Seven Keys to Unlock the Treasure of the Bible: Key One – The Message of the Bible

The Bible is the all time best selling book. Nothing else comes close. It might also be the least read book. Various studies and reports have been published bemoaning the lack of biblical literacy. While a large majority of American homes own a Bible and many believe it is inspired, only a small percentage read it daily.

There are many reasons why the Bible is not read more, but one of the main reasons is that it is a difficult book to read. It is an ancient book about an ancient culture with many strange practices that seem bizarre to modern readers. It is also a very long book.

Consequently, many people just do not read it much. It doesn’t seem relevant. What does a book thousands of years old have to do with twenty-first century life? People ask these kinds of questions and find the Bible outdated and unrelated to the struggles they face. But the reality is that the Bible is relevant to life in any age because it is the Word of God. And we desperately need God’s message for life. Therefore, reading and understanding the Bible becomes crucial. Can we treat the book from God as any other book? Can we let the difficulty we find in reading it keep us from devoting ourselves to that arduous task? What’s at stake in neglecting the Bible?

Surely, the most important thing in life is knowing God. If God is real, and I believe deeply that he is, then nothing can be more important than knowing him. The only problem is that we can’t know God truly unless he reveals himself to us. Thankfully he has made himself known.

God reveals himself in two ways, first in nature, his created world, but most fully in the Bible. This is often called General Revelation (nature) and Special Revelation (the Bible). We can see this wonderful and beautiful truth in Psalm 19 as well as Romans 1:18-20; 2 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 1:1-2; 2 Peter 1:20-21, to name a few.

If knowing God is the most important thing in life, and God most fully makes himself known in the Bible, then it is critical that we read and understand our Bibles. It follows that as we come to know and understand our Bibles we come to know and understand God. But this is the struggle for many people who want to know God in the Bible. Try as they may, they can’t seem to understand it. It seems to be a closed book, a locked book. The truth is that the Bible is an open book, but there are certain keys that unlock its treasures for the one willing to do the hard work to obtain them. Therefore, we will provide seven keys to unlock the treasures of the Bible. This will be the first of seven articles on important keys that help us better understand the Bible and God’s plan found in the Bible.

The first key is the message of the Bible. One of the wonderful things about the Bible is its unity and diversity. The Bible is a richly diverse book. It is actually a library of books. There are 66 books in the Bible by about 40 authors written over a period of around 1500 years, yet the Bible has one overarching storyline and one overarching message God wants to communicate to the world. The Bible displays a rich diversity but also an amazing unity that reveals its divine origin. 

The unity of the Bible is seen in its overarching message. The Bible fits together. All of its many and complex parts fit together beautifully. It is truly amazing that such a diverse book is so unified in its message. So, what is the overarching message of the Bible? What is the Bible trying to say to people through its many documents, authors and literary types? Jesus himself tells us the message of the Bible. The message of the Bible is the glory of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ accomplishing the plan of salvation that comes through him. We see this so clearly in Luke chapter 24. The resurrected Jesus encounters two discouraged disciples walking from Jerusalem to the small village of Emmaus on resurrection Sunday. As Jesus began to walk with them, they did not recognize him. They were discouraged because they thought Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, but he has just been crucified and put in a tomb. Jesus rebukes them for not knowing that the Messiah had to suffer first and then enter his glory. He then shows the two disciples from the whole Old Testament (“beginning at Moses and all the Prophets”) what was said about him. Jesus is the message of the Bible!

When the two disciples recognized Jesus, he vanished from their sight. They excitingly said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he spoke to us on the road, as he opened up to us the Scripture?” These disciples experienced burning hearts as Jesus opened up the Scriptures to them. Disciples today can experience the same burning hearts as they discover the message of Jesus and salvation in all the pages of the Bible. 

We see similar things in many other places in the Bible, such as, Luke 24:44-49; John 5:39; Acts 28:23-24; Romans 1:1-6 and Galatians 4:4-6. If we were to we work through the Old Testament we would see Jesus and the salvation he brings time and time again. We see Jesus in messianic prophecies like Psalms 22; Isaiah 9:6-7; 11:1-5; 52:13-53:12; Ezekiel 34:23-24 and Micah5:2 as well as many other places. We also see Jesus in the sacrificial system of the law of Moses. He is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The Old Testament is filled with the promises of the coming Messiah-Redeemer, while the New Testament is the fulfillment of his coming. The whole message of the Bible, therefore, is about Jesus and the salvation he brings.

It is important to know the central message of any book but especially the Bible. This first key is indispensable in unlocking the treasures of the Bible. Without it the rest of the keys do not hold the power they otherwise would. The Bible is about Jesus. Without understanding that one cannot grasp what God is saying in any part of holy Scripture.

Since the first key to unlock the treasures of the Bible is that the message of the Bible is Jesus, let us look for that message as we read every part of God’s word. Many passages mention Jesus specifically while many others do not. Yet we can find Jesus in some way everywhere we read. If we do that we will grasp the meaning of the Bible and like those early disciples, we will experience burning hearts.

The Book of 1 John

The writings of John the Apostle (The Gospel of John, 1,2,3 John and Revelation) are, on the one hand, simple in vocabulary, but on the other hand, they are complex and deep theologically, and profound and transformative spiritually. Because of this it is easy to miss their powerful meaning. The first letter of John is especially this way. It has a cadence to it as you read and a certain pious charm that can touch the heart. But it is more. In it we find deep waters of spiritual truth. Don’t go there if you don’t want to be changed. Because of its subtleties it may take a few readings before you begin to find your way beneath the surface. But what you find there is worth many readings. For the patient reader, each reading yields greater understanding and perception.

Many have noted the difficulty in finding a clear structure to 1 John. This is why the outlines of the book look so different. John has a tendency in all his writings to begin with one theme, move on to another, and then circle back around to the first. This idiosyncrasy, I think, is purposeful. By structuring his writings in this way, John is providing us with layers of truth. He is taking us way beneath the surface. But the basic flow of John’s message is this: (1) A prologue on the Word of Life (1:1-4), (2) An introduction (1:5-10), (3) The message of assurance of salvation (2:1-5:21).

John’s purpose in the book is to provide his readers with a clear path to the assurance of their salvation. He uses his unique style and other literary devices to do this. So, the outline of the book and the exposition of it will be somewhat different from other books. But I believe we will see things in 1 John that will help us better see God’s plan and even experience his presence.

The Word of Life (1:1-4)

The first four verses of the letter of 1 John are often called the prologue. They are very different from the beginning of most of the letters in the New Testament, but similar to the prologue of John’s gospel. The letter of 1 John is more like a sermon than a letter. In fact, it is just that to the church(s) he sends it to. 

John begins his message by reminding his readers that he was an eyewitness to the most amazing events in all human history. These amazing events were actually a person, the Word of Life, Jesus Christ. John’s stated purpose in the prologue is that his readers may, like John, have fellowship with God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ.

Walking in the Light (1:5-10)

John’s purpose in the book is to give his readers an assurance of salvation. But he doesn’t do that immediately after the prologue. He gives a short introduction to the rest of the book which will be an assurance of salvation. To introduce his subject John uses the theme of light and darkness. This theme refers to the polar opposites of truth and lies, and righteousness and sin. This lays the groundwork for the development of his message on assurance.

In the introduction John uses five conditional statements using the word “if.” We find every verse in 1:6-10 beginning with the word. Each conditional statement further reveals the sharp contrast between light and darkness. Again, the idea of fellowship is key here. People are far from God. They are in darkness and can have no fellowship with him while in the darkness. It is only as they enter the light by the blood of Jesus, God’s Son, that they have fellowship with God.

Assurance of Salvation (2:1-5:21)

In the third and final section of the book of 1 John we get into the meat of the book and the purpose for which it was written. As we’ve stated, John wrote the book to provide an assurance of salvation to his readers. He does this by giving them four ways they can know they are truly saved. These four ways are: (1) practicing righteousness, (2) loving the brotherhood, (3) having true faith in Jesus Christ, and (4) having the Holy Spirit. John weaves these four ways of assurance throughout the rest of the book in three parts of this final section (2:1-27; 2:28-4:6; 4:7-5:21).

