Friday, December 11

Luke 22:47-53: It is unlikely that Simon Peter and Malchus knew each other, the one being a Galilean fisherman and the other a servant of Caiaphas the high priest, living in Jerusalem. Nor is it probable, in the normal course of affairs, that the paths of these two men would ever have crossed.

Affairs were not following a normal course, however, on that fateful night just prior to Passover, when the destinies of Malchus and Simon came to an abrupt and dramatic confrontation in an olive orchard on the side of a hill just east of the Kidron Valley. ??Malchus was part of an armed band sent by the high priest to arrest Jesus of Nazareth secretly, away from the eyes and impulses of the Passover crowds.

This band was guided by Judas Iscariot, a defector from the small group of Jesus’ close companions; he was the one who could identify Jesus from within their number. The giveaway sign was an easy one; Judas would simply walk up to Jesus and kiss His hand, the customary greeting that a disciple gave to his rabbi.

Then, the unexpected happened.

Revelation 14:14-20: On the image of harvest as judgment, see Joel 4:13-14 (3:9-14). The Son of Man on the cloud is, of course, from the Book of Daniel, an image that Jesus interprets of Himself in each of the Synoptic Gospels.

Unlike ourselves, men in antiquity actually experienced harvesting with a sickle and treading grapes in a vat, both actions characterized by a distinct measure of violence. Even these relatively benign images of harvest season, therefore, strongly suggest that the “end of time” will be more than slightly daunting. It should not surprise us that the harvesting with a sickle and the trampling of a wine vat are associated with the feeling of God’s definitive wrath.

The association of anger with the treading of the grapes was hardly new (cf. Isaiah 63:1-6), and it will appear again (Revelation 19:13-15). The grape harvest arrives in September, as the seasonal period of growth comes to an end. It is natural to think of death at this time of the year.

The amount of blood in this text (verse 20) is rather dramatic. The Greek stadion being six hundred and seven feet, sixteen stadia is about two miles. A horse’s bridle is about five feet off the ground. Thus we are dealing with a great deal of blood. This must be one of the most unpleasant passages in the New Testament.

The rising pool of blood becomes a kind of Red Sea. Indeed, the following chapter will be full of imagery from the Book of Exodus: plagues, the cloud of the divine presence, the tent of testimony, Moses, the crossing of the Red Sea, and the destruction of the pursuers.

Saturday, December 12

Revelation 15:1-8: This shortest chapter in the Book of Revelation introduces the imagery of the seven bowls of plagues, which will be poured out in the next chapter.

The ocean of blood, with which the previous chapter ended, has now become a kind of Red Sea (verses 1-3), which also inserts the theme of the Exodus. This theme itself is appropriate to the outpouring of the plagues. Other components of the Exodus theme likewise appear in this chapter: the Song of Moses, the cloud of the divine presence, the tent of testimony, and so forth.

The “sea of glass”?(verse 2) we have already considered in Chapter 4. Beside this sea stand God’s people who have passed over it in the definitive Exodus. They are musicians—harpists to be exact—identical with the one hundred and forty-four thousand whom we saw with the Lamb in the previous chapter; there was harp music in that scene too.
These elect have “overcome,” the very thing to which John had called the seven churches in Chapters 2-3. They are now beyond the power of the beast to harm them.

John sees in heaven the tabernacle of testimony from the Book of Exodus, the traveling tent of the divine presence that Moses and the Israelites carried through the desert. This tent, however, is “heavenly,” which means that it is the original model, the very pattern that Moses copied (Exodus 25:9,40; ?Acts 7:44; Hebrews 8:5).

Since the tent is a place of worship, we are not surprised that John sees seven angels coming out of it, clothed in priestly vestments (verse 6; cf. Exodus 28:4; 39:29), very much as Jesus was clothed in the inaugural vision (Revelation 1:12-13).

The tent itself is full of the cloud of the divine presence, the very cloud that led the Israelites through the desert of old. When that tent was dedicated in the desert, the divine cloud took up residence within it? (Exodus 40:34-38). That cloud later took residence in Solomon’s temple (I Kings 8:1-12), where Isaiah beheld it (6:1-4). In prophetic vision Ezekiel ?saw that cloud return to the second temple built in 520-516 (Ezekiel 44:4).

