Author thomas

“That’s All I Need”

jerkAs we travel through the book of Galatians on Sunday mornings we continue to chant the Gospel and nothing but.  “No Other Gospel.”  Meanwhile, it is important to know that the Gospel didn’t come to us in a vacuum, nor did the Bible, which gives us the Gospel.

I recall when I was an older teen watching the Steve Martin hit movie, “The Jerk”, hilarious and yet crass.  One of the few scenes I recall is where Martin’s character, sad and in a fight with his girlfriend, tells her he doesn’t need her in his life anymore.  Then he begins to declare he doesn’t need anything and wipes his desk of all paperwork.  After declaring he doesn’t need anything, he picks up an ashtray and repeats over and over, “…all I need is this ashtray… that’s all I need.”  But then to the viewers delight and chuckle he picks up a paddle game, a remote, and matches while declaring “that’s all I need.”  He is – after all – the jerk.

As Christians who are devoted to the Bible and who celebrate Sola Scriptura, we must avoid the error of believing the Bible is all we need.  Most often, we hear well meaning believers say things such as “I don’t need other people’s opinions, just the Bible, that’s all I need.”  It’s a soft way of shunning Bible commentary and theology in general.  It is a mindset that believes a Christian and a Bible alone will unlock all the glories that are to be had in scripture.  One must ask: is that even possible?  While Christians are reading their Bibles they bring skills, thoughts, and assumptions to the scriptures, many we are not even aware of.  For example:  our knowledge of grammar, Middle Eastern geography, or ancient history (which may heighten the drama of a narrative or the clarity of what God is doing in particular time period).  Further, we bring with us our worldview which has been shaped by:  our parents, our pastors, our fallen nature, our emotional status, etc., all of which hinder or help our understanding of the text.

Many in fear of being misled (or driven to be pretentious) will contend they only need their Bibles and yet miss the glaring contradiction: their own commentary they impart on the text called their mind.  While claiming “That’s all I need” like Steve Martin’s character, we ignorantly drag along many beliefs, interpretations, and knowledge.  So for this reason, Christians should cautiously and thoughtfully engage with Bible helps and commentaries.

We stand on the shoulders of giants.  Those who’ve labored hard in the text and provided brilliant insight into the context of the Bible.  They are fallen yes, but they help us see the un-fallen (Scripture) more clearly and for that we are grateful and humble.  Rather than shun, or more likely ignore, let’s glean from the men and women who have rightly labored over the text for our benefit.  So meanwhile for 2017 please read the Bible, YES!  Perhaps with a commentary, study-bible, or even audio sermon close by…  Lest we be a Biblical jerk.

One last warning: one could just as easily mooch off of commentators and never actually reflect long on the scriptures themselves.  This is equally a sham.

Not sure where to start with resources?  Here are a few suggestions:

Study Bibles:

ESV Study Bible

NIV Zondervan Study Bible

Gospel Transformation Bible

Bible Commentary:

For You Bible Commentary Series

Sermon Audio:

See Gospel Coalition’s Resource page

At the Table,

Thomas

When Does This All Happen?

gallery_movies-back-to-the-future-2-poster-artworkRevelation chapters 4 and 5 tell us the most interesting story.  In short, all of heaven is positioned to exalt and praise a king on a throne.  Yet, when we look at this king he is not as we’d assume.  This king has been marred by the wounds of a battle.  His upcoming was not through a great victorious strong line of kings but from the stump of a tree cut down long ago.  The stump of David.  Further there is a drama or suspense to these chapters.  A scroll needs to be opened!  This particular scroll has seven wax seals and when a seal is broken open, particular contents of the scroll are enacted out.  What is this scroll?  It is the Purposes of God’s Judgement and Redemption.  One might say it is the plan of God to save his people, and cut off his enemies.  The fifth chapter ends with the king whom is the lamb “standing as though it had been slain” being the only one worthy to open the scroll and thus bring all things to their fulfillment.  And for this all of heaven and earth resound with praise.

Yet for all this great picture it still leaves a contemporary question unanswered: “When does this all happen?”

Back to the Future? (The Timing of 4 & 5)

The Time Travelers Handbook of 1001 Tense Formations says the aspect of time and describing time is very difficult!

For example, “How do you describe something that was about to happen to you in the past before you avoided it by time-jumping forward two days in order to avoid it. The event will be described differently according to whether you are talking about it from the standpoint of your own natural time, from a time in the further future, or a time in the further past and is further complicated by the possibility of conducting conversations while you are actually traveling from one time to another with the intention of becoming your own mother or father.”

The point is well made from our 21st century perspective reading what John the Apostle saw on the island Patmos concerning the past, present and future gets a bit confusing.  Also, consider the fact that John wrote this book not on Patmos but only received the vision on Patmos.  Revelation 1:9 “I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos.” (Emphasis mine)

Our western minds long for a linear timeline and clear outline of a great book like Revelation.  Some have proposed that John built in an outline for us to follow.  A table of contents if you will.  The key verse being Revelation 1:19 which has an echo in 4:1

Rev 1:19 reads, “Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.” A popular approach is to view the phrase “Things which you have seen” as chapter one, “those that are” as chapters 2-3 (the seven churches), and “those that are to take place after this” (the future) as chapters 4-22.  Thus chapter one becomes the past, 2-3 the present and 4-22 future to us today. Viewing most of Revelation as future.  This position is very tempting as it could help make sense of several sections of the book.  If Luke had written this book as an “orderly account” (Luke 1:1-4) then this position would have more strength.  But the book of revelation is Written by John, as a letter, in Prophetic and Apocalyptic prose.  Apocalyptic being a genre that is not concerned with tight timelines or strict categories.  It is a much more flexible genre.  For example, consider how chapter 12 clearly precedes chapters 4 & 5 in our earthly time.  Revelation 12 paints a picture for us of Christ being born (the Son) and Satan attempting to devour him (the Dragon).  In human history this clearly happens before the events of chapters 4 & 5 which display Christ as crucified, but resurrected and ascended.

Perhaps a better approach is to read 1:19 first from John’s perspective.  Already by verse 19 in chapter one John has seen an intense vision.  Thus a better reading of 1:19 is “Write things which you have seen,” namely “things which are” and “those that are to take place after this.  The phrase “after these things” in 4:1 is used as a transition from the seven churches section (2-3) to the heavenly vision (4-5).  It has similar echo’s in 7:1 (after this), 7:9, 15:5, 18:1, 19:1 (I heard).  In Apocalyptic literature the phrase “after this” followed by “I saw” or “I heard” is repeated over and over again. Because the “seer” or the person telling the story is seeing vision after vision, and they are just letting us know what they saw next.

Verses 1:19 and 4:1 then, are not so much a timeline but literary markers helping us see key sections of what has been revealed to John.

All this may be the long way around to say, we aren’t told explicitly when chapters 4 and 5 occur.  This section was penned not to give us decoder timeline of end times, but rather to exalt and lift up the only one worthy to open the scroll, the only one worthy of our praise.  God himself, revealed to us in His son, Jesus Christ the Conquering King.  It seems safe to assume that all of Heaven worshipped (past) the lamb as He ascended into the heavens.  That they currently are (present) worshiping Him, and those who die in faith, will (future) join the countless number to worship too.