Is there such a thing as right and wrong?

Bible Passage: Psalm 119:121-128

 121 I have done what is righteous and just; do not leave me to my oppressors.

 122 Ensure your servant's well-being; do not let the arrogant oppress me.

 123 My eyes fail, looking for your salvation, looking for your righteous promise.

 124 Deal with your servant according to your love and teach me your decrees.

 125 I am your servant; give me discernment that I may understand your statutes.

 126 It is time for you to act, LORD; your law is being broken.

 127 Because I love your commands more than gold, more than pure gold,

 128 and because I consider all your precepts right, I hate every wrong path. (Ps. 119:121-128 NIV)

Key OT/NT passages on how this passage fits within the Bible story as a whole 

In creation, God not only places Adam and Eve in the garden, but gives them a moral command – they are not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:17). From that point on, his command is for his people to be holy as he is holy (Lev 19:2). Right and wrong are not just anchored in the LORD’s command, but in his character. For that reason, those who love him, love and value his commands (Psalm 119:121-128). In the New Testament, morality still originates from God himself, though that morality is universally suppressed (Romans 1:18). What sets apart the God of the Bible is that he both upholds right and wrong as judge, and at the same time, through the death of Jesus, counts people as morally blameless (Romans 3:26).

 

Brief note on context/key themes of book

 The book of Psalms is a collection of songs known as ‘tehilim’ or ‘praises’ in the Hebrew Bible. Psalm 119, in book 5, is a meditation on the law of God. More than that, it is an expression of pleasure in God’s word as delicious (v.103), delightful (v.143) and his treasure (v.162). God’s word is not only the source of right and wrong (v.128), but something to be greatly enjoyed.

 

Structure of the passage

 God’s words are valuable (v.127)

They are to be loved and desired, as a source of truth

 

God’s words set the standards of right and wrong (v.128)

The psalmist considers God’s precepts to be right – morality has an origin in the word of God

 

God’s words set a long-term direction (v.128)

God’s morality provides not just moral edicts, but a way of life and a path to follow

 

God’s words are all-encompassing (v.129)

Verse 128 says literally ‘Because I esteem right all your precepts concerning everything, I hate every false way. Living under God’s word is a whole-life response.

 

So look for God’s righteous promise (v.123)

Ultimately, we know that we are not righteous, and we depend fully on God’s righteous promise. In the New Testament, we see that as the promise of righteousness (Romans 3:21-26).

 

Summary of author’s main point

 Delight in God’s word as the precious source of right and wrong, and look for God’s righteous promise

 Aim/purpose for original audience

For Christians to delight in God’s word as the precious source of right and wrong, and look for God’s righteous promise in Christ

Aim/purpose for us today

For Christians to delight in God’s word as the precious source of right and wrong, and look for God’s righteous promise in Christ

Key area of application

In history, discussions were focussed on what morality flowed out from God’s character. More recent discussions have tried to base morality on something outside of God, whose very existence is doubted. Not only are those discussions ultimately futile, they have a problematic history of leading to oppression. Only a morality based in God’s words is reliable and delightful. Remarkably, where we have failed to keep God’s standards of right and wrong, he offers the possibility of being put right with him through Christ.

Are we here for a reason?

Bible Passage: Ephesians 1:3-14

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love

 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will-

 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace

 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding,

 9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ,

 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfilment- to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

 11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will,

 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.

 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit,

 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession- to the praise of his glory. (Eph. 1:3-14 NIB)

 

Key OT/NT passages on how this passage fits within the Bible story as a whole

Right from Genesis 2, God created mankind for a reason – to relate to one another and to him, and to rule over his creation. Following the fall, men and women have suppressed that purpose, turning away from relationship with their creator, and seeking self-rule. God’s gracious purpose is to return mankind to the purpose for which they were created, re-uniting them to God and one another through the cross, in Christ, as his church, and bringing them to a new creation where they will rule under his authority forever.

 

Brief note on context/key themes of book

Ephesians is a circular letter from Paul, written from prison (6:20). It is being sent to a number of churches including the church in Ephesus, where Paul had been only 7 years previously. It is a book of two halves, with 1:10 as the key verse. The first half teaches us that God has made us one people under one Christ (chapters 1-3), while the second half teaches us to live as one people under one Christ (chapters 4-6).

 

Structure of the passage

Bless the God who has blessed you in Christ (3)

Paul calls on the Ephesian church to respond to the way in which God has blessed them, by blessing God (v.3 starts literally “Blessed be the God and Father of…”).

He chose us… (4)

God chose us to be holy and blameless in his sight – we were his free decision, to be perfected in the future.

He predestined us… (5-6)

God took the sole initiative in our salvation, personally overseeing our adoption into sonship. It was an act of love, driven by own will and for his own satisfaction.

He redeemed us… (7-8)

We were held captive to sin, death and the devil, but Jesus personally paid for our release from slavery. It cost him his blood, but through it we enjoy complete forgiveness.

He let us in on his plans… (9-10)

As if it weren’t enough to rescue us, God has revealed to us the sweep of his grand plan, through to the future (the ‘fulness of time’). It’s to bring everything into unity under his Son.

And has brought together a new society. (11-14)

The Jews were chosen (the word means 'chosen to be God's inheritance', compare Psalm 135:4) according to God's plan, worked out in the pages of the Old Testament. That plan has now come to include the Gentiles, who have heard the gospel, and now have the Spirit as the guarantee of their future redemption. Both groups can be assured that God's plan is fully on track.

 

Suggestions for any tricky bits?

What are the heavenly realms (3)?

Paul comes back to this idea time and again in Ephesians. The heavenly realms are the place where not only God and the ascended Christ live (and we live with him), but also where the evil spiritual powers live (1:20-21; 6:12; cf. 3:10). At the moment there is war in those realms (6:10) but one day the evil powers there will be completely eradicated (1 Cor 15:24-26).

 

Summary of author’s main point

Christians bless God for all the blessings they enjoy in Christ

Aim/purpose for original audience

For Christians to bless God for all the blessings they enjoy in Christ

Aim/purpose for us today

For Christians to bless God for all the blessings they enjoy in Christ

 

Key area of application

In history, the reason for our existence was acknowledged to be “to glorify God and enjoy him forever”. People who rejected that purpose not only struggled to replace it with any other sense of purpose or meaning, but failed to live consistently with a sense of meaninglessness. Ultimately, it is the God of Ephesians 1 who gives purpose. He has called, predestined, and redeemed a people, who are caught up in his salvation plan. The reason that that gives us for existence is not just logical, it is joyful.

The church: gathered round God's word

Bible Passage: John 10:1-10; 1 Peter 1:22-2:3

 John 10:1 'Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.

 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.

 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.

 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.

 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognise a stranger's voice.'

 6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.

 7 Therefore Jesus said again, 'Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.

 8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them.

 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.

 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.  (Jn. 10:1-10 NIV)

 

1:22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.

 23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.

 24 For, 'All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall,

 25 but the word of the Lord endures for ever.' And this is the word that was preached to you.

2:1 Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.

 2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation,

 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Pet. 1:22-2:3 NIV)

 

Key OT/NT passages on how this passage fits within the Bible story as a whole

The word for ‘church’ essentially means a gathering or assembly – in Acts 19 the word ‘ekklesia’ refers equally well to a riot or a courtcase. In Bible terms, though, it means people gathered to God by his word. In that regard, Adam and Eve represent a proto-church as they walk with God in the garden. Following the Fall, Adam and Eve are scattered East of Eden. Beginning with Abraham in Genesis 12, God promises to regather a people to himself (Gen 12, 15). This finds expression as God’s people are assembled at Sinai. It is here that the people are gathered as Moses goes up the mountain to meet with God (Exodus 19:1-6 – described by Stephen as an assembly, or ‘church’, in Acts 7:38). This gathering of God’s people was marked by God’s presence, his words of promise and direction, and the establishment of God’s people as his own possession.

 Jesus, in choosing 12 disciples, is re-establishing the people of God. By faith in his words, they become God’s new kingdom people, having come to him (Heb 12:18-24), and being seated with him (Eph 2:6). This New Testament assembly or church is centred on Jesus as its head (Eph 4:15), led by his voice (John 10:3-5), indwelt by the Spirit (1 Cor 3:16), serving one another (Gal 5:13), united by him (Phil 1:27), and awaiting the day of Christ’s return (Rev 22:17).

 

Brief note on key themes of series

The series aims to build our understanding of the church, and our commitment to it, by exploring the doctrine of the church from four angles. The church centred on Christ, belonging to and loved by him. The church focussed on the future, awaiting the final day and inviting others to the banquet. The church working as one, united in Christ and showing mutual grace. And the church is gathered around God’s word, informed by and addressed by the true God through his living word.

 

Structure of this week’s sermon

As God’s Church…

1) We are people listening to Jesus’ voice (John 10:1-39)

In John 10, Jesus shows that he is fulfilling God’s role in Ezekiel 34 – he is the good shepherd who can and will save his sheep. Look how those sheep are described, though. They are defined by their relationship with Jesus’ voice. The church is made up of people who have come to recognise Jesus’ voice (v.4), who have been called by name by him (v.3), who are led by his voice (vv.3, 27), who are united with others by his voice (16), and who are given eternal life through his voice (vv.27-28).

 That’s no great surprise, because God’s people have always been gathered around the things that God says. From the garden of Eden (Gen 2:16-17), to Sinai (Exodus 19), to life in the land (Deut 17:18-20), to the failure of the exile (2 Kings 4:16-17), everything centres around the word of God.

 Jesus is relating to his New Testament people in just the same way that the God related to his people in the Old – by speaking. There’s a beautiful simplicity to that. The word of God is always at the centre.

 2) We are people hungry for God’s word (1 Peter 1:17-2:3)

In 1 Peter, God’s people are hungry for the word of God – the pure spiritual milk of 2:2-3. In fact, they’re to crave it with the intensity of a baby looking for their bottle.

 That’s no great surprise, because they’ve been saved by that same living and enduring word of God (1:23-25). What’s more, they have begun being transformed by it (1:22, 2:1) – they have tasted that the Lord is good (2:3). By it they will grow up in their salvation.

 

Suggestions for any tricky bits?

Are we certain that the milk is the milk of the word?

The word for ‘spiritual’ is the Greek word ‘logikon’, which can equally mean ‘of the word’. Hebrews 5:12 has the same idea too.

 

Summary of the Bible’s main point on this topic

God’s people long for the word of God, by which Jesus gathers his church

Aim/purpose for original audience

Long for the word of God, by which Jesus gathers his church

Aim/purpose for us today

Long for the word of God, by which Jesus gathers his church

 

Key area of application

How do you feel when you are denied access to the word of God? Hangry? Or if you are fed weak milk at church? God’s plan is that the teaching of the word remains at the centre of his church’s like – anything else should leave us dissatisfied.

The church: working as one

Bible Passage: Ephesians 4:1-16

4:1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.

 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called;

 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism;

 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

 7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.

 8 This is why it says: 'When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.'

 9 (What does 'he ascended' mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions?

 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)

 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,

 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up

 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

 14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.

 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.

 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Eph. 4:1-16 NIB)

 

Key OT/NT passages on how this passage fits within the Bible story as a whole

The word for ‘church’ essentially means a gathering or assembly – in Acts 19 (above) the word ‘ekklesia’ (underlined above in translation) refers equally well to a riot or a courtcase. In Bible terms, though, it means people gathered to God. In that regard, Adam and Eve represent a proto-church as they walk with God in the garden. Following the Fall, Adam and Eve are scattered East of Eden. Beginning with Abraham in Genesis 12, God promises to regather a people to himself (Gen 12, 15). This finds expression as God’s people are assembled at Sinai. It is here that the people are gathered as Moses goes up the mountain to meet with God (Exodus 19:1-6 – described by Stephen as an assembly, or ‘church’, in Acts 7:38). This gathering of God’s people was marked by God’s presence, his words of promise and direction, and the establishment of God’s people as his own possession.

 Jesus, in choosing 12 disciples, is re-establishing the people of God. By faith, they become God’s new kingdom people, having come to him (Heb 12:18-24), and being seated with him (Eph 2:6). This New Testament assembly or church is centred on Jesus as its head (Eph 4:15), indwelt by the Spirit (1 Cor 3:16), serving one another (Gal 5:13), united by him (Phil 1:27), and awaiting the day of Christ’s return (Rev 22:17).

 

Brief note on key themes of series

The series aims to build our understanding of the church, and our commitment to it, by exploring the doctrine of the church from four angles. The church centred on Christ, belonging to and loved by him. The church focussed on the future, awaiting the final day and inviting others to the banquet. The church working as one, united in Christ and showing mutual grace. And the church is gathered around God’s word, informed by and addressed by the true God through his living word.

 

Structure of this week’s sermon

As God’s church…

1) Our unity is a given reality

God’s church is a gathered people or assembled people, who are one body, indwelt by the one Spirit, called to one hope, with one Lord Jesus, one faith and one baptism, one God and Father (Eph 4:4-6). In other words, there is one gospel at the heart of the church which must necessarily unite us. The ‘unity of the Spirit’ (Eph 4:3) is something we maintain not create, as we are humble, gentle, and bear with one another (Ephesians 4:2). People who believe in a different gospel are not united with us, however much they might claim to be Christians.

In fact, this ‘given’ unity goes deeper still. In John 17:20-26 Jesus prays for future believers (17:20), and asks that the unity that exists within the Trinity would be present between believers. The unity of the church is as ‘given’ as the unity of the Father and Son – we are completely united. That’s why we find that we have a pre-existing affinity with other Christians that we meet, more so (for instance) than with an unbelieving biological family. We’re to enjoy the unity that we are given, and not work against it.

2) Our unity is a whole church activity

In Ephesians 4:7-16, Paul sets out the picture of a whole church working. As Jesus himself descended in the incarnation then descended to death, then was raised in the resurrection and ascension, so he gave a diversity of word gifts to members of God’s church (Eph 4:7-11). The result is a church joined to him (Eph 4:16) where every member does their work. The diversity of people engaged in word ministry are not an end in themselves, but equip the saints for works of service (lit. the work of service). The impact is extraordinary: the church is built up, reaches unity, becomes mature, and is stabilised (Eph 4:14). Church is not a theatre but a workshop.

Such every-member ministry is also expressed in other forms of practical activity. In Acts 4:32-37, preaching about the resurrection brings an outpouring of radical generosity. The unity of heart and mind (Acts 4:32) leads to a practical sharing of lives and possessions.

 

Suggestions for any tricky bits?

What does Paul do with the quote from Psalm 68:18 in Eph 4:8?

Paul appears to misquote the Psalm – the gifts seem to be going to the king’s people, rather than being received from them. In fact, the quote probably ends with the words “led captives in his train”, and the ‘giving gifts to men’ is added by Paul to highlight the gracious generosity of the heavenly king, Jesus.

Are we meant to share all our possessions like the do in Acts 4?

The rest of the New Testament makes it clear that there are many ways to ‘do’ Christian community. The principle is that Christians are radically generous, not that they hold everything in common, as they seem to here and Acts 2:42-47.

 

Summary of author’s main point

As God’s church, express the unity that you already have.

Aim/purpose for original audience

Express the unity which is already yours in the gospel by being humble, equipped to serve, and generous.

Aim/purpose for us today

Express the unity which is already yours in the gospel by being humble, equipped to serve, and generous.

Key area of application

Do you come to church just to receive, or to pass on God’s word to others? Church is a workshop not a theatre. When the ‘service’ ends, the work of every church member begins.

The church: focused on the future

Bible Passages: 2 Cor 4:16-18, and 5:7-11

 16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.

 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Cor. 4:16-18 NIV)

 

 7 For we live by faith, not by sight.

 8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

 9 So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.

 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due to us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

 11 Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. (2 Cor. 5:7-11 NIV)

 

Key OT/NT passages on how this passage fits within the Bible story as a whole

The word for ‘church’ essentially means a gathering or assembly – in Acts 19 (above) the word ‘ekklesia’ (underlined above in translation) refers equally well to a riot or a courtcase. In Bible terms, though, it means people gathered to God. In that regard, Adam and Eve represent a proto-church as they walk with God in the garden. Following the Fall, Adam and Eve are scattered East of Eden. Beginning with Abraham in Genesis 12, God promises to regather a people to himself (Gen 12, 15). This finds expression as God’s people are assembled at Sinai. It is here that the people are gathered as Moses goes up the mountain to meet with God (Exodus 19:1-6 – described by Stephen as an assembly, or ‘church’, in Acts 7:38). This gathering of God’s people was marked by God’s presence, his words of promise and direction, and the establishment of God’s people as his own possession.

 

 Jesus, in choosing 12 disciples, is re-establishing the people of God. By faith, they become God’s new kingdom people, having come to him (Heb 12:18-24), and being seated with him (Eph 2:6). This New Testament assembly or church is centred on Jesus as its head (Eph 4:15), indwelt by the Spirit (1 Cor 3:16), serving one another (Gal 5:13), united by him (Phil 1:27), and awaiting the day of Christ’s return (Rev 22:17).

 

Brief note on key themes of series

The series aims to build our understanding of the church, and our commitment to it, by exploring the doctrine of the church from four angles. The church centred on Christ, belonging to and loved by him. The church focussed on the future, awaiting the final day when we will be the bride of Christ. The church working as one, united in Christ and showing mutual grace. And the church is gathered around God’s word, informed by and addressed by the true God through his living word.

 

Structure of this week’s sermon

 

As God’s church, we are…

1) Fixing our eyes on the future

As God’s church, we don’t belong here on earth, but we fix our eyes on our heavenly home. Our present experience is seen with our eyes but temporary. Our future glory is not yet seen with our eyes, but it will last for ever. We are longing for (lit.) an ‘eternal weight of glory’. As we do so, we are to ask: Am I patient for God’s future, knowing that my future glory far outweighs what I have now?

 

2) Persuading others about the future

In 2 Cor 5:11, Paul allows the news of future judgement to motivate his evangelism. We are a church which knows that the time is short, and that there will only be two destinations. As a church, are we seeking to warn others of coming judgement and the return of Christ? We need to ask: As I long for God’s future, am I seeking to bring others with me?

 

Summary of author’s main point

Christians have a certain heavenly future which far outweighs their present troubles

Aim/purpose for original audience

Be patient and persuade others as you wait for your certain heavenly future

Aim/purpose for us today

We are to be patient and persuade others as we wait for our certain heavenly future

 

Key area of application

How would you complete the sentence, “I want to share the gospel with people because…”? If there are only two destinations in the future, that relativizes the social cost, and maximises the gospel urgency. How concerned are we not only to enjoy future glory, but bring others with us?

