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The Parable of the Lost Sheep June 17, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 18:10-14.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus tells His disciples to be careful to not think down on any of their (childlike) brethren, since angels belong to them.

Indeed, His kingdom can be represented by a wealthy man who owns a hundred sheep. Since this shepherd is well acquainted with his flock, he would notice any missing individual and search for it. Similarly, God cares for all believers; His will is that their spiritual progress would not be ruined.

Thoughts: Reading through this passage caused me to ponder my view of my salvation – and the salvation of others. Since I have essentially grown up in the church, I readily identify with the remaining ninety-nine sheep in this parable (I also readily identify with the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son, though that thought should be elaborated in a separate post). Yet I – and other believers in my position – need to be reminded of this fact: we are all sinners in need of a Savior. We all fall short of His perfect standard on a daily basis; thus, He reminds us on a daily basis that His zeal extends to all of us. Moreover, He cares for all of us – regardless of our spiritual state – and will continue to assist us as we stumble along the path of sanctification.

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The Parable of the Net April 27, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 13:47-52.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus tells a parable. He states that His kingdom can be represented by a large net that captures all life in front of it. A group of fishermen then:

  • place the captured fish in water-contained vessels
  • discard the other captured creatures.

Similarly, at His Second Coming, His angels will capture those who are not His subjects and discard them to hell.

He then asserts that His disciples are now equipped to teach others, as they grasp the unifying principles of the Old and New Testaments.

Thoughts: This passage inspired me to read about instances where fishermen caught more than they had bargained for, including:

I have actually never gone fishing, so I can only imagine the shock that these fishermen experienced when they inspected their respective catches. In any event, these accounts reinforce the main point of this passage. Just as a denizen of the deep cannot be consumed by a fisherman, so those who do not belong to Christ are useless to Him at His Second Coming. We must heed this warning and find our value in Him.

Cornelius Calls for Peter July 12, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 10:1-8.

Summary: In this passage, an angel of the Lord appeared to a Roman centurion in Caesarea named Cornelius. This angel told him to send men to Joppa for the apostle Peter, and he obeyed.

Thoughts: In verses 2 and 4, we see that Cornelius strove to be internally and externally acceptable to God. Yet it is clear that he had not been justified by God, as he needed to hear the Gospel message from Peter. This passage, then, bolsters this Protestant belief:

Deeds cannot lead to salvation.

Now I – along with many Protestants – often struggle with the question, “do my deeds constitute the response of a genuine believer to God’s offer of salvation?” I believe this struggle stems from the fact that evaluation is intrinsic to our society. Authority figures evaluate their subordinates; thus, it is natural for us as believers to assume that God is constantly evaluating our deeds. While He does approve or disapprove of each of our deeds, the challenge for us as believers is to separate that process of evaluation from the question of salvation. Indeed, we must trust that He has already saved us through the perfect life of His Son and consider how we can express our thankfulness to Him on a daily basis.

Seven Angels with Seven Plagues February 17, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Revelation 15.

Summary: In this passage, John observes those believers whom God has granted victory over the beast out of the sea. These believers sing a doxology – where they declare that all nations will worship Him. Seven angels with seven plagues then emerge from the temple in heaven. One of the four living creatures gives them seven golden bowls so that they can dispense the wrath of God; God then fills the temple in heaven with His glory and power.

Thoughts: Here, we see that persecuted believers who continue to worship God will have “harps given them by God,” and they will sing “the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb.” Clearly, modern-day believers who endure state-sponsored persecution – yet maintain their faith – are assured of receiving these rewards. As a believer in a First World country, though, I wonder if I have the same assurance. Will the pleasures of money, food and technology divert my attention from God? How can I resist the temptation to worship anything other than God Himself? Along these lines, how can I worship God on a daily basis? I think that all believers in First World countries should ponder these questions and focus on living a life that will culminate in a shared victory – with our persecuted brethren – over the beast out of the sea.

The Harvest of the Earth February 13, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Revelation 14:14-20.

