where the Mount of Olives could be seen in the distance for Mt. Zion, we see the power of Jesus’ advent in our own spiritual lives.
  2. The second theme is one of newness. Jesus not only made all things new, he makes all things new in a continual manner. Things cannot stay the way they are and also be in the presence of Christ.
  3. The third theme is healing and wholeness. No frost. No night. The Lord’s presence. Jesus is the balm of Gilead for a sick soul, a sick culture, a sick family or a sick church.

Zechariah’s vision of the future is not about when Jesus comes as a nativity event, but when The Day of the Lord Comes and turns upside down the cosmic order the same way he turned upside down the moneychangers tables in the temple. He turns the frost of winter and Christmas into the springtime of Easter. He exchanges winter’s shortened days with summer’s elongated sunshine. He takes us from the desert wanderings to the living waters in his oasis.

 

ADVENT 2013–WEEK THREE AND CHRISTMAS EVE

When many of us think about Christmas, music dominates.  Whether it is Bing Crosby, Eartha Kitt, Messiah, or Christmas Cantatas at church we always associate the Christmas holiday with beautiful music.  The third week of Advent brings us to Revelation 6, which has some of the early church’s greatest worship songs and they serve as a preview for the songs of eternity.  However, the music of heaven is not so much “Joy to the World” as it is “Hail to the King” as Jesus Christ is worshiped and adored.  But before we get there, we wind our way through the awful and terrible Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

So here we go down the home stretch of Advent.  The way the calendar falls this year, there is not much in there for week four.  Christmas is on Wednesday, Tuesday is Christmas Eve and so that leaves Monday as the only day for week four.  The lectionary would have us start a section in Titus which would be great if Christmas fell on Saturday or Friday.  It doesn’t.  Therefore I made the editorial decision of simply skipping Monday and posting Christmas Eve.  Just a reminder that these are my translations from the Greek New Testament.  If you don’t like them, read from a version you do or translate them yourself.

If you want to go back and read Week One click here or Week Two click here.  This is the last of the Advent translations for this year.  For a full introduction to my translating methodology read the Week One post.

Monday Revelation 3:7-13

7. To the angel of the churches in Philadelphia write these things,” says the holy one, the true one, the one having the key of David. What he opens no one closes and what he closes no one opens.

8. I know your works. Behold, I have set before you a door that once it is opened, no one is able to close it, because, even though you are powerless you kept my word and did not deny my name.

9. Behold, I may put those from the synagogue of Satan, those who liars who call themselves Jews but are not, I will put them before you; prostrating at your feet and knowing that I myself love you.

10. Because you patiently kept my word, I will keep you from the hour of trial which is about to come upon the whole world to test them who live upon the earth.

11. I come quickly. Hold onto the things you have so that no one might take your crown.

12. I will make the one who overcomes a pillar in my God’s temple, which he will never leave. I will write upon him my God’s name, the name of the city of my God which is the New Jerusalem coming down from the heavens of my God, and my new name.

13. Those with ears, hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

I am fascinated by the repeated reference in Revelation of those who claim to be Jews but they really are not.  I don’t think this is an ethnic refutation but a spiritual one and clearly references that no real child of Abraham’s spiritual legacy would ever persecute Christ-followers, therefore Jews who persecute are liars about their Jewishness.  The same hold true in our context for Christ-followers.  No true Christian would ever persecute (note, persecute in this context is not the same as point out the flaws in other belief systems) others for their beliefs, anyone who does so and claims to be a Christian is a liar. 

Tuesday Revelation 3:14-22

14. To the angel of the church in Laodicea write these things,” says the amen, the faithful and true witness of the beginning of God’s creation.

15. “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot, oh that you would be either cold or hot.

16. But since you are tepid and neither hot nor cold, I am about to spit you out of my mouth

17. Because you say, ‘I am rich,’ and ‘I have always been rich,’ and ‘I have no need for anything.’ You do not know that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.

18. I advise you to buy from me gold that has been refined by fire so that you might become rich. Buy white clothes to wear so as not to reveal your shameful nakedness. Buy eye ointment to rub on your eyes so that you might see.

19. I reprove and discipline those I love, therefore be eager and repent.

20. Behold, I stand at the door and I knock. If anyone should hear my knock and open the door I will come to him and eat with him and he with me.

