Posts Tagged With: Caesar

Revelation 16: Armageddon Begins

DRH31

I know, it is the eve of Mayan Apocalypse.  No, this post is not about that.  We have come to the end, at least for Rome.

The seven angels come forward and cast out the contents of their golden bowls onto various aspects of the natural world (the earth, sea, rivers, the Euphrates, sun, sky) and on the throne of the beast (Rome, itself).  The bowls are filled with “plagues” (16:9), and we can’t help but think of the Exodus, especially when people are afflicted with painful sores, water is turned to blood, the world is plunged into darkness, and a river is dried up.  Let there be no mistake.  This is a second Exodus (or a third, if you count the Babylonian invasion, captivity, and return towards the end of the Old Testament).  Rome is another Egypt.  Caesar is another Pharaoh.  Just like Pharaoh, there are hard hearts in the crowd:

They cursed the name of the God who had authority over these plagues.  They did not repent or give him glory. (16:9b)

But unlike the Egyptians, many who softened and begged Pharaoh to relent, the average Roman remains hardened, cursing God and refusing to repent.  In the first two sets of seven, we had an interlude between the sixth and seventh bowl or trumpet which was spoken to the saints directly intending to bring hope.  We have an interlude here, but only for the triumvirate of evil (dragon, beast, and false prophet, 16:13) to gather forces to enter battle from forces marching from the east across the “dried up” Euphrates.  The march to the bloody end continues, and will do so for three more chapters in a grand mix of images.

The term “Armageddon” is a Hebrew derivative and comes from 16:16 where Wright follows several MEGGIDOMAPNICE translations and calls the site of the last battle “Mount Megiddo.”  That translation is not unanimous, in fact, this passage is a hotly contested one.  Is this referring to the city of Megiddo in northern Israel?  Is this referring to a mountain (that Megiddo did not have)?  Is this being used symbolically (which I suspect), as Megiddo had been the site of many pivotal battles between nations from that area of the world?  We run the risk of getting too caught up in specific details.  The fact that East meets West in Israel (some say) in this vision is why people inclined towards latter-day prophecy see some final battle involving the modern state of Israel and tension in the Middle East, especially Iran now (though, wasn’t it Iraq ten years ago?).  Mix religion with American foreign political policy and you can see how this gets messy in a hurry.

Mount Megiddo?

Mount Megiddo?

Back to the Bible: today, it all ends with the seventh bowl, where a divine voice says “It is done!” (16:17) — an echo of the cross? — and the great city (Rome, presumably) both falls in an unparalleled earthquake and is crushed by gigantic hailstones.

I am struck by how the people of the great city have become so depraved that God’s punishment has only caused them to become more set against God and resistant to repentance.  But after the evil we have seem in Newtown, Connecticut and various other places recently, I shouldn’t be surprised.

What made you wonder in this chapter?

Categories: Revelation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Revelation 1: The King is in Your Midst

Jesus figures significantly in this first chapter of Revelation.  There should be no wonder; this is the “revelation of Jesus Christ” as verse one tells us.

John greets the seven churches of Asia Minor with a grand praise of Jesus, their common Savior:

Jesus the Messiah, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. (1:5)

Now, stop for a moment.  Think how provocative that flourish of praise is.  John is ascribing a power to Jesus that is equal or even surpasses the Caesar.  Is this god of the Christians more powerful than the Caesar who rules all other regional kings of the Mediterranean?  What a dangerous way to start a book to people persecuted for their seditious beliefs!

Lest there be a misunderstanding, this is a different kind of king.  Yes, he has conquered kingdoms.  He holds in his hands trophies of powers that have been vanquished.

He touched me with his right hand. “Don’t be afraid,” he said.  “I am the first and the last and the living one.  I was dead and look!  I am alive forever and ever.  I have the keys of death and Hades. (1:17-18)

Jesus is not a king like Caesar.  He certainly desires the hearts of those who address him as king, but he is not seeking more soil and greater riches.  He has conquered a power greater than Caesar himself.  His greatest victories are spiritual.

John not only says great things about Jesus in this chapter, he even has a vision of Jesus as well:

So I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me.  As I turned, I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the middle of the lampstands “one like a son of man,” wearing a full-length robe and with a golden belt across his chest. (1:12-13)

As we start this book, it is important for us to note where Jesus is in this vision.  He stands in the midst of seven lampstands, which verse 20 tells us signify the seven churches to whom this book is written.  Thus, as we start this book we see Jesus standing in the midst of his suffering people.

Jesus is a mighty king but also a compassionate comforter.

What stood out to you in this chapter?