Summary: In this passage, John observes God the Son seated on a cloud. An angel emerges from the temple in heaven and calls Him to harvest the earth with His sharp sickle; He responds accordingly. Another angel emerges from the heavenly temple with a sharp sickle; a third angel calls the second angel to gather grapes from the vine of the earth, and the second angel responds accordingly. These grapes are tossed into the winepress of God’s wrath, producing a sea of blood.

Thoughts: This passage clearly illustrates God’s holiness, righteousness, wrath and power. Indeed, His wrath is terrifying; here, John portrays it as a winepress that yields so much blood that it rises “as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1600 stadia.” This is a valuable reminder that our holy God demands that we live holy lives, and He is both willing and able to punish those who do not respond appropriately. Of course, responding appropriately was potentially extremely costly for John’s original audience, and this raises the question as to how modern-day believers – especially those of us who live in First World countries – should respond appropriately. We need wisdom to determine how we can sacrifice more for Christ on a daily basis, and we need strength to take those concrete steps of faith.

The Three Angels February 10, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Revelation 14:6-13.

Summary: In this passage, John observes:

  • one angel – who calls the world to worship God before He judges all unbelievers
  • a second angel – who proclaims the demise of Babylon the Great
  • a third angel – who declares that those who worship the beast out of the sea will face the wrath of God; he also exhorts all believers to maintain their faith.

The Holy Spirit then confirms that any believer who passes away – without committing apostasy – will be blessed.

Thoughts: This is a challenging passage, as it clearly distinguishes the fates of:

  • those “who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus,” as they are “blessed” and “will rest from their labor”
  • everyone else, as they “will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb.”

I conjecture that any believer who endures persecution for their faith is strongly tempted to renounce their faith – thereby reaping the short-term benefits of apostasy. Persecuted believers know that if they maintain their faith, they may:

  • lose their possessions (e.g. job, home)
  • be reduced to begging for food and drink
  • lose their families
  • lose their lives.

Yet God calls all believers – especially those who endure persecution – to maintain their faith; in this way, they exchange the short-term benefits of apostasy for the long-term benefits of salvation. We must rely on the Holy Spirit for His requisite assistance as we struggle to live out our long-term priorities; without His help, we would certainly exchange them for short-term priorities.

The Woman and the Dragon January 29, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Revelation 12:1-13:1a.

Summary: In this passage, John observes a woman in heaven who gives birth to a male child; this child will reign over the world. A red dragon fails in an attempt to kill this child, who is then taken up to the throne of God; meanwhile, the woman flees to the desert. A heavenly conflict ensues between the dragon (and his angels) and Michael (and his angels); the dragon and his angels are defeated, though, and they are cast down to the earth. The dragon is furious; he then launches several unsuccessful attacks on the woman in the desert. The dragon is now enraged, and he prepares to launch attacks on believers.

Thoughts: The highlights of this passage – from my perspective – occur in:

  • verse 8, where it is noted that the dragon “was not strong enough”
  • verse 11, where it is noted that believers “overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.”

This passage demonstrates that Satan actively fights against believers; he is the most powerful, crafty and ruthless adversary that we will ever encounter. Normally this would be cause for great concern on our part; how could we even attempt to withstand his attacks, given that he can outsmart us and overpower us at will? Thankfully, we have an omnipotent, good and gracious ally – Christ, who has already defeated Satan via His death and resurrection. He has also guaranteed us that we will join Him in this eternal victorious state – as long as we maintain our faith in Him. Thus, this passage offers us further encouragement to hold fast to our faith as we struggle with the reality of Satan’s work in this fallen world.

The Seventh Trumpet January 26, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Revelation 11:15-19.

Summary: In this passage, John observes the seventh angel blowing the trumpet that he has received; this trumpet blast heralds a doxology in heaven regarding the perpetual reign of God over the world. The twenty-four elders who surround God on their thrones join in this doxology; they proclaim that He will exercise His authority as the ruler of the world by:

  • rewarding those who have not denied His name
  • punishing those who have denied His name.

God then displays His power over the natural world.

Thoughts: In this passage, we see a heavenly celebration of the reign of God over the world. Henry offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 15:

(1) They thankfully recognize the right of our God and Savior to rule and reign over all the world…This was always so in title, both by creation and by purchase.

(2) They give Christ thanks because he has asserted his rights, exerted his power, and so turned title into possession.

