How Did the Disciples and Paul Know that Jesus Was the Christ?

In my last few posts, I have written about the distinction between Jesus and Christ in the gospels. While the gospels seem to be about Jesus, they are ultimately accounts about Jesus as the Christ.

How did the disciples come to know that Jesus was the Christ?

The letters of the New Testament focus almost exclusively on the Christ. Even when the name Jesus is used it is tied to the Christ. Most of these letters were written by Paul, who was thoroughly trained in the scriptures.

How did Paul come to know that Jesus was the Christ?

Let’s start with the disciples.

As is commonly known, the disciples were not men studying to become rabbis. In other words, they were not students of the law and the prophets, which is to say the scriptures. Instead, the disciples were uneducated men. Acts 4.13 says that the rulers, scribes, and elders “perceived that they [specifically Peter and John in this case] were uneducated, common men.” While we don’t know what each disciple did, some were fishermen, another was a tax collector, and another was a zealot, which was not a profession per se but did describe what Simon was about perhaps is closest to some political activists today.

So, if Jesus’ disciples were not students of the scriptures, then how did they come to know Jesus as the Christ?

In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus asks the disciples, “But, who do you say that I am?” But, I want to focus on the account in Matthew 16. Peter answers, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Was Peter able to name Jesus as the Christ because he had read the scriptures and logically reasoned out that Jesus was the Christ that the law and the prophets had foretold would rescue Israel from its exile?

Was Peter able to name Jesus as the Christ because he had a teacher who instructed him in the idea and belief that Jesus was the Christ?

The answer to both questions is no.

Jesus said, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”

Flesh and blood means that no person revealed to Peter and the other disciples that Jesus was the Christ. Further, I think we can understand Jesus as saying that nothing that flesh and blood has done, including writing the scriptures, revealed to the disciples that Jesus was the Christ.

I believe we are safe in taking Jesus’ statement this far because in John 5.39-40 Jesus said to students of scripture, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” The scriptures indeed bear witness about Jesus as the Christ, but the scriptures do not reveal Jesus as the Christ to you. For the only way to see Jesus as the Christ in the scriptures, which in the Bible means the Old Testament, is to have already had Jesus revealed to you as the Christ.

Matthew specifically records Jesus saying that it was not flesh and blood that revealed Jesus as the Christ, but it was the Father who is in heaven revealed this to the disciples. Jesus elsewhere says that the kingdom of heaven is within you. So, the Father that reveals Jesus as the Christ was in the disciples. And, if it wasn’t flesh and blood that brought about this revelation then it must have been spirit, or the Spirit. That the Spirit is the one who reveals Jesus as the Christ to the disciples fits with many other scriptures where Jesus said that the Holy Spirit will be our teacher who will bring to our remembrance everything Jesus said and no one is need of a teacher because they have the Holy Spirit. And, the Holy Spirit speaks of Christ only.

So, the disciples had Jesus revealed to them as the Christ by the Holy Spirit not the scriptures or the Bible.

It was only after this revelation that they were able to go back to the scriptures and see where they prophesied about the Christ (see Luke 24).

Interestingly, the disciples’ revelation of Jesus as the Christ, the son of God, occurred in Caesarea Philippi. Notice the word caesar there? That’s because the city received this name in AD 14 in honor of August Caesar. It was at this time that Caesar Augustus’ image was put on coin with the title “Son of God” on it. So, do you think that the revelation of Jesus as the Christ, the son of God, taking place in Caesarea Philippi has special significance? I sure do.

Surely, it must have been different for Paul who was a great student of the scriptures. If anyone could have reasoned Christ from the scriptures it would have been Paul. In Philippians 3.4-6, Paul said, “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law blameless.” Surely, if anyone could have known the Christ through flesh and blood and the scriptures then it would have been Paul.

Yet, Paul was admits that flesh and blood caused him to be nothing but a persecutor of the church, which Paul understood to mean that he was a persecutor of Jesus Christ himself.

So, if all of Paul’s scripture knowledge did not reveal Jesus as the Christ, then how did Paul know that Jesus was the Christ?

“For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.” (Galatians 1.11-17)

How was Jesus revealed as the Christ, the son of God, to Paul?

It pleased the Father to reveal the Christ, his Son, to Paul. Once again, the Father revealed Jesus as the Christ.

Further, Paul says that what he preached, Jesus as the Christ, was not man’s gospel. Paul did not receive this revelation from any man.

Nor was Paul taught this revelation of Jesus as the Christ. Paul studied in Gamaliel, one of the most famous rabbis in Israel. Yet, despite all of Gamaliel’s scripture knowledge, he did not teach Paul that Jesus was the Christ. Paul did not learn that Jesus was the Christ from scripture. In fact, because of his scripture knowledge, which only puffed Paul up with pride, Paul became a persecutor of the church and the Christ. Despite what many Christians believe, scripture knowledge without a prior revelation of the Christ by the Holy Spirit leaves us proud and zealous, persecutors of those who truly know the Christ.