Categories: Revelation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

BONUS: An Introduction to the Thessalonian Letters

We now move from one of the last parts of the New Testament to be written (John) to one of the first (only Galatians and Mark may be older).  We know Paul was in Corinth when he wrote 1 Thessalonians (1 Thess 3:1-2), and we know from an archaeological connection to the mention of the Roman government official Gallio in Acts 18:12-17 that this places Paul in Corinth around AD 51 or 52.  By al appearances, 2 Thessalonians was written shortly after, maybe six months later.

There are some letters of Paul that scholars argue were not actually written by Paul; the Thessalonian letters are not two of these.  There is almost universal agreement that these are authentic Pauline letters.

We see from Acts 17 that Paul and Silas had quick, evangelistic success in Thessalonica even with prominent people in the city.  Just as quickly, though, unbelieving Jews came in behind them to counter their work.  Specifically, a mob was formed that chased Paul and Silas south to Berea and then to Athens, causing hardship for the new Thessalonian Christians like Jason and others.  We should notice the charge brought against Paul and Silas by their opposition: “They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus” (Acts 17:7).  Thessalonica was the capital city of Macedonia, a Roman colony widely inhabited by retired military officials in the Roman army and thus loyal to the king.  It is worth noticing that in this milieu, the kingship of Jesus was still so foundational that Paul and Silas did not back down from sharing this fact.

Have you ever done something in a hurry and just hoped it lasted?  If so, you understand why Paul wrote his Thessalonian letters.  We don’t know exactly how long Paul stayed in Thessalonica, but it would have been shortly after the first converts were made.  These new Christians were left unsupported and unguided, which would have been especially challenging as they had converted from paganism (1 Thess 1:9).  In his absence, Paul begins to instruct them through his letters in godly living in a hostile world.

There are no letters of Paul’s that have more to say about the second coming of Christ than these two.  Every chapter of 1 Thessalonians ends with a reference to the second coming (eschatology).  With a doubt, this theme will run throughout all of our reading this week and a half.  Eschatology is not an easy concept, therefore there is no surprise that the Thessalonians were struggling with this new teaching. Whether they should continue to work until Jesus returns appears to be an issue for them as does the cryptic “man of lawlessness” we will read about in 2 Thessalonians.

Categories: 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Luke 20: God and Caesar

Even if you haven’t been reading along in Luke, when you read today’s passage it is clear we are coming to the end of Jesus’ life.  He is being attacked and framed on every side.  People are trying to make him say something that will make him easy to kill or at least turn public opinion against him.

A group of people come up to Jesus purposely trying to catch him in a predicament regarding Roman taxes.  They ask whether it is right to pay the tribute tax using Roman coins that bear the image of the Caesar, something deemed idolatrous.  By this time it might have even been that the Caesar was declaring himself “Lord” in the inscription on these coins.  Jesus knows what they are up to.  He answers them in such a cunning way that it shuts down their attempts to frame him, but it also gives us wise guidance on how to interact with government.

“Show me a tribute-coin,” he said.  “This image . . . and this inscription . . . who do they belong to?”

“Caesar,” they said.

“Well, then,” replied Jesus, “you’d better give Caesar back what belongs to him!  And give God back what belongs to him.” (20:24-25, emphasis Wright’s)

Given that the central point in their discussion is an image on a coin, it is quite likely that what Jesus is saying that paying taxes is no big deal, even with a seemingly blasphemous coin, because that is simply what is required in Caesar’s world.  His image, his coin.  Give him what is his.  However, pushing his questioners deeper than they intended to go, if we are going to talk about images, let’s remember that we have an image stamped on us too, Jesus says.  We bear God’s image.  Give Him what is his.  Work in the system, fine and dandy; pay your taxes and stay out of trouble.  But be sure to give your heart, your life, your energy to God.

Which leads to some unpopular questions in a country as patriotic as America.  Do we ever give too much to our Caesars?  Sure, we pay our taxes and fulfill our civic duties.  That is fitting.  But do we also give our heart and being to our countries?  Do we pledge allegiance to our governments so much that they become our first love?  Are we willing to die for a country yet we are not willing to suffer discomfort for Jesus?  Do we bleed red, white and blue (or any other flag’s colors)?  Do we think our favorite politician is the savior of life as we know it?  Will we debate, fight, divide, or attack for our candidate?  Do we proselytize for our political party and forward political emails to friends, yet do neither for the Creator of our souls?  Do we accept attitudes popular with our political persuasions but which are actually contrary to the way of Christ?  How much is too much?

I know, not a popular set of questions in an election year.  Oh, and the Olympics start this week!  Just going where the text takes me.

