The Two Witnesses, Olive Trees, and Lampstands

And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.”

These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.

Revelation 11: 3-4

I long for the Lord’s return as does every disciple of Christ in heaven and on earth. So in anticipation we labor to understand John’s visions in the book of Revelation, visions that are couched in poetic form, heavy with imagery, rife with symbolism, and characterized by repetition. Truly, the eyes of our mind have to be opened by the Spirit of Christ to understand the Scriptures as once He did for the disciples before His ascension to show, as He said, “that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 14: 44-45).

If we understand that Revelation was given to us so that we may see the end of all things as being Christ’s final victory over death, the devil, and the world, we will see it is as a joyful summons to “Lift up your hearts!” a sursum corda, to rejoice in what Jesus has achieved and will achieve in the coming of His kingdom, and the new heavens and the new earth.

The images from Revelation 11 appear random but are fraught with meaning and I have written about the entire passage in “The Two Witnesses.” What I left out was a closer look at how the imagery of the two olive trees and two lampstands complement the image of the two witnesses and how wonderfully rich they are.

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Confessions in the Desert

You’re restless. You can’t sit still. You have a nagging task you can’t identify. You’re looking for something unknown. But the land is arid and the country is a wilderness. Then after a while, unexpectedly, the first sign of relief appears. You run towards it like you would a spring in the desert. You drink deeply. And …

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We Are All Beggars

In the spring of 1521, a man stood alone before an inquisitorial council, summoned by the Pope and Emperor Charles V, to renounce his writings and his beliefs. Instead, he stood firm, saying,

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.

Just days prior to his death many years later, this same man, Martin Luther, wrote that before the Holy Scriptures, “Wir sind alle Bettler” (“We are all beggars”).

We are all beggars. Newly clad in the righteousness of Christ, having discarded our sin-soaked garments, we stand with hands empty before our holy God to receive each day our fill of nourishing food from the table of Christ our King, a table laden with all that comes to us by the Spirit of God in the Bible. “How sweet are Your words to my taste!” writes the psalmist. “Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (119:103). “O taste and see that the LORD is good!” (Ps. 34:8) Through His word, Christ Jesus teaches and guides us, and by His Spirit enables us, so we shout with confidence with the apostle Paul, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me!” (Phil. 4:13)
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Belief (3)

I feel as if I’ve put it off long enough while going around in circles, thinking, thinking, thinking, feeling that it must be said, to myself and to you – if you are a Christian believer – that you and I are no different from the man on the stretcher whose sins were forgiven by the Son of God, or the woman who touched the hem of His garment and found the healing she had sought from her disease.

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Where All Books Lead

Every book that’s worth its salt leads me inexorably back to the only book that I read and re-read constantly, and which also happens to be the best-selling book of all time: the Bible. And let’s face it: all good books should do that, because every good story must have concerns that every one can relate to existentially, people, places, events that we can relate to, even identify with, and they must inevitably bring us back to the big questions in our life:

Why am I here? How can I know truth? What gives meaning to life? What should I do?

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The Time is Now: Daily Reflections for Advent

How are you “preparing the way of the Lord” this advent season?

Dreams from a Pilgrimage

The Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics has put out a series of daily reflections for advent which provide a beautifully meditative context for our individual prayers and reflection. Each meditation begins with a passage of scripture read by David Suchet and then a five-minute exposition by Amy Orr-Ewing which places the scripture within the framework of God’s unfolding design of salvation. The reflections “dwell on God’s preparation of people and events in history, which made the incarnation possible,” with the focus being on how God works in chronos time to achieve his kairos purpose, the coming of the Messiah, Christ Jesus. The introductory video does a good job of explaining the Biblical use of the two Greek words for time, chronos/kairos, kairos being used by the New Testament writers to “communicate the idea of God’s time; it is eternal reality breaking into the now.”

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As The Bridegroom To His Chosen

On the eve of this Lord’s Day, as I think of those gathering to worship and praise their Maker and their King across the world, I am glad that Scripture is replete with the attempts of the prophets, poets, and apostles to describe the relationship of God to His people. No one metaphor or image is adequate. We need all of them to describe its various dimensions. Moreover, each one expands in scope and vision with each passing day as we walk with Him in the fullness of the knowledge of His love and faithfulness; “for we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away…. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13: 9, 12).

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Overheard: The Coffee and the Bible

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(Setting: A shadowed room with the first rays of morning light breaking through the drawn curtains.)

Coffee to the Holy Bible (smirking): Hate to say this, pal, but she never skips me for youIt’s true love, dontcha know?

Holy Bible to Coffee: Love? “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 3:17). Love is what my pages are all about.

