Category Archives: Blogging the Bible

Blogging the Bible 365 – Revelation 21-22 – The End

It’s taken more than the year I’d planned, but I’m there. The last two chapters of Revelation, 365 posts from ‘In the Beginning’ to ‘Amen.’

And what a way to finish. The last two chapters of the Bible bring the whole story of God’s work and faithfulness to a triumphant conclusion, with everything right in a way that hasn’t been since that first reading, and the end of chapter 2 of Genesis. 

For at the end, the separation which has been the backdrop to the whole story is over. Heaven and earth are united in new creation. God dwells once again among his people, and the sufferings which came about as a result of the Fall in Genesis 3 are at an end.

But there’s no pretence that the great span of years and pages between the beginning and the end haven’t happened, or don’t matter. The tree of life is restored to its rightful place at the heart of human existence and society. But that place has changed. It’s no longer a garden with a single couple tending it on God’s behalf. Now the Tree stands at the centre of an impossibly vast and glorious city. For human history has happened, and that matters. The hardships and sufferings have mattered; so have the joys, the creativity, the progress – the growth of human society is reflected in the new creation – things may have come full circle, but that circle is actually more of a spiral, for the world is now higher even than it was in Genesis 2.

And God is at its heart again.

Nothing has been wasted. The glory of Creation, the faithfulness of Moses, the horrors of the Judges, the wavering of kings; the questioning of exile, the flowering of wisdom, the thundering of the prophets, all have shaped the story and so shaped the city. John the forerunner and the apostles who followed have played their part. And at the centre of it all has always been Jesus – the ‘umpire’ and mediator for whom Job longed; the Word of Creation and prophet, the Wisdom of Proverbs; the Light, Shepherd, Lord – and far more.

The story began as a vision for the world. It went wrong, and more or less started again with one man and his family. It became the story of the nation which traced itself to him, and then found its fulfilment through Jesus as the story of the whole world and all creation.

It’s been one story all the way through. And I’ve seen it in a new light for reading it and for writing on it in this way. Thanks to those of you who’ve been reading, and for the words of encouragement along the way. Some of you have told me that my writing has helped you, and I’m really grateful for that. But you’ve helped me, by giving me a reason to keep going! Thank you.

By coincidence, I’m posting this last ‘Blogging the Bible’ post in the morning before heading off for a silent retreat for 3 days. I’ve got a lot to think about, and once I’ve had time to digest my thoughts I’ll blog again and say a bit more about how this exercise has changed the way that I think. 

Part of me is relieved to be finishing, and hoping to get back to playing my guitar a bit more with the time I’ll have in hand! But I’m also going to miss the discipline and the impetus to read and to think about God’s word in a rigorous way – so what’s next? I don’t know, but I can’t end this whole series better than in the words of Revelation 22:16-17.

“It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”

And let everyone who hears say, “come.”

And let everyone who is thirsty come.

Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

Blogging the Bible 364 – Revelation 18-20 – The King rides out

Through all of the New Testament, it’s been a truth at least in the background that Jesus is Lord. As Tom Wright has pointed out, that’s a big claim, and it’s the one which set Christianity against all other powers and authorities, above all against the Roman Empire. For if Jesus is Lord, then Caesar is not.

Now, at the end, the often-hidden kingship of Jesus is made obvious at last. He rides out at the head of an army of angels; his weapon is, as it always was, his word. His authority is now beyond question and beyond misunderstanding. And that authority is shown by the robe that he wears, one dipped in blood.

Long ago, in the wilderness the tempter offered Jesus power in exchange for worship. He refused that shortcut; and his power comes through the obedience of his life, culminating in his death for the world. That was always the plan. And so the beast is destroyed and the devil imprisoned by the King who carries the power of truth, love and integrity.

With just a couple of chapters to go, we’re back to Jesus – still and always the heart of all.

Blogging the Bible 363 – Revelation 15-17 – The blessing of not knowing 

I like to understand things. I care about truth, and about accuracy; usually they coincide.

