Readings & reflections for this week:
December 8 - 3 John 1
December 9 - Jude 1
December 10 - Revelation 1
December 11 - Revelation 2
December 12 - Revelation 3
December 13 - Revelation 4
December 14 - Revelation 5
December 15 - Revelation 6
This week’s readings take us through a couple of the least read books of the New Testament (3 John, Jude) and through one of the least understood (Revelation). We will touch upon the first two and attempt to get some orientation to Revelation, which will fill out the rest of the year for us.
Scholars believe 3 John was written somewhere around 80-90 AD, perhaps by the Apostle John. It is written to Gaius, who seems to be a co-worker of John’s. The main subject of the letter is the hospitality shown to traveling teachers of the Gospel. The local church was responsible for these teachers’ upkeep so that they did not have to accept gifts from the non-believers they were trying to reach. 3 John indicates that there was a dispute over this practice involving one Diotrephes who didn’t want the church supporting these leaders or John.
Why did a fairly localized argument end up landing 3 John into the canon of the New Testament? Not so much because of the presenting issue as over the concerning of the usurping of authority (1:9). It seems that Diotrephes was on a bit of a leadership ego-trip and John found this unacceptable. This struggle raises a leadership question for the church: do we lead out of personal ambition or perspective, or do we lead out of a desire to shepherd the community? There is no place for personal whims in biblical leadership.
Jude may have been written by one of Jesus’ brothers somewhere between AD 65 & 90, though scholars are not sure. The main issue in Jude is concern over teachers who would water down the moral imperatives of Scripture, arguing that God’s grace grants a freedom that is beyond morality (1:4). Almost from the start, teachers tried to water down the Gospel to have it fit with their own experience and desires. In fact, Jude tells us this sort of misguided leadership has been going on for a long time prior to Jesus’ coming. It happened during the escape of the Israelites from Egypt (1:5) and during the time of Cain and Balaam (1:11). Their kind had been prophesied by Enoch (1:14) in pre-Israelite times. It seems as though the sin of shaping the Gospel to fit our desires has always been with us. Jude writes to encourage his listeners to hold fast to their faith in spite of this influence (1:20-23). Even though Jude isn’t read all that much in worship, it contains one of the most hopeful blessings in all of Scripture (1:24-25). God is able to keep us from falling if we remain close to Him.
We now come to the Book of Revelation, at once the most widely talked about but least understood books of the Bible. It was written by John, based on revelations he had received when he was in exile on the Island of Patmos towards the end of his life in the 90’s AD. The Gospel had been established through a large portion of the Roman Empire by then, but it had also met with considerable resistance from the Roman government itself. The Book of Revelation is a discourse on who is really in charge of the world (God) even when it seems that other forces (Roman Empire) have the upper hand. It was written to seven churches in Asia Minor (Turkey), which found themselves in varying states of faithfulness. Smyrna and Philadelphia are good churches, Ephesus, Pergamum, and Thyatira are struggling a bit, and Sardis and Laodicea are in deep trouble.
The first three chapters of Revelation are oriented towards demonstrating the ongoing authority of Christ, and giving instructions to each of the seven churches. These chapters contain some of the greatest one-liners of the Bible:
- You have lost your first love (2:4).
- You have a reputation for being alive—but you are dead (3:1)
- Since you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth (3:16)
- Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in (3:20).
The way John’s admonishments to the churches are laid out can be a guide for all of us in the face of uncertainty and confusion. They are words for today as well as back then.
Chapter 4 moves us from earth into the environs of heaven. This part of John is called apocalyptic (hidden) because it reveals things that have been hidden away in heaven until they were revealed to John. Chapters 4 & 5 establish the holiness of heaven and Jesus Christ. Chapter 4 paints the presence of God with great majesty and chapter 5 asks who is worthy to break the seals on the orders God holds in his hand. The answer is Jesus, the Lamb of God who was slain but is alive. He is worshiped with as much awe and reverence as God the Father.
As the seals on the orders from God are broken open by the Lamb, different things begin to happen on earth. The opening of the seals is the occasion for earth to be visited by divine punishments of various sorts. The punchline for the whole chapter is found in verses 15 & 16 when the power-brokers of earth find themselves helpless before the power the Lamb unleashes by breaking the seals.
This must have come as good news to John who was sitting in exile, guarded by Roman soldiers. It looked as though Caesar had the upper hand, when in fact it was Jesus who did. We will see this hopeful vision repeated time and again over the next several days.
- Do you sometimes find yourself attracted to teachings which seem to make the Gospel a bit easier to live out?
- Do you ever feel as though the world around us is getting the upper hand over Christianity?
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Andy Stanley - https://www.rightnowmedia.org/Content/Series/145811