Tag Archives: Vision

Blogging the Bible 345 – Hebrews 10-11 – Our hope and our ancestors’ hope

Chapter 11 is taken up with a great list of heroes of faith from the Old Testament – one after another commended for the faith that they showed. The writer seems (in a way the force of which I hadn’t really noticed before) to be building up the contours of the picture of these great forerunners living and dying still looking forward to what would be fulfilled in Jesus. 

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. (11:13)

Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect. (11:39-40)

Faith is presented as a source of guidance and confidence in life which goes beyond sight and experience alone. I remember a sermon many years ago where the preacher pointed out that in the Biblical picture, it’s not that we walk by faith when sight fails, but that we walk by faith first, falling back on sight where we have to. In Hebrews, faith is here seen as the quality which makes it possible for us to obey and honour God even when we know that we’re still awaiting the fulfilment of his promises; even when we can’t see the evidence that he is with us.

Chapter 11 brings together the writer’s sweep of ‘greater in Christ’ themes. Because Christ has died once for all, and now stands as the perfect High Priest, we can see what Abraham, Moses and the others only greeted from a distance – the fulfilment of God’s promises. 

So where does that leave our need for faith? In most of the biblical authors, there’s a strong sense of waiting for the fulfilment of God’s kingdom at some time yet to come. In Hebrews, the stronger theme is not so much ‘now and still to come’ as ‘here below and there above’ – with the sense of a perfect heavenly reality already overlapping this one. 

But there is still the ‘now and still to come’ here. I love the call in 10:24-25, 

Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

There’s something wonderful about the idea that the church should be meeting to provoke one another to love and good deeds – to keep us from getting too comfortable just because Jesus has completed the work of our salvation! Alone we won’t push ourselves – but how much do we really live up to this when we do meet? How would our worship and meetings be different if we lived as though we really knew that Jesus was about to come back, and that he was counting on us to be doing good together in the mean time? After all,

In a very little while, the one who is coming will come and will not delay; but my righteous one will live by faith. (10:37-38)

We have seen more than Abraham, Moses, Elijah and the others listed. We have more grounds for confident faith. Do we live up to that in our actions? 

Blogging the Bible 274 – Luke 8:40-9:62 – A glimpse of the Kingdom

Reading Luke’s account of the Transfiguration, I’m stuck by a detail which in fact is also in Matthew and Mark (though they disagree in the detail). After Jesus has told his disciples that ‘there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God’, the gospel writers state that the Transfiguration took place ‘about eight days after these sayings’. (six days later in Mark and Matthew.)
It’s unusual to have so clear a statement about the time here – I can only think that it’s meant to link the Transfiguration with the promise of the vision of the Kingdom, to show that the promise was indeed fulfilled.
If that’s the case, then I come back to my belief that the Transfiguration is a moment where the disciples see reality as it looks when seen from heaven. Jesus is still the carpenter rabbi, but he is also the blazing-with-glorious-holiness God the Son.
Seeing the Kingdom, then, includes the transformation of our perspective on the world. The Irish and Northumbrian Christians of Saxon times saw the world as a sacrament of the presence of God, a constant sign of his glory. One thing I long to do more consistently and clearly is to look at the world of my daily life in that way. For God is here, so often unseen and unnoticed. He is King, and so this world seen through faith is surely his kingdom.
If that’s true, then how can anything be dull, insignificant or unworthy of notice? I can see that the world could become overwhelmingly glorious; but I’m willing to take the risk that, like Peter, I might say something a bit daft and try to cling on to the wonder. It would be worth it in exchange for the chance to say to Jesus, ‘it is good for us to be here.’

Blogging the Bible 222 – Daniel 7-12 – Ancient of Days, Son of Man and Captain of Angels

Now Daniel speaks in his own voice – and his visions put things into perspective – whether it’s Daniel’s own story or that of the great kings that he serves in exile. For he sees the mighty spriritual figures who are at work behind the material scenes. Like the book of Revelation, his vision is full of strange and vivid symbols, the exact meaning of which is a matter for speculation to us so much later. This is the writing known as apocalyptic – not as in ‘telling of great disasters’ but as in ‘unveiling’ or ‘opening the curtain’ on the realities of life, history and politics.

So the different beasts aren’t literal figures, but symbols of the kingdoms and empires that will rise and fall between the time of the story of David in Babylon and its publication in its current form, probably in Maccabean times in the 2nd century BCE. 

More clearly (though still with the same kind of overwhelmed imagery as we saw in Ezekiel’s vision of God) Daniel sees the greatest powers behind the curtain.

The Ancient of Days, in whom we can’t help but see God the Father, sits enthroned in majesty. Serving him behind the scenes in earthly affairs is the Son of Man – which would become Jesus’ own preferred title for himself. And alongside this pre-Christmas Son fights Michael, ‘the great prince, the protector of your people’, who reappears in Revelation as the commander of God’s heavenly host and the slayer of the dragon.

These great heavenly beings leap from the page. And they remind us that our vision of the world is often very thin – we see only the surface, and forget that the Angels, holy and fallen, live and serve alongside us all unseen. They are, somehow, involved in the fate of nations as well as of individuals. We do not fight evil alone; and if we retreat too easily from the fight against evil, our cowardice is not unnoticed, even if no human eyes are watching.