To receive revelation of Jesus as the Christ, Paul did not consult with anyone. Again, no man, no flesh and blood can cause you to know Jesus as the Christ. Nor did Paul go to Jerusalem to see the apostles. Going to the religious center of the world to learn from who already knew Jesus as the Christ was not have Jesus was revealed to Paul as the Christ.

What did Paul do instead?

He went away to Arabia. Paul went into the desert. He went into what is a dry and lonely place. It was in this dry, lonely place that Paul could clearly hear from God that Jesus was the Christ. Interestingly, Paul went to Arabia. There are some that believe this means that Paul went to Mt Sinai where the law was given. Why would Paul go there? He went deep into the place that his whole life was based upon and he allowed God to turn it upside down.

So, Jesus is revealed as the Christ by the Father in heaven through the Holy Spirit who dwells in our hearts.

This revelation does not come through scripture. In fact, it is only after this revelation has occurred within us that we are able to see Jesus as the Christ in scripture. The New Testament, which we call scripture, reveals that those who rely on scripture without this prior Holy Spirit revelation of Jesus as the Christ become persecutors of the church, who are those to whom the Holy Spirit has revealed Jesus as the Christ.

Experiencing Jesus Opens the Bible: Part 1 – Drawn by the Holy Spirit

(This post is Part 1 of the series Experiencing Jesus Opens the Bible. The other posts in the series are Introduction, Part 2 – The Word of the Lord Appeared, and Part 3 – A Low Whisper, Part 4 – Seeing Jesus, and Part 5 – Knowing His Resurrection.)

In the introduction to this series, I noted that we come to the Bible with presuppositions about God. Typically, as we study the Bible, those presuppositions about God – no matter if they are right or wrong – are confirmed. However, when we truly experience the life of Jesus Christ, our presuppositions about God are challenged, overturned, changed. Then, when we go the Bible, we see this new perspective of God confirmed.

Therefore, experiencing the life of Jesus Christ opens the Bible to us.

In today’s post, I want to share with you my first experiences with the life of Jesus that, quite literally, opened the Bible to me.

I grew up in a non-religious, non-spiritual home. I vaguely remember attending a Sunday school class one time. However, I can’t recall a single conversation from my childhood that had anything to do with God, religion, faith, or spirituality.

So it might surprise you that I chose to attend a Catholic high school. But, I didn’t choose the school because it was Catholic. In fact, I chose the school in spite of it being Catholic. My reason for picking the school was that it had the best golf team in the city, and I wanted to be a professional golfer. It didn’t hurt that it was an academically challenging school as well.

Attending this Catholic high school was my first confrontation with the world of religion. I had to take religion class all four years of high school. I remember feeling picked on by the teacher in my freshman religion class – not because he was being mean to me but because he seemingly would call on me to answer every question.

We also had to attend mass several times throughout the year. I found the mass to be incredibly boring and pointless. So, I tried to get my mom to let me stay home on those days.

I remember telling classmates that all this religion stuff was not for me. I was an atheist. I didn’t believe in God. I believe in logic, facts, science, math, rational thinking. I don’t think I was ever antagonistic about it. I told my classmates I had no problem with them being religious, but it just wasn’t for me.

My mom’s parents were churchgoers, which is probably why I have that vague Sunday school memory. I remember my grandmother more than once giving me a Bible during my high school years.

One of the Bibles was from the PTL Club and Jim Baker (amazing the things that stick in our minds). That Bible sat on my shelf for years. I never once touched it. I never once opened it. I remember thinking to myself, “My grandmother is crazy. Why does she give me Bibles? Doesn’t she know that I am never going to read this thing?”

Choosing the Catholic high school for its excellent golf team paid off. I ended up going to college on a golf scholarship. A guy on the team a year ahead of me became my best friend. Both us had no problem with silence and did not need a lot of people around us. My best friend and I hung out together quite a bit. But, in my junior year, he got a girlfriend. We stopped hanging out together as much. I started to feel pretty lonely.

One December night I was lying in bed feeling particularly lonely. I wanted someone to hang out with. But, as close as I was to my teammate, I didn’t want another guy friend. I wanted a woman to be close to. However, I was introverted and shy and not comfortable striking up a conversation with anyone, especially a woman I was interested in.

So, I did something I had never done before.

I talked with God.

Well, I didn’t really talk with God. It was more like I threw him a challenge.

“God, if you exist, then I want to meet my wife for my birthday.”

That was the extent of my talk with God.

Come on God. Prove to me that you are real. Do something for me. Otherwise, I will be perfectly free to keep denying your existence.

Shortly thereafter I put a personal ad in the local paper. (Like I said, I was really uncomfortable with the idea of striking up a conversation with a woman I was interested in.) Several women answered the ad. One of the women I went on a couple of dates with. But, there was no spark, no connection.

