Friday, November 18

Revelation 3:14-22: We commented, with respect to the church at Philadelphia, that John had no criticisms to make about that congregation. Writing to Ephe-sus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, and Sardis, John paid some compliments and made some criticisms. Writing to the Christians at Laodicea, however, John has nothing at all encouraging to say! He is unable to find a single item for which to praise that church. To John’s thinking, the church at Laodicea is a lackluster group of slackers living in an affluent, self-satisfied society. Although this church was evangelized by Paul’s companion Epaphras (Colossians 4:12-13), it has lost its fervor and is now mediocre (verse 16).

The secular city of Laodicea was famous for three things: (1) its large banking interests, (2) its textile industry, and (3) a special eye-salve that the great physician Galen called “Phrygian powder.” John alludes to all three things in verse 18, where the church at Laodicea is told to come to God for (1) gold re-fined in the fire, (2) clothing to cover its nakedness, and (3) a special anointing of its spiritual eyes. The Laodiceans must admit, in short, that they are “poor, blind, and naked” (verse 17).

There are three points of Christology to note in this letter to Laodicea: (1) Christ in the past; the relationship of Christ to creation (verse 14; cf. Colos-sians 1:15-18; Hebrews 1:1-3; John 1:3); (2) Christ in the present, exhorting and inviting His Church, communing with those who open to Him (verses 19-20; cf. 19:9; Luke 22:28-30); (3) Christ in the future, rewarding those who van-quish in His name (verse 21; cf. Matthew 19:28). The image of the divine throne appears over forty times in the Book of Revelation. The present mention of it prepares for John’s vision in the following chapter.

Psalms 47 (Greek & Latin 46): The Ascension of Christ into glory is the object of biblical prophecy, especially in several places in the Book of Psalms. Today’s psalm, for instance, says, “God has ascended with jubilation, the Lord with the sound of the trumpet. Oh sing to our God, sing! Sing to our King, sing!” This is an invitation to us on earth, a summons to join our voices in jubilation with the angels on high. The Ascension of Christ is the event where heaven and earth are joined forever.

David’s taking of the ark of the covenant into the Holy City may be seen as a figure and type of the Lord’s entry into the heavenly Jerusalem, and that long-distant day was likewise marked with the rapture of happiness at God’s ap-proach: “Then David danced before the Lord with all his might; and David was wearing a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the trumpet” (2 Sam. 6:14, 15). Our psalm calls for similar marks of celebration at the coming of Christ into the Holy City on high: “Oh, clap your hands, all you peoples! Shout to God with the voice of triumph! For the Lord most high is awesome; He is the great King over all the earth.”

What the Old Testament prophesied in narrative and psalm came finally to pass when God “raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come” (Eph. 1:20, 21).

Our psalm of the Ascension, therefore, sends forth its invitation to all the peo-ples of the earth. By reason of His glorification, all of history and all of culture belong to Christ. All nations are summoned before His throne, to share His exal-tation: “God reigns over the nations; God sits on His holy throne. The princes of the peoples are gathered together with the God of Abraham. For all the strong ones of the earth belong to God; they are greatly exalted.”

Saturday, November 19

Luke 20:20-26: The payment of the head tax to the Roman government was a source of resentment and occasional rebellion among the Jews, both because it was a sign of their subjection to Rome and because they disliked handling the graven image of the emperor on the coin. To this question, then, either a yes or a no answer could provide the basis for a political accusation against Jesus—or at least could gain Him new enemies. If Jesus forbade the paying of this tax, He would offend the Herodians. If He approved of it, He would further offend the Pharisees. Either way, He would give offense.

The Lord’s enemies commence with manifest flattery, evidently to put Jesus off His guard before springing their loaded question (verse 16). All three Synop-tics mention this detail.

Reading their hearts and reprimanding their hypocrisy, the Lord obliges them to produce the coin in question, thereby making it clear that they all do, in fact, have the coin and do pay the tax.

That point established, He then obliges them to identify the head and name on the coin, namely, Tiberius Caesar (A.D. 14-37). Obviously, the coin belongs to the emperor, so they can continue doing what they have always done—pay the tax. Caesar minted and distributed the coin. It is his.

