The end is at hand, the end is at hand!
Revelation 17: The Lamb will defeat them, proof that he is Lord over all lords, King over all kings.
John’s mysterious journey continues with disturbing scenes and promises of divine judgment. He sees a woman riding a beast. She’s branded as Babylon, but he’s told that that, too, is a riddle name, and the city, Rome, is described. In John’s day, seeing Rome as the seat of evil in the world makes a lot of sense. Some continue to take the woman, Babylon, and description of the riddle to add up to the literal Rome, carrying with it lots of religious overtones. Frankly, it’s beyond me (seems I’ve been saying that a lot lately). If it isn’t to be taken literally, it may be that the “Babylon” represents a current world power that dominants the world as Rome did in John’s day. All of this is the set up for the big battle. This world power will rally the nations of the world to battle against the Lamb of God. Then, before the battle is even described, we’re told the outcome of it. The Lamb wins. In the end, there will be no doubt as to his high standing: Lord over all lords, King over all kings. The descriptions of judgment, war, and destruction are soon to give way to victory, worship, and the exaltation of the Lamb of God.
Take Away: We don’t have to understand everything to understand this: in the end, the Lamb reigns.
Muddling my way through, holding fast
Revelation 16: Keep watch! I come unannounced, like a thief. You’re blessed if, awake and dressed, you’re ready for me.
The seven bowls of God’s wrath bring untold misery to the earth. Some of the miseries remind us of what happened in the limited region of Egypt during the ten plagues. In this case, though, the suffering is worldwide. When God’s attention specifically turns to the Beast and his unholy trinity they rally the nations of the earth to fight back. Armageddon is at hand. There’s so much here that I don’t understand that I’m ashamed of myself. Here I am in the book called “Revelation” and I’m constantly reminded that I’m missing whatever it is I’m supposed to grasp. Still, once in a while I’m graciously given something to which I can cling. Even if I don’t get it, I’m advised to “Keep watch!” and to be “ready.” Jesus said the same thing during his earthly ministry and now he repeats it. Even as I muddle through these pictures of judgment filled with symbolism that I’m missing more than understanding, I’m encouraged to simply hang in there. I may not understand Armageddon but I understand what it means to stand fast in my relationship with the Lord. Ultimately, it’s that that matters much more than my poor grasp on the precise meaning of passages like this.
Take Away: Even when you don’t understand what’s going on stand fast in the faith. Ultimately, that’s what matters the most anyway.
When’s the best time to pray?
Revelation 8: Smoke billowed up from the incense-laced prayers of the holy ones.
The seventh seal marks, not the end, but the beginning of a series of judgments about the fall on the earth. Things are about to get bad, with huge events coming to earth, each announced by the blast of a trumpet. The sober nature of these events is underscored as a foreboding silence falls in heaven. Before that first trumpet blast John sees an angel carrying a gold censer. The scene in heaven is one of worship at the Temple and the angel with the censor is in the role of priest. The offering, made with incense, is the prayers of God’s people. Even as the judgment of God is about to be poured out on the earth, the prayers of his people are heard. Obviously, there’s a lot going on in this passage and Bible scholars are pressed to the limit to explain all the symbolism. I don’t claim to have any deep insight into the meaning here. However, I do note that before bad things ever start happening that God’s people are praying and that he’s listening to their prayers. While I doubt that the purpose of this passage is to encourage prayer I do see here an example of the importance of it. Of course we should pray when “something like a huge mountain…is flung into the sea” of our lives. However, it’s a good idea to already do some praying before such earth shaking events (literally in this case) start happening. God’s people need to pray before, during, and after unwelcome life events.
Take Away: Prayer matters.
Luke 21: I’m not just saying this for some future generation, but for this one, too.
