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Sunday, December 18, 2016

Harlequin Romances, Detective Fiction and the Essence of Prophecy

Christendom is packed with a bewildering array of denominations, sects and cults, each with its own emphasis.

God has his own emphasis, and seems to go to great lengths to make it clear. Somehow or other, large segments of Christendom manage to regularly miss it, despite the fact that they have taken the name of Jesus as a fundamental part of claiming to be Christian.

Getting to the Essence

I don’t often quote from the New Living Translation. Okay, I NEVER quote from the New Living Translation. So here goes, and don’t expect it from me again anytime soon:
“For the essence of prophecy is to give a clear witness for Jesus.”
(Revelation 19:10)
I’m doing it today because in this particular instance, the NLT pretty much best nails what I think is the intended meaning. To be really picky, I might prefer “a clear witness of Jesus”, but close enough. The more elegant and literal English Standard Version I normally prefer renders it as “For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy”, which is a fine translation, and perfectly accurate.

Spirits and Spirits

But “spirit” is a word with multiple senses in English, and in scripture. For one, the Holy Spirit is a Person of the Godhead. Then there is the human spirit, that which responds to God. There is ‘spirited’ behavior, meaning ‘animated’ or ‘lively’. There are evil spirits, and other spiritual beings. With all these possible ways of understanding “spirit”, it is easy to gloss over the phrase “spirit of prophecy” and miss the message.

But there’s something about the word “essence” that gets right to the heart of the issue.

The message is this: It’s all about Jesus. Always. All the time.

That’s the whole story.

If you miss that it’s all about Jesus Christ — and by that I mean not just prophecy and of course the gospels, but the Law, the wisdom literature, the books of history and all the letters of the New Testament — you’ve basically … well, you’ve missed the entire message of the word of God.

Exclude, Marginalize, Minimize

Those who claim to “witness” for Jehovah seem to be able to afford good quality printed material and they certainly make an effort to come around to bang on our doors with their message. And there are lots and lots of them.

Every single one of them is missing the entire point of scripture, even as they try to use it to promote their idea of God’s kingdom. Whatever place they make for Jesus Christ in their understanding, it is not the place God gives him.

I would maintain that if you exclude, marginalize or minimize Jesus Christ, there is nothing meaningful to be found for you within the pages of the Bible. You may as well go read detective fiction or a Harlequin romance. If anybody reads those anymore.

I’m showing my age.

Putting Us Back on Track

It is not just that God made his Son the theme of his entire word. But his patience and grace are made even further evident in this: That whenever somebody misses this particular point, God seems to go the extra mile to put him back on track.

He could, in frustration, sit back and wash his hands of the whole bunch of us. Thankfully, he doesn’t. Remarkably, he doesn’t even seem to get angry.

Just very, very clear.

I’ve remarked before on how he did it at Jesus’ baptism, so I won’t belabor that one. But to distinguish his Son from the repentant sinners being baptized by John, so that there would be no possibility of error, he sends his Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descending, and announces, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Clear, no? Can you think of anything he could’ve done to make it clearer, short of personally rearranging the synapses of everyone present to get his message across? Like, say, giving his Son the power to heal the sick, drive out demons, walk on water, calm storms or raise the dead.

Oh, wait.

Saints and Prophets

So the Son is distinguished from sinners. But the Father goes further, distinguishing him from the greatest saints and prophets of the Old Testament. Sets him apart, one might say.

On the mount of transfiguration, impressed by the appearance of Moses and Elijah in glory talking with his Lord, Peter somehow misses the point as he was wont to do and blurts out, “Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”.

Hey, it was a nice, practical gesture. Okay, what do three men in glory need with tents? They need something to keep off the wind and rain? Really? Minor issue, I know; the major one was this: Peter had inadvertently, “not knowing what he said”, placed his Lord on the same level as Moses and Elijah.

And the Father graciously decides it’s time for another clarification: “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!”

Nothing wrong with what Moses and Elijah had to say, but this Jesus, he’s on a whole other level. Absolutely distinct from all others, no matter how wonderful they may be, even in their glorified state. Set apart. I believe “holy” is actually the technical term, but holy in a way that no human has ever been or ever will be.

Holy, Holy, Holy, in fact.

The Testimony of Jesus

So then we come to our verse, which is yet another clarification, this time from the mouth of an angel. John, overcome with the glory of his vision, falls down to worship an angel and is told this: “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.”

And then this is added. Perhaps they are the words of the angel, perhaps this is the lesson John learned from the angel’s words; we can’t tell, because ancient Greek has no quotation marks. But it doesn’t matter. It’s clear that this is the crux of the matter, the point of the exercise, the reason that John is not to worship angels:

Because the testimony about Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.

I’m making my point colloquially, as always, but if you want to read it made much better, the writer to the Hebrews starts with “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” and goes on for an entire letter pointing out how Christ is superior to angels, saints or anything else, in every way.

It’s all about Jesus. Always. All the time.

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