Archive for the ‘Christian living’ Category

The Two Witnesses of Revelation 11

10 November, 2018

It has been said that Revelation is the most biblical of books, as it alludes to stories and teaching from right across both Old and New Testaments of the Bible through its use of imagery, words and phrases. It’s worth also reminding ourselves that, in keeping with its genre of apocalyptic literature, the book of Revelation is loaded with pictures, which are just that – pictures that convey a meaningful message.

So, my reflections on the two witnesses of Revelation 11:1-14 result from reading the passage and being reminded of other parts of the Bible.

Here are my reflections, followed by some thoughts on how this peculiar passage speaks to us today. I hope it resonates with you. I welcome your thoughts.

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Measure the temple, count the worshipper. But do not measure the outer court, given to the Gentiles to be trampled upon.

  • The faithful people of God, those in the temple of God, those who overcome by continuing to follow Jesus under pressure – these are marked out, preserved and not overcome by the forces that would trample down all in its domain. (See 2 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 2:19-22 and 1 Peter 2:4-5.).
  • Those outside the temple, in the courts, will inevitably be trampled by priorities, pressures and oppression of the powers of this world and this age. Instead of overcoming in the midst of pressure, they will be conformed and overcome by it.
  • See Matthew 5:13, especially in the context of witness and faithfulness to Jesus – “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.”

The two witnesses, which are the two olive trees and two lampstands:

  • Two because that’s the number of witness (see Deuteronomy 19:15; Matthew 18:16).
  • Lampstands because they represent the church (see Revelation 1-3).
  • Olive trees because they were anointed by the Holy Spirit and for the task (see Zechariah 4).
  • Olive trees because they represent the multiethnic church of Jews and ingrafted gentiles (see Romans 11).

Fire comes from their mouth and consumes their enemies:

  • The Holy Spirit, symbolised by fire, will give the witnesses of Jesus the words to say that no one can resist (see Acts 2:1-4 and Mark 13:11; also Luke 21:12-15).
  • Mark. 13:11: “Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.”
  • Luke. 21:12–15: “But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.”

Drought and plagues:

  • These all allude to Elijah’s and Moses’ ministry to deliver people out of slavery to the world system and powers, and to call people to wholehearted faithfulness to God (see Exodus 7-12 and 1 Kings 17-18).

Finished their testimony, killed, left unburied, resurrected, taken up to heaven:

  • These witnesses follow the way of Jesus, the faithful witness and the firstborn from among the dead (Revelation 1:5) – through witness, suffering and death (carrying our cross and losing our life for the sake of Jesus and the gospel; see Mark 8:34-38), and resurrection (vindication; (see Romans 1:4 and 1 Timothy 3:16).
  • Jesus body was placed in a tomb (see Mark 15:46), these witnesses’ bodies were not placed in a tomb.
  • Jesus’ followers witnessed Jesus being taken up into heaven (see Mark 16:19). These witnesses’ enemies witnessed them being taken up into heaven.

Gave glory to God in heaven:

  • Despite all the plagues before (Revelation 9:20-21) and after (Revelation 16:8-11,21) this section in Revelation – the economic and natural consequences of living apart from God and in opposition to God’s ways – those suffering these consequences did not turn God; in fact some cursed him instead.
  • Only when the followers of Jesus testify, suffer for their faithful witness to Jesus Christ and are vindicated by God, do the people glorify God.

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Some Christian thought leaders call this the cruciform shape of Christian witness, i.e. the cross-shaped way of life that Jesus modelled and calls us into.

This is seen, for example, in the life and death of: Stephen in Acts 6, arguably a catalyst for the conversion of Paul the apostle; the many Christians killed in Romans coliseums for refusing to bow to Empire; the blood of the Martyrs of the English reformation; Jim Elliott and the five missionaries killed for their missionary endeavours in Ecuador.

All these suffered loss of life, but the history of the progression of Christian witness is also full of stories of those who died to self and carried the cross in order to love Christ by loving others, such as: Corrie ten Boom, holocaust-survivor who forgave the Nazi leaders and concentration camp guards who had effectively taken the lives of her family members; Elisabeth Elliott, who later spent two years as a missionary to the tribe members who killed her husband, Jim; Daniel MacArthur and Ashers Bakery, who with great dignity and at personal cost refused an order promoting a political message that cut across their conscience; and a whole host of more ordinary examples of self-sacrificing love in order to be faithful to Christ Jesus in word and in action.

The apostles Paul, Peter, James and John all spoke of this cross-shaped way of life and witness, helpfully applying it to a few different contexts.

2 Cor. 4:8–12: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.”

1 Pet. 4:12–14: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.”

James. 5:10–11: “Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered.“

1 John. 3:16–18: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”

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In summary, I’m suggesting that, in harmony with the rest of the New Testament, the two witnesses of Revelation 11 call us to faithfully follow the way of Christ Jesus in cross-shaped, self-sacrificial love and witness.

