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 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.