Monday, June 26, 2017

Stumbling Through Revelation 1:12, A Layman's Commentary

I’m trying to visualize this. John “was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day”, but apparently, he was not sitting down because he heard this voice behind him, and according to verse 17 (which we’ll get to eventually), once he got a load of who was talking, he “fell at his feet as dead”. I have a hard time picturing John spinning around on his knees, too. I guess it could have happened that way, but I doubt it. John was about 92 years old.
It seems, at this point, that being in the Spirit does not necessarily mean that you are not walking around.
    These were not candlesticks. At least not the way we think of candlesticks. When you think of candles, you think of something that involves some sort of wax. That’s not what we have here. These would be more accurately called lamp stands. The fuel used wasn’t wax. It was olive oil. A description of the candlestick/lampstand (menôrâh) that was in the Tabernacle can be found in Exodus 25:31-37 -  And thou shalt make a candlestick of pure gold: of beaten work shall the candlestick be made: his shaft, and his branches, his bowls, his knops, and his flowers, shall be of the same. And six branches shall come out of the sides of it; three branches of the candlestick out of the one side, and three branches of the candlestick out of the other side: Three bowls made like unto almonds, with a knop and a flower in one branch; and three bowls made like almonds in the other branch, with a knop and a flower: so in the six branches that come out of the candlestick. And in the candlestick shall be four bowls made like unto almonds, with their knops and their flowers. And there shall be a knop under two branches of the same, and a knop under two branches of the same, and a knop under two branches of the same, according to the six branches that proceed out of the candlestick. Their knops and their branches shall be of the same: all it shall be one beaten work of pure gold. Their knops and their branches shall be of the same: all it shall be one beaten work of pure gold.

  Now the question becomes: what on earth is a “knop”? It’s a decorative knob. A ball built into shafts of the candlestick..
There was one of these candlesticks/lampstands in the Tabernacle. There were 10 of them in Solomon’s Temple. They all went to Babylon when King Nebuchadnezzar sacked Jerusalem and hauled everybody off to Babylon for 70 years.  When they rebuilt the Temple after their exile to Babylon, they went back to having just one.
The Romans got that one, and were so proud of it that there is a picture of the soldiers hauling it off, carved in relief on the Arch of Titus in Rome.
    Here in Revelation, John uses the Greek word luchnia. According to Thayer’s Lexicon, it means candlestick, lamp stand, or my favorite: candelabrum.
    The Book of Revelation is a very Jewish book. The symbols and actions are all referring back to the Old Testament. What keeps me busy is the fact that the Old Testament was written mostly in Hebrew, but the Book of Revelation was written in Greek. This keeps me checking back and forth, trying make sure that the English word we get is actually referring to the same thing in both languages.
    These candlesticks make for a good example. I’ve read commentaries that indicate that these candlesticks are single shaft light poles. That the seven lamp menorah had been symbolically broken up into single lamp stands to represent the independence of the churches from the Temple in Jerusalem. I have a lot of problems with this interpretation. One problem I have is the idea a lot of commentaries put forth that the main shaft represents Christ. If that is true, and the lampstands are now single lamp poles, I would expect that there would only be six of them - with Jesus Christ standing in the center. But it did make me wonder whether we are talking about seven-lamp menorahs like they had in the Temple, or just seven posts with lights on the top of them.
             I went digging through Strong's concordance and found most of the time, luchnia referred to the regular lampstands that people used to light their houses, but in the Book of Hebrews, the word referred to the menorah in the Temple. Hebrews 9:2 - For there was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the shewbread; which is called the sanctuary.
          Just for fun, I also looked at menorah to see if it was ever used to refer to anything besides the seven lamp stand in the Temple. Of the forty times that word was used, it did turn up once as a regular light in 2Kings 4:10 - Let us make a little chamber, I pray thee, on the wall; and let us set for him there a bed, and a table, and a stool, and a candlestick: and it shall be, when he cometh to us, that he shall turn in thither.
         That little excursion didn't help a whole lot. But, since the text says golden candlesticks, I’m going to figure we’re talking about the seven-lamp menorah. Seven of those would mean 49 flames. This actually reflects a change in the way I’d always pictured it before.
          Every time I begin to wonder about the usefulness of this blog, something like this happens and I realize that if nobody reads my work, at least I am learning stuff.
So, on I plow.
I need to point out  couple of things here:
I cut and pasted all the scriptures that I used directly from the Blue Letter Bible.
I am now a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites. I am required by Amazon to say that, but since I’m on the subject, I highly recommend the DVD of Matthew. Not only is it a word for word rendition of the book of Matthew (NIV), it portrays Jesus as a happy, personable guy (as opposed to the serious, somber “Man of Sorrows” that you usually get in movies).
Last but not least:
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Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Stumbling Through the Book of Revelation 1:11