The church: centred on Christ

Bible Passage: Acts 19:23-41

 23 About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way.

 24 A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in a lot of business for the craftsmen there.

 25 He called them together, along with the workers in related trades, and said: 'You know, my friends, that we receive a good income from this business.

 26 And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all.

 27 There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited; and the goddess herself, who is worshipped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.'

 28 When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: 'Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!'

 29 Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul's travelling companions from Macedonia, and all of them rushed into the theatre together.

 30 Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him.

 31 Even some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theatre.

 32 The assembly was in confusion: some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there.

 33 The Jews in the crowd pushed Alexander to the front, and they shouted instructions to him. He motioned for silence in order to make a defence before the people.

 34 But when they realized he was a Jew, they all shouted in unison for about two hours: 'Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!'

 35 The city clerk quietened the crowd and said: 'Fellow Ephesians, doesn't all the world know that the city of Ephesus is the guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of her image, which fell from heaven?

 36 Therefore, since these facts are undeniable, you ought to calm down and not do anything rash.

 37 You have brought these men here, though they have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess.

 38 If, then, Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a grievance against anybody, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. They can press charges.

 39 If there is anything further you want to bring up, it must be settled in a legal assembly.

 40 As it is, we are in danger of being charged with rioting because of what happened today. In that case we would not be able to account for this commotion, since there is no reason for it.'

 41 After he had said this, he dismissed the assembly.

 (Acts 19:22-20:1 NIB)

 

Key OT/NT passages on how this passage fits within the Bible story as a whole

The word for ‘church’ essentially means a gathering or assembly – in Acts 19 (above) the word ‘ekklesia’ (underlined above in translation) refers equally well to a riot or a courtcase. In Bible terms, though, it means people gathered to God. In that regard, Adam and Eve represent a proto-church as they walk with God in the garden. Following the Fall, Adam and Eve are scattered East of Eden. Beginning with Abraham in Genesis 12, God promises to regather a people to himself (Gen 12, 15). This finds expression as God’s people are assembled at Sinai. It is here that the people are gathered as Moses goes up the mountain to meet with God (Exodus 19:1-6 – described by Stephen as an assembly, or ‘church’, in Acts 7:38). This gathering of God’s people was marked by God’s presence, his words of promise and direction, and the establishment of God’s people as his own possession.

 

Jesus, in choosing 12 disciples, is re-establishing the people of God. By faith, they become God’s new kingdom people, having come to him (Heb 12:18-24), and being seated with him (Eph 2:6). This New Testament assembly or church is centred on Jesus as its head (Eph 4:15), indwelt by the Spirit (1 Cor 3:16), serving one another (Gal 5:13), united by him (Phil 1:27), and awaiting the day of Christ’s return (Rev 22:17).

 

Brief note on key themes of series

The series aims to build our understanding of the church, and our commitment to it, by exploring the doctrine of the church from four angles. The church centred on Christ, belonging to and loved by him. The church focussed on the future, awaiting the final day when we will be the bride of Christ. The church working as one, united in Christ and showing mutual grace. And the church gathered around God’s word, informed by and addressed by the true God through his living word.

 

Structure of this week’s sermon

As God’s church we are…

1) …gathered around Jesus Christ.

We are gathered with the universal church to Jesus Christ (Heb 12:22-24), and so each local church is an expression of that universal truth (Matt 18:20). As we gather together, we are to ask – primarily, am I in relationship with God’s Son?

2) …built by Jesus Christ

It is Jesus who creates the church by his death (Acts 20:28). And it is Jesus who promises to build his universal church (Matt 18:20). Is our desire to see Jesus’ church built characterised by prayer, and when it grows, do we show a lack of pride?

3) …created to be the bride of Christ

Our ultimate aim as Christ’s church is his glory, by becoming his bride (Rev 21:1-2). Do we delight in the church the way that Christ does?

 

Suggestions for any tricky bits?

How can we be ‘seated with Christ in the heavenly realms’ when it doesn’t seem like it to us?

It’s true – we’re not (yet) physically seated with Jesus in heaven, nor is it true in our experience as we live in this fallen world. But we are united with Jesus by faith - so spiritually, we’re with him in heaven, even while we’re also on earth. Spiritual things, of course, are not less real than physical things – so while our experience has yet to catch up with our status, we are still genuinely with Jesus in heaven right now. Which is an amazing thing.

 

Summary of author’s main point

The church is a universal gathering of people joined to and loved by Jesus: he will build his church.

 

Aim/purpose for original audience

The church is a gathered people joined to and loved by Jesus: pray to and trust him to build his church.

 

Aim/purpose for us today

The church is a gathered people joined to and loved by Jesus: pray to and trust him to build his church.

 

Key area of application

Our tendency is always to look down, and consider the church a human shared-interest group we love because we enjoy it, and maintain by human effort. Once we understand Christ right at the centre of his church, we will love it as he loves it, and trust him to grow it for his glory.

A Certain Future - Luke 23:26-43

Bible Passage: Luke 23:26-43

 

26 As the soldiers led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. 28 Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then

“‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!”
    and to the hills, “Cover us!”’

31 For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed.33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”

36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”

38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

 

Key OT/NT passages on how this passage fits within the Bible story as a whole

Our verses feature several allusions and prophecies fulfilled including:

 

Isaiah 53:12– This verse, written around 700 years before Luke 23, predicts both that ‘the suffering servant’ (Jesus) would be “numbered with the transgressors” and that he would “make intercession for the transgressors.” Both of these predictions are fulfilled in Luke 23.

 

Psalm 22:18– Psalm 22 is a ‘Messianic Psalm’ which predicted that the Messiah’s clothes would be divided and that lots would be cast for his garments. Again both prophecies come true in Luke 23. Although humanly speaking the events of the cross look disastrous, these details show God’s sovereign hand over the details.

 

 

Note on key themes/context of the book

Luke, a doctor and historian, sets out his reason for writing his gospel account in the first four verses of the book, stating that after he had ‘carefully investigating everything from the beginning’ he wanted to write an orderly account to give Theophilus (and by extension us) certainty of the things he had been taught. After giving us a front row seat to Jesus’ ministry in Galilee (4:16-9:50) and his journey to, and his ministry in, Jerusalem (9:51-21:38) this passage falls into a section which zooms in on the betrayal, trial and crucifixion of Jesus. With detail and drama Luke wants the events of the cross to give certainty to the reader that these things really happened. The thief on the cross is one of a number of surprising individuals to respond positively to Jesus throughout the gospel (cf. Zacchaeus in ch 19).

 

Structure of the passage

Although many of us would be quick to say that we believe that we are saved by faith alone through grace alone, we can easily slip into thinking that our works somehow contribute to our salvation. Or put another away that it is unfair that someone who has lived a life in opposition to Jesus can be saved at the 11thhour. Our passage comes just after Jesus’ unjust trial and we join the journey on the way to Calvary. Some of his final words are included in our text giving us vital insight into his final thoughts and priorities.

 

The Crucified King

1) … warns about future judgement (v23-31)

Amidst the physical and emotional torture Jesus is facing, he is unable to carry the cross (v26) yet out of compassion for the women mourning for him he issues a warning about coming judgement. Jesus paints of horrifying picture of the judgement which Jerusalem would face from the Roman Army under Titus in AD70, yet this warning had a future element to it also pointing to the final judgement. Although this passage later features much of Jesus’ compassion and mercy this warning on the way to the cross is in fact also a compassionate warning. The question for us is whether we are ready for the day of judgement? Will we take shelter in the cross of Calvary? 

 

2) … prays for his enemies (v32-39)

Surprisingly little detail is shown of Jesus’ actual crucifixion (‘they crucified him there’) rather Luke focuses on Jesus’ response to the actions of the soldiers. Staggeringly Jesus prays for forgiveness for his enemies, modelling the very thing he had called other to in Luke 6:27! Despite this prayer, Jesus is hounded on all sides by the rulers (v35), the soldiers (v36) and the criminal (v39). 

 

3) … promises paradise with him (v40-43)

Amidst the sneering, we’re introduced to a final character, the thief (literally ‘bandit’) next to Jesus. He rebukes the other criminal and repents of his sin. In fact he offers us a wonderful picture of what repentance is by admitting his sin, believing in Jesus and coming to him. Jesus’ reply to him in v43 is wonderful: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” This 11thhour conversion gives a great example of someone who can’t rely on past merit, future reform or religious observance. This is a key reminder for Christians that we are saved by grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), paradise has been already won at the cross. It’s also a reminder that no one is too bad, or old, or messed up enough to come to faith in Christ. If it is scandalous that this criminal could be saved, it is equally scandalous that any of us might be saved! 

 

Suggestions for any tricky bits? 

Better to be buried alive?In v29-31 Jesus predicts doom upon Jerusalem (also 19:43-44, 21:20-24). The allusion to Hosea 10:8 in v30 makes the point that it would be better to be dead and buried than face the horrors of the destruction of Jerusalem. 

 

Green trees?V31 is tricky but the picture is of Jesus representing the green tree and the nation of Jerusalem in destruction is the dry tree. The most common interpretation is that “if God has not spared Jesus, how much more will the impenitent nation not be spared when divine judgement comes?... It is easier to burn dry wood than lush, moisture-filled green wood.” (Bock, Luke p.1847)

 

What is paradise? Jesus promises that today the thief would be with him in paradise. Paradise is another name for heaven and is only used 3 times in the NT. It symbolises the place of God and of eternal blessing, we are supposed to hear overtones of Eden here. As Christians are eternal resting place though is the new heavens and new earth where with resurrected bodies we will live eternally together with Jesus.

 

Summary of author’s main point

The crucified King forgives the sins of others as he opens the way to paradise

 

Aim/purpose for original audience

Heed the warning of judgement by repenting and believing in the crucified King who you’ll join in paradise

 

Aim/purpose for us today

Heed the warning of judgement by repenting and believing in the crucified King who you’ll join in paradise

 

Key area of application

To Church/Christians: How do we feel when someone comes to faith at the 11thhour? Do we rejoice in that, or is there a small part of us that feels that it’s unfair? 

Who could you talk to this week about the ABC of repentance?

Where might we be tempted to be self-reliant for our salvation rather than rest on Christ’s finished work?

 

To Sceptics: Do you hear Jesus’ loving warning about judgement? Do you see that the thief on the cross had nothing to contribute towards his salvation?

 

 

Leviticus 16:1-22

Bible Passages: Leviticus 16:1-22

16 The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they approached the Lord. 2 The Lord said to Moses: ‘Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die. For I will appear in the cloud over the atonement cover.

3 ‘This is how Aaron is to enter the Most Holy Place: he must first bring a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. 4 He is to put on the sacred linen tunic, with linen undergarments next to his body; he is to tie the linen sash round him and put on the linen turban. These are sacred garments; so he must bathe himself with water before he puts them on. 5 From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.

6 ‘Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household. 7 Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the Lord at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 8 He is to cast lots for the two goats – one lot for the Lord and the other for the scapegoat. 9 Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the Lord and sacrifice it for a sin offering. 10 But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat.

11 ‘Aaron shall bring the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household, and he is to slaughter the bull for his own sin offering. 12 He is to take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before the Lord and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and take them behind the curtain. 13 He is to put the incense on the fire before the Lord, and the smoke of the incense will conceal the atonement cover above the tablets of the covenant law, so that he will not die. 14 He is to take some of the bull’s blood and with his finger sprinkle it on the front of the atonement cover; then he shall sprinkle some of it with his finger seven times before the atonement cover.

15 ‘He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull’s blood: he shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. 16 In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. He is to do the same for the tent of meeting, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness. 17 No one is to be in the tent of meeting from the time Aaron goes in to make atonement in the Most Holy Place until he comes out, having made atonement for himself, his household and the whole community of Israel.

18 ‘Then he shall come out to the altar that is before the Lord and make atonement for it. He shall take some of the bull’s blood and some of the goat’s blood and put it on all the horns of the altar. 19 He shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times to cleanse it and consecrate it from the uncleanness of the Israelites.

20 ‘When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. 21 He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites – all their sins – and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the wilderness in the care of someone appointed for the task. 22 The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place; and the man shall release it in the wilderness.

Key OT/NT passages on how this passage fits within the Bible story as a whole

Since the Garden of Eden, humanity’s greatest privilege has been to come close to God and enjoy fellowship with him (Genesis 3:8). But Adam and Eve’s sin lead to death and separation from God (Genesis 3:23-24). God acted to bring people back into his presence. He rescued his people from Egypt (Exodus 3, 12-14) and came to live among them in the tabernacle tent – dwelling place – at the heart of their camp (Exodus 40:34-35). Here, because of sacrifices (Leviticus 1-7) and the High priest (Leviticus 8-10), the people saw and enjoyed God’s presence (9:23-24).

But the filth of human disobedience brought a crisis of insecurity into the Israelites’ closeness with God (10:1-3). The Holy God would not live in the presence of defiling sin, and defiled sinners could not live in the presence of a Holy God. The LORD graciously provided the day of atonement to cleanse his place and people of defilement so that he could come close to them. The day also removed sin from the people’s midst so that they could come close to him. But the cleansing of sin was limited (see all the precautions even after atonement in 16:23-28) and temporary (16:29-34). And the closeness it brought was limited (only the High Priestly representative went into the Holy of Holies). Eventually both certain closeness and cleansing were lost at the destruction of the temple and in the exile.

 But the LORD promised that there would be a High Priestly King who would permanently cleanse the place and people from the impurity of sin (Zechariah 3:8-9, 13:1). A servant who would permanently bear the sin of the people (Isaiah 53:6,8, cf. 1 Peter 2:24). Jesus’ death on Good Friday was the true Day of Atonement. Jesus is the High priest who offers himself once and for all at the cross. His death cleanses those who believe in him from sin eternally, and it cleanses their consciences internally, and it cleanses them with certainty (Hebrews 9:11-28). He brings the people close to God (compare Hebrews 10:19-25 with Luke 23:44-46). By the Spirit, God now dwells within believers with a closeness greater than ever before (Ephesians 2:21-22). One day we will all live in his presence in a new creation ‘place’ without the soiling of sin or its effects (Revelation 21, esp. v1-8 & v27). 

 

Note on key themes of the book

The book of Leviticus is the 3rd book in the Pentateuch (the five books of Moses). Together, these books cover the story of creation through to the entry of God’s Israelite people into the promised land.

Leviticus is concerned with answering the question at the heart of the story of the Pentateuch (and the Bible!): how can sinful people come close to, and live with, a Holy God? Or, in the language of Leviticus, how does the Tabernacle where God dwells become the Tent of Meeting between him and his people?

The answer is through the sacrifice God provides (ch1-7), offered by the priests God appoints (ch8-10) and through cleansing from the pollution of impurity and sin (ch11-15). These three come together decisively on the most important day of the Israelite calendar – the day of atonement (ch16). On this day the high priest entered the Holy of Holies through sacrifice. He came into God’s presence to purify God’s place and people so that the people and God could be with one another.

Notes on the immediate context of the passage

The Day of Atonement is preceded by chapters 11-15 which describe the reality and dangers of uncleanness. Ritual uncleanness is not sin, but it mirrors and points to what sin is and what sin does. Using the image of uncleanness, the ‘cleanliness code’ shows that:

a) all human existence is defiled by death and sin. Like uncleanness, sin spreads between and within people

b) God’s holiness and human sin cannot come together; just as ritual uncleanness and God’s holiness cannot come together.

c) when human sin enters the place of God’s holiness the sinner must die, just as ritual uncleanness in the camp where God dwells can lead to death (15:31).

Wonderfully, Ch11-15 also reveals that:

d) uncleanness (and therefore the sin it mirrors) must be, and can be, dealt with through the cleansing work of priest and sacrifice.

Having painted this picture in Ch11-15, Leviticus 16 returns to the disobedience of Nadab and Abihu (16:1-2), and so firmly moves from the description of how to deal with ritual uncleanness to how to deal with the defilement of sin that it mirrors. Because of the seriousness of a-c above, Chapter 16:1-22 reveals the priestly work of offering a purifying sacrifice and purifying substitute that will cleanse the place, priest and people of sin so the people can be close to the Holy God.

16: 23-34 continue the description of the day of atonement. V23-28 give instructions for keeping the holy and the sinful absolutely separate after atonement is made. V29-34 make it clear that the purifying work of the day of atonement is effective but must be repeated yearly.

Chapter 17 continues the theme of sacrifices, establishing that blood is never to be eaten and not to be shed except when properly offered to the LORD at his holy place. Blood is exclusively for atonement, a life given to purify a life, and is not to be used for anything else.

Structure of the passage

Our crisis: not close to God because not clean from sin (V1-2)

The disobedient approach of Aaron’s oldest sons, which perhaps only happened moments before, led to their death. The High Priest Aaron, like them, is unclean before the pure God because of the deadly infection of sin. Even he cannot draw close to God without dying. But God lovingly wants his people, through their representative, to come close (v3)…

What follows is a symbolic ceremony that shows we can be cleansed of sin and close to God through the priest’s purifying work. The LORD begins by revealing preparatory instructions (v4-10), before providing detailed instructions on how a sacrifice can cleanse away sin’s impurity (v11-19), and how a sin-carrying substitute can be cut off so the people can come close (v20-22).

We can be clean (v3-19)

The High priest is to be symbolically pure through bathing and wearing special robes (v5). He is then to take 1 bull as a sin offering for himself and his household (v3, 6), and 2 goats for the people (v5, 7). One of the goats is to be a sin offering for the people, the other a scapegoat that will go into the wilderness (v8-10). The repetition of the word ‘atonement’ and ‘sin offering’ (both of which here carry the sense of purifying) make the point clear: the priest will purify the sin of the people. This is first achieved by cleansing their sin. The High Priest approaches the Holy God (v11-13), before comprehensively cleansing God’s Holy place - first of priestly sin (v11-15) and then the people’s sin (v16-17), through the blood of the sacrifices. This cleanses God’s dwelling place from all the Israelites’ sins (v16) and so also purifies them (v17). This cleansing of their sin will continue because the altar at which their sacrifices are offered is also cleansed (v18-19). We can be cleansed of our sin by the death of our High Priest Jesus…

We can be close (v20-22)

Sin isn’t only a deadly infection that makes God’s people unclean, it is also an impurity for which they are responsible and which means they should be cut off from God. The second goat takes their confessed sins (v21) and goes to a remote (literally ‘cut-off’ place), bearing the sin and responsibility for it (v22). This means the Israelites can come and stay close to the Holy God who lived among them. We can be close to God because our High Priest Jesus substituted himself for us…

Suggestions for any tricky bits/questions?

