The Lamb is the Lord, part 3: Truths for our Journey

Three foundational truths

We begin our journey through the Book of Revelation.

Every hiker who sets out on a trek must be properly equipped. They need warm, weatherproof clothes, sturdy comfortable boots, adequate food and drink, and a compass. Without these, they face disaster.

In a similar way, the first chapter of Revelation equips us for our journey through this book, and for our journey through life. It does so by giving us three foundational truths:

 Who God is. We’re given the most amazing depiction of the Triune God. It especially focuses on Jesus Christ―for example, the magnificent vision of Him in 1:12-16.

 What God does. We see all that God in Christ has done for us, all He’s doing for us now, and the glorious destiny He has in store for us.

 Who we are. We see our new identity in Christ.

These are foundational truths. Accordingly, we see them right here in the first chapter of the book. God wants these truths to sink deep into our minds and hearts. They’ll strengthen us to endure tribulation and trial. They’ll shield us from Satan’s lies. They’ll protect us from compromise with the world around us.

Who God is

In 1:4-5, we read, “John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.”

And in 1:8 we read, “’I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.’”

Here in these verses we see who the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are:

 God the Father is described as “him who is and who was and who is to come” (1:4 repeated in 1:8). This echoes what we read in Exodus 3:14: “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM’. . . . ‘Say this to the people of Israel: “I AM has sent me to you.”’” Through this Name “I AM” God revealed Himself as the living, personal God Who is present with His people and actively working to save and bless them. We might translate this Name “I am He Who is here for you”. He is with us, watching over us, enabling us to stand firm for Him through all the tribulation and trials we may experience in this world. Notice, too, that it says, not “. . . who will be” as we might have expected, but “. . . who is to come”. Here is the heartbeat of Revelation: God is coming! He’s bringing His plan of redemption to completion. He will come to save and to judge.

 And God is “the Alpha and the Omega” (1:8). Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet; omega is the last. God was before all things, and He created all things. He governs all history, and He’ll complete His wonderful plan of redemption for us and our world―as we see in Revelation 21:1-22:5.

 The Holy Spirit is referred to as “the seven spirits who are before” God’s throne. This phrase “the seven spirits” can also be translated as “the sevenfold Spirit”. The number ‘seven’ is a symbol of completion or perfection. And it seems to focus specially on what God is doing in this world (we’ll see why this is later in this series). All that we see God doing here in the Book of Revelation―redeeming His people and restoring His creation―is through the Holy Spirit.

 Jesus is ”the faithful witness” (picking up the theme of witness, which we mentioned earlier).

 And Jesus is “the firstborn of the dead” (1:5): He’s the first to rise from the dead (see also Acts 26:23 and Colossians 1:18). His resurrection demonstrates His complete victory over Satan and all the forces of evil, and over death. And we’re assured of our own victory. Later in the book, we’ll read about God’s people suffering, even being killed. But death is no defeat for us. Jesus’s resurrection guarantees that we will be resurrected from death (1 Corinthians 15:20)!

 Finally, Jesus is “the ruler of kings on earth” (1:5). Jesus is the Lord. That’s the key message of the whole book, as we’ll see.

What God does

In 1:5 we read that Jesus “loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood“. On the Cross, Jesus endured the penalty for our sins. Our penalty is paid; and God has forgiven us! And Jesus has released us from bondage to sin; we believers are no longer slaves to sin.

And Jesus has “made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father” (1:6). One commentator translates this as: “he has made us sharers in his royal rule, and priests to minister to His God and Father”.[1]

Who we are

As ”sharers in” Jesus’s “royal rule”, and as “priests”, Jesus has given us a completely new identity.

 As priests, we worship and serve Him.

 And we share in His royal dominion. Christ is seated “in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, . . . .” (Ephesians 1:20-21, see also 1 Peter 3:22). We’re seated there with Him (Ephesians 2:6). So we share His dominion. As we read Revelation, we’ll see God’s people suffering, even being killed. But, in fact, we share His dominion over all the forces of evil that seek to harm and kill us! We need to remember this as we continue reading through this book.

A vision of Jesus

John writes, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, ‘Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, . . . .’” (1:10-11). He turns to see whose voice it is. He sees Jesus.

John was one of Jesus’s disciples. He saw a foretaste of Jesus’s glory at His transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8 and parallels). And he saw the resurrected Lord. But now he sees Jesus as he had never seen Him before. He sees Jesus in all His exalted glory. John tells us: “I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.’” (1:12–18).

Forty days after His resurrection, Jesus ascended to His Father in Heaven. He’s now seated at His Father’s right hand (Acts 2:33)―the place of supreme authority. That’s how we see Jesus in this vision.

This is the very first vision we see in Revelation. Before anything else we read in this book, Jesus wants us to see Himself as He is. He wants us to see Him in His exalted glory at His Father’s right hand. Everything else we read in Revelation needs to be read in the light of this glorious vision of Christ.

