We must start in the Old Testament, because an important aspect of God’s relationship with his people was God’s presence among them. You might recall that the position of the tabernacle in the midst of the people, representing God’s presence was in the MIDDLE of the camp. Therefore, God’s presence was not marginal or on the fringes, but God was central in his position among the people. (see the picture associated with this post). Now, as we move from tabernacle to the Temple in Jerusalem something very important happens.
Everything is Described in Proximity to God: Including the Son
Jerusalem is proclaimed as the center of the earth among the Israelites, that is, the city itself serves as a representative of God’s heavenly palace and the Temple itself served as a representation of God’s throne, particularly the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies. This is established by David as the king, the temple, and the city itself are representatives of God’s authority and reign. And so, along with this centrality argument, comes the notion of traveling (or taking a pilgrimage) to Jerusalem and going to the temple, because it is in this city, and in this Temple, that the presence and power of God can be experienced in a more complete way.
As we move to the New Testament, we must understand that God is at the center and the writers of the New Testament, while proclaiming Jesus as extremely important and in fact divine, always place him in a position at God’s right hand. This is evident in the scripture references below. But more than that, we also must be reminded that Jesus himself claimed that God the Father is the ultimate authority. Listen to Jesus explaining his connection to the Father and how those who acknowledge or reject Jesus must face the Father’s authority:
“Everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven.
“Anyone who receives you receives me, and anyone who receives me receives the Father who sent me
Now, turning to the “right hand of God” passages in the New Testament, the writers pickup a line from Psalm 110:1 - “the Lord said to my lord, sit at my right hand…” and this becomes a theme repeated in the writings of the New Testament. It is used heavily in Acts, and is also referenced in the Synoptic Gospels and the book of Hebrews…among others.
So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.
For David himself says in the Book of Psalms, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand,
But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.”
Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.
God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.
But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
Ephesians 1:19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 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.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, (1:13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2)
My point in showing these passages, extremely vague and out of context, is not to proof text some argument but to understand the language being used and what the language itself expresses to us in regards to Jesus’ authority and position with the Father. The Father is on the throne, and the Son is at his right hand. To understand the image of the right hand, you might want to read through the Psalms as the right hand of God is mighty, powerful, and active to save. However, we must also see that Jesus is positioned in reference to God the Father, making God the Father, not Jesus the Son, the central aspect of not just the Old Testament, but the New Testament as well. In theological terms, we refer to this understanding as “theocentric” and we acknowledge that Jesus’ position and power is given by the Father.
As I wrap things up for this part of our discussion, I want to send you to read the vision of the heavenly throne room Revelation 4 and 5 in which God’s throne is described in chapter 4 and then the “Lamb of God” we know as Jesus shows up in the throne room in chapter 5. Take a look at how the language describes the majesty and power and authority and the relationship between Father and Son.
What I have come to conclude in that the Father must be viewed as central, and all creation and even Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is to be described in relationship to the One who sits at the center of our existence and experience. In part 3 of our discussion about Father and Son, I want to go to a very familiar hymn in Philippians and unpack this tightly focused passage.
I was in the cemetery at my grandmother’s resting place. This particular memorial park was an exclusively flat-stone only grounds, and each stone had a metal vase that you twisted out of the middle of the stone and turned over to display flowers. My aunt had tried to pull it out for Mother’s Day, but it was stuck. I was down on my hands and knees using a pocketknife trying to pry the vase free, it wasn’t budging! I look over and my daughter is on her knees with her hands folded. I asked what she is doing and she responded, “I’m praying that God will help you get the vase unstuck.” Frustrated and very sweaty, I was baffled because I was sure the good Lord had more important things on his plate than helping me turn a vase over…I mean, God doesn’t really work that way does he? When I returned to my car, I was blown away that at the very moment I was working, prying, and feeling defeated by a gravestone, my seven year old was praying.
Sometimes the things we perceive as strengths can become our most restrictive shackles to our faith. I think the ancient story of Adam and Eve plays out in us...you see, I was reminded in that moment and many others that I have chosen to feast on the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Moreover, I have studied the Bible and with that understanding comes the “shackle” of trusting myself to define not only if something is good or evil, but if God is likely to act or not act in a given situation. I think there is too many times where my familiarity with God through the Bible allows me to arrogantly move without an element of trust—to serve before prayer, as if God already affirms what I have decided to do.