(3) They rejoice that his reign will never end…Nobody will ever take the scepter from his hand.

The Scriptures indicate that at the end of time, everyone – including the living and the dead – will acknowledge the reign of God over the world. Yet this passage indicates that those who acknowledge His reign before the end of time will be rewarded – while everyone else will be punished. As believers, we must consider how our words and deeds align with the reality of God reigning over the world. Do we truly acknowledge that He reigns over the world – and that He reigns over us? Do we subconsciously assert that we reign over our lives – including our careers, our families and our health? This passage should spur us to regularly meditate on the reality of God’s reign over the world and yield to His control of our lives.

The Trumpets January 16, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Revelation 8:6-9:21.

Summary: In this passage, John initially observes four angels blowing the trumpets that they have received; these trumpet blasts herald the partial destruction of the land, salt water, fresh water and the atmosphere. An eagle then declares that greater troubles will ensue after each of the three final trumpet blasts. The fifth and sixth angels blow the trumpets that they have received; these trumpet blasts herald the torture and death of part of the mass of unbelievers. The remaining unbelievers, though, refuse to repent of their sins.

Thoughts: This passage is replete with imagery – presenting a challenge for Bible commentators through the ages. The pastor at my old church chose to focus on “authorial intent,” enabling him to formulate the following interpretation:

The Roman empire was a superpower, but faced ever-present danger from two directions. To the north were the shadowy and fearsome germanic [sic] tribes (Goths), who eventually, in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD overran Athens and Rome, and the rest of the Roman empire. To the east, across the Euphrates River, were the Parthians, with whom Rome waged war for three hundred years, from 66 BCE to 217 AD.

The first woe brings an invasion of Goths to torment the Roman empire for a brief time (stipulated as five months). The second brings a horde of Parthians, a battle force of 200 million to kill 1/3 of the Romans.

It is unclear as to whether this is the correct interpretation of this passage; I am certain that other commentators would be able to formulate alternate explanations. If my former pastor is on the right track, though, then this passage would have been a great encouragement for John’s readers as they faced persecution. They would have been assured that their persecutors would (eventually) be punished for their actions – satisfying their righteous demands for God to display His justice and vindicate them for their righteousness.

This passage concludes on a disappointing note – as the unbelievers whom God spares from destruction refuse to repent of their sins. This spurred me to consider some of the reasons for their lack of repentance:

  • a tiger cannot change its stripes; since these people are inherently sinful, they will continue to sin (unless God chooses to save them)
  • they do not believe that the awful events that they have witnessed are acts of God; instead, they view them as 1) natural disasters and 2) actions of evil people
  • they do not believe that God will ultimately punish them for their sins
  • they believe in the concept of self-determination.

As believers, we know that God – even in the 21st century – hates sin; thus, He will judge those who persist in their sins. This sobering thought should spur us to redouble our efforts in praying for those who persist in their sins. Since they cannot come to repentance by their own efforts, we should pray that God would soften their hearts and enable them to recognize His offer of grace and restoration. Moreover, we should strive to maintain our relationships with those who persist in their sins; perhaps God will work through us to restore unbelievers to a right relationship with Him.

144,000 Sealed January 7, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Revelation 7:1-8.

Summary: In this passage, John observes four angels preventing the four winds of the earth from blowing on it. A fifth angel then commands these four angels to restrain those winds – until all believers have been marked with the seal of God.

Thoughts: This passage further highlights the difficulty of hewing to a literal interpretation of Revelation. In particular, Jehovah’s Witnesses adopt a literal interpretation of this passage. They believe that only 144000 people will enter heaven at the end of time. Obviously this is a controversial stance; an example of a counterargument can be found here. My thought is that we should focus on “authorial intent” in this case and determine if the number 144000 would have held a special meaning for John’s readers. Perhaps John used the number 144000 to convey the idea of perfection and completeness:

  • the nation of Israel consisted of twelve tribes
  • Jesus commissioned twelve apostles during His earthly ministry.

Thus, his readers would be encouraged in that if they maintained their faith, they would certainly be preserved from spiritual destruction; the seal of God would be applied to all genuine believers.