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 363 (Dec. 29): Two witnesses take on devil and win through resurrection, seventh trumpet blast brings Ark of Covenant to life, woman takes on dragon, beast speaks blasphemies against God, three angels shout praises to God

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 11-14:20

Questions & Observations

Q. (Revelation 11:2): Is there anything significant about 42 months?

A. There are several numbers used in this section of the reading that all mean the same thing: 42 months, 1,260 days, and time, times, and half a time all indicate the same time period: 3½ years.  Part of the significance comes from this being exactly half of seven (which you will recall symbolizes completeness), so 3½ represents incompleteness, an uncompleted work, and chaos.  As always, there is an exact OT reference to what John is describing: in Daniel 7:25, the story speaks of God’s holy people being tormented by evil ones for this exact time frame, as part of a seven year cycle.

Q. (11:15): Any idea what “world” is referring to?  Earth?  Heaven?

A. It refers to the earth.  John has repeatedly spoken in his other volumes about not loving “the world,” by which he means the evil, sin and corruption of our planet — not hating the earth itself.

Q. (11:16): Just wondering if the 24 elders — and is there significance to 24 — is the Bible’s Hall of Fame, like Abraham, Moses, Joseph, etc.  Or, 24 is 2×12 — 12 tribes of Israel, 12 apostles — one of each of Abraham’s sons and the 12 disciples?

A. The last one.  There is some speculation that if this is John the Apostle writing this work (as is tradition), then the elder talking to him throughout this vision is himself as one of the 24 elders, if that makes any sense.  It is a vision after all.

Q. Why all these dragons and beasts?  Why not a man dressed in red with a pitchfork?

A. Dragons are scarier.  🙂

Q. (12:10): “For the accuser of our brothers and sisters has been thrown down to earth” makes me wonder that if Lucifer became extremely jealous of God naming Jesus his Son and that’s what fueled his anger and got him kicked out of heaven.  Just wondering.

A. I do not think Satan’s sin is jealousy, but rather pride.  He sees himself as superior to God, and desires to have God’s seat.  That, by the way, is why pride is often considered to be the “father” of all sin.  All sin, whether the decision to dishonor marriage vows, to worship other gods, to steal, to lie, or to kill, is ultimately to say to God, “I think my way is better than your way and I am in charge of my life.”  THAT is pride through and through.  To me, that is part of what makes the message of the Gospel so scandalous: it says that we are not alright on our own, and that we have truly messed things up when we go our own, prideful way.

Q. (12:17): Is the devil privy to all of this end-of-days info?  If so, I would think that he would give up.  But, maybe God keeps them going because the devil does help weed out those who are noncommittal.

A. Evil can always rationalize its own existence.  There’s a scene in a movie called the Devil’s Advocate — which I am NOT recommending — in which Keanu Reeves and Al Pacino, playing the devil, discuss what the Bible says.  Reeves tells Satan, “in the Bible you lose” to which Pacino replies, “well consider your source.”  I think that conveys the sense of pride and ambition that characterizes the real Satan: he refuses to admit that he will lose, and can justify all day long his reasons for defying God.

Q. (12:18): Can you tell us anything about what this number of the beast is, Rob?

A.  You bet I can.  The number 666 — which in some texts reads 616 — is probably a multi-leveled analogy.  First, the number 6 itself, represents mankind (having been made on the sixth day), and also represent incompleteness or imperfection, in contrast to 7.  Thus you have imperfection times three.  The text tells us that the number is man’s.

The number itself is acquired by converting various letter systems into numbers based upon their order in our alphabet- for example the name “Ada” in English would be “6”, 1+4+1.  The key for the Hebrew alphabet (22 letters, no vowels), is that after you count to 10, the next number is not 11, but 20, and then after 100, 200.  It breaks down as follows:

Aleph = 1, Beth = 2, Gimel = 3, Dalet = 4, He = 5, Vav = 6, Zayin = 7, Cheth = 8, Teth = 9, Yodh = 10, Kaph = 20, Lamed = 30, Mem = 40, Nun = 50, Samekh = 60, Ayin = 70, Pe = 80, Tsadhe = 90, Koph = 100, Resh = 200, Shin = 300, Tav = 400.