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Abraham’s Silence

on_Mount_Moriah

Many times my fellow Christian bloggers give me the inordinate blessing of leading me to consider more thoughtfully where before I ran roughshod, and so it was with a post I read today. It had to do with Abraham’s silence in the face of God’s demand that he sacrifice Isaac, a difficult passage to read, as TwitchTheThread rightly notes. Please be sure and look at the whole post but here are the crucial points concerning Genesis 22: 1-19:

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The Two Witnesses

The symbolism of the “two witnesses” in Revelation 11 has challenged the imagination of many a theologian. But if you go for the clearest and most simple meaning behind the text given its allusions to Moses and Elijah, it is one of the most comforting and emboldening passages for Christians during difficult times.

Revelation 11:3-13 (ESV)

“And I [Jesus] will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.”

These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. And if anyone would harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes. If anyone would harm them, this is how he is doomed to be killed. They have the power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire. And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified. For three and a half days some from the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb, and those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and make merry and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to those who dwell on the earth. But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood up on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them. Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here!” And they went up to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies watched them. And at that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.

The symbols of the two witnesses, the two olive trees, and the two lampstands actually refer to the same thing: those belonging to Christ Jesus throughout the church age, symbolized by the “1,260 days” or 3½ years. Christians are endowed metaphorically with the power of an Elijah, who called down fire from heaven, and Moses, who decreed plagues on Pharaoh’s Egypt, because Christians are witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which in its rejection brings judgment on the world.

But why is a witnessing Christian represented by two figures, and specifically Moses and Elijah? Perhaps because together they stand for the word of God, the Bible, composed of the two covenants or testaments, the Old Testament and the New Testament. The whole of the Old Testament with its prophecies regarding Jesus is represented by Moses, through whom God gave the Law. The New Testament is represented by Elijah in whose spirit John the Baptist “came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him” (John 1: 7): “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (1:29). It was John who announced the coming of Christ, called the people to repentance, and baptized Him in preparation for His ministry and whose life, death, resurrection, ascension and immanent return the whole of the New Testament bears witness to. In Matthew 11: 13-15, Jesus Himself said,

“For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. “And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

So then, we as the Church, who witness to the Lord Jesus Christ, go not by our own testimony alone but testimony rooted in the Bible. In Luke 24: 45, before Jesus sent His disciples out into all the nations to proclaim the gospel, He first “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” We must pray for the same while spending much labor studying God’s word, and relying not on our own ability but in the  power of the Holy Spirit.

Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

Antonio Ciseri, “Ecce homo!” 1871.

As has happened in various times and places throughout history, the world will rise up against the church and try to stifle the witnessing of the Gospel and will even think it has won, but inevitably, the people of God will rise up and preach the Gospel again and again because they have within them the Holy Spirit of God. And though individual Christians may be killed, as indeed Jesus suffered and died but rose again from the dead, their victory is assured because they will be taken up to heaven to await the final resurrection with the second coming of Christ and the end of the age.

In terrifying times such as these when chaos and evil seem to have the upper hand, our Lord Jesus gives us such a revelation to strengthen our faith, to remind us that He is sovereign, and to encourage us to keep preaching the Gospel, to ourselves, to each other, and to our friends and neighbors. This is not only our calling, it is the supreme honor that we have been given through the Holy Spirit, even as Moses and Elijah in their times.

Most Christians try to avoid the book of Revelation. It’s there, they know it’s there, but the images of beasts and bowls and trumpets and signs are too complicated and unreal to bother with. If this is your view as well, I encourage you to take another look at Revelation.¹ You don’t have to understand the significance of every symbol, beyond recognizing that each series of visions cover the same sweep of history from Christ’s birth to the second coming of Christ and the establishment of the new heavens and the new earth.

It is a revelation given by Jesus Christ, as the apostle John tells us, to strengthen us in our mission of spreading the Gospel and keep us firm in our faith by reminding us that whatever the course of human events, in the end, we will emerge victorious because of the One who is the Alpha and Omega, and holds us firmly in His hand.


For more on Revelation 11, see “Two Witnesses, Olive Trees, and Lampstands.”

*All Scripture quotations from NASB unless otherwise cited.

¹A helpful start may be a series of sermons given at All Souls Church, Langham Place, entitled, “The Future Belongs to Jesus”.

The Time is Now: Daily Reflections for Advent

The Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics has put out a series of daily reflections for advent which provide a beautifully meditative context for our individual or family prayers and devotions. Each meditation begins with a passage of scripture read by David Suchet and then a five-minute exposition by Amy Orr-Ewing which places the scripture within the framework of God’s unfolding design of salvation. The reflections “dwell on God’s preparation of people and events in history, which made the incarnation possible,” with the focus being on how God works in chronos time to achieve his kairos purpose, the coming of the Messiah, Christ Jesus. The introductory video does a good job of explaining the Biblical use of the two Greek words for time, chronos/kairos, kairos being used by the New Testament writers to “communicate the idea of God’s time; it is eternal reality breaking into the now.”