John also uses other ways to communicate his message of assurance of salvation. First, John uses the phrase, “by this” some eleven times (2:3, 5; 3:10, 16, 19, 24; 4:2, 6, 13, 17; 5:2)  to introduce ways we can know we are true believers in Jesus Christ. Often the word “know” is used in connection with this phrase to show that this is a sure way we can have knowledge of our standing with God.

 John also used terms of endearment like, little children, children or beloved (2:1, 7, 12, 13, 18, 28; 3:7, 21; 4:1, 4, 7; 5:21) to connect with his readers and assure them of their love relationship with God as his dearly loved children.

The first of the three subsections where John is emphasizing the four ways of assurance of salvation is 2:1-27. He begins with a focus on practicing righteousness as a way to have assurance in 2:1-6. Here John acknowledges that we are all sinners, but that obedience to Christ is a mark of a true believer. While we fail occasionally, we desire to obey and by the Spirit of God our obedience is real. Next, in 2:7-14 the focus is on loving the brotherhood. Light and darkness are contrasted. Loving one’s brother is walking in light, while hating one’s brother is walking in darkness. At the end of this passage (2:12-14) John refers to his readers as children, fathers and young men as a way of encouraging them. The short passage of 2:15-17 John returns to the idea of practicing righteousness with an admonishment to not love the world. One cannot love the world and the Father at the same time. What we love will show itself in our lives and reveal our relationship with God. And finally, in 2:18-27 John emphasizes having true faith in Jesus and having the Holy Spirit as two ways to have assurance. He does this by warning them of false teachers he calls antichrists. These false teachers deny the Lord and therefore do not have true faith in him. John assures his readers that they have been anointed by the Holy One and have all knowledge. This is a reference to the Holy Spirit. They have the Holy Spirit living in them to protect them from the false teachers.

The second passage where the four ways of having assurance is 2:28-4:6. He begins again with a focus on practicing righteousness (2:28-3:10) as a way of knowing we are children of God. In this passage John emphasizes the family relationship of God as Father and believers as his children. Those born of God are his children practice righteousness as their heavenly Father is righteous. Next, in 3:11-24 we find John focusing on loving one another as the way to know we are God’s children. This love of the brothers and sisters is an active love that has a tangible expression in daily life. At the end of this passage we find John bringing all four ways of assurance into focus (3:21-24). Finally, in 4:1-6 John returns to true faith in Jesus and the Holy Spirit as ways of having assurance of salvation. The believer is to test the spirits, which refers to those who claim to speak the word of God by the Holy Spirit. Those who do speak from the Holy Spirit will confess that Jesus has come in the flesh. John was combating a false teaching in his day that claimed Jesus only seemed to come in the flesh. False teachers will deny something true about Jesus Christ and his word. The true believer who has the Spirit will be led into the truth by the Spirit.

The final passage of this large section of the book is 4:7-5:21. Here again John returns to all four ways of assurance. He begins with love for the brotherhood in 4:7-21. In this passage John returns to the foundation of all the ways of assurance. He first mentioned it in 2:2 and now again in 4:10. It is that God’s love comes to us through the death of Jesus for our sins. The Father sent his Son, Jesus, to be a propitiation for our sins. This means that the death of Jesus satisfies God’s righteous anger for our sins. It is the Father’s love that sends the Son and is therefore just and the justifier of believers (Romans 3:23-26). Then, in 5:1-5 we see true faith in Jesus Christ as a way of assurance. Those with true faith in Jesus obey God’s commandments. But in 5:6-12 John combines The Holy Spirit and faith as evidence of a person’s salvation. In the final passage of this section and the book (5:13-21) John returns to true faith in Christ and practicing righteousness as ways to know one is born of God. In the last three verses of the book (5:19-21) John concludes his letter with the fact that we can know that we are saved despite the constant powerful activity of the devil. Our God is more powerful than he.

In all the book John gives his readers ample insight into full assurance of salvation and also ways to discern the lack of true faith. Few things in all of life can be more important than knowing for sure that one is truly saved and going to heaven. Readers of this short biblical book can find the assurance they need and help other believers find assurance. The sweet reality of fellowship with God is all the sweeter when one has the peace of their eternal destiny.

Deep and Wide: Reading the Bible for Transformation

One of the many amazing things God has done for us is that he has given us a book. That book is the Bible. Books are meant to be read. God meant for us to read his book. God speaks to his people in his written word, the holy Scriptures. But reading the Bible is not easy. Many who have tried it were not successful. Reading the Bible profitably takes effort and discipline. The purpose of this article is to help in that endeavor.

Receiving a blessing from reading the Bible requires a plan. Just reading randomly will not prove fruitful. There are many ways one can approach reading the Bible. I always encourage people to read the Bible in two basic ways, deep and wide. I believe it is imperative to read the Bible widely by reading large amounts of text. Reading through a book of the Bible in one sitting, or large portions of bigger books is great. Some people read through the entire Bible every year, or at least one or more times in their lifetime. Some read through the Bible in a longer or shorter time. The important thing is to read and be exposed to all the Bible. Since the Bible is a story, we want to read the whole story to understand it fully. But we must do more. It is not enough to simply read the Bible, it must be studied. We must take small texts and dig deep into them by meditating and studying them. In fact, you can do both together. You can read straight through a biblical book several times to get a feel for it and then dig deep into successive texts through the book.

Inductive Bible Study

There are many ways to study the Bible that are profitable. I believe the best way to study the Bible is by a method called inductive Bible study. Inductive Bible study can also be called discovery Bible study because it helps you discover the meaning of the Bible for yourself. Inductive Bible study has as its goal to engage the text with as few presuppositions as possible and discover what the Bible says for itself. Inductive Bible study is usually composed of three stages: observation, interpretation and application. This may sound a bit technical, but this is actually the way we all read anything without really thinking much about it. We just want to do it intentionally when we read the Bible. The method we will describe here could be greatly expanded, but this approach we’re suggesting will be sufficient to get you started. Each stage of observation, interpretation and application can be used as tools to understand God’s message in each passage and apply them to your life. You can use this method with any passage in the Bible, but I’ve found that studying books of the Bible are most fruitful. Hearing God in his word and obeying his voice is the ultimate goal of reading the Bible deeply. It can change our lives.

The first stage is called observation and is meant to be exactly that. At this first stage we trying to discover what the Bible is actually saying. We do not want to read into the Bible what it is not saying, but read out what it is really saying. This stage will almost always be the most time consuming, but if observation is not throughly done the other stages will often yield erroneous or shallow results. It has been my experience that most people do not have a highly developed sense of observation. If we are serious about reading the Bible deeply, we must hone our powers of observation. It is a skill and an art we need that requires patient refining over the years, but is well worth the effort.

In the observation stage we read the text over and over again asking questions about the text. We want to ask those six critical questions: who, what, when, where, why and how. One of the key things at this point is understanding how the passage is put together, its structure. What God is really saying in any Bible passage is communicated through its structure. The only way to discover the structure of any passage is to read it multiple times thinking deeply about what God is saying in each word of the text.

The second stage is called interpretation. It deals with meaning. From what we’ve discovered in the observation stage, we now seek to understand the meaning of the text. At this point we’re not asking what this text means to me, but what this text means to anybody at any time or place. We’re looking for the timeless truths communicated by God through the text he inspired. 

Some things to think about in the interpretation stage are: (1) Discover the biblical writer’s intended meaning. What was he trying to say to the people he was writing to? Why did he write this to this people? Why did they need to hear it? (2) Texts must be understood by their common meaning, which includes literary devices like metaphor and symbolism. We must resist spiritualizing or moralizing a passage beyond its basic literal meaning. (3) Context is critical to discovering a text’s meaning. What is the Bible saying in the sentences and paragraphs before our passage? Where in biblical history is this passage set? (4) Texts must be interpreted according to their literary genre or type. We cannot interpret law, history, poetry and prophecy exactly the same. Each kind of literature has its own way of communicating. That will usually be pretty clear from the text. (5) The progress of revelation is important to keep in mind. God reveals his plan of redemption progressively throughout the Bible. We cannot give a text an interpretation that has not yet been revealed in the flow of redemptive-history. (6) Our interpretation must be Christ-centered without forcing Christ into passages in a way he is not being revealed. (7) In understanding the meaning of any passage we’re looking for the main point. Everything else revolves around that. (8) And finally, we can ask the text what it is saying about God and about people. Every passage will say something about God and people. This is where rich and deep understanding can happen.

