Letters of Love: Hebrews to Revelation
The latter collection of letters in the New Testament were written by apostles such as Peter and John, as well as two of Jesus’ half brothers, James and Jude. Each epistle clearly displays the challenges faced by the fledgling Christian church in the last quarter of the 1st century. Scattered across the Roman Empire, the churches faced persecution from both Jews and the Roman authorities. They were infiltrated and attacked by false teachers. Doubtless, they also encountered personal struggles requiring endurance and perseverance. And yet, through them, the kingdom of God grew and the gospel message changed lives from Alexandria around to Rome, and beyond.
Jesus is Supreme: Hebrews 1:1-4
The Christians of Jerusalem were under great pressure to return to the ways of Judaism, with a full adherence to the Law of Moses and the life of the Temple. The writer of Hebrews writes a series of sermons to demonstrate that Jesus is superior to all that has come before him and has superseded the shadows of the Old Testament forms and ways of worship.
The key theme that launches Hebrews is ‘revelation’: God communicating himself and his ways to humanity. How has God revealed himself? In the past he has spoken through the prophets. But now, climactically and finally, God has spoken to humanity by his Son.
Of course, there are differing kinds of revelation— some clearer than others. God spoke to the Old Testament generations of faith in various ways; like a kaleidoscope of colours and shapes coming in and out of focus. Prophets and poets, judges and kings; and in the minds of the traditional Jews of Jerusalem, supremely, through the Law of Moses.
But now, in the clearest revelation possible for the invisible God: the Son has come to us as the radiance of God’s glory, the exact representation of the divine being. Jesus is a clearer, better, and ultimately the culmination of all of God’s revelation of himself. Although the law, said to have been mediated to Moses by Angels on top of Mount Sinai, reveals God— Jesus is superior to those angels and the Law they ‘mediated’ to Moses.
- What are the many-faceted ways in which God had revealed himself before the coming of Jesus?
- What makes Jesus’ revelation of God superior over all that came before?
Jesus Mediates a New Covenant: Hebrews 9:1-15
The High Priest, the tent tabernacle and ‘Ark of the Covenant’, prescribed in such detail in the second half of the book of Exodus, serve as an illustration for the present time. They tell us something about Jesus Christ and his work completed through his cross and resurrection. And yet, the reality of Jesus’ ministry surpassed the merely human forms and shadows in place throughout the Old Testament— he entered the Heavenly Realities to make atonement for us, as the mediator of a new covenant.
- What do the earthly shadows of priest and tabernacle tell us about the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf?
Genuine Christian Faith must be put into Practice: James 1-2
The Christian life is lived in the midst of all kinds of challenges— which are to be counted ‘all joy’. Indeed, there is great blessing in persevering under trial. But Christian faith that does not engage with the practical world of poverty, injustice and need is hard to verify. True religion expresses itself in care for the vulnerable, holy living, love and compassionate charity.
- Which of your actions and activities would get you convicted on the charge of ‘being a Christian’?
- How does your faith in Jesus make you a different person?
The Triumph of the Crucified Lamb: Revelation 1, 4-5
Two Rugby League fans are talking in Sydney, Australia. One says, “The Roosters slayed the Dragons and the Storm demolished the Green Machine.” The other replies, “Yes, and the Skinny Coach and Big Mal squashed the Cockroaches.” Both nod their sage approval, fully understanding their conversation— and yet, to the uninitiated, they seem to be talking about some kind of fairytale.
The picture language of the book of Revelation (apocalyptic literature) seems very strange to us, and yet the forms and cultural references within it were commonly understood among the Christian churches spread across modern Turkey and Syria. But to the Romans persecuting these Christians, John’s visions recorded in the apocalyptic style would be difficult to follow. And yet, through this picture language God gave his people encouragement and hope to persevere.
- How is Jesus presented to the reader of Revelation?
- What encouragement might this presentation of Jesus give to the Christians in the province of Asia?
Shedding Light on the Scene
Each of the following passages reveal something of the concerns, pressures and problems facing the first Christians. For each passage, make some notes in your journal that ‘shed light on the scene’ of daily life in the churches at the latter end of the 1st century:
1 Peter 5:8-14
2 Peter 3:1-13
Looking Forward and Backward
The new Birth, the new Israel, and the new Temple: 1 Peter 1-2
Try this exercise in ‘looking backward’. Read 1 Peter 1-2 and identify the references back to Old Testament language, motifs, people, and practices. Make a list. Then, for each one, note down how the coming of Jesus Christ has changed or redefined them.
The New Heavens and The New Earth: Revelation 21-22
Try this exercise in ‘looking backward and looking forward’. Read Revelation 21-22 and identify the references back to Old Testament language, motifs, people and practices. Make a list. Then for each one, note down the future reality described in this passage. Whenever you can, try to move past the apocalyptic language and symbolism to describe the realities being narrated.
As you do this exercise, you might reflect on how deeply embedded the New Testament is in the thought-world of the Old Testament, and how much the two elucidate each other.
Read the Whole Bible
I apologise for the confusion caused by an error in the published November readings: the early edition mistakenly repeated the same readings set down for October. This was later corrected, but will have confused some readers. The readings intended for the month of December take us to Hebrews and the Psalms.
|Dec. 1: Psa. 1-5, Heb 1.|
Dec. 2: Psa. 6-10, Heb 2.
Dec. 3: Psa. 11-15, Heb 3
Dec. 4: Psa. 16-20, Heb 4.
Dec. 5: Psa. 21-25, Heb 5.
Dec. 6: Psa. 26-30, Heb 6.
Dec. 7: Psa. 31-35, Heb 7.
Dec. 8: Psa. 36-40, Heb 8.
Dec. 9: Psa. 41-45, Heb 9,
Dec. 10: Psa. 46-50, Heb 10.
Dec. 11: Psa. 51-55, Heb 11.
Dec. 12: Psa. 56-60, Heb 12.
Dec. 13: Psa. 61-65, Heb 13.
Dec. 14: Psa. 66-70
Dec. 15: Psa. 71-75
|Dec. 16: Psa. 76-80 |
Dec. 17: Psa. 81-85
Dec. 18: Psa. 86-90
Dec. 19: Psa. 91-95
Dec. 20: Psa. 96-100
Dec. 21: Psa. 101-105
Dec. 22: Psa. 106-110
Dec. 23: Psa. 111-115
Dec. 24: Psa. 116-118
Dec. 25: Psa.119
Dec. 26: Psa. 120-124
Dec. 27: Psa. 125-129
Dec. 28: Psa. 130-134
Dec. 29: Psa. 135-139
Dec. 30: Psa. 140-145
Dec. 31: Psa. 146-150