The concern of Jesus is not identical with that of His enemies. He is not con-cerned about what is owed to Caesar, but what is owed to God. This, too, must be paid, and Jesus is about to pay it. “Rendering unto God the things of God” refers to our Lord’s approaching sufferings and death. Thus, what be-gan as a mundane political question is transformed into a theological matter of great moment, leaving them all amazed.

It is important, however, to keep this story in the context where the Gospels place it, the context of the Lord’s impending death. The question posed to Je-sus is not a theoretical question. Indeed, it is not even a practical question. It is a loaded question—a question with an evil ulterior motive. It is a sword aimed at the Lord’s life.

And this is the sense in which we should understand Jesus’ response. Under-stood in this way, the Lord’s directive is full of irony. He tells His enemies to give back to God that which belongs to Him. And, in context, just what is that? It is Jesus Himself, whose life they will steal, and in their act of murder that which belongs to God will be rendered unto God.

Sunday, November 20

Revelation 5.1-14: Because the earliest Christians were Jews, their experience of worship was tightly tied to the style of the synagogue. In the weekly worship at the synagogue, a special liturgical moment came when a reader took the Sa-cred Scroll of God’s Word, opened it, read it to the congregation, and then ex-plained it.

For Christians, this solemn rite held a particular significance, because they be-lieved that the Words of the Sacred Scroll were completed and fulfilled by Jesus the Messiah. Thus, the opening, reading, and interpretation of the Sacred Scroll was perceived as a symbol of what Jesus accomplished in His ministry, death, and resurrection.

There is a story bearing this symbolism in Luke 4:16-21, where Jesus Himself took, read, and interpreted God’s Word in the synagogue at Nazareth, finishing by referring the entire Text to himself. That Lukan passage at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry forms a literary inclusion with the action of Jesus at the end of Luke, where the wounded Lord (“Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself”) explains the meaning of Holy Scripture to the Church by referring it to His own ministry, death, and resurrection (24:25-27,32).

That is to say, the Church believes that the ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ the Lord have an exegetical quality; it is interpretation in act. This primi-tive conviction of the Christian faith that only Jesus can “open the Scroll” is at the heart of what John now sees in the throne room of heaven (verse 7). The Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, can open this Scroll pre-cisely because He died and rose again (verse 9). This Lamb “stands” before God, standing being the proper posture of a priest (cf. Acts 7:55-56; Hebrews 10:11).

Although the image of Christ as the Lamb is common in the New Testament (John 1:29,36; 19:36; Acts 8:32; 1 Corinthians 5:7; 1 Peter 1:18-19), it is ut-terly dominant in the Book of Revelation, where it appears twenty-eight times. The Lamb in Revelation 5 stands in His immolated, mactated state, “as though slain,” still bearing in His flesh the wounds of His Passion (cf. John 20:25,27). This picture of Jesus as the wound-bearing Lamb, opening the Scriptures, is strikingly parallel to that of the risen Lord at the end of Luke’s Gospel (Luke 24:38-46).

When the Lamb appeared, “the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb” (verse 8) in the posture of adoration. This is the posture that we commonly find people assuming in the presence of Jesus in the gospel stories, but more espe-cially in the Gospel according to Matthew (cf. 2:2,8,11; 8:2; 9:18; 14:33; 15:25; 20:20; 28:9). Jesus is adored as equal to the Father.

Monday, November 21

Luke 20.41-44: The attentive reader observes the form in which Jesus makes his “implicit claim” to divinity—the interrogative form: “How, then, is he his son?” This is not a rhetorical question; it is a real interrogation, supposing a real answer, and Jesus’ opponents are stumped because they do not know the answer. Do we?

Even the “better” exegetes of this text seem to imagine that Jesus asked, “Why does David call his son, ‘Lord’?” And they answer, “Because the Messiah, in ad-dition to being a descendent of David, is also God’s eternal Son, and therefore David’s Lord.” All true, of course, but this answer addresses a different ques-tion. Jesus did not inquire, “Why?” He asked, “How?”

This question, I submit, lies at the heart of a dilemma faced at Chalcedon in 451. Pope Leo I of Rome, the chief theological architect of that council, sum-marized the Chalcedonian thesis by referring to the Gospel text under consider-ation: “David’s Lord became his son, and from the fruit of the promised branch sprang the faultless one, the twofold nature coming together is a single person” (Sermons 28.3).