Why does the Day of Atonement refer to the context of chapter 10 (10:1-3) when it follows chapters 11-15, which have covered cleanliness laws?

Do check out the notes on the immediate context of the passage above! The overarching focus of the Day of Atonement is on sin, as v16-17, v22, v30 & v34 highlight.

What is the link between uncleanness and sin?

Do check out the notes on the immediate context of the passage above! Ritual uncleanness is not sinful, but its impact on every area of human life, and its separating/death causing impact on our relationship with the holy God, mirrors the impact of sin.

 

Could the blood of animals really cleanse the Holy of Holies and the rest of God’s place?

No… and yes!... No, it couldn’t – the New Testament is clear that the sacrifice of animals could not cleanse worshippers of the feeling of inner spiritual uncleanness. ‘It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins’ (Hebrews 10:4). But Jesus came as the perfect sin offering whose blood truly cleanses the stain of sin (Hebrews 9:23-26). He took the place of the sinner as a human being who could truly represent them. The infinite purity of his life as God’s obedient Son could cover the impurity for every sin every believer has or will ever commit. The animal sacrifice was only a ‘shadow’ hinting at Jesus’ sacrifice, not the reality itself (Hebrews 10:1.)

But yes, it could – because the sacrifice was the God-given shadow of the sacrifice of Jesus! The Lord repeatedly says that the actions on the Day of Atonement do cleanse and atone for all sin (Leviticus 16:16-17, 22, 30, 34). This is because when Israel practised the Day of Atonement they did so trusting in God’s promise to cleanse their sin. The animal’s blood was accepted until Jesus came because its value relied on his promised coming. We might accept a cheque we know is going to bounce if we also know we are going to put a vast sum into the cheque-giver’s account. In the same way, God accepted the ‘cheque’ of the animal sacrifice, even though in itself it had no value. He did this because he knew he was going to put the valuable sacrifice of Jesus into the sinning Israelite’s account. The cheque of the animal sacrifice would not bounce because when it was ‘cashed’ the sacrifice of Jesus would pay the debt.

If the people have sinned, why is the cleansing of the place where God dwells the emphasis? Surely the cleansing of the people should be.

Leviticus certainly wrong foots us here. We would expect the people to be sprinkled with blood, not the Place of Meeting. But the people’s sins had defiled and made unclean the place of God (v16). For them to be cleansed of sin in God’s eyes, the place where he met with them had to be cleansed of their sin. If you mess up a house you’re a guest in, this creates a relational problem between you and the owner. When you ‘cleanse’ the house of your mess, your relational ‘slate’ with the owner is also wiped clean. This is clearly the line of thought in v17. Now that the Holy Place is cleansed God’s people are purified.

How can the goat take the people’s sin away into the wilderness?

See the answer to the question about the effectiveness of animal sacrifices.

Isn’t this animal sacrifice horribly abusive of animals and their rights?

The animals here aren’t treated dismissively. On the contrary, it’s because their life is recognised as valuable that they’re offered in the place of sinful human beings. The blood which represents this life is not to be used for anything else because it represents a precious life (Leviticus 17:11 and surrounding verses) and stands in for a precious life.

Animals should be treated with care and respect. The OT makes this clear (Proverbs 12:10). The questions we must grapple with are: 1) which is more precious – the life of a goat, or the life of a man (or woman)? And 2) are we responsible for the filthy infection of sin which deserves death and separation from God. If you were offered the choice of a goat dying in your place, wouldn’t you take it? In love the morally pure LORD gave and accepted the blood of animals in the place of his people’s lives.

Why can’t all the people come in?

Even the high priest, purified as he was, could not look on the place of God’s intense dwelling over the atonement cover (v2, 14). And he could only come in once a year (v34). This is because God’s holiness is so intensely pure, and human sin so intensely impure, that even with the Day of Atonement’s ceremonies they couldn’t have survived in his presence. Only the eternal and total once and for all cleansing of Jesus’ death completely removes and cleanses sin, which now means that believers are in God’s presence as he lives within them and can approach him with confidence (Hebrews 10:19-22). One day we will enjoy his presence perfectly in the New Creation (Revelation 21).

What in the world does this ancient and long defunct ceremony from a wildly different culture have to do with me?

The fact that Jews still treat the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) as the most important day in the Jewish calendar show that the promise of cleansing from all wrongdoing and closeness to God are enduringly attractive. Jesus’ death on Good Friday is the true Day of Atonement that this ancient ceremony (and its modern equivalents) really point to. We can be cleansed of sin and close to God if we put our confidence in his purifying death (Hebrews 9::24-25).

Summary of author’s main point

The people cannot live close to God because of sin’s uncleanness. To be close, they need atonement through a cleansing sacrifice and a cut-off substitute.

Purpose for original audience

Make sure the priest properly carries out the cleansing sacrifices and sends off the sin-carrying substitute, and repent. Then we can come and stay close to God.

Purpose for us today

Be confident that because our priest Jesus died to purify us, we can be clean from sin and come close to God.

Key areas of application to individual Christians:

We are clean! Good Friday was the true day of atonement. Our high priest Jesus cleansed us with his own blood – eternally, internally and certainly (Hebrews 9:12-14). But some sins make us feel particularly unclean, perhaps past sexual relationships. The sins of others against us can leave us feeling dirty too. We live in a culture were people increasingly feel shame for how they feel or live. We can believe that God and other Christians see us as particularly defiled. But the cross speaks truth into those feelings: When you feel that way, look at the cross and say ‘I am clean.’ 

We are close! Jesus is the high priest who substituted himself for us, being cut-off from God for our sin so that we could come close to God (Isaiah 53:6-8, Hebrews 10:19-22). But even though we may believe we’re objectively clean we may still feel that we can’t come close to God. We might see inconsistencies in our life that mean we feel like frauds to come praying before its all sorted out. Or we may think that we’re not sorted enough in our own Christian lives to get closer to God and fully participate in the shared life of his people at Trinity, choosing not to come or serve. But we are close to God, so lets come to the heart of the ‘camp’ in prayer and with others.

Key areas of application to those not yet trusting Jesus:

Are we clean? We might think that we’re pretty good people and that of course we’re clean in God’s eyes. Especially if we’re religious. But Aaron’s sons were religious and their moral filth led to their deaths. Here’s a 2-step test to see if we’re clean. 1) Have we realised that we are unclean? (The people denied themselves – e.g. fasted as part of repentance - in recognition of their sin -v29). 2) Have we relied on Jesus for cleansing? (Not on trying harder, or doing a good deed for others/God.) If we can truly say ‘Jesus: clean me’, knowing we need him to, then we are clean.

Are we close? We might believe in a God and sometimes pray. Thinking, of course we’re close. God is everywhere, we’re all his children. But all of us are actually like the Israelites – responsible for the deadly infection of sin that means separation from God or death. Here’s how we know if we’re really close to the real God. 1) Have we realised we are far away? 2) Have we relied on Jesus’ substitution to bring us close? If we can truly say ‘Jesus: take my place’, knowing we need him to, then we are clean.

 

Leviticus 8-10

Bible Passages:

Leviticus 8:1-13

8 The Lord said to Moses, 2 ‘Bring Aaron and his sons, their garments, the anointing oil, the bull for the sin offering, the two rams and the basket containing bread made without yeast, 3 and gather the entire assembly at the entrance to the tent of meeting.’ 4 Moses did as the Lord commanded him, and the assembly gathered at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 5 Moses said to the assembly, ‘This is what the Lord has commanded to be done.’ 6 Then Moses brought Aaron and his sons forward and washed them with water. 7 He put the tunic on Aaron, tied the sash round him, clothed him with the robe and put the ephod on him. He also fastened the ephod with a decorative waistband, which he tied round him. 8 He placed the breastpiece on him and put the Urim and Thummim in the breastpiece. 9 Then he placed the turban on Aaron’s head and set the gold plate, the sacred emblem, on the front of it, as the Lord commanded Moses. 10 Then Moses took the anointing oil and anointed the tabernacle and everything in it, and so consecrated them. 11 He sprinkled some of the oil on the altar seven times, anointing the altar and all its utensils and the basin with its stand, to consecrate them. 12 He poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron’s head and anointed him to consecrate him. 13 Then he brought Aaron’s sons forward, put tunics on them, tied sashes round them and fastened caps on them, as the Lord commanded Moses.

Leviticus 9:1-7, 22-24

9 On the eighth day Moses summoned Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel. 2 He said to Aaron, ‘Take a bull calf for your sin offering and a ram for your burnt offering, both without defect, and present them before the Lord. 3 Then say to the Israelites: “Take a male goat for a sin offering, a calf and a lamb – both a year old and without defect – for a burnt offering, 4 and an ox and a ram for a fellowship offering to sacrifice before the Lord, together with a grain offering mixed with olive oil. For today the Lord will appear to you.”’ 5 They took the things Moses commanded to the front of the tent of meeting, and the entire assembly came near and stood before the Lord. 6 Then Moses said, ‘This is what the Lord has commanded you to do, so that the glory of the Lord may appear to you.’ 7 Moses said to Aaron, ‘Come to the altar and sacrifice your sin offering and your burnt offering and make atonement for yourself and the people; sacrifice the offering that is for the people and make atonement for them, as the Lord has commanded…22 Then Aaron lifted his hands towards the people and blessed them. And having sacrificed the sin offering, the burnt offering and the fellowship offering, he stepped down.23 Moses and Aaron then went into the tent of meeting. When they came out, they blessed the people; and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. 24 Fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell face down.

Leviticus 10:1-3

10 Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorised fire before the Lord, contrary to his command. 2 So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. 3 Moses then said to Aaron, ‘This is what the Lord spoke of when he said: ‘“Among those who approach me I will be proved holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honoured.”’Aaron remained silent.

Key OT/NT passages on how this passage fits within the Bible story as a whole

Since the Garden of Eden, humanity’s greatest privilege has been to come close to God and enjoy fellowship with him (Genesis 3:8). But God has been out of reach since Adam and Eve sinned and were cast out of his presence (Genesis 3:23-24). God acted to bring people back into his presence. He rescued his people from Egypt (Exodus 3, 12-14) and came to live among them in the tabernacle tent – dwelling place – at the heart of their camp (Exodus 40:34-35).  

This tent became the place of meeting between God and his people when the God-appointed High priest offered sacrifices and entered the tent (9:22-23). He came as the people’s representative, and the LORD accepted both the sacrifice and the people and showed them his glory, provoking wonder and humility (9:24). However, the disobedience of the priestly family led to God’s glory also being seen in judgement (10:3). While the LORD remained with his people - and they could approach him – the relationship became unstable. It depended on human respect and obedience for God’s holiness. Eventually the LORD’s glory left his people because of their sinfulness (Ezekiel 8-11) and did not return.

But Jesus came as the better mediator between God and human beings. He is a perfect High Priest who never sinned (Hebrews 4:14-16) and lives permanently in God’s heavenly presence. He constantly intercedes for us so that we can approach God with our prayers and cries for mercy confident we will be accepted and sure our relationship with God is secure (Hebrews 7:24-25). God shows us his glory through him (John 1:14). We experience his glorious presence now by the Spirit who keeps our spiritual gaze on Jesus so that we respond with humble joy. While the church is now God’s priesthood, our ‘sacrifices’ of service and praise are accepted because of our High Priest Jesus (1 Peter 2:5). We will experience his glory face to face at Jesus’ return, or, if we reject the gospel about Jesus, we will be judged (2 Thessalonians 1:8-10).   

 

Note on key themes of the book

The book of Leviticus is the 3rd book in the Pentateuch (the five books of Moses). Together, these books cover the story of creation through to the entry of God’s Israelite people into the promised land.

Leviticus is concerned with answering the question at the heart of the story of the Pentateuch (and the Bible!): how can sinful people come close to, and live with, a Holy God? Or, in the language of Leviticus, how does the Tabernacle where God dwells become the Tent of Meeting between him and his people?

The answer is through the sacrifice God provides (ch1-7), offered by the priests God appoints (ch8-10) and through cleansing from the pollution of impurity and sin (ch11-15). These three come together decisively on the most important day of the Israelite calendar – the day of atonement (ch16). On this day the high priest entered the Holy of Holies through sacrifice. He came into God’s presence to purify God’s place and people so that the people and God could be with one another.

 

Notes on the immediate context of the passage

Ch 8-10 follows after ch 6:8-7:38, which describes how the priests are to carry out each of the five types of sacrifice which enable the people to come and remain close to God at the Tent of Meeting. Ch 8 logically follows by narrating the 7 day ordination of Aaron and his Sons as priests, with a focus on the 1st day. Ch 9 describes the 8th day and its dramatic culmination with Aaron and Moses entry into the Tabernacle and the appearance of the LORD’s glory. Ch10 describes an immediate act of dismissive disobedience by some of the priests which leads to God’s glory being displayed in judgement. This new crisis leads into the commands of chapters 11-16 on how a people tainted by God-dishonouring sin can stay in the presence of the Holy God without dying.

 

Structure of the passage

This week’s sermon focuses on the passages above as they draw out the distinct role of the priesthood in bringing a sinful people close to a Holy God. The other sections of ch8-10 describe the details of how the sacrifices were performed during the ordination service. We will not be preaching on these verses explicitly as a) last week’s sermon focused on the sacrifices and b) Ch9:1-7 & 9:22-10:3 sufficiently illuminate the purpose of these sacrifices.

We need a mediator. A high priest representative who can bring us close to God. Why? So…

  1. We can be accepted by God (8:1-13)

    V1-4 introduce us to a big ceremony with lots of strange objects and interesting people. The ordination ceremony of the priests. But this special ceremony has a special meaning – the people will be accepted by God. The High Priest and his sons are being made mediators between God and the people (v4-5). God will make the High priest holy by cleansing him of sin (v6) and anointing him as his own (v10-13). This means the mediators will be accepted by God and can come into his presence. They will wear clothes that show they represent the people when they go into God’s presence (see Exodus 28). The people and their offerings will be continually accepted by God because the accepted mediator will represent them (Exodus 28:36-38). Jesus is our holy and accepted mediator who constantly lives in the presence of God (Hebrews 7:23-25). He applies his sacrifice to our daily failings, he prays on our behalf so that the LORD gives us the grace we need. He brings our spiritual sacrifices, our attempts to serve God, to God (1 Peter 2:5) and they are accepted through him. Because he is accepted by God we are accepted by God each and every day.

     

  2. We can be in the presence of God (9:1-7, 22-24)

    On the 8th day of the ordination ceremony, the priests and the people were told to offer sacrifices so that the LORD would appear to them (v4, 6). When the sacrifices are made, Aaron and Moses finally enter the place of God’s presence (v22-23). The LORD then shows the people his glory, revealing that he forgives them by consuming the sacrifice (v24). The people respond with joy and humble respect (v24). Experiencing the personal God’s glorious presence always involves joy at forgiveness and humility before his greatness. That experience of his presence starts when we look to our mediator Jesus, who sacrificed himself on our behalf. He is God’s glory (John 1:14) and we truly enjoy God’s presence as we connect what he did at the cross to our experience.

     

  3. We can be secure with God. (10:1-3)

    Triumph quickly turns to tragedy as the disobedience of Nadab and Abihu (v1-2) brings insecurity into the people’s relationship with God. Before God appeared to consume the offering, not he consumes them. Before the people shouted for joy, now there is silence. God is totally deserving of absolute honour. If people will not honour him and so experience his glory, he will show his glory by destroying them (v3). The closeness the Israelites have with God is not shaky, with the possibility of death rather than joy close at hand (see 10:6-8). This crisis on insecurity is not resolved for them until Leviticus 16 and the day of atonement. It is resolved for us because we have an obedient mediator, Jesus. He responded with obedience in every situation and so is perfectly obedient (Hebrews 5:7-9). We can depend on his obedience for closeness with God, but not on anyone else’s. If we do not depend on Jesus, we will only experience God’s glory in judgement and will be cut off from enjoying his wonderful presence when Jesus returns (2 Thessalonians 1:8-10).

 

Suggestions for any tricky bits/questions?

What do weird ceremonies and strange clothes possibly have to do with us and our relationship with God?

We recognise that ceremonies and clothes are meaningful because they represent something meaningful. The flags, pictures of the Queen and golden chain on officials at a Citizenship ceremony mean that the people present are going to be accepted as citizens. The oil, bathing and special clothes of the priests in Ch8 meant that the people present were going to be accepted by God. Because the Priests were made holy (v10-13) they were accepted by God. Because they were accepted by God the people they represented were acceptable to God (see Exodus 28:26-38). In the same way, Jesus is the holy mediator who constantly lives in the presence of God. His prays for us and applies his sacrifice to our daily failures and weaknesses so that we, and all we do, are accepted by God.

If his death paid for my sins once and for all, why do I still need someone mediating for me?

See the answer above! We can often feel like we’re not very good Christians. We can find our daily failures and mixed motivations leave us with a sense of distance from God. But Jesus isn’t just someone who sacrificed himself for us in the past, he is someone alive and active right now for us – always praying for us, always bringing our needs to the Father’s attention, always asking we be forgiven our current sins on the basis of his past sacrifice and obedience. Our attempts to serve God, full of mixed motives though they are, are accepted by God because Jesus presents them to him. God accepts us and has goodwill towards us because of Jesus our constant mediator (Hebrews 7:23-25, 5:7-9, 1 Peter 2:5).

Surely I have access to God any time as a Christian?

You do, but not on your own. You have access through your great High Priest, Jesus (Hebrews 4:14-16). There is no such thing as ‘just me and God’ in the Christian life.

Don’t we experience God’s glory in nature etc.?

We see reflections of God’s glory and nature in the natural world. (Psalms 8, 19, Romans 1:20). But we only experience the personal God personally as he brings us to know the joy of forgiveness and humility before him (Leviticus 9:24). We experience God’s glorious presence as we reflect on and believe in Jesus, who is himself God’s glory (John 1:14), and who shows us God’s glory through his own sacrificial death (John 17:1).

How can I really be sure I’m authentically experiencing God’s presence?

An authentic experience of God’s glorious presence will be centred on Jesus and his death on the cross (see above). It will involve us finding joy in forgiveness and finding ourselves humbled before God’s mighty goodness (Leviticus 9:24). We can experience this whatever our circumstance, and whether we are otherwise happy or deeply sad and distressed. It is not dependent on ourselves or our mood.

