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.

 

Ezekiel 40-43

Bible Passage: Ezekiel 40

40:1 In the twenty-fifth year of our exile, at the beginning of the year, on the tenth of the month, in the fourteenth year after the fall of the city—on that very day the hand of the Lord was on me and he took me there. 2 In visions of God he took me to the land of Israel and set me on a very high mountain, on whose south side were some buildings that looked like a city. 3 He took me there, and I saw a man whose appearance was like bronze; he was standing in the gateway with a linen cord and a measuring rod in his hand. 4 The man said to me, “Son of man, look carefully and listen closely and pay attention to everything I am going to show you, for that is why you have been brought here. Tell the people of Israel everything you see.”

 

5 I saw a wall completely surrounding the temple area. The length of the measuring rod in the man’s hand was six long cubits, each of which was a cubit and a handbreadth. He measured the wall; it was one measuring rod thick and one rod high.

 

6 Then he went to the east gate. He climbed its steps and measured the threshold of the gate; it was one rod deep. 7 The alcoves for the guards were one rod long and one rod wide, and the projecting walls between the alcoves were five cubits thick. And the threshold of the gate next to the portico facing the temple was one rod deep.

 

8 Then he measured the portico of the gateway; 9 it was eight cubits deep and its jambs were two cubits thick. The portico of the gateway faced the temple.

 

10 Inside the east gate were three alcoves on each side; the three had the same measurements, and the faces of the projecting walls on each side had the same measurements. 11 Then he measured the width of the entrance of the gateway; it was ten cubits and its length was thirteen cubits. 12 In front of each alcove was a wall one cubit high, and the alcoves were six cubits square. 13 Then he measured the gateway from the top of the rear wall of one alcove to the top of the opposite one; the distance was twenty-five cubits from one parapet opening to the opposite one. 14 He measured along the faces of the projecting walls all around the inside of the gateway—sixty cubits. The measurement was up to the portico facing the courtyard. 15 The distance from the entrance of the gateway to the far end of its portico was fifty cubits. 16 The alcoves and the projecting walls inside the gateway were surmounted by narrow parapet openings all around, as was the portico; the openings all around faced inward. The faces of the projecting walls were decorated with palm trees.

 

17 Then he brought me into the outer court. There I saw some rooms and a pavement that had been constructed all around the court; there were thirty rooms along the pavement. 18 It abutted the sides of the gateways and was as wide as they were long; this was the lower pavement. 19 Then he measured the distance from the inside of the lower gateway to the outside of the inner court; it was a hundred cubits on the east side as well as on the north.

 

20 Then he measured the length and width of the north gate, leading into the outer court. 21 Its alcoves—three on each side—its projecting walls and its portico had the same measurements as those of the first gateway. It was fifty cubits long and twenty-five cubits wide. 22 Its openings, its portico and its palm tree decorations had the same measurements as those of the gate facing east. Seven steps led up to it, with its portico opposite them. 23 There was a gate to the inner court facing the north gate, just as there was on the east. He measured from one gate to the opposite one; it was a hundred cubits.

 

24 Then he led me to the south side and I saw the south gate. He measured its jambs and its portico, and they had the same measurements as the others. 25 The gateway and its portico had narrow openings all around, like the openings of the others. It was fifty cubits long and twenty-five cubits wide. 26 Seven steps led up to it, with its portico opposite them; it had palm tree decorations on the faces of the projecting walls on each side. 27 The inner court also had a gate facing south, and he measured from this gate to the outer gate on the south side; it was a hundred cubits.

 

28 Then he brought me into the inner court through the south gate, and he measured the south gate; it had the same measurements as the others. 29 Its alcoves, its projecting walls and its portico had the same measurements as the others. The gateway and its portico had openings all around. It was fifty cubits long and twenty-five cubits wide. 30 (The porticoes of the gateways around the inner court were twenty-five cubits wide and five cubits deep.) 31 Its portico faced the outer court; palm trees decorated its jambs, and eight steps led up to it.

 

32 Then he brought me to the inner court on the east side, and he measured the gateway; it had the same measurements as the others. 33 Its alcoves, its projecting walls and its portico had the same measurements as the others. The gateway and its portico had openings all around. It was fifty cubits long and twenty-five cubits wide. 34 Its portico faced the outer court; palm trees decorated the jambs on either side, and eight steps led up to it.

 

35 Then he brought me to the north gate and measured it. It had the same measurements as the others, 36 as did its alcoves, its projecting walls and its portico, and it had openings all around. It was fifty cubits long and twenty-five cubits wide. 37 Its portico faced the outer court; palm trees decorated the jambs on either side, and eight steps led up to it.