Continue reading “The Time is Now: Daily Reflections for Advent”

A Compass, A Guide, the Revelation of God

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I’ve heard and read many sermons on why we should read God’s Word daily but I’ve never heard it put any better than this:

The Bible reveals the mind of God, the state of man,

the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, and the happiness of believers.

Its doctrines are holy,

its precepts binding,

its histories are true,

its decisions are immutable.

Read it to be wise, believe it to be safe, and practice it to be holy.

It contains light to direct you, food to support you, and comfort to cheer you.

It is the traveler’s map, the pilgrim’s staff,

the pilot’s compass, the soldier’s sword,

and the Christian’s charter.

Here, Heaven is opened and the gates of hell disclosed.

Christ is its grand subject, our good its design, the glory of God its end.

It should fill your memory, rule your heart, and guide the feet.

Read it slowly, frequently, and prayerfully. It is given in life,

will be opened in the judgment, and will be remembered forever.

It involves the highest responsibility, will reward the greatest labor,

and will condemn all those who trifle with its sacred contents.

Owned, it is riches; studied, it is wisdom; trusted, it is salvation;

loved, it is character; and obeyed, it is power.

Author Unknown


 Deuteronomy 29:29  
The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.

Photo: Gutenberg Bible (one of forty-nine Gutenberg Bibles; this is one of 21 that are complete with no missing pages), U.S. Library of Congress

Lemuel and Qoheleth

sunset-in-the-forest-of-senoches.jpg!Blog

Two kings there were in ancient times, Lemuel and Qoheleth. They lived in neighboring lands and in the days of their boyhood had been eager to visit one another under the indulgent eyes of their parents. As the years rolled by, however, the duties of their royal crowns served to keep them apart till, in the shadow of their old age, they met again under the cedar trees where once they had played.

As they walked together, they talked of many things, of perils in kingship and of victories in war, of great gain and of equally great loss. They talked as easily and naturally as if there had been no lengthy passage of time since their childhood rambles. At length the evening shadows fell and they paused to listen to the sound of running water from a nearby stream and the whisper of light breezes among the forest ferns and leaves.

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Wrestling Jacob

There’s a story in the book of Genesis of a man named Jacob wrestling with an unknown heavenly traveler.  We are told it’s the middle of the night and that they wrestled “until the breaking of the day” (Gen. 32:24) but as the story opens we are left to imagine why Jacob is so eager for the contest. In the struggle, his “hip is put out of joint” (32:25) and he is lamed but still, despite the overwhelming pain and his opponent’s superior strength, Jacob refuses to let him go – at least until he’s been given the name of this traveler. Jacob had apparently guessed that this man was far more than he appeared to be.

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Job’s Wife Speaks

Inspired by the Georges de La Tour painting below, the following poem attempts to give an added voice to the expressive eloquence of Tour’s work by “unmuting” Job’s wife. As a character in the book of Job, his wife is not prominent but, perhaps, delivers the most bitter blow to Job. Through her, we hear the voice of Satan speaking most directly to Job when she asks,  “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die” (Job 2:9). In the midst of his sufferings, I believe Job’s greatest challenge was to withstand this voice and choose to trust God.

Job Mocked by his Wife Georges de La Tour (17th c.)
Job Mocked by his Wife
Georges de La Tour (17th c.)

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MARANATHA: Our Lord Has Come!/Come, Lord!

μαρὰν ἀθά/μαρανα θα

 

מרנא תא                 מרן אתא

μαρὰν ἀθά                   μαρανα θα

maran ‘athâ                maranâ thâ

Our Lord has come!      Come, Lord!

 Textually, you can’t get more interesting than this. Depending on the biblical translation you rely upon, you will find the verse above from  1 Corinthians 6:22 written either in the preterite or the imperative sense. Doctrinally, it makes very little difference as I found when looking up the original transliterated term “maranatha,” little realizing the bird’s nest of textual criticism I had stumbled upon.

As usual, it all started with Wikipedia and this interesting comment:

“In general, the recent interpretation has been to select the command option (“Come, Lord!”), changing older decisions to follow the preterite option (“Our Lord has come”) as found in the ancient Aramaic Peshitta, in the Latin Clementine Vulgate, in the Greek Byzantine texts, Textus Receptus, critical Greek texts like Westcott and Hort, Tischendorf, Cambridge, etc., and in the English translations like the King James Version, the Finnish Raamattu, etc. One reason the change from the previous scholarly view has occurred is that the P46 papyrus (ca. A.D. 200) divides it as μαρανα θα (“marana tha”).”

You see, the extant manuscripts of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians all provide a Greek transliteration of the Aramaic for this particular expression, so that depending on how the translator chooses to split the transliteration, maran ‘athâ or maranâ thâ, the meaning will be strikingly different.

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