They ‘saw’ God’s glorious presence. Surely what we experience is ‘2nd best’?

The opposite is true! The Israelites of Moses’ day saw the LORD’s glory in the fire coming from above the altar. This revealed his forgiveness and his power, but not much of his heart or character. We experience God’s presence through faith in Jesus, a human being whose character and concerns are on full display in the pages of scripture. Furthermore, their experience of God was like our experience of the rays of the sun - they carry warmth and light but they are not the sun itself. But Jesus has all the fullness of God dwelling in him (Colossians 1:19). He is not just a beam of God’s glory, but God himself.  

Isn’t it wrong that God would destroy people for disobedience? Seems like a massive overreaction.

It would be if God was anyone but God. But he is God. He is Holy, completely different from us in every way and deserving of utter respect and obedience. That is the point that Moses makes in 10:3. Our disobedience also deserves death and we will be cut off from his presence forever unless we trust in Jesus, the obedient mediator (2 Thessalonians 1:8-10).

 

Summary of author’s main point

You will only enjoy my glorious presence through the mediation of obedient and holy priests.

Purpose for original audience

Keep coming close to the Holy God’s glory through the priests who represent you; ensure they honour his holiness by obedience.

Purpose for us today

Know that we experience God’s glorious presence through our mediator Jesus: depend on him for acceptance and security with God.

 

Key areas of application to individual Christians:

Sometimes we feel like we’re bad Christians. We feel like all our efforts for God are tied up with wrong motivations and we feel distant from him. Remember that Jesus is representing us now in God’s presence: he is praying for us, he is applying his sacrifice to our failures, ensuring the Father will give us grace in time of need. Because he is accepted by God right now, we are accepted by God right now.

We can look to experience God’s presence in all sorts of places, hunting for a deeper spirituality. But Jesus is God’s glory and it is his sacrificial death that will prompt joyful thanks and humble respect towards God. Come to Summerlink and connect the cross to your experience. Read the Bible and ask: what does this show me about Jesus that makes me thankful? What does this show me about Jesus that humbles me?

Don’t let your sense of closeness to God depend on an admired Christian leader or close Christian friend. They will let you down and that could shake you. Depend on Jesus’ obedience for your secure closeness with God.

 

Key areas of application to sceptics & explorers:

We think there are many ways to God. But we can only be accepted if we come his way. And only a holy mediator can come that way. We need Jesus so we can be accepted by God.

We can experience aspects of God in nature etc. But we can only experience the presence of the personal God when we turn our attention to God’s glory, Jesus.

We are disobedient and God will judge us if we don’t depend on our obedient mediator, Jesus.

Leviticus 5:14-6:7

Bible Passages: Leviticus 5:15-6:7

5:14 The Lord said to Moses: 15 ‘When anyone is unfaithful to the Lord by sinning unintentionally in regard to any of the Lord’s holy things, they are to bring to the Lord as a penalty a ram from the flock, one without defect and of the proper value in silver, according to the sanctuary shekel. It is a guilt offering. 16 They must make restitution for what they have failed to do in regard to the holy things, pay an additional penalty of a fifth of its value and give it all to the priest. The priest will make atonement for them with the ram as a guilt offering, and they will be forgiven. 17 ‘If anyone sins and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord’s commands, even though they do not know it, they are guilty and will be held responsible. 18 They are to bring to the priest as a guilt offering a ram from the flock, one without defect and of the proper value. In this way the priest will make atonement for them for the wrong they have committed unintentionally, and they will be forgiven. 19 It is a guilt offering; they have been guilty of wrongdoing against the Lord.’ 6:1 The Lord said to Moses: 2 ‘If anyone sins and is unfaithful to the Lord by deceiving a neighbour about something entrusted to them or left in their care or about something stolen, or if they cheat their neighbour, 3 or if they find lost property and lie about it, or if they swear falsely about any such sin that people may commit – 4 when they sin in any of these ways and realise their guilt, they must return what they have stolen or taken by extortion, or what was entrusted to them, or the lost property they found, 5 or whatever it was they swore falsely about. They must make restitution in full, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the owner on the day they present their guilt offering. 6 And as a penalty they must bring to the priest, that is, to the Lord, their guilt offering, a ram from the flock, one without defect and of the proper value. 7 In this way the priest will make atonement for them before the Lord, and they will be forgiven for any of the things they did that made them guilty.’

 

Key OT/NT passages on how this passage fits within the Bible story as a whole

Since the Garden of Eden, humanity’s greatest privilege has been to come close to God and enjoy fellowship with him (Genesis 3:8). But God has been out of reach since Adam and Eve sinned and were cast out of his presence (Genesis 3:23-24). God acted to bring people back into his presence. He hinted that there would be a way between him and sinful people (Jacob’s ladder in Genesis 28:10-19). He rescued his people from Egypt (Exodus 3, 12-14) and came to live among them in the tabernacle tent – dwelling place – at the heart of their camp (Exodus 40:34-35).

 

But sinful people could only come close to God through the sacrifices of atonement God provided (Leviticus 1-16). This provision continued into the promised land and Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 8). Yet the persistent sin of the people (warned about in Leviticus 26) eventually led to the exile of the Israelites. When they returned to the land and rebuilt the temple God is not described as coming to dwell in it. God’s people were not close to him.

 

However, the LORD promised that his suffering servant would come as a guilt offering who would take the punishment his people’s sin deserved (Isaiah 53: 1-10). Jesus is the guilt offering who pays the penalty for our wrongdoing with his blood so that we can enter into communion with the Holy God (Hebrews 10: 1-10, 1 Peter 2:22). Those whose sins are forgiven through his sacrifice will one day enjoy the perfect fulfilment of closeness with God in the New Creation (2 Thessalonians 1:8-10, Revelation 21).

 

Note on key themes of the book

The book of Leviticus is the 3rd book in the Pentateuch (the five books of Moses). Together, these books cover the story of creation through to the entry of God’s Israelite people into the promised land.

 

Leviticus sits at the narrative heart of this great story. It covers the period of one month around 1500BC during which God’s people lived at the foot of Mount Sinai (see Exodus 40:17 and Numbers 1:1). The 15 chapters leading up to the book (Exodus 25-40) describe the making of the Tabernacle after the LORD rescued his people from slavery in Egypt and brought them to Mount Sinai. The first 10 chapters after Leviticus describe the arrangements for the Tabernacle before the LORD and his people leave Mount Sinai to head for the promised land (Numbers 1-10).

 

The book of Leviticus sits between these two journeys and is concerned with answering the question at the heart of the story of the Pentateuch (and the Bible!): how can sinful people come close to, and live with, a Holy God? Or, in the language of Leviticus, how does the Tabernacle where God dwells become the Tent of Meeting between him and his people?

 

The answer is through the sacrifice God provides (ch1-7), offered by the priests God appoints (ch8-10) and through cleansing from the pollution of impurity and sin (ch11-15). These three come together decisively on the most important day of the Israelite calendar – the day of atonement (ch16). On this day the high priest entered the Holy of Holies through sacrifice. He came into God’s presence to purify God’s place and people so that the people and God could be with one another.

 

 

Notes on the immediate context of the passage

This passage describes how an Israelite is to offer a guilt offering, the last of the five sacrifices the LORD provides so that his people can approach him. It follows the burnt offering (Leviticus 1), the grain offering (Leviticus 2), the fellowship offering (Leviticus 3) and the sin offering (Leviticus 4-5:13). It is followed by instructions to the priests on how these five sacrifices are to be conducted (ch6:1-7:38, with ch7:1-10 setting out the priestly regulations for the guilt offering).

 

Along with the sin offering, the guilt offering was only established by the LORD after he came to dwell in the Tabernacle. While the sin offering focused on the cleansing of the worshipper and the holy place from the pollution of sin, the guilt offering focused on the sacrifice paying the penalty of the worshipper’s sin, removing their debt, taking their punishment and satisfying God. The guilt offering also focuses on sin against the LORD’s holy things and therefore against his holiness and so it deals with the most serious offences. As such, it is the culmination of the sacrificial system which all of ch1-6:7 drives towards.

 

Structure of the passage

The sacrifices weren’t about ritual, they were about relationship. Sinful people needed to restore their relationship with God so that they could come and stay close to him. The guilt-offering paid the penalty that sinners owed the Holy God for their offences against him. It enabled the people to come close to the Holy God. Jesus’ penalty-paying sacrifice enables us to come and stay close to God too.

 

1)     We’ve offended the Holy God (5:14-16)…

The Israelites had sinned against God by mistreating his property, the holy things (v15). This would have involved failing to give promised provisions to his priests or eating food reserved for sacrifice. This sin wasn’t deliberate but it was careless. By treating his property lightly, they revealed their true attitude towards him – a dismissive disregard. This was a great offence because it was ‘unfaithful to the LORD’ (v15). He was the God who had rescued them from Egypt and they were in a dependent relationship to him. They owed him their loyalty. This was also a great offence because he is ‘Holy’ – set apart from everything and perfect in power and goodness. He deserved their respect. Sin against a Holy God deserved death.

 

…but there’s a sacrifice that comes from him

Offending a Holy God deserves death. But the offended party– God - generously initiates an alternative payment. (The LORD said – v14). He will accept a ram as a penalty payment instead of the life of the sinner (v15-16). This guilt offering relied on and points to the sacrifice of Jesus. Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins (Colossians 2:13-14). His sacrifice wasn’t just initiated by the offended God, he was given by the offended God (John 3:16). The Holy God pays the penalty for our offences against him.

2)   We can’t measure unknown sins (5:17-19)…

The Israelites would also sin against the LORD’s commands without always knowing how they had done so (v17). They might not have remembered what they had done. Or they may have committed the offence because they had been inattentive to the law. Either way, this sin involves real wrongdoing (a point emphasised twice in the passage – v17 + 19) because it again expressed a lack of respect for the Holy God. But how would the Israelites know when they had committed an unknown sin? The implication is that guilty feelings draw it to their attention (the ‘will be held responsible’ at the end of v17 may mean ‘will feel the weight of their wrongdoing’). The feeling we get when we know we’ve done something wrong but can’t quite put our finger on it can be crippling. This is because we can’t measure unknown sin’s impact. The Israelites wouldn’t know how to make up for this sort of sin, and neither do we.

…but there’s a sacrifice that’s immeasurably valuable

The LORD graciously provided the Israelites with a sacrifice of sufficient value to cover the unknown sins they couldn’t measure (v18). The guilt-offering was the sacrifice offered for the most serious sins and a ram without defect cost a lot. In Jesus, God has given us a sacrifice of immeasurable value. Jesus lived a perfect and obedient life and was without any moral defect. His blood is precious and we can be confident that, however far the effects of our unknown sins have gone, his death forgives them (1 Peter 1:18-20).

 

3)    We’re guilty of deliberate sin (6:1-7)…

The third obstacle to the Israelites being close to God was their deliberate sin. (6:1-3). This sin harmed others so part of repentance meant ‘making it up’ by paying back what they had taken with compensation (v4). But their sin was also against God (v1 – unfaithful). This was because it could involve misusing his name when lying under oath, but also because it involved sinning against other Israelites who belonged to him, or simply disrespecting other human beings made in his image. Even though this sin appeared to only affect other people, it also disrespected God. This deliberate sin deserved the payment of a penalty to the offended God (v5).

…but there’s a sacrifice that takes our punishment

The penalty should have been the Israelite’s life but the ram atoned for him (v7). It took his place. Jesus came and took our place, taking the punishment for our iniquity (Isaiah 53:4-10. V10’s offerings for sins literally means ‘guilt offering’.) When we wrong someone we should say sorry and make it up to them (v4), but we should also seek God’s forgiveness and give thanks we can have it because Jesus took our punishment.

 

Suggestions for any tricky bits/questions?

 

Isn’t animal sacrifice animal cruelty?

The animals here aren’t treated dismissively. On the contrary, it’s because their life is recognised as valuable that they’re offered in the place of sinful human beings. The blood which represents this life is not to be used for anything else because it represents a precious life (Leviticus 17:11 and surrounding verses) and stands in for a precious life.

 

Animals should be treated with care and respect. The OT makes this clear (Proverbs 12:10). The questions we must grapple with are: 1) which is more precious – the life of a ram, or the life of a man (or woman)? And 2) have we done something that deserves us losing our life? If you had really done something deserving of death, and you were offered the choice of a ram dying in your place, wouldn’t you take it? Our sin against God is deserving of death, but in love the LORD gave and accepted the blood of animals in the place of his covenant people.

 

Wait, so could an animal sacrifice really take away sins?

Yes and no!

 

No, it couldn’t – the New Testament is clear that the sacrifice of animals could not cleanse worshippers of the feeling of guilt or actual guilt. ‘It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins’ (Hebrews 10:4). But Jesus came as the perfect guilt offering promised in Isaiah 53. He took the place of the sinner as a human being who could truly represent them. The infinite value of his life as God’s obedient Son could cover the penalty for every sin. The animal sacrifice was only a ‘shadow’ hinting at Jesus’ sacrifice, not the reality itself (Hebrews 10:1.)

 

But yes, it could – because the sacrifice was the God-given shadow of the sacrifice of Jesus! The Lord repeatedly says that the guilt offering will make atonement and that the sinner who brings the ram sacrifice will be forgiven (Leviticus 5:16, 18, 6:7). This is because when the sinning Israelite offered their sacrifice, they did so trusting in God’s promise to forgive their sin. The animal sacrifice was accepted until Jesus came because its value relied on his promised coming. We might accept a cheque we know is going to bounce if we also know we are going to put a vast sum into the cheque-giver’s account. In the same way, God accepted the ‘cheque’ of the animal sacrifice, even though in itself it had no value. He did this because he knew he was going to put the valuable sacrifice of Jesus into the sinning Israelite’s account. The cheque of the animal sacrifice would not bounce because when it was ‘cashed’ the sacrifice of Jesus would pay the debt.

 

How can unintentional/unknown actions be sin?

The word ‘unintentional’ in this passage means ‘wandering’ sin. It’s sinning against God without premeditation. With one another, we recognise that when we say ‘I didn’t intend to hurt you’ we are nonetheless responsible for hurting someone because the anger, bluntness or selfishness that hurt someone – while unintended – is an expression of our inner attitude. We had too much regard for our self and too little regard for them. The same is true for our sin against God. We might not have thought ‘I will mistreat and disregard God’ but when we do so, the disrespect for God that stands behind our action or inaction is a true expression of our ‘attitude towards him. We are responsible for it.

 

Is reimbursement and compensation for the wrong we do necessary for forgiveness? (6:1-7)

In these cases, compensating harmed human beings was a part of real repentance towards God. Jesus’ taught something very similar (Matthew 5:23-24). Truly recognising our guilt will involve trying to ‘make it up’ to those we’ve harmed.

 

However, this act of restitution was not what brought the Israelite sinner forgiveness. It was the offering of a sacrifice to God as the penalty in their place that meant they could be confident of forgiveness. Compensating those we’ve harmed still doesn’t bring forgiveness. We can be confident of God’s forgiveness for sin today only when we rely on Jesus’ death paying the ransom for sin in our place.

 

This sin here is about Covenant unfaithfulness isn’t it? (Leviticus 5:14, 6:1). I can see how it might apply to Christians today (who have been redeemed from sin just as the Israelites were redeemed from Egypt). But how does it apply to non-Christians?

If we’re Christians, we will only remain in God’s presence by daily relying on the atoning sacrifice of Jesus for our unfaithful offences against our Holy God.

 

If we’re not currently Christians, we will only come into God’s presence by relying on the atoning sacrifice of Jesus for our grievous offences against the Holy God.

 

Summary of author’s main point

The holy LORD says the Israelites can come close to his presence by offering a substitute to pay for their intentional and unintentional sins against him.

Purpose for original audience

Come confidently to the LORD with the guilt offering! All your sin against the Holy LORD will be forgiven as the ram takes your place and pays your penalty.

 

Purpose for us today

Believe we come close to the Holy God by relying on Jesus’ penalty-paying death: take sin against God seriously and take comfort it’s forgiven.

Key areas of application to individual Christians:

Take God more seriously: Because God is holy he deserves our utmost respect. Because he is our rescuer he deserves our utter loyalty. We should be punished for our dismissive attitude towards him. But he pays the penalty for us with his own Son. He’s utterly holy and utterly loving. Do we remember that this is who we mean when we say ‘God’?

 

Take great comfort: Even our unknown, unmeasured sin (like the ways we’ve hurt our children, parents or past partners) are covered by Jesus’ precious penalty-paying sacrifice.


Give great thanks and keep asking for forgiveness: Jesus took the punishment we deserve for our daily offences against God.

 

Key areas of application to sceptics & explorers:

This God is unique: What other religion conceives of God as utterly holy and offended at sin AND utterly loving and paying the penalty for that offence? The self-portrait of God in the Bible is unique. Investigate the cross where God’s holiness and relational love come together.

 

Don’t stubbornly try and make up for your bad choices yourself. They haven’t just affected other people, they’ve offended a Holy God. None of us can survive his judgement. Make a choice – will you

Revelation 3:14-22

Revelation 3:14-22

14 ‘To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so that you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so that you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so that you can see. 19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.21 To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

 

 

Key OT/NT passages on how this passage fits within the Bible story as a whole

In this letter, Jesus brings together a cluster of Bible motifs which ‘fill out’ our understanding of the relationship between God and those he saves:

-        dependence on God’s saving resources

-        the importance of a persevering faith

-        the removal of spiritual blindness

-        his discipline of those he loves

-        intimate fellowship with those who obey him.

-        the sharing of his future rule

Jesus’ call for the Laodicean church to dependently buy gold from him fits with the LORD’s call in Isaiah 55:1 to dependently receive satisfaction from the love and splendour he sells without price. The faith that perseveres is like gold refined in the fire (see 1 Peter 1:7’s description of a faith worth more than gold). He removes spiritual blindness so that people can see who he is (John 9:39-41). Jesus’ assertion that he rebukes and disciplines those he loves so that they keep growing and going is exactly what the LORD has always told his people (Proverbs 3:11-12, see Hebrews 12:10-11). Those who love him in response will repentantly obey his teachings and have God living with them (John 14:23). They will rule with him forever (compare with Jesus’ promise to his disciples in Matthew 19:28).