 

38 A room with a doorway was by the portico in each of the inner gateways, where the burnt offerings were washed. 39 In the portico of the gateway were two tables on each side, on which the burnt offerings, sin offerings and guilt offerings were slaughtered. 40 By the outside wall of the portico of the gateway, near the steps at the entrance of the north gateway were two tables, and on the other side of the steps were two tables. 41 So there were four tables on one side of the gateway and four on the other—eight tables in all—on which the sacrifices were slaughtered. 42 There were also four tables of dressed stone for the burnt offerings, each a cubit and a half long, a cubit and a half wide and a cubit high. On them were placed the utensils for slaughtering the burnt offerings and the other sacrifices. 43 And double-pronged hooks, each a handbreadth long, were attached to the wall all around. The tables were for the flesh of the offerings.

 

44 Outside the inner gate, within the inner court, were two rooms, one at the side of the north gate and facing south, and another at the side of the south gate and facing north. 45 He said to me, “The room facing south is for the priests who guard the temple, 46 and the room facing north is for the priests who guard the altar. These are the sons of Zadok, who are the only Levites who may draw near to the Lord to minister before him.”

 

47 Then he measured the court: It was square—a hundred cubits long and a hundred cubits wide. And the altar was in front of the temple.

 

48 He brought me to the portico of the temple and measured the jambs of the portico; they were five cubits wide on either side. The width of the entrance was fourteen cubits and its projecting walls were three cubits wide on either side. 49 The portico was twenty cubits wide, and twelve cubits from front to back. It was reached by a flight of stairs, and there were pillars on each side of the jambs. 

 

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

The garden of Eden was a place where God met with his people, Adam and Eve, but their rebellion meant that they had to leave the garden (Gen 3:24) – God could no longer live with them. Later, God gives his rescued people the tabernacle where he could once again live among them (Exodus 25:1-9). Once they had entered the promised land, this became the temple – a dwelling-place for God’s name in his people’s midst (1 Kings 8:29). But the people’s continued rejection of their God led to the abandonment and destruction of the temple. While Nehemiah’s temple was re-established back in the land (Ezra 3:10-13), God’s glory didn’t fill the temple as before. Instead, God came to tabernacle amongst his people in the person of Jesus Christ, the location of his glory (John 1:14). The new Jerusalem will have no need for a temple, for he is at the centre (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), known as “The LORD is there” (48:35).

 

Structure of the passage

Chapters 40-43 contain two main sections, as Ezekiel sees the fourth main vision of the book. Chapters 40-42 show the measurements of a new and better temple, and chapter 43 shows God’s glory once again entering the temple as the altar is cleansed and prepared for use. That gives two main headings.

A perfect homecoming: have you found it? (40:1-42:19)

In this section, a man with a measuring cord and rod gives Ezekiel a tour of the new temple. It’s like the old temple, but larger, and much more secure. There are provisions for the sacrifice (40:38-43), a most holy place at its centre (41:4), and provisions for the priests (42:1-20). For the exiles it will be like coming home. And so when Jesus proclaims himself as a true temple (John 2:19-21), we are meant to find our security and true homecoming in him. There will be no temple in the new creation because Jesus is at the centre (Rev 21:22).

A restored relationship: do you value it? (43:1-27)

God’s glory returns to this temple in the same direction that it left back in chapter 10 (43:2). God is now dwelling with his people for ever and this location can never again be defiled (43:7). All who consider this new temple will be horrified at their sins (43:10), and come to the restored altar (43:13-27) where they will find acceptance (43:27). Jesus is the locus of God’s glory (John 1:14), and all who come to him in horror at their sin are cleansed and accepted.

 

Suggestions for any tricky bits?

Why the excessive measurements?

The word ‘cubit’ is mentioned 92 times in these four chapters – there is a lot of measuring going on. There are several reasons. First, it emphasises the size of the temple – larger than anything Israel has seen. Secondly, it emphasises the permanence of the temple. And thirdly (and most importantly), it emphasises the holiness of this new temple (42:20).

 

What is a funeral offering?

In 43:7, God says that funeral offerings will no longer defile his holy name. He is referring to a pagan practice committed by kings such as Manasseh, in 2 Kings 21:4-5, setting up pagan temples in the temple, possibly connected with worshipping the king after their death.

 

Summary of author’s main point

God will provide a new and better temple, where people who hate their sin are cleansed permanently, and God dwells forever with his people.

 

Purpose for original audience

Be ashamed of your sin, and long for the perfect temple, where you can find cleansing through the sacrifice, and God will live with you forever.

 

Purpose for us today

Be ashamed of our sin, and see Jesus as the perfect temple, where we find cleansing through his perfect sacrifice, and a permanent relationship of acceptance.

 

Key area of application

Everyone is looking for an opportunity to find somewhere where they call home. Come to Jesus and you find a real relationship, cleansing for the horror of sin, and perfect acceptance.

