Day 364 (Dec. 30): Seven angels standing at Temple hold bowls of seven plagues, those victorious over evil sang song of Moses, plagues caused flowing blood, darkness, earthquakes, hailstorms, prostitute rides beast, beast has fallen, Lamb of God victorious over beast and kings, voice warns to stay away from the wickedness of Babylon, believers rejoice over judgment of Babylon

Welcome to Bible Bum 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.

Revelation 15-18:24

Questions & Observations

Q.  Rob, this is still John’s vision, but we have no idea if this is how the end of days will actually be, right?  And, what about those who see a white light when they are passing, but then come back to earth?  The Bible doesn’t seem to address that.

A. The rest of Revelation after John is told to enter the door is his vision, so yes, this remains a record of what he is seeing.  There are many who see Revelation as some sort of code to be deciphered that would give Christians an “insider” knowledge about what will happen in the last days — which no one even knows when that will be, let alone how it will unfold — but I do not buy that.  People who make such claims don’t really understand the genre of the writing: it was written in code, not for people living centuries later, but for the original audience, persecuted Christians in the seven churches of the first few chapters and beyond.  That it has any benefit to us is, in my mind, incidental to John — though I freely offer that the Spirit desired this book to be for our benefit as well.  But I simply do not think you can “unravel” the code and be given special information: God simply does not work that way with any part of the Bible — the message is always clear and up front.  Hidden knowledge is not part of Christianity — all the “cards” are on the table.  The Bible does not address the near death experiences you are describing, probably because there was no such thing as “near death” in ancient times: you were either dead or alive.

Q. (15:7): There a lot of dishes used in the Bible that hold important things.  Here we have bowls holding plagues, cups that runneth over, and I remember the Tabernacle had some holy dishes, right?  Is that for a reason?

A. I don’t think there is anything special about the use of dishes or cups, they are simply delivery devices for liquids, and there’s just no other way to do that.  Though some of the dishes represent powerful images, such as wrath or healing, the dishes are not the important part of the image: it is what they contain that matters.

Q. (16:4): And here is the blood again.  Blood signifies cleansing of sins.  Here it is more of a payback?

A. The plague of blood serves two purposes: it harkens back to the first plague of Egypt, in which the Nile was turned to blood thanks to Moses’ staff.  But the other purpose for this punishment is described in verses 5 and 6: the blood is a “punishment fits the crime” plague for shedding the blood of those faithful to God.

Q. (16:11): After all of that wrath, the people still refuse to acknowledge God.  They don’t know God so they don’t know they’ve sinned?  And, they are still being called to repent to God and they are still refusing.  Would you say there hearts are hardened?  It doesn’t say anything about that here and why would God harden them because he did this in the past to magnify evil showing the Israelites His power.  These people sound so wicked that their hearts could not be softened ever.  Anyway, just curious.

A. This vision is black and white, like a lot of John’s writings: there is no one who crosses to the other side during this torment: no one repents, and confesses the evil of their ways.  For the Christians who suffered under persecution and likely lost their possessions, if not their lives to the whims of evil men who placed themselves as enemy’s of God’s church, however, this is a just punishment.  It is only a vision after all, but one with a clear purpose: to remind the faithful what they are fighting for and what happens if they are victorious.  Those who persevere through this tribulation — and do keep in mind that in more than 60 countries around the world RIGHT NOW, the tribulation goes on to this day! — they will be rewarded and see those who have punished them punished.

I won’t lie to you, there is an element of blood lust in this that I’m not completely comfortable with, but we must not forget that God does not wink at sin, and some of the greatest sins are to persecute and kill those who are on the side of God.  Personally, I would desire for God to extend grace, but in this vision at least, the time of grace has passed.  Victory is coming for those who remained faithful!

Q. (17:15-18): I don’t understand the dynamic between the beasts and the prostitute.  They are enemies here, but I thought they were on the same Team Evil.