 

Brief note on key themes of book

The book of Revelation is written by John to the suffering church (Revelation 1:9) under the Roman Emperor Domitian (81-96AD). It is an epistle (Revelation 1:4), about the gospel of Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:6), founded on the sovereignty of God (Revelation 1:7-8). Having presented us with a picture of Jesus in all his glory (Revelation chapters 1-3), it shows us a glimpse of heaven (Revelation chapters 4-5) and the way in which the lamb deals with God’s wrath. What follows is a series of overlapping picture that take us through from the present age to the return of Christ (chapters 6-7, 8-11, 12-14, 15-16, 17-18, 19 and 20). The final vision shows the New Jerusalem – Eden exceeded, and the temple fulfilled (chapters 21-22). This glimpse of heaven (‘Revelation’ literally means ‘an unveiling’) has a pastoral purpose. It is to show the suffering church that whatever is going on, God is on the throne, and is bringing everything to an end – his people, cared for by the risen Lord Jesus, will be safe.

 

Brief notes on the immediate context of the passage, and how we should apply it

This is the 7th of seven letters to seven Turkish churches that Jesus is ‘sending’ through John’s prophecy. Along with the 1st, it is the most critical. (The 2nd and 6th letters are encouraging while the 3rd, 4th and 5th include both rebukes and encouragements.) However, while these letters are addressed to individual churches, they are meant to be overheard by all the churches (3:22). As a result, these letters aren’t just giving each church individualised instructions on what they need to do to last. Jesus is giving all 7 churches a composite picture of what is important to Jesus and what should matter to them. We should read them in the same way. Jesus shows us what all churches -including Trinity- need to keep caring about so that they will stay healthy and last until his return.

 

Structure of the passage

The letter to Sardis in Revelation 3:14-22, like each of the letters to the seven churches, contains seven main elements

  • a command to write to the church’s angel (v14)

  • Christ’s self-description (v14 – faithful ruler.)

  • Christ’s knowledge of the church (v15 – I know your deeds)

  • A commendation and/or rebuke (v15-16)

  • A command/warning to repent or persevere (v17-20)

  • A promise for those who are victorious (v21)

  • A call to hear the Spirit’s message (v22 – whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches).

 

Jesus introduces himself as the faithful and true witness and the ruler of God’s creation (v14). He knows the Lord’s plans and can speak with authority about them. He rules because he has already been victorious (v21) in his death and resurrection and has sat down on the throne of his Father. From this position of rule and authority, he is interested in the deeds of his people in Laodicea (v15). Unfortunately, he finds that they are lukewarm (v16) – useless at doing the deeds of love, faith, service and perseverance he wants a church to be doing. He would rather they were like cold or hot water, which refresh or sooth and are useful to those who drink them. Because Jesus wants a useful church that does the job he’s given it to do, he warns the Laodiceans that he is about to judge them (spit them out of his mouth). But there is an alternative. A church that responds to Jesus’ instructions in this letter will remain useful. Its members will one day be victorious and enjoy the honour of joining Jesus on his throne (v21).

 

So, how can a church be useful? It needs to:

 

1)      Keep returning to Jesus’ resources (17-18)

The church in Laodicea was useless because it was self-reliant (v17a). The church thought it had everything it needed to do the work Jesus asked it to do so it didn’t demonstrate faith and reliance on Jesus. Jesus shatters such a church’s delusions by showing that whatever material resources they have, they are spiritually pitiable and poor (v17b). They need to return to him for resources, ‘buying’ from him the persevering faith (gold), righteousness (white clothes), and spiritual sight (salve) they need to be a useful church (v18). We are not as self-reliant as Laodicea and are not judged as useless. However, we should avoid the subtle temptation to look to our own resources to complete the work Jesus has given us to do. Instead, we should keep acknowledging our spiritual neediness. We should go to Jesus for the faith we need to last, the righteousness we need to cover our daily sins and the sight we need to see ourselves rightly.

 

2)     Keep responding to Jesus’ rebuke (v19-20)

As well as returning to Jesus’ resources, the church in Laodicea also needed to respond to Jesus’ rebuke and discipline. Contrary to our instincts, Jesus doesn’t rebuke and discipline because he wants to judge us. He rebukes and disciplines a church because he loves it (v19). He has a plan for its present (to be useful) and a plan for its future (to rule in victory). Jesus speaks through the scriptures so we should expect to find the Bible challenging us and making us uncomfortable. Jesus called the Laodiceans to be earnest (e.g. committed) and repent in response to his rebuke (v19). This would mean turning back to God’s way. Jesus turns to the individuals in the Laodicean church and makes it clear that he is already present, knocking at the door of their hearts with his words. Will they accept the hard truths he’s telling them and make their lives hospitable to him? Will they welcome him in as their master by obeying his call to change? If they do, they will know a deeper intimacy with him as a result (v20). We can blunt the challenge of Jesus’ word. Yet when we keep responding with repentance instead, we will experience greater intimacy with him. We will keep becoming a more useful church.

 

 

Suggestions for any tricky bits?

What does it mean for a church to be lukewarm in v15-16?

In English, the term ‘lukewarm’ means half-hearted and uncommitted. But that is not the meaning here. If that were the case, then Jesus would be saying that he would prefer a church was wholeheartedly against him (cold). This is clearly not his attitude, as the other six letters demonstrate! The point is that cold and hot water are both useful. The cold water of nearby Colossae was refreshing. The hot springs of nearby Hierapolis soothed the sick. But the Laodicean church was like Laodicea’s own water supply, lukewarm and so no good for anything. Useless. Jesus knew the deeds of Laodicea (v15) and could tell that they were not useful at doing the deeds he wanted them to be doing: living lives of love, faith, service and perseverance (see 2:2, 19, 3:8).

 

What does it mean for Jesus to spit a church out of his mouth? (v16)

Jesus is using metaphorical language to describe how he will judge a church which is useless at the deeds he has given it to do. Just as we might spit out water we find offensively lukewarm, he would reject the useless Laodicean church and have nothing to do with it. This is a promise of immediate judgement in the present age, before his return (he says he is ‘about’ to spit them out). A church Jesus rejects as useless will fade and die out.

 

Jesus says ‘buy’ from him (v18)– does this mean that we must earn our spiritual wealth from Jesus?

No. Jesus has just said the church is ‘wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. Despite their material wealth they are in spiritual poverty, so they have nothing to give him in payment! This is all about his freely offered grace! Jesus is using the language of a marketplace because when you have nothing you go to the shops to get what you need. Jesus wants them to be aware of their poverty and know they can only get the spiritual resources they need to be a useful church from him. His words pick up on those of the LORD in Isaiah 55:1-2, who calls a rebellious and self-reliant people to ‘come buy…without money and without cost’ so that he can show them his faithful love and endow them with splendour.

 

Seriously, what is it with the gold, clothes and salve?

Again, Jesus is using the image of goods available in a Laodicean marketplace. The ‘gold refined in the fire’ is reminiscent of the persevering faith in 1 Peter 1:7. Given the message of each previous letter encouraging perseverance, persevering faith is likely to be the gold Jesus is offering to supply the church with here. The other two images are more straightforward. ‘White clothes’ are the robes made ‘white in the blood of the lamb’ (Revelation 7:14). They are Jesus’ righteousness, which is given to sinners who trust his saving death on the cross. At the cross, Jesus died to take their shame and sin and give them his good status with the Father. The ‘salve’ refers to spiritual sight, which enables believers to see themselves as they really are, and Jesus as he really is.

 

V19 says Jesus disciplines those he loves? What does that discipline look like?

This letter does not tell us what the discipline would be, but we know it is something he does in love. Throughout scripture God says that his discipline may be painful for those who receive it, but it will lead them into the way of holiness and peace (Proverbs 3:11-12, Hebrews 12:10-11). This discipline is something that will be painful or apparently undesirable for the church but will draw its members to respond to Jesus with repentance and become the useful church he desires. This way they church’s members will rule with him for eternity (v21). His discipline now is meant to keep them from judgement.

 

Isn’t v20 about non-believers responding to the gospel message?

This verse is often quoted as an example of Jesus calling non-believers to repent and believe in him. However, that is not what the verse is about when read (as it should be) in its context. Jesus is speaking to professing Christians – members of the Laodicean church. He is saying that if they are responsive to his voice and repent of their sin and self-reliance, they will enjoy intimacy with him.

 

Summary of author’s main point

The Laodicean church was useless and needed to return to Jesus for grace and repent. Only then would it be useful and victorious.

Purpose for original audience

Humbly return to Jesus and repent of proud self-reliance.

Purpose for us today

Know the victorious Jesus wants a church that stays useful and so keeps returning to his resources and responding to his rebuke.

 

Key areas of application

To the whole church:

Keep returning to Jesus’ resources so you remain useful and don’t become self-reliant.

1)      Recall your spiritual neediness (v17)

2)     Go buy from Jesus (v18)

3)     Ask for faith, righteousness and sight (v18)

 

To individual Christians:

Keep responding to Jesus’ rebuke. Expect the Bible to make you uncomfortable and open it with others so that your own biases don’t blunt Jesus’ words. When you repent, your intimacy with Jesus will grow.

 

To sceptics & explorers:

-        How do you know you’ve got what Christianity is about? When you can honestly say v17 applies to you but can also say Jesus’ righteousness is available to you.

-        What does being a Christian look like from the inside? Living an authentic life that’s responsive to Jesus and enjoys intimacy with him.

 

Revelation 3:7-13

Bible Passage: Revelation 3:7-13

7 'To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.

 8 I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.

 9 I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars- I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.

 10 Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.

 11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.

 12 The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name.

 13 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (NIV)

 

Key OT/NT passages on how this passage fits within the Bible story as a whole

Adam and Eve in the garden, were people who doubted God’s word (“Did God really say…”, Genesis 3:1). Abraham, however, was someone who took God at his word (“Abram believed the LORD…”, Genesis. 15:6). Right from the start of biblical account, then, trust in God’s word become the key element of saving faith, and holding onto that word become the foundation of discipleship (for example, 1 Kings 13:21, 2 Chronicles 34:21).

 

In Isaiah 22, Jerusalem is under threat, and God promises that Eliakim will replace Shebna as the steward in charge of the palace (Isaiah 22:15-22). He will have the key to the royal palace, and admittance is only through him. Later, Jesus says that he is the one with the keys to the kingdom, (Matthew 16:19), and he sends his apostles to all nations.

 

What becomes clear in Rev 3:7-15, is that God’s weak and struggling church in Philadelphia has held onto God’s word. Jesus holds the keys to the kingdom, and holds open the door of salvation. The name of the new Jerusalem is written on them because they will one day join Jesus there (Rev 21:2).

 

Brief note on key themes of book

The book of Revelation is written by John to the suffering church (Revelation 1:9) under the Roman Emperor Domitian (81-96AD). It is an epistle (Revelation 1:4), about the gospel of Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:6), founded on the sovereignty of God (Revelation 1:7-8). Having presented us with a picture of Jesus in all his glory (Revelation chapters 1-3), it shows us a glimpse of heaven (Revelation chapters 4-5) and the way in which the lamb deals with God’s wrath. What follows is a series of overlapping picture that take us through from the present age to the return of Christ (chapters 6-7, 8-11, 12-14, 15-16, 17-18, 19 and 20). The final vision shows the New Jerusalem – Eden exceeded, and the temple fulfilled (chapters 21-22). This glimpse of heaven (‘Revelation’ literally means ‘an unveiling’) has a pastoral purpose. It is to show the suffering church that whatever is going on, God is on the throne, and is bringing everything to an end – his people, cared for by the risen Lord Jesus, will be safe.

 

Structure of the passage

The letter to Philadelphia begins in a similar way to the other letters, with Jesus’ description of himself, and his knowledge of the church’s situation. What is noticeable is that there is only commendation for this church with little strength. Among huge encouragements, the reason given for Jesus’ reassuring promises both centre around the word to ‘keep’. Jesus is looking for…

A church which keeps Jesus’ word… and so won’t deny his name (7-9)

The church in Philadelphia has kept hold of Jesus’ word, and not denied his name (compare Matt 10:32-33). Despite being a small and weak church, in a town which was little-known, and which had little strength left, Jesus’ words are full of reassurance. The ‘synagogue of Satan’ (the Jewish group in the city) seem to have been denying that the church there was loved by Jesus, but one day they will fall at the feet of Christians (an ironic twist on Isaiah 49:23). Jesus, the holy and true one, has opened the door of salvation for these exhausted Christians, and has guaranteed access to his kingdom.

A church which keeps Jesus’ command… and so endures patiently (10-11)

The church in Philadelphia has also kept hold of Jesus’ command to endure patiently (literally, Jesus says ‘you have kept the word of my perseverance’, v.10). In the light of that, Jesus will keep them through the hour of trial (the emphasis is more on perseverance in the present than preservation from end-time judgement). In the future, they will have crowns to wear (compare 2 Timothy 4:8) at the time of Jesus’ return. They will be like pillars (a sign of a permanent place in God’s presence). And three names will be written on them – the names of their God, and their destination, and their saviour (v.12).

 

Suggestions for any tricky bits?

What’s all this about opening and shutting doors? (vv.7-8)

The passage is picking up on a promise made to Eliakim in Isaiah 22:15-22, the royal steward. There, he had the keys to the royal household, and could control who went in and out of the palace. Here, Jesus is similarly the one given control over who enters the kingdom. If he opens the door and gives someone access to salvation, no-one can stop them from coming in.

What is the synagogue of Satan? (v.9)

Jesus is very aware of the activity of Satan in the places where these churches are situated. In both Smyrna and Philadelphia, it seems that the Jewish population were excluding and persecuting the Christians there, and so siding with Satan’s purposes (compare John 8:44-47, Acts 13:10).

Is it a good thing to be a pillar? Why can’t they leave the temple? (v.12)

The picture of the pillar is one of solidity and permanence. In this city which had suffered a huge earthquake in 17AD, it was a very desirable thing to be part of solid building – one which wouldn’t collapse or become dangerous. What is on offer here is a built-in place in God’s presence which is lasting and unshakeable.

 

Summary of author’s main point

The church at Philadelphia, though weak, has kept Jesus’ word, and is offered an undeniable and unshakeable place in his kingdom.

Aim/purpose for original audience

Hold onto what you have, because even a weak church that keeps Jesus’ words will be offered an undeniable and unshakeable place in Jesus’ kingdom.

Aim/purpose for us today

For us to hold onto what you have, knowing that even a weak church that keeps Jesus’ words will be offered an undeniable and unshakeable place in Jesus’ kingdom.

 

Key area of application

Jesus gives his strongest word of encouragement to the weakest and least well-known church. Those congregations that will one day be most honoured will not be ones that we will have heard of. To those that are weakest, Jesus shows an uncloseable door. We have everything we need – in brutal times, we simply have to hold onto what we have.

Revelation 3:1-6

Bible Passages:

Revelation 3:1-6

3 ‘To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you. 4 Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. 5 The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels. 6 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

 

Key OT/NT passages on how this passage fits within the Bible story as a whole

Jesus promised in his earthly ministry that he would come like a thief in the night. His servants need to be awake, working at the mission he’s given them and watching for him. (Matthew 24:43, also 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11). Jesus reaffirms this in this letter.

 

From the time of Daniel’s prophecy, God’s people were expecting great and powerful rulers to intensely persecute them. (Daniel 11-12). Those who were written in the book of life would resist and be made pure during this time of resistance (11:35, 12:10). Ultimately, they would be delivered (12:1). The author of Revelation re-applies the imagery of those prophecies to those worthy in Sardis, and all in churches now who take the reassurances they’re given to heart. Christ will return and he will deliver his people who persevere and maintain faith in his word when under pressure. 3:5 alludes to Luke 12:8 and Matthew 10:32 – men and women who are not afraid of those who can kill but instead acknowledge Jesus will be acknowledged by him.

 

Brief note on key themes of book

The book of Revelation is written by John to the suffering church (Revelation 1:9) under the Roman Emperor Domitian (81-96AD). It is an epistle (Revelation 1:4), about the gospel of Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:6), founded on the sovereignty of God (Revelation 1:7-8). Having presented us with a picture of Jesus in all his glory (Revelation chapters 1-3), it shows us a glimpse of heaven (Revelation chapters 4-5) and the way in which the lamb deals with God’s wrath. What follows is a series of overlapping picture that take us through from the present age to the return of Christ (chapters 6-7, 8-11, 12-14, 15-16, 17-18, 19 and 20). The final vision shows the New Jerusalem – Eden exceeded, and the temple fulfilled (chapters 21-22). This glimpse of heaven (‘Revelation’ literally means ‘an unveiling’) has a pastoral purpose. It is to show the suffering church that whatever is going on, God is on the throne, and is bringing everything to an end – his people, cared for by the risen Lord Jesus, will be safe.

 

Brief notes on the immediate context of the passage, and how we should apply it today:

This is the 5th of seven letters to seven Turkish churches that Jesus is ‘sending’ through John’s prophecy. The letters are addressed to individual churches and yet are to be heard by all the churches (3:6). As a result, these letters aren’t just giving each church an individual appraisal of what Jesus thinks of it. They’re not even just giving individualised instructions on what each church uniquely needs to do and not do in order to keep going until the end. Jesus is giving all 7 churches a composite picture of what is important to Jesus and what should matter to them. Jesus shows them what all 7 local churches – and all churches for all time - need to keep caring about so that they will last until the end.

 

Structure of the passage

The letter to Sardis in Revelation 3:1-6, like each of the letters to the seven churches, contains seven main elements, but the fourth element contains some variation from the usual pattern.

  • a command to write to the church’s angel (v1)

  • Christ’s self-description (v1 – him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars’)

  • Christ’s knowledge of the church (v1 – I know your deeds)

  • A commendation and/or rebuke (v1 – A rebuke: despite your reputation you’re dead.

  • A command/warning to repent or persevere: Repent: (v2-3 – the church needs to wake up and strengthen what is there. This will look like holding fast to what they have received and repenting where they have not done so in order to finish the deeds God sees and cares about. If they do not, Jesus will come against them.).

  • A promise for those who are victorious (v4-5 – there is also a reassurance – Jesus knows and cares for those few within the church who have been persevering with faith and testifying to him and they will walk with him at his return. Whoever is like the ‘few people’ there who are worthy will be acknowledged by God).

  • A call to hear the Spirit’s message (v6 – whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches).