Jesus’ description of future events is sobering. He describes false teachers, betrayal, wars, earthquakes, persecution, destruction, and other huge events. Since I know that some of this already happened I’m tempted to think I’m clear of at least some of the things our Lord describes. Then I run head long into Jesus’ declaration that these words are for all of his followers. He says that coming big events are obvious to those who pay attention even as the coming of summer is forecast by the budding of the trees. Our Lord wants his followers to pay attention, not so much to specific things, like the rise of a false Messiah, but to the general flow of things. After all, a person who watches just one tree as a predictor of summer might or might not see new leaves. However, one who watches an entire forest will see proof abundant that things are changing. On one hand, I think it’s a mistake to list a few “signs” and focus in on just them. After all, one might have misread the meaning of the passage in the first place. However, if I pay attention I might just see that big things are brewing. At that time, I don’t have to be afraid, according to Jesus, but I do want to be sure I’m ready for what I believe is coming.
Take Away: Even if I miss some of the signs I’ll be okay if I stay ready.
Church of the Nazarene
Matthew 2: He shall be called a Nazarene
I like to think about the little mysteries of the Bible and Matthew’s comment that Joseph’s moving his family to the town of Nazareth, thus making Jesus a “Nazarene” is a fulfillment of prophecy is one such mystery. There’s no record of such a prophecy being stated, yet Matthew seems quite confident that pointing his readers to this is yet another proof of the Messiah-ship of Jesus. I’ve found a couple of explanations to this. Some people think it has to do with the similarity of “Nazarene” to a Hebrew word meaning “Branch.” Use of that term is found in the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah. It has to do with the Messiah’s being a descendent of David. The other idea has to do with the prophecies concerning the Messiah’s being despised and rejected. The connection is that Nazareth is considered to be a backward, unimportant place that could only produce backward, unimportant people. There’s a danger in overstating the standing (or lack there-of) of Nazareth here. It’s not as though it’s thought of as a bad place. It’s more of a “no place” than it’s a “bad place.” From the point of view of the religious scholars of that day, Nazareth and a hundred other small towns don’t qualify as a place worthy of consideration. Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would be overlooked and rejected…a sort of “Nazarene.” Whatever the answer to this little riddle, Matthew thinks it should help people decide, along with the rest of his Gospel, that Jesus, is, indeed, the Messiah of God.
Take Away: We don’t have to solve every mystery of the Bible, sometimes they just add a bit of spice to our study of it.
The curtain falls, but Act II is about to begin
Malachi 4: Remember and keep the revelation I gave through my servant Moses.
Did Malachi understand that these words were to become, for Christians across the ages, the closing words of the Old Testament? It’s highly unlikely. However, I believe God, the Holy Spirit knew it. The last two paragraphs of Malachi are an excellent ending for the Old Testament. For those of that day, still living under the Law, one of the last words is “remember.” They’re to keep the “rules and procedures for right living” given them by Moses. If they do that they’ll have done what the Lord requires of them. However, there’s another last word. It’s, “also look ahead.” The Lord isn’t finished working out redemption for them and all that has happened thus far has prepared the way for the really big deal that’s yet to come. As the curtain’s falling on this, the first act we’re told that the next act is going to be both interesting and surprising. They’ll know it’s starting when Elijah shows up to usher it in. For the people of Israel, that’s a long 400 years distant in the future. As for me, all I have to do is turn the page to see what has, up to now, been the black and white picture of God’s salvation plan displayed in living color.
Take Away: Even to this day we are wise to obediently remember what the Lord has told us while at the same time look forward to what he has promised us.
The end and the beginning
Zechariah 14: What a Day that will be!
The prophet started out encouraging the returned exiles as they tackled the rebuilding of the Temple. He finishes his writing by looking to the future and reporting on the end of history. When things appear hopeless the Almighty will come to the rescue in what will be the final battle. The Lord will set foot on the historic Mount of Olives, just east of Jerusalem. Years after this prophecy Jesus prays on the Mount of Olives at the Garden of Gethsemane, and later, following his resurrection he ascends to heaven from the Mount of Olives. As he disappears into the sky angels deliver God’s message that Jesus will return in “like manner.” Like pieces of a puzzle revealed as the centuries pass, things fall into place. Zechariah says that when the Lord comes he’ll defeat the final enemy and when he sets foot on the Mount of Olives that it will split in half. His coming will bring all things to an end. At the same time it will begin all things anew. Then, as the disciples stand on that very same spot, angels tell them Jesus is coming back even as he has just left them. Oh yeah, Zechariah has it right: “what a Day that will be!”