The hymn in verses 3-4 should be compared with Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple, as recorded in 2 Chronicles 6:14-42. Both prayers, to begin with, are offered “at the sea” (verse 2; 2 Chronicles 6:12-13). ?Both prayers thank God for His mighty works, invoke His righteous judgments, and request the conversion of all the nations. Finally, in response to each prayer, fire comes down from heaven (verses 5-8; 2 Chronicles 7:1-2).

Sunday, December 13

Luke 22:63-71: Compared with the other Gospels, Luke gives fewer details about the sundry indignities Jesus suffered at the hands of the Sanhedrin. Unlike Matthew, Luke concentrates the trial of Jesus in a morning session rather than during the night. It appears that there were, in truth, two judicial hearings of Jesus before the Sanhedrin, and that each Evangelist narrates one of them in a summary form.

The seating of the Messiah at God’s right hand (verse 69; Psalm 110 [109 in Greek and Latin]:1) became a major article of the Christian faith, found in every major source in the New Testament and, in due course, enshrined in the Nicene Creed. The Lord’s affirmation of this dignity leads (cf. “therefore” in verse 70) to the most important and all-inclusive dimension of His claim, namely, to be the Son of God.

Revelation 16:1-11: Three of these four plagues are right out of the arsenal of Moses. Sores on the flesh of the bad guys (verse 2) were his sixth plague. As in the account in Exodus, the intent of this plague is that the idolaters should repent, but in neither case does it happen. The second and third plagues here (verses 3-4)—the changing of water into blood, are identical to Moses’ first plague—which was regarded, we recall, as a rather easy plague, in the sense that even Pharaoh’s magicians could do it (Exodus 7:22).

Here in Revelation, these two plagues are related to the great bloodshed of persecution caused by the enemies of God’s people (verse 6; 16:5-7). This crying out of the altar puts one in mind of the earlier scene where the souls (that is, the blood) of the martyrs cried from the altar (6:9-10). In that earlier scene the saints prayed for justice to be done on earth, for the righteousness of God to be vindicated in history. Now, in the present instance, the voice from the altar praises God that such justice has been done, that God’s fidelity has been made manifest.

The fourth plague does not appear in Exodus at all; Moses had been able to blot out the sunlight, but not even he was able to make the sun hotter. Even this plague, nonetheless, does not bring the idolaters to repentance (verse 9).

The final three bowls of plagues stand parallel to two other biblical texts: the plagues of Egypt in the Book of Exodus and the trumpets from earlier in the Book of Revelation.

The darkness of the fifth bowl (verse 10) corresponds to the ninth plague in the Book of Exodus (10:21-29).

Monday, December 14

Luke 23:1-12: Alone among the four Evangelists, Luke tells the story of Jesus’ judicial appearance before Herod Antipas on the day of the Crucifixion (verses 6-12). This is the same Herod whom Luke mentions closer to the beginning of his Gospel, at the inauguration of the ministry of John the Baptist (3:1). Thus, in Luke’s literary construction, these two references to Herod Antipas serve to frame Jesus’ public ministry, which, as that evangelist was careful to note, extended “all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us” (Acts 1:21-22).

Luke also tells how the animosity of Herod Antipas toward Jesus (cf. Luke 13:31) was later directed against Jesus’ disciples (cf. Acts 12:1, 11). Indeed, Luke regarded the collusion of Antipas and Pontius Pilate, which was sealed at Jesus’ trial (Luke 23:12), as the fulfillment of David’s prophecy (Psalm 2:1ø2) of the gathering of the world’s leaders “against the LORD and against His Christ” (Acts 4:25-27). ??It is significant that Luke, when he tells us of Jesus’ appearance before Antipas on Good Friday, does more than state the bare event. He goes into some detail about how “Herod, with his men of war, treated Him with contempt and mocked Him, arrayed Him in a gorgeous robe, and sent Him back to Pilate” (23:11). This description implies that Luke had access to an eyewitness account of the event, an event at which, as far as we know, no Christian disciple was present. The historian rightly inquires how Luke knew all this.