With these chapters, I find that I like not being sure exactly what John is talking about. 
That’s not strictly accurate; I’m pretty sure that he’s writing about Rome, and so about the emperors of his day and those soon to come. I think the plagues probably relate to things that his readers will remember or expect. But the fact that Revelation stands as it is in Scripture, without an accompanying interpreter’s key, means that we can read it as relevant to our day or to any time. 

Perhaps the reason that people are forever finding references to their own day in the symbolic events of Revelation isn’t just that the symbolism is so strange and rich that it can be interpreted in a thousand different ways; though I’m sure that’s part of the reason. More deeply, this kind of stuff keeps happening. A series of oppressive rulers isn’t a one-off event in human history; it keeps happening, and the good news is that in the end the beast loses. Again and again. And one day it will lose forever.

So the whole book of Revelation, read this way, takes the whole sweep of the story so far and makes it universal – not just for all people but for all of human history. That’s why people can always see the events of their own day in its images; that’s the point. This isn’t about some single point in future history. It’s about a thousand yesterday’s, todays and tomorrows, in which God and God’s people struggle against evil – and finally win.

Blogging the Bible 362 – Revelation 12-14 – Part of a bigger battle 

It feels as though we’re backtracking in the story a bit at the start of chapter 12, and looking at the world’s struggles from a different angle.

We’re in heaven again, with the birth of a child who escapes a dragon, then the war between the angel armies led by the archangel Michael and by Satan. With the defeat of Satan in heaven, the last battles of the war are fought out here on earth. Empires rise and fall, political and economic systems dominate human life one after another. This isn’t some mysterious future still to come. This is human history.

And this human history is the last battleground of an ancient war fought and decided in the heavens. It reminds me of the last chapters of The Lord of the Rings, where Saruman, the great wizard corrupted by evil and pride, ends his days as a petty tyrant, oppressing the hobbits of the Shire until he’s defeated even there. Like Saruman in the Shire, Satan has been forced out of grandeur and denied his ambition to oust God. He can still cause misery, corrupt and diminish human lives, but he is far from what he once longed to be.

The fight of human history, the fight to be fully human together, is still to be completed. But the fury of that battle is great in part because, as John heard the voice from heaven say in 12:12,

Rejoice then, you heavens and those who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you with  great wrath, because he knows that his time is short.

The battle isn’t over yet – but it’s already won.

Blogging the Bible 361 – Revelation 8:6-11:19 – ???

I’m tempted just to write ‘I’ve got no idea either’.

These chapters read like something from a nightmare or horror movie, with natural disaster, plague, warfare and massacres. It’s hard to see how it fits as the Bible comes to its end – but perhaps the point is that sin, the whole range of human rebellion against God, matters deeply. And God is prepared to use crisis to boot people into taking seriously the need for a change of heart and life. 

In chapters 10-11, the focus moves to the call to the church to speak the word of God even into this darkening world. John himself is called to eat the scroll of the words of God, and it becomes a compulsion to speak out. Then he is shown the two witnesses, I think representing Elijah and Moses, speaking out prophecy and law in renewed power despite all opposition, and then vindicated after they have been killed by being raised to life.

This brings the culmination of this part of Revelation, as the reign of God is proclaimed in the praises of those gathered around his throne, and the heavenly temple is opened.

So what can we get out of these chapters? A reminder that we are called to speak despite the worst the world can throw at us and in the midst of turmoil and catastrophe – and that God wins in the end.

Blogging the Bible 360 – Revelation 6:1-8:5 – Together at the end of time

Whether it’s looking at the events of John’s day, the decades that were to follow or the whole span of human history, it’s clear as the scene unfolds before John’s eyes that things are changing, and painfully. The four horsemen ride out – but this doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re at the final end of things. war, death and famine haven’t exactly been strangers to the earth over the last 2000 years, after all. This could be a representation simply of the dark side of human history, with disasters happening time after time.

Then in John’s vision the sky is shaken and the stars fall. I don’t think this is meant to be taken literally, any more than is anything else that is to come. But it’s apparent that earthshaking events are indeed about to follow. But first God’s people must be safe.