Jesus appears to John here in symbolic form. The vision doesn’t reveal what He literally looks like; it reveals His identity and His character.

What does this vision show us about Jesus? We see Him here both in His divinity and His humanity. We see Him here as the Divine Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity. And at the same time, we see Him here as a Man―the Messiah who came to save God’s people, to judge and destroy evil, and to establish God’s Kingdom.

It’s important to realise that Jesus, the Son of God, is still incarnate. He became incarnate at His conception in Mary’s body. He’ll remain incarnate for all eternity. Jesus Christ is, and will always be, fully Human and fully Divine. What an amazing truth: God has united Himself to our human race for ever in the Person of Jesus Christ!

Most aspects of this vision of Jesus reflect Old Testament visions of God as recorded in Ezekiel 1:25-28 and Daniel 7:9-10, of the pre-incarnate Christ in Daniel 7:13-14, and of what was likely the pre-incarnate Christ in Daniel 10:5-6.

 Jesus is “one like a son of man” (1:13). This echoes Ezekiel 1:26, Daniel 7:13 and 10:5. In Daniel 7:13-14 we read: “behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, . . . .” The “one like a son of man” is a human. But He’s not simply a man. He’s the true Man―the perfect Man, the Man who is worthy to receive “dominion and glory and a kingdom”.[2] At His ascension He received everlasting dominion over all people. And He comes “with the clouds of heaven”, which symbolise the presence and power of God. The Man Jesus Christ is also divine.

 Jesus is “clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest” (1:13). This reflects Daniel 10:5. These garments may well be priestly attire. The High Priest wore a robe (Exodus 28:31–35). And Jesus is among “seven golden lampstands” (1:12-13); lampstands were part of the furnishings of the Tabernacle and Temple. They were tended by the priests. So it seems we’re seeing Jesus as our great High Priest, tending the lampstands―in other words, tending His churches. Long robes and sashes across the chest were also worn by dignitaries and rulers. Perhaps these garments picture Jesus as our great High Priest and also as our King.

 “The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow” (1:14). This links back to the vision of God that Daniel saw. The hair of “the Ancient of Days” was ”like pure wool” (Daniel 7:9). Jesus’s hair is described in the same way as that of “the Ancient of Days”, who is the Father. John sees Jesus, the divine Son of God, sharing one of the attributes of the Father. The white colour of His hair suggests purity. It also suggests someone of great age―and hence great wisdom and dignity.

 Jesus’s “eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace” (1:14-15). This description reflects Ezekiel 1:27-28, Daniel 7:9-10 and 10:6. The image of the burning eyes shows Jesus’s divine insight. But, this also includes His judgment. His “feet” of “burnished bronze, refined in a furnace” symbolise Christ’s mighty strength and His purity.

 Jesus’s “voice was like the roar of many waters” (1:15). This reflects Ezekiel 1:23 and Daniel 10:6. It pictures the awesome power of His voice.

 Jesus holds “seven stars” in His right hand (1:16). In Revelation 1:20, we learn that “the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches”. We’ll explore who these angels are later in this series.

 From Jesus’s mouth “came a sharp two-edged sword” (1:16; it also echoes Isaiah 49:2). This image pictures Jesus’s word. His word is like a sharp sword: by His word He pronounces and carries out righteous judgment on the nations (19:15), and on false teaching and immorality within His churches (2:12,16).

 Jesus’s “face was like the sun shining in full strength” (1:16). This reflects Ezekiel 1:27-28, and Daniel 10:6, and pictures the glory of our exalted Lord. The image recalls Jesus’s transfiguration, when “his face shone like the sun” (Matthew 17:2). In Isaiah 60:19 we read, “The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give you light; but the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.” Again, an Old Testament image of God is applied to the exalted Christ. And in 21:23 we read that New Jerusalem “has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (21:23, see also 22:5).

John falls “at his feet as though dead” (1:17). But Jesus lays His right hand on him and says, “Fear not” . Then He says: “I am the first and the last . . . .” (1:17). Christ is the One through Whom all things are created (Hebrews 1:2) and Who is sovereign over history. He says that He’s ”the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore” (1:18). He’s our Resurrected Lord who lives for ever.

And Jesus tells John, “I have the keys of Death and Hades” (1:18). ‘Hades’ is the realm of the dead. Christ has “the keys” over Death and Hades. In other words, He has power and authority over death.

In the next part, we’ll begin looking at Jesus’s messages to the seven churches of Asia in 2:1-3:22.

FOOTNOTES [1] Quoted from The Revelation of Saint John (Black’s New Testament Commentary), by Ian Boxall, page 33. Published jointly by Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., Peabody, Massachusetts, and Continuum International Publishing Group, London, England, in 2006. [2] See The Preacher’s Commentary: Daniel, by Sinclair B. Ferguson, pages 144-145. Published by Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee, in 1988.

