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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?

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Advent 2020: 2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5

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.

Friday, 11 December 2020 2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:


The Text

13. We owe it to God to give thanks always for you beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord. God chose you as first fruits in salvation, sanctification of spirit, faith, and truth,

14. into which he called you by our gospel to acquire the glory of our Lord Jesus Messiah. 

15. So then, brothers and sisters, you must keep the traditions and stand firmly in what you were taught by us; whether by word or letter.

16. Now, may the Lord Jesus Messiah himself, and God our father, who loved us, give unending encouragement, hope, love, and grace. 

17. to encourage your hearts and to strengthen every good work and word.    

Chapter Three

1. Finally, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the word of the Lord might run and might be honored just as it has with you, 

2. and that we might be delivered from perverse and evil people. For not everyone is faithful. 

3. But the Lord is faithful. He strengthens and guards you from the evil one. 

4. And we are persuaded about you that what we command in the Lord you do, and you will do. 

5. May the Lord straighten out your heart in the love of God and patience of Messiah. 


Commentary

It is a little unusual to have the chapters broken up in this way, and it is even more unusual in that it makes very little logical sense with the text. However, that is what the lectionary did, and that is what we have.

The end of Chapter two is a behavioral exhortation in light of their redemption. Since they have been saved from all the gloom and destruction mentioned earlier, they should have a corresponding faithfulness. This faithfulness is a call to keep the traditions. Paul doesn’t take the time to spell those out, but we can assume the Thessalonians disciples would have known exactly what he meant. Likely these traditions are the teachings of Christ, the practice of baptism, communion, and of interpreting the Hebrew Scriptures through the life, death, resurrection, and eventual return of Messiah Jesus.

I find the appeal to tradition appealing. This appeal is, I admit, biased with the weariness of a lifetime of being sold the latest innovation in church life. Innovation is not evil, but the addiction the American church has to innovation, faddism, and the ever growing desire to be in the cool crowd is tiresome. It is enough, I think, to hold to the tradition, the New Testament tradition.

I wrestled with the grammar of verse 16 for much longer than I should have. The “may” in the verse comes with the verb “encourage” and is difficult to place. The whole thing is made that much harder because Paul treats Jesus and God the Father as one rather than two. To make the English smooth I really wanted to render it, “The Lord Jesus Messiah and God our Father, may they encourage …” But I did not. I think it would be justified to keep the verb tense together, but it reads clunky.

Chapter three begins with a request for prayer. It is an interesting prayer in that it is for deliverance from people seeking to thwart the work. He adds, almost as a throw away, “for not everyone is faithful.” That is when I stand up, applaud and say, “Preach it, Paul. Preach!” It does not take much imagination to think of someone who has abandoned the work and is yet throwing darts at Paul and the ministry from a distance. Paul is asking the Thessalonians to pray for him to overcome this kind of adversary. I wonder if this is the Satan from 1 Thessalonians blocking him.

I don’t know that I do enough specific praying in my own life about people who stand in the way. I tend to pray specifically for people, but I rarely pray specifically that problem people would be removed as an obstacle. I probably should work on that more . . . although I may enjoy a list of people to pray against far more than I should. Lord, help me.


Questions For Application

  1. “To acquire the glory of Jesus” is a great mission statement. What would the glory of Jesus look like in your life?
  2. Paul prays for God to give them encouragement, hope, love, and grace. I honestly tell you right now encouragement is what I feel I need most. What do you feel you need most?
  3. Paul seems very preoccupied with heart and emotional issues. He asks for the Lord to straighten out their heart. What in your heart needs straightening out?
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Advent 2020: 1 Thessalonians 2:13-20

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, 2 December 2020 1 Thessalonians 2:13-20


The Text

13. And for this we ourselves give thanks continually to God, that you welcomed what you heard from us not as human words, but as it truly is – the word of God – that is active among you who are believing. 

14. Brothers and sisters, you became mimics of the churches in Messiah Jesus in Judea, because of the things you suffered from your people, just as they did from the Jews.

15. And these people, the ones who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and drove us out, are not trying to please God. They are against humanity. 

16. They hindered us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they might be saved. The fullness of their sins always comes, which will be wrath to them at the end. 

17. But we were orphaned from you, our brothers and sisters, for a little while, physically but not emotionally. We eagerly desired to see your face more than ever.

18. We wanted to come to you, I, Paul, tried one and twice, but was blocked by Satan. 

19. For what is our hope, joy, or crown of boasting if not you, and you before our Lord Jesus at his coming? 

20. You are our glory and joy. 


Commentary

The theme of mimicry emerges again, a holdover from 1:6. The difference is who is imitating whom. The church in Thessalonica is imitating, not by choice or pleasure but by necessity, the mother church in Jerusalem. Just as that church was persecuted by Jews, by their very people, so too the Thessalonians were persecuted by their own people. I wonder if this stung Paul to write, because he was the Jew of Jews who took such zeal in persecuting the primitive church? Was there a similar Paul-figure who ferociously persecuted the Thessalonians but then, saw the light, and turned, and became a Christ-follower? That would be some serious mimicry.