Revelation 16:12-21: The sixth bowl, the drying up of the Euphrates, includes the proliferation of frogs, which corresponds to Moses’ second plague against Pharaoh (Exodus 8:2-6). The hailstones that accompany the seventh bowl (verse 21) are parallel to Moses’ seventh plague against Egypt (Exodus 9:13-26).

There are also parallels between these three bowls of plagues and the three final trumpets that appeared earlier in Revelation. Thus, the fifth bowl (verse 10), like the fifth trumpet (9:1-2) causes darkness over the whole earth. The sixth bowl (verse 12), like the sixth trumpet, brings forth an invading army from east of the Euphrates (9:12-19). Finally, at both the seventh bowl and the seventh trumpet there are bolts of lightning, peals of thunder, and an earthquake (verse 18; 11:19).

The sixth bowl of plagues here is a composite. There is, first of all, a drying up of the Euphrates, so that the Parthian armies can march westward. This puts one in mind of the “drying up” of the Jordan, so that the Israelites could move west against the Canaanites. Because of the great difference between the two instances, however, this symbolism should be read as an example of theological “inversion” (in the sense used by John Steinbeck, who often employs biblical symbols in this way), so that the identical image is used for both good and bad meanings. With respect to the drying up of the Euphrates, John knew a precedent in Jeremiah (50:38), who spoke of the drying up of the waters of Babylon, to facilitate its capture by the Persians. Indeed, John will have a great deal to say about the fall of Babylon.

The final battle takes place at Armageddon (verse 16), which literally is “hill of Megiddo.” Megiddo sits on the edge of the Plain of Esdralon and was in antiquity the site of two famous battles, in each of which a king was killed. In Judges 5 the Canaanite king Sisera was slain there, and 2 Kings 23 describes the death of Josiah there in 609. In John’s mind, Armageddon symbolizes disaster, catastrophe, and violence.

Tuesday, December 15

Luke 23:13-25: More than the other Evangelists, Luke stresses Pilate’s repeated declarations of Jesus innocence. Immediately after his first interrogation of Him (verse 3), Pilate declares to the crowd, “I find no case [aitia] respecting this man” (verse 4). He would repeat this a second (verses 13-16) and a third time (verses 20-22). ??The charge originally brought against Jesus, subversion and encouragement to evade taxes (verse 2), His own accusers knew to be false (20:25).

After dismissing this charge, however, for want of evidence, Pilate sends Jesus over to Herod, Rome’s representative in Galilee, for further adjudication (verses 6-12). Pilate’s situation being delicate, he wanted to play it safe. Already he had twice been summoned to Rome to answer accusations leveled against him by the Jews. There were limits to Rome’s patience, and Pilate seems to have spent much of that morning protecting his own political interests.

All things weighed, Luke goes relatively lightly against Rome with respect to the death of Jesus. He does not so much as even mention here the brutal treatment that Jesus received at the hands of the Roman soldiers. Indeed, these solders are not even mentioned in the course of Jesus’ trial. Although he speaks of the white robe in which the mocking courtiers of Herod arrayed Jesus (verse 11), he does not speak of the purple robe with which the Roman soldiers clothed Him. Neither does Luke explicitly speak here of the terrible scourging that Jesus received at the hands of the Romans, though he had mentioned it earlier (18:33).

Luke stresses, rather, that the real impetus for Jesus’ murder was shared among the Jews and was not simply a plot concocted by a connivance between the high priest and the Roman authorities. For Luke the guilt was shared by “the chief priests, the rulers, and the people” (verses 13,18,23). ??The modern, politically correct notion that Jesus’ death was brought about by a collusion of the Roman authorities with the pro-Roman Jewish priesthood simply will not stand up to the evidence of Holy Scripture. It was certainly not the view of (the Jew) John, in whose Gospel the enemies of Jesus are regularly referred to simply as “the Jews.” Nor was it the view of (the Jew) Paul, who laid the blame for Jesus’ death solidly at the door of the Jews (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16

Revelation 17:1-6: The woman in this vision is certainly the personification of the city of Rome, sitting on her seven hills. John did not have to personify Rome; it was already done by Rome’s political endorsement of the goddess “Roma,” in whose honor John knew of temples at Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamos. In the east, Roma had also been assimilated with certain local and traditional fertility goddesses.