A. This is a complex analogy.  The woman/prostitute is Rome, not the actual city of Babylon, which has long been known as the city on seven hills.  The vision of the kings/crowns on the beast is clear enough, and the beast in this analogy is the Antichrist, the great enemy of God.  It appears that the beast will come to rule over the woman (that is, rule Rome, at least symbolically), and that is why there is animosity between them.  This makes the 8th king (verse 11) the ruler, but they will turn on the “woman” for reasons that I don’t really know.  It appears that even among “team evil,” there is division.  The ultimate point John is making is that Rome has become a prostitute of all kinds of things that are evil in God’s sight, and that many rulers, merchants, and sailors have “slept” with her in order to gain wealth.  Since the woman will die, it will be bad for all those who “sleep” with her.

Q. (18:10): The prostitute is the city of Babylon, right?  It sounds like the NT’s version   of Sodom and Gomorra.  I would think that Babylon is metaphorical for all who fall prey to the temptations of this world.

A. It’s Rome, as I discussed above, but the rest of what you write has it exactly.  Rome is powerful, which is why she is so tempting for those who desire power or control, but in the end, she will die (the Roman Empire will fall) and God still remains.

Day 361 (Dec. 27): All through John, Jesus wrote letters to churches in Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea, heaven, Lamb opens the scrolls and breaks the seals

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.

Revelation 3-6:17

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.

Day 360b (Dec. 26): Introduction to Revelations

Welcome to Bible Bum 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.

Since Revelation can be a complicated book and is like no other in the Bible, Rob offered up this introduction to Revelations.  It helps get you in the right frame of mind before you dive into it.  Enjoy!

Introduction to Revelation

by Rob Fields

Revelation is both the strangest and least understood book of the Bible.  Some people say that Revelation is an exact blueprint for the future that merely needs to be interpreted, others say that it’s really about the past, and others find it merely to be an unfiltered glimpse into heaven and heavenly worship.  The landscape of Revelation is dotted with numbers, images, creatures, visions, and the wrath of God.  We could spend a year just looking at different aspects of the story, but for now, we will examine important aspects of the text that I believe will make it easier to understand.  In this lesson, we are going to look at five important overview concepts for understanding Revelation.

Five things you should know about Revelation:

1) John (the author) is writing in a particular genre of literature: apocalyptic literature.

2) The more Old Testament you know, the more sense Revelation makes.

3) In general, images presented in Revelation should be interpreted symbolically, NOT literally.

4) Revelation predicts the future, but not in the way we really want it to.

5) The story of Revelation is really the story of Jesus, the one who is worthy.

1: Genre is everything

?) Imagine that the only kind of books you had ever read were romance novels.  Now imagine that you picked up a mystery or detective story for the first time.  What do you think your reaction would be?

Probably the most intimidating thing about Revelation is the language.  The chapters of the book are full of great images: beasts covered with eyes worshipping God, brightly colored horses that bring death and famine, an army of warrior locusts, a great red dragon, beasts with seven heads and ten horns, and so on.  The language can appear to make the meaning so cloudy that we just give up and don’t bother trying to understand the image that John is painting for us.

It is an important thing to recognize the style, or genre, that the author is writing in.  This is the genre of the apocalypse. (Apocalypse is Greek for “the act of revealing” or “unveiling” — this is why Revelation is also known as the Apocalypse of John.)  Apocalyptic literature was originally a Jewish writing style where circumstances had become so bad that God himself intervened on behalf of his people.  We tend to think that Revelation is unique because it is the only book of the sort that we have read.  But if we examine some other samples of this literature, I think we will move away from this overemphasis on the images in Revelation.

So I have a little test for you.  At the end of this lesson, I have placed four samples of this kind of literature for you to examine.  Read each of them, and see if you can find the one passage that comes from Revelation (they are labeled at the end).

2: Go old school

Revelation is fairly unique among NT books, in that it does not usually quote from the Old Testament.  There are only a few quotations from the OT in Revelation, but the book is full of images from the OT, and we are going to sample some here.