CREDITS Text copyright © 2023 Robert Gordon Betts Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture citations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Scripture citations marked ‘NIV’ are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version (Anglicised edition) Copyright ©1979,1984, 2011 by Biblica (formerly International Bible Society). Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica (formerly International Bible Society). UK trademark number 1448790.

The Lamb is the Lord, part 2: Cosmic War

Into the Jaws of Death—U.S. Troops wading through water and Nazi gunfire from Wikipedia

Into the Jaws of Death—U.S. Troops wading through water and Nazi gunfire. A landing craft from the USS ‘Samuel Chase’ disembarks troops of the U.S. Army’s First Division at Omaha Beach, Normandy, on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

In this part, we’ll look at the basic theme of Revelation. What is Revelation all about?

War in Heaven and on Earth

What is Revelation fundamentally about? To answer this question, let’s go to one of the key scenes in the book. In 12:7-11 we read this: “Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.”

Note these phrases: “war arose in heaven”; and “they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony” . The book of Revelation is about a war. There’s a spiritual battle raging in the Universe. Revelation is a war drama.

Our Commander’s call to courage

In times of war, great leaders will address their people or their troops to inspire them and strengthen their resolve for the conflict. An outstanding example is General Bernard Montgomery’s address to his officers the day after taking command of the British Eighth Army in North Africa in 1942. He said, “Here we will stand and fight; there will be no further withdrawal. . . . . Our mandate from the Prime Minister is to destroy the Axis forces in North Africa; . . . . It can be done, and it will be done: beyond any possibility of doubt. . . . . I ask you to give me your confidence and to have faith that what I have said will come to pass.”[1]. Montgomery’s Chief of Staff reported, “The effect of his address was electric―it was terrific. And we all went to bed that night with a new hope in our hearts, and a great confidence in the future of our Army.”[2].

In the Book of Revelation, our Commander-in-Chief, the Lord Jesus Christ, addresses His troops―that’s us! He’s showing us the spiritual battle we’re involved in. He’s showing us who our enemies are, and how they operate. He’s showing us how to fight, and how to overcome our enemies. He assures us of victory. And He captivates our hearts and minds with the final glory that will follow.

The flashpoint of conflict

Revelation is a war drama. That war began a very long time ago.

The very first enemy of God was Satan. It seems that Satan was once a very powerful angel who lived in Heaven. He was originally perfect and sinless. But there came a time when he became proud―so proud, in fact, that he wanted to be like God Himself. That was the moment when evil entered God’s creation. That was the moment when this war began.

God threw Satan out of Heaven. It seems that other angels joined his rebellion. They, too, were thrown out of Heaven. Satan set up his headquarters in another spiritual realm. With him are the “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” that Paul writes about in Ephesians 6:12.

The battle for planet Earth

In the first two chapters of Genesis we read how God created the heavens and the Earth. He filled Earth with all kinds of living things. And He created the first human, Adam. God “took the man and put him in the garden of Eden” (Genesis 2:15). God put Adam in the garden. And He made Eve from Adam’s side.

And so we find God walking with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (as Genesis 3:8 suggests). And as the human race multiplied and filled the Earth, God wanted the Garden of Eden’s boundaries to be extended until the whole Earth was a paradise. God wanted the whole Earth to be His paradise where He lived among His people.

Satan, it seems, had tried to be like God in Heaven. We can assume that Satan now saw his chance to do on Earth what he’d failed to do in Heaven―to be like God. He wanted to seize control of planet Earth. He wanted humans to worship and serve him rather than God. So he hatched a plan.

In Genesis 3:1 we read that the snake “was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made” . This was no ordinary snake. It may have been Satan’s messenger. Or it may have been Satan himself in disguise.

The snake tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. And so we read that Eve “ate, and . . . also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate” (Genesis 3:6).

How did the snake persuade Adam and Eve to disobey God? It did this by deceiving them.

 It made them think wrongly about God―that His word couldn’t be trusted, that He didn’t love them, that He didn’t want the very best for them.

 And it made Adam and Eve think wrongly about themselves. Now they believed that they could do without God and decide for themselves how to live.

It was through believing these lies―this false teaching―that sin entered this world.

Satan deceived Adam and Eve. He is “the deceiver of the whole world” (12:9). Where in the Bible do we see Satan’s deceptive activity most graphically? Right here in the Book of Revelation.

A shattered world

Adam and Eve rebelled against God. That had catastrophic consequences on them and on this world. Sin and evil has devastated our human race and the natural world. Earth is still a wonderful place, full of beauty. But it’s also spoiled. It’s spoiled in so many different ways.

One of them is this: Satan gained power over our human race. The apostle John tells us that “the whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19 NIV). We see this so clearly in Revelation.

Satan’s plan succeeded―or so it seemed. He did indeed gain control over this world. But we need to remember this: Satan rules human society only by God’s permission and only within God’s limits. We see this very clearly in Revelation, too.