    This phrase isn’t supposed to be here. There are a lot of ancient pieces of the Bible floating around. They give them all names: the Alexandrian copy, the Vulgate, the Syriac, the Ethiopic, the Complutensian and some others. Unfortunately, we don’t have the actual piece of parchment that John or Paul wrote on for their contributions to the Bible, so all the various translators have had to rely on these pieces of copies that are scattered about. The phrase “I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and” is not in any of the above mentioned manuscripts. I looked at 26 Bible translations. 4 of them were various King James Bibles. Two others (Jubilee Bible 2000 and Young’s Literal Translation) had this phrase. The other 20 did not.
    This might be a good place to argue about the accuracy and dependability of today’s Bibles. I have read more than one article arguing that the King James Version is the only God Ordained English translation and all others are Satan’s tools to deceive us. I have heard several people argue that the original words written by the prophets were probably inspired but you can’t rely on any translation available today, so why even bother?
    I’ll tell you why: God went to an awful lot of trouble to make His Word available. There had to be a reason. Do you really think He wouldn’t watch over it through the centuries?
Matthew 24:35 -  Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.
    If you are searching for God, read the Bible. Any Bible you can get. God will meet you where you are, if you diligently and sincerely seek Him. Jeremiah 29:13 - You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. This would also include a lot of praying. Praying and reading God’s Word is how you seek God.
    Without the help of the Holy Spirit, you could read the original scrolls and tablets and still not make any sense out of it. With the Holy Spirit, God can reach you even if you are tending sheep in the wilderness with nothing to read at all.
    After you submit your life to God, you are going to want to obey the voice of God. What I find amazing are the number of people, and even random thoughts, that will claim to be the voice of God as soon as you make that commitment. A constant and thorough study of God’s Word, using every resource at your disposal, will reduce the chances that you could be fooled into letting all these voices confuse you. A thorough study of God’s Word also allows you to come across all these little treasures of information, and start figuring out that what you had always been told about the Bible, isn’t necessarily what the Bible actually says.  

    In my last post, I brought up the possibility that John was having more than visions. That he could have been physically taken into another realm where he could actually be there at the second coming of Christ. Right here I start to have a problem with that idea because John is told to write what he sees in a book. That would actually be a scroll, and the language used in the Greek right here would indicate that he was told to write it right now. Not later when he gets back to the cave. Scrolls are kind of awkward. Trying to picture anybody attempting to write into a scroll on the fly like that is kind of difficult. It’s a lot easier to imagine an old man at a desk of some sort, with glorious visions from God passing before his eyes while he does his best to describe those visions on the scroll on his desk. Then again, I’ve never written in a what do I know. I honestly don’t know which is the right way to look at this.

    “Which are in Asia” is another phrase that was added somewhere along the line by helpful scholars who didn’t think we could find these churches if they didn’t tell us what district they were in.
    That backfired, didn’t it? You could go blind trying to find any of these churches in Asia, and it wouldn’t be your fault. They moved Asia!