21. To the one overcoming I will give to him to sit with me on my throne just as I have conquered and I sat with my father on his throne.

22. Those with ears, hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

I was taught in seminary that verse 20 was an evangelistic text, best used to tell people they needed to open the door of the heart to invite Jesus in.  The problem is this text has as its setting a church, meeting in someone’s home, who has left Jesus outside.  It is written to a group of people who already have followed Christ, but they are leaving him out of their lives.  It’s most powerful meaning is for Christ-followers (as a group, but also individually)  who have gotten so busy being ‘rich’ that they forgot how much they need Jesus.

Wednesday Revelation 4:1-8

1. After all that I saw a vision of a door having been opened in heaven. At first the sound I heard was like a trumpet speaking, but afterward it said to me, “Come up here and I will show you what will be after these things.”

2. Immediately I was in spirit, and behold a throne sat in the heaven and someone was sitting upon the throne.

3. The one sitting looked like stone, Jasper, and carnelian. Around the throne looked like an emerald rainbow.

4. Around the throne there were twenty-four thrones and upon the thrones sat twenty-four elders wearing white clothes and golden crowns upon their heads.

5. Flashes of lightening and sounds of thunder went out from the throne. Seven torches burned before the throne, which is the seven Spirits of God.

6. Before the throne was a sea of glass that looked like crystal. In the midst of the throne, and encircling the throne were four beasts filled with eyes front and back.

7. The first living beast was like a lion. The second beast was like a calf. The third beast had the face of a man. The fourth beast flew like an eagle.

8. Each of the four beasts had six wings all around and insides filled with eyes. They do not rest day and night, saying, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty who was, and who is, and who is to come.”

The sanctus, “Holy Holy Holy” is one of the oldest bits of worship liturgy/song/prayer.

Thursday Revelation 4:9-5:5

9. Whenever these beasts give glory, honor and thanksgiving to the one sitting on the throne, the one who lives forever,

10. the twenty-four elders will fall before the one sitting upon the throne and worship the one who lives forever. They throw their crowns before the throne saying,

11. “Our Lord and God, you are worthy to receive glory, honor, and power because you created all things and by your word they were created.”

Chapter 5 (But still Thursday’s reading)

1. And I saw on the right of the one sitting upon the throne a book with writing on the inside but the outside had been sealed with seven seals.

2. I saw a strong angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the book and break its seals?”

3. No one in heaven, on the earth, or under the earth was able to open the book or even look inside it.

4. I began to cry a lot for no one was found worthy to open the book or look inside it.

5. One of the elders says to me, “Do not cry—look—the lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, he conquered to open the book and its seven seals.”

The verbs get tricky, at least for me in this passage because the entire passage feels present tense but the verbs move back and forth from present to past and then John throws in a lot of participles which complicate it even more.  I tried to write these to reflect that ‘time-confusion’ because that is a big part of what John is going through.  He is jumping around all over the place, in space and time.  It’s kind of sci-fi if you think about it.

Friday Revelation 5:6-14

6. Then I saw a lamb, as if slaughtered, that stood in the midst of the throne, the four beasts, and the elders. It had seven horns and seven eyes, being the seven spirits of God which he sends into all the earth.

7. He went and took it from the right of the one sitting on the throne.

8. When he took the book, the four beasts and the twenty-four elders fell upon their faces before the lamb. Each one had a harp and a golden bowl filled with incense. These are the prayers of the saints.

9. They sing a new song saying, “You are worthy to receive the book and to open its seals, for you were slaughtered and bought from God with your blood from all the tribes, languages, people and nations.

10. You make them kings and priests of our God and they will reign upon the earth.”

11. I saw and heard a sound of many angels around the throne, together with the beasts and the elders they numbered into the millions,

12. Saying in loud voices, “The lamb who was slaughtered is worthy to receive power, wealth, wisdom, strength, honor, glory and blessing.”

13. I heard every creature in heaven, on the earth, underneath the earth, and upon the seas all those everywhere saying, “To the one sitting upon the throne and to the lamb be blessing, honor, glory, and sovereignty forever.”