The Snake-Crusher

God cursed the snake. And He said to it: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers” (Genesis 3:15).

From that moment there would be war between Satan and Eve, and between their offspring―between people who follow Satan and people who follow God.

But then we read this: “he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15). The offspring of the woman would crush Satan’s head. A descendant of Eve would crush Satan and defeat him.

So from now on, through the Bible, we see conflict. And from now on, too, we’re looking for the descendant of Eve who would crush Satan.

The moment arrived when this descendant was born. Paul tells us “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law” (Galatians 4:4). Jesus is the Offspring of the woman. He crushed Satan’s head on the Cross. And He rose from death and ascended into heaven. He’s now enthroned at God’s right hand, “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, . . . .” (Ephesians 1:20-21).


God is now carrying out the final phase of His plan of salvation. And He’s enlisted us, His people, in His final ‘push’ to victory. Through His Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered people, God is advancing His Kingdom across the globe. God’s people are plundering Satan’s domain and making disciples in every nation.

But that advance is being stoutly resisted by Satan and the forces of evil. They’re fighting a desperate rearguard action. Victory has already been won. Jesus won it on the Cross. But we’re still at war. Every Christian―in fact, every human―is involved in this war. None of us can avoid it.

But we need to remember that this war is not between evenly-matched opponents―not in the slightest. Satan and his forces have power only by God’s permission and within God’s limits. God is always in full control.

The warriors

Who are the warriors in this great battle?

 The great Warrior of Revelation is the Triune God―Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God’s holy angels are also involved. And, of course, we believers are involved.

 Warring against God and His forces are Satan and his forces. Paul catalogues Satan’s spiritual forces in Ephesians 6. He writes, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). But though we don’t fight against “flesh and blood”, Satan and his spiritual forces can and do operate through people. In other words, we never fight against forces that are merely “flesh and blood”, merely human. And so, in Revelation we meet people under Satan’s domination. They’re described as ”all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave” , who are “marked on the right hand or the forehead” with the “mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name” (13:16–17). We’ll look at this mark in session 5.

Warfare and worship

Satan wants to be treated like God here on Earth. He wants to be worshipped instead of God. And so, at its heart, the battle is about worship. Who will be worshipped and served here on Earth? Will people worship God? Or will they worship Satan and the forces of evil? One writer says, “In this war there are two sides. You are either for God or against him. You either serve God, or in one way or another you will be found worshiping Satan and his bestial agents . . . . Thus Revelation implicitly issues a challenge like Joshua: ‘choose this day whom you will serve’ (Joshua 24:15).”[3]

And this must surely explain why we see so much worship in Revelation. We see those who worship God and the Lamb: there are seven scenes of heavenly worship in Revelation (4:8-11, 5:8-14, 7:9-12, 11:16-18, 14:1-3, 15:2-4, 19:1-8). And we see those who worship the dragon and its beast (13:4-5,8,11-12). In fact, the word ‘worship’ occurs 22 times (in the ESV)―that’s more than in any other New Testament book.

To worship God is an act of war. When we worship God, and when we declare Jesus to be Lord, we wage war on Satan.

The weapons of war

How does Satan attack us? What are his weapons?

 Firstly, he tries to deceive us. Satan “is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44), “the deceiver of the whole world” (12:9). Paul speaks of “the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). Right at the beginning, he deceived Eve with his craftiness (2 Corinthians 11:3).

 Secondly, he attacks us through persecution and the fear of persecution. Such persecution may not be just physical. It may be verbal, psychological, and emotional.

What are our weapons against Satan and his forces?

 Firstly, God’s people conquer Satan “by the blood of the Lamb” (12:11). Jesus suffered the penalty for our sins. And God has credited us with Jesus’s perfect righteousness. Satan can no longer accuse us before God.

 Secondly, we also overcome Satan and all his forces by the truth. Right at the beginning, Satan spoke lies. And it was through believing those lies that sin entered this world. And so we defeat Satan’s lies with the truth. We can think of the war with Satan as taking place in a lawcourt. Satan and his forces are in the dock. Witnesses have been called, questioned and cross-examined. Jesus Christ Himself is “the faithful and true witness” (3:14)―a witness to God’s character, to the way of salvation, to the coming judgment. John “bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw” (1:2). You and I are witnesses. All God’s people are witnesses. And so ‘witness’ is a key theme in Revelation, as we’ll see.

 Thirdly, God’s people are to resist the seductions of this world. John urges us, “Do not love the world or the things in the world” (1 John 2:15).

 Finally, God’s people respond to persecution by staying faithful to God even through suffering and even, if need be, to death. Jesus said to the suffering church in Smyrna, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (2:10).

In the next part, we’ll set off on our journey through Revelation. We’ll see three fundamental truths that will equip us as we travel through this book.