What is, perhaps, most significant about the question is that Jesus leaves it un-answered. The question itself is the last word in the episode, not because it is a rhetorical question, but because its answer eludes investigation. While it is per-fectly legitimate to ask, “How is he his son?” neither Jesus nor his Church has ever attempted to answer this “how?” Efforts to do so, it seems to me, have always landed somewhere in the broad area of heresy.

How are the two natures in the Incarnation united in the single person of God’s Word—How is he both son and Lord? At the Council of Chalcedon in 451, it seems, the assembled bishops could only respond, “You know, darn it, we don’t have the foggiest idea. What we can and must say, however, is that the Incar-nation involved no confusion of the divine and human natures. Nor, on the other hand, was either nature changed. And we are further certain there was no divi-sion in this unity, nor any separation. That is just about the limit of what we can affirm.” As to “how?” we have no idea; it is, after all, an act of God.

Tuesday, November 2

Luke 20.45—21.6: One day the Lord called attention to a poor widow whom He saw casting her last two coins into the treasury. Jesus knew that these two small pieces of change were the sum of this poor widow’s assets (pace Rudolph Bultmann who doubted how Jesus could possibly have known this!). Therefore it is significant that she gave both of them, holding back nothing for herself.

For Jesus this latter fact became a point of contrast between the widow and the wealthier benefactors of the temple. Our Lord’s reaction was typical of Him, nor was this the only occasion on which He took compassion on a widow (cf. Luke 7:11–17). Indeed, He was obviously fond of an old story of a strikingly similar widow who likewise sacrificed her last resources to advance God’s cause (1 Kings 17:8–16; Luke 4:25–26).

Revelation 6.9-17: Besides the evils that afflict the people of the world, John knows of a special harm visited on Christians. After his description of the four horsemen, therefore, he speaks of the bloody persecution endured by believers (verses 9-11). Their blood (in the biblical idiom, their “souls,” because the soul is in the blood, according to Leviticus 17:11) has run down the side of the altar of sacrifice and pools at its base. They are martyrs, which is the Greek word for “witnesses.” Like the blood of Abel, their blood cries out to God, “How long?” (Compare Isaiah 6:11; Zechariah 1:12; Habakkuk 1:2; Daniel 8:13; 12:6)

The vengeance for which they pray is not a personal vindictiveness (for Chris-tians always forgive their enemies and wish them no harm; this is an absolute rule, allowing no exceptions), but a petition for the fulfilling of God’s righteous historical purposes.

They must wait, however, until the full measure of the martyrs is complete (compare Hebrews 11:40). Their white robes signify their participation in eter-nal life (cf. 7:13-17). The opening of the sixth seal declares those things that precede the end of the world and the final vindication of the saints.

First come the perturbations of the earth (verses 12-14), and then the effects on human beings (verses 15-17). The sequence of these afflictions follows the order of creation in Genesis 1; namely, (1) earth, (2) sun, (3) moon, (4) stars, (5) firmament, (6) land, (7) man. What John sees, then, is a kind of de-creation, a reversal of what God established, the collapse of the universe.

In the opening of the fifth, sixth, and seventh seals, we also detect the same four colors that accompanied the first four seals: thus, fifth seal, white robes; sixth seal, red moon and black sun; seventh seal, green grass.

There is a great irony in the image of the “wrath of the Lamb.” Indeed, a wrath-ful lamb is unimaginable except to the enemies of God. The wrath, of course, does not come from the Lamb who shed His blood for the world’s redemption and who hates nothing that He has made. The wrath comes, rather, from within the enemies themselves, who insist on seeing God as an enemy.

Wednesday, November 23

Luke 21.7-19: Luke’s version of this discourse especially stresses that Chris-tians must not speculate about, nor anticipate, specific times and dates regard-ing the plans and purposes of God in the world. They must simply hold on until the times of the nations be fulfilled. If we compare this passage with the corresponding texts in Mark 13 and Matthew 24, we observe that Luke has removed any expressions that might be misinterpreted as referring to the end of the world. This latter subject he has already treated in 17:20-37.