Take Away: God’s people look forward to the glorious return of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Thirty silver coins
Zechariah 11: They paid me an insulting sum, counting out thirty silver coins.
I confess I’m lost as I read this passage. Up till now, Zechariah has been the encouraging prophet, cheering the people on as they rebuild the Temple. With its negative tone, this prophecy seems out of place and sounds more like something Ezekiel or Jeremiah might have said and done. Indeed, there are no time markers in the text and it doesn’t necessarily have to chronologically follow what comes before. I don’t know whether or not this message is intended to have great meaning to Zechariah’s contemporaries. However, the thirty pieces of silver really gets our attention. This sum is the amount that’s paid for the betrayal of Jesus. Without making a serious attempt at dealing with this passage as a scholar, here’s the picture as I see it. Zechariah’s directed to take a job as the shepherd for a flock that’s marked for slaughter. Apparently, he has some authority and soon fires the other shepherds who are care nothing for the sheep. However, even though he leads the sheep with their best interests in mind, they rebel against him. Zechariah quits his job and demands his salary and is paid what he thinks of as an insulting wage of thirty silver coins — about three month’s wages. He then throws the money into the poor box. As a reader who can simply turn the pages of the Bible to the story of Jesus, this passage makes all kinds of sense. Here’s the Good Shepherd who comes to lovingly care for a people doomed for destruction. Jesus longs to gather the people of Israel to himself and to lovingly care for them. However, they rebel against him and he’s betrayed for thirty silver coins. Here we have a remarkable statement of prophecy given over 500 years before its fulfillment.
Take Away: The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.
Palm Sunday foretold
Zechariah 9: Your king is coming!
Israel is without a king and under the rule of the Persian King Darius. As the returned exiles accept the call of God to rebuild the Temple, the Lord encourages them through the messages and visions of the prophet Zechariah. God’s pleased with them and their commitment to the huge Temple project and promises to be with them. He’ll do for them what they cannot do themselves. Good days are ahead. Not only will the Lord help them in the reconstruction project, he’s going to make them into a great nation that will influence all the nations of the earth. The day will come when they’ll be freed from the rule of Darius and will, instead, be ruled by a King sent from God. That king will come into Jerusalem, not riding a mount of war, but upon a mount that symbolizes humility and peace, a donkey. It will be 500 years before that event takes place and then at least 2000 years more before the promise Zechariah gives is totally fulfilled. However, the “donkey riding King” has already ridden into Jerusalem. It happened when Jesus, the Messiah, rode a borrowed donkey into Jerusalem on the day we call Palm Sunday. When that took place, the words of long dead Zechariah were proven literally true.
Take Away: The Lord always keeps his promises.
Prophet, Priest, and King
Zechariah 6: Showing that king and priest can coexist in harmony.
The prophet has a number of visions, and I’m not sure even he understands them all. In one vision he sees the high priest, Joshua and is told to fashion a crown for him. Zechariah is also told that Joshua’s (which is Hebrew for “Jesus”) name is “Branch” because he will “branch out” and take on the role of royalty, serving as both priest and king. Now, I’m pretty lost in the contemporary meaning of this vision. However, I know that about 500 years from the time these words are written that a man who is Prophet, Priest, and King is going to come to this world. These offices will be united in him and he’ll change everything. I know Zechariah’s words have meaning for the people who have returned from exile and are focused on rebuilding the Temple. However, I think they’re also intended to lay a foundation of understanding concerning the coming of the Son of God to this world. When the writer of Hebrews describes Jesus to us he spends a great deal of time describing his ministry as our Great High Priest. Then, the Revelator lifts him as King of kings and Lord of lords.
Take Away: In Jesus we have prophet, priest, and King.