FOOTNOTES [1]Quoted from Speech to 8th Army upon assuming command Published online here, accessed 17 September 2021. [2] Quoted from Destiny in the Desert: the Road to El Alamein―the Battle that Turned the Tide by Jonathan Dimbleby (page not known). First published in Great Britain by Profile Books Ltd., London, in 2012. Accessed on Google Books on 2 June 2022. [3] Quoted from The Returning King: a Guide to the Book of Revelation, by Vern Sheridan Poythress, page 23. Published by P&R Publishing, Phillipsburg, New Jersey, in 2000. Published online here, accessed on 14 July 2021.

CREDITS Text copyright © 2023 Robert Gordon Betts Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture citations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Scripture citations marked ‘NIV’ are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version (Anglicised edition) Copyright ©1979,1984, 2011 by Biblica (formerly International Bible Society). Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica (formerly International Bible Society). UK trademark number 1448790.

Christmas briefing

Image © Lumo Project through Free Bible Images All rights reserved

At this Christmas season, I thought it might be helpful to gather together four previously published posts relevant to Jesus’s birth.

Why was Jesus’ birth announced to shepherds?

Have you ever wondered why Jesus’ birth was announced to shepherds? In his commentary on Luke’s Gospel, I. Howard Marshall writes, “the motif that God reveals the birth of the Saviour to ordinary, lowly people, is undoubtedly present.” God’s angelic army announced the Saviour’s birth to humble shepherds, not to those of wealth and status. But there are two other possible reasons why shepherds were privileged with the news of the Saviour’s birth. Read the whole article HERE.

The Christmas army of angels

In his book, ‘A Not-So-Silent Night: the Unheard story of Christmas and Why It Matters’ Verlyn D. Verbrugge writes, “One of the most familiar elements of the Christmas story in Luke 2 is the appearance of the angel to the shepherds. That angel was soon joined by a “great company of the heavenly host . . . praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests’” (Luke 2.13– 14 NIV). . . . . The word that Luke uses for “host” is the Greek word ‘stratia’, a word that in classical Greek almost invariably denotes an army or a company of soldiers. On occasion the word could be used as an alternate for the Greek word ‘strateia’, which denotes a military expedition. In either case, the word has strong military connotations.” But why is this military connation significant? Read the whole article HERE.

’Once more: Jesus was not born in a stable’ by Ian Paul

Dr. Ian Paul writes, “. . . Jesus wasn’t born in a stable, and, curiously, the New Testament hardly even hints that this might have been the case. So where has the idea come from?” Dr Paul tells us why oxen and asses are traditionally placed in the nativity scene. He explains the meanings of the Greek word in Luke 2.7 that’s translated “inn” in the ESV and the King James Version (but translated “guest room” in the NIV). And he takes us back to the first-century setting of the narrative, including the culture of the time and the actual design of Palestinian homes. Dr Paul draws on resources by other writers and provides links to two sermons, one by himself, another by Stephen Kuhrt, that retell the Christmas story in way that is faithful to its first-century Palestinian background. Read the whole article HERE.

’4 reasons to preach the genealogies at Christmas (really!)’ by David Thommen

Have you ever studied – or preached on – one of Jesus’ genealogies? David Thommen has. He writes, “I will never forget the zeal, the excitement, and the anticipation of my first Christmas sermon. . . . . . . . I wanted to preach something that I had never heard from the pulpit for Christmas, or any other time for that matter. . . . . When one of my elders asked me what I would be preaching on, I confidently proclaimed: “The genealogy from Matthew 1”. His response was different than I expected. “Why would you do that? You never preach the genealogies.” Convinced that all Scripture is profitable (2 Timothy 3.16-17), I soldiered forward undeterred. I pondered, in light of the rather unexpected response, why does the genealogy at the beginning of Matthew matter to the Christian at Christmas?” He shows us four reasons why it matters. Read the whole article HERE.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations (apart from those in direct quotations) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers. © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

‘Exodus Old and New: a Biblical Theology of Redemption’ by L. Michael Morales

Exodus Old and New is a remarkable, compelling and deeply insightful exploration of the Exodus theme in Scripture. Dr Morales demonstrates that the exodus is a central theme in the Bible; it is foundational to redemptive history: the storyline of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation is a story of exile and exodus. He shows that the exodus of God’s people from Egypt is the pattern for the second exodus―that is, the salvation accomplished by Jesus the Messiah. That salvation is for all God’s people, both Israel and those from among the nations; it culminates in God’s people living in God’s presence in a new creation.

This book bridges the gap between books written at an introductory and popular level and those aimed at advanced students and at scholars. The book is relatively brief (around 200 pages) and accessible. The text is accompanied by footnotes, and there’s a small list of books for further reading at the end. Dr Morales’ book brought home to me, in a new way, how fundamental and pervasive the theme of exodus is in Scripture. His book is a rich feast of Biblical truth that both edifies the mind and stirs the heart, and I unhesitatingly commend it. In his preface, the author writes, “My hope and prayer is that this book may in some small way lead readers through their own “sort of exodus,” closer to God.”

