Dear 5x5x5 readers,
We have come at last to the end, The Book of Revelation is the last book in the Bible and the last we will read on our journey through the New Testament in a year. Congratulations to all who are still reading with us!
Revelation is clearly one of the most complicated and neglected books in the Bible. We know that it is important, but we cannot figure out what to do with all the symbolism and strange events, and we end up ignoring it completely. Consider whom it was written to and why, and perhaps that will give us a start. The consensus is that the Apostle John wrote Revelation while in exile on the island of Patmos (a Mediterranean Alcatraz of sorts!) He wrote it around 90 AD, some 60 years after the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the birth of the church at Pentecost. Churches across the Roman empire remained small, scattered, and persecuted. Jerusalem had been destroyed. It was undoubtedly difficult for Christians to persevere, there was doubt, conflict, and disappointment that Christ had not yet returned and set things right in the world.
To these little, persecuted, frustrated church communities John writes the letter of Revelation. The book is firmly rooted in the historical context of the Roman Empire. As you read, work to identify broad themes. Who is God? How is He working in human history? Who is Jesus Christ? What happens to evil in the world? Is there any hope? Where does real power lie? What is the end of the story? Try not too get too caught up in figuring out the sequence of events, or what various symbols mean – much of it remains a mystery and many commentaries have been written on such things with no agreement. Remember that Revelation was not written to give us a precise timeline of history, but rather to offer hope and encouragement.
(update) For those who asked for a commentary recommendation – I am reading and loving Revelation by Leon Morris, 2009, part of the Tyndale New Testament commentary series. It is written for a pastoral/ministry audience (not an academic one) and is very balanced. It is also firmly rooted in the historical context of the original audience, so many of the symbols they would have understood are explained. Dispensationalists would not like it.
“To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb, be praise and honor and glory and power forever.” – Revelation 5:13
Dear 5x5x5 Bible Readers,
The last few chapters of the Gospel of John told the story of Jesus’ appearances to the disciples after His resurrection. It’s interesting that our reading plan then moves to the letters to the Thessalonians, a church that was afraid perhaps they had missed the second coming of Jesus.
When Paul visited Thessalonica (in modern Greece) in about 49AD many came to faith in Jesus, but there was also a riot and he had to escape in the night. (Read about it in Acts 17.) Paul’s first letter to Thessalonians is one of the earliest letters he wrote, just a year or two after his visit that launched the church. In the letters we see Paul’s warm pastoral heart for this young church. He is excited for their genuine faith, and he longs to see them again. Paul writes less about doctrine in these letters, and much more about what faith looks like, how to live, enduring persecution, and having hope. These themes continue into 2 Thessalonians, though Paul is not quite as warm in tone.
“Never tire of doing what is right.” 2 Thess. 3:13
The end of the year is quickly approaching, and we have only 2 Peter and Revelation left to read! Congratulations, and hang in there!
Dear 5x5x5 Readers,
Today we started reading in the Gospel of John. John’s gospel is entirely different in vocabulary, style, and purpose than Matthew, Mark, or Luke. Remember this, the gospels were not intended as biographies. Each Gospel writer selected from a much larger pool of information the material which would serve his purpose. John was not primarily interested in relating the events of Jesus’ life, and he leaves out a great many details that are covered in the other gospels. He presumes his readers are already familiar with Jesus.
John introduces Jesus as the adult Son of God. John is focused on explaining the profound meaning of Jesus’ teachings and actions. John selected stories from approximately twenty days in Jesus’ life, and arranged them to reveal to us a Messiah with a mission. As you read watch for:
– The “Seven Signs” or miracles John shares and consider what they reveal about the identity of Jesus.
– The “I am” statements of Jesus and consider what they reveal about His identity.
John is telling each story for a reason – he is explaining who Jesus is and what His mission was.