1) Time, times, and half a time (Rev. 12:14).

2) Manna (Rev. 2:17)

3) Four horsemen (Rev 6) — color is important!

4) Four living creatures (Rev. 4)

5) Sound of rushing waters (Rev. 1:15)

6) The two witnesses: (Rev 11:6) witness #1 — no rain; witness #2 — water to blood.

7) Tree of life (Rev. 2:7 and Rev 22)

Using the concordance such as the keyword search on Biblegateway.com and your knowledge of the Old Testament, find a reference for each of these seven images.  When you have a reference, see if you can infer what each of these images is being used to show.

As I believe you can see, the more OT you know, the easier it is to understand Revelation

3: Keep it Symbol

With Revelation, we as readers tend to overanalyze the imagery that is being described to us.  The main danger of Revelation is that we will bring our own meaning, biases, and interpretations into our reading of the text.  We must be very careful about doing this, for the reasons we have already talked about.  We must also be careful about interpreting images too literally.  Let’s look at an example:

In Revelation 5:6, the “lamb of God” has “seven horns and seven eyes.”  A literal interpretation of this verse will give us an image such as:

That seems a bit ridiculous if you ask me.  But, what if we examined each part of the verse separately?  First, we have the number 7.  What are some of the biblical associations with the number 7?  Seven represents completeness, or wholeness.  Now let’s examine the horn.  We have lost the association with this, but in ancient societies, the horn — such as on a ram or bull — represented power.  The eyes, like today, represent seeing or vision.  So, if we combine the images, we get the following:

7 (completeness) + horn (power) + eye (seeing) = all powerful and all seeing. 

The verse is shorthand for these things.  This is one example, and much of Revelation is not that simple, but in general, we can watch for the following symbols:

Numbers: numbers are almost always significant, they include: 3, 3½ (half of seven), 4, 6, 7, 12, 144 (12×12), etc.

Objects: Eyes, horns, crowns, swords, scrolls, robes, etc.

Animals: Horses, lions, lambs, dragons, beasts, bulls, eagles, men,

Locations: Babylon (we’ll talk about this), Heaven, the earth, the sea, the stars, etc.

4: Ask the magic 8-Ball

?) What are some of the ways people try to predict the future?  How do you think God feels about such efforts?

It is my belief that the Bible does predict the future, but not in such a way that we could make a profit from such efforts, or be able to blueprint the future.

Read Matthew 24: 36-44.  What do these verses tell us?  What should this tell us about Revelation?

The “future” that Revelation predicts is that God will be victorious in the end, because of what Jesus Christ has done for each of us.  Revelation, then, tells us only how the story will end: with God and his followers victorious.  What benefit does this have for us?

There is a legend of a general whose army was tired and outnumbered by the opposing force.  The men needed to be rallied.  The general gathered his army to him, and held up a coin.  I’m going to flip this coin, he said, and if the eagle lands face up, we will win, but if the wolf lands up, we will lose this day.  He flipped the coin, and the soldiers held their breath as the coin flew through the air.  The eagle side landed up, and the soldiers let out a huge cheer.  Reinvigorated by the general, the soldiers rallied and won the day.  Only afterwards did the general reveal the secret: the eagle was on both sides of the coin.  It was the knowledge that the victory was assured by the toss of the coin that led the soldiers to win the day.

Knowing that you are on the winning side is powerful, and should empower each of us to be better “soldiers” for God.  This, I believe, is the true power of the Book of Revelation, for God’s people to have just a glimpse of the power that is on our side.