The most common interpretation of the two numbers is that the represent the Emperor Nero, who is famous to this day for his brutal persecution of Christians.  He was a “beast” if ever there was one.  If we convert his name using the numbers above, the name “Neron Caesar” (translated name) in Hebrew (which would normally be read right to left) would read: (take my word for it) Nun, Resh, Vav, Nun, Koph, Samekh, Resh.  This would give you 50+200+6+50+100+60+200= 666.  (There are similar versions using the Greek alphabet, but I’ll skip those for now).  Anyway, as today, Neron was more commonly called Nero, and we would drop the second 50, giving us 616.  No other major figure for the period gives us both numbers, but people in every era have used different numerical systems to identify their own beasts.  The Reformers used Roman numerals to identify the Pope of the time as the beast.  Anyway, there’s a lot of other theories out there about what the number means, but that’s my favorite.

Q. (13:8): Rob, I know we have discussed this before.  Do you remember where?  Back to the “being chosen” readings: Why do we have to live out our lives if it is or isn’t in the Book of Life?

A. Because we don’t know whose name is written there.  There is a sense in the NT, in Paul’s letters especially, that the Christian life is a race that must be completed, and that, I think, goes a long way to giving a sense of the ultimate question: Can we be faithful to the end.  Only those who can — as this book repeatedly attests — has their name written in the book.

Q. (14:1-5): Is the “special offering” the purest believers?  These believers were the best the earth could offer God, so they were a precious personal offering to God?

A. It is probably something like that, but I am not completely sure.

Q. (14:13b): I never have read anything about the Spirit actually talking to someone.

A. While we have not seen the actual action of talking on the part of the Spirit, one of the things the NT informs us is that the role of the Spirit is to “speak” to our heart and mind and remind us of the teachings of Christ.  So in that sense, His primary role is “speaking.”

Day 356 (Dec. 22): Jesus is cornerstone for believers to build on and nonbelievers to stumble, respect those in authority, slaves who endure hardship will be rewarded, wives must accept husband’s authority, clothe yourself in inward beauty not outward appearance, husbands must treat wives as equal partner, pay back retaliation with blessings, God will reward those who suffer for doing what is right, live for God, watch over flock willingly not grudgingly, watch out for the prowling devil

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.

Day 356 (Dec. 22)

1 Peter 2:4-5:11

Questions & Observations

Q. (1 Peter 2:18-25): On second reading, the slaves he is talking about, I think, are actual slaves, but I think this passage also includes all Christians: Those who can endure unfair treatment will be rewarded.  Does God condone slavery?  What about slavery in the U.S. was it wrong by God and should it have ended?

A. No more than any other human institution that exploits people, as slavery does.  Slavery, in its various forms, is a classic example of the exploitation that people frequently indulge in, including abuse (in all its forms), violence, and sex trafficking (which is frankly just sex slavery).  The ways that we humans too often treat each other in no way pleases God, but there can be light brought out of it as well, as Peter is describing.  If you endure suffering — suffering you don’t deserve, not that you do! — it is a powerful witness to the transformative power of Christ.  So though we often exploit each other (Americans included), Peter is saying that even the suffering of the exploited can be used to glorify God.

O. (3:3-6): My good friend is a hairstylist in Hollywood.  He sees celebrities constantly.  On a visit, his cousin wanted to go to the grocery store in the morning just dressed in casual clothes.  My friend told her no, no, you have to get ready to go to the store there.  Everyone is dressed to the nines, even on a weekend morning.  I just think about how much time that wastes and if you are out showing God’s love, how does that make people feel if, when you are talking to them all dressed up, they think that you are above their status and can’t relate to you.  It’s easy for me to get on the soapbox about this since I don’t spend hardly any time primping.  I always thought I was too lazy.  Now I can use the reason that I want my inward beauty to show.  J

Q. (4:1b): What does it mean to have “suffered physically for Christ” and “you will have finished with sin?”

A. I’m honestly not sure.  Best guess: if you are counted as a follower of Christ to the point where you are willing to suffer punishment for it, then like Christ, you have (symbolically) moved beyond sin, because those who are faithful have been purified of sin by God’s grace.

O. (4:7): Prayer is certainly something that I don’t take as seriously as I should.  And, I think more quiet time with God would draw me closer to Him.