Then, a couple of weeks before my birthday in late February, I got one last response to my ad. Her name was Dawn. We agreed to meet at the Friday’s for dinner about a block from campus.

I can still picture the table I was sitting at when Dawn walked into the restaurant. As soon as I saw Dawn walk in and I knew she was my blind date, I remember telling myself, “I am going to marry her.”

We stayed at the restaurant for hours talking. Eventually, they had to ask us to leave so they could close.

I left a message for Dawn the very next day, telling her what a great time I had and that I would like to go out again. When we finally got to talk to each other, I remember telling Dawn about that lonely night back in December when I asked God to prove that he existed by giving me my wife for my birthday. (Yes, I did that after one date. No, I have no idea what the dating rules are or how to follow them.)

Dawn responded that she was a Christian and she did not believe in coincidences. Things happened for a reason. I thought to myself that this was the end of the relationship. I want to date her. But, I am not a Christian. So, why would she want to date me?

We went out a second time pretty close to my birthday. We kept talking to each other on the phone. Dawn invited me to come to church with her. I told her that I would do that.

While I was home for spring break, I called Dawn and told her that I wanted to come to church with her that Sunday when I drove back to school. Dawn said that wasn’t a good Sunday. I told her that I really wanted to come that Sunday. She reiterated that it wasn’t a good day to come. Maybe I could come the following Sunday. I finally wore her down. I was going to church with her that Sunday.

Remember, I had basically never been to church in my life. I was from Ohio (the north) but going to school in Tennessee (the south). Dawn was African-American. She went to a Baptist church. So, here was this young white kid from the north going to church for the first time at an all black Baptist church in the south.

As we walked into the church, I noticed people were carrying tambourines with them. I remember thinking that was sort of weird. “What have I gotten myself into?”

Dawn decided that we were going to sit in the front row. The service started, and the choir paraded into the church singing. The music was loud, but really good. All of them women started dancing. Next thing I knew, women were falling to the ground. I sat there stiff as a board. Later, Dawn told me she could see the blood draining from the top of my head down my face as I turned whiter and whiter. And, she didn’t want me to come that Sunday because many of the women were coming back from a T.D. Jakes Woman Thou Art Loosed conference. Dawn knew what was going to happen and was afraid it would scare me away.

The music finally stopped. The pastor started preaching. I don’t remember a single thing he said. But, I can remember saying to myself, “How does he know that about me?” It was like everything he said was directed right at me. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was starting to experience the life of Jesus Christ.

I kept going to church every Sunday with Dawn. A few months later at the end of the school year, I wanted to join the church. But, I didn’t want to do it and then not show up for the next three months while I was back home on summer break. So, I told myself I would join the church that fall when I came back to school.

Before I left school for the summer, Dawn and I had already talked of getting married. We continued to talk about getting married after I went home for the summer. When I visited for her birthday in July, she had a pretty good idea I was bringing an engagement ring with me. I proposed and she accepted on Friday.

That Sunday we went to church. It was my first time at church since I went home for the summer. At the end of the service, the pastor did an altar call. As he normally did during the altar call, he wandered around the church singing, inviting people to have a relationship with Jesus.

Now, the pastor and I had never spoke before. So, he knew nothing about me. But, this Sunday, as he walked around the church singing, he stopped and stood right next to me. The pastor was pretty tall, and I felt him towering over me.

I had wanted to join the church several months ago, but I didn’t feel it was the right time. I was determined not to give the my life to Jesus that Sunday morning. It wasn’t the right time. I wanted to wait until fall. So, I turned in my seat so I would not have to look at the pastor.

The pastor just continued to stand there. The whole time he stood there he just kept singing the line, “Is there a better time than now?” I started crying.

He sang that line over and over again.

“Is there a better time than now?”

“Is there a better time than now?”

The more he sang that line, the more I cried.

At last, I felt my shirt lift off of my chest. To this day, I can see a hand grabbing my shirt right in the middle of my chest and pulling me out of my seat. I was determined not to get up, but this hand just lifted me right out of my seat.

I got up and gave my life to Jesus the same weekend that I got engaged to Dawn, the woman that I met just two weeks for before my birthday.

God was answering my challenge – “God, if you exist, then I want to meet my wife for my birthday.”

Dawn and I were married that December, just nine months after we met and about one year after I challenged God.

But, let’s go back to that Sunday morning I was pulled out of me seat. At the time, I did not have the language to express what happened. But, I knew beyond a doubt God had moved in my life.

I had felt the hand of God.

I had experienced God.

I felt God’s hand lift me out of my seat. I felt God’s hand pull me toward him. This was a crucial experience with God for me. Remember, I based everything on logic, facts, science, math, rational thinking. But, I could not explain this experience. Experiencing God’s hand lift me out of my seat…I could not explain away this supernatural thing that I knew had happened to me.

Prior to this experience, I had a presupposition that God was not real. He did not exist. I dared God to prove my presupposition about him wrong. And, God most certainly revealed to me that he existed. He was real. I felt his hand. I experienced him.