Jesus’ introduces himself as the one who has divine authority (he holds the seven-spirits of God) and intimate knowledge of his churches (he holds the seven stars, revealed in 1:20 to be the ‘angels’ or ‘messenger-leaders’ representing the local church). What he has to say to them will be both utterly reliable and deeply relevant and needs to be heard by every church (v6).  Jesus wants us to know that the church that lasts is the church that stays alert (the controlling ‘Wake up!’ command of v2). Specifically, the local church that lasts will:

 

1)      Stay alert to our continuing mission (v1-3a)

Jesus cares about the mission (deeds) of the church. (v1) A church is meant to continue in faith and love, worked out in persevering service. But despite its reputation for being alive to this mission, the church in Sardis is dead. A good reputation can take a church’s eyes of its mission and lead to it falling into a coma of complacency. Jesus wants the church to come alert – to wake up to – the mission they’ve been given by God. It is a mission that is unfinished (v2) because a church can always keep growing in faith, love and service until Jesus returns or brings that church’s time to an end. We are not Sardis, and are not described as dead like them, so the message for us is stay alert to our mission and have a ‘growth mindset’. As we actively reflect on each part of Trinity’s work, we should ask: are we displaying the faith, love and service that God would want to see in this area? Where we can see room for growth, we should follow the commands of Jesus in v2-3: strengthening the areas where faith, love and service are already displayed in our church, remembering and holding fast to the gospel of grace and repenting where we need to.

 

2)     Stay alert to our coming future (v3b-5)

As well as being alert to our continuing mission, this letter reveals that God wants a local church to be alert to its coming future. That means being a church that responds to the warning of v3b. Jesus will come back at any moment, and a church that has not stayed alert to its mission of lasting and growing love, faith and service will be judged by him. Just as the apparently impregnable city of Sardis would not have fallen to attack if its defenders had been alert, a church will not find Jesus coming against them if it takes this warning seriously. Real churches respond to real warnings. The church that knows Jesus can come as judge will stay alert. Such an alert church will also be made up of believers who stay alert to the reassurance Jesus offers in v4-5. Those who continue to trust that Jesus has saved them and persevere under pressure can be confident he already finds them worthy. Though they may face hostility, their name is secure in God’s book of life. Though they may feel forgotten, they will be acknowledged by Jesus in the end.

 

Suggestions for any tricky bits?

Who are the seven Spirits of God?

This name is also used in 1:4 in the introduction of the letter, and may mean seven-fold Spirit. Either way, the number 7 in the book of Revelation means complete and full, and so this is a figurative description of the one Holy Spirit of v6. He has complete knowledge of all 7 churches (in 5:6 the ‘seven Spirits’ are described as Jesus’ eyes in the world) and so speaks to all 7 churches authoritatively (v6). The point is that the ‘seven-spirits’ are held by Jesus, and so his words to the churches come with complete knowledge and authority.

Who are the seven-stars?

1:20 identifies the seven stars as the seven ‘angels’ of the seven churches. It’s not 100% clear what the ‘angels’ represent – they may signify (1) the heavenly angels who protect the church, or (2) the human leaders of the church, or (3) the personality of the church itself. Commentators differ as to which is the most likely. All have their problems, but because human beings can be ‘angels’ or ‘messengers’ (see Luke 7:24 and 9:52), and human leaders are the most natural recipients of the letters, this seems the most likely. Either way, these ‘stars’ represent the churches. Jesus holds the churches’ representatives in his hands, which means that he can protect or judge his church, and he knows their true identity.

What are the deeds?

It doesn’t say in this passage, but the earlier letters are helpful. 2:19 unpacks ‘deeds’ as meaning love and faith, service and perseverance. This isn’t about activity. It’s about a heart of trust in God and affection for him and each other that can be seen in a communal life of lasting service. This is the mission they have been given to complete in God-eyes (v2) and Jesus is alert to whether a church is like this.

How can they be both dead and about to die?

Jesus is using two different but related images to make two different but related points. In contrast to their reputation for being alive (in terms of love, faith, service and perseverance), Jesus knows the truth. The church is the very opposite of that. The church has stopped growing in love, faith, service and perseverance – it might as well be dead. Jesus wants the church to know how dangerous its situation is. But he also wants them to know there is hope! He’s rebuking them so that they change, not declaring a final judgement. If the church becomes alert to its mission and strengthens those ‘deeds’ which God approves of among them, they can come out of their coma of complacency and be what they are meant to be.

Do we have to earn our place with Jesus (e.g. be worthy v4?)

Its important to note that Jesus declares them worthy in the present because they have not soiled their clothes. These are the clothes of righteousness that Jesus has already given them, equivalent to the white robes they’ll wear in the future that mark them as being washed in the blood of Jesus (7:9, 13). They are worthy because Christ has made them worthy by cleaning them of their sin through his death on the cross. The point is that they have persevered in holding onto their faith when under pressure. They have done nothing to ‘soil’ the worthiness they have been given because they have kept holding on to faith in Jesus’ death and victory and have not denied him. The worthy are simply those saved by Christ who are persevering in faith.

What’s all this about being dressed in white?

See the above answer. It is a mark of being washed in the blood of Jesus, being made right – or clean- with God through his self-giving death on the cross. It also denotes victory and celebration, appropriate for those who will see Jesus’ glorious return and enjoy close fellowship with him (e.g. walk with him) in the lasting goodness of the new creation.

Am I one of the few, or one of the dead?

For those of us with a more tender conscience this is an understandable question to ask. But it’s the wrong question! We are not the church in Sardis, which was close to death in a complacent coma. Our church is not characterised as only having a ‘few’ who have continued to hold onto the faith and persevered in hostility. For us, this letter pushes the importance of us staying alert to our mission and future. It isn’t saying we’ve failed to do so. However, even if we were like Sardis, this letter is a gracious warning with a gracious promise. Although Jesus notes that there are ‘a few’ in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes he goes on to say that ‘the one who is victorious’ will be ‘like’ those few, dressed in white robes. Even in Sardis the expectation is that the few will not be alone, others will also be victorious as a result of heeding this letter. Real Christians will listen to the real warnings in this letter. They will find reassurance as they repent of any lack of growth in faith and love and hold tighter to Jesus’ words. They can be confident that because they persevere in faith they will be victorious.

Will Jesus blot out unworthy names from the book of life? (v5)

The passage doesn’t say anything about blotting out names. It reassures those whose life on earth may be in danger from human hostility that their life with God cannot be blotted out. Their names are known. Those who follow Christ have been in the book from before creation (17:8) and their eternal life in the new creation with Jesus is utterly secure.

 

Summary of author’s main point

Jesus cares about his church continuing in deeds of faith, love and service. Churches will persevere when they are watching for his return and looking for his acknowledgement.

Purpose for original audience

Don’t value your reputation with others. Instead, persevere in your mission because he will return to acknowledge those who do and punish those who don’t.

Purpose for us today

A living church cares about its God-given mission, not its reputation: stay alert to this current mission and focus on Jesus’ future verdict.

Key area of application

To the whole church:

Are we alert to our mission as church?

Ask these four questions of any area of our church life (whether preaching and teaching, hospitality, evangelism etc.). They are taken from Jesus’ commands in v2-3.

1)      In this area, are we displaying the faith, love and service that God wants to see?

2)     How can we strengthen the signs of faith, love and service that remain?

3)     What aspect of the gospel do we need to remember and hold onto to keep growing?

4)     What might we need to repent of?

Are we alert to our future as a church?

If Jesus was to return in 10 seconds what would he make of Trinity? Are we making decisions now on the basis of his future verdict?

To individual Christians:

However alone or forgotten you feel, if you believe in Jesus despite the pressures of the world, know that Jesus knows your name, counts you worthy and will acknowledge you in front of the heavenly audience. Be reassured and keep persevering until he returns.

 

To sceptics & explorers:

Do you realise that Jesus’ return is more certain than anything else? Test yourself, if he was returning in 10 seconds how would you feel about that? Why?

Revelation 2:18-29

Bible Passage: Revelation 2:18-29

18 'To the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.

 19 I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.

 20 Nevertheless, I have this against you: you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.

 21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling.

 22 So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways.

 23 I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.

 24 Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan's so-called deep secrets, "I will not impose any other burden on you,

 25 except to hold on to what you have until I come."

 26 To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations-

 27 that one "will rule them with an iron sceptre and will dash them to pieces like pottery"- just as I have received authority from my Father.

 28 I will also give that one the morning star.

 29 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (Rev. 2:18-29 NIV)

 

Key OT/NT passages on how this passage fits within the Bible story as a whole

In Israel’s history, God’s people turned over and over again to idolatrous worship. The lowest and most seminal example of this was under King Ahab and his Queen, who become the low watermark for evil leadership (2 Kings 21:3). Over and against this leadership stands God’s king (Psalm 2), who will ultimately destroy the nations of the earth who rage against God’s rule. Ultimately, those who hold onto this king will escape judgement (Psalm 2:12). In the same way, although idolatrous worship is also a present reality for the new Testament church (1 Corinthians 8:1-13), those who hold to the divine Messiah and Son of God will one day reign with him (2 Timothy 2:12).

 

Brief note on context/key themes of book

The book of Revelation is written by John to the suffering church (Revelation 1:9) under the Roman Emperor Domitian (81-96AD). It is an epistle (Revelation 1:4), about the gospel of Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:6), founded on the sovereignty of God (Revelation 1:7-8). Having presented us with a picture of Jesus in all his glory (Revelation chapters 1-3), it shows us a glimpse of heaven (Revelation chapters 4-5) and the way in which the lamb deals with God’s wrath. What follows is a series of overlapping picture that take us through from the present age to the return of Christ (chapters 6-7, 8-11, 12-14, 15-16, 17-18, 19 and 20). The final vision shows the New Jerusalem – Eden exceeded, and the temple fulfilled (chapters 21-22). This glimpse of heaven (‘Revelation’ literally means ‘an unveiling’) has a pastoral purpose. It is to show the suffering church that whatever is going on, God is on the throne, and is bringing everything to an end – his people, cared for by the risen Lord Jesus, will be safe.

 

Structure of the passage

Jesus is the one who has eyes like blazing fire (compare 1:14), and whose feet are like burnished bronze (1:15) – he sees his people and will pursue those he judges. Ultimately, he is the Psalm 2 king (1:26-27), and he will share his kingdom rule with those who are faithful (compare Matthew 28:18). In-between that description, and that promise, and three important assessments of the local church. What is Jesus looking for? Three things…

A church which is growing in godliness (19)

The church in Thyatira shows love and faith, expressed in service and perseverance – they have understood the heart of the gospel, and are living it out humbly, and without giving up. Not only that, but in contrast to Ephesus (Revelation 2:4-5), they are increasing in godliness. This isn’t first-flush Christianity, but a growing commitment to sacrificial discipleship in a hostile environment. They are constantly asking themselves the question, “What more can I do for Christ?”

A church which repents of wrong religion (20-23)

What could have possibly gone wrong in such a healthy church? Jezebel was an Old testament figure who, along with her husband, introduced idolatry (1 Kings 16:31-32, 21:25-26). Here, Jezebel calls herself a prophet, and is once again leading people into false worship, probably taking part in the idol feast mentioned in 1 Cor 8:1-13. She is offering a deeper form of spirituality, which is exposed as a lie from Satan (Revelation 2:24). Jesus, though, is the one who searches hearts and minds and will bring judgement on idolatrous worshippers. Remarkably, repentance is all that he is looking for in order to save them from wrong worship (Revelation 2:22).

A church which holds onto what it has (24-25)

Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matthew 11:30). The heart of Christianity is simply holding onto what Christians have already been given in Christ (Revelation 2:25). Simple perseverance is all that is required. The reward, in this most Christ-centred letter, is detailed in verses 27-28. Not only will faithful people share Christ’s authority, but they will be given the morning star. That is to say, that they will be given Christ himself (22:16).

 

Suggestions for any tricky bits?

Is this talking about physical or spiritual ‘sexual immorality’?

Sometimes first century idol-feasts were accompanied by orgies and sexual immorality, and there were sometimes fertility cults where you were encouraged to sleep with ‘priests’ and ‘priestesses’ in order to encourage the gods to make your fields fertile. However, in the Bible adultery often refers to spiritual adultery (see, for instance, the book of Hosea), and what seems to be in view here is primarily wrong teaching and idolatrous worship (compare Revelation 2:24 – “to you who do not hold to her teaching”).

What is the judgement of verse 22 and 23?

The judgement of these verse, although severe, is with an eye to repentance (“unless they repent of their ways”). God’s discipline aims to bring people back to him, as a sign of love (Hebrews 12:1-11). Rarely, though, God’s judgement can even lead to someone’s death (see 1 Corinthians 11:29-30).

 

Summary of author’s main point

The church at Thyatira is increasing in godliness, but needs to repent of a false spirituality and hold tightly to Christ, the Son of God.

Aim/purpose for original audience

Be a lasting church that keeps growing in godliness, repents of false spirituality and holds tightly to Christ, the Son of God.

Aim/purpose for us today

Be a lasting church that keeps growing in godliness, repents of false spirituality and holds tightly to Christ, the Son of God.

 

Key area of application

Are you doing more than you did at first?

Looking back over the last year, to what extent have you kept holding to Christ until he comes?

How will you do so more in the year ahead?

Revelation 2:12-17

Bible Passage: Revelation 2:12-17

12 'To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword.

 13 I know where you live- where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city- where Satan lives.

 14 Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: there are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality.

 15 Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.

 16 Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.

 17 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.

 (Rev. 2:12-17 NIV)

 

Key OT/NT passages on how this passage fits within the Bible story as a whole

Throughout Israel’s history, his people have faced attack from outside and within. The nations surrounding the land were often attacked by enemies, from the time of Moses (Exodus 17:8) through to the time of Nehemiah (Neh 4:12). Christians, too, have faced wave after wave of attack, just as Jesus predicted (John 15:20). A greater danger throughout scripture, though, is the threat of compromise from within. Just as Balaam led the people of Israel astray by idolatry and sexual compromise (Numbers 22-24, 25:1-2), so it was the constant return to idolatry that led to the exile (Acts 7:43). Christians, too, are told to flee idolatry (1 Cor 10:14, 1 Peter 4:3). Only by clinging to Jesus will they last through to the end.

 

Brief note on context/key themes of book

The book of Revelation is written by John to the suffering church (Revelation 1:9) under the Roman Emperor Domitian (81-96AD). It is an epistle (Revelation 1:4), about the gospel of Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:6), founded on the sovereignty of God (Revelation 1:7-8). Having presented us with a picture of Jesus in all his glory (Revelation chapters 1-3), it shows us a glimpse of heaven (Revelation chapters 4-5) and the way in which the lamb deals with God’s wrath. What follows is a series of overlapping picture that take us through from the present age to the return of Christ (chapters 6-7, 8-11, 12-14, 15-16, 17-18, 19 and 20). The final vision shows the New Jerusalem – Eden exceeded, and the temple fulfilled (chapters 21-22). This glimpse of heaven (‘Revelation’ literally means ‘an unveiling’) has a pastoral purpose. It is to show the suffering church that whatever is going on, God is on the throne, and is bringing everything to an end – his people, cared for by the risen Lord Jesus, will be safe.

 

Structure of the passage

Each of the letters begins with a description of Jesus, reflecting the picture of the risen Christ in Revelation chapter 1 – here he is described as the one who “has the sharp, double-edged sword” (compare Revelation 1:16). Each letter also ends with a reassurance to those who persevere -here, they are given hidden manna (a symbol of God’s faithfulness – Exodus 16:32-34), and a white stone (a token of entry to a feast). In between is an assessment of the church, and here it comes in two parts. What is Jesus looking for? Two things…

A church that holds to Jesus… despite the onslaught (13)

Pergamum is a place where Satan lives – it is renowned for Emperor worship – and Antipas has already been killed, probably for refusing to give worship to the Emperor (known as ‘Lord, Saviour, and God’). Despite that, the church has “remained true” to Jesus’ name (literally, it has ‘held fast’ to his name. In other words, the church has seen that the sword in Jesus’ mouth is more powerful than the sword of the Roman executioner (compare Luke 12:4).

A church that rejects the lies… despite the seduction (14-16)

Jesus is looking for a church that has rejects the lies, but the church in Pergamum has fallen down on this. In the book of Numbers, Balaam was called on to curse the people of Israel, but instead gave them a blessing (Numbers 22-24). Later, though, he changed his tactic and sent in foreigners to seduce the people of Israel into idol worship and sexual compromise (Numbers 25:1, compare Jude 1:11). In the same way at Pergamum, preaching voices are advocating more compromise in the church in the area of idol worship and sexual immorality, and no-one is disciplining them. That is probably what the Nicolaitans are also saying

 

Suggestions for any tricky bits?

What is the story with Balaam?

It’s hard to piece the whole story together from Numbers, but it seems that when God turned his curses to blessing, he found another way to lead the people of Israel astray with Moabite women (Numbers 25:1-2; Numbers 31:14-16). Certainly, Old and New Testament writers are clear about his evil influence (Micah 6:4-5; 2 Peter 2:15; Jude 1:11).

What is the white stone?

There are several possible meanings of the white stone, but they were sometimes used as entry cards for feasts, and it’s most likely that that’s the meaning here.

 

Summary of author’s main point

The church at Pergamum has held to Jesus’ name despite persecution, but tolerated false teaching, and is in danger of Christ’s judgement if it does not repent.

Aim/purpose for original audience

Hold to Jesus’ name despite persecution, and repent of false teaching, in order to endure and avoid Christ’s judgement.

Aim/purpose for us today

Hold to Jesus’ name despite persecution, and repents of any false teaching, in order to be a church that lasts and avoids judgement.

Key area of application

Jesus knows how much persecution we face from a hostile world, or a difficult boss, or a mocking family. As a church we need to pray for each other’s perseverance, and repent of compromised teaching, as we cling to Jesus and wait for our promised reward.

Revelation 2:8-11

Bible Passage: [Rev 2:8-11 NIV]

8 ‘To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:

These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. 9 I know your afflictions and your poverty – yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.

11 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.


Key OT/NT passages on how this passage fits within the Bible story as a whole

We’re in the last days. Ever since death entered the world (Gen 3), we’ve been awaiting the promised Messiah, the servant of the Lord (Isaiah 53), the one to crush the serpent’s head. He came 2000 years ago, at the cross defeated death (Col 2:14-15) and now holds the keys of death and Hades (Rev 1:18). He rose again (eg Luke 24 & Isaiah 53) and reigns on the throne in the heavenly realms. He will return to judge, but in the meantime his church is to patiently endure. This will involve suffering for the church, but Jesus is a man who knows suffering and controls it (1 Corinth 10:13).