The original remarks of the Apostles, which prompted this prophecy, were in-spired by Herod’s fairly recent renovation of the Temple (cf. John 2:20). Ac-cording to Flavius Josephus (Antiquities, 15.11.3), “the Temple was constructed of hard, white stones, each of which was about 25 cubits in length, 8 in height, and 12 in depth.” That is to say, the walls of this mountain of mar-ble, towering 450 feet above the Kidron Valley, were 12 cubits, roughly 15 feet, thick! The various buildings of the Temple complex were colonnaded and elaborately adorned. Its surface area covered about one-sixth of the old city. The Roman historian Tacitus described it as “a temple of immense wealth.” (Histories 5.8). It was because of the Temple that Josephus remarked, “he that has not seen Jerusalem in her splendor has never in his life seen a de-sirable city. He who has not seen the Temple has never in his life seen a glori-ous edifice.”

Thus, the present text in Luke is concerned with the events connected with the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in the summer of A.D. 70. ??Jesus’ predictions of the persecutions that Christians must endure are partly fulfilled in Luke’s sto-ries of the early Church in the Acts of the Apostles. He there describes their ill treatment in synagogues, their beatings before tribunals, their trials in the presence of governors and kings. For instance, the promise given here in verse 15 (“I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.”) we see fulfilled in Acts 4:9-10:

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead by him this man is standing before you well.

What will be required of Christians, in no matter what age they live, is patience (verse 19; cf. Romans 2:7; 8:25; 15:4-5).

Thursday, November 24

Luke 17.11-19: There are three points to be made about today’s Gospel: Gos-pel healing, thanksgiving, worship

First, this Gospel story presents us with one of the three accounts of individual Samaritans found in the New Testament; these three are the so-called Good Samaritan in Luke, the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well in John, and today’s Samaritan leper, the lone man who returned and gave thanks to the Lord.

This last account is also found only in Luke, and it is rightly seen as part of Luke’s chronicle of the mission to the Samaritans in the Acts of the Apostles. As we know, that early Christian mission to the Samaritans was an essential step in the evangelization of the world; that mission was the Gospel’s first ex-tension beyond the confines of Judaism, and our Lord spoke of it specifically in the mandate He gave at the beginning of the Book of Acts: “you shall be wit-nesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The Samaritans, being half-Jews, were the historical link between Judaism and the other nations of the earth. Today’s Gospel story, then, pertains to evange-lism.

Significantly, this story about evangelism involves a healing. In the eyes of St. Luke, the physician who authored this story, evangelism was inseparable from health and healing. We recall Luke’s account of the mission of the Seventy: “heal the sick there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’”

Evangelism, the extension of the Gospel, has many aspects, but one of the most important of these aspects is the healing of peoples’ lives. Truly to preach the Gospel is to bring health to those who hear and receive it in faith. Today’s Samaritan is a man whom Christ restored to human wholeness and integrity.

Indeed, the Gospel itself asserts that full health, full human integrity, is availa-ble to man solely in Jesus the Messiah, for there is no other name under heaven given men by which they may be saved.

It is the mission of the Gospel to repair what is broken, to strengthen what is weak, to straighten what is bent, and to cure in our lives whatever is sick and unhealthy. “Arise, go your way,” says Jesus to this Samaritan, “Your faith has made you well.” This healing is accomplished only through receptive faith.

Second, the moral lesson of today’s Gospel has to do with thanksgiving. This point is made in Jesus’ question, with which the story ends: ““Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?”

We doubt that this was the first time our Samaritan had given thanks. In truth, we suspect that he remembered to give thanks on this occasion because he had already formed the habit of giving thanks, even during those years when his leprosy made him an outcast. The cultivated and sustained habit of thanksgiv-ing is the secret of a happy life. This is why Holy Scripture instructs us in all things to give thanks. Thanksgiving is to become the settled and normal habit of our souls.

It is ultimately thanksgiving that brings true healing to our lives. It is thanksgiv-ing that separates us from those whose lives are spent in complaining and murmuring. The habit of complaining, after all, is profoundly unhealthy. Mur-muring eats away the soul. Few things are more destructive of health than rou-tine recourse to murmuring. It is no wonder that murmuring is the sin most condemned in Holy Scripture. Murmuring is never an expression of faith. Thanksgiving is.