I’ll leave you with these words of Jesus that speak of self-sacrificing love, especially within the family of God, and the link to effective witness.

John 15:12–13: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

John 13:14-15,34-35: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. … A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

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So over to you. What do you think?

I welcome your thoughts on my reflections and application. What resonates with you? What doesn’t?

Also, are there any stories that inspire you? Any thoughts on how to live this way?

“And who is my neighbour?”

9 July, 2017

In light of the divisions in American society that have been exposed and heightened by the US presidential elections, it may be a good time for followers of Jesus Christ to ask again the question: “And who is my neighbor?”

A lot has been written and said post-election, often in an attempt to deepen understanding on both sides. But there’s a real risk of “preaching to the choir,” talking past each other or reinforcing polar positions.

This article attempts to shift the balance of conversation from the horizontal plane to the vertical one. In other words, the intent is to promote our dialogue with—and particularly our response to—our Lord, without undermining our discourse with one another. In a time like this, we need to hear God speak into our situation and to make a right response to him.

To help us with this opportunity to hear God, let me ask you to slow down, reflect and complete the following sentence:

“The group(s) of people I seem to have the most wariness/anxiety over, fear of, or irritation/anger/animosity towards is/are ____________.”

What group do you have the most wariness over, fear of, or animosity towards?

The Shocking Samaritan

Now back to the question… “And who is my neighbor?”

The first time that question was asked, Jesus replied with what is now known as The Parable of the Good Samaritan.

We need to consider Jesus’ response carefully and deeply. But we need to make sure we read it in a way that shocks us like it did those who first heard those words.

The Samaritan in the story was anything but good from the viewpoint of those listening. They were despised, compromised, dishonest, treacherous, contaminants in society, and to be avoided as far as possible.

As New Testament scholar, Prof. Tim Geddert explains:

Jesus’ strategy [in responding to his enquirer] was not to pick a perfect example of merciful loving-kindness and let him demonstrate the right way to treat people in need. Jesus’ strategy was to shock his hearers by taking the least likely candidate… As surely as we link the adjectives “good” or “merciful” with… “Samaritan”, the Jews… would have supplied adjectives like “hateful”, “unclean”, “religiously-perverted”… Perhaps the parable still has the power to shock… if we try to imagine whom Jesus might have lifted out as his hero of compassion today.

Tim Geddert, Double Take: New Meanings from Old Stories

Who Offends You Most?

So how about, instead of ‘Samaritan’, we substitute in:

  • Blinded Trump supporters or blinkered Clinton advocates;
  • White evangelicals who “compromised the faith” by voting for either one of two morally-disqualified candidates, giving their vote away by nominating a third candidate or a write in, or not voting at all;
  • Supposed Christians who by their voting choices are inciting racism and misogyny or promoting corruption and fetal homicide;
  • Christian leaders who have (in essence) taken the Lord’s name in vain, used the Bible for partisan purposes, and – by failing to discern the underlying societal issues – have undermined the credibility and witness of the church;
  • Ignorant, conservative, working-class white males, or equally intolerant liberal elites with no empathy with the common working man;
  • Blacks, Hispanics, or minority groups who expect handouts, take our jobs and undermine our culture;
  • Immigrants (legal or illegal) who are an economic drain on – and a major security risk to – our once great nation;
  • [Your response to the sentence completion exercise above].

Choose a group that is most unlike you, most offensive to you—and then re-read the encounter between Jesus and this God-fearing lawyer who wanted to justify himself (Luke 10:25-37).

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” 

“Love God with everything and love your neighbor as yourself.” 

“And who is my neighbor?”

“The one who showed mercy toward him.”

“Go and do the same.”

In other words, let us go and show mercy (in heart and in action) on:

  • Those most different to ourselves;
  • Those that we feel justified to look down upon and erect barriers against;
  • Those we think would judge and despise us.

It’s interesting what Jesus does here. In his reply to the question “And who is my neighbor?”, he refused to look at the merits of the “Other”. In fact, Jesus led the lawyer to answer his own question. I trust we have done something of that here.

As he so often does, Jesus—whilst remaining deeply practical—moves matters on to a higher plane. He lands the coin on its edge. It wasn’t about who was right or wrong, better or worse. And it certainly wasn’t about who was in or out of our obligation to love. It was—no, it still is—about us Loving God by Loving Others. Jesus moves it beyond our viewpoints, debate and discourse. And made it about our love and our actions. Not how worthy the Other is, but how WE ARE toward the Other.

It’s interesting – hopefully impactful – to note that it inconvenienced the Samaritan to show mercy. He had to change plans and go out of his way. It cost him both time and money.