14. The four beasts said, “Amen” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

Saturday Revelation 6:1-17

1. And I saw the lamb open one of the seven seals. Then one of the four beasts said spoke like thunder, “Come.”

2. Behold, then I saw a white horse. The one sitting on it had a bow and he gave him a crown. He went out victorious in order to conquer.

3. When he opened the second seal I heard the second beast say, “Come.”

4. Another horse, a red horse, went out and he gave to him sitting upon it the ability to take peace from the earth so that they will slaughter one another. He gave a large sword to him.

5. When he opened the third seal I heard the third beast say, “Come.” Behold, I saw a black horse. The one sitting upon it had a pair of scales in his hand.

6. I heard a voice from the midst of the four beasts saying, “One day’s ration of grain for a whole days pay, and three day’s ration of barley for one whole day’s pay, but do not harm the oil and wine.”

7. When he opened the fourth seal I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, “Come.”

8. Behold, I saw a yellow-green horse and the one sitting above it had the name Death, and Hades followed behind him. He gave him authority over a fourth of the earth to kill with the sword, famine, and death by the wild animals in the land.

9. When he opened the fifth seal I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who have been slaughtered because of the word of God and for holding on the witness.

10. And they shouted in a loud voice saying, “Will it not be much longer until the holy and true master judges and avenges our blood on those dwelling on the earth?”

11. He gave each of them a white robe and they were told to rest a short period of time, waiting for their partners in service, brothers and sisters, and all those about to be killed as they were.

12. When he opened the sixth seal I saw that a great earthquake happened. The sun became black as a sackcloth made from hair and the whole moon became as blood.

13. The stars in the heavens fell on the earth as a fig tree drops the unripe figs when a strong wind shakes it.

14. Heaven was opened up as a scroll that was rolled up and put away. Every mountain and island was moved from its place.

15. The kings of the earth and important people, generals, rich and powerful as well as every slave and freeman hid himself in the caves and the rocks of the mountains.

16. They said to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hid us from the face of the one sitting upon the throne and from the wrath of the lamb.”

17. For the great day of their wrath came, and who is able to stand?

Christmas Eve Philippians 2:5-11

5. You should think about yourselves like Jesus did himself.

6. Who, because he was God in his form did not think being just like God was stealing.

7. But, he emptied himself by taking the form of a servant becoming in likeness of a man and being found in appearance as a man.

8. He humbled himself, being obedient to death, death on a cross.

9. Therefore God raised him and gave him the name above all names.

10. So that at the name of Jesus all knees in heaven, on earth, and underneath the earth

11. and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of Father God.

There is so much in this passage—entire theologies are found in there—but three quick notes. One, using the word ‘form’ is tough and it would be easier to translate it as “essence” in verse 6 and then as “shape” or “role” in verse 7. However, I chose to keep ‘form” because it is the exact same word in Greek and I can think of no English word that works in both places. The point is that Jesus by his nature is God but he chose to take the nature of humanity. Two, there is a connection in verse 6 to the adamic fall. Adam wanted to be like God so he stole God’s fruit in the garden on the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Jesus was different from Adam; being like God for him was not theft. Third, I am always troubled by the rendering of verse 5 in most English Bibles. The word is an imperative verb, second person plural and give to the Philippian church as a command as to how they should treat one another in community. This passage, for all its beauty is not about deep piety or inward search to have some kind of transformational ‘mind of Christ’ moment. It is all about how we act and behave in church—take the road of the servant, not the road of the one who thinks he is God’s favorite.   This passage is often made far too mystical than the practical way Paul meant it.  

Thanks for reading through Advent 2013 with me.  I appreciate it, and I hope it was meaningful.

ADVENT 2013–WEEK TWO READINGS

There is just something about the end of the world that brings out nut jobs and wingnuts.  I mean, loons thrive on this stuff and they always want to run to the book of Revelation to prove stuff.  The problem is, the book of Revelation proves nothing except that there will be an end and when it happens it will be one big ouch after another.  The problem with the wingnuts (yeah, I’m talking to you Harold Camping) is that they actually miss the meat and potatoes of the message in Revelations.

Bonus Reading–End of the Word Blogs by Greenbean

The Rapture Will Not Be This Weekend

Playlist

Mayan Apocalypse

Th rest of our Advent readings take us through the firs six chapters of Revelation and these are some of the most powerful discipleship passages in the whole Bible but you have to have ears to hear what the Spirit says.