O. (5:2b): Watching over others willingly sure makes it more enjoyable too!

Q. (5:8): This reminds me of our beloved former pastor, Isaac Hunter, who just took his own life.  I looked back on YouTube at some of his old skit videos.  He looked so normal, so together and happy.  The devil must have bore down on him hard for him to trip up and give up.  We can learn from Isaac’s fall.  The devil can trip us up so easily, we have to be on the lookout constantly.

A. While it can sound insensitive (I had tremendous respect for Isaac), what happened to Isaac did not happen overnight, or through a single “attack” of the devil.  I have a strong suspicion that Isaac suffered greatly for years because of his personal choices.  So while Satan may prowl, far too often we give him an opening and are forced to deal with the consequences, as Isaac did.  While the man that you saw in the videos presented an outward appearance of happiness — which may indeed have been genuine — I suspect that Isaac was hiding great pain that not even close friends, co-workers, or counselors could see.  He hid it so well.  Isaac was incredibly gifted, and I am so sad that those gifts have now been lost — partly because he would have been uniquely qualified to share with others about how to confront the demons that haunt you and pass to the other side with God’s help.

Day 312 (Nov. 8): Peter heals lame beggar, Peter preaches about Jesus, council tries to hush Peter and John, disciples pray for courage, believers become a community sharing wealth and possessions, Ananias and Sapphira try to cheat eh church, disciples heal many, disciples imprisoned but escape, disciples flogged but continued to preach about 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.

Acts 3-5:42

Questions & Observations

Q. (Acts 3:22): Why did Moses refer to Jesus as a Prophet instead of the Messiah?

A. Remember that Messiah is a title that means “anointed” or “chosen,” and one of the OT offices that was anointed was the office of Prophet (the others are King and Priest, more on those later).  So when Moses refers to the One who is coming as a Prophet, he is not referring to Jesus incorrectly, but merely describing a single aspect of His ministry- that of being THE Prophet who will bring His people back to God.

Q. (Acts 4:8-11): I love how the Holy Spirit takes over Peter’s speech here.  I have heard other people say how sometimes when talking to someone about God that they can’t believe what comes out of their mouth.  They felt the Holy Spirit control their speech.

A. That is certainly the implication of what Jesus advised His followers during the Last Supper — sometimes if we act in boldness to proclaim His truth, we never know the ways that God might show up via the Spirit.

Q. (Acts 5:1-11): Would it have been a big deal for Ananias and Sapphira to keep some of the money anyway?  I take it that it’s just because they lied about giving the full amount to the apostles when they didn’t?

A. I think the deceit is certainly the big deal — they were attempting to show off to the community, while keeping some of the money to themselves.  And this is exactly what Peter says: you could have kept some of the money, but you chose to lie about it.

Q. (Acts 5:15): How could Peter’s shadow heal people?  Peter seems to be taking a lead position with the disciples.

A. I have no idea.  And yes, Peter will be the primary focus of Acts for the first half of the story, and then someone else will take over.

Q. (Acts 5:31): How do the people know that God put Jesus at His right hand?  Through the apostles teaching?

A. Peter is not necessarily referring to an ACTUAL throne, but rather that Jesus is in the place of honor, as we have discussed.  The right hand was a trusted advisor who had the “ear” of the King.

Q. (Acts 5:33-41): If the Jewish leaders accepted Gamaliel’s advice, why did they flog the disciples?  I guess flogging is OK, but death is not?

A. I think they were looking for a way to take out their jealous feelings, and perhaps make one more attempt to push the disciples into silence.  Fat chance.

Day 305 (Nov. 1): Jesus is betrayed and arrested, Jesus prays at Gethsemane, Peter denies Jesus, high priest questions 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.

John 18:1-2

Mark 14:32-42

Matthew 26:36-46

Luke 22:39-46

Mark 14:43-52

Matthew 26:47-56

Luke 22:47-53

John 18:3-24

Questions & Observations

Q. (Mark 14:32): Do you know what the name “Gethsemane” means.  Just wondered if it is of any significance.

A. It means “oil press,” referring to the large press for the olives trees in the area. Remember the hill they are walking towards is the Mount of Olives.  Olive oil was a precious commodity in the ancient world, and used for all kinds of things.  As to significance, well, I would say you would be hard pressed (pun intended) to miss the notion of Jesus feeling “pressed in” on all sides when He is praying among an oil press.