As I reflect on this type of “faith,” I think it is why I tend to accomplish only the things I am naturally good at doing, never venturing into the unknown, uncomfortable, or uncontrollable. Those ministry opportunities or missions are just too sizable for my skills…it would take more than what I have. I believe that true faith gives LIFE (like the other tree in the garden) and often moves beyond our knowledge, skills, and experience.
Products of a fallen and broken world, I think that all of us come to God with a shackled faith of some sort. And I must admit that I like my shackles because they provide me with a way of understanding faith and they allow me to know that I am growing in faith.
Whenever I ask the question, “Does God really work that way?” I am beginning to see that question as a growth question because it is a direct attack on my knowledge and experience. When I reread the scriptures asking the question, “What does the Bible really say about this?” I see this question as a challenge to my study and the past interpretations. And when I finally take an opportunity to trust God and lean on God, when I find myself on a plane to Africa, having dinner with a stranger, opening up a Bible study, or praying that God would intervene in our heroin crisis…I realize that God is in the process of breaking my shackles and setting me free to trust him more.
We all have shackles, and God calls us anyway. As I think about what it means to live an unshackled faith, I think about the New Creation described at the end of Revelation. I think about all of the brokenness we have, all of the obstacles that make us cry to God to increase our faith, relieve our doubts, and give us greater perseverance. But there is great day coming when our faith will become sight. John says that God will, “…dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)
Today we battle our shackles, but we learn to trust God, to believe God, and one day our hope is to be unshackled, face to face with God Almighty, Creator of the unbroken world!
Prayer: Creator God, call us to greater works and allow us the opportunity to trust in You more and more as that great day gets closer and closer. Our desire is to be set free from the shackles that hold us back. I pray that you reveal to me the limits of my faith so that I can identify my shackles and receive healing and wholeness from You. Come Lord Jesus, so that our faith can become sight and our brokenness can be fully restored. Lord God make all things new and that includes me, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
Reading and studying Revelation, especially during a heated presidential election and in the middle of an election year across our nation, has really been challenging to me. From a historical perspective, there is a clear movement away from the influences of culture as perpetuated by the governing authorities. Through the imagery of the “beast” who are empowered by the “Great Red Dragon” we should read and see an attitude toward all things Roman and thus be cognizant of the dangers that threaten the church through all oppressive ideas, structures, and actions.
Of course, the book of Revelation is also clear that churches should not at all participate in the oppression that Rome represents. In the opening chapters, Jesus is seen speaking to churches who have given into the pressures and have begun to put hope into economic securities, easily acceptable teachings regarding sexual practices, and syncretism of the Roman way of life and the Christian way of life. Revelation uses strong imagery of churches that are acting in such unfaithful ways when it calls them “lukewarm” and Jesus is seen as one standing outside and knocking at the door of the church. So, why such a strong contrast between the empire and the church?
Because people have died. One of the most blaring differences between the original recipients of Revelation and those I am teaching on Sunday mornings (including me) is the situation in which we read and study this communication from God. It is a difference of comfort; for the first recipients of the book there was very little acceptance and some marginalizing consequences for those who would choose to live for God because it was regarded as an assault against the throne and the government of Rome. This played out in the social, religious, and economic aspects of Roman culture. From a social perspective, Christians were at best seen as a threat to the peace and stability of Rome and thus shunned and marginalized. From a religious perspective, Christians did not worship the gods of Rome nor the emperor; and thus, were seen as the mysterious other group that are weird and propose a threat. From an economic perspective, this mistrust lead to many Christians not finding employment and losing business opportunities. In the end…this marginalization and oppression led to an attitude in which killing Christians could be seen as a noble act and a protective service for Rome.
Therefore, we have the pictures of God’s judgment like we have in Revelation 14. It is gruesome, but I understand that if God is going to save a people who is dying, suffering, hurting, losing, and crying to God for help; then part of that salvation is throwing down the oppressor and proving that this people, God’s people, have done nothing wrong in their allegiance to God.