After this experience with the life of Jesus Christ, I had a desire to read the Bible.

The Bible.

That same book that my grandmother had given me all those years ago that I swore I would never open.

That same book that sat closed on my shelf for years.

But, I started read the book (sporadically at best). Experiencing the life of Jesus Christ opened the Bible for me. Literally.

I would never have chosen to open the Bible on my own. God did not exist. Therefore, there was no need to read a book about him.

But, my experience with the life of Jesus Christ, changed my presupposition about God. He did exist. He was real. My presupposition about God had changed, and now I went to the Bible to confirm and understand my experience that God did indeed exist. My experience with Jesus opened the Bible to me.

Over time, as I read the Bible, I developed language for my experience with the hand of God that Sunday morning.

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.” (John 6.44-45)

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life…This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” (John 6.63, 65)

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12.32)

As I read the Bible, my experience with the life of Jesus Christ was confirmed. The Bible bore witness to my experience with Jesus.

From the moment I challenged God to the moment I was lifted out of my seat by his hand, Jesus was being lifted up in my heart and he was drawing me to himself. The Father who sent Jesus was drawing me. He was teaching me. I was hearing and learning from the Father in my spirit even though I was not aware of it in the flesh, in my mind. I was hearing words of spirit and life. And, it is God’s Spirit that gives life.

That Sunday morning, it was the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Jesus Christ, drawing me out of my seat to come to the Father. His drawing me out of my seat was the culmination of what I had been hearing and learning from the Father in my spirit.

All without ever having opened the Bible.

But, experiencing the life of Jesus Christ through the drawing of the Holy Spirit changed my presuppositions about God. And, that experience with the life of Jesus Christ opened the Bible for me.

Why Does Jesus Kill All Men Gathered Against Him with the Sword of His Mouth?

TODAY’S READING: REVELATION 18-19

“And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.” (Revelation 19.21)

In Revelation 19.11, John sees heaven open and a white horse appears. The rider on the white horse was called faithful and true.

Who is the rider on the white horse?

Jesus.

Revelation 1.5 calls Jesus “the faithful witness.” And, Revelation 3.14 calls Jesus “the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.”

John says Jesus judges and makes war in righteousness.

How does Jesus judge and make war in righteousness?

On the cross.

The righteousness of God is revealed by Jesus on the cross (Romans 3.21-26. You can read about this in What Is the Righteousness of God and Its Effect?

Speaking of Jesus on the white horse, John says, “From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations.” (Revelation 19.15) This same sword in Jesus’ mouth is previously mentioned twice in Revelation. Verse 1.16 says, “From his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword.” And, verse 2.12 says, “The word of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.”

Clearly, this is not a literal sword. Jesus does not have a literal sword coming out of his mouth by which he is going to literally kill people. Since the sword is coming from his mouth, this is clearly a reference to Jesus’ word. In Revelation 19.13, John said of Jesus, “The name by which he is called is The Word of God.” This fits with Hebrews 4.12, which says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.”

The sharp two-edged sword coming from Jesus’ mouth is to “strike down the nations.” Verse 19.15 continues, “And he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.” This is all an allusion to Psalm 2.

Psalm 2.1-2 says, “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed.”

Jesus is going to strike the nations that gather themselves together against him with the sharp two-edged sword in his mouth.

Psalm 2.5 says, “Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury.”

In the Septuagint, this verse uses the same Greek words for wrath [orge] and fury [thymos] that are used in Revelation 19.15. You can read more about these words and Jesus’ treading of the winepress alone in What Is the Wrath of God?

Jesus is going to tread the winepress, that is go to the cross, alone. It is by treading the winepress alone that Jesus is going to judge and make war against the nations in righteousness, by the cross, that have gathered against him.

Speaking of this battle where the nations gather together against the messiah, Psalm 2.7 says, “I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you.'”

Jesus became the begotten son of God not when he was born by Mary but when he was born of God in his resurrection. This is why Revelation 1.5 says that Jesus is the “firstborn of the dead.” Colossians 1.18 says, “He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead.” Acts 26.23 says, Jesus was “the first to rise from the dead.” Romans 8.29 says that God is conforming us to the image of Jesus “in order that he [Jesus] might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

Jesus was the begotten son of God, the first to be born from death to life.

Therefore, Revelation 19.11-21 is to be understood as a revelation, an unveiling, of what happened at the cross.

So, John saw an angel calling with a loud voice to all the birds, “Come, gather for the great supper of God.” (Revelation 19.17)

What were these birds to gather and eat at the great supper of God?

“To eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.”

It is important to notice the repetition of the word flesh. It is the flesh that the birds have been gathered together to eat.

With the kings of the earth and their armies, John saw the beast. In this battle, the beast was captured. And, so was the false prophet who deceived all those that had received the mark of the beast, worshiped it image, and gathered against Jesus for war.

What happened to the beast and false prophet after this battle?