The final stage is called application. It is the goal of all our effort in Bible study. It is interesting to know certain things we learn in observation and even beneficial to know the principle and truths of interpretation, but application is our destination. We want to know what God is saying to us and how that fits into our daily lives. It’s important to persevere in our study to arrive at the point of application so that we can be confident in applying God’s word to life. But we must not skip over the previous stages or do them half-hearted just to get to application.

In applying the text we can take the principles and truths we discovered in the interpretation stage and ask how they apply to people in our modern world. These principles were designed to be timeless so that they apply to the biblical world and any other world including our own. We can think of attitudes and action the principles of our text call for in our lives. There is usually negative and positive application from any text. What things is my text calling me to not do, and what things is my text calling me to do? Making application from the Bible requires that we make it personal. This personal application may bring joy or peace, but it may also be very challenging. One of the great blessings of the Bible is that it reproves and corrects us. God loves us and is transforming us to be more Christ-like. Studying the Bible bears this powerful fruit. This is where we must be sensitive to the Spirit without inventing application. We can trust God to lead us into his truth.

Conclusion: We are blessed with many great resources to help us read and study the Bible. None the less, it is still an arduous task. But you can do it with the help of the Holy Spirit. God wants you to connect with him through his word. That is why he gave it to you. But we must see the need and the reward. We must feel it deep in our hearts. If we don’t really want to know God intimately through his word, we will not persevere. If we do, there will be joy and peace and grace beyond our imaginations awaiting us. So, pick a small book of the Bible and jump in. You’ll be glad you did!

The Book of Revelation

Many books in the Bible deserve the title epic, none more than Revelation. The book of Revelation brings to a close the great epic story of God’s redemption and restoration of his fallen creation. All that has transpired in God’s amazing story is for the praise of his glory. He is the central actor, the main character and the great director in the drama of redemption. In the final book of the Bible we find God bringing together all the loose ends of his plan to its complete consummation. All his promises are fulfilled and his eternal purposes fully realized in Christ. In this fitting end of the story, God’s glory is fully displayed for all to see and marvel. The brokenness of the world is made new and the eternal state is experienced according to the perfect will of God.

The book of Revelation is a difficult book for most people to read and understand. It’s easy to see why.The literary style and symbolism of the book is so foreign to most modern readers. John is known for his nonlinear structure, and it is especially so in Revelation. There are a variety of interpretations of the book even among scholars. It is hard to find many things in the book on which most people can agree. Yet with careful study one can understand the powerful message the book means to convey. When reading the Bible, and especially in the book of Revelation, it is important to understand what the Bible actually says, not what someone may claim it says. We want to know the truth of God’s word.

Genre

What kind of a book is Revelation? It seems pretty clear from the introduction (1:1-8) that the book combines three genres (types of writing): letter, prophecy and apocalypse. In 1:4 we find the standard structure of a letter at the time of the book’s writing, “John to the seven churches that are in Asia; grace and peace to you from . . .”  Revelation is, first of all, a letter from the Lord Jesus through his messenger John to seven churches in the Roman province of Asia (modern day Western Turkey). It is also pretty clear that the letter is for all the Church, even though it is addressed to these seven churches. The book also contains seven particular letters to each of the seven churches in chapters two and three.

The book is also prophecy in the full biblical meaning of that word. We know this because 1:3 reads: “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.” Being prophecy, the book is filled with predictions about the future as well as many prophetic oracles of judgment. These prophecies are revelatory in keeping with the true nature of biblical prophecy.

And finally, the book of Revelation is an apocalypse. The very first verse of the book states, “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servant John.” In this verse the word revelation is the Greek word, apokalupsis. This word means revelation, manifestation or appearance and is the basis for a special kind of Jewish literature in the ancient world.  Apocalyptic writing is unfamiliar to most people, and therefore the main reason it is hard to read. Biblical apocalyptic literature is a special type of literature. It is seen in parts of some Old Testament books like Daniel, Zechariah, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel and also in many intertestamental non-canonical books. These books written between the Old & New Testaments that are helpful but not inspired by God or authoritative.  Apocalyptic literature has certain distinct characteristics that make it so unique and powerful. 

Characteristics of Apocalyptic Literature:

First, they have a high degree of symbolism. Many things in apocalypse cannot be taken literally or they become nonsensical. Most recognize that there is a lot of symbolism in Revelation, but the question remains as to how to interpret the symbols. The key to interpreting the symbolism in Revelation is not modern counterparts to the symbols (those are always changing), but their Old Testament usage. The OT in general is very important in understanding the book of Revelation. The book is saturated with OT allusions and references while having no actual quotes from the OT. But with reference to the symbols, the key to understanding them is found in how the OT uses the symbol. A symbol that is used more than any other is the number seven, which is used 55 times. If you want to know the message from God in Revelation it is imperative you understand the symbols.

The second characteristic of apocalyptic literature is that it presents an epic battle between good and evil. This battle is depicted in terms of a sharp dualism between good and evil. In this battle it often looks as though evil is winning, but good will ultimately win because God has sovereign control over the outcome of the fight for good. This is for the purpose of his glory. The call is always to join the side of good so as to be part of the victory.

A third characteristic of apocalyptic literature is that it is always looking to the end times. This focus comes out of the epic battle between good and evil. The great battle culminates in the end of time, which is orchestrated by God. It must always be born in mind that all apocalyptic literature is highly eschatological (end times). To loose sight of this feature is to grossly misunderstand its message. The point is that God is moving history and the epic battle of history to this climax of the end that ushers in the heavenly ideal paradise of the eternal messianic kingdom. Wherever one is in the history of this epic battle he/she is to look to the end with its final victory. This orientation brings comfort and strength in the battle.

The fourth and final characteristic of apocalyptic literature is that it is highly visionary. The one who communicates the revelation here is John who receives visions from God mediated through angels. The book of Revelation is almost totally visionary, which is seen in the repeated phrase, “I saw.” Jesus commands John to write the visions he received for the benefit of the Church. These visions, because they are visions, are highly picturesque and symbolic depicting events that will unfold in the plan of God with the ultimate end of bringing in the eternal kingdom of God.

The Structure of Revelation

At first glance the book of Revelation seems a bit random, but in fact it is highly structured. As with all biblical books, the structure is to communicate its message. The book has an introduction (1:1-8) and a conclusion (22:7-21) with three main sections (1:9-3:22; 4-16; 17-22:6). Each of the main sections has two parts. The two parts are related in that the second flows out of the first. In the first main section (1:9-3:22) the two parts are: Vision of Jesus Christ (1:9-20), and Letters to the Seven Churches (2-3). The letters flow out of the vision. The two parts of the second main section are: Throne Room Vision (4-5), and Three Cycles of Judgment (6-16). Again, the three cycles flow out of the Throne Room Vision. And finally, the two parts of the third section are: The Last Battle (17-20), and the New Creation (21:1-22:6). The book of Revelation can get complicated and confusing. If it starts to seem that way to you remember to return to the simple outline below.

Revelation at a Glance

                     1. Introduction (1:1-8)

                     2. Vision of Jesus Christ & Letters to Seven Churches (1:9-3:22)

                     3. Throne Room Vision & Three Cycles of Judgment (4:1-16:21)

                     4. The Last Battle & The New Creation (17:1-22:6)

                     5. Conclusion (22:7-21)

  1. Introduction (1:1-8)

Outline of the Introduction

  1. Prologue (1:1-3)
  2. Greeting (1:4-5a)
  3. Doxology (1:5b-8)

The book of Revelation begins with what is often called the prologue in the first three verses. These initial verses set the stage for everything that follows. In it we learn that this book is a revelation of Jesus Christ. This probably has a double meaning of a revelation from Jesus and a revelation about Jesus. This revelation was given to Jesus by God so that the servants of God, Christians, can know what will happen in the future. The church was under persecution and from a human perspective its future might look uncertain. This revelation will give them insight and encouragement.

John received this revelation by an angel of God who was sent to make it known to him. The words “make known” means to signify or even symbolize and shows the nature of the revelation John received. John was faithful to the revelation and bore witness to all he saw. At the end of the prologue John pronounces a blessing on the one who reads and those who hear and obey this prophecy.