Ezekiel 39

Bible Passage: Ezekiel 39

39 ‘Son of man, prophesy against Gog and say: “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against you, Gog, chief prince of Meshek and Tubal. 2 I will turn you around and drag you along. I will bring you from the far north and send you against the mountains of Israel. 3 Then I will strike your bow from your left hand and make your arrows drop from your right hand. 4 On the mountains of Israel you will fall, you and all your troops and the nations with you. I will give you as food to all kinds of carrion birds and to the wild animals. 5 You will fall in the open field, for I have spoken, declares the Sovereign Lord. 6 I will send fire on Magog and on those who live in safety in the coastlands, and they will know that I am the Lord.

7 ‘“I will make known my holy name among my people Israel. I will no longer let my holy name be profaned, and the nations will know that I the Lord am the Holy One in Israel. 8 It is coming! It will surely take place, declares the Sovereign Lord. This is the day I have spoken of.

9 ‘“Then those who live in the towns of Israel will go out and use the weapons for fuel and burn them up – the small and large shields, the bows and arrows, the war clubs and spears. For seven years they will use them for fuel. 10 They will not need to gather wood from the fields or cut it from the forests, because they will use the weapons for fuel. And they will plunder those who plundered them and loot those who looted them, declares the Sovereign Lord.

11 ‘“On that day I will give Gog a burial place in Israel, in the valley of those who travel east of the Sea. It will block the way of travellers, because Gog and all his hordes will be buried there. So it will be called the Valley of Hamon Gog. 12 ‘“For seven months the Israelites will be burying them in order to cleanse the land. 13 All the people of the land will bury them, and the day I display my glory will be a memorable day for them, declares the Sovereign Lord. 14 People will be continually employed in cleansing the land. They will spread out across the land and, along with others, they will bury any bodies that are lying on the ground. ‘“After the seven months they will carry out a more detailed search. 15 As they go through the land, anyone who sees a human bone will leave a marker beside it until the gravediggers bury it in the Valley of Hamon Gog, 16 near a town called Hamonah. And so they will cleanse the land.”

17 ‘Son of man, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: call out to every kind of bird and all the wild animals: “Assemble and come together from all around to the sacrifice I am preparing for you, the great sacrifice on the mountains of Israel. There you will eat flesh and drink blood. 18 You will eat the flesh of mighty men and drink the blood of the princes of the earth as if they were rams and lambs, goats and bulls – all of them fattened animals from Bashan. 19 At the sacrifice I am preparing for you, you will eat fat till you are glutted and drink blood till you are drunk. 20 At my table you will eat your fill of horses and riders, mighty men and soldiers of every kind,” declares the Sovereign Lord.

21 ‘I will display my glory among the nations, and all the nations will see the punishment I inflict and the hand I lay on them. 22 From that day forward the people of Israel will know that I am the Lord their God. 23 And the nations will know that the people of Israel went into exile for their sin, because they were unfaithful to me. So I hid my face from them and handed them over to their enemies, and they all fell by the sword. 24 I dealt with them according to their uncleanness and their offences, and I hid my face from them.

25 ‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will now restore the fortunes of Jacob and will have compassion on all the people of Israel, and I will be zealous for my holy name. 26 They will forget their shame and all the unfaithfulness they showed towards me when they lived in safety in their land with no one to make them afraid. 27 When I have brought them back from the nations and have gathered them from the countries of their enemies, I will be proved holy through them in the sight of many nations. 28 Then they will know that I am the Lord their God, for though I sent them into exile among the nations, I will gather them to their own land, not leaving any behind. 29 I will no longer hide my face from them, for I will pour out my Spirit on the people of Israel, declares the Sovereign Lord.’

 

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

From the beginning of creation, God has not allowed opposition to his perfect rule to go unjudged (Genesis 3). He is holy and perfect and destroys his enemies because of their rejection of him and his good plans (Genesis 6:5-8). But his judgement is also the means by which he rescues people who have come under the rule of his king and have been given new hearts by the Spirit (Ezekiel 37:24-25, 36:26-27). This rescue is for any who accept King Jesus because on the cross he took the judgement for us (John 3:14-16, Romans 5:6-10, Galatians 3:13-14). The risen Jesus will come back to bring judgement on those who continue to oppose his rule (Revelation 19:11-21, 20:7-15). He will bring those who’ve trusted him into a renewed world without evil or the pain and suffering it causes (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

In Chapters 34-37 God promised to give the exiles new-life with him. He would re-create them by his Spirit, cleanse them and give them obedient hearts under God’s king and in God’s presence forever.  The evil and rebellion within them, and the judgement they faced for it, would be removed. But what about the hostile and God-opposing powers around them? Forces that greedily seek their harm (38:10-13) and mock any hope they have for rescue. How could they enjoy God’s presence forever when they’re face such powerful oppression?

Using vivid picture language, 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. The sovereign LORD will totally judge the hostile powers that oppress his people and oppose his rule. God will win and so his people will be restored to his presence in a perfect world without evil. This sets the scene for the mind-blowing promises of Ezekiel 40-48.