“These two were thrown alive in the lake of that burns with sulfur.” (Revelation 19.20)

The beast and the false prophet led the kings of the earth and their armies into war against Jesus and were thrown into the lake of fire because of it.

But, what about the kings and their armies?

Were they thrown into the lake of fire too?

No.

“And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who sitting on the horse.” (Revelation 19.21)

The kings and their armies, the captains, the mighty men, and all men – free and slave, small and great – were slain by the sword.

The Greek word for slain is apokteino. It means to kill or slay. It can also mean destroy. This is word is used 74 times in the New Testament. It is used almost exclusively in regards to the Jews killing the prophets and Jesus.

In fact, Revelation 19.21 is the first and only instance of Jesus, or God, actually killing, slaying any person in the New Testament.

There is only one other time where Jesus and God are said to actually kill something.

“For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing [apokteino] the hostility.” (Ephesians 2.14-16)

Through the cross, Jesus kills “the hostility.”

What hostility?

In one sense, the hostility between Jew and Gentile.

But, I believe in a greater sense our mankind’s hostility to God.

Where does man’s hostility to God reside?

“For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8.7-8)

The Greek word for hostile in Romans 8.7 is the same Greek word for hostile in Ephesians 2.14, 16.

Hostility to God resides in the mind set on the flesh. And, the flesh cannot please God.

Why did the angel call the birds to gather for the great supper of God?

“To eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.” (Revelation 19.18)

Why were the rest, all those in the verse above, “slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him [Jesus]”?

So that “all the birds were gorged with their flesh.”

But, what does it mean to be slain by the sharp two-edged sword in Jesus’ mouth?

What does it mean to be killed by the word of God?

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4.12-13)

To be killed by the word of God, the sharp two-edged sword, means not our literal, physical death but the separation of our flesh from our spirit.

In Revelation 19.21, Jesus kills all the flesh of those gathered against him because the mind set on the flesh is hostile to God. Because this the flesh and the mind set on it cannot please God, Jesus separates the flesh from us with the sword of his mouth, the word of God.

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh.” (Romans 8.5)

Remember, the setting for this battle is the cross. Through the cross, Jesus gives peace, killing our hostility to God. He removes our flesh and gives us his Spirit.

“But those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit…But to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” (Romans 8.5, 6)

In reality, Jesus and God do not physically kill mankind.

Rather, Jesus and God kill the flesh of mankind.

Which means that Jesus and God separate the spirit of each person from their flesh so that they can please God.

Who Is Worthy to Open the Scroll and Break Its Seals?

TODAY’S READING: REVELATION 4-7

“And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?'” (Revelation 5.2)

Revelation 5.1 says that there was one seated on a throne who had a scroll in his right hand. The scroll was written “within and on the back,” but it was sealed with seven seals.

What is this scroll?

Almost everything in the book of Revelation is an allusion to something in the Old Testament. But, often John turns the imagery of thing being alluded to in the Old Testament on its head. So, it is with the scroll.

The scroll in the right hand of the one on the throne was sealed with seven seals. The Greek word translated scroll is biblion and also means book.

First, the sealed scroll is an allusion to Daniel 12.4, which says, “But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end.” The previous verses give us an idea of what “the time of the end” is.

“And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” (Daniel 12.1-3)

At the time of the end there shall be trouble like never before in the history of Israel. There could be a time of worse trouble for Israel than when their messiah was crucified?

At the time of the end, Daniel’s people, Israel, would be delivered. Did not Jesus’ crucifixion mark the beginning of the deliverance of Israel?

At the time of the end those asleep in the dust of the earth would awake. It even seems that some of these would witness like the stars in the sky. Speaking of the time immediately after Jesus’ crucifixion, the time of the end, Matthew 27.52-53 says, “The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went in the holy city and appeared to many.”

Second, the sealed scroll is an allusion to Isaiah 29.11-12, which says, “And the vision of all this has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed. When men give it to one who can read, saying, ‘Read this,’ he says, ‘I cannot, for it is sealed.’ And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, ‘Read this,’ he says, ‘I cannot read.'”

Whether one could read or not, the scroll couldn’t be read. It could not be understood.

But, what is the vision that couldn’t be understood?

Let’s just highlight one part that is important to the context of the scroll in Revelation. Isaiah 29.1-2 says, “Ah, Ariel, Ariel, the city where David encamped! Add year to year; let the feasts run their round. Yet I will distress Ariel, and there shall be moaning nd lamentation, and she shall be to me like an Ariel.”

The city where David encamped is Jerusalem. It seems Isaiah is calling Jerusalem by the name Ariel.

What does the name Ariel mean?

Lion of God.

As you read the rest of the vision, Jerusalem, Ariel, the lion of God, will be besieged and brought low. But, this vision was sealed, like a book that could not be read, “because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men.” (Isaiah 29.13)

Several times in the book of Revelation the number seven seems to speak of the Holy Spirit.