I am afraid, however, that as we sit together in peace and prosperity, in our buildings designated for the worship of God through Jesus christ, in our pews or pillowed attachable seats, and read from our gold-tipped pages the word of God…that the action of God in coming to the aid of these Christians might be somewhat offensive to us. We have been persuaded to get along with everyone, to be quiet about our faith, and to figure out a way to blend culture and religion together in a peaceful compromise.
After all, we have heard it taught and preached and repeated and used by everyone and put on signs that God is LOVE. I agree that God is a loving and merciful God…but some situations call for a “consuming fire” type of God, a wrathful and angry God, a God that declares, “vengeance is mine, I will repay…” type of God. God loves the world..yes! And God loves his people, those who serve and worship Jesus Christ as Lord and King…yes! Now, I love my wife and I happen to love other women as well, like my good friends and family. What happens if someone I love started oppressing my wife whom I also love? What should my response be? Umm…I choose my wife! God chooses his church!
God has poured out his love into this world by providing his Son Jesus and by giving it the church, God’s people. That church is called the bride of Christ in the book of Revelation. It is the bride that the world has abused and hurt and disregarded…and God (along with Jesus) comes to the aid of the church. While I do believe God calls us to be peacemakers, to love our neighbors, and to live a quiet life from which others can learn…Let us also make no mistake that God’s judgment is real and it is awful. Those who want to hurt the church and lead people astray will be thrown down, and I just really hope that if you are a Christian that doesn’t offend you. If so, maybe, just maybe, we should think about just how comfortable our life is and if that comfort is an obstacle to being a faithful witness for God.
A friend and mentor of mine, Dave Bland, reflected on the scene in Revelation 12 where a great red dragon tries to devour the baby of the pregnant woman. The issue for Dave and for us is whether we truly acknowledge the presence and existence of evil in our world and how Satan impacts us, influences us, and even interacts with us.
Our culture refuses to believe in the reality of evil in the world. Often, we simply deny Satan’s existence and relegate him to an archaic religious or Christian tradition. Some see him as an outdated idea, an unrealistic figure, and a figment of our creative imagination. The devil’s cleverest trick, however, is to convince people he does not exist.
Many see Satan, or the Devil, as a playful figure. He is confined to the nether worlds. He is a guy that is easily spotted because he's in this red suit with a pitchfork in his hands and he has horns (especially during Halloween). Satan is nothing more than a cartoonish boogeyman. We lightheartedly sing: "If the devil doesn't like it, he can sit on a tack.” And we jokingly say on occasion when we do something ornery, "The devil made me do it." We associate mischievousness with Satan. We have difficulty taking Satan seriously.
Additionally, sometimes people simply psychologize Satan. Evil is associated with our mental or emotional ailments. Evil is within not without. Evil is confined to human imperfections and mistakes. While it is true that sin resides within us as humans, evil is not confined to the human mind. That too makes Satan anemic. He’s nothing more than a personal or mental problem.
But for those who do acknowledge the existence of Satan, and by extension evil, we still carry some problematic misunderstandings about Satan. To start, some believe that God and Satan have the equal amount of power. So it becomes a back and forth ongoing battle between them, like the Greek myths of the gods battling one another. But Satan, though powerful, is not a god. He does not have the power God possesses.
For others, even Christians, the reality of Satan’s power strikes fear in their hearts. They live out their Christian lives in constant fear of being assaulted by these demonic powers. A popular novel some years back was This Present Darkness (1986) by Frank Peretti. Peretti presents the reality of demons in the world and their constant assault on Christians. It is good in that he portrays the reality of these evil powers in our world. But it is wrong in depicting Christians as always looking over their shoulder, living in constant fear as if we're on a tight rope ready to fall at any moment if we let our guard down. But Christians do not live life in and out of fear. We do not obsess about devils and demons. Christians live their lives with confidence and with joy. Our lives are not characterized by perpetual fear.
Sometimes we connect Satan, and evil, to stereotypes so we can project demonic qualities onto others we don’t like or we project evil on another ethnic group and call them Satan. That enables us to confine Satan to our stereotypes. The result is twofold: (1) it results in horrendous injustices to others, (2) it does not take Satan seriously.
