The Mark of the Beast

Guys. I’ve done it. I’ve solved the puzzle. Finally, after 2,000 years, because of my hard work and intellectual prowess, we can now know exactly what the mark of the beast is. Every towering genius of the past quakes before me. This mystery, which has been studied and debated by scholars of Scripture for centuries, will now finally be revealed in this blog post. By me. A genius. No. Even better: A galaxy-brained genius.

Ok, so maybe I don’t know what the mark of the beast actually is. The book of Revelation is super confusing, and the further we get from the time of its writing, the more difficult it is for us to discern its mysteries. It’s not written in a straightforward way. It’s timeline is most likely non-linear. The images, exploding off the page as they do, are so vivid and strange that they mask the reality to which they point. Is it past? Is it present? Is it future? The answer is an emphatic, “Yes!” It is all of these. It is history and prophecy, of both the physical and spiritual realms. It is current events — the news. It was the news. It is the news. It will be the news. Get it? Hardly. But I do have some thoughts.


The book of Revelation was the news, is the news, and will be the news.

Lots of folks think we’re living in the days prophesied in Revelation — the end times. People have always thought this, though, and I have a feeling that they’ve always been a little bit wrong but a whole lot right. We’ve been living in the last days ever since Jesus ascended back into the Father’s presence. His death, resurrection, and ascension kicked off an entirely new age in world history. We’re in the last days, the last phase of this world before Jesus makes everything new. The end is near! We’re just not quite to the last hour yet.

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“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
-Revelation 2:1-7

Do you remember when you first became a Christian? Or, if you’re like me and were raised in a Christian home, can you recall that time in your life when you made the faith your own? For many of us, those are the moments of the birth of new life in our souls, of freshness and forgiveness, of a passionate love for Jesus burning in our hearts. It’s the moment of first love, when God reveals himself to us with grace and clarity, and we finally understand how deeply loved we are by our Creator — that is when our love for God explodes out of our hearts and flows out into the world around us through our words and actions. We love God so much that we just can’t hide it!

Let’s be honest: It’s hard to stay in that place. It’s difficult to maintain that level of passion and emotion over the course of our lives. I told Jesus this in prayer the other day. I said, “Look, it’s hard to love you when you’re not physically present on the earth. I don’t mean that you’re hard to love, because your character and the things you’ve done for me — how can I not love you? I’m just saying that it’s difficult to maintain this love in your absence.” I’m not trying to make excuses for myself, I’m just trying to guilt Jesus into returning right now! (It’s not working.) I recognize that I was speaking purely from an emotional level (frustration, disappointment) in that prayer, and that Jesus’s absence is no excuse to not be present to the passion of our love for him. After all, he has given us the Holy Spirit to be with us, and he is always urging us back to our first love.

But the world tends to distract us from our love for Jesus. The tedium and monotony of our daily routines, the triviality of consumerism, and the banality of entertainment have a way of dulling the senses — especially our deepest feelings for our Savior. The more that our love for God is at the surface of our souls and not buried beneath the anxieties and distractions of modern life, the more we will feel a passionate love for him. I am not as passionate about God when I spend a lot of time on my phone. There’s something about that screen that can pull me away from the One I’m supposed to feel most passionately about. Love isn’t a feeling, of course, but we do feel love. We have an emotional response to love and our presence to it, and the more in touch with that love we are, the more we will feel it on an emotional level. Love is like heat, and the closer we get to it the more it triggers our spiritual senses.


Love is like heat, and the closer we get to it the more it triggers our spiritual senses.

What Jesus is after from the Church in Ephesus, and from us, is that they become present to the passion of their love for him. It’s not that they don’t love; it’s that they have grown cold to love. Their souls have become distant from their first love, and a great chasm of fear and rule-keeping has opened up between them and Jesus. They didn’t fall off the path, necessarily, they just forgot why they were walking on it and who they were following.

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This is a rather long, and dense, quote from John Walton’s new book, The Lost World of the Torah, but it is worth sharing because it helps us to understand some very important things about the Torah, and the world in which it was created. For context’s sake, this quote comes near the beginning of Proposition (what Walton calls chapters in his Lost World series) 14: Torah is Situated in the Context of Israelite Theology Regarding Yahweh’s Presence Residing Among Them.