Here’s the kicker: In a situation where we are missing each other in the discourse—when we hear Jesus speak—the question becomes, “How will I respond to my Lord?”

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This blog post was first published at Missio Alliance under the title ‘Asking “Who Is My Neighbour?” After the Election’ on 9th December 2016.

The Word of God in the life of a person

28 May, 2011

In order to understand the importance of reading and studying the Bible for growing in our Christian lives, we need to understand the nature, purpose and workings of the Christian life. The essential nature of the Christian life is all about enjoying a restored right relationship with God our Father, through the Lord Jesus Christ and by the enabling for the Holy Spirit (Eph 1:3-14). Our old life was one of a wrong and broken relationship with God that resulted from sin. Sin, in its essence, is being self-centred rather than God-centred (Isa 53:6). However, our new life in Christ – as we truly embrace Jesus Christ as Lord – is one with God at the very centre, where He takes the highest place.

When we become Christians, we did not sign up for a club, a society, a denomination or a church – we signed up for a person, the Lord Jesus (Phil 3:7-11). Being a Christian by definition is being a follower of Christ. The essential purpose of the Christian life is to follow Christ in that relationship and to find our place is His purposes (Phil 3:12-14), which involves making Him and His salvation known to the earth and seeing His kingdom established in our lives and that of others.

The Christian life works when we use every God-given means to benefit from and enjoy all that Christ purchased for us at the Cross and has been made available to us by His Spirit (Rom 8:31-32). Once God is at the centre of our lives, then the Bible, God’s written Word, must automatically also come to the centre of our lives. God and His Word are intrinsically linked (Psa 138:2); Jesus is the personal Word of God, and the Bible is the written Word of God, and the Christian life does not work well if we try to take one without the other. We cannot grow in our knowledge of God except by growing in the knowledge and application of His Word. We cannot know what Jesus has purchased for us at the Cross other than by knowing it from the Bible, made alive to us by the Holy Spirit. We cannot even properly know ourselves except by God’s help through His Word. Furthermore, our love for Jesus is expressed and made real by our obedience to His Word (John 14:23).

The Bible makes it clear that once Jesus has become the foundation, the Rock, of our lives, we grow and build on that foundation by living according to His Word, i.e. by hearing and doing what He says (Mat 7:24-27). In the natural, we need food and nourishment to grow. In the Christian life, God’s nourishment for us to grow is in His Word. The Bible is pure milk for the new and young believer, a staple of bread for daily living, and solid food for those who are mature (1 Pet 2:2-3; Mat 4:4; Heb 5:11-14) – in other words, the Bible contains what we need to grow no matter what stage we are at in the Christian life.

Once we give the Bible its proper place in our lives, studying and applying it, then it can become to us all that it has promised to be. Some, but by no means all, of these blessings and benefits are listed below:

  • It reveals to us the nature, character and attributes of God, showing us the One we desire to know intimately and be like (John 5:39; Luke 24:27).
  • It reveals God’s calling and purposes for us in this life (Mat 28:18-20).
  • Living by it results in a growing revelation of Jesus and intimacy with Him (John 14:21).
  • It reveals to us the will of God and thereby enables us to pray effectively (1 John 5:14-15).
  • In living by it, we will be established and blessed (Psa 1; Mat 7:24-27; James 1:22-25).
  • It washes and cleanses us (John 15:3; Eph 5:25-27).
  • It ministers healing to us from God (Psa 107:20; Prov 4:20-22).
  • It accomplishes the purposes of God (Isa 55:10-11).
  • It reveals our heart (Heb 4:12).
  • It shows us who we are, by correcting our wrong thinking, character and behaviour, and revealing who we truly are in Christ Jesus (Jam 1:22-25).
  • It teaches us all that God has promised us in Christ (2 Cor 1:20).
  • It is able to save those who receive the Word of God (2 Tim 3:14-15; Jam 1:21; 1 Pet 1:23).
  • It instructs, corrects, reproves and trains us in righteousness, equipping us for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17).
  • It directs us (Psa 119:105).

As well as receiving these benefits of the Bible for ourselves, we also learn about our privilege, responsibility and capacity to pass these on to others (Mat 10:7-8; Mat 28:18-20).

In addition to teaching us by instruction, the Bible also teaches us powerfully by life examples. Seeing other people’s experiences with God creates in us a desire for more and inspires us to pursue and enter into the same. The Bible is a window into the unknown. The Christian life is about reaching out for where we have never been before in our relationship with God and our journey with Him. The Bible informs us of what can be, motivating us to press on and lay hold of all that for which Christ laid hold of us (Phil 3:12-14). Without the Word of God, it is easy to settle into a less-than-God-intended, man-made version of Christianity. However, through the Bible made alive to us by the Holy Spirit, God continually calls us into pursuing Him and His great purposes, and beckons us to reach out to become all that He has made us to be.


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