Lastly, A misunderstanding of Satan can lead us away from taking responsibilities for our own sins and misbehaviors. When confronted by God in the garden, Eve said, “The serpent tricked me” pointing the blame to someone else. She was simply a victim of someone’s trickery. If Satan is the cause then we don’t need to change. We excuse behavior with the old “The Devil made me do it,” and give ourselves a free pass on sin.
So, are the advantages of believing in Satan? Sure, I believe there are advantages like causing us to realize that evil is not to be taken lightly. It is a powerful force in the world. Second, evil is more than individual acts of wrongdoing. Evil is not just within the human being. Evil has a life of its own. It affects institutions, organizations, and nations. This is part of the difficulty in trying to correct social injustices. Evil doesn’t reside in the individual alone. It is part of a larger social, political, and religious system. Lastly, Let me remind you of Eph. 6:12: “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.”
Revelation 12 ends with the dragon, that is Satan the embodiment of evil, leaving to wage war with those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus (could be seen as the church). In what ways can we encourage each other as Satan wages this war? Should we be surprised when we face persecution or hardship? How can we keep holding to the commandments of God when faced by Satan’s persecution within the institutions, organizations, and nations (not to mention the personal stuff)?
My daughter received a Gideon Bible from the fair we went to a few weeks ago, and in that Bible, printed in the front is their take on how a person is saved. Under the heading, “All May be Saved” is a reference to Revelation 3:20 which reads:
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”
Seems appropriate, doesn’t it? Just don’t consider the context of this verse and it will fit about anything you want to make it fit. But I can’t just pick on the Gideons, because in my own tradition we have songs that take hold of the very same use for this passage. Just go to the Scripture index of the hymnbook “Songs of Faith and Praise” and look up Rev 3:20, there are four numbers listed there: 908, 919, 923, 945; all in the “Heaven’s Call” section of the book.
908 is the song “There’s a Stranger at the Door” and I remember singing this one as an invitation song imploring those who don’t know Jesus to “let the stranger in” and receive salvation.
919 is the song “Behold a Stranger at the Door” which I have not sung, but seems to be in the same category of the song above…Jesus can go from stranger to friend if you would simply open the door and let him in.
923 is the song “I Am Coming, Lord” which quite honestly doesn’t connect to the verse at all from a thematic or lyrical point of view. So, probably can put this one on the editors of the songbook and not the author of the song.
945 is the song “Kneel at the Cross” which I have sung a few times and never really connected it at all to a picture in the book of Revelation. I guess it might be the last line of the chorus, “Jesus will meet you there” that somehow connects to the verse, but seriously?
This is much better than I thought it would be when I first started writing this. The context surrounding Revelation 3:20 is a letter to the church meeting in Laodicea. So, My first assertion is that Jesus is indeed not a stranger to these people. My second assertion is that John is writing to a group of people, not one particular person. And my third assertion is that it should be quite embarrassing for Jesus to be knocking at the door of this church asking to be welcomed back into their midst…their fellowship. Therefore, this passage is not at all about “heaven’s call” or “personal salvation” but the Lord and Master of the church trying to get back in to a lukewarm church (You can reference an earlier blog post on that image!)
What this has to do with asking Jesus into your heart or for that matter “personal salvation…” I haven’t a clue. That is not the point of the passage, nor is it the intention of the author. I bring it to our attention because good-intending Christians sometimes make a bad habit of taking verses and passages out of context and using them as proofs for the most interestingly contrived arguments ever asserted. Of course, when persons who don’t profess faith or who come from a different group of Christianity do it, then we charge them with all sorts of things including false-doctrine and heresy. Yet, we must return to taking the Bible seriously, instead of perusing it like the comic section of the newspaper or the latest news apps on our phones.
How can this happen? How can a group like the Gideons who pour resources into Bible research and linguistic studies make such a glaring error? How can editors of a songbook take such a negligent approach to interpretation of the Bible in connection with lyrics? I would assume it is because an inaccurate understanding has become firmly fixed and so it has become “tradition.” And that is both the power and pitfall of tradition folks…which often, in this case and many others, continues to effect the life and practice of our faith. We need to read with humility, and when wrong may we have the courage to change our minds and come in better fellowship with him who stands at the door of our deeply traditional churches asking to be let in once again.
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.