Structure of the passage

Chapter 39 is naturally divided by the three ‘this is what the Sovereign LORD’ says statements in v1, 17 and 25. The Sovereign LORD is saying:

1)     Be certain: the LORD will judge for his name and our good (v1-16)

Gog represents the coalition of human individuals and institutions opposed to God’s rule and hostile to his people (Ezekiel 38:7). But God will judge his enemies. The Sovereign Lord is totally in control. He will drag Gog into battle and disarm him, knocking his weapon from his hands (v1-3). And he then destroys his enemies. (V4-5). This is certain to happen (v8).

Passages like this seem uncomfortably black and white. We question why such destruction is necessary. We find these verses hard to hear because of their implications for us and those we love. They leave our sense of who God is unsettled. But the LORD does this for his reputation. He is Holy (v7) The perfect ruler who cares about his world (v7). His judgement is totally justifiable, he won’t let those hostile to his perfect rule continue to oppose his good plans forever.

But his judgement also brings total justice. As he judges evil opposition, he will turn everything that hurt his people to their good (v9-10) and will completely cleanse the world of evil’s effects (v11-16). If we’re followers of Jesus, this should lead us to thankfulness. Our rebellion against God was judged, but the judgement fell on Jesus at the cross.

2)     Be assured: the LORD will bring down the hostile (v17-24)

The exiles were suffering bitterly at the hands of the ‘mighty men’ of Babylon who mocked them for all they’d lost (Psalm 137:1-3). But God is preparing to bring down those who harm his people. The LORD promises there will be a destruction of the princes of the earth. They seem strong now, but they will be a sacrificial-feast for the birds and wild animals (v17-20). God wins! He punishes his opponents and shows his people he is the LORD their God (v21-22). When Jesus returns as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords he will achieve this (Revelation 19:11-21). Like the exiles, we need to hear this. We live in a world where believers still experience horrific persecution. Here, the church is a small minority in a culture hostile to Christian teachings. But we can be assured that God wins for us and will bring an end to all the injustice and weariness his people experience.

 

3)     Be confident: the LORD restores his sinful people (v25-29)

The temporary judgement the exiles experienced showed that God totally opposes sin wherever it comes from (v23-24). He could have rejected the exiles forever. But the Sovereign Lord promises to restore his people: to have compassion on them, give them his Spirit and turn his face to them (v29). This proves he is holy because it shows he is the faithful LORD who keeps his covenant promises (v28). These promises were in the exiles’ future. We have already begun to experience them. God has shown compassion on us by cleansing us of our sin through Jesus. He has given us his Spirit so we can begin to enjoy his presence. God will never turn his face from us. But we can doubt the security of our relationship with God when we’re overwhelmed by our sin or our circumstances. We need to remember we’ll be in God’s presence and place forever (v28) so that we can be confident he is with us now.

 

Suggestions for any tricky bits?

What’s going on in this passage!?

We shouldn’t read this like a chronological narrative or get caught up in the details. It is a prophecy in vivid pictures that together are meant to leave us with a strong impression: that God will judge his enemies and restore his people for his name and their good.

 

Isn’t this destruction immoral and over the top?

See the notes on v1-16 above.

 

Was I really an enemy of God?

We have all profaned God’s holy name (v7) by talking and acting like he is not the perfectly good and wise ruler of us and his world. Without him changing us through Jesus, we’re anti-God (Romans 5:6-10). We make decisions that damage ourselves and others and stand in the way of his good plan for us and creation. His judgement is justifiable but also avoidable because King Jesus came to take our judgement at the cross (Romans 5:6-10) and so make us part of God’s rescued people (Ezekiel 37:24-25).

 

Who in the world is Gog?

The name may have been taken from a list of names in the genealogy of Noah (Genesis 10:2). Or he may have been an ancient and particularly wicked king whose story was well known to the exiles. Either way, the point is he’s just a figurehead. He represents all proud human society in rebellion against God and hostile to God’s people. He seems strong, but its not Gog vs. the exiles, it’s Gog vs. God.

 

What’s all that business with the cleansing of the land and the number 7 in v9-16?

God promises that he would bring his new people to a land where they’d enjoy his presence forever (see v28). The promise of the land is only fulfilled under a forever King (Ezekiel 37:25), ultimately in the eternal presence of God (37:26-28). Ezekiel 40-48 will show us more, but this is a picture of the new creation world when Jesus returns and God lives with his people (see Revelation 21). V9-16 in Ezekiel 39 show us what is necessary for that wonderful future to become a reality. The burning of their enemies’ weapons as fuel (v9-10) shows that God will turn everything that harmed his people to their good. The total burial of the enemy horde (v11-16) shows that God will completely cleanse them and his place of evil. In God’s forever place, all the bad things come untrue. The number 7 is the number of completeness (e.g. the 7 days of creation) and shows this cleansing is complete.