The second part of the introduction is a greeting (1:4-5a) very typical of a letter at that time. This greeting has a trinitarian structure. Grace and peace are sent from God the Father (the One who is  and who was and who is to come), from the Holy Spirit ( the seven spirits before the throne) and from Jesus Christ (the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth). Each of these three descriptive titles of Jesus is very significant. He is the faithful witness because he said and did all the Father sent him to say and do. Followers of Jesus must do the same. He is the firstborn from the dead guaranteeing a resurrection to all his followers. And he is the ruler of the kings of the earth, not just in the future but he is sovereign over all history to the fulfillment of his eternal plan.

And finally, we have a doxology (1:5b-8). This is a praise giving glory to Jesus because out of his amazing love for us he released us from our sins by his sacrifice on the cross and he made us a kingdom, priest to his God and Father. This is a testimony to the total grace of God to believers in the plan of redemption. Everything we have and are we owe to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

2. Vision of Jesus Christ & Letters to Seven Churches (1:9-3:22)

Outline of Vision of Jesus Christ & Letters to Seven Churches

  1. Vision of Jesus Christ (1:9-20)

   1) Call to Write (1:9-11)

   2) The Glorious Vision of Jesus (1:12-16)

   3) Call to Write (1:17-20)

2. Letters to Seven Churches (2:1-3:22)

   1) Letter to Ephesus (2:1-7)

   2) Letter to Smyrna (2:8-11)

   3) Letter to Pergamum (2:12-17)

   4) Letter to Thyatira (2:18-29)

   5) Letter to Sardis (3:1-6)

   6) Letter to Philadelphia (3:7-13)

   7) Letter to Laodicea (3:14-22)

This is the first of three main sections in the book. As stated earlier, each section has two parts. In each section the second part flows out of the first. So, in this first section, the first part is the vision of Jesus Christ. Flowing out of this amazing vision of Jesus is the letters to the seven churches. As we will see, the letters are intimately shaped by the vision.

Each of the seven letters have the following structure: 

  1. Description of Jesus from chapter one Vision, 
  2. Praise for Faithfulness, 
  3. Rebuke for Unfaithfulness, 
  4. Call to Repent, 
  5. Consequence of Rejection 
  6. Promise to the Overcomers 
  7. Call to Hear what the Spirit says. 

There is no rebuke for Smyrna & Philadelphia and no praise for Sardis Laodicea. Also, elements 6 & 7 are reversed for the first three churches.

3. Throne Room Vision & Three Cycles of Judgment (4:1-16:21)

Outline of Throne Room Vision & Three Cycles of Judgment 

  1. Throne Room Vision (4:1-5:14)

   1) Glory to the One Sitting on the Throne (4:1-11)

   2) Glory to the Lamb Who was Slain to receive the Scroll (5:1-14)

2. Three Cycles of Judgment (6:1-16:21)

   1) Cycle One: Seven Seals (6:1-7:17)

   2) Cycle Two: Seven Trumpets (8:1-11:19)

   3) Break: Redemptive History (12:1-14:20)

   4) Cycle Three: Seven Bowls (15:1-16:21)

The second main section of chapters 4-16 is the Throne Room Vision (ch. 4-5) and Three Cycles of Judgment (ch. 6-16). Again the throne room vision serves as the foundation and fountainhead of what transpires in the three cycles of judgment. The judgment on the world throughout history comes from the throne and the Lamb. This central section forms the bulk of the book and the heart of its teaching.

Break: Redemptive History

Just as there was a break between the sixth and seventh seals and trumpets, there is also a break between the second cycle of judgments (trumpets) and the third cycle of judgments (bowls). The break is a symbolic representation of all of redemptive history (12:1-15:4). There are seven parts to this section: 

  1. The Spiritual Conflict (12:1-17), 
  2. The Beast from the Sea (13:1-10), 
  3. The Beast from the Land (13:11-18), 
  4. The Lamb & the 144,000 (14:1-5), 
  5. The Message of the Three Angels (14:6-13), 
  6. The Son of Man Harvest (14:14-20), 
  7. The Saint’s Victory (15:1-4). 

These visions cover all of redemptive history from the covenant to Abraham with the promise of a seed (Christ) through the time of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection on to the final judgment and the eternal state of blessedness.

4.The Last Battle & The New Creation (17:1-22:6)

Outline of the Last Battle & The New Creation

  1. The Last Battle (17:1-20:15)

   1) Babylon the Great Prostitute (17:1-18:24)

   2) Return of Christ (19:1-21)

   3) The Millennium, The Rebellion & The Great White Throne (20:1-15)

2. The New Creation (21:1-22:6)

   1) New Heavens & New Earth and New Jerusalem (21:1-8)

   2) New Jerusalem Described (21:9-27)

   3) The River of Life (22:1-6)

The third and final main section of the book of Revelation is The Last Battle & The New Creation (17:1-22:6). This last section brings closure to the book and the story of the Bible. God redeems his people and judges the world. He brings his plan of redemption to its fulfillment. All the promises of the Bible funnel down to the events of this section. As with the previous two main sections there are two parts with the second part flowing from the first. The New Creation flows out of the Last Battle that culminates human history.

5. Conclusion (22:7-21)

Outline of the Conclusion

  1. Call to Obedience & Promise of Blessing (22:7-9)
  2. Prohibition on Sealing the Book & Blessing on the Cleansed (22:10-15)
  3. Invitation to Come, Curse on Altering the Book & Final Promising of Coming (22:16-21)

The book of Revelation and the holy Scriptures end with three words from Jesus, the Lord of the Church. The first word is a blessing on those who keep and obey the words of the prophecy of the book of Revelation (22:7-9). He prefaces this blessing with encouraging words of his imminent return. The first recipients of the book were under heavy suffering for their faith, as many since have been. These words are of immense comfort. Jesus is coming soon and in the meantime he is with his people. They will be blessed as they keep, guard and treasure, the word of God in their lives.

The second word form the Lord Jesus is a word of warning and promise (22:10-15). Jesus is coming soon to execute justice on the world. Therefore, John is not to seal up the words of the prophecy of the book. The words of the book are to be known and understood. Another blessing is pronounced on those who wash their robes, which means to be holy by keeping the words of the book and thus remain undefiled by the world that turns away from the truth of the Lord. The judgments of the book are directed towards those who are rebellious and unbelieving.

The final word from Jesus is a word of encouragement to live in the expectation of his return. Jesus extends an invitation to all who will come. If anyone is longing in spiritual thirst, they can come to the water of life without price. The grace of God in Jesus Christ is available to all who will answer the invitation.

A final warning is given. If anyone adds to the book, God will add to them the plagues of the book. And if anyone takes away from the book, God will take away from them a share in the tree of life and the holy city.

The book of Revelation is an amazing and awe inspiring message from God and conclusion to the Bible. Everything the Bible communicates comes together here in Revelation. God completes his plan of redemption and restores his creation to his original purposes. In all this God displays the greatness of his glory and grace.

The book of Revelation and the Bible ends with Jesus promising that he is coming soon. “Amen. Come Lord Jesus!”

Promises Promises

A promise is like a cool breeze on a hot day. We joyfully welcome it, but are cautiously concerned it will not deliver what we expect. We want to believe every promise made to us, but experience whispers in the ear to be careful. Being burned and hurt too many times can numb the heart to the power of a promise. And besides the personal experiences of a broken promise made to us, there is, in our honest moments, the knowledge we too have broken many promises we’ve made to others.

Despite the painful memories of broken promises we should take promises seriously. Promises are the stuff of life. Just as we cannot live without air, we cannot live without promises. This is because promises bring hope, and life without hope is not life but mere existence. Promises come to us whether we like it or not. They find their way into every corner and crevice of our lives. People make legal contractual promises. People make relational promises. And people make everyday promises they think little about, like the promise to come back from the store. It is good and necessary to take promises seriously.

God makes promises too. He take his promises very seriously. God created life to be built on promises because he created life to be built on trust. Promises and trust are inseparably woven together in the fabric of life. Promises work on trust as life works on trust. We need to trust each other even though sometimes it’s hard and we fail. More importantly we need to trust God. He is trustworthy and his promises never fail.

