Day 362 (Dec. 28): 144,000 Israelites get seal of God, a crowd comes who survived the great tribulation and serve God, breaking seventh seal causes earthquake, angels blowing trumpets set off destruction on earth, fifth trumpet brings stinging locusts for five months, sixth trumpet blown releases angels who kill one-third of all people, the mighty angel with small scroll says to keep a secret and ate it, scroll was sweet but became sour in stomach

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 7-10:11

Questions & Observations

Q. So, this is all still John’s vision?  Why is this so crazy compared to everything we have read before … except for some of those wild monsters we read about in the OT.

A. This is John’s vision, but it is written in a particular type of genre of writing called apocalyptic.  It would have been a commonly used form for writing in this era, but since the Bible does not contain much of this type of literature (though parts of Zechariah, as we read yesterday, and Daniel 7-12 are examples we do have from the OT.  Note how similar the visions in the second half of Daniel are to what we are reading).

Apocalyptic literature hit its “peak” in the intertestament period, when Jewish oppression drove writers to create visions of God avenging their deaths at the hands of cruel pagans.  John, a Jew, is very familiar with this type of literature.  The key characteristics of this type of writing are vivid use of symbols, animals, numbers, and colors; but it is also characterized by its contrast to what we would call prophetic writing.  In prophetic writing (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Jonah, etc.), the situation is dire, but it is not too late for the people to repent — the common call of the prophet.  But this is not the case in apocalyptic literature: it IS too late in this case to repent, God Himself must intervene to avenge what has been done to His faithful children, something we see over and over again.  The wrath that is being poured out in these visions is to avenge those who have suffered at the hands of the unjust — something Christians had heavily experienced during the era of the Roman Emperors Nero and Domitian.

Q. (Revelation 7:1-8): Where does the 144,000 come from?  Are these Israelites alive or passed?

A. I’m going to assume you mean what is significant about it, because to me, the math is not in question (12 tribes, 12,000 sealed from each tribe).  There are numerous theories about it: some say it is a symbolic number.  One scholar I read noted that the number signifies completeness in two ways: by squaring the number of tribes (12×12) and multiplied by 1,000, which would have been understood to the original hearers as a sign of completeness.  Others view it as a literal number of Jews saved (Jehovah’s Witnesses argue that ONLY 144,000 PEOPLE will be saved in total!)  But there is not a lot of consensus.  I tend to see it as a symbolic number, since it is from a book that deals in symbolic numbers, not literal headcounts.  As to whether these Jews are alive or dead, that questions is impossible to answer, and is irrelevant anyway: they have completed their trial, so there is no longer a distinction between alive and dead- all are alive in Christ.

Q. (Revelation 7:14): Does the “crowd” refer to the rest of us — non-Israelites?  I thought Israelites were put on a level playing field with everyone else.  What is the great tribulation?

A. The common understanding is that the Jewish group is first seen by John as being a subsection of the great multitude, so that removes any notion of being the “special” section of the saved.  The Jews are still God’s chosen people, and His plan of salvation for the entire world had its origins with them.  But salvation is now for everyone.  The crowd is the survivors of the great tribulation, which the rest of the book will be showing to us.  Symbolically, this does describe all Christians from every nation and people, who ALL must pass through some form of trial and tribulation, either great or small.  That’s the way that I read what John has written here: it is a victory celebration for those, Jew and Gentile throughout all time, have come to salvation in Christ.

Q. (Revelation 8:6-13): Why is the significance of the star’s name — Bitterness?  How about the eagle?

A. The star has a few interpretations.  Those who hold to a more literal, “this represents this” interpretation argue that the language of Rev. 8 represents events of great leaders who have fallen (a “falling star”) in the history of our world.  I, frankly, don’t buy that, because there is no indication that this is what John means, and it requires too much pure speculation about who this is.  I think that takes too much away from what John is doing — writing symbolically — in this work.  I believe that the name, which refers to a type of plant, represents the coming bitterness that will befall the inhabitants of the earth in the midst of the coming tribulation.  The eagle is sometimes seen as a symbol of pending destruction, as in Deuteronomy 28:49, Jeremiah 4:13, and Hosea 8:1 — note that in Jeremiah the warning is followed by a declaration of “woe to us” and in Hosea there are trumpets that precede the warning.