Brief note on context/key themes of book

The book of Revelation is written by John to the suffering church (Revelation 1:9) under the Roman Emperor Domitian (81-96AD). It is an epistle (Revelation 1:4), about the gospel of Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:6), founded on the sovereignty of God (Revelation 1:7-8). Having presented us with a picture of Jesus in all his glory (Revelation chapters 1-3), it shows us a glimpse of heaven (Revelation chapters 4-5) and the way in which the lamb deals with God’s wrath. What follows is a series of overlapping picture that take us through from the present age to the return of Christ (chapters 6-7, 8-11, 12-14, 15-16, 17-18, 19 and 20). The final vision shows the New Jerusalem – Eden exceeded, and the temple fulfilled (chapters 21-22). This glimpse of heaven (‘Revelation’ literally means ‘an unveiling’) has a pastoral purpose. It is to show the suffering church that whatever is going on, God is on the throne, and is bringing everything to an end – his people, cared for by the risen Lord Jesus, will be safe.


Structure of the passage [a breakdown of verses with brief summary]

  • Like all of the letters, Rev 2:8-11 contains:

  • 1. a command to write to the church’s angel (v8 Smyrna)

  • 2. Christ’s self-description (v8 First and Last, who died and came back to life)

  • 3. Christ’s knowledge of the church (v9 I know your afflictions and poverty (yet rich))

  • 4. A commendation and / or rebuke  (No rebuke here, but imlicit commendation for their suffering v9)

  • 5. A command to repent or persevere (Do not be afraid but be faithful even to death)

  • 6. A call to hear the Spirit’s message (v11 as in others)

  • 7. A promise for those who are victorious (not hurt by the second death)

The first and last (7th) letters are the most negative, but this (the 2nd) and 6th are the most positive. There’s no rebuke and they seem to be doing very well, but they still need an encouragent to persevere.

2 encouragements to persevere (in suffering):

Jesus is sovereign in suffering, v9-10

Jesus’ sovereignty not unique to this letter, but dominant theme here.

  1. He knows the present - your afflictions, poverty and slander

He knows their afflictions and their poverty. Despite poverty of Christians in Smyrna, they are spiritually rich. They have every blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1). Maybe their poverty is related to Jews slandering and getting them in to trouble with the Roman occupation, but Jesus knows. Jews called a Synagogue of Satan because these ones are against God’s people, like Satan. It is not anti-semitic, afterall Jesus and John are both Jewish. Afflictions and poverty terrible but controlled.

  1. He knows the future - more persecution is coming, but definite limit

This brings great comfort. Not that he stops suffering, but he controls it. He says it is for 10 days. This is a definite, limited time. It will get worse, but it will end.

Jesus is risen, so we will too v8, 10 & 11

v8 the one speaking from Ch 1, particular emphasis on his resurrection. Why? He died, he came to life, so you can be faithful unto death. If suffering leads to death, you will come alive too.

So don’t fear what people might do to you. If you are confident of the resurrection, no threats stick. What’s the worst they can do to me?

end of v10, Following the pattern of Jesus, the one who dies receives a reward of life.

v11 the one who is victorious (or overcomes) cannot die again.


Suggestions for any tricky bits? [e.g. particular verses or likely thorny questions]

v9, Jews, who are not Jews are called a synagogue of Satan: Satan is against God’s people and against God’s purposes, called ‘the accuser’. It seems that here these guys, who according to Jesus aren’t real Jews (although they may call themselves Jewish) are slandering the Christians in Smyrna, leading them to prison and possible death. They are against God’s people.


v10, 10 days: what does the number 10 represent in Revelation - some commentries say it’s a big number, some say it’s a small number. We know it’s a known, limited, definite number and it will end.


Summary of author’s main point

Jesus knows what you’re facing, and that there’s more suffering to come, but be faithful, persevere even unto death, and resurrection life will follow.


Aim/purpose for original audience

Reassurance that you can persevere because suffering will be finite says the risen Jesus, so don’t fear suffering, instead be faithful, even unto death.


Aim/purpose for us today

If suffering, be reassured that Jesus knows intimately and suffering will end, so don’t fear, instead be faithful


Key areas of application

Have a big view of Jesus and a right view of present suffering.

Don’t fear what people can do to us, continue to confess that the risen Jesus is Lord. Be bold.

Pray for the persecuted church to have a big view of the sovereign, risen Jesus, not fearing the future and persevering even unto death.




Revelation 2:1-7

Bible Passage: Revelation 2:1-7

2:1 'To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands.

 2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.

 3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.

 4 Yet I hold this against you: you have forsaken the love you had at first.

 5 Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.

 6 But you have this in your favour: you hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

 7 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. (Rev. 2:1-7 NIV)

 

Key OT/NT passages on how this passage fits within the Bible story as a whole

God reveals himself in the Garden of Eden as a God of love – he is the one who will care for and look after Adam and Eve. Even when they have turned away from him in the Fall and all its consequences, God’s love is still remarkably evident towards his people (Exodus 34:6). God’s relationship with his people is a love-relationship, and even the law, at its heart, it a response of love towards a loving God (Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Luke 10:27). In this context, God’s people are repeatedly pictured as God’s bride (Song of Songs, Isaiah 49:18, Hosea 2:16, Jeremiah 2:2). The New Testament picks up the analogy in Ephesians 5:22-33 and 2 Corinthians 11:2-3. The 2 Corinthians reference, particularly, warns the church in Corinth about the danger of unfaithfulness in their love-relationship with their Lord. “2 I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy.” Writes Paul. “I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him.  3 But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the snake's cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” Revelation 2:4 picks up strongly on this warning about true love being lost, before describing the perfect ‘marriage’ between Christ and his church in Revelation 21.

 

Brief note on context/key themes of book

The book of Revelation is written by John to the suffering church (Revelation 1:9) under the Roman Emperor Domitian (81-96AD). It is an epistle (Revelation 1:4), about the gospel of Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:6), founded on the sovereignty of God (Revelation 1:7-8). Having presented us with a picture of Jesus in all his glory (Revelation chapters 1-3), it shows us a glimpse of heaven (Revelation chapters 4-5) and the way in which the lamb deals with God’s wrath. What follows is a series of overlapping picture that take us through from the present age to the return of Christ (chapters 6-7, 8-11, 12-14, 15-16, 17-18, 19 and 20). The final vision shows the New Jerusalem – Eden exceeded, and the temple fulfilled (chapters 21-22). This glimpse of heaven (‘Revelation’ literally means ‘an unveiling’) has a pastoral purpose. It is to show the suffering church that whatever is going on, God is on the throne, and is bringing everything to an end – his people, cared for by the risen Lord Jesus, will be safe.

 

Structure of the passage

Revelation 2:1-7, like each of the letters to the seven churches, contains seven main elements.

  • a command to write to the church’s angel

  • Christ’s self-description

  • Christ’s knowledge of the church

  • A commendation and / or rebuke

  • A command to repent or persevere

  • A call to hear the Spirit’s message

  • A promise for those who are victorious

The first and last of the seven letters (to Ephesus and Laodicea) are the most negative, and while this letter contains two commendations, the rebuke in verse 4 is devastating. Three ideas emerge about what the risen Christ Jesus of chapter 1 is looking for in the local church…

A church that keeps going (2,3)

We know from Acts 19 that the church in Ephesus was born into persecution – the city was famous for (and financially dependent on) its idolatry and the temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the world. This is a church commended for its ability to persevere through hard times, toil and labour away, and endure hardships (Revelation 1:2-3). Even 15 years after Paul last visited the church, they have not grown weary of working for Jesus’ name (Revelation 2:3).

A church that keeps testing (2,6)

In Acts 20:28-31, Paul warned the Ephesian elders that savage wolves would come in and try and devour the flock, and that they would have to be on their guard. And so it has turned out. False teachers, claiming to be apostles, have indeed come, and the church has rejected them. They have tested them and found them to be false (Revelation 2:2). The practices of the Nicolaitans are hated by Jesus, and rightly hated by the Ephesian church too.

A church that keeps loving (4-5)

Despite all of this evidence of right activity, the church in Ephesus receives a devastating assessment of their love – it is nothing like the love they had at first. The word for ‘forsaken’ is a strong one – they have abandoned their first love for Jesus and each other, despite the heartfelt prayers of the apostle Paul in his epistle (Ephesians 3:16-19). They are in genuine danger – their lack of love threatens their very survival. Only those who repent will eat fully and finally from the tree of life Revelation 2:7, compare Revelation 22:2,14,19).

Suggestions for any tricky bits?

Who are the Nicolaitans?

It’s not completely clear who the Nicolaitans were – they’re mentioned by some early church fathers, but there’s no real agreement about what they believed and did. It’s possible that the references in the seven letters to false teachers are all referring to the same heresy (e.g. the false apostles in Revelation 2:2, the ‘teaching of Balaam’ in Revelation 2:14, and Jezebel in Revelation 2:20. If that’s the case, it seems to be a kind of permissive teaching about food sacrificed to idols and sexual immorality. Note that this heresy is the exact opposite of the findings of the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15:29).

 

Summary of author’s main point

The risen Jesus, who holds the churches in his hands, longs for a church which perseveres, rejects wrong teaching, and holds to its first love – this kind of church will last.

 

Aim/purpose for original audience

To know that the risen Lord Jesus holds your church in his hands – persevere, reject wrong teaching, and hold to your first love, and you will last.

 

Aim/purpose for us today

To know that the risen Lord Jesus holds our church in his hands – and so to persevere, reject wrong teaching, and hold to our first love, knowing that we will last.

 

Key area of application

It is more than possible to imperceptibly lose the love we had when we first became Christians, and serve out of duty, or habit, or peer pressure. Getting older doesn’t guarantee that you’re getting closer to Jesus. Loving Jesus means obeying his commandments – it is an act of the will – but at it’s heart is a devotion to Jesus that can empty out, leaving a shell of heartless action. People like that are in imminent danger. If we’ve fallen in love with the task, and not the saviour, it’s never too soon to repent and re-establish the love-relationship that Jesus desires to have with us.

Revelation 1:9-20

Bible Passage: Revelation 1:9-20

 

9 I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.

 10 On the Lord's Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet,

 11 which said: 'Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.'

 12 I turned round to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands,

 13 and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash round his chest.

 14 The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire.

 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters.

 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

 17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: 'Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.

 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

 19 'Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later.

 20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. (Rev. 1:9-20 NIV)

 

Key OT/NT passages on how this passage fits within the Bible story as a whole

The God of the Bible is a God of great glory, power, and perfect holiness. Visual images stress his character throughout the Old Testament (Daniel 7:9, 10:6, Ezekiel 1:24, 43:2) – he is pictured in all of his burning purity. Into one of these visions, in Daniel 7, comes one “coming with the clouds of heaven” who is able to enter God’s presence. According to the text, “He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”

 

The New Testament presents us with Jesus Christ, one who shares the Father’s divine authority (John 1:1). Calling himself the Son of Man, he appears in resurrection glory (John 20:26-28). He is the one who superintends his church as the risen and ascended Lord, and will bring everything to completion in the new creation (Revelation 21).

 

Brief note on context/key themes of book

The book of Revelation is written by John to the suffering church (Revelation 1:9) under the Roman Emperor Domitian (81-96AD). It is an epistle (Revelation 1:4), about the gospel of Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:6), founded on the sovereignty of God (Revelation 1:7-8). Having presented us with a picture of Jesus in all his glory (Revelation chapters 1-3), it shows us a glimpse of heaven (Revelation chapters 4-5) and the way in which the lamb deals with God’s wrath. What follows is a series of overlapping picture that take us through from the present age to the return of Christ (chapters 6-7, 8-11, 12-14, 15-16, 17-18, 19 and 20). The final vision shows the New Jerusalem – Eden exceeded, and the temple fulfilled (chapters 21-22). This glimpse of heaven (‘Revelation’ literally means ‘an unveiling’) has a pastoral purpose. It is to show the suffering church that what ever is going on, God is on the throne, and is bringing everything to an end – his people, cared for by the risen Lord Jesus, will be safe.

 

Structure of the passage

After the book’s introduction in verses 1-8, the suffering apostle John is shown a vision of the glorious, risen and ascended, Jesus Christ. The purpose is to strengthen and encourage his church.

In the light of this vision…

Christians may suffer but they’re undefeated (9-11)

John is in political exile on the island penal colony of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. He, like the churches he’s writing to, is experiencing the suffering that comes ‘in Jesus’ (Revelation 1:9). But he belongs to the kingdom. And as such, he is able to patiently endure (Revelation 1:9).

Christians are stunned but they’re not afraid (12-17)

The vision of Jesus that he sees is drawn both from the appearance of the Son of Man in Daniel 7, and the appearance of God himself (Isaiah 41:4, 44:6, 48:12, Ezekiel 1:24, 43:2). he is the first and the last, but Christians are not to be afraid (Revelation 1:17). He holds the churches in his hand (Revelation 1:20).

Christians are dying but they are eternally alive (18)

John is an old man, and the church is seeing martyrs killed under Roman persecution. Jesus reminds them that he himself died, but is now alive. Indeed, he holds the keys of death and Hades. With this powerful Lord caring for them, death is no longer anything to be feared.

 

Suggestions for any tricky bits?

What are the ‘angels’ of the seven churches?

It’s not 100% clear what the ‘angels’ represent – they may signify (1) the heavenly angels who protect the church, or (2) the human leaders of the church, or (3) the personality of the church itself. Commentators differ as to which is the most likely. All have their problems, but because human beings can be ‘angels’ or ‘messengers’ (see Luke 7:24 and 9:52), and they are the most natural recipients of the letters, this seems the most likely.

 

Summary of author’s main point

Christ’s glory is evident in the midst of suffering; held by him, Christians can and will persevere to eternal life.

 

Aim/purpose for original audience

To see Christ’s glory in the midst of suffering, and be reassured that, held by him, Christians can and will persevere to eternal life.

 

Aim/purpose for us today

To see Christ’s glory in the midst of suffering, and be reassured that, held by him, Christians can and will persevere to eternal life.

 

Key area of application

When attacks and suffering come, the pain is real, and our immediate reaction is to turn to ourselves and look and see where we are hurt, and what we can do to survive. Can we keep looking to a risen and ascended Jesus Christ, even when we’re in pain? Counter-intuitively, strength under suffering comes from looking outside of ourselves.

Ezekiel 47-48

Bible passages: Ezekiel 47:1-12 and 48:30-35 

47 The man brought me back to the entrance to the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple towards the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar. He then brought me out through the north gate and led me round the outside to the outer gate facing east, and the water was trickling from the south side.

As the man went eastward with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and then led me through water that was ankle-deep. He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep. He measured off another thousand and led me through water that was up to the waist. He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river that I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in – a river that no one could cross. He asked me, ‘Son of man, do you see this?’

Then he led me back to the bank of the river. When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river. He said to me, ‘This water flows towards the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh. Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. 10 Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets. The fish will be of many kinds – like the fish of the Mediterranean Sea. 11 But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt. 12 Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.’

48 30 ‘These will be the exits of the city: beginning on the north side, which is 4,500 cubits long, 31 the gates of the city will be named after the tribes of Israel. The three gates on the north side will be the gate of Reuben, the gate of Judah and the gate of Levi.

32 ‘On the east side, which is 4,500 cubits long, will be three gates: the gate of Joseph, the gate of Benjamin and the gate of Dan.

33 ‘On the south side, which measures 4,500 cubits, will be three gates: the gate of Simeon, the gate of Issachar and the gate of Zebulun.

34 ‘On the west side, which is 4,500 cubits long, will be three gates: the gate of Gad, the gate of Asher and the gate of Naphtali.

35 ‘The distance all around will be 18,000 cubits.

‘And the name of the city from that time on will be:

the Lord is there.’

 

Key OT/NT passages on how this passage fits within the Bible story as a whole

The garden of Eden was a place of abundant life, a place of perfect order, and a place where God walked with his people (Gen 3:8). Because of sin and the fall, the creation order starts to come undone – creation is put into reverse, and the world becomes a place of death, chaos, and estrangement from God. Indeed, one of the central questions in the Bible becomes the question of how a holy God can dwell with a sinful people (e.g. Num 35:34). The answer, ultimately, is found in the perfect life and sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. He is the one who dwells among his people (John 1:14). In him and by faith, his people are taken to a new creation where there is once again abundant life, perfect order, and the dwelling-place of God forever (Rev 21-22).

Brief note on key themes of book

Ezekiel was one of the people taken into exile in 2 Kings 24, during the first Babylonian attack on Jerusalem. As he sits with the exiles by the River Kebar, God himself appears. The book of Ezekiel is full of accusations against Israel (chapters 1-24), judgement on the nations (25-32), and a picture of new hope (34-48). It is all about their failure under the Old Covenant, and the promise of the New (36). In essence, though, it teaches us three main things:

  • God is present with his people in all of his majesty and holiness

  • His people have hard hearts which need to be transformed

  • Only a sin-bearing sacrifice, a new covenant and a new creation can bring about what God has promised. 

 

Brief notes on the immediate context of the passage

In Chapters 34-37 God promised to give the exiles new-life with him. He would give them a new shepherd, re-create them by his Spirit, cleanse them and give them obedient hearts under God’s king and in God’s presence forever. What is more, Chapters 38-39 show that God needs to defeat his enemies if he’s going to rescue a people to be in his presence forever. Rescue and judgement must always go together.

Chapters 40-48 show the result of this great victory. There is a new and better temple, greater and more secure than anything God’s people have previously had. They will live with him as a new nation (44-46), in a new creation (47-48), where the new city is known as “The LORD is there” (48:35).

 

Structure of the passage

Chapters 47 and 48 form the conclusion of the book. In language that is picked up strongly in Revelation 21 and 22, it describes the ultimate destination of God’s people under the new covenant; a place of perfect life, order and fellowship with God.

A place where life spreads (47:1-12)

The stream in chapter 47 begins on the south side of the altar – where the bronze sea would have been in Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 7:23). It grows dramatically in size, bringing life where there was once death. It brings the kind of abundance only previously seen in the Garden of Eden. In fact, this river is a central feature of the new Jerusalem too (Rev 22:1) – the river of the water of life. This is the living water that Jesus himself offers, representing the Spirit (John 7:38-39).

A place of perfect order (47:13-48:29)

The inheritance promised to Abraham is finally and fully provided (47:14, compare Gen 15:7). It even involves the outsider, and anyone who wants to come into God’s people (47:22). The land which they inherit, though, is perfectly distributed among the twelve tribes in a pattern of perfect symmetry (48:1-29). The perfect order of Eden has been restored and surpassed, as it will be in the new creation (Rev 21:17-21). This is creation as it should be.