Read this review supplemented by a summary of the book (including a summary of each chapter) HERE.

Read the publishers’ description HERE.

This book is the second volume in the Essential Studies in Biblical Theology (ESBT) series, edited by Benjamin L. Gladd. This series explores the central themes of the Bible’s storyline from Genesis through the whole of redemption history. The series aims to provide accessible introductions to the themes, and to apply these themes to Christian life, ministry, and worldview.

L. Michael Morales is professor of biblical studies at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Taylors, South Carolina. He is the author of Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? A Biblical Theology of the Book of Leviticus (in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series, edited by D.A. Carson) and The Tabernacle Pre-Figured: Cosmic Mountain Ideology in Genesis and Exodus.

I thank IVP Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

‘The Dawning of Indestructible Joy: Daily Readings for Advent’ by John Piper

Here is a series of daily readings for Advent from the pen of John Piper. His book of readings, entitled The Dawning of Indestructible Joy, is available for free download in PDF format HERE. This book can also be purchased in paperback, kindle and audiobook format from Amazon (a link is provided alongside the download button), or from other retailers.

In the preface to this book, John Piper writes: “I have called Christmas—and this little book—“the dawning of indestructible joy” because the joy Jesus was bringing into the world was like no other kind in history. Once we have it, it cannot be destroyed. Jesus said, “No one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22).

The joy that Jesus came to bring is from outside this world. It is the very joy that Jesus himself has in God the Father—which he has had from all eternity and will have forever. There is no greater joy than the joy that God has in God, because God is the greatest object of joy, and God has the greatest powers to enjoy.

Jesus said, “I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). His joy was the very joy of God. He promises to put that in us. That is what the Holy Spirit does. He pours out the love of God in our hearts (Rom. 5:5), and with it the joy of God in God. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy . . .” (Gal. 5:22). This is “great joy.” And it cannot be taken away. It is indestructible.

Ah, but it can go to sleep. That’s why Peter says, “I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder” (2 Pet. 1:13). Yes. It is very right. Because, oh, how wrong, how sad, when we stand before great wonders and feel nothing. It is right, therefore, that he write and I write to awaken and stir up our affections for the greatest wonder of all: the arrival and the work and the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in this world.”

John Piper is teacher and founder of and chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary. He is the author of more than 50 books.

Quotation taken from The dawning of Indestructible Joy: Daily Readings for Advent by John Piper, © 2014, pp. 8-9. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, (Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. 2011 Text Edition. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

‘Genesis 24 and God’s plan for the world’ by David Schrock

camel train, Middle East, Palestine, Egypt, Abraham, Genesis 24, Isaac

Image from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs online catalog.

“And Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he had, “Put your hand under my thigh, that I may make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell, but will go to my country and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac.” . . . . ”Then the servant took ten of his master’s camels and departed, taking all sorts of choice gifts from his master; and he arose and went to Mesopotamia to the city of Nahor.” (Genesis 24.2-4,10). An old photograph (taken between 1934 and 1939) showing a camel caravan in the Middle East.

Genesis 24 tells how Abraham found a wife for his son Isaac. It’s the longest chapter in the Book of Genesis. David Schrock explains this story and explores its importance in the Bible storyline. He writes, “. . . the longest narrative event in Genesis is a love story, one that seems Dickens-like in its profusion of extraneous information. Certainly, as the promises of God are given to Abraham and his offspring, the marriage of his son is no small matter. Yet, it seems as though the account of the servant traveling back to Mesopotamia to find a wife for Isaac is prolix detour from the rest of Genesis. . . . . So why the long drama of finding Isaac a wife? My answer is that this story reflects God’s story for the world, and the long-time-in-coming union between God’s beloved son with his bride. Let’s consider.”

After showing us how Genesis should be read in the context of the whole Bible story, he comments, ”. . . we have reason to read Genesis 24 as a narrative meant to point to Christ, just as the firstborn son of Abraham points to Christ (cf. Romans 8.31–32). We should likewise see the account of Isaac and Rebekah’s marriage as patterned after the original marriage and foreshadowing a greater marriage—after all, this is the mystery marriage, that every husband and wife are types of Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5.22–33). Last, we should consider how Moses intended to tell the history of Isaac and Rebekah and perhaps something else—namely another rehearsal of the exodus event he had experienced with Israel. . . . . With these ‘reading requirements’ in place, what do we find in Genesis 24?”

Dr Schrock details how the story in Genesis 24 foreshadows how God will bring a bride to His Son. He concludes, “Incredibly, Genesis 24 is not the longest chapter in Genesis by accident. It is a pure and holy story of covenant marriage, set against all the other debauched stories of sexual immorality in Genesis. And . . . it teaches us how to look at the entire world with hope in Christ and the marriage he offers to those who forsake their fathers and join themselves to God’s Son. . . . . It surely should encourage us as we the bride serve our Master and call others to come to him!”