The details, like in the Book of Revelation, are hard to pin down when we try to make sense of Daniel’s vision. We can suspect that it would have made much clearer sense to those for whom it was first written so long ago. But what we can see clearly is perhaps this. When we try to serve God, we never do so alone. And we are on the side which in the long run will win.

Blogging the Bible 218 – Ezekiel 38-42 – A new Temple

Reading these chapters, the part that struck me was the long section from chapters 40-42. I used a ‘wordcloud’ generator to produce the image above – the 60 most-used words in the text.

It’s full of numbers and bits of architecture – and above all, ‘cubits’. That’s the word that keeps jumping out as I read it, as the angel marks out the new Temple that is to be, and measures it exactly.

It’s a bit of a contrast from Ezekiel’s first vision, where the repeated phrase was ‘something like…’. There, faced with the glory of God unfiltered by the gap between heaven and earth, Ezekiel was overwhelmed and language gave up, so that all he could draw upon to say what he’d seen was comparison and image. Here, Ezekiel is shown something of God’s future plan for redemption – and God’s action on earth is anything but vague and metaphorical. When God acts on earth, then his work can be planned out and measured – in exacting detail, when it comes to something as important as the Temple.

Perhaps there’s a parallel in our participation in God’s work on earth, too – it starts best when it’s inspired by a momentary glimpse of glory, but ends best when it’s planned and worked out in advance!

Blogging the Bible 212 – Ezekiel 6-11 – Cherubs and Cherubim

I loathe cherubs. I mean the little winged babies of Baroque art, and the golden plastic one my children insist on hanging on the tree each Christmas purely to annoy me. They’re just wrong.

I know that technically they’re called putti rather than cherubs but that’s not the name everyone uses.

When Ezekiel saw cherubs in his vision, they weren’t cute. They were awe-inspiring spiritual beings who terrified him and who he can’t fully describe.

While remembering that Ezekiel’s vision is not exactly a calm, collected description of the natives of heaven, it does remind us that there is a whole spiritual realm with its own inhabitants, and that these inhabitants are not winged babies or, for that matter, elegant Pre-Raphaelite models. We’re dealing with a very different world here, and very different kinds of creatures.

The cherubim point us to the glory of God. After all, if even his servants are overwhelming and beyond coherent description in human language, how much more is God? We approval even the attendants of God’s throne with reverence, even with fear. But then we find that the one seated on the throne they carry and guard is our own Father. 

One more important bit of good news – these creatures may look weird and terrifying, but they, like us, are creatures and servants of God. They’re on our side.

Blogging the Bible 211 – Ezekiel 1-5 – Overwhelming

Ezekiel’s call to ministry was overwhelming. His vision of the glory of God is filled with the phrase ‘looking something like’ or close equivalents. He describes terrifying creatures, a glorious throne, amber and a crystal dome. But it’s clear that these and the other details of his vision are just the closest that he can get in words to what he has seen. One image piles onto another as he tries to get across the wonderful, terrifying experience of the vision of the LORD.

His ministry was no less overwhelming. After the gift of God’s word (in good Ezekiel fashion, described in concrete terms as eating the scroll) it’s made clear to Ezekiel what his responsibility will be. He is to obey and to pass on all that God speaks to him – what notice people take of it is then up to them, but if he has warned them and they do not respond, he is not to blame.

That proclamation, though, isn’t just in words but in compelling actions – setting up a model city under siege, lying still as a symbol of captivity for over a year and then publicly shaving with a sword are all a bit weird but they’d certainly get people’s attention!

If we today are called to speak to our culture, it’s tempting to think that we just have to say something to fulfil our duty to God – then it’s up to our hearers, not to us. But Ezekiel wasn’t only told to speak, he was also commanded to act. Whether we act by well-aimed PR stunts or by the day-to-day actions of caring for our communities, that action to gain people’s attention and willingness to hear us is part of our prophetic call as much as Ezekiel’s. How we speak God’s word matters as well as the content of what we say.

So how can we act in such a way that people want to hear what God has told us?

Blogging the Bible 190 – Isaiah 36-39 –

History breaks into the pattern of hope in these chapters.

There’s an abrupt change of style and content – the poetic oracles are replaced by a prose telling of events in the latter days of King Hezekiah. It’s almost entirely a retelling of 1 Kings 18-20 – about which I wrote a few months ago!

Given that almost all scholars agree that this is the last part of the first section of Isaiah, written before the exile, it’s sad that we end up with Hezekiah’s short-term relief that disaster will not fall in his own day.

Isaiah has just been looking into the distance, seeing beyond the coming storm a calm, bright future when God restores his people – and, as I’ve said a few times, we see that completely fulfilled only centuries later in Jesus.

Hezekiah is more like many of us – faced with the consequences of his actions, showing off the treasures of his house to his enemies, he prays and is relieved that Jerusalem will not fall in his time – even though his family and nation will suffer.

The approach most of us take to problems tends to be the same. Whether it’s climate change, or declining church congregations, our motivation to make the sacrifices and changes necessary for long-term good tends to be limited if we can see that we can do nothing and get away with it for the next couple of decades.

We should hear from Isaiah, and have the courage and faith to live and act for the future of generations beyond our own, not hiding behind the cushion of a few more years of safety.

Will we follow Hezekiah or Isaiah?