A city where God himself dwells (48:30-35)

The vision ends with a picture of a new city, right at the centre of the new nation (48:15). This city has twelve gates – it is accessible for all. But vitally, it takes its name as the dwelling-place of God himself – “the LORD is there”. Without God’s presence, the city was destroyed (Eze chapters 8-11). With his presence the city is restored and permanent (Eze chs. 40-48). Indeed, the new Jerusalem will be the place where God dwells with his people forever, and the lamb is at the centre (Rev 22:3-4).

Suggestions for any tricky bits?

Why is the new city in a different place from the new temple?

48:21 suggests that the temple is separate from the new city, although the two remain closely connected. Some of the imagery seems to shift in this final part of the vision, to emphasise the centrality of the new city where God’s name dwells. It’s a process completed in the book of Revelation, where the new city becomes everything, there is no more temple (Rev 21:22), and God dwelling with his people becomes the central feature of the new creation (Rev 21:3).

Summary of author’s main point

Exiled people are to set their ambitions on the new creation, full of life, order, and God’s permanent presence.

Purpose for original audience

As exiles, set your ambition on the new creation, full of life, order, and God’s permanent presence.

Purpose for us today

As exiles and strangers, set your ambition on the New Jerusalem, full of eternal life, total order, and the perfect presence of the throne and the lamb.

Key area of application

Would people know from the direction of your life that you are heading to the New Jerusalem? How will you be ambitious for the new creation, hating sin, gaining a new heart and spirit, and doing everything possible to attain God’s presence for eternity?

Ezekiel 44-46

Bible Passages:

Ezekiel 44:1-16

44 Then the man brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary, the one facing east, and it was shut. 2 The Lord said to me, ‘This gate is to remain shut. It must not be opened; no one may enter through it. It is to remain shut because the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered through it. 3 The prince himself is the only one who may sit inside the gateway to eat in the presence of the Lord. He is to enter by way of the portico of the gateway and go out the same way.’

4 Then the man brought me by way of the north gate to the front of the temple. I looked and saw the glory of the Lord filling the temple of the Lord, and I fell face down.

5 The Lord said to me, ‘Son of man, look carefully, listen closely and give attention to everything I tell you concerning all the regulations and instructions regarding the temple of the Lord. Give attention to the entrance to the temple and all the exits of the sanctuary. 6 Say to rebellious Israel, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: enough of your detestable practices, people of Israel! 7 In addition to all your other detestable practices, you brought foreigners uncircumcised in heart and flesh into my sanctuary, desecrating my temple while you offered me food, fat and blood, and you broke my covenant. 8 Instead of carrying out your duty in regard to my holy things, you put others in charge of my sanctuary. 9 This is what the Sovereign Lord says: no foreigner uncircumcised in heart and flesh is to enter my sanctuary, not even the foreigners who live among the Israelites.

10 ‘“The Levites who went far from me when Israel went astray and who wandered from me after their idols must bear the consequences of their sin. 11 They may serve in my sanctuary, having charge of the gates of the temple and serving in it; they may slaughter the burnt offerings and sacrifices for the people and stand before the people and serve them. 12 But because they served them in the presence of their idols and made the people of Israel fall into sin, therefore I have sworn with uplifted hand that they must bear the consequences of their sin, declares the Sovereign Lord. 13 They are not to come near to serve me as priests or come near any of my holy things or my most holy offerings; they must bear the shame of their detestable practices. 14 And I will appoint them to guard the temple for all the work that is to be done in it.

15 ‘“But the Levitical priests, who are descendants of Zadok and who guarded my sanctuary when the Israelites went astray from me, are to come near to minister before me; they are to stand before me to offer sacrifices of fat and blood, declares the Sovereign Lord. 16 They alone are to enter my sanctuary; they alone are to come near my table to minister before me and serve me as guards.

 

Ezekiel 45:1-17

45 ‘“When you allot the land as an inheritance, you are to present to the Lord a portion of the land as a sacred district, 25,000 cubits long and 20,000 cubits wide; the entire area will be holy. 2 Of this, a section 500 cubits square is to be for the sanctuary, with 50 cubits around it for open land. 3 In the sacred district, measure off a section 25,000 cubits long and 10,000 cubits wide. In it will be the sanctuary, the Most Holy Place. 4 It will be the sacred portion of the land for the priests, who minister in the sanctuary and who draw near to minister before the Lord. It will be a place for their houses as well as a holy place for the sanctuary. 5 An area 25,000 cubits long and 10,000 cubits wide will belong to the Levites, who serve in the temple, as their possession for towns to live in.

6 ‘“You are to give the city as its property an area 5,000 cubits wide and 25,000 cubits long, adjoining the sacred portion; it will belong to all Israel.

7 ‘“The prince will have the land bordering each side of the area formed by the sacred district and the property of the city. It will extend westward from the west side and eastward from the east side, running lengthwise from the western to the eastern border parallel to one of the tribal portions. 8 This land will be his possession in Israel. And my princes will no longer oppress my people but will allow the people of Israel to possess the land according to their tribes.

9 ‘“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: you have gone far enough, princes of Israel! Give up your violence and oppression and do what is just and right. Stop dispossessing my people, declares the Sovereign Lord. 10 You are to use accurate scales, an accurate ephah and an accurate bath. 11 The ephah and the bath are to be the same size, the bath containing a tenth of a homer and the ephah a tenth of a homer; the homer is to be the standard measure for both. 12 The shekel is to consist of twenty gerahs. Twenty shekels plus twenty-five shekels plus fifteen shekels equal one mina.

13 ‘“This is the special gift you are to offer: a sixth of an ephah from each homer of wheat and a sixth of an ephah from each homer of barley. 14 The prescribed portion of olive oil, measured by the bath, is a tenth of a bath from each cor (which consists of ten baths or one homer, for ten baths are equivalent to a homer). 15 Also one sheep is to be taken from every flock of two hundred from the well-watered pastures of Israel. These will be used for the grain offerings, burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to make atonement for the people, declares the Sovereign Lord. 16 All the people of the land will be required to give this special offering to the prince in Israel. 17 It will be the duty of the prince to provide the burnt offerings, grain offerings and drink offerings at the festivals, the New Moons and the Sabbaths – at all the appointed festivals of Israel. He will provide the sin offerings, grain offerings, burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to make atonement for the Israelites.

 

Key OT/NT passages on how this passage fits within the Bible story as a whole

God made human beings to live in his place, enjoying his presence and obeying his commands (Genesis 2). But human beings rejected God’s rule and so were cast out of his place (Genesis 3). The LORD promised Abraham that he would make him into a great and blessed nation (Genesis 12:1-3) and that nation became the people of Israel. God rescued them from slavery and brought them into the promised land. The LORD promised he would be with them if they worshipped him alone and, through sacrifice, ensured a Holy God could be among them (Exodus 25:1-9, Deuteronomy 28, Leviticus 16). He came to live in the temple and among his people (1 Kings 8).

 

But the nation turned from God. Kings led the people astray, and they misused the temple and worshipped other gods (see, for example, 2 Chronicles 21:11, 24:17-19, 26:16-20, 33:1-9). Eventually the Lord judged his people by sending them into exile and by leaving the temple (Ezekiel 8-11). The nation was scattered and no longer knew God’s blessing. While the people were later brought back to the land and rebuilt the temple (Ezra 3: 10-13), the LORD’s glory was not present with them.

 

But God came to be with his people in the person of Jesus, the location of his glory (John 1:14). He was the humble prince who gave himself up for others (Mark 10:45). He drew others to worship and give God glory (John 17:1) as he gave himself as a sacrifice. He was the faithful and holy priest who served the LORD purely. He gives us secure access to God’s presence. (Hebrews 4:14-5:10, 10:1-14). By faith in him we have been made into a new nation of priests in God’s service (1 Peter 2:4-10). And we are also now God’s place together. He is present in us as the Spirit lives within us (Ephesians 2:19-22). One day, Jesus will renew creation. We will be his fully faithful nation and fully enjoy his presence for eternity (Revelation 21).

 

Brief note on key themes of book

Ezekiel was one of the people taken into exile in 2 Kings 24, during the first Babylonian attack on Jerusalem. As he sits with the exiles by the River Kebar, God himself appears. The book of Ezekiel is full of accusations against Israel (chapters 1-24), judgement on the nations (25-32), and a picture of new hope (34-48). It is all about their failure under the Old Covenant, and the promise of the New (36). In essence, though, it teaches us three main things:

  • God is present with his people in all of his majesty and holiness

  • his people have hard hearts which need to be transformed

  • only a sin-bearing sacrifice, a new covenant and a new creation can bring about what God has promised.

Brief notes on the immediate context of the passage

Ch40-48 are Ezekiel’s 4th and final vision, 25 years after the people went into exile. The LORD promises that his new covenant people (with the new heart, Spirit and king of chapters 34-37) will come to a new and better temple (ch 41-42). And the LORD’s glory will be present there (Ch43). But the LORD is as holy as ever and still opposed to all sin. What would the restored nation need to be like too ensure God remained with them? That is what chapters 44-46 is all about. In chapters 47-48, this vision of the temple and nation becomes eternal and sinless. One day life will flow from God’s presence and renew all creation. His new covenant nation will be present in a new creation that will last forever. There will be no more sin or sacrifice. That place will be known as “The LORD is there” (48:35)

Structure of the passage

All of chapters 44-46 takes place within the fourth of Ezekiel’s visions (see Ezekiel 40:1). This part of that vision is in the form of the LORD’s instruction to his people. Now that the LORD’s glory has entered the temple and will not leave (Ezekiel 44:1-5), what will the nation in his lasting presence need to be like? It’s important to remember that these commands appear in a vision. They are not to be taken literally. God is using instructions familiar to the exiles to paint a picture of the three things a new nation in his presence needs: the priests (Ezekiel 44), the place (Ezekiel 45:1-8) and the prince (Ezekiel 45:9-46:24).

 

1)     We need a holy priest with access to the holy Lord (Ezekiel 44)

The God of Israel has entered his temple and will not leave (v3). That’s why the commands the LORD gives are all about entrances and exits to the temple (v5). Who gets to have access to a holy God? Because they have treated the LORD’s holiness with contempt, the people and the Levites cannot have access to him in his sanctuary (v6-14). But the LORD will provide faithful priests who can access him and serve him, and so ensure the nation can be in his presence (v15-16). They will be holy like the God they serve is holy, showing in their lives that they are different from those around them (v17-31). This promise is fulfilled in Jesus, our priest (Hebrews 2:17). He lived a holy and faithful life and died a holy and faithful death. He has total access to God, and he shares it with us too (Hebrews 4:14-16). We can enjoy sharing in his inheritance – enjoying the privileges of access we have now and looking forward to those we’ll have in the new creation.

 

2)     We need a place with worship of the LORD at its heart (Ezekiel 45:1-8)

The new nation’s land is going to have the LORD at its heart. The Lord will have his sacred district (v1), housing his sanctuary and his priestly servants (v3-4). All his people will be close to him. The Levites (v5) will be in an area nearby and the city (which belongs to all the people) will adjoin the LORD’s own district (v6). The prince will have his place, but he’s not the centre of attention (v7). This is completely different from what the exiles had experienced before. Before the exile, it had always been unclear who was at the centre – the king or the LORD. But now there’s no ambiguity. The king here is called a prince because the LORD is the true king. God decides who gets what land, and the new nation will be formed around him. Today, God’s place/land is the church – the people who have come into relationship with him through Jesus. God comes to live in us together by his Spirit (Ephesians 2:22). Nowhere else in the world is like our local churches. Only gathered together will we be encouraged to focus on God rather than human interests and human power.

 

3)     We need a humble prince who provides our sacrifice (Ezekiel 45:9-46:24)

This section has four sub-parts expressing the will of the Sovereign LORD (see 45:9, 18, 46:1, 16). But they all have a common theme. Up until now the people have had princes who have dispossessed them from the land for their own selfish interests (45:9), but now the Lord will provide a prince who will provide sacrifices to cover the people’s sin. He will do this by ensuring the just measurements needed to ensure the right quantities of different items are sacrificed (v10-15). But he’d also be responsible for providing everything needed for the sacrifice that removes the Israelites’ guilt for sin and makes them at one with God again (45:16-17). The rest of the passage shows him doing just this (in yearly festivals -45:18-25 and more frequent festivals -46:1-12). Every sin will be covered because these sacrifices will take place morning by morning (46:13-15). Animal sacrifices will not ultimately cover human sin because an animal cannot take our place and our guilt (Hebrews 10:1-4). But God fulfils this promise through Jesus, the ruler who came and humbly gave his own life for others (Mark 10:45). At the cross, the perfect human being took our punishment so that our sins against God could be totally forgiven, now and forever.

 

Suggestions for any tricky bits?

What’s with all the ‘law’ in the middle of this vision!?

See opening notes on the structure above.

 

What was so wrong about bringing the foreigners into the temple (44:7)?

It’s important to note that the rebellious Israelites, not the foreigners, are being addressed here (v6). By handing over responsibility for the temple to people who were not in God’s people physically or spiritually (the ‘uncircumcised in heart and flesh’) they had shown they had no appreciation for the perfection of God’s character and the seriousness of human rejection of him. Entering God’s presence as an unrepentant sinner is dangerous (Hebrews 10:31).

 

Is sacrifice really necessary?

See the notes on 45:9-46:24 above. We won’t appreciate sacrifices until we appreciate the seriousness of human sin. Animal sacrifices were a provisional way of dealing with human sin. The sacrifices showed that human sin deserves judgement, and that God graciously intended to provide a substitute to whom the guilt and punishment would be transferred. But the animals couldn’t actually take away human guilt (Hebrews 10:1-4). Jesus came to fulfil the promise of a substitute the sacrifices pointed to (Hebrews 10:8-14). His self-sacrifice was once and for all and makes us perfect before God. No further sacrifice is needed to forgive our sins and unite us with God.

 

What are all these different sacrifices for?

Different types of sacrifice are mentioned in this passage – burnt offerings, grain offerings, drink offerings and sin offerings. But in Ezekiel they all have the same purpose. They are to make atonement for the people (v15, 17), to bring the people and God together by removing the guilt and punishment the nation deserved for its sin. The two exceptions to this are the atonement for the temple and sins committed there (v18-20), which underscores the holiness of God’s place, and the free will and fellowship offerings of the prince.

 

How can the prince be Jesus if he’s described as having descendants (46:16) and providing sacrifice for his own sins (45:22)?

Its essential that we remember that this is a vision in the form of law, not law in the form of vision. Ezekiel was given a vision in terms he and his original hearers would have understood. The details are painting a picture for us, but they are not literal. The big point of 46:16-18 is that the prince has no reason to be unjust towards his people, because his own inheritance from the Lord is secure (v16-18). He can therefore humbly give himself to his main task, which in this passage is overwhelmingly the provision of sacrifices for others. The 45:22 is less clear because Jesus never sinned (Hebrews 4:14-15), but Ezekiel is again using a form of law the people would have been familiar with. Offering sacrifices is what the exiles would have expected an obedient and humble ruler who loved God to do, and that’s how we should understand it’s message. We need to read this passage considering what we’ve heard already in Ezekiel. The title prince has been used before in ways that make it clear they describe the forever king in the line of David who God sends to shepherd and unite his people (Ezekiel 34:24, 37:24-25).

 

How can Jesus be the temple, the priest, the sacrifice and the prince?

Jesus is the temple, because he is the place where God’s glory dwells (John 1:14, 2:19-22) and where we meet with God. Jesus is the priest and sacrifice because he sacrifices himself once and for all (Hebrews 10:8-13) to make us perfect in God’s eyes. He is the prince because he comes to lead, unite and shepherd his people (Ezekiel 34:24, John 10:14-18). God used each of these images in the Old Testament to show us that Jesus’s death, resurrection and rule is not his plan B, but the eternally planned answer to all of his promises (Luke 24:44-49, 2 Corinthians 1:20). The extent of God’s work in his divine Son Jesus is so great that no one of these images can ever fully capture all that we have to praise him for.

 

Hey, what about 46:19-24?

Good spot! The ‘super-structure’ to the whole of Ezekiel’s 4th vision is a tour of the new and better temple (starting in Ezekiel 40:1-4). In Ezekiel 44:1-4 Ezekiel gets to the north gate in front of the temple and this is where the vision-commands of Ezekiel 44:5-46:18 are given. In 46:19-24 Ezekiel finishes the tour (as sacrifices have been the dominant feature of chapter 46 its fitting that Ezekiel should now be shown the kitchens used for preparing those sacrifices.) This close to his first tour then prepares us (and Ezekiel) to leave the temple and look at it again in Ezekiel 47:1, where something new is happening…!

Summary of author’s main point

The new nation in the LORD’s lasting presence will need holy priests to serve him and a prince who provides a sacrifice for sins. The whole land will focus on his worship.

 

Purpose for original audience

Look forward to a better nation with confidence – your sins will be dealt with; your place will be secure and you’ll worship the Holy God who will remain among you.

Purpose for us today

Christ is the priest and prince who serves and sacrifices to make us a nation with access to the LORD’s presence: serve and worship him together with security and joy.

 

Key area of application

Do we enjoy access to the Holy God?

If we’re quite keen to have a relationship with God but Jesus isn’t in the picture, he needs to be. We can only have access to God through him. If we do know Jesus as our priest, then are we really enjoying that access? When we find ourselves comparing our lives to our friends and thinking that being a Christian brings too many restrictions, remember apparent limitations are only marks of our identity as priests. We get to share in Jesus’ inheritance. We have access to God in prayer, the promises of the new creation, and God’s grace and presence with us every day.

 

Are we making the most of gathering together to centre on God?

There’s no place outside the church where we’ll be encouraged to put God at the heart of our lives. So let’s not give up on meeting with each other frequently and regularly.

 

Are we sure we’re forgiven?

Our sins are a real problem, but they can be completely removed because Jesus gave himself as a sacrifice in our place. Don’t let Easter pass without exploring whether that’s really what was happening on the cross 2000 years ago. And if we’ve been Christians for some time, have we let our forgiveness affect how we feel when our consciences are weighed down by the weight of our sin? Our rejections of God grieve the Spirit and God is so much better than any alternative we cling too, so we should fight sin. But we can do so confidently, knowing we are completely forgiven.