Paul describes these persecutors as being against humanity. The text is literally “all people” or “all human beings” with the word ‘anthropos’. I almost translated it as “against everyone” but decided humanity had a nice ring to it, for they are not just opposite of an idea, they are against human beings.

Paul wants to visit them, but Satan has blocked him. Satan has blocked Paul. That sounds incredibly personal. There is a school of thought out there that teaches evil is not a personification, that it is a great power but it is impersonal, like gravity or friction. But Paul did not see the universe that way. He understood there was an adversary who had lined up against him to stop him from doing certain things. I agree with Paul. I know there is an enemy out there and he is in stark opposition to me.


Questions For Application

  1. Is the word of God active in your life? Serious — does it have verbal powers to move and to change you, or is it just a noun that lies there?
  2. If you could imitate any church you’ve ever seen, which one would it be? Why? Now that you’ve done that exercise, how much persecution and pain has that church gone through? Are you wiling to go through that, to suffer, and to sacrifice?
  3. Is Satan blocking you right now? What are you going to do about it? (Note: Paul wrote this letter as a solution)
  4. Who is your glory and joy?

ASK PASTOR GREENBEAN: Q AND A

Sunday, September 5 FBC once again brought fun times at church.  We finished our Old Testament series with Q & A from the congregation.  Many of the questions I answered during the services themselves but there were two completely different sets of questions.  Those interested in hearing all the questions and answers should likely get the audio—which should be available for podcast from the church website soon, and we will try to also provide some CD’s at church.  I told the congregation yesterday I would blog the questions we didn’t have time for.  To maintain the feel of these as questions that were texted to us during the service, I have kept the questions exactly as they came.

1.  Do you believe that this generation will likely see the rapture?

No, not really.  First, I’m not convinced a ‘rapture’ event is even described in the Bible, so I prefer to talk about the return of Christ, which I wholeheartedly affirm.  However, every generation seems to believe their’s is the last.  My answer to that is we should live like today might be the last one we have, but nevertheless prepare for the future.  One of the great shortcomings of many evangelicals is that such great emphasis is put upon an imminent ending of the world that long-range patterns of generational ministry and preparation go neglected.  That might be why, for example, we see so many younger folks without theological foundations.  Their parents who believed in the Lord thought he was returning soon, so, why bother teach your children anything about love, justice, the Trinity or such when all we need to do is ge them ‘saved’ and prepared for the apocalypse.

2.  will god send or condemn a person for there sexual orientation and will He still love you

Tough one.  We spoke about homosexuality in the sermon itself but what I would like to address here is the condemnation part of it.  God always loves us.  Nothing changes that.  However, willful disobedience to his ways leads to punishment (condemnation); which is essentially separation from the Lord.  Punishment from the Lord is what we earn by continuing to engage in sinful behavior.  Homosexuality is a sin.

What I refuse to do, though, is to create a special category of sinner called ‘homosexual’ and highlight that as if it were unique.  We are all sinners, and for some people our sin is homosexuality.  To follow Christ is to admit our sin and begin to follow him and let him remake us in his image.  It is through that process that we begin to see our sin for what it is.  This is not a popular take on the issue today which wants to remove any talk of sin in terms of any sexuality; but that would be something other than what the Bible teaches.

[note—the media ministry people tell me we had many questions about homosexuality during the time.  It did not fit the theme as being about the Old Testament, but the leadership back there appropriately viewed it as a pastoral need and put the question on the screen anyway for me to answer.  As I stated above, I dealt with that during the service, so for more info see the audio]   

3.  Can i keep on sinning and god forgive me? is not that required by god statements in the bible?

Yes, the Lord will always forgive you.  He teaches us to forgive, and he certainly is greater than we are.  However, one has to ask the question about their life regarding the nature of our sinful patterns.  A Christ-follower will desire to stop sinning.  If a person has no desire to stop sinning but instead uses the automatic ‘forgiveness’ button as a trap to make God perform then one has to question the sincerity of the individual.  God is not mocked—and I think that includes people who try to manipulate him by abusing his grace.

4.  Why is the book of Esther in the bible if God is not mentioned once?

Because Esther was a hero of the Jewish people.  The book of Esther is a great example of God’s hand in history even though he is not overtly active in supernatural events.  Compare Esther’s deliverance to that at the Red Sea with Moses.  Faith  says God was involved in both; but in dramatically different ways.

5.  If God wanted Israel to be a royal priesthood whom the nations would come to know God through, why do we see Israel’s most godly leaders (Joshua, David, Elijah, etc) act so violently towards others?

Short answer—they lived in violent times.  Longer answer—the Hebrews were in a theocracy in which to protect the nation was to protect the way of life.  By analogy, the greatest patriots of the United States were all violent people as well—Washington, Lincoln (who perhaps was responsible for killing more Americans than anyone else, yet it was his duty to do such to safeguard the republic), Patton, Eisenhower, Kennedy etc…  Eisenhower is a particularly good example in that he sent many, many young soldiers to their death—Allies and Axis, but he had to to stop a great evil.  Longer answer yet—Christ never raised a sword to anyone.  By the time the New Testament is revealed, the Hebrews had so-not-lived-up-to God’s expectations that faith no longer is wrapped up in politics.  The Christian messages transcends national boundaries.