    Well, you know where Asia is. This ain’t it, and the phrase “which are in Asia” isn’t in the oldest manuscripts, so let’s just forget we ever saw it.
    By the time this book was written, there were churches all through the Mediterranean. John knew full well these letters were going far beyond these seven churches. He had already labeled this work as prophecy back in the third verse. So why did Jesus name these seven churches, in this order? Oh, let me count the speculations…
    Any ship headed East from Patmos is going to land in Ephesus. The churches listed would have been visited in the order they are listed if you took the logical route. It’s about 260 miles all the way around from Ephesus to Laodicea. These seven churches could have formed a little network where they regularly shared information and resources. Please allow six to eight weeks for delivery.
    There are those that want to point out these were real churches with real issues that Jesus wanted to address. I have read that every church contends with each of these same issues to varying degrees. Some have preached that these issues are not just issues in the church. People live with these very issues to some extent or another on a  personally level.
I have also read where these churches, in this order, represent a sort of panorama of church history. Some other commentators take great issue with this idea, which to my way of thinking lends a certain credence to the idea. Nothing draws more intense opposition than the truth.
I believe all of the above. Why not? Churches are made up of people. Any instruction that would be good on an individual level would be just as good on a corporate level. As for the history of the church, history is full of critical lessons. Lessons we , as humans, too often refuse to learn.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Stumbling Through the Book of Revelation, 1:10

I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,

The picture you get is of a man in a trance. You could have picked him up and carried him out like a wooden plank. He obviously wouldn’t be the first to do that. (Acts 10:10 & 11 - And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance,
And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth)
But I don’t think that is necessarily the case here. It doesn’t say he is in a trance, and people were physically moved all over the place by the Spirit. Ezekiel 8:3 - And he put forth the form of an hand, and took me by a lock of mine head; and the spirit lifted me up between the earth and the heaven, and brought me in the visions of God to Jerusalem, to the door of the inner gate that looketh toward the north; where was the seat of the image of jealousy, which provoketh to jealousy.
Acts 8:39 -And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing.
Now, he could have been in a trance. I’m not trying to sell a point of view here, I’m just exploring possibilities. I believe the spirit realm is actually another dimension, with its own set of physics, that through the power of God, a person can slip in and out of almost like walking through a curtain. Jesus seemed to do it a lot: John 8:58 - Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by. In this verse, it says that Jesus hid Himself. Where do you suppose He hid? He was standing before a crowd in the Temple. It’s not like He could duck behind a pole and sneak out when no one was looking. He had to have hidden in the spirit, or spirit realm. There is also Luke 4:29 & 30 - And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong. But he passing through the midst of them went his way, and Luke 24:31 - And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight.
Jesus was taken bodily into Heaven. So was Elijah.  Enoch probably was, too. Why couldn't John?