Q. (14:34): What does Jesus mean by “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death.”

A. Jesus knows the agony that awaits Him, and it surely caused His human self to be anxious and grief stricken.  He was under so much pressure, that He felt that He was going to die.

Q. (14:36) And what does he mean by “cup of suffering?”

A. Over the next 20 or so hours of this story, Jesus will suffer unbelievable agony before He dies.  He is thinking of it as a bitter cup that He must drink.

Q. (14:38): Is Jesus just warning to be careful of temptation, because it is seriously easy to give into?

A. Almost all of His followers will abandon Him by the end of today’s reading.  I would say that is falling into the temptation to flee.

Q. (Mark 14:45): Why a kiss?

A. In Jesus’ day, a rabbi or other teacher would have been greeted by a student or other person wishing to show respect by offering the person a kiss on the hand or cheek.  So don’t miss the irony of Judas using a symbol of love and respect to betray His master.

O. (14:48): Jesus delivered a good punch here when he asked them why they didn’t arrest Him in the temple.  And, from what we read, Jesus was harmless and unarmed, so why did they come to get him with such force.

Q. (14:500): I guess the disciples ran because they were afraid that they may be arrested too?

A. Yes.

Q. (Matthew 26:50): I wonder why Jesus calls Judas his friend?

A. I believe that Jesus still considered him a close friend.  He loved Judas just as much as His other followers.  Judas’ actions (and ours as well) did not keep Jesus from loving him and calling him friend.

Q. (26:51, 56): I know Jesus healed the priest’s slaves’ ear because Jesus said that his arrest must happen in order for the scriptures to be true.  But, are we to follow in Jesus’s non-violent example?  I don’t recall Jesus hurting anyone as a form of punishment. Also, Rob can you tell us who said this prophecy in the OT?  Why was Jesus’s death necessary?  It was foretold in the OT.  My guess is that nothing else worked long-term for making the Israelites see the way, the truth and the life.

A. Isaiah in particular wrote about the Suffering Servant (which Christians consider to be a Suffering Messiah), and the classic passage for such examination is Isaiah 53.  What Jesus is referring to is the path that He will walk to heal all of us.  As Isaiah predicted, by His suffering, we are healed.  As to why it was necessary, let’s revisit that one when we get to the actual crucifixion: the imagery there will be helpful for a full understanding of what is going on, at least as much as I am privy to.

Q. (John 18:3-11): John has probably the most different account of this encounter.  Why is John much more descriptive of Jesus greeting the religious officials who were going to arrest Him?  In v. 11, Jesus says, “Shall I not drink from the cup of suffering the Father has given me?”  I would think that this would be addressed to future readers to mean that we must follow the path God gives us even if it includes suffering.

A. John spends more time than any other Gospel on the last night of Jesus’ life (He will be dead before sundown the next day), so it is little surprise to me that he gives some details about the Garden that the others do not include.  As to why Jesus said, “I’m going to drink the cup the Father has given Me,” it is significant because HE WILL.  I wouldn’t try to read too much into what He is saying, Jesus is describing a plan already in motion that God the Father has set in motion.  What Jesus is saying here is that what will happen to Him is no accident: it is His very purpose in coming to earth.

Q. (John 18:15-18): Why was it important for Peter to deny Jesus?

A. Peter failed his Master at the worst possible time, after BRAGGING about how HE WOULD NEVER FAIL.

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…

Day 299 (Oct. 26): Most important Commandments, Jesus questions religious leaders about Messiah, religious leaders known for pageantry not serving others, Jesus warns religious leaders, only one Father and one Teacher, Pharisees and teachers of religious law neglect justice, mercy and faith, widow’s offering is larger than that of the rich

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 12:28-34

Matthew 22:34-40

Mark 12:35-37

Matthew 22:41-46

Luke 20:41-44

Mark 12:38-40

Matthew 23:1-12

Luke 20:45-47

Matthew 23:13-39

Mark 12:41-44

Luke 21:1-4

Questions & Observations

Q. (Mark 12:31): I had always heard that loving God was the most important and then loving your neighbor was second.  Here it says they are equal.  Does the Bible say one is more important than the other anywhere?  It seems like they are almost one in the same.  If you love God you will likely love others.  If you love others, you probably have God in your heart.