 

Summary of author’s main point

The LORD will totally destroy the hostile nations in judgement to show his holiness and will totally restore his sinful people to show his faithfulness.

 

Purpose for original audience

Don’t worry about the mighty forces opposed to you, but trust that the LORD is committed to you and will one day restore you to safety.

 

Purpose for us today

The LORD will judge his enemies and we will see our restoration: trust Jesus’ victory and live thankful and confident lives in a hostile world.

 

Key area of application

If we’ve not trusted in Jesus

The total judgement to come could end in our destruction or our good. Our hostility to the LORD does need to be judged. But because of God’s deep love for us the judgement fell on Jesus when he died on the cross. If we believe him and give up our hostility to God’s rule in our life, his judgement will free us from judgement. So turn to him for mercy and look forward to a world cleansed of all evil and pain.

 

If we’re trusting Jesus

Am I living like there’s a future judgement?

  • Thankful that we’re not facing it.

  • Living without fear in the face of a hostile culture.

  • Praying for the reassurance of persecuted believers around the world.

And am I living like I’ll see our total restoration?

  • Speaking into the doubts we have about our relationship with God when we’re aware of sin or overwhelmed by circumstances.

  • Confidently recalling our relationship with God is secure because he’s promised we will fully enjoy his presence in the future.

 

Ezekiel 37

Bible Passage: Ezekiel 37

37 The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me to and fro among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’

I said, ‘Sovereign Lord, you alone know.’

4 Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones and say to them, “Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.”’

7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

9 Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.”’ 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet – a vast army.

11 Then he said to me: ‘Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.” 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.”’

15 The word of the Lord came to me: 16 ‘Son of man, take a stick of wood and write on it, “Belonging to Judah and the Israelites associated with him.” Then take another stick of wood, and write on it, “Belonging to Joseph (that is, to Ephraim) and all the Israelites associated with him.” 17 Join them together into one stick so that they will become one in your hand.

18 ‘When your people ask you, “Won’t you tell us what you mean by this?” 19 say to them, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am going to take the stick of Joseph – which is in Ephraim’s hand – and of the Israelite tribes associated with him, and join it to Judah’s stick. I will make them into a single stick of wood, and they will become one in my hand.” 20 Hold before their eyes the sticks you have written on 21 and say to them, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone. I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land. 22 I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. There will be one king over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms. 23 They will no longer defile themselves with their idols and vile images or with any of their offences, for I will save them from all their sinful backsliding, and I will cleanse them. They will be my people, and I will be their God.

24 ‘“My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd. They will follow my laws and be careful to keep my decrees. 25 They will live in the land I gave to my servant Jacob, the land where your ancestors lived. They and their children and their children’s children will live there for ever, and David my servant will be their prince for ever. 26 I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant. I will establish them and increase their numbers, and I will put my sanctuary among them for ever. 27 My dwelling-place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. 28 Then the nations will know that I the Lord make Israel holy, when my sanctuary is among them for ever.”’

 

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

The very first human beings were warned that the consequence for rejecting and replacing God was death (Genesis 2:16-17). Ever since Adam and Eve, human beings have rejected and replaced God with their own cravings and so have been spiritually dead- cut off from God and unclean before him facing eternal death as his judgment (Ephesians 2:1-10, Romans 6:23). But Jesus went to the cross to take the judgement for everything that makes us dead to God. And rose to life, ascended to heaven and poured out the Spirit of life (see Acts 2). The Spirit comes to bring us to new life – a new relationship with God -as we repent and trust in Jesus (Romans 8:1-5). This re-created life with God will continue into the new creation to come. When Jesus returns his re-created people will be given new bodies (1 Corinthians 15:20-28) and we’ll enjoy being in God’s presence forever (Revelation 21).

 

Brief note on context/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.

 

Structure of the passage

This is the fourth of four passages about a great transformation promised by God, which encompasses a new leadership (ch.34), a new land (ch.35), a new heart (ch.36) and a new creation (ch.37).

 

Chapter 37 is divided into two parts- Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones and its meaning (v1-14) and the sign-act of the two sticks being brought together and its meaning (v15-28). For preaching and application purposes, we have divided v1-14 into two parts:

 

1)     Do we realise we were spiritually dead? (1-3, v11)

This vision begins by showing us that we were irreversibly dead and unclean before God gave us spiritual life. The field of bones is a horrific vision which accurately portrays the spiritual state of the exiles (v11). The bones are very dry - there is no prospect for life for God’s people. And they are totally unclean before God. There’s no glorious vision of God and no prospect of his presence – they’re cut off from him. Chapters 1-33 have shown them that they have completely rejected God and his ways and he’s judged them. The Israelites’ hopelessness is realistic (v11). We were also spiritually dead before we were given new life through Jesus (Ephesians 2:1-10). We had no relationship with God. We were unclean and so a God of goodness and life would have nothing to do with us. We didn’t just need a helping hand, we were bones that needed to be spiritually remade.