It is astounding to me that most of the commentaries I read say that this means Sunday. The argument goes that Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday, so Christians, very early in Church history, essentially moved the Sabbath from the last day of the week (Saturday), to the first day of the week (Sunday). Ignatius, one of the greatly revered, second generation church leaders (circa 101 A.D.), reportedly endorsed Sunday as the “Christian Sabbath” in an epistle to the Magnesians. (According to “Barnes’ Notes on the Bible”, courtesy of Bible
It may come as a shock to some that I care very little about what the early church leaders thought. Before they had finished writing the books of the Bible, there were already all kinds of doctrinal problems in the church. There was Gnosticism, Legalism, the doctrine of Balaam, the doctrine of the Nicolaitans… The Apostles Peter and Paul had debates over doctrine. I’m more concerned with what the Bible actually says, and what the writer is trying to get across to us.
I’ve read commentaries that say that John’s use of the term “the Lord’s Day” is the first time it was used to refer to Sunday, and so this is where that change was established. This sounds like circular logic to me.
I’m not going to go into a big thing here about how and why the church moved the Sabbath to Sunday, but the fact is, I counted 26 instances of “the Day of the Lord” in the Bible, and every one of them refers to the Day of God’s Wrath.
Isaiah 13:6 -  Howl ye; for the day of the LORD is at hand; it shall come as a destruction from the Almighty.
Jeremiah 46:10 - For this is the day of the Lord GOD of hosts, a day of vengeance, that he may avenge him of his adversaries: and the sword shall devour, and it shall be satiate and made drunk with their blood: for the Lord GOD of hosts hath a sacrifice in the north country by the river Euphrates.
Joel 1:15 - Alas for the day! for the day of the LORD is at hand, and as a destruction from the Almighty shall it come.
Amos 5:18 - Woe unto you that desire the day of the LORD! to what end is it for you? the day of the LORD is darkness, and not light.
Acts 2:20 - The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come:
Also: Isa 13:9, Lamentations 2:22, Ezekiel 13:5, Ezekiel 30:3, Joel 2:1, Joel 2:11, Joel 2:31, Joel 3:14, Amos 5:20, Obadiah 1:15, Zephaniah 1:7&8,  Zephaniah 1:14, Zechariah 14:1, Malachi 4:5, 1Corinthians 1:8, 1 Corinthians 5:5, 2 Corinthians 1:14, Thessalonians 5:2, and 2 Peter 3:10. A couple of these verses actually used the term twice.
Suddenly, in John’s use of the term, it now refers to Sunday. Why? Because we worship on Sunday. Why do we worship on Sunday? Because John called it the Day of the Lord here.
The abnormally observant could point out here that John didn’t say “Day of the Lord”. He said “the Lord’s Day”.
The Old Testament referred to the “Day of the Lord” because there are no possessive forms for nouns in Hebrew. You can’t say “The Lord’s Day” in Hebrew. The language won’t allow it. But you can do it in Greek. Paul did it referring to the Lord’s Supper in 1Corinthians 11:20, and John does it here.
The idea that John is referring to the Day of Wrath here makes more sense. For crying out loud, that’s what the whole book is about. They don’t call it Apocalypse for nothing.  
How did John get to the Day of the Lord? He was in the spirit (realm). We could call this spiritual realm, this other dimension, “Eternity”. In the Spirit, in God’s realm, in Eternity, there is no time. You can be here and at the end of the world simultaneously. Time itself is a dimension that you step out of when you step into Eternity.
The question then becomes: How do you get to where you can go into and out of these dimensions at will?
Apparently, you can’t. God initiates all these little excursions into Eternity. We are instructed to walk after the Spirit. What does that mean?
This is where it gets a little tough. Walking after the Spirit means being concerned with Spiritual things. Paul has the Spirit as diametrically opposed to worldly things (Galatians 5:17 - For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.), so the more you are concerned with worldly things: your job, your house, your kids, your favorite baseball team, NCIS, politics…., the less you care about the things of the Spirit. As I write this, I am becoming painfully aware of just how spiritual I am not.
Do you think it’s a coincidence that John had this incredible encounter with God after spending some years alone on a rock in the Aegean Sea? There was no internet service. You couldn’t even get radio reception out there. He had nothing to do but commune with God. How often have the great men of God become the great men of God after they spent a lot of time alone in the desert? Even Jesus fasted in the wilderness for 40 days just before He started His ministry.

I’m reading this book as literally as I can, even realizing that some of it is going to be really strange. I’m coming at this from the hermeneutical position that John was, in fact taken bodily to the spirit realm where he could see all of history. Particularly that part that the Lord will soon have him focussing on: the Great Day of the Lord.
The voice he heard behind him was a great voice. It could have said awesome voice. The kind of voice that can’t be ignored, or even misinterpreted. As soon as we see “as of a trumpet”, everybody (yeah, me too) goes running to find scriptural references to trumpets. There are some verses in Exodus, chapters 19 and 20 that seem to have the trumpet sounding from Heaven. There are a lot of places where the trumpet is used both in ritual sacrifices and as a call to battle.
Then we realise John didn’t say “the sound of a trumpet”, he said “as of a trumpet.”
It’s a simile. John is likening the voice to the sound of a trumpet. Now I’m imagining a voice, the very sound of which will rattle you to your core. The voice came from behind John, but it had his undivided attention. Of course, on the Isle of Patmos, there wasn’t a lot of competition for John’s attention.
It is starting to bother me more and more that there is so much competition for mine.

Thank you to the Blue Letter Bible for allowing me to cut and paste all the scriptures I use right from their website. The last thing I want to do is commit a typo on the Word of God.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Revelation 1:9, An Expositional Commentary

Remember me? I’m John. You know, your brother and companion….
The previous sentence was God speaking in the first person. Now, John wants to make sure everyone understands that it is him talking about himself now.