Read the whole article HERE.

CREDITS Scripture citations (other than those in quotations from other authors) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers. © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

‘On the third day’ by James M. Hamilton

Image © Lumo Project through Free Bible Images All rights reserved

“But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.” (Matthew 26.5-6)

In this fascinating little exploration of Old Testament typology, James M. Hamilton writes, “There is no prediction in the Old Testament that the Messiah would be raised from the dead on the third day, but when Paul says that Jesus “was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures”, he’s not referring to a prediction. Paul is referring to the fulfillment of these patterns . . . .” Dr. Hamilton briefly explains seven Old Testament passages which he sees as foreshadowing Jesus’s resurrection on the third day. They include events in the lives of Abraham, David, Hezekiah, Esther and Jonah; a passage in Hosea’s prophecy, and something that Moses tells us in His narrative of the covenant that God made with His people at Mount Sinai. Dr Hamilton tells us “All the promises are yes and amen in him, all the patterns find fulfillment in him, and all the shadowy types have their substance in him.”

Read the whole article HERE.

CREDITS Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture citations (other than those quoted by other authors) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers. © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved..

‘Sabbath: a token of eternity’ by Bernard Bell

The Garden of Eden from Wikimedia

The Garden of Eden by Thomas Cole (1801-1848).

“Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” (Genesis 2.1-3).

Bernard Bell explores the theology of the Sabbath from Genesis to Revelation – in the creation account; in the Old Testament era; for Jesus, during His earthly ministry; for us as God’s New Testament people; and in the new creation. He writes: “On this seventh day [of creation], four verbs are predicated of God: he completed, he rested, he blessed, and he sanctified.”

Bell comments, “The climax of creation is the consecration of time.” God called His people Israel to observe the sabbath. Bell writes, “The Sabbath was given to Israel as a picture of the seventh day. On the Sabbath, Israel was to fall into the pattern established by God when he completed his work and rested. This established a rhythm to the week: for six days the Israelites labored, then for one day they rested. Each week, the Israelites took a journey through time. The Sabbath was the goal of the week, the day that gave meaning to other six days. But after each Sabbath they had to start the journey over again. This rhythm that Israel observed each week was itself contained within two larger rhythms. Every seventh year, Israel was to give her land a sabbatical year, a year of rest from being cultivated (Leviticus 25.1-7). After every seventh sabbatical year, i.e., every fiftieth year, Israel was to celebrate a Jubilee Year in which slaves were set free and land restored to its rightful owner (Leviticus 25.8-55). These cycles of a week, of seven years, and of fifty years, were powerful reminders that there lay something beyond the mundane life of the daily routine. Beyond the common lay the sacred, the holy. Beyond the six days lay the seventh. Beyond the six years lay the seventh. Beyond the forty-nine years lay the fiftieth.”

He asks, “Why did Jesus choose the Sabbath for so many of his healing miracles, such as the one in Mark 2.23-3.6? . . . . The seventh day was the goal toward which God moved his Creation, the day in which God brought creation into completion. The Sabbath was his gift to Israel, the goal towards which both creation and redemption moved. Surely then, Sabbath is the most appropriate day for Jesus to heal people, . . . . Sabbath was the day for being made whole, made complete so that one could enter into rest.”

But what does the Sabbath mean for us now? Should we observe it – and, if so, how? Bell writes, “The first Christians recognized that with the death and resurrection of Jesus, something dramatic had happened to Sabbath. These Jewish Christians quickly moved their assemblies to the first day of the week. Paul, formerly the most fanatical of Pharisees, and therefore punctilious about Sabbath observance, came to realize that Sabbath was just a shadow of a reality that had now arrived.” He concludes, “Today [Sunday] is not Sabbath; it is what Sabbath pointed to. In turn, both Sabbath and Today point towards the Seventh Day that will fill all of time. Both are tokens of eternity. Sabbath was one day in seven. Today is seven days in seven. Go out today and live it as a token of eternity, but then carry on living that way on Monday and on through the week. Improvise however you see fit, but do so within the framework established by the rest of the plot. Then it will be a day of completion, of rest, of blessing, and of holiness. Sabbath is not the place we’re not allowed to play football, but the place where we enter God’s teleological rest through Christ, and live a foretaste of eternity. ”

The sermon is available as an audio file and a PDF HERE.

CREDITS Scripture citations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers. © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

‘The four seeds of Abraham: natural, national, Christ and “in Christ”‘ by David Schrock

“And [the LORD] brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15.5–6).