God is a lavish and liberal promise maker. The Bible is filled to overflowing with the promises of God. You just have to be looking for them. But God does not throw out promises just for the sake of their abundance. Each promise God makes is purposeful and potentially dynamic in the life of any believer. His promises have real power. They can change a person’s life if that person will utilize the latent energy packed into each promise.

The real power of God’s promises is God himself. God keeps his promises perfectly and to the last detail. While others may waver at times, or even often, with the follow-through to their promises, God is always faithful. It always comes back to trust, trusting the one who has shown himself time and time again to be a promise keeper.

Trusting the God of the promise is usually not an easy endeavor. We often struggle mightily to tame the fear and doubt that threatens to take over our hearts. It is in these moments that we go back to the promises and the God of the promises time and time again. They will calm the storms that rage. We must trust God. If we know the promise and stake our claim on the promise, but fail to trust the one who makes the promise, then we fail to realize God’s great purpose for the promise in our life. The Bible encourages us in Hebrews 6:12.,”So that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” Know the promises. Trust the promises. God is with you.

God is Able

Most people like to feel self-sufficient. We don’t want a lot of help from other people unless we really need it. We want to believe that we can take care of ourselves. This attitude of independence is understandable because it means that we take responsibility for our own lives. Good people do that; they take responsibility for their own. But we all know that there are times, especially as we get older, when we need help from others. It’s not easy to take sometimes, but it’s necessary. We hate to ask, but God teaches us humility.

There is one person from whom we all need help. He is always there for us. He really cares about our lives. That person is God. He comes to us when we ask, but he often comes to our aid when we don’t ask. God visits his people in their need. It is true that God visits us in the extraordinary events of our lives. We praise him that when we are in great need he is present! But it is in the most ordinary events of our lives that God shows up unexpectedly. He is always with us. God is able to care for us in every way. I want to share with you seven ways God is able to help us when we really need him.

God is able to save completely (Hebrews 7:25). Jesus is our high priest who intercedes for us by offering himself to God as a sacrifice for our sins. We cannot pay for our sins by any means available to us. We need someone else to come and pay for them. They stand between us and God. Jesus is able to pay for them as the perfect lamb of God. He is willing to do so because he loves the Father and he loves us. Our salvation is complete in Jesus. We have the assurance of his love and grace. The cross and the resurrection are the proof. God is able to save us completely!

God is able to supply every need (2 Corinthians 9:8). We all need so many things to make life work. God is able to supply them all. But the supply of God is not only for the needs of life, but more so for the needs of the ministry he has called us to do. God’s supply is his grace providing us all sufficiency in all things at all times, so that we may overflow in every good work. We never lack what we need to do what God calls us to do. God gives so that we can give to him and others for his glory.

God is able to help those who are tempted (Hebrews 2:18). We are all tempted in many ways at many times. Jesus was tempted, the Bible tells us, in every way as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). He who has experienced temptation and overcome it is able to help his people overcome their temptations. Temptation is a deep and daily problem we all face. We cannot defeat it on our own strength. Jesus is able to help. Jesus wants to help. When we carry the burden of our temptations to him he is able to provide sufficient strength to defeat them.

God is able to sustain us in weakness (Romans 14:4). Weaknesses of all kinds assail the believer every day. We like to see ourselves as strong, but our strength comes form the Lord. Others may judge us for our weaknesses, but our Lord will help us stand. The Bible tells us that his power is made perfect in our weaknesses because his grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9). Recognizing our weaknesses and crying out to the Lord is the path to divine strength.

God is able to keep us from stumbling (Jude 24). We all are prone to stumble in our Christian walk. We battle the world, the flesh and the devil every day. Sin is a snare. False teachers are always present. We would stumble on our own. Thankfully, God is with us as we face these enemies of our faith. None of us would make it to the end of our lives with our faith intact without the grace of God. He has promised to bring us safely home to heaven.

God is able to do more than we can imagine (Ephesians 3:20). We all ask God for many things and he supplies all we need, but we hardly ask him for all he is willing to do for us in his plan. If we could dream big and ask God for unimaginable things for his kingdom, he would give them to us for his glory. Our problem is that we often see too small. Our God is a big God and does big things. As we join him on mission he calls us to see big things, ask big things and do big things by his grace and his power for his kingdom.

God is able to give us a resurrection (Philippians 3:21). The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the central truths in the Christian faith. It is our faith that when the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ returns he will transform our frail earthly bodies into a glorious resurrection body like his. We long for and look to that day. It will be a day that will transform our lives and our world eternally. Our heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit will deliver us through every trial and temptation to that day. God is able! We can trust him!

The Book of Hosea

The book of Hosea tells the story of the heart wrenching experience of Hosea the prophet. Hosea was called by God to marry an unfaithful woman. That call of God for his marriage shapes the message of the entire book. But the book contains much more than that. The book expresses the heart cry of the Lord to his people who have turned their backs on him. He is the one who loves them and redeemed them, but they have chased after other gods who are not God at all. The prophetic poetry of the book is picturesque and beautifully crafted to express the emotive impact the message necessitates. Like all the prophets, Hosea gives a warning of judgment for covenant breach and a call to repentance and restoration.

Historical Context

We know nothing of Hosea except what the book tells us. In the first verse of the book we find that Hosea was the son of Beeri and lived and prophesied in the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah and of Jeroboam, king of Israel. These were days of political, social, moral and spiritual tension and trouble. God always sends his man to speak his Word in difficult days like these.

Flow of the Book

The book of Hosea can easily be divided into two sections: Hosea’s Marriage (ch. 1-3) and Hosea’s Message (ch. 4-14). While the first section (Hosea’s Marriage) is at the same time poignant and hopeful and its structure clear, the second section is equally poignant and hopeful, but its structure is difficult to discern. We will read this second section, Hosea’s Message, as two cycles of prophetic oracles, the first large (ch. 4-11) and the second small  (ch.12-14).

Hosea’s Marriage: (ch. 1-3)

The book opens with a moving story of Hosea’s marriage, its ruin and its restoration. In Hosea’s personal experience God is speaking graphically of the relationship between the Lord and his people. He had loved them and taken them into a covenant relationship, a spiritual marriage. But they had broken the covenant relationship and pursued other lovers. The beauty and hope is that they will be restored, but only through pain and judgment.

This story is framed by the broken marriage and its restoration with three prophetic oracles within that frame. The oracles are largely given in beautiful prophetic poetry that draws the heart toward God.

(1) Broken Marriage (1:1-9): The story begins with the Lord commanding his prophet to take a wife of prostitution. People differ as to whether she was a prostitute before or after Hosea married her, but the fact remains that he was forced to deal with the betrayal to get a small glimpse of the Lord’s heart. After the marriage Hosea’s wife, Gomer, bears three children with significant names: Jezreel, meaning judgment, Lo-ruhamah, meaning no mercy and Lo-ammi, meaning not my people.

(2) First Oracle: Future Hope (1:10-2:1): The first of the three oracles is a brief proclamation of future hope, which is amazing given the ruin of Hosea’s marriage and the reality on the ground of Israel’s rebellion and covenant breach. God is working out his plan of redemption even in the darkest hour.

(3) Second Oracle: Present Judgment (2:2-13): This future hope must wait for present judgment. The reality is that Israel had sinned greatly against the Lord. Yet, even in this pronouncement of judgment there is a plea to return and repent. There always is an opportunity to repent until judgment falls. Israel did not heed the plea and suffered the righteous judgment of the Lord.

(4) Third Oracle: Future Mercy (2:14-23): When the dust settles from the judgment, the Lord will allure his people back to himself and prepare them to receive the Messiah. There will be a restoration. Those who received no mercy will receive mercy and those who were called not my people will be the people of the Lord.

(5) Restored Relationship (3:1-5): Meanwhile, back at the ranch… The story moves back to Hosea and Gomer’s relationship. Hosea is to go reclaim his wife, even though she is unfaithful to him. He bough her out of her sin and brokenness and restored her to his home. This is a great picture of the love of Jesus for his people as he pursues them in the world.

Hosea’s Message: (ch. 4-14)

Hosea’s message flows out of his marriage experience. The message is clear and powerful. The Lord demands faithfulness to his love by faithfulness to his Word. People are unfaithful. There are consequences to unfaithfulness, but the Lord redeems his people out of their sin.