This is terrible English. My question is: why all the extra verbiage? It’s easy to just delete most of this phrase and end up with “I John, Your brother and companion…", as a lot of translations do, but I can’t get over the feeling I’m missing something if you just ignore the extra words. I actually like the New King James Version to make me feel better about this phrase: “I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation…" .
It just feeeeels better. I know, that’s probably the worst criteria to use, but I can’t help it.
John, who had to be the most venerated saint of his time, and the only surviving of the original twelve Apostles, didn’t introduced himself in terms of the lofty status he was no doubt held in among those he wrote to. He considered himself nothing more than a brother and companion. Just another servant of God.

This part, I have a real problem with. “Your brother and companion in tribulation."
I have noticed all the servants of Jesus in the New Testament suffered. Then, they rejoiced in their suffering. Acts 5:41 - And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.
Jesus promised His followers that they would be persecuted. Matthew 24:9 - Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake.
Christians are persecuted. These TV preachers that come on and tell you that if you just develop your faith, God will bless you with a bulging bank account, a private jet and a house so big, there are some rooms you will never get around to going into, they are selling you a God that will give them a bulging bank account, a private jet and a house so big there are rooms they will never get around to going into.
The way I read it, if you are really serving Jesus and proclaiming His gospel the way He wants it done, you are going to get it. You will fall under tremendous hardships. Here in America, we consider it a hardship if we have to cut back on our cable subscription. Most of us don’t know what persecution is.
In the last couple of years, I’ve seen corporations become the subjects of boycotts because the people that run these companies express Christian values. There have been cake decorators and florists and whatnot lose their businesses over their Christian beliefs. For them to be targeted the way they were, they must have been doing something right.
Meanwhile, those worshiping God and spreading the Gospel in the Near East are beaten for their faith; those in the Middle East are stoned, and those in China are both beaten and thrown in prison.
Me? I started asking God what I did wrong when my car broke down. My wife and I were worship leaders at a church some years ago. We quit going to church altogether and spent years mad at God because we didn’t like the way we were treated by the church board. I really don’t think I’m where I need to be spiritually. I want to serve God, but I don’t want to get beaten up. I don’t think that’s any different than how anybody else feels. Except for those who are getting beaten up. It doesn’t seem to phase them. Those people have the kind of faith that I need. I think. It’s hard to wrap my brain around the idea of being so willing to be beaten, tortured and even killed; even though I want to claim that I serve God.

While in tribulation, you are also in the kingdom. Patience might better be written as “endurance”. It seems to me the tribulation would be what you experience physically; the kingdom would be what is experienced spiritually, and the endurance to suffer persecution is a product of experiencing the kingdom spiritually, and focusing on the kingdom, here on earth. All would be the result of serving Jesus Christ.

Patmos is a very small island in the Aegean Sea. Only thirty miles in circumference. The northernmost island in the Dodecanese group, it is about 20 miles from the shores of Turkey (what was considered Asia at the time of John’s writing), though it belongs to Greece. As Mediterranean islands go, it’s not that pretty. But it has the most incredible natural harbor, and so, was a major stopping point for ships coming from Rome.

John makes it sound like he was on a missionary trip. He was obviously determined not to let any part of this book be about him.
There doesn’t seem to be any disagreement among respected scholars that John was NOT on a missionary trip. He had in fact been exiled to the island by the Roman emperor, Domitian, who was aggravated by John’s incessant spreading of the Word of God, and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Being the last living Apostle, John would have been a very big draw wherever he went. This would have attracted the attention of the emperor. Domitian no doubt figured if he could just get rid of the last apostle, this whole rising religion would just dwindle away.
The problem was, he could not get rid of John. There is even a legend that Domitian had John boiled in oil, but that John wasn’t harmed by the oil, and that is when Domitian exiled him to Patmos. Nobody seems to actually believe this story, but they all love to tell it.
Personally, I want to believe it. I want to believe that God can keep you from being harmed, no matter what they do to you. Like I said before, I want to serve God. But I don’t want to get hurt.

Thanks to the Blue Letter Bible for allowing me to cut and paste all the scriptures I use right from their website. The last thing I want to do is commit a typo on the Word of God.