David Schrock writes, “. . . it is vital to see how God’s earlier revelation prepares the way for his later purposes. Sometimes this is called an ‘eschatological’ reading of Scripture. That may sound complicated, but it’s not. Eschatology means ‘the study of last things’ (eschatos = last), and most of the time people immediately jump to what they perceive are the ‘last things’ in the Bible. However, if we consider that God stands outside of time and created all things for the purpose putting them under his Son’s feet (see Ephesians 1:10), then we must read the Bible as one unified-but-unfolding plan of redemption. In this way, eschatology doesn’t begin in Revelation, or Daniel, or Zechariah, it begins in Genesis. And from Genesis to Revelation, God is working all things for the purposes of his people—the offspring of Abraham. But who is/are Abraham’s offspring?”

Dr. Schrock explains who the four seeds of Abraham are, and places them in the developing storyline of the Bible. He concludes, “. . . ultimately, it is the third and fourth seeds that are most important. To be sure, the second seed takes up most of the pages in Scripture, but that second seed was always chosen for the purpose of the third seed. And nestled within the second seed, even before the coming of the third, was the fourth. . . . . Keep your eyes on the storyline of Scripture, and watch how the historical figures in the Old Testament bear witness to the coming Christ. In Scripture, all things are directed towards him, and thus only as we place faith in him, do God’s people find their blessing, as children of Abraham. This is how the Scripture explain God’s purposes in time, just as Paul puts in Galatians 3.23–29. . . . . Indeed, as we read Scripture may we learn how to tell the time. And most important for setting our watches is learning to see how God is at work over the different covenants of Scripture.”

Read the whole article HERE.

CREDITS All Scripture citations (other than those in quotations from other authors) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers. © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

‘Holy War: Jesus Style’ by Nick Batzig

The charge © Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Roman soldiers charging – a re-enactment by the Ermine Street Guard. The Guard’s reconstructions are primarily from the latter half of the first century AD (the period of the early Church). Paul would therefore have been familiar with soldiers’ uniform of this type. In Ephesians 6.11-19, Paul pictures believers as Roman soldiers. He writes: “Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” He lists the pieces of armour that God provides: “the belt of truth” , “the breastplate of righteousness” , “as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace” , “the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one” , and “the helmet of salvation” . Our weapon is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” . Then he writes, “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, . . . .”

Nicholas Batzig writes, “While it may not appear evident at first glance, the Holy War in which Israel was engaged in the Old Covenant (Exodus 34.11-16) and the Holy War in which Christians are engaged in the New Covenant (Ephesians 6.10-19) are directly related to the saving work of Christ.”

A key point that Batzig makes is this: “The idea of purification stands at the forefront of God’s command for Israel to destroy the nations in the land of Canaan.”

He tells us: “The cleansing of the land of Israel through Holy War prefigured the cleansing of the Temple. Vern Poythress explains the connection between the land and the Temple when he writes: “ . . . . Because the land is particularly associated with God, it is in a broad sense holy and will be defiled by gross sins (Leviticus 18.24-28). . . . . Defilement of the land corresponds to defilement of the tabernacle, and cleansing of the land, as in Numbers 35.33-34, corresponds to cleansing the tabernacle. . . . . ”

Batzig continues, “ . . . . “The several acts of Temple cleansing in the Old Testament pointed back to the conquest of Canaan and forward to the work of Christ (2 Chronicles 29.3-19; Nehemiah 13.4-31). . . . . At the beginning of his ministry our Lord said, “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up. (John 2.19); He “was speaking of the Temple of His body” (John 2.21). . . . . When Christ was crucified, the Temple was cleansed in the greatest act of judgment. In the destruction of His flesh, the sin of His people was cleansed (2 Corinthians 5.21). The Father declared Holy War on His people, and their sin, when He declared it on His Son. In the death of Jesus, the people of God were judged for their sins. When Jesus was crucified, we were crucified with Him (Galatians 2.20). The power of sin was destroyed (Galatians 5.24). When He rose, we rose with Him to newness of life (Romans 6.5-10; Colossians 3.3).”

Batzig tells us, “Today, the Church is engaged in Holy War. It is a war against the spiritual enemies who lay behind the kingdoms of this world (Ephesians 6.10-11). . . . . At the cross, Jesus disarmed principalities and powers (Colossians 2.13). In His ascension He plundered the enemy (Ephesians 4.8), freeing His people from the power of sin and the devil. We participate in His victory by participating in the Church’s mission. When sinners are converted, they undergo a spiritual death and resurrection. Their hearts are cleansed through faith in the crucified Savior. Wherever the message of the cross is proclaimed—and whenever believers engage in hand-to-hand combat with their sin—Holy War is being fought.”

Read the whole article HERE.

In his article, Batzig quotes a number of passages from Vern Poythress’ excellent book The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses. The full text of a draft of this book is available in two parts, HERE and HERE. Or you can purchase the book; the publisher’s information is available HERE. More free resources by Vern Poythress are available HERE. I recommend them.

CREDITS All Scripture citations (other than those made by other authors) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers. © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.