A. No doubt Jesus desires us to love God first — we might call what He says 1 and 1a — but that, as you state, a true love for God will be manifest in a genuine love for others.

Q. (Matthew 22:34): Can you tell me again what the difference is between the Pharisees and Sadducees?

A. Sure.  First, members of BOTH of these parties made up the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council, so we might think of them as the two major “political” parties of the day.  The Sadducees were the more conservative of the two, and used the first five books of the OT (Genesis to Deuteronomy) as their primary guides for living.  They rejected much of the later OT writings (notably including writings about resurrection, which as we have discussed come from the later parts of the OT, hence their rejection of the doctrine).  The Sadducees were the primary members of the Priesthood, including Caiaphas who will be one of the central figures of the Passion story as High Priest.  Since they were the “official” leaders of the nation as the priests, the Sadducees worked with the Romans, which made them inferior in the eyes of others, including the Pharisees.

The Pharisees were a different ruling party, and their primary concern was a noble one in theory: they desired for God to act on behalf of His people and cast off the Roman oppression (though they rejected overt action such as assassination that groups like the Zealots used).  They believed that if the people of the nation could become righteous enough by keeping the Law, they would “force God’s hand,” so to speak, and bring the Messiah into the world to conquer the Romans.  They were the teachers of the Law.  Since they did not see Jesus as being a leader capable of such a violent revolt, it is little surprise they rejected Him as the Messiah.  The Pharisees hoped to achieve this righteousness by means of legalism, including the use of many traditions that went well beyond the scope of the Law, as Jesus has been pointing out.  They would have been among the most powerful group in the nation, but in general, they would have been greatly disliked by the common Jews, who saw them as showy and flashy but ultimately not helpful.  The Pharisees would be the surviving party after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, and their lineage carries on today in the writings of the Talmud, and the line of the Rabbis.

Q. (Mark 12:35-37, Matthew 22:41-46, Luke 20:41-44): I think I understand that Jesus is asking the “experts” on religious law how the Messiah can be the SON of David.  David would not refer to his son as “my lord.”  And that, tripped up the religious leaders?

A. Okay, so here’s what’s going on here: Jesus is mocking the religious leaders in what would have understood in a humorous way.  Jesus is using a quote from David in Psalm 110 (and assuming Davidic authorship, by the way) to say that David himself saw the Messiah as being more than a normal person.  David saw the Messiah as being divine, which is why he refers to Him as “his Lord.”  But everyone in that day knew that the Messiah was ALSO a son of David from his lineage.  So in posing the question in this way, unless the religious leaders of the day were willing to admit that the Messiah was indeed divine (something they rejected — they saw him as a chosen ruler by not divine), they COULD NOT answer His question.  If the person chosen as Messiah was merely a man, then the great King David would have no reason to call him Lord.  That, if you will, is the joke, but it was also a blistering critique by Jesus.

Q. (Mark 12:38-40): I am sure that many religious leaders are guilty of posturing today.  I remember my dad and some other elders of our church inviting our small-town preacher out to dinner.  They would get upset though, because the preacher never paid anything for the dinner.  We gave offering to the church and I guess my dad thought that that is the preacher’s wages and he should pay for his own dinner.  He and his family were extremely nice, but the preacher did have a slight attitude that he deserved to be taken care of.  So, they didn’t ask him to dinner every time.

A. As a person who has worked in ministry, I can honestly tell you that it is quite easy to let a sense of entitlement get a hold of you, and it is something you must make war against.  It is very difficult to remain humble in the midst of those circumstances, which to me makes it all the more important.

Q. (Matthew 23:8-9): Don’t Jews call their leaders “Rabbi” and Catholics call their priests “Father”?

A. Yes they do, though it’s worth mentioning that nothing Jesus says here would be recognized by Jews today — they wholly reject His teachings.  What Jesus is saying here is not to seek the title for the sake of pride (which was a major failing of the leadership), and I do not believe that Jesus is saying, “never have any titles”.  This is a verse about humility, and a reminder to keep in mind who is really in charge.

O. (Mark 12:41-44, Luke 21:1-4): I have read this or heard of this passage many times before.  But, now that I have read it after reading Matthew 23:12, “But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted,” this verse has a new meaning.  She was not only sacrificing more than the rich people, she will be exalted for it!  This verse sure is a game changer.