Q. (Revelation 9:1-12): Ouch.  I don’t want to be in that crowd.  Locusts are a popular pest in the Bible.  Who is the Destroyer?

A. Most likely a symbolic personification of destruction, though some think that there is a powerful demon, a fallen angel, who is lord of the Abyss.

Q. (Revelation 9:13-21): Horses are popular in Revelation.  And, colors are pointed out when they are mentioned — here, the riders.  Why all the mutations of animals?  These visions can’t be actual — like back with Joseph’s visions when the wheat symbolized his brothers.

A. Yes, they are visions.  Horses are powerful symbols in this story because at the time, a warhorse would have been the most powerful weapon of war in existence.  They symbolized power, control, and conquest, and to a certain degree, they still do today.  Other animals — including some non-real ones coming up — are used because they often carry with them double meanings, the same reason that various colors are used.  The images of wild beasts and vivid colors drive our imagination, exactly as John desires.

Q. (Revelation 10:1-11): Is the mighty angel Jesus?  Can you point us back to the scripture that v.7 talks about when God revealed His plan to the prophets?  And, what is being symbolized when John ate the small scroll and it tasted sweet and then bitter?

A. No, Jesus is NEVER referred to as an angel.  It most likely refers to an archangel, one of the “high” classes of angels.  There is no Scripture that tells the exact spot where God revealed His plan to the prophets: it simply didn’t work that way.  God revealed pieces of His vision to the various men and women who were faithful to Him in the OT, and those visions, put together, and viewed through the “lens” of Jesus’ earthly ministry, gives us the vision for God’s plan.  The sweet/bitter of the scroll harkens back to Ezekiel, who was also ordered to consume a bitter message.  The sweetness is the inevitability of God’s victory, the good news.  The bitterness/sour is that this victory will involve the suffering of many or the bad news.  John must proclaim both messages, telling of Christ’s victory will be sweet, telling of suffering and persecution will be painful.

Day 351 (Dec. 17): The son radiates God’s glory, Jesus earned place of honor when he cleansed us from sin, Jesus is greater than the angels, angels care for believers, stay with the truth, Jesus more glorious than Moses, Israelites faltering in the desert serves as a heed God’s instructions, promised rest for God’s people

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.

2 Timothy 4:19-22

The letter to the Hebrews was written to a group of Jewish Christians- and it was very likely given as a sermon since it contains no greeting.  Though Paul is the traditionally attributed writer, it is unlikely that Paul wrote it.  Instead, the author is unknown, lost to history.  The text was probably written before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in AD 70, since the letter presupposes that sacrifices were still being performed there (for example, see 5:1-3, 8:3-5, 9:6-13).

Hebrews 1-4:13

Questions & Observations

Q. (Hebrews 1:2): Can you explain this verse?  It sounds like this promise of inheritance happened at creation, so then Jesus would have to know he would be crucified back then?  I really don’t know what God is saying Jesus is inheriting.

A. The writer is describing how Jesus will be ultimate ruler of all created things — that this was God’s plan from the beginning.  This is the “everything” that Jesus has inherited by going through the process of being crucified.  If you ask me, I suspect that God knew the way that all things would unfold in Creation, including the need for Jesus to be crucified.

Q. (1:4-14): Why is the author validating that Jesus is more glorious than angels?

A. Because angel worship was a problem then as it is now, maybe more so (google “angel sightings” or “angel shrine” to see what I’m talking about).  This was an especially big problem for early Jewish Christians, who would have greatly revered angels.  The author needs to convince his audience that Jesus is superior to all the things of the OT, including Moses, the angels/messengers, and the priesthood/temple (coming soon!).

Q. (1:14): To my knowledge, I haven’t been in the presence of an angel.  In what instances do angels help us?  I guess I am confused now about angels roles vs. the Holy Spirit.  I have definitely been in the presence of a heavenly spirit, but I don’t know if it was when the Spirit was particularly strong in me, or it was an angel.  I have heard God’s voice — in my head — and I have felt that glorious feeling many times.  But, are we supposed be able to identify if it’s angels, the Spirit, Jesus or God?