5: The One Who is Worthy

We have covered a lot of material tonight, and I don’t want to over saturate you with material.  So instead of getting too deep with the text itself, we will begin our look at Revelation just by reading chapter 1 aloud.  (We’ll return to it next week for some explanation).  Note any details that seem important based upon what we have shared tonight.  Read it again this week, with chapters 2 and 3.  I think that you will see that the character of Jesus Christ is the center of this text, as the author intended.
Sample of Apocalyptic Literature:

4 Ezra is a Jewish writing from between the OT and NT, but not part of the Bible.  The Apocalypse of Peter is a Christian writing from the era of the early church (circa 150 AD), but it is NOT part of the NT.  Zechariah is part of the OT as we read, and the last passage is from Revelation itself.  Note the patterns in the use of broad, symbolic language, and the use of color, rising and falling, animals, and visions.

Passage 1:

And it came to pass on the second night I had a dream, and behold, there came up from the sea an eagle that had twelve wings.  And I looked, and behold, he spread his wings over all the earth, and all the winds of heaven blew upon him, and the clouds were gathered about him.  And I looked, and behold, the eagle flew with his wings, to reign over the earth and over those who dwell in it.  And I saw how all things under heaven were subjected to him, and no one spoke against him, not even one of the creatures that was on the earth.  And I looked, and behold, the eagle rose upon his talons, and uttered a cry to his wings, saying, “Do not all watch at the same time; let each sleep in his own place and watch in his turn.” – 4 Ezra 11:1-9

Passage 2:

And the Lord showed me a very great country outside of this world, exceeding bright with light, and the air there lighted with the rays of the sun, and the earth itself blooming with unfading flowers and full of spices and plants, fair-flowering and incorruptible and bearing blessed fruit. And so great was the perfume that it was reached even to us. And the dwellers in that place were clad in the linen of shining angels and their clothes were like unto their country; and angels hovered about them there. And the glory of the dwellers there was equal, and with one voice they sang praises alternately to the Lord God, rejoicing in that place. The Lord said to us: This is the place of your high-priests, the righteous men. — Apocalypse of Peter 15-19

Passage 3:

I looked up again—and there before me were four chariots coming out from between two mountains—mountains of bronze!  The first chariot had red horses, the second black, the third white, and the fourth pail—all of them powerful.  I asked the angel who was speaking to me, “What are these, my lord?”  The angel answered me, “These are the four spirits of heaven, going out from standing in the presence of the Lord of the whole world.  The one with the black horses is going toward the north country, the one with the white horses toward the west, and the one with the dappled horses toward the south.”  When the powerful horses went out, they were straining to go throughout the earth. And he said, “Go throughout the earth!” So they went throughout the earth. – Zechariah 6:1-7

Passage 4:

I was given a reed like a measuring rod and was told, “Go and measure the temple of God and the altar, and count the worshipers there.  But exclude the outer court; do not measure it, because it has been given to the Gentiles. They will trample on the holy city for 42 months.  And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.”  These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.  If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies. This is how anyone who wants to harm them must die.  These men have power to shut up the sky so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying; and they have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want. — Revelation 11:1-6

Day 360a (Dec. 26): Jude’s letter is similar to Peter’s second letter, beware of false teachers, remain strong in the faith as you did from the beginning, Jesus appears to John holding seven stars (angels of the seven churches) and standing amidst seven gold lampstands, church of Ephesus is told to return the strong faith they had in the beginning, church in Smyrna told of impending suffering but a reward comes afterward, Pergamum church is told to rid itself of evil teaching, and church of Thyatira is warned of Jezebel’s sexual promiscuity but tells others to hold true to their faith because they will get authority of the Father to rule

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.

The letter from Jude addresses many of the same concerns as Peter’s second letter, which suggests that the two letters were written at about the same time and to the same churches.

Jude 1:1-25

We are here at the last book of the Bible.  You did it!  This is a book like no other book in the Bible which can be quite confusing, so Rob offered up an introduction to Revelations.  It’s the next blog dated Day 360b.  Thanks, Rob!

Revelation 1-2:29

John wrote Revelation from the Island of Patmos, where he was exiled “for preaching the word of God and for (his) testimony about Jesus” (1:9).  This occurred either during the mid-60s, during Nero’s reign and before the destruction of Jerusalem, or during the mid-90s, during the reign of Domitian.