  • “from the seven spirits who are before his throne” (Revelation 1.4)
  • “before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God” (Revelation 4.5)
  • “with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God” (Revelation 5.6)

The Greek word for seal is sphragis. It means a signet. But, the meaning has the idea of sealing as fencing in or protecting from misappropriation. And, a signet is a stamp that is a mark of privacy or genuineness. We could think of this scroll sealed with seven seals as being sealed by the Holy Spirit to protect it and keep it from being misused. The Spirit also mark’s the scroll’s genuineness. These are interesting ideas when we consider the inspiration, or God-breathed, nature of scripture.

In addition to being “sealed with seven seals,” this scroll or book in the right hand of the one on the throne was “written within and on the back.” This is an allusion to Ezekiel 2.9-10, which says, “And when I looked, behold, a hand was stretched out to me, and behold, a scroll of a book was in it. And he spread it before me. And it had writing on the front and back, and there were written words of lamentation and mourning and woe.”

It’s very important to read all of Ezekiel 2 and 3 for the full context. Ezekiel saw this scroll when he was told as the “son of man,” Jesus’ favorite name for himself, to go “to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels,” who rebelled against God. They were “impudent and stubborn.” God tells Ezekiel, “whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them.” “You shall speak my words to them.”

Sounds like the mission Jesus was sent on doesn’t it.

But, I really want to highlight that Ezekiel read the words of the scroll as words of lamentation and mourning and woe.

It is with this context, that John hears an angel ask the question, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?”

At first “no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it.” (Revelation 5.3) So, John began to weep.

“And one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” (Revelation 5.5)

Finally, there is one powerful enough to break the seals and open the scroll so that its contents can be read and understood. That one is the Lion of Judah, the Root of David, the Messiah. It’s none other Jesus. He can open the scroll because he has conquered.

But, refer back to the vision of Isaiah 29 that was a like a book that could not be read or understood by anyone. Jerusalem was like an Ariel, like a lion of God, besieged and brought low.

However, something is not as it seems. Something catches John’s attention.

“And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” (Revelation 5.6)

John thought it was the lion of Judah that had conquered so the scroll could be opened. The lion is fierce, powerful, strong, mighty, the king of beasts. The lion is at the top of the food chain.

But, in reality, the lion was a lamb. A lamb is weak, helpless, defenseless. It has nothing with which to protect itself. And, it’s not just a lamb, but the Greek word means a little lamb. Everytime you read the word lamb in the book of Revelation it is the Greek word for little lamb.

And, the lamb appeared “as thought it had been slain.” So, it was not the lion of Judah that conquered and was able to open the scroll of the book. Rather, it was the crucified lamb, Jesus Christ crucified, that had conquered. It was Jesus Christ crucified that the scroll, the book, able to be read and understood.

What is John saying?

I have filled my revelation of Jesus Christ with imagery from the Old Testament. But, the only way you will understand this revelation and all of the imagery of the Old Testament is to read to read it through the lens of the lamb that was slain and not the lion of Judah.

This revelation, indeed all of the Old Testament, the scriptures, can only be read and understood through the crucified Christ, the crucified messiah, a king killed by his enemies.

This revelation, the Old Testament, the scriptures, cannot be understood through a conquering king who defeats, destroys, and kills his enemies.

This is exactly what Jesus proclaimed the meaning of scripture to be.

“Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead.'” (Luke 24.45-46)

The Greek word opened here has the same root as the Greek word for open in Revelation 5.3, 5.

Recall from Ezekiel 2 and 3 that the scroll written on both sides could not be read because Israel was “impudent and stubborn.” They were hard hearted.

“But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3.14-18)

The “old covenant,” the old testament, the scriptures, are veiled.

What removes the veil?

What unveils, uncovers, reveals, the true meaning of scripture?

What is “the revelation of Jesus Christ?”

He is the slain lamb, the crucified Christ, the Lord.

When you turn to him and see Jesus this was, the veil that has covered the true meaning of scripture is removed.

But, the Lord is the Spirit.

The Spirit is the signet, the fence that keeps scripture from being misused. The seal, the inspiration, of the Spirit infuses the scripture with its true meaning.

Therefore, 2 Corinthians 3.5-6 says, “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

If you read scripture, the Bible, literally without first putting everything through the lens of the crucified Christ, then you get nothing but death.

But, if you read scripture, the Bible, through the lens of the crucified Christ by allowing the Spirit to open the seals protecting the true meaning of scripture, then you will only and always get life.

Therefore, Paul told the Corinthians, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2.2)

Recall from Ezekiel that he read the words written in the sealed book as “lamentation and mourning and woe.” Ezekiel saw that the son of man was being called to die despite speaking the words of God to the people of Israel.

But, notice the result of the crucified lamb opening the scroll so that it can be truly understood.

“And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign.” (Revelation 5.9-10)

Then the angels said “with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5.12)

But, not just the angels, for John says, “And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

Lamentation, mourning, and woe has been turned into celebration, joy, praise and blessing.