6.  how can god love us so much, and still send us to hell

See numbers 2 & 3 above.  The answer is essentially the same.  Hell is not as much a place prepared for evil as it is the logical outcome of those who consistently reject the Lord and his ways on earth.  Eternal life is the gift of God to those who love him and respond in faith.  Those who do not love and follow him do not receive the gift.

7.  What am i to believe about demonds being among us?

Believe that they are among us, but do not fret.  Be careful never to go down the dangerous path of spending time and energy on what the devil is doing.  Our job is to serve Christ and his kingdom.  Let the Lord deal with the devil and demons; we should just worry about growing in our follow-ship.  I do not need the devil or demons to mess up—I can do that all by myself.

8.  So goin back to the creation topic there is a theory out there that before the creation started in Genesis, God had made out the universe but he didnt make everything in the beginning he made and controlled evolution and our fossil record is the record of that universe but then when Lucifer fell and became Stan he destroyed everything except the Earth but he destroyed everything on Earth leaving just a lump of rock then he started again with the record in Genesis?

Okay—that’s a long question.  This is a form of the “Gap Theory” which was very popular in the 1980’s.  It explains the “void” and “chaos” of Genesis 1:1-2 as being contrary to what God would make—since God makes everything beautiful and pristine.  The theory goes that God made the earth perfect but when Satan fell with his demons he was cast to earth as punishment (some punishment?).  The subsequent “fall” destroyed earth like a giant meteor might have done.  Then, with Satan on earth, God made the earth as we know it.

I like the “what if” of this theory because it leaves the door ajar for mystery and unexplained phenomena.  I like that.  As I said before I do not think the distant past is easily explained or scientifically comprehensible.  But, this theory has real problems with it as a whole.  First, if this were so, I think the Lord would have told us.  Second, it hinges upon piecing together many different Bible verses, out of context, for it to hold together.  Third, it gives the Devil too much power, as it conceives of earth as ‘enemy held territory.’  I’m not saying it is not true but I am saying it doesn’t seem like the most likely explanation for the world as we see it today.

 

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NOTE–AFTER THIS BLOG WAS WRITTEN, TWO ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS WERE FOUND WRITTEN ON SCRAPS OF PAPER (FRAGMENTS?)  I ANSWERED THEM IN OUR WEEKLY EMAIL NEWSLETTER, BUT ALSO AM POSTING THEM HERE AS WELL, JUST TO BE THOROUGH.

I have had many positive comments about the services on Sunday with the Question and Answer session.  Perhaps it is an itch we should attempt to scratch more often.  I think maybe we will ponder that for 2012.  In the meantime, I promised to answer the questions we received as follow-up.  Most of these have been published on my blog at jdgreening.wordpresss.com.  After I posted that blog I discovered two other hand written questions that came in on scraps of paper.  So, here they are, along with my attempt to answer them.

 

1.  Could you please explain the priesthood of believers?  What is the implication of this phrase upon our lives.

The priesthood of (all) believers is a particular doctrine that Baptists have championed for a long time.  However, it has fallen on hard times in recent years for various reasons which I choose not to go into now.  The essence of the doctrine—and it is a doctrine, is that Christ alone is our one true priest and therefore no human intermediary is necessary.  All people are capable of relating to God directly, therefore they are, in essence, their own priest under Christ the great high priest.  This means that each believer can discern God’s will directly and, likewise, has the responsibility for responding to the Lord and his word.

The implication of this doctrine in the church is that a church does not need a pastor to make church happen.  The Lord’s Supper, Baptism, prayer, preaching and all the things that churches do are not made effectual by the presence of a pastor (priest?) but by the presence of the Holy Spirit when people are gathered in the name of Christ.  The priesthood of the believer is also the root doctrine used to defend congregational polity—every member has equal vote because every member has equal access to God.

The doctrine of the priesthood of believers denies that ordained clergy have any special inside knowledge of track to God.  Now, most people affirm that, but I turn around and ask—why do so many people want to make sure the pastor prays for them?  It is likely that they deep down believer the pastor’s prayers have a better chance of getting through than their own!  Of course, that is false.

2.  What is the Greek name of the King of Salem in the Old Testament?

A name is a name, whether it is Greek or English.  Sometimes the pronunciations change, but it is still the same name (i.e. Jesus=Yeshua=Joshua) regardless of the language employed.  Now, by King of Salem I think the question means Melchizedek (Genesis 14:17-24) and it is Hebrew.  Melchizedek is a fairly quiet figure in the Old Testament, appearing only here in narrative and referenced in the Psalm 110 and Hebrews 5 and 7.  The name, a compound name of “righteousness” and “king” means “my righteous king.”

Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, who, as the ancient King of Salem likely foreshadowed, at least in the mind of the writer of Hebrews, the truth King of Salem (Salem=Peace) who is Christ Jesus.  The book of Hebrews makes it explicit through logical deduction and theological proofs that Jesus is greater than Abraham and Moses and therefore to follow Christ is greater than following the law or Jewish rules.