1. First Cycle of Oracles (4:1-11:11): Hosea strings together prophetic oracles in a seemingly random way. Yet, there is some structural flow to his message. This first, and longest, cycle has an introduction and a conclusion with four oracles.

(i) Introduction: Indictment against Israel (4:1-3): Hosea begins his prophetic oracles with a serious call to listen to the Word of the Lord. He then brings an indictment, a charge, against Israel. There is no faithfulness, no steadfast love (covenant loyalty) and no knowledge of God. In other words the Lord indicts Israel for breaking the covenant. This charge will be fleshed out in the next three oracles.

(ii) First Oracle: Broken Covenant: No Knowledge of God (4:4-5:7): Hosea will deal with the three charges in the indictment in the reverse order they appear in the introduction. He first deals with the charge of no knowledge of God. 

Having no knowledge of God is more than an intellectual knowledge, but it is also more than a simple relationship, which is often claimed. The knowledge of God is the relationship one has with God through understanding his Law and responding in obedience. The Lord makes the charge that they have forgotten the Law of their God and they have forsaken him. They had no meaningful relationship with him because they had no meaningful understanding of who the Lord is and what he had done. They had rejected his demands on their lives.

For this failure the Lord indicts the priests who were responsible to instruct and lead the people. Instead they were leading in idolatry

(iii) Second Oracle: Broken Covenant: No Steadfast Love (5:8-7:16): Here the Lord calls for the trumpet of alarm to be sounded. Judgment is coming. The Hebrew word for steadfast love (hesed) is a very important word in the OT. It often refers to the love of covenant faithfulness. Israel did not love the Lord because they were unfaithful to him. The Lord calls for his people to return to him, but they do not heed his call. We see in 7:4-16 four images, similes, to describe Israel’s evil condition. They are like a heated oven (7:4-7), an unturned cake (7:8-10), a silly dove (7:11-13) and a treacherous bow (7:14-16).

(iv) Third Oracle: Broken Covenant: No Faithfulness (8:1-9:9): Again the call to sound the warning trumpet is given. The reason given is because Israel has broken the covenant and rebelled against the Law of God. Israel is unfaithful to the Lord. They chased after idols. The chilling indictment is that they sow to the wind and will reap to the whirlwind. Israel is so far from the Lord that the true prophet of God is considered a fool and mad, yet he is called to be a watchman over the people of God for God.

(v) Forth Oracle: Unfulfilled Destiny (9:10-11:7): The Lord loved Israel and called them to be his people with a great destiny in his plan of redemption, yet they fail to realize that destiny because they turned from following the Lord. Again, in this oracle four images, similes, are given to describe their sad condition. They are like grapes with such potential but do not bear fruit (9:10-17). They are like a luxuriant vine that yields no fruit. Their heart is false (10:1-10). They are like trained calves that love to thresh, but the Lord will put them in the yoke and not spare their necks (10:11-15). And finally, and most moving, they are like a beloved child that the parent (God) taught to walk. Yet, the Lord will bring judgment on them (11:1-7).

(vi) Conclusion: Hope in the Lord’s Mercy (11:8-11): The first cycle of oracles ends with a touching note of hope. The Lord cries in his great compassion and mercy, “how can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel?” Though there will be judgment for their unfaithfulness, the Lord, in his great love, will redeem his people.

2. Second Cycle of Oracles (11:12-14:9): Like the first cycle of oracles there is an introduction and a conclusion. But in this final cycle there are only three oracles.

(i) Introduction: Israel turns from the Lord in Deceit (11:12-12:1): Lies and deceit characterize the relationship Israel has with the Lord. They break the covenant with the Lord, yet they covenant with Assyria and Egypt.

(ii) First Oracle: Historical Comparison: Jacob the Deceiver (12:2-14): The Lord compares the people to the patriarch Jacob. He was a deceiver but the Lord worked in his life and transformed him into the covenant bearer, Israel. The Lord calls on the people of Hosea’s day to be like Jacob and return to him.

(iii) Second Oracle; Historical Comparison: Ephraim the Idolater (13:1-16): This oracle looks back to Ephraim of old to draw comparison to the present Ephraim, Northern Kingdom Israel. This play on names is a powerful charge on the people for their unfaithfulness to the Lord. By idolatry Ephraim fell from his exalted place. So, the people of Israel will fall by their idolatry. The oracle ends with a graphic description of the cruelty the judgment will unleash on the most vulnerable.

(iv) Third Oracle: Return to Me (14:1-8): The Lord brings to a climax this final cycle of oracles with a dramatic and powerful plea for Israel to return to the Lord .

(v) Conclusion: Be Wise & Do Not Stumble (14:9): This cycle of oracles and the book ends with Hosea encouraging the people of his day to be wise and return to the Lord. Understanding leads to wisdom. Wisdom walks in uprightness. He is calling to his people yet today.

Major Themes in Hosea:

1) Broken Covenant: The central theme in the book is the tragedy of broken covenant with the Lord. The good and gracious Lord had given them a great covenant, but they turned from his love to pursue other lovers who did not really love them as the Lord did. This sad reality is reflected in the marriage between Hosea and Gomer. Unfaithfulness is the common response of fallen people to the goodness of the Lord. The Lord will woo back his people with deep pain. 

2) Divine Compassion: The Lord is angry with his people for their covenant breach, but his anger is mitigated by his great compassion. The Lord loves his people. He called them because of his great love for them. He did not call them because of their greatness or goodness, but because of his love.

3) Divine Sovereignty: God is sovereign even over the sin and evil of those he has blessed. His plan moves on in the world. God’s sovereignty does not violate the free choices of people to do evil, but works in spite of their failure to bring his purposes to fruition. The failure of Israel to follow the Lord will result in their painful discipline, but it will not derail or destroy the ultimate plan of God.

4) Judgment & Restoration: God is always merciful and gracious giving people time to repent, but when his appeal to return to him goes unheeded he will enact judgment on the wicked. The twin themes of all the prophets is judgment and hope. Judgment will come, but in the perfect plan of God there will be a restoration. God will bring back his wayward people. This is pictured in the command of the Lord to Hosea to go purchase his unfaithful wife out of her adultery. The love of the Lord for his unfaithful people is seen in the painful obedience of Hosea to love Gomer.

Conclusion:

God sent a powerfully moving message through Hosea’s marriage experience and the words he spoke to God’s people. Hosea’s message is powerfully moving yet today. When the people of God turn away from God, he calls them back with warnings and wooing. God’s love is wonderfully seen in the book of Hosea, which pictures for us the ultimate expression of his love in the cross of Christ. “For God so loved the world,” we read. Hosea knew the pain of that love and the joy of restoration. God is always calling his wayward people back to himself, so that the joy of restoration will be their experience. May that joy also fill our hearts in knowing and following Jesus.

Meditating on the Promises of God

One of the truly amazing things about God is that God is a promise making and a promise keeping God. God literally makes hundreds of promises in the Bible, which is wonderful in its self, but the really wonderful thing is that the same Bible tells us that God is faithful to keep his promises. We all have experience with promises. We’ve all made promises and promises have been made to us. But the reality is that we don’t always keep our promises, nor does anyone else. We all know the shame and disappointment of a broken promise, whether our own broken promise or a broken promise made to us. God never breaks his promise. We can depend on him. He is faithful.

The promises of God are of two kinds. In the Bible we find conditional and unconditional promises. Unconditional promises, like the name implies, have no conditions that must be met for the promise to be fulfilled. A couple of examples are the promise God made to Noah and the world that he would never destroy the world by flood again, and another is that he will never leave nor forsake the believer in all the ups and downs of life. God will surely keep both these promises, and all unconditional promises, whether people are faithful to him or not. These promises are beautifully unconditional.

Conditional promises, on the other hand, have conditions that must be met before God will fulfill his promise. Conditional promises often, but not always, have an “if – then” statement either explicitly or implicitly stated in the promise. One such promise is found in 1 John 1:9. That verse gives the conditional promise, “If we confess our sins, [then] he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The “then” part of the promise is implied and must be inserted. The condition for forgiveness and cleansing is confessing our sins. If we don’t confess our sins, there will be no forgiveness. Not all conditional promises are so easy to detect. In Isaiah 40:28-31 God promises his people strength when they are weak and weary. But the condition to receiving the strength of God is waiting upon the Lord. So, when claiming the promises it is important to know whether the promise is conditional or unconditional, and if conditional what is the condition. It’s also important to know exactly what God is promising.

