December 25 — 2 Peter 1‐3, Jude 1 — Getting Ready. For those of you who have been getting ready for this day all month: Merry Christmas! There is another kind of getting ready in our reading for today. Peter wrote this second letter near the end of his life (2 Pet. 1:14) around A.D. 64-67 and it was intended for churches of central Asia (modern Turkey). Jude wrote his letter about the same time, which is very similar to 2 Peter 2. The main theme of both was maintaining righteous living while facing oppression. The cruel Emperor Nero was in power over the Roman Empire, and he led several periods of severe persecution against Christians. What can we do when facing troubling times when our faith is challenged? One solution that Peter stressed is to grow in our knowledge of God, mentioning this kind of knowledge 13 times in these chapters. We come to know God primarily through exposing ourselves to the Scriptures, which we have been doing every day this year. We need to “pay attention” to its words (1:19), “practice” its principles (1:10), and “be diligent” in keeping ourselves pure and peaceable (3:14). Jude tells the believer to be “building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 1:20-21). Then, when persecution or false teaching challenges us, we will be prepared.
December 26 — 1 John 1‐5 — Testing Genuineness. This is the first of the Apostle John’s three letters that we have in the New Testament. It was probably written in the latter part of his long life from Ephesus to churches scattered east of there in the Roman province of Asia Minor (modern Turkey). Typical of “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 21:20), this letter contains much about the subject of love. He was concerned about our love being genuine and offered a number of tests to “grade” ourselves, not only about love, but also about things like fellowship and acknowledging, knowing, abiding in, and obeying God. He introduced these tests with repeated expressions like, “If we say…” (3 times), “Whoever says…” (3x), “By this we know…” (10x), “Whoever…” (13x), and “Everyone…” (1x). The critical test is whether we really know God or not. It would be rare for someone to be as faithful as you have been in reading through the whole Bible unless you had a personal, saving relationship with God. The other tests, however, should challenge all of us when we gauge the depth of our spiritual experience. In which of these areas would you like to grow the most during the coming year?
December 27 — 2 & 3 John — No Greater Joy. These two letters were likely written at the same time as John’s first letter and were sent with Demetrius (3 John 1:12) to be given to Gaius as well as “the elect lady” (2 John 1:1) and the churches of Asia Minor. Because of the many plural Greek forms of the “you” words, it has been suggested that “the elect lady” may refer not to a particular lady but to the church of which Gaius was a member (the Greek word for “church” is feminine in form). The themes of these two letters are similar to 1 John, namely, loving each other and obeying God. One expression that stood out to me was John’s statement that “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 1:4). That is true whether it refers to one’s own physical children or to one’s spiritual children. If you led your own children to Christ, you know the great joy and comfort it is to see them following the Lord. I still have contact with a few other people whom I led to the Lord years ago and it is a joy to see that they are not only still being faithful, but that they have brought up their own children to love God as well. We can increase our joy by bringing someone else into the family of God.
December 28 — Revelation 1‐5 — Spiritual Checkup. The book of Revelation is very difficult to understand and to interpret because of its symbolism. It has been interpreted in many ways over the centuries. (Attached is a summary of these interpretations from the ESV Study Bible that may prove to be helpful for your understanding.) I noticed in our reading for today that in Jesus’ checkup of the seven churches, He said to five of them, “I know your works…” What characterized the “works” of these churches and how do they apply to our churches and ourselves today? Some of their “works” were good, like having “patient endurance” and not wanting to “bear with those who are evil” (2:2); others showed “love and faith and service” (2:19), while another church had “kept my word” (3:8). There were also many “works” that were rebuked by Jesus: the Ephesus church had “abandoned the love you had at first” (2:4), Thyatira was tolerating the immorality of their “Jezebel” (2:20), Sardis was “dead” (3:1), and Laodicea was “lukewarm” (3:16). How about your checkup? Do you still have the reality and fervency of love that you had earlier, or have you become “lukewarm”? Are you tolerating sin in your life? Jesus’ stated solution to these kinds of problems is this: “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first” (2:5). Remember … repent … repeat!
A summary of Schools of Interpretation for Revelation is available by clicking below:
December 29 — Revelation 6‐11 — Gentle Shepherd. These chapters contain the overlapping introduction of seven seals, seven trumpets, and two of the three woes. The opening of the seven seals includes God’s future judgment on the earth when guilty and fearful people will hide from Him in caves. This judgment is also described as being “the wrath of the Lamb” (6:16). Doesn’t that expression sound odd? Wrath is not normally associated with a lamb. This Lamb is different, however. He is the divine Judge. He is also described in a very unexpected way later in this book. His action in heaven toward “a great multitude … in white robes” (7:9) coming from the great tribulation who “serve him day and night” (v. 15) is surprising: “For the Lamb … will be their shepherd” (v. 17). Another odd expression. A lamb is normally led by his shepherd but this heavenly Lamb is also the Great Shepherd who will shelter us (v. 15), feed us (v. 16), guide us, and dry our tears (v. 17). He is our Gentle Shepherd here on earth as Bill and Gloria Gather reminded us with this familiar song:
Gentle Shepherd come and lead us
For we need you to help us find our way
Gentle Shepherd come and feed us
For we need Your strength from day to day…
December 30 — Revelation 12‐18 — Called to Endure. Twice in these chapters there is a “call for the endurance of the saints” (13:10; 14:12). The first one comes after descriptions of the “great red dragon” (12:3), symbolizing “that ancient serpent … the devil and Satan” (12:9) and the wounded-but-worshiped “beast” (13:3-4). Both of them were allowed to “make war” against God’s saints (12:17; 13:7). Those will be terrible days, worse than we have ever seen or heard about. In the midst of that trouble, three angels will appear with messages that are also appropriate for us today. The first is a message of hope: “Fear God and give him glory … and worship him” (14:7). There is a way out of, or at least through, those greatest troubles. The second angel has a message of judgment: “Fallen … is Babylon the great” (14:8). The judgment of this city with the selfishness, pride, and immorality that characterized it, is described in detail in chapter 18. Although the culture around us seems to be prospering, it is doomed under God’s judgment. The third message is a warning: “…if anyone worships the beast … receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand … will drink the wine of God’s wrath” (14:9-10). We live in the midst of a sin-oriented world but we are not to participate with them in anything that is contrary to God’s will. So, when we are in the midst of trouble, we need to remember that there is hope for us and there is judgment for sin. Let us endure by fearing God, giving Him glory, and obeying and worshiping Him.
December 31 — Revelation 19‐22 — We Win! This is the climax of history. Satan is thrown into “the lake of fire” (20:10) with the beast and the false prophet to be punished forever and God reigns with Christ and His Church for eternity. I love the multifaceted description of Jesus. He “is called” two things: “Faithful and True” (19:11) and “The Word of God” (v. 13), which emphasize His character and His message. He also has two names mentioned here: “King of kings and Lord of lords” (v. 16), which underscore His position over the strongest examples of mankind. Actually, there is a third name: “a name written that no one knows but himself” (v. 12). It is the name that is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Eph. 1:21). We win at the end because Yahweh is all-powerful, all-wise, and all-loving toward those of us who love Him. “Blessed be the name of the LORD!” (Ps. 113:2).