Why?

Because the lamb, the Christ, did not just get crucified. He also rose from the dead for repentance and the forgiveness of sins (Luke 24.45-47).

Death and resurrection life.

Interestingly, this is the meaning of the number 23 in scripture. According to Dr. Stephen E. Jones, the number 23 is written with the Hebrew letters kaph and gimel. Kaph symbolizes an open hand, and gimel symbolizes a lifting up. Therefore, it is the open hand lifting up from death.

The imagery, symbolism, and use of words is very intentional in Revelation.

Can you guess how many times the Greek word biblion, meaning scroll or book, is used in the book of Revelation?

23!

When we read the book that was sealed, the Old Testament, scripture, through the lens of the slain lamb, the crucified Christ, and not the lion of Judah, it takes us from death to resurrection life.

How Does a Hard Heart Become Soft?

TODAY’S READING: HEBREWS 1-4

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4.12)

In Hebrews 3 and 4, the writer quotes from Psalm 95.7-11 in some way on five separate occasions. There is one particular portion that gets quoted three times. It says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” Two of the three quotes include the additional phrase “as in the rebellion.” And, one of the three quotes adds “on the day of testing in the wilderness.”

What was the rebellion and the day of testing in the wilderness?

While the Septuagint, which is where the quotation of Psalm 94.7-11 (psalms are numbered differently in the Septuagint) comes from, does not clearly tell us, the Hebrew version of Psalm 95.7-11 does. In the Hebrew version, we learn that the rebellion was at Meribah and Massah in the wilderness. I wrote about this in Jesus: The Rock that Was Struck.

Israel had been led to a place in the desert where there was no water. They quarreled with Moses and demanded water to drink. Moses asked why they were testing God. But, the people thirsted and grumbled against Moses saying that he had brought them out of Egypt to kill them with thirst.

This is a picture of Israel hardening their hearts even though they had heard God’s voice. The Greek word for harden often refers to hard heartedness but more literally means dry, stiff, inflexible, or rigid. Israel was in a dry place in the desert and this symbolized the conditions of their hearts – dry, hard, inflexible.

So, God told Moses, “Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike that rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” (Exodus 17.6) Therefore, in the rebellion in the desert, where Israel’s hearts had become dry, hard, and inflexible, God provided water from a rock. But, Israel still did not listen. God said of them, “They always go astray in their heart,” and “They shall not enter my rest.”

The writer of Hebrews is warning us not to be like Israel, making our hearts hard – dry and inflexible – by refusing to listen to God’s voice.

So, how does a hard heart become soft?

The rock God was standing on was called Horeb. Horeb means to dry up, be dried, to be in ruins, to lay waste.

When Jesus was struck by Satan on the cross, what did he say?

John 19.28 says, “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.”

Jesus is the rock at Horeb that was dried up when he was struck on the cross. Further, in John 19.34, we are told that when Jesus was struck on the cross that water came out of his side.

In John 4.10, 13-14, Jesus said to the woman at the well, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water…Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

What is the one thing that soften hard ground, even rock hard ground?

Water.

Water can penetrate even the smallest of cracks to soften the hardest of ground.

And, what does water symbolize in the Bible?

The Holy Spirit.

Like water, the Holy Spirit can penetrate even the smallest of cracks in the hardest of hearts.

So, the writer of Hebrews is encouraging his readers to enter God’s rest by allowing his voice, living water, the Holy Spirit to keep their hearts from becoming hard.

“For the word of God is living and active.”

The word of God is Jesus.

How is Jesus living and active in us?

Through the Holy Spirit, the living water that wells up inside of us.

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.”

Sometimes ground is so hard that the sharpest tool cannot break it. You have to wait until some water falls on it that ground before any tool will work.

Therefore, Jesus through the Holy Spirit in your heart is sharper than a two-edged sword. In other words, Jesus through the Holy Spirit can soften the hardest of hearts.

What does the softening of the heart look like?

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

Jesus through the Holy Spirit pierces through quarreling and complaining against God that leads to disobedience and sin. Jesus through the Holy Spirit pierces through our dry, rigid, and inflexible views and attitudes toward God. Jesus through the Holy Spirit softens our hearts toward God so that we can see God for who he really is.

Therefore, in 2 Corinthians 3, Paul says we need to read scripture by the Spirit, moistened with water, instead of by the letter, dry, inflexible, and rigid.

Scripture moistened with the Spirit can soften our hearts and allow us to see God as good and only good, giving life to all things.

Scripture read by the letter remains dry, hard, rigid, inflexible, causing us to see God as good and evil, perhaps giving life on the one hand but also giving death on the other.

So, to keep our hearts soft we need to hear the voice of Jesus through the Holy Spirit, the word of God living and active, living water welling up like a spring inside of us.

Then, we can enter God’s rest, stopping our works just as he stopped his.

Jesus Has Created It – What Is “It”?