The promises of God are very important in the blessing and growth of the Christian life. The apostle Peter relates to us the nature and power of God’s promises in 2 Peter 1:4, “By which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desires.” Peter calls the promises of God precious and very great. He further instructs us that through the promises of God we become partakers of the divine nature (spiritual growth) and escape the corruption in the world. So we see that knowing and claiming the promises of God are a high priority for every believer in Jesus Christ. I’ve found that one of the best ways to really know and claim the promises of God are to meditate on them.

God encourages believers to meditate on his word (Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1:1-2; 119:148). Biblical meditation is different from other forms of meditation. Biblical meditation fills the mind with God and his word. It is an intense focus on a portion of Scripture. Biblical meditation seeks to throughly understand the promise of God and claim it in a dynamic way. It is done in various ways. I find the best way to meditate on the word of God is a three step process. The first is to read the promise a few times. Second, it is important to note the context that may inform the meaning of the promise in any way. And finally, the promise must be read slowly focusing on what each word or phrase can mean in the promise. Don’t skip over small words, but think deeply about them all. This final step can be done several times or more. This is where God begins to speak deeply to us from his word. The more we can extract from the promise the more meaningful it will be. At this point we can verbalize a prayer to God based on our meditation of his word.

A simple example of biblical meditation is the well known and much loved verse, John 3:16. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” After reading the verse a few times and noting the context, the first thing to do is to decide if the promise is conditional or unconditional and exactly what God is promising. The promise God is making here is the promise of eternal life. This promise of eternal life is only fulfilled through the condition of faith. As one meditates on this verse it is very beneficial to think deeply on each and every word. Not every word will yield as much insight, but many will reveal more than anticipated. Small words like so, that (used twice), only, whoever, not and in, have great meaning. Then there are the big words that provide rich and deep insight like God, loved, world, gave, Son, believes, perish, eternal and life. One can easily meditate on this single verse for 15-30 minutes. As we work our way through the verse a deeper and fuller appreciation for the promise and the promiser will emerge. This will lead to prayer, faith and worship.

This type of meditation can greatly benefit us in knowing the Bible better, receiving a blessing we need, battling against sin or an emotional struggle and experiencing intimate fellowship with God. I must admit it can be addictive. I cannot live without biblical meditation. The promises of God come sweet and powerful during times of intense meditation. And it is something every believer can do successfully. The more we practice it the more we get out of it. We grow in our meditation skills. It is also important to be sure we’re walking by the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is indispensable in biblical meditation.

Here are some of the best known promises of God for your meditation (Romans 8:28; Philippians 4:13; 1 Peter 5:6-7; Isaiah 41:10; Hebrews 13:5-6; Psalm 16:11; 2 Corinthians 12:9-10; Matthew 6:33; Proverbs 3:5-6; ; Philippians 4:6-7; Psalm 56:3-4). Here are some longer passages for meditation (Psalm 23; Matthew 6:9-15; Romans 8:31-39; 1 Corinthians 13; Matthew 5:3-10).

Nothing is more precious or powerful than being in the presence of God. Biblical meditation on the promises of God are an open door into his heart. Step through that door and let him guide you.

The Book of Ezekiel: Glory Departed

Ezekiel is a strange and wonderful book. Its writer loved God and loved God’s people. That is evident throughout the entire book. Ezekiel lived and served God in a difficult time of great suffering. The two great superpowers of the day, Egypt and Babylon, were always bearing down on tiny Judah. Ezekiel himself suffered much, but his life was defined by his relationship with the Lord and the Word the Lord spoke through him to his generation and to history.

The book of Ezekiel displays amazing literary complexity. Ezekiel uses many literary devices to communicate his inspired message. In the book we find 4 visions, 7 parables, 10 symbolic signs and 15 prophetic oracles. In the book we also find apocalyptic sections similar to the book of Revelation. In fact, the book of Revelation draws much from Ezekiel. 

Ezekiel was a priest, so the temple plays a prominent role in the book. He may have been 30 years old (1:1) at the time of his call, which was the age one began work in the priesthood.

In the book of Ezekiel we see many great truths, but especially we find the great truth that God is working out all things according to his eternal plan and for his glory. The glory of God is the central theme of the book around which all else turns. Ezekiel had an encounter with the God of glory that changed his life forever.

Historical Context 

Ezekiel lived and ministered the Word of God in one of the most challenging and pivotal times in the history of Israel. Ezekiel gives exact dates for most of his prophecies, so we can say that the book reveals prophecies given by him from July 593 BC, to April 28, 571 BC. This was the time of conflict and struggle with mighty Babylon. For many decades the superpowers, Egypt and Assyria had exerted political and military influence and even control on the much smaller Judah. By 605 BC Babylon comes into the picture and takes the first group of people into exile (Daniel and his friends were taken at this time). In 598 king Jehoiakim rebelled against Babylon. As a consequence a military campaign was sent to put the rebellion down. At that time many exiles were taken captive and sent to Babylon. Ezekiel was taken in this second deportation. He lived and ministered in exile. The third and final deportation came in 586 BC when the Babylonian army destroyed and burned the city of Jerusalem with the temple. Ezekiel brought the challenging Word from the Lord during this time of tension, struggle and conflict.

The Flow of the Book

The larger flow of the book, or the macro structure, consists of three main parts: (1) Prophecies against Judah and Jerusalem (chapters 1-24), (2) Prophecies against the Nations (chapters 25-32), and Prophecies of Restoration (chapters 33-48). The flow and message of this complicated book is easier to understand through the lens of the three part macro structure. The book revolves around the pivot of the fall of Jerusalem. The first section is before the fall, the third section is after the fall, while the center section (prophecies against the nations) is during the siege and after the fall of Jerusalem. Lets look at each of these three main parts one at a time.

Prophecies Against Judah & Jerusalem: (1-24)

This first section of the book of Ezekiel consists of two cycles of prophecies with each cycle having a vision followed by a symbolic sign that is then followed by prophetic oracles. All these prophecies show the certain reality of the judgment of God on his rebellious people. Even in judgment God’s plan moves forward.

First Prophetic Cycle (1-7)

Vision (1-3): The Call of Ezekiel

Symbolic Sign (4-5) 

Prophetic Oracles (6-7)

Second Prophetic Cycle (8-24)

Vision (8-11): Corrupt Temple – Glory Departs

Symbolic Sign (12)

Prophetic Oracles (13-24): Fourteen Prophetic Oracles

1: False Prophecy Condemned (13:1-23)

2: False Seekers Condemned (14:1-11)

3: Judgment is Certain (14:12-23)

4: Parable of the Useless Vine (15:1-8)

5: Parable of the Unfaithful Bride (16:1-63)

6: Parable of Two Eagles and a Vine (17:1-24)

7: False Proverb Condemned (18:1-32)

8: A Lament for the princes of Israel (19:1-14)

9: Israel Continually Unfaithful, The Lord Always Faithful (20:1-44)

10: Fire & Sword Judgment (20:45-21:32)

11: No One to Build a Wall & Stand in the Breach (22:1-31)

12: Two Evil Sisters (23:1-49)

13: Parable of the Bloody Pot (24:1-14)

14: No Mourning Allowed (24:15-27)

Prophecies against the Nations: (25-32)

Most of the prophets prophesied judgment against the nations. The Lord God is God over all people and nations. He is not just some local deity as the pagan gods were thought to be. The judgments against the nations were for their evil generally but also related to God’s people, Israel. These oracles against the nations serve two purposes: first, to warn the nations of impending judgment, and second, to comfort the people of God to trust in their sovereign God. He has a plan for them. 

The prophecies of Ezekiel against the nations are first against those nations that surround Israel and had some impact on their turning to idols and on their defeat by Babylon. He begins with the four neighbors that circle Israel (Ammon, Moab, Edom and Philistia) each having a two part oracle of judgment consisting of a because part (reason) and a therefore part (reality). This is followed by three longer oracles against Tyre. Each oracle ends with the pronouncement: “you have come to a dreadful end, and you shall be no more.” Each of the oracles is against the pride of Tyre that led to its downfall. 