And once again, we see the pattern I’ve seen afresh through this reading of the whole Bible. The numbering of the saints begins with the twelve tribes of Israel (ten long-gone before John’s day) and then explodes to the multitude of all nations, numbers beyond counting, who join with them before God’s throne. One last time, the nations are drawn through Jesus into the covenant of God and Israel which we have seen to be unfolding throughout history. Together they worship Israel’s God and his Messiah, joining their prayers to those of the angels.

In response to their praise, and to their lives of faith, the saints receive the beautiful promise,

For this reason they are before the throne of God,
   and worship him day and night within his temple,
   and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
   the sun will not strike them,
   nor any scorching heat;
for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd,
   and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’ (Rev. 7:15-17)

And then…

Silence.

In heaven.

For half an hour.

In a way I find that silence more awe-inspiring than all of the vivid imagery that surrounds it. Apart from anything, John is the evangelist of the ‘Word’, by whom God speaks all things into being and sustains creation. If there is silence, then the world is still as well. For half an hour, God does not speak.

What must that silence have been like?

The eternal song of praise is silenced. Then the prayers of the saints are heard. And the world changes.

Blogging the Bible 359 – Revelation 3-5 -Closed and open doors

A closed door?

Surprisingly often (including over this summer) I’ve heard sermons drawing on the book of Revelation, in which the most memorable detail is actually from the famous painting ‘Light of the World’ by Holman Hunt, inspired by Rev. 3:20 –

LIsten! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.‘The Light of The World’ painted in 1853 by the pre-Raphaelite artist William Holman Hunt. The painting was one of the most popular of the Victorian era and was reproduced many times, though it caused uproar when it was discovered that the models for...

The point often preached is that the door has no handle on the outside – it must be opened from within. We have to respond to Jesus’ knocking and open the door. I don’t think it’s a major distortion of the text, but it’s interesting to see how art shapes our understanding and even preaching. Personally, I suspect that there is a handle on the outside of the heart’s door – but Jesus prefers not to force entry.

In any case, I think it’s important to remember that this isn’t, as it is often preached, a call to new faith, but to a rekindling of faith – the faith of those inside the door has become lukewarm, and they aren’t really listening to the challenging, encouraging voice of Christ.

An open door

There are two open doors in these chapters. The first is that which Christ tells the people of Philadelphia that he has opened for them – and which no-one can shut. (3:8). They have stayed faithful through difficult times, and the door to God’s temple is forever open to them. They can’t open it. No-one can shut it.

Then from chapter 4, we begin to move beyond the world of letters to churches, and the viewpoint changes, as John sees another open door – or perhaps the same one. For this door through which John is called to enter brings him to the heavenly throneroom, where mortals and angels gather to worship. He begins now to see the unfolding picture of world history from the other side of the curtain – to see what’s happening and what will happen in the world below as it is seen from heaven.

So first of all he sees that the foundational reality behind the curtain is that God is worshipped. Whatever is happening here, worship is being offered in heaven. When we worship here on earth, we enjoy the privilege of joining our praise with saints and angels in heaven.

Second, John sees that God’s purposes for human history (and all history) depend upon the Lamb who was slain, Jesus. He alone is worthy to open the scroll of God’s plan – and he, Jesus, shares in receiving the worship of heaven’s host.

Again, Revelation centres on Jesus. He is the one who calls, raises up, reveals and opens the possibility of God to us. If we get anything out of the later chapters of this strange book, perhaps it is this reminder – Jesus is the key to history. He is the one who opens doors and then wedges them firmly open.

Going back to the door at which Jesus stands to knock: perhaps it’s actually  the same door again. The Laodiceans have let the fire of faith burn low – they’re not actually cold, faith is not dead, but there’s no real heat there. Perhaps they too need to glimpse the doorway to a heaven’s-eye view of the world. After all, how much more alight would my faith and life be if I was seeing things from the angels’ side of the curtain?