 

2)     Do we have confidence God recreates through his word and Spirit? (v4-14)

The exiles were spiritually dead. They had no confidence in themselves. But they should have great confidence in God! He completely recreates the bones through his word and Spirit! As the words of God were prophesied, the bones came together. As the breath – Spirit – entered the bones, the bones came to life (the words spirit, breath and wind in this passage all translate one Hebrew word). This two-part process hints at Adam who was formed from the ground and then given the breath of life (Genesis 2). Like the first creation, God’s word and Spirit would bring the exiles to life from nothing. The exiles could be confident in God– there will be life where there was no possibility of life. They would be brought out of the spiritual grave into relationship with God. We can be confident because we have been recreated through his word and Spirit when we hear and believe the word about Jesus.

 

3)     Do we appreciate our unity under the King? (v15-28)

In this sign-act Ezekiel is commanded to take two sticks representing the southern and northern kingdoms of Israel and bring them together in his hand. The kingdoms split from one another because of idolatry and pride (1 Kings 10). The southern kingdom (Judah) is where the exiles had come from. The northern kingdom (Israel, but here called Joseph/Ephraim) had been gone for centuries. Just as the people couldn’t give themselves spiritual life, the two kingdoms could never bring themselves together.  But the scattered people will be regathered and made one nation held by the LORD. This is only possible because they’ll be brought together under the rule of God’s King, the heir of David (v25). Jesus is that king and he has begun to rule. Jesus unites us to God and to one another. Our unity together goes deeper because it’s based on us sharing a re-created life with God which will continue forever when Jesus returns.

 

Suggestions for any tricky bits?

Were we really so bad we’re spiritually dead?

We find this hard to believe. We’re used to having something to contribute. We live in a culture that tells us to believe in ourselves and see the good within. But the truth is that we were spiritually dead, following our own cravings – for respect, comfort, success, relationship – rather than God (Ephesians 2:1-10). And we couldn’t bring ourselves back to God because we didn’t want to and wouldn’t want to. There was nothing in us that could be grown or groomed into relationship with God. We needed a spiritual resurrection!

 

Isn’t this passage all about physical resurrection?

No, though a God who can re-create spiritually dead people and bring them into relationship with him can also bring the physically dead to life! V11 is the key here – this vision describes the Israelites. They are not physically dead but cut-off from God and unclean because they have replaced God with idols. After the judgement of chapter 33 (the fall of Jerusalem) all their self-confidence is gone. The question is: will God raise sinful people under his total judgement to spiritual life with him? Thankfully for us, the answer is yes!

 

What’s the focus of the land all about in v15-28?

Not the physical land of Israel itself. These promises of plenty, unity, obedience and peace with God were not fulfilled when the exiles returned and have not been fulfilled since. The promise of the land is only fulfilled under a forever King (v25), ultimately in the eternal presence of God (v26-28). Ezekiel 40-48 will show us more, but this is a picture of the new creation world when Jesus returns and God lives with his people (see Revelation 21).

Summary of author’s main point

The sovereign LORD will recreate his dead people by His Spirit and bring them together with every blessing under His King so that they will dwell with Him forever.

Purpose for original audience

Do not despair at being cut off for sin but have confidence in the Lord; trust that he will give you new life together under his king in his presence.

 

Purpose for us today

The LORD has re-created us by His Spirit and so brought us together under his King’s blessed rule: thank God as you trust the Spirit to bring life.

 

Key area of application

If we’ve not trusted in Jesus

Do we realise we’re spiritually dead?

Will we take the challenge and put ourselves in the way of the re-creator’s voice by reading the Bible?

 

If we’re trusting Jesus

How can I be cultivating thankfulness for my Spiritual re-creation?

Am I confident enough in the Spirit’s work to share Jesus with others?

How can I be leaning further into the unity I have with others?

Ezekiel 36

Bible Passage: Ezekiel 36:16-38

 

36:16 Again the word of the LORD came to me:

 17 'Son of man, when the people of Israel were living in their own land, they defiled it by their conduct and their actions. Their conduct was like a woman's monthly uncleanness in my sight.

 18 So I poured out my wrath on them because they had shed blood in the land and because they had defiled it with their idols.

 19 I dispersed them among the nations, and they were scattered through the countries; I judged them according to their conduct and their actions.

 20 And wherever they went among the nations they profaned my holy name, for it was said of them, "These are the LORD's people, and yet they had to leave his land."

 21 I had concern for my holy name, which the people of Israel profaned among the nations where they had gone.

 22 'Therefore say to the Israelites, "This is what the Sovereign LORD says: it is not for your sake, people of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone.

 23 I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Sovereign LORD, when I am proved holy through you before their eyes.

