Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives. The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version. At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture. To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.
Questions & Observations
Q. (Relation 3:1-6): Sounds like most of Sardis has fallen, but Jesus is giving them a last warning/chance? And those who have made the right choices are good to go. I am starting to get a better understanding of the “chosen” issue.
A. When you say “most,” keep in mind that it means the congregation of Christians, not necessarily the entire city. It appears that many in that congregation were falling away — we don’t know why — and Christ is calling them to renew their faith.
Q. (3:7-13): Sounds like Philadelphia is a great place to be. They have done well and get to skip the testing for judgment? V. 12 says that a new heaven will come down and Jesus will take on a new name?
A. Maybe. The Greek can either mean, “keep you from [undergoing]” which would match your suggestion, but it might also mean “keep you through,” which would imply that they will not be left out of the trial period that is described in the rest of the story. The new Heaven and the name of Jesus will come later in the story.
Q. I notice that each of these church letters end with the same words: Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. To me, this is just saying that we can all benefit from these teachings?
A. Yes, and Jesus spoke very similar words during His earthly ministry (Matthew 11:5, Mark 4:9).
Q. (3:14-22): Jesus is giving the church in Laodicea a charge to choose believing?
A. He is saying that they are tepid, or lukewarm: neither hot nor cold. The explanation for the reference is quite clever: Laodicea was a wealthy city, and there were two sites close by that were considered “luxuries”: Hierapolis, famous for its hot springs, and Colossae (the same as the NT letter), which was famous for its cold, invigorating spring water. People from Laodicea went to Hierapolis for “spa days” as we might refer to them, and vacationed in the summer in Colossae, and so they could enjoy both the hot and cold water as they wished. But apparently, at one point, there was a project to pipe hot water into Laodicea from the hot springs, which they were able to make work — a feat of engineering at the time! — but the water lost its heat along the way. The water that arrived was lukewarm, and was apparently nauseating to drink: so no one did — they spit it out. So Jesus is saying that the community of Christians in this city was like the tepid water in the pipes — no one was “drinking” it, and that had to change. And they needed to be desirable water — hot or cold.
Q. (4:5): What is the significance of the name “sevenfold Spirit of God”?
A. Seven is our watchword for fullness or completion. This place is the dwelling of the very Shekinah glory of God.
Q. (4:6-8): Are these creatures the same ones that were in the OT?
A. These are the same beings referred to in Ezekiel 1 (they have only four wings in Ezekiel’s vision, we don’t know why John “gives” them 6). Christian thought has these representing a class of angels known as Cherubim, which we know very little about. But the most important thing to note here is that the four creatures speak of the Lamb, they reveal who He is. Thus, it has become popular interpretation to understand the four creatures as representing the Four Gospels, and this influences Christian art and thought to this day. If you’re wondering: Matthew is the Man, Mark is the Lion, Luke is the Bull, and John is the Eagle. Thus, for example, if you visit St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice — or, much closer for you Floridians, Flagler Memorial Presbyterian in St. Augustine, which was modeled off of the original in Venice — I highly recommend a visit if you are in the Old City. You will see lion imagery throughout the building.
Q. (6:1-17): What is the meaning of the different colored horses?
A. If you recall a while ago, we read about these same colors in Zechariah 1:8-17 and 6:1-8, so again, John is calling on our understanding of those visions to help him paint his vision here. The four colors represent a sequence (these are the famous Four Horsemen): white represents rule and conquest (the white rider is some sort of ruler or leader of people, and is frequently seen as the Antichrist). The red represents war and bloodshed. Black represents famine and plague — as a result of war or neglect, there is a shortage of food (frequently associated with times of war). The prices given are 10 times the normal cost of wheat and barley. The implication of the oil and wine is that since the trees that produce them have deeper roots, it will be more difficult to stop production of those items, and the black rider desires to control the distribution of these products to ensure maximum suffering, but also maximum profit! War is so much fun for those who finance it! (Sarcasm) The Pail horse, representing the color of a corpse, represents the end of the sequence: massive death, and the rider of this infernal animal is the personification of death itself — what we would call the Grim Reaper.