Please see the introduction to this year’s Advent on Week One’s post (click here) for more detail on translation theory and Advent motifs.  I will not burden you by repeating all of that here, but I will remind you that I have included my personal notes in italics.  I will post the third week’s readings next week.

Monday Revelation 1:1-8

1. A revelation of Jesus Christ that God gave to show his servants what is soon to come. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John.

2. who bears witness to the word of God and is a witness of so much from when he saw Jesus Christ.

3. Blessed are those reading and having the words of this prophecy and who keeps this document, for the end is near.

4. From John to the seven Asian churches, grace and peace to you from the one who is, who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne,

5. and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, the ruler of the kings of the earth, the one loving us and who freed us from our sins by his blood.

6. He made us a kingdom of priests for God his Father—to him be glory and might forever. Amen.

7. “I myself am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God Almighty, “The one who is, was, and is coming.”

8. Behold, he comes with the clouds and every eye will see whom they pierced, and they will mourn for him in every tribe of the earth. Absolutely, amen.

Alpha and omega are the first and last letters of the Greek Alphabet.  I almost translated this as simply “I am the A and the Z” but decided 2000 years of Christian tradition have solidified this as good theological language, as long as you know there is nothing spooky or special about omega and alpha.

Tuesday Revelation 1:9-16

9. I am John, your brother in Jesus and patient partner enduring persecution for the kingdom. I was on an island named Patmos because of the word of God and the teaching about Jesus.

10. I became in the Spirit on the Lord’s day. I heard a great sound behind me. It sounded like a trumpet.

11. It said, “You must write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches—To Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.”

12. Then I turned around to see the voice which was speaking with me and when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands.

13. In the midst of the lampstands was someone like a son of man. He was clothed all the way to the feet and wore a gold belt around his chest.

14. Now, his head and his hair were white as wool, white as snow, and his eyes were as a flame of fire.

15. His feet were like refined bronze from a furnace and his voice was as the sound of many waters.

16. In his right hand he held seven stars. A sharp two-edged sword was coming out of his mouth and his face shines as the sun in its full power.

The phrase, “in spirit” appears quite a bit in Revelation.  I honestly do not know if John means that he was in the Holy Spirit or if he means he was involved in a spiritual practice such as meditation or worship.  I tend to think it is about worship because it was on the Lord’s Day, i. e. Sunday and not Hebrew Sabbath.  Note also verse 16 and the present tense “shines.”  That is intentional and reflects the GNT’s usage.  

Wednesday Revelation 1:17-2:7

17. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as a dead man, but he put his right hand on me and said, “Do not fear. I myself am the first and the last.

18. The living one. I was dead and behold, I am alive forever; I have the keys to death and Hades.

19. Therefore, write the things you saw, and the things you now see and what you will see that is about to come after all these things.

20. The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the pastors of the churches and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

Jesus tells John that the seven stars are the seven “angels” of the churches. Now, angel is a funny word because it means messenger and can refer to human beings as much as to the spiritual beings we commonly think of as angels. My take on the usage here—and this is strictly interpretative and other good thinking people might disagree—but my take is that these letters are for the human messengers in these churches who serve as the leader, whom we would call today the pastor as well as for the church as a congregation—hence the seven stars (7 pastors) and the seven lampstands (7 congregations).

Chapter 2 (but still part of Wednesday’s Reading)

1. “To the pastor (angel) of the church in Ephesus write these things,” says the one holding the seen stars in his right hand and who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands.

2. “I know your works, your labor, and that you do not tolerate evil. You tested those calling themselves apostles but are not and you found them false.

3. You have patience. You bear my name and do not become weary.

4. But I have it against you that left your first love.

5. Therefore remember how you felt and repent—do the works you did at the first—if not, unless you repent, I will come to you and I will remove your lampstand from its place.

6. But you do have this, you hate the works of the Nicolaitans just as much as I do.

7. Those with ears, hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will allow him to eat from the tree of life that is in God’s paradise.

The Ephesian church was guilty of losing focus on Christ and his mission and the threat– to remove their lampstand is a threat to remove their right to be called a church.  No church has a right to exist ontologically and without proper leadership and a continual repentance, the Lord may revoke it and remove himself from their midst.  Think about the next time you see a church in decline or that has closed up completely.