The woman here is not only a whore; she is also a drinker of innocent blood, in the tradition of Jezebel and Herodias, the latter remembered especially in the Asian churches as the one responsible for the death of their beloved John the Baptist. Clothed in scarlet and adorned with gold, she appears as a sort of queen, whom John calls Babylon, much in the style of Jeremiah 51:12-17, a text that must be read in connection with John’s vision.

Wednesday, December 16

Luke 23:26: Although we know on the authority of Plutarch that every criminal condemned to crucifixion by a Roman court was obliged to carry his own cross to the place of execution, those soldiers charged with crucifying Jesus evidently believed that His weakened state would not permit Him to do so. Consequently, they obliged a “certain man . . . passing by” (says Mark) to carry Jesus’ cross to the place of crucifixion. That man was returning to the city “from the country” (say Mark and Luke), perhaps for his midday repast. His name was Simon of Cyrene (Matthew 27:31-32; Mark 15:20-21; Luke 23:26).

A descendent of certain Jews who had settled on the north coast of Africa (in modern Libya) about 300 BC, Simon doubtless belonged to that synagogue in Jerusalem particularly frequented by Cyrenian Jews who had moved back to the Holy Land (Acts 6:9). These were among the Jews responsible for the stoning of Stephen.

Revelation 17:7-18: We have already seen why the number seven is the symbol of perfection. Now, in the assertion that the seven heads of the beast are “seven hills” (verse 9), the seven is inverted to serve as a parody of perfection and completion; that is, perfect and complete evil. The seven hills are, of course, the seven hills on which sits the city of Rome, the urbs septicollis, as Suetonius called it (The Lives of the Caesars “Domitian” 5). Classical literature is full of references to this topographical feature of the city (Vergil, Aeneid 6.783; Georgics 2.535; Horace, Odes 7; Ovid, Tristia 1.5.69; Martial, Spectacles 4.64; Cicero, Letters to Atticus 6.5). In short, “the woman you saw is that great city” (verse 18). The seven head also put one in mind, of course, of the mythological seven headed Hydra of many ancient sources, from early Canaanite myths to The Labors of Hercules.

When the angel goes on to identify the heads with seven kings (verse 10), the identification is less clear. Various speculations are possible in this respect. For instance, if we count Julius Caesar as the first emperor instead of Augustus, then the sixth “head” in verse 10 would be Nero, whom we know to have been a persecutor of the Christian Church. It is not necessary to be quite so literal, however; it may be the case the seven here is to be taken as a symbol for the whole, much as the seven churches of Asia are symbolic of the whole Church. (After all, there were certainly more than seven Christian churches in Asia at the time. There was the church at Colossae, for instance, to which St. Paul wrote an epistle.)

Likewise, it is not necessary to be too specific about the ten horns that represent ten kings in verse 12; it is possible that the image serves no purpose except that of reminding us of the ten kings in the Book of Daniel, an image we examined earlier. The important thing to remember is that these coming ten kings will finally destroy Babylon/Rome itself (verse 16). That is to say, the demons ultimately destroy those who work for them.

Verse 14 speaks of the war between the beast and the Lamb. Lambs generally do rather badly in combat with beasts, causing us to recall that Jesus conquered evil by being defeated by it. All Christian victory involves the Cross.

Thursday, December 17

Luke 23:36-43: The encounter with the two thieves immediately precedes the death of Jesus, so that Jesus’ words to the second thief, promising to meet him that day in Paradise, are His last recorded words to another human being during His earthly life.

The good thief represents the repentant Church gathered at the Cross, and the words that he hears are the last thing that Jesus has to say to His people on earth.

