Week 13 of our 90-Day Journey, and heading to the finish line of Revelation!
Breadcrumbs For The Journey
This week, we are continuing to read letters that were written to certain audiences to deal with specific problems or faith issues. Instead of the Apostle Paul, these letters were written by a variety of early church leaders. They have become known as the “General Epistles.” At the end of these letters, we finish with the unique Book of Revelation by John.
Most of the General Epistles were written during a time when the Roman Empire was persecuting Christian believers, so the church had been scattered from Jerusalem (known as the dispersion). It is interesting to note how God used the pain of persecution to spread the Good News of Christ to believers across the cities of the known world. God’s people became exiles once again!
The writer of Hebrews encouraged believers, and gave strong warnings against apostacy – which I am sure was tempting in the face of Roman persecution. Peter encouraged believers about the glory of suffering and persevering through suffering (1 Peter) as they look forward to Christ’s promise of “a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). John’s letters encouraged believers to “know” Christ and the love of God as false teachers were trying to introduce “Gnostic” ideas that were contrary to their faith. And Jude boldly calls believers to contend for their faith and persevere – “But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life” (Jude 1:20-21). May we do the same!
Tip Of The Week
There are four main ways to interpret the Book of Revelation (adapted from The Essential Bible Companion, by Walton, et al):
V The Historicist interpretation views Revelation as a symbolic description of the progress of church history from the time of John to the second coming and the new creation. Symbols in the book are identified with specific events throughout history. Because of its extreme subjectivity, this view is generally rejected today. Each generation has tended to interpret the events differently and to view itself as the last generation.
V The Preterist interpretation claims the book deals entirely with events of the first-century conflict between the church and its opponents, especially imperial Rome. The book predicts the church’s victory and deliverance at the return of Christ.
V The Idealist interpretation claims the book is a symbolic description of the age-long struggle between God and Satan as well as the eventual triumph of Christianity over paganism. In this view, the book is equally applicable to any period of church history.
V The Futurist interpretation argues that the book is prophetic and describes events which will occur immediately before the second coming of Christ. Most of the book concerns the time known as the “tribulation,” which is followed by the second coming of Christ, the final judgment, and the new creation.
Good To Know
Here are some helpful summaries of the General Epistles:
Hebrews - This Christocentric book shows the supremacy of Christ to Old Testament foreshadowings. Christ is successively shown to be superior to prophets and angels (chpt. 1-2), Moses (3), and the Old Testament priesthood (4-7); then the new covenant in Christ is shown to be superior to the old covenant (chapter 8 and following). The author also shows the need to hold fast to the Christian faith and not revert to Judaism in a time of persecution. Another theme of the book is faith, especially the famous roll call of faith in chapter 11.
James – This book is sometimes referred to as the Proverbs of the New Testament. The goal is to impart skill for living. A good tagline for the book is "faith that works."
1 Peter - Another very loosely organized epistle. The general progression is (1) the riches that believers possess in Christ, (2) duties for living the Christian life, and (3) how to endure suffering for the sake of Christ.
2 Peter - An informally arranged reminder of selected foundational truths of the Christian faith. There is an emphasis on remembering Christian truth in this letter. The last chapter is one of the great discourses of the Bible on end times (eschatology).
1 John - John encourages believers with a reminder of the Word of life. The Word is the message from God of how to walk in the light. He states that Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world and advises against loving anything in or of the world. This book also warns against antichrists and declares that all people who believe in Jesus are children of God and therefore should love one another. John advises that the spirits need to be tested to see if they are from God, and he reminds the recipients of the letter that everyone who believes in Jesus is born of God - being born of God means that you can overcome the world. Finally, he concludes by stating that anyone born of God will be safe from evil.
2 John - An abbreviated letter, perhaps because John expected to visit the church soon (v. 14). The book falls into three parts: a reminder (4-6), a warning (7-9), and an instruction (10-11).
3 John - A personal letter addressed to a specific person named Gaius, following the format of salutation, body, and personal greetings. It also fits the genre of the letter of instruction, with one of the topics being hospitality to traveling Christian teachers.
Jude - Jude warns his readers of immoral men slipping secretly among the people of faith. He reminds the people of the power of God, and tells people to remember what Enoch prophesied about God judging the ungodly acts of sinners. Jude instructs the readers to persevere by prayer and faith, and also advises them to show mercy to those who doubt.
Revelation – This book is a combination of prose, prophetic and apocalyptic writing. John introduces himself and explains his vision. Then, he gives challenging messages to seven churches. He goes on to describe God’s throne in heaven, gives a description of the sealed scroll that only the Lamb could break, then watches the Lamb open the seals. After opening the sixth seal, four angels describe the 144,000 that were sealed as servants of God. The Lamb opens the seventh seal and starts the seven trumpets: each trumpet represents a catastrophe. With the seventh trumpet, John sees 144,000 sealed with the Father’s name written on their forehead. He also sees three angels proclaim judgment and then reap the harvest. Seven angels then have seven bowls filled with seven plagues which is God’s wrath, and Babylon is destroyed. The great multitude in heaven begin celebrating because salvation and glory belong to God. After a thousand years, Satan will make war but is defeated. The dead are judged, the new heaven, new earth, and new Jerusalem will exist. John concludes with a warning that anyone who adds to or takes away from this prophecy will be dealt with.
Activity For The Week
Once again, there are so many individual books we are reading this week that I encourage you to pause at the end of each book or letter you read and ask, “What were the unique issues or problems of this church or individual and how was each writer encouraging them to resolve it?” Asking that question will help you solidify the reason or purpose for each book being written.
Pressing on with you!