Thursday Revelation 2:8-17

8. “To the pastor of the church in Smyrna, write these things,” says the first and the last, who was dead and lived.

9. “I know your persecution and poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy of those who call themselves Jews but are really a synagogue of Satan.

10. Fear nothing that you are about to suffer, for behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison. You might be tortured and you will be persecuted ten days. Be faithful to the death and I will give you the crown of life.

11. The one having ears, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches: The one conquering will not even be hurt by the second death.

12. To the angel o the church in Pergamum write these things,” says the one having the sharp two-edged sword.

13. “I know where you live—at the throne of Satan and how you hold firmly to my name and you did not deny faith in me, even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness who was killed among you—right there where Satan lives.

14. But I have a small thing against you. You have some who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak how to be a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat idolatrous food and to fornicate.

15. Likewise, you have some holding to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.

16. Therefore, repent. For if you do not I will come quickly and attack them with the sword of my mouth.

17. Those with ears, hear what the Spirit says to the churches: I will give those who overcome hidden manna and I will give him a white stone upon which a new name has been written that is known only to the one receiving it.

These two churches, Smyrna and Pergamum have issues of outside influence.  Smyrna is surrounded by a Jewish community that tries to exert influence over the Christ-followers there.  We have to keep in mind that mind early Christians were Jewish and there would have been a natural affinity.  In Pergamum it seems the problem was false religious practices influenced by paganism.   The throne of Satan refers to a famous altar with the statue of Zeus that now is housed in a German Museum.

Throne of Satan?  pic from studyblue.com
Throne of Satan? pic from studyblue.com

Friday Revelation 2:18-29

18. To the pastor of the church in Thyatira write these things,” says the Son of God, the one having the eyes of flaming fire and whose feet are like polished bronze.

19. “I know your works—the love, faith, service, patience—your recent works are greater than the first.

20. But I have it against you, you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself prophet and teacher. She lures away my servants to fornicate and eat food offered to idols.

21. I gave her time, so she might repent, but she did not want to repent from her fornication.

22. Behold, I am throwing her into a bed of great affliction with those committing adultery with her so that they might repent from her works.

23. I will kill her children in death, and all the churches will know that I am myself am searching the gut and the heart. I will give to each of you according to your works.

24. Now, I say to those of you remaining in Thyatira, those who did not hold to this teaching, who did not know about the deep things of Satan, to you I say that I will not put another burden on you.

25. Except the one you have, hold onto it until which time I might come.

26. To the ones conquering and those keeping my works until the end, I will give to him authority over the nations,

27. to rule them with an iron rod as when clay pots are smashed

28. just as I received from my father, I will him the morning star.

“Jezebel” and “Balaam” are names from the Hebrew Bible which are likely nicknames for real people. Balaam refers to a theological system that tolerates idolatry and fornication while Jezebel refers to a female leader, maybe the pastor of Thyatira, who has taught the wrong kinds of things.In verse 22 a “bed of great affliction” is a sickbed or a deathbed. At any rate, Jesus promises to make her and her lovers so sick that they are put to bed.  The irony is that the place of her pleasure becomes the place of her pain. Of course it is not punishment for punishments sake, but instead punishment with the goal of repentance.  The burden of verses 24-25 are not more afflictions but instead more commandments. Jesus will not ask anything else of them because they have already endured so much.

Saturday Revelation 3:1-6

1. To the pastor of the church in Sardis write these things,” says the one having the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. “I know your works. You have a reputation for being alive, but you are dead.

2. Wake up! Strengthen what is left, what is about to die for I did not find your works complete before my God.

3. Remember, therefore, how you received, heard, kept, and repented. If you do not then wake up. I will come as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.

4. But you have a few people in Sardis who have not defiled their clothing, and who will walk with me in white, just as I am.

5. The ones overcoming shall be clothed in white and his name shall not be wiped out from the book of life. I shall also confess his name before my Father and before his angels.”

6. Those with ears, hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

The death that Sardis has seems to be related to their inability to finish what they start. They lack follow-through in their spiritual lives but maybe also in something tangible. Jesus doesn’t like quitters.