What do you think?

Categories: Luke | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Ephesians 1: Jesus the King

Over in England, it was the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation this past weekend.  Unless you have just been away from a media outlet of some sort you have seen the celebrations — flotilla, horse races, Sir Elton John, and all.  Now imagine walking into the middle of the crowds outside Buckingham Palace and shouting, “There is another queen, one better and more powerful than Elizabeth!”  Yeah.  I am thinking that wouldn’t go over well, even as fair-weather as the British people are about their royals.

But that is essentially what Paul does as he starts Ephesians.  This is where N. T. Wright’s choice to translate “Christ” as “king” really makes the point.  Eleven times in twenty-three verses Paul calls Jesus the “king.”  But there already was a king in Ephesus: Caesar.  And if that wasn’t enough to fill their hearts they had the blessings of the local goddess Artemis.  This was not a people in need of another king, another power, and more blessing.  Yet, that is exactly how Paul starts.  How confrontational!  Notice how in-your-face these verses sound when you remember where they are being read:

His plan was to sum up the whole cosmos in the king — yes, everything in heaven and on earth, in him. (1:10)

This was the power at work in the king when God raised him from the dead and sat him at his right hand in the heavenly places, above all rule and authority and power and lordship, and above every name that is invoked , both in the present age and also in the age to come.  Yes: God has “put all things under his feet.” (1:20-22a)

Artemis (Diana)

Artemis was usually depicted with many breasts from which her worshipers were nourished.  Her blessings sustained life.  Yet, Paul packs blessing after blessing into Ephesians 1 as he reminds the Ephesian Christians what they have received from God, not Artemis (1:3):

  • Being holy and irreproachable in God’s sight (1:4)
  • Adoption as God’s sons and daughters (1:5)
  • Deliverance by the forgiveness of sins (1:7)
  • Making known the secret of God’s purposes to us (1:9)
  • Marked by the Spirit as an inheritance (1:11, 13)
  • Being made wise, understanding things others do not (1:17)
  • Enlightenment to the “eyes of your inmost self” (1:18)
  • Knowledge of the amazing power of God towards us (1:19)

Paul also sneaks the real issue into the chapter three times:

To the holy ones in Ephesus who are also loyal believers in King Jesus. (1:1)

I’d heard that you are loyal and faithful to Jesus the master (1:15)

You will know the outstanding greatness of his power toward us who are loyal to him in faith (1:19)

The real question that the Ephesians had to grapple with first was to which king they would be loyal.  To whom would they go for blessing?

What did you notice in this significant chapter?

Categories: Ephesians | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Acts 2: They Begin to Get It

This is such an incredible chapter!

I don’t say that because I have been programmed to by my religious tradition that has exalted this chapter since the beginning of the Restoration Movement almost 200 years ago.  They often championed this chapter as a blueprint for receiving Christ in a particular way.  That is certainly in here, but that kind of reductionism misses the point.

Acts 2 is a sunburst of spiritual power.  The original Great Awakening.  It is the start of something new, though it was spoken of  long ago (Acts 2:16-21).  So many things we have been seeing are coming together here, and so many things will launch out from here.  The Celts would have called this one of those “thin places” where heaven touches earth in an explosion of energy, awareness, ability, and change.  Now that is a reason to exalt a chapter!

Amongst other points, this chapter is so wonderful because the apostles finally begin to get this kingdom Jesus has been talking about.

  • They begin to see that “Death” is the real enemy that has to be vanquished not Rome, and that the battle was waged on a cross and in a tomb not in Judea (2:24, 27, 31-32)
  • They were able to grasp that Jesus was the fulfillment of the promise to David to have a descendent on the throne, but that this was a different sort of throne (2:30-31)
  • They boldly claimed that “Jesus is Lord” (2:36) instead of saying “Caesar is Lord,” a common cry by the AD 60s when Acts was written if not in the AD 30s when the actual events took place.  Somehow it was possible for Jesus to be Lord even while Caesar was on a throne.
  • They were understanding that the greatest tyranny comes at the hands of Sin, and the greatest freedom is from this enemy (2:38, 40, 47)
  • They were switching from a worldview that said Israel is our most important allegiance to seeing the fledgling collection of Jesus-followers as the Great Community (2:42-47)

Notice, they didn’t really get it in Acts 1.  Now they begin to in Acts 2.  What changed?  What happened?  The only thing that changed was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit of God.  God is changing them from the inside out.

Let your Spirit come!  Fall upon us now!

What spoke to you anew in this very familiar chapter?  

Categories: Acts | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

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