Then, after a brief oracle against Sidon and a word of comfort to Israel, Ezekiel turns his attention to Egypt for an extended oracle. Egypt was a major player in controlling Israel and luring her away from Babylon, which led to her ultimate destruction and exile. One must also understand that the whole idea of alliances with international superpowers to gain temporary security was contrary to the covenant relationship Israel enjoyed with the Lord. In all there are oracles against seven nations and the final nation, Egypt, has seven oracles.

Between the oracle against Israel’s neighbors and the oracle against Egypt, we find a brief prophecy (two verses) of comfort and security for Israel. Though the Lord was using the nations to judge rebellious Israel, he will ultimately judge the nations and restore Israel. All this is for the glory of the Lord. His plan will be fulfilled for the salvation of his people.

Prophecies of Restoration: (33-48)

All the Major Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel) have large section of prophecies against Israel and prophecies against the nations and prophecies of restoration to Israel. Prophecies of restoration (ch. 33-48) complete the book with a sense of hope for God’s exiled people. God’s plan is still on track even in the darkest days.

This section consist of eight parts. The first four parts are a transition from judgment in the previous chapters to hope in the following chapters. They begin with Ezekiel called to be a watchman over the people of God, a grave and awesome call (33:1-20). Then, a message of the fall of Jerusalem is received and recounted. From this, warnings are give to those who remain in the land and to the exiles (33:21-33). The third part is an indictment against the unfaithful shepherds (prophets, priest & kings) of the people of God (34). They hold great responsibility for the wickedness in the land. Because his appointed shepherds were unfaithful, the Lord himself will be the shepherd of his flock. He will do this through the One Shepherd, the Messiah, whom he will anoint for this purpose. Then, the transition section ends with further oracles of Judgment against Edom for their treachery against the people of God in their hour of need.

The last four parts of this final section consist of oracles of comfort and restoration for the beleaguered people of God. They are: Restoration of Israel for the Lord’s Glory (36), Restoration & Reunification (37), Gog of Magog (38-39) and the Final Vision of Restoration (40-48). These last four parts can form a chronological eschatology (End Times) of the plan of God. First, the restoration of the people of God under the Messiah who brings the Spirit. This will come to be known as the Church (36). Second, the Messianic kingdom will be established unifying all the people of God (37). Third, the final rebellion of Satan that is put down by the Lord (38-39). And finally, we see the New Heavens and the New Earth, the eternal blessedness of the people of God (40-48).

Major Themes in Ezekiel:

1) Glory of God: The Glory of God forms the main theme and the central driving force of the book of Ezekiel. The book begins with a marvelous vision of the glory of God, which is the call of Ezekiel. It is the glory of God that arrested Ezekiel’s heart and plunged him into a difficult ministry. Ezekiel’s life is seized with the mission to declare the glory of God in the face of Judah’s evil turn from that glory. Because their evil was so grievous, the glory of the Lord departs form his temple, the place where the glory resided. Two other ideas play into the major theme of glory in Ezekiel. First, there is the idea of the Lord’s name that the people treated with dishonor. The Lord will judge and restore for the sake of his holy name (20:9, 14, 22, 39, 44; 36:20, 21, 22, 23; 37:7, 25; 43:7, 8). The second idea related to the glory of God is that people may know that He is the Lord. The phrase is used 72 times in the book. The Lord does what he does so that people may know that he is indeed the Lord and relate to him in a righteous way. The Lord is glorious and all the earth must bow before him.   

2) Judgment: This second major theme flows out of the first. Because the glory of the Lord is so awesome, people must treat his holy name with great honor and reverence. When people dishonor his name and violate his will and refuse to humble themselves and repent, righteous judgment will fall upon them. The book of Ezekiel is filled with oracles of judgment against Israel and the nations. The Lord is merciful and slow to anger. But when people reject his goodness and refuse to repent, he sends judgment. His own people for whom he provides many blessings turned from him in wickedness so that their judgment is the just recompense for their deeds. The judgment of God is necessary and instrumental in the fulfillment of his plan of salvation for the world.

3) Restoration: The righteous judgment of the Lord comes upon evil doers, but the mercy and compassion of the Lord is always near. Even as he judges his people he is preparing restoration for them. As they suffer under the heavy hand of judgment he promises future restoration for them so that they will not loose heart. Restoration is also necessary for the fulfillment of the plan of salvation. It is the restored community in the land that will give birth to the Messiah and the salvation he brings.

4) Messiah: The painful, present suffering the people of God experience is mitigated  by the prophecies of hope concerning the Messiah. The messianic prophecy in Ezekiel comes when the Lord condemns the unfaithful shepherds of Israel and promises to be their shepherd himself. Then in 34:23-24 we read, “I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall tend them; and he shall tend them and be their shepherd. I the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I am the Lord. I have spoken.”

5) New Temple: The last eight chapter of the book are a prophetic oracle of a new temple, its activities and the regulation for it. The new temple is a future time of blessing for the people of God when his presence will be with them in abundance. Their lives will be focused on the glory and worship of the Lord alone. The new temple is understood variously by different interpreters. Some see it as a literal future temple. Others view Ezekiel’s temple symbolically as the presence of God among his people in the Church Age. Still others see the temple as a symbol of the presence of Jesus in the Messianic Age (Millennium). Finally, it is understood as the presence of the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb when there will be no literal temple in the eternal state of the New Heavens and the New Earth. The presence of God is key to all the Bible from the Garden of Eden in Genesis to the New Heaven and New Earth in Revelation. The presence of God is the burning passion of the people of God. It is the purpose for which God saves us. He is always with his people. They can trust that his presence will give them strength through any adversity.

Conclusion:

The book of Ezekiel is a sure word from the Lord of judgment and salvation. The Lord is glorious beyond compare. Those who trust and revere him will receive his salvation. But those who reject his love will fall under his righteous judgment. Ezekiel shows us that no matter how difficult the times may be, walking with the Lord is the way of blessing. Those who do will experience the glory of the Lord in a powerful way.

Blessed!

Everybody wants to be blessed. We all desire that blessings flow into our lives. And in fact we are all very blessed. If we pause for just a moment to consider all the real blessings we have in our lives, we will be amazed. When life gets hard and the temptation to complain is strong, it pays to count our blessings.

Blessings come in all shapes and sizes. There are material blessing and there are relational blessings. There are even blessings that at first seem to be troubles and hardships, but the greatest blessings of all are spiritual blessings. When all the other blessings evaporate spiritual blessing will hold fast, if we have them. The apostle Paul said in Ephesians 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” Spiritual blessings come from God the Father through the Lord Jesus Christ. They relate to all God has done for us in Jesus for our salvation. If you have Jesus as your savior, you are truly and greatly blessed. Your sins are forgiven, they can never be called against you to condemn you, even by yourself. Jesus bore them in his body on the cross. You are a child of God and your heavenly Father loves you with an everlasting love. You have the Holy Spirit of God living inside you. You are the temple of God. You have the church, the body of Christ, as your family and heaven as your home. God has given you his word as a treasure to guide you. You are blessed!

All these blessings and many more are yours in Christ Jesus. But how does one get in Christ? To be in union with Christ one must repent of their sins and put their faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. We find the words of Jesus in Mark 1:15. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel.” Then the apostle Paul said in Acts 20:21, “Testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” When we turn from or sins and turn to Jesus we are saved; we are in spiritual union with Christ. We are blessed with every spiritual blessing.

Life in this broken, fallen and sinful world is hard, and sometimes really hard. We often do not feel blessed at all. We cry out to God for help. What we’re crying out for is his blessings to be with us, for him to be with us. And he is! God has promised us his presence will be with us always in Hebrews 13:5. “I will never leave you nor forsake you.God’s spiritual blessings will never leave us, even when we do not feel blessed. It is precisely in those moments that we must tell ourselves we are blessed. Even if everything else seems to the contrary, we are still blessed. Do not let life rob you of the joy of God’s blessings. If you are in Christ, you have them. Claim them!

Do the spiritual blessings of God seem real to you now? Do you find his joy residing in your heart? It is you inheritance as a child of God. Claim it and live in it. You are blessed!