TODAY’S READING: ISAIAH 41-43

“When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the Lord will answer them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys. I will make the wilderness a pool of water. and the dry land springs of water. I will put in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive. I will set in the desert the cypress, the place and the pine together, that they may see and know, may consider and understand, that the hand of the Lord has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it.” – Isaiah 41:17-20

We know that the Holy One of Israel is Jesus. Speaking of Jesus, in Luke 1:35, the angel told Mary, “Therefore the child to be born will be called holy – the Son of God.” In Luke 1:49, Mary sang, “Holy is his name.” And, in John 6 many of Jesus’ disciples turned back and stopped following him. So, he asked the twelve if they wanted to leave him too. In John 6:68-69, Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

In addition, we know that this passage is about something that Jesus does because the Holy One of Israel created. In Jesus: The Creator, I wrote that God is the only subject of the verb bara, to create. And, in the New Testament, we see the power of creating is identified with Jesus. Everything was made by and through Jesus.

So, we know that this passage speak to Jesus creating. He creates it.

But, what is it?

What is Jesus creating?

In this passage the poor and needy are seeking water. And, God says he is going to bring a bunch of water and trees. So, are we to understand that Jesus is creating physical water and physical trees in answer to the thirst of the poor and needy? Is this what the poor and needy “may see and know, may consider and understand together, that the hand of the Lord has done this?”

Or, is the passage speaking to something much deeper, something beyond the physical, something spiritual?

I believe when you study the the word bara, to create, you will find that it does not really have to do with the physical creation of something. Rather, it has to do with the giving of purpose, how something functions.

Consider David’s plea to God, “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” Was David asking for God to physically create a new heart within him? Of course not. David was asking that his old heart, which functioned in the manner of lies and murder, would be created clean. That is, David wanted his old heart, which did the wrong thing and functioned in the wrong way, to be given a new purpose and new function, one that was clean, by God. This is just one example of many in the Old Testament where the word bara speaks to function and purpose and not physically making something.

So, what is it that Jesus has purpose and functioned?

We know that the poor and needy are thirsty, seeking water, and that Jesus will answer them and not forsake them.

This brings to mind Jesus’ encounter at the well with the Samaritan woman. In John 4:13-14, Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

It also brings to mind what Jesus said in John 7:37-38. “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'”

Jesus said drinking physical water will leave you thirsty. So, he is giving a different kind of water, spiritual water, that when you drink it you will never thirst again. This spiritual is a spring of water is eternal life. And, when we come to Jesus and drink this spiritual water, it will flow out of hearts like rivers of living water.

Back to the passage in Isaiah, we can then understand that the poor and needy will not be forsaken by Jesus. Jesus will open rivers and fountains and make pools and springs. In other words, there are those that will be desperate for life and Jesus will give it to them.

We know that when Jesus is speaking of the water that he gives that he is speaking of eternal life. But, more specifically, he is speaking of the Holy Spirit. Isaiah 44:3 says, “For I will pour out my water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.” Here the water Jesus gives is equated with the Holy Spirit and the thirsty and dry land with people.

But, notice there are four types of water and places mentioned in Isaiah:

  1. rivers on the bare heights
  2. fountains in the midst of valleys
  3. a pool of water in the wilderness
  4. springs of water in the dry land

So, whether it is a high place or low, whether it is the grassy plain or the desert, Jesus is going to fill these four places with water, not physical water, but spiritual water.  But, the number four symbolizes the entire creation in scripture.

So, what is Jesus creating here? What is he purposing? What is he “functioning”?

I believe this is a picture of Jesus filling the earth, all creation, with his Spirit, with the knowledge of himself.

Habakkuk 2:14 says, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”

The same words are found in Isaiah 11:9, which says, “For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”

So, we seeing Jesus pouring out his Spirit to give knowledge of the Lord to the whole earth, all of creation. Jesus said that this was the reason the Holy Spirit would come – “he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” and “when the spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak of his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” and “he will glorify me.”

So, what is the effect of the pouring out of the Spirit who fill the earth with the knowledge of God?

According to our passage in Isaiah, trees will sprout up in the wilderness and desert. But, all throughout the Bible, trees represent people. And notice the number of types of trees that will come forth:

  1. cedar
  2. acacia
  3. myrtle
  4. olive
  5. cypress
  6. plane
  7. pine

Seven types of trees will come forth from all this water filling the creation. Seven is the number of spiritual perfection.

So, when we combine all these pictures, what we see is that Jesus gives purpose and function as he pours out his Spirit upon the whole creation, and it is this pouring out of his Spirit that spiritually perfects mankind as he is filled with eternal life.

This is it.

This is what Jesus created.

This what the poor and needy “may see and know, may consider and understand together, that the hand of the Lord has done this.”

It’s not about physical trees and water that Jesus is creating. Ultimately, this does nothing for the poor and needy. Rather, Jesus is creating life and spirit within all creation and mankind.

Jesus said in John 6:63-64, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.”