A. There’s not really a clear way to do it, since the Bible shrouds such things in mystery intentionally.  But the general rule I would give you is that if you hear the “internal” voice, you are hearing the Spirit of God, and any “external” voice is that of an angelic being, who is bringing a message from God.  That last one is exceptionally rare, occurring only a few times even within Scripture.

Q. (2:18): This verse is saying that if we think of Jesus suffering on the cross that can help us make wise decisions, i.e. Jesus went to these lengths for me so I can honor His suffering by making choices with righteousness and grace?

A. I think that’s part of it, but also remember the verses we have read indicating that Jesus now prays and acts on our behalf at the very throne of God the Father.  Jesus might also be able to literally help us during times of crisis, in addition to your suggestion that His help is figurative.

Q. (3:6): So, God is Lord over all, but Jesus has authority over us?  If we use the church analogy, He is the head pastor of us and God would be the bishop (with no one over Him, of course)?

A. Trying to draw lines like that is a really tricky exercise, since the Persons of the Trinity are distinct, but also unified in a way that we as humans simply cannot comprehend.  What the NT tells us is that Jesus is the ruler of all the things that He helped create, i.e. all of Creation.

Q. (3:13): In our small group, one member said that we are to love everyone, but have an elevated relationship with other Christians.  Could this verse be the source for that thought?  We should help other brothers and sisters in Christ by watching their moves and keeping them straight.  I would think this could be a little tricky because of people’s pride (a sin), but those who are wise will take heed to the guidance.  Also, those who are setting the others straight need to make sure both of their feet and their hearts are on the right path.

A. I would partially disagree with your friend, and my reason for doing so would be because I feel like there are different seasons in a Christians life in which they may be forced to focus on other Christians more, and other seasons where they focus on non-believers more, as the Spirit guides us.  I think it is inaccurate to make blanket statements such as “always watch over Christians more,” because I simply don’t think that that is always what God wants.  Having said all that, I do believe that what you’re describing is at the heart of accountability, the watching over the hearts of Christians close to you, which is a high priority in the NT, just not the only one.  The end point for all Christian discipleship is to reach those who are not yet members of the community.  The ultimate target is those who are far from God.

Q. (4:8): What does it mean, “if Joshua had succeeded in giving them rest”?  I’m really not sure if this passage is talking about resting on the Sabbath or rest after we see Jesus come again and can enjoy the wonderment of Heaven, like a rest of struggling souls.  (I have never thought of this before: Imagine the rest your soul will enjoy after we get to heaven — rest from continuously battling with temptation and sin.  That’s a feeling we should strive for now.  If there is sin trying to influence us, toss it away so you can have that calmness where no one is trying to disturb your peace.

A. Ok, what’s going on here is the writer is comparing the rest God took on the seventh day of Creation to the “rest” that He offers those who are faithful to Him (Heaven, in other words).  The reference to Joshua relates to him being the person who led the people into the Promised Land after Moses’ death.  Entering the Promised Land has long been seen as a metaphor for dying and going to heaven to be with God, which the writer is obviously connecting with here.  But what he is saying is that entering the Promised Land for the Israelites did not bring them salvation or “rest,” but just presented them with a new set of challenges that they frequently failed.  The real rest of God, the writer is saying, won’t be like that.  It will be the true fulfillment of God’s rest for His children.

O. (4:13): Just a noteworthy verse: 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable.

Day 301 (Oct. 28): Be ready for Jesus’s second coming at all times, parable of ten bridesmaids, parable of three servants, Jesus will separate the righteous from evil, helping others helps Jesus

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.

Mark 13:32-37

Matthew 24:36-51

Luke 21:34-38

Matthew 25:1-46

Questions & Observations

Q. (Matthew 24:36-51): We have heard this same story before, I guess from another one of the gospels.  Any idea why it wasn’t put with the other one since this is a chronological Bible?