 24 '"For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.

 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.

 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

 28 Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God.

 29 I will save you from all your uncleanness. I will call for the corn and make it plentiful and will not bring famine upon you.

 30 I will increase the fruit of the trees and the crops of the field, so that you will no longer suffer disgrace among the nations because of famine.

 31 Then you will remember your evil ways and wicked deeds, and you will loathe yourselves for your sins and detestable practices.

 32 I want you to know that I am not doing this for your sake, declares the Sovereign LORD. Be ashamed and disgraced for your conduct, people of Israel!

 33 '"This is what the Sovereign LORD says: on the day I cleanse you from all your sins, I will resettle your towns, and the ruins will be rebuilt.

 34 The desolate land will be cultivated instead of lying desolate in the sight of all who pass through it.

 35 They will say, 'This land that was laid waste has become like the garden of Eden; the cities that were lying in ruins, desolate and destroyed, are now fortified and inhabited.'

 36 Then the nations around you that remain will know that I the LORD have rebuilt what was destroyed and have replanted what was desolate. I the LORD have spoken, and I will do it."

 37 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: once again I will yield to Israel's plea and do this for them: I will make their people as numerous as sheep,

 38 as numerous as the flocks for offerings at Jerusalem during her appointed festivals. So will the ruined cities be filled with flocks of people. Then they will know that I am the LORD.' (Ezek. 36:16-38 NIV)

 

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

It’s in Genesis 3 that Adam and Eve, newly created by God, turns their hearts against him, and first pollute the ‘land’ of Eden that God has given them with sin. By Genesis 6:5, people’s hearts were ‘only evil all the time’, and even a flood is unable to wash them clean. Indeed, it is Israel’s hard-heartedness which is fundamental to their disobedience problem (Psalm 95). The prophets see this as the reason for the exile (Zech 7:12-14), and Jesus diagnoses human hearts as the origin of human sin, and the source of defilement (Mark 7:21-23). What is needed, then, is cleansing from past defilement, and a new heart that will no longer be a fountain of sin. Under the New Covenant, predicted in Ezekiel 36, that is exactly what is on offer in the gospel (1 Cor 6:11, 2 Cor 1:21-22).

 

Brief note on context/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.

 

Structure of the passage

This is the third of four passages about a great transformation promised by God, which encompasses a new leadership (ch.34), a new land (ch.35), a new heart (ch.36) and a new creation (ch.37). Each chapter moves from the need, to the reality, to the future blessing.

Restoring God’s honour (16-23)

What is the need for a new heart and a new indwelling of God’s spirit? Surprisingly, it is not primarily about us. Instead, it is the restoration of God’s holy name. God’s holiness is seen in the fulfilment of his promises both to judge and to save. The primary (and absolutely right) reason for God’s salvation, is to prove his ability both to be ‘just and the one who justifies’ (Rom 3:26).

Restoring God’s people (24-27)

The series of ‘I will’ statements introduce a fivefold transformation – gathering (24), washing (25), transplanting (26), indwelling (27a), transforming (27b). This is permanent, inner change. At the cross, every single aspect of this restoration is brought to conclusion and completion.

Recognising God’s name (28-38)

The final section principally looks forward to the final day. Yes, in the present we know ourselves as we are (v.31-32) and have a genuine hatred for sin. But in the future, the land will be better than Eden, full to overflowing with God’s people (v.38). The key is the recognition of God’s name (“then they will know that I am the Lord” comes 62 times in Ezekiel) – a mark of the day when Jesus Christ returns (Phil 2:10-11).

 

Suggestions for any tricky bits?

What does it mean about being unclean like when you have your period (17)?

The reference is to a part of the Old Testament law under Moses. Even then, there was no suggestion that there was anything sinful about having your period. But because blood had a special significance under the law of Moses, it was a reason for exclusion from God’s presence (like many similar restrictions for men – see Leviticus 15). It goes without saying that that restriction was for a time in the Old Testament, and doesn’t apply now.

 

Isn’t it unhealthy to be ashamed and disgraced (32)?

Modern culture often seems to produce a kind of self-loathing which is self-focussed and despairing, which, tragically, leads to things like self-harm. The kind of hatred of our sin that Ezekiel envisages is different in several key ways. It is not self-focussed – it comes from our understanding of God’s holiness. It is not despairing – it is the gateway to real hope. And it is not self-harming, because we know that God’s son was harmed for us, so that we will be kept safe forever.

 

Summary of author’s main point

God will restore the honour of his name, and solve the defilement of his people, by giving them cleansing, new hearts, and Spirit-empowered obedience.

Aim/purpose for original audience

As seemingly abandoned and hopeless exiles, trust that God will restore the honour of his name as you are cleansed and given a new, Spirit-indwelt heart.