With regard to the wider context of Luke’s Gospel, there are two points particularly worthy of note in this story of the thieves. First, in
drawing a contrast between the two men, Luke follows a pattern of antithesis that he has employed throughout his entire narrative. For
instance, it is Luke who immediately opposes the Beatitudes with the Woes (6:20–26). It is Luke who elaborates in detail the differences
between the Pharisee and the woman who came into his house (7:44–47).

Revelation 18:1-8: This chapter deals with the city of sin, Babylon. It is not a prophecy of the downfall of Rome, such as that of A.D. 410 for instance, but an affirmation of hope for the downfall of what the pagan Roman Empire stood for.

In this vision a bright angel is seen; the very earth is illumined by his brightness. He appears with a message of concern for everyone who suffers oppression. His message (verse 2) is a direct quotation from Isaiah 21:9, and the imagery reminds us of the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah. The overthrow of this city is related to its place in the world of economics and commerce (verse 3), which John sees to be idolatrous (cf. Colossians 3:5).

John’s complaint against the economic and commercial idolatry of his time should be regarded against the background of the Bible’s prophetic literature, especially the prophecies of Amos and Isaiah, who spoke out frequently against the unjust practices of the business world that they knew: price fixing, monopoly, widespread unemployment, and so forth. Actually, such considerations are among the most common in the Bible.

John’s exhortation is that the believers get out of Babylon (verse 4), which is a direct quotation from Jeremiah 51:45. In that latter text the Jews were being exhorted to flee Babylon so as not to share in that ancient city’s peril. “Going out of” a place in order not to share its destruction is a theme that appears rather often in Holy Scripture. One thinks of Noah and his sons “getting out” by building the Ark, for instance. Lot and his family are led out of Sodom by the angels, and the Israelites flee Egypt, and so forth. In Chapter 12 the woman in heaven was given two eagle’s wings so that she could flee to the desert, and in the gospels Jesus tells His disciples to flee Jerusalem prior to its destruction. The spiritual message in all this is that those who belong to Christ must put some distance between themselves and those elements of existence that are inimical to man (cf. John 17:6,11,14-16).

Friday, December 18

Luke 23:44-56: When we speak, even today, of excruciating pain, we do well to look at the etymology of that adjective: ex cruce, “out of the cross.” It is nearly impossible to exaggerate what the Savior suffered on the cross. Whether the cause of his death was asphyxiation, or hypercarbia, or hypovolemic shock, or heart failure, or exsanguination, or total physical exhaustion brought on by tetanic contractions throughout his entire body—or any combination of these, or any other plausible suggestion—the astounding fact is that Jesus, at the very end, “cried out again with a loud voice.” From a medical perspective, this is surprising.

Luke identifies the Lord’s final prayer as the line from Psalms 32 (31):5 — “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” These appear to be the words to which Matthew and Mark refer, when they tell us: “Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.”

Jesus did not simply die. He willingly tasted death, according to the Epistle to the Hebrews. He deliberately went through the actual experience of dying. The gospels indicate that Jesus was conscious and self-aware to the end. There was no coma, no disorientation, no mental befuddlement. The gospels testify, in fact, that he declined a narcotic that would have disguised and muted his pain. Jesus knew what he was doing.

He knew, moreover, why he was doing it. It is remarkable that his disciples—then and now—express the conviction that Jesus, in the act of dying, thought of them and poured out his life for each of them. This is the biblical testimony: “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that he, by the grace of God, might taste death for every person” (Hebrews 2:9 emphasis added).

Hebrews says, “for every person” (hyper pantos), not “for all persons” (hyper panton). Although Jesus certainly died “for everyone,” it is important to remark that he died “for everyone.” In the mind and intent of Jesus, the beneficiaries of his death were not an amorphous group. The Good Shepherd, who gives his life for the sheep, “calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3 emphasis added).

More than two decades after the event, someone who had not known Jesus on earth, was so confident on this point that he declared, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and my life in the flesh I live now by faith of God’s Son, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 emphasis added).

Such has been the conviction of believers down through the ages, those millions in the flesh, who have declared, unto their dying breath, “He loved me. He gave himself for me.”