A. While we’ve heard some version of the material, that doesn’t mean that it was presented at the same time as Jesus’ other sermons or that that material was never repeated (an assumption many skeptics of the Bible simply ignore — Jesus likely taught similar sermons over and over again).  Matthew records that these verses are part of a larger narrative on being prepared for the Final Judgment, which is unique, and has not been presented in the Gospels before now.  That is most likely why some of the material that kind of sounds familiar from other Gospels is presented here as part of a narrative about being prepared.

Q. (Luke 21:34-38): Does this mean we aren’t supposed to let our guard down by hanging out with friends and having a couple of drinks?  Or, is this talking about boozing it up at a bar?  I would say that as long as God is with you and on your mind, you’re OK.  But if you let your morals go, then you risk letting God go and your salvation?

A. The Bible does not prescribe a life completely free of alcohol consumption, but it DOES say clearly that drunkenness is a sin.  Since there are many people who cannot handle the distinction between a couple of drinks and being blackout drunk (i.e. alcoholics), it might be better for those people to avoid consuming alcohol at all, since it tends to dull your wits.  Bad decisions come after consuming too much alcohol.

Q. (Matthew 25:14-30): We’ve seen this one before too.  I can get two different morals from this story.  One is that the master is literally giving talents.  The servants who use their talents and either expand on them or profit from them are rewarded.  Or, the servants who use their talents to bring more people to God will be rewarded.

A. As mentioned, it is possible that Jesus is repeating a story He has already told in this instance to make a point about using the gifts and abilities God has given us (including being given riches).  Either of your proposed “morals” are fine, but they BOTH require a level of discernment: you must determine what you feel God is calling you to do, and then to act on it.

Q. (Matthew 25:31-46): Jesus is talking about when we help others, we honor Him.  If we don’t do that — his will and the new covenant — it’s eternal time in the fire pit.  When we lived on Guam, a neighbor who was a Seventh Day Adventist told me that the Bible says that the eternal fire is really not eternal.  I have always pictured people — I guess it would be there souls? — burning forever and ever.  Rob, what knowledge do you have?

A. First, one quick note: the story of the Sheep and Goats does not say that it is actions ALONE that will get us into heaven or send us to hell.  Our actions are generally a tangible representation of what we believe (i.e. we don’t generally act in contrast to what we believe).  So if we have faith in Christ, and have been changed by His life and teachings, then the result of such thinking will most likely being a radical change in our actions.  We are much less likely to be selfish if we have truly internalized what Jesus has taught us.  So if we have faith in Him, our actions will likely change, which is tangibly proven by our daily interactions with others.

As to the reality of what hell is “like,” we only have bits and pieces to go on.  There are some contrasting images that appear contradictory at first look: we are told that hell is a place of darkness, but also of fire for example.  In Revelation, it will be described as a lake of fire — burning sulfur, which used to be known as brimstone, to be exact.  As we discussed at some point — I forget exactly where — when Jesus discussed what we call hell, He used images of a place called Gehenna, a burning trash heap outside of Jerusalem that was once used for pagan child sacrifice.  So there are various ways that the reality of hell is described.  Personally, I agree with one part of what your neighbor has said, but it’s not the part you might think.  I believe that there will be an eternal separation of souls from God, and that while there will be no LITERAL fire there, the agony and anguish of regret at having missed out on God will be undeniable.  Note carefully: all the metaphors that Jesus used to speak about hell — and don’t miss that it is Jesus HIMSELF who teaches much of what we understand about hell! — have a literal point: they represent regret, suffering, and misery.  Hell is real, and it is a real danger to those who willfully turn from God — no one goes to hell by accident — it is willful action on our part to end up there.  We all know or have heard about people who say they want no part of God at all — that He is cruel, or unjust, or whatever.  And as a person who believes strongly in free will, I believe that God is willing to say, “I will not force you to be with me if that is what you desire.”  But surely those who make up their mind to act in defiance of God and choose their sin and selfishness will regret what they have done.  Such defiance often makes us blind to a way out, even if the lifeline is still offered.  C.S. Lewis once cleverly remarked that if hell is “locked,” then it is locked from the inside.  Something to think about…