Dear 5x5x5 Bible readers, Welcome to 1st Peter this week! You know Peter – a fisherman, one of Jesus’ three closest disciples, the one who walked on water, also the one who denied knowing Jesus – Peter, the rock, who became the leader of the church in Jerusalem after Pentecost. Peter writes this letter from Rome, late in his life, to Christians who are enduring hardships and persecution across the Roman empire.
1st Peter is a letter of encouragement, speaking into the lives of those who are suffering. Important themes in 1 Peter are:
– the identity of a believer (reborn into a new family, exiles and sojourners, a royal priesthood, and a chosen people),
– a call to holiness and good character in keeping with the standards of their new family,
– persevering through suffering,
– a living and eternal hope,
– submission and humility, and
– the coming judgment.
I’m actually teaching 1st Peter this fall at The River, and it is such a rich text – full of encouragement in suffering, and reminders of our identity and our future. As the world seems a bit crazy these days, and many are suffering, the words of Peter are timely. Be encouraged.
Dear 5x5x5 Bible readers,
After our short stay in the pastoral letters of Paul to Timothy (in Ephesus) and Titus (in Crete), we turn now to the letters of 1, 2 & 3 John. The John that is writing is an apostle, one of the “sons of thunder” who knew Jesus personally. He wrote the gospel according to John earlier, to introduce Jesus to those who did not know Him. Now, much later in life, he is writing to those who are already Christians.
These letters address the behavior of those who claim to be Christians. You will see repeatedly the phrase, “If we claim…” which is followed by clear expectations of the behavior of a Christian. John’s themes are simple and straightforward on topics of light/darkness, truth, love, sin, and obedience. John was probably the last surviving apostle when he wrote these letters, and he fights vigorously against the corruption of a true faith. It’s refreshing to see such clarity!
Dear 5x5x5 readers, Welcome to 1 Timothy, a letter from the apostle Paul to his long-time friend and fellow laborer Timothy. Timothy was younger than Paul, converted on Paul’s first missionary journey, and had become Paul’s most trusted disciple and co-laborer. When new churches in the region experienced challenges, Timothy was often the pastor dispatched to help resolve issues and prevent a major meltdown. Timothy was serving as the pastor to the church in Ephesus when Paul wrote these instructions (approximately ten years after Paul’s letter to the Ephesians).
A pastor’s job is not an easy one! In any given week, a pastor may serve as a psychologist, priest, social worker, hospital chaplain, administrator, personnel supervisor, philosopher, teacher, and communicator. Paul was very aware of the vital nature of such a job – churches sprouted up wherever Paul visited, but whether they survived or failed depended largely on what kind of local leadership developed. 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus are considered the “pastoral letters”, written by Paul to encourage and direct young leaders. I often write the major themes of each Biblical book across the top of the introductory page in my Bible – on 1 Timothy I have written “church leadership and administration”.
Although this letter addresses a historical situation, many problems of the early church persist today – controversies, disorder, a generation gap, an integrity shortage, abuse of social aid, and a love of money. As you read, look for problems Paul alludes to and ask yourself if they have any modern equivalents. What role does he expect different groups to play in local church leadership? What example are they expected to provide?
Keep reading! It’s September and we are going to finish the New Testament this year!
On June 27 we begin reading the book of Luke. Luke probably did not know Jesus personally and he was not one of the 12 disciples. Luke was a well-educated doctor and an early convert, who became very dedicated to the cause of the gospel and accompanied the apostle Paul on several missionary trips. Luke set out to compile a very detailed account of the life of Jesus and he interviewed many eyewitnesses before compiling this compelling and thoughtful summary.
Luke’s gospel is sometimes called a “gospel of relationships” as he provides many excellent character descriptions. As you read through Luke this month, make a note of all the different people Jesus encounters – consider their gender and their ethnic, religious, economic, and social groups. Luke chooses to highlight the poor and outcast, and he introduces thirteen women mentioned in no other gospel. He also shows delight and appreciation for children. The gospel helps us see value in people that society often rejects, and to bridge socio-cultural gaps – consider Jesus’ interaction with people as you read and study Luke.
“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” – Jesus, Luke 5:31-32