[T]he seven days of creation are primarily concerned with God ordering the cosmos to serve as the domain over which he will rule when he takes up his residence and rest in Eden (which is effectively a cosmic temple). In the [Ancient Near East], the world outside of the divine realm was divided broadly into two areas: the human realm, where order was established and maintained, and the liminal realm, where it was not. The liminal realm existed on the periphery of creation and was home to dangerous animals; harsh and inedible plants; hostile terrain such as deserts, mountains, or the sea; and unworldly entities such as demons, wandering spirits, or monstrous demihuman barbarians. The ordered world was protected and sustained by the gods as they took their rest in their temples; rest here refers to active residence and rule, not passive relaxation. The gods do not rest in a bed or on a couch; they rest on the throne. In Genesis, this even days of creation describe the establishment of the ordered world. The process is completed on the seventh day when Yahweh enters into his rest. When Adam and Eve choose to take wisdom (the “knowledge of good and evil,” Gen 2:17) for themselves, they simultaneously become like God (Gen 3:22) and thereby inherit the responsibility to establish and sustain order. Consequently, they are sent out into the liminal world and charged with setting it in order themselves, which they attempt to do by establishing cities and civilization, the structures that were thought to establish order in the human world throughout the ANE. Genesis 4-11 records that these attempts were unsuccessful; cities and civilizations do not, in fact, lead to an ordered condition. The remainder of Genesis provides the setup for Israel’s proposed alternative, which is an order established by God through the instrument of the covenant. The covenant is not a return to Eden (which is neither anticipated nor desired in the Old Testament), but it does represent a kind of order that is sustained by the gods (Yahweh) rather than by humans through human efforts. This divine-centered order is finally established in Exodus with the ratification of the covenant and the construction of the tabernacle, where God takes up his rest among the people (Ex 40:34).
John Walton, The Lost World of the Torah

Walton offers a fairly radical (to us) understanding of the seven days of creation in this text, and he is building upon what he laid out in his excellent book, The Lost World of Genesis 1, which I reviewed here. I have also written about Genesis 1 before, so I won’t rehash all of that in this post. What really caught my attention was the idea of the liminal realm, or wilderness, for Ancient Near East peoples. The wilderness is where chaos reigns, where the world refuses to be subdued and ordered. The wilderness (which would have included the sea) was the home of the chaos monsters and the dark spiritual forces who resisted the will of the gods. The liminal realm was inhospitable to life, and only the accursed would go there.

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My wife, Breena, is in a Bible study at church on the book of Ephesians. The study material is written by a famous Calvinist, and Ephesians 1 is one of the key passages that Calvinists use to develop their doctrine of predestination/election. Neither of us are Calvinists, and so we interpret Ephesians 1 significantly differently from our brothers and sisters who believe that God has chosen before time began those who would be saved. Last week, I published a post in which I explained how I interpret Ephesians 1, but I got caught up in technical language, and didn’t produce an article that would be beneficial to most people. So I hope that this post will be something a bit more accessible.

Jesus and Abraham

Breena and I had a long conversation about Ephesians 1, and she found a couple of things very helpful. First of all, when New Testament authors talk about Christians being “chosen,” they aren’t inventing a new concept. The Jewish people were God’s chosen people. Christianity came out of Judaism, and almost all of the first Christians were Jewish. So when someone like Paul talked about being God’s chosen people, or how Christians are chosen in Christ, he was building on a long standing Jewish idea, using terms that were very familiar to him.

The Jews were God’s chosen people because they were the descendants of Abraham, the man that God uniquely chose to form a new nation that would bless all the nations of the earth. They weren’t chosen in the sense that God picked a bunch of individuals out of a crowd of humanity; rather, they inherited Abraham’s chosen-ness like a birthright. They were born into being chosen.

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Paul’s Friends – 4:7-18


7 Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. 8 I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. 9 He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here.

10 My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) 11 Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my co-workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me. 12 Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. 13 I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. 14 Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings. 15 Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.

16 After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.

17 Tell Archippus: “See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord.”

18 I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.

Paul was not alone in ministry. Though different people accompanied him at different times, he always seemed to have a group of men by his side. Paul’s friends were faithful ministers of the Gospel who supported him in every way.

Tychicus is the first person mentioned, most likely because he was the carrier of this letter. It would have been his responsibility to read the letter aloud to the congregation, explaining anything that needed clarification or further comment. He is also mentioned in Ephesians. In fact, he is the only one mentioned there, which stands in stark contrast with the ending to Colossians. Paul’s language regarding Tychicus is similar in Ephesians and Colossians, indicating the possibility that he wrote both letters at the same time, entrusting both to Tychicus. Tychicus is also mentioned in Acts 20, Titus, and 2 Timothy.

Tychicus had a travelling companion, the famous Onesimus. Paul refers to him as “one of you,” indicating that he was the same Onesimus who belonged to Philemon. Could he have been a runaway slave? Possibly. Regardless of his previous situation, he is now a “faithful and dear brother.” Onesimus is a Christian, and a reliable witness to all that is going on with Paul’s ministry.

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