Aim/purpose for us today

As seemingly hopeless sinners, trust that, in Jesus, God is restoring the honour of his name, as we are cleansed at the cross, and given new, Spirit-indwelt hearts.

 

Key area of application

Are we genuinely ashamed and disgraced by our conduct – do we hate sin simply because it is sin? If so, talk humbly about the heart transplant that you needed, and long confidently for the honour of God’s name.

 

Ezekiel 34

Bible Passage: Ezekiel 34:1-31

 

34:1 The word of the LORD came to me:

 2 'Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: "This is what the Sovereign LORD says: woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock?

 3 You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock.

 4 You have not strengthened the weak or healed those who are ill or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally.

 5 So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals.

 6 My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.

 7 '"Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:

 8 as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock,

 9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:

 10 this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.

 11 '"For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.

 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.

 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land.

 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel.

 15 I myself will tend my sheep and make them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD.

 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.

 17 '"As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats.

 18 Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet?

 19 Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?

 20 '"Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says to them: see, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.

 21 Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away,

 22 I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another.

 23 I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd.

 24 I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the LORD have spoken.

 25 '"I will make a covenant of peace with them and rid the land of savage beasts so that they may live in the wilderness and sleep in the forests in safety.

 26 I will make them and the places surrounding my hill a blessing. a I will send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessing.

 27 The trees will yield their fruit and the ground will yield its crops; the people will be secure in their land. They will know that I am the LORD, when I break the bars of their yoke and rescue them from the hands of those who enslaved them.

 28 They will no longer be plundered by the nations, nor will wild animals devour them. They will live in safety, and no one will make them afraid.

 29 I will provide for them a land renowned for its crops, and they will no longer be victims of famine in the land or bear the scorn of the nations.

 30 Then they will know that I, the LORD their God, am with them and that they, the Israelites, are my people, declares the Sovereign LORD.

 31 You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares (Ezek. 34:1-31 NIB)

 

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

The story of humanity is one of being gathered and scattered. Adam and Eve, gathered in the garden, were effectively scattered when they were expelled from God’s presence in Genesis 3. Indeed, God’s judgement on those building the Tower of Babel was to scatter them (Genesis 11:8-9). Human kings, as shepherds, were intended to gather God’s people under his rule (2 Sam 7:7), but their failure (2 Kings 24:12-14) meant that God’s people were once again scattered into exile. Jesus correctly identifies them as like sheep without a shepherd (Mark 6:34). Identifying himself as the good shepherd who will lay down his life for the sheep (John 10:11), and by implication God himself (Psalm 23:1), Jesus rules his church through his under-shepherds (1 Peter 5:2-4), and will one day come again in judgement (Matt 25:32). One day, as the church’s ultimate shepherd, he will gather his sheep to be with him in the new creation, and bring his covenant of peace with them to total fulfilment (Rev 7:17).

 

Brief note on context/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.

 

Structure of the passage

The passage breaks down into 3 parts, where God is promising to provide the kind of shepherd that God’s people, citizens of a destroyed city (33:21), now require.

The need for a shepherd (1-10, 17-21)

The existing leaders of God’s people are exploitative and cruel – they are brutal in the same way that the Egyptians were in Egypt (Ex 1:13-14). As a result of this failure of kingship, God’s people have become scattered (5-6). Leaders of every sort who have abused God’s people will face judgement (10, 17-21).

The reality of a new shepherd (11-16, 20-24)

God himself commits to shepherd his people personally. He seeks and saves, cares and knows, in a remarkable passage that contains the words “I will” a total of 12 times. He will do this through his shepherd-servant-prince descended from David. This shepherd both saves and judges (22).

The blessings of the new shepherd (25-31)

Through this shepherd, God promises a covenant of peace (25). His people will be gathered to a place of safety (25, 27, 28). They will know his covenant blessing (26, compare Lev 26:4-13). And they will enjoy relationship with their God (30-31), the long-promised covenant fulfilment from Exodus 6:7.

 

Suggestions for any tricky bits?

Who are the bad shepherds and the fat sheep?

It seems that the bad shepherds refer to Judah’s kings, whose failure led to the exile (see, for example, Eze 1:2’s namecheck on Jehoiachin). The fat sheep appear to be the wider leaders of God’s people, who have used their position for their own advantage (e.g. Eze 11:1-3).

 

Summary of author’s main point

God will judge Israel’s faithless leaders and will himself shepherd his people through his servant-shepherd-prince descended from David, who will bring in a covenant of peace.

Aim/purpose for original audience

To delight in God as shepherd, and look for his servant-shepherd-prince and the covenant of peace he brings.

Aim/purpose for us today

To delight in God’s care, found supremely in Jesus God’s servant-shepherd-prince, and enter the covenant of peace which he died to establish.

 

Key area of application

Recognise the failure of human leadership, and discover the exceptional care of God in Jesus, the judging and saving shepherd. He will bring to completion his covenant of peace.