Questions & Observations

Q. (Jude 1:1): Jude was Jesus’s brother too, right?

A. Jesus had a brother named Jude (also known as Judas, but not the fallen apostle), and tradition holds that this is the writer of this brief epistle.

Q. (Revelations 1:4): What is “sevenfold Spirit”?  What is the significance of seven spirits, seven stars, seven lampstands, and seven churches?

A. The number seven represents completeness, so the usage of seven is used here to have a double meaning.  It represents the presence of the seven churches — which they would have considered to each have a lampstand, a symbol of the power of God and a guardian angel — that the letter is written to, but also the seven represents the ENTIRE eternal Church body.  John is cleverly using a well-known image of the seven days taken to complete Creation (there are many similar OT images in Revelation, as we shall see) for his own purposes.  The more OT you know, the easier it is to unravel many of the mysteries of Revelation.

Q. (1:20): So, we have seen quite a change in God’s people.  The Israelite’s started out with Abraham, grew and grew to a large nation, then salvation was shared with the Gentiles and now God addresses the churches.  The “church” seems like an establishment that God wants us to make.  It’s a model of how we can all work as one for a greater good.

A. The local community church is, to mince no words, the center of God’s plan for the salvation of the ENTIRE WORLD!  So it is not really shocking that the Spirit, through John, writes to both encourage and correct congregations of this day.

Q. (2:13): Can you explain Satan’s “throne” being in Pergamum?

A. We don’t exactly know, but there are a few theories.  The most common theory is that it refers to one of the many pagan temples located in the city — most likely the massive temple to the God Jupiter/Zeus.  It was also a major “hub” of that portion of the Roman Empire, and many important rulings were issued from there, making it a “throne” area of this enemy of the Church, the Empire itself.  A throne would be a place of comfort for a “king,” in this case Satan, so another theory is that John is referring to the city being a place of comfort for the enemy king, Satan himself.  Any of those, or some combination of all of them, is probably what John has in mind.  It is a symbolic image, like many we will see in this text.  Keep reading this section for more!

Q. (2:17): What’s the white stone?

A. In the ancient world, a white stone was often “issued” as a ticket for an important event, such as a festival or wedding.  Thus, Jesus giving a person a stone with a name (likely engraved) on it should be understood as that person being invited to the ultimate celebration: His wedding (more to come on this).

Q. (2:20): Didn’t we read about another Jezebel who was a king’s wife in the OT?  Any similarities between her and this one?

A. Yes we did.  Jezebel was a great enemy of the true people of God in the OT, and so John is using her name symbolically — a running theme here — to describe a woman in the congregation who is leading people away from the true path, as Jezebel did centuries ago.  One of the recurring themes here is in this type of cryptic literature — the genre is called apocalyptic — is that the author wants to keep the true meaning of what he is saying hidden from outsiders.  So by repeatedly using names and symbols of the OT, which Jews and Christians would have been familiar with but most Greeks and Romans would not have, he can convey clear imagery to those in the “know,” but outsiders are not clear on the meaning.  It’s the ultimate in “insider” writing.

Q. (2:26): What is special about Thyatira?  Is it because those who are strong-willed enough to resist Jezebel deserve a reward?  I have thought a lot lately about how strong sexual desire is — I think probably more among men — and the reason for it.  Maybe a very hard test?  Manlihood, or to show one’s success, is a strong desire, so for men to give that up and submit to God would be a big obstacle to overcome and worth a reward?  (If you haven’t watched the movie Flywheel, it is a good movie about a man giving up his proudful manlihood and control and giving his life to God.)

A. The rewards that you see for each of the churches — there are four more to come — are speaking of the general “rewards” of being faithful to Christ, and I do not believe that there are particular rewards that will not be given to others.  It is simply a way to keep from repeating himself.