Third, this faith, this thanksgiving, this health is an act of worship completely centered on the person of Jesus Christ. What, concretely, does our Samaritan do today? Let us read: “And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, re-turned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks.”

We observe these particulars about the proper giving of thanks. We fall on our faces at the feet of Christ, and we shout with a loud voice. Thanksgiving is Christ-centered worship. It assumes the posture of humility and adoration.

The grateful Samaritan fell down on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks. Observe the correct posture of thanksgiving—our faces at His feet. This is the correct posture of God’s servant before his Lord. This is the correct deport-ment of a healthy human being.

The goal of evangelism is to bring every soul to this position, to bow every head—every mind—before the Lordship of Christ, to cause to rise from every throat the loud voice of grateful praise, to remove from every heart the last trace of that deep sickness called murmuring, and to replace it with it with sav-ing faith in that only name under heaven by which we are to be saved. We have assembled here today in order to join ourselves to this Samaritan, to make our own his adoration, his thanksgiving, and his praise.

Friday, November 25

Luke 21.20-28: In Luke’s version of this discourse, the Lord’s prophecy is plain-ly spoken and simply as a matter of fact. It is not loaded with eschatological significance, not regarded as an immediate harbinger of the final times. ?We note in particular Luke’s omission of the Abomination of Desolation (cf. Mark 13:14; Daniel 9:27; 12:11; 1 Maccabees 1:57).

When the invading Roman legions arrive to besiege the city, flight is the only rational response, because Jerusalem will offer no protection to those who re-main there (verses 21-22). As a point of history, before the siege was estab-lished, the Christians in Jerusalem fled eastward across the Jordan to Pella (Eu-sebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History 3.5.3). Warned by Jesus’ prophecy of the city’s fall, they did not stay around to defend it.

Indeed, they felt no special loyalty to the very city that had rejected the Messi-ah, certainly that a level of loyalty that would prompt them to stay and defend the place against a doom they knew to be inevitable. That decision of the Jeru-salem Christians, which separated them from so many of their countrymen, doubtless contributed to the further alienation of Christians and Jews.

Revelation 9:1-12: The first four trumpets produced plagues that resembled the seventh, first, and ninth plagues of Egypt (Exodus 9:22-26; 7:20-21; 10:21). These plagues, prompted by the trumpets, affect only the physical and astrophysical world, not human beings—at least not directly. The final three, described by the heavenly eagle as “woes,” afflict mankind directly (8:13).

The image of a fallen star already appeared in 8:10-11. Now another star falls in response to the fifth trumpet (verse 1; cf. Isaiah 14:12-20). This star opens the bottomless pit, from which arises a hellish smoke (verse 2; cf. 8:12) that contrasts with the incense smoke of prayer. The abyss represents existence without the worship of God — the theological term for which is “hell.” As John watches, a massive swarm of locusts takes form within that hellish cloud (verse 3), reminiscent of Egypt’s eighth plague (Exodus 10:12-15). Unlike those for-mer locusts, however, these locusts attack men themselves, not plant life (verse 4). Their activity is limited to five months, which is roughly the normal life span of locusts.

Indeed, this may be the only feature in which these particular locusts in Revela-tion resemble any other locusts in the world. These are not your usual, run-of-the-mill locusts (verses 8-10). They are satanic locusts, denizens of the abyss, who afflict men with despair. They deceptively have human faces (verse 7), but they represent a worse than human evil. Their king is called “Abaddon,” which is the Old Testament’s personification of the underworld, or grave. It lit-erally means “destruction” (cf. Job 26:6; 31:12). John translates this name in-to Greek as Apollyon, meaning “destroyer” (verse 11).

It is possible that John intends here a word play on the name “’Apollo,” which name, according to Aeschylus (Agamemnon 1082), comes from the verb apoluein, “to destroy.” We may bear in mind, in this respect, that the Emperor Domitian, not a man easily outdone, it must be said, with respect to a high self-opinion, proclaimed himself a manifestation of Apollo. (There is simply no evil as evil as official, government-sanctioned evil.) The torture in-flicted by these followers of Abaddon is spiritual, not physical, and the Chris-tians, sealed with the sign of the Living God, are exempt from it.