LESSONS FROM DANIEL’S VISIONS – Part 1

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The Old Testament is full of prophecies about the first coming of Jesus, his life on earth, his death, resurrection, and second coming to rule the earth. While these issues are not clearly and fully explained in most of the books of the Old Testament, the book of Daniel is the exception. Daniel’s teachings about Jesus the Messiah (Daniel’s Christology) is very clear and powerfully inspiring. In the next 4 weeks we will study the visions of Daniel to draw strength from them in these troubled times.

Daniel Chapter 1 is how he got to Babylon, and settled in, after the destruction of Israel by King Nebuchadnezzar. Chapter 2 is about his interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the end of history and the coming kingdom of God, which started as a little stone and became a mighty mountain!

Chapter 3 is about God rescuing Daniel’s friends from the fire; Chapter 4 shows God’s mercy and the humbling of Nebuchadnezzar, while Chapter 5 tells about God’s judgement on King Belshazzar (grandson of Nebuchadnezzar). Chapter 6 is about how rescued Daniel from the Lion’s den and punished those determined to destroy Daniel. Chapters 7-12 are about Daniel’s visions about the end of history and the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth with Jesus as the indisputable King.

In Daniel 2:44-45 (NIV) we are told: “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed… It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands – a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces.“ The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future. The dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy.”

This first vision of Daniel is the result of his interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, in which the King saw a great statue with a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet of iron mixed with clay. The King then saw a stone strike the statue on its feet and smashed them to dust, but the stone that struck the statue became a huge mountain that filled the earth.

Bible teachers agree that the gold is Babylon (capital Iraq), which was ruling the world at that time; the silver is kingdom of Persia (capital Iran) which came after Babylon; followed by kingdom of Greece (bronze) ruled by Alexander the Great; followed by the Roman empire, which was partly strong and partly weak (legs of iron with feet partly of clay); followed by the stone that crushed the statue.

That stone is Jesus, born during the Roman empire, and since then his kingdom, the Church, has grown to fill the earth. There have been other empires since Rome, but the Bible is not primarily about human empires, it is about God’s plans. This vision is about when to expect the Messiah and how his ministry will grow. The other visions of Daniel repeats this message but add more and more details to it.

Lord, show us Jesus, more clearly from the book of Daniel, Amen!

THE BIBLE SHOWS GOD’S CHARACTER

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I thought my teachers in elementary school were the wisest; I wondered how they knew what to teach, such that what we learnt in Grade 4 continued what we learnt in Grade 3. I was amazed – until I got to high school and discovered that they followed a common teaching plan. All over the world there is a teaching plan that guide what children learn from elementary to high school and onwards to University.

Teaching plans or syllabus have a purpose – to produce engineers, or doctors, or lawyers, or musicians. The syllabus is designed to prepare children for society. So there is a purpose to why I was taught how to count, read, and write. We write many exams when we are in school, to test how well we are learning, but the purpose for school is not to write exams, it is to prepare us for adult life in society.

When we come to the Bible, we have to ask what is the purpose? Yes, we read our Bible, we use study guides and listen to Bible teachers to understand the Bible clearly. Like exams, reading and studying the Bible is necessary, but we get maximum benefit when we understand the purpose for the Bible.

Jesus said to Israel in John 5:39 (New Living Translation): “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!”

Later in John 14:16 (New Living Translation) we read: “Jesus told him [Thomas], “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”

We study the Bible to know Jesus the Son of God, who then lead us to the Father. Why Jesus? Hebrews 1:1-3 explains: “Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets… in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance… The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God…”

Jesus “expresses the very character of God”, so the Bible shows us the character of God, seen more perfectly in the life of Jesus. We can see the love of God in the Old Testament, we can see the goodness of God in the Old Testament, but the lessons about God in the Old Testament is sometimes unclear, in the New Testament through the life and teachings of Jesus, we understand God’s character more clearly.

Lord, help us to see your character more clearly in the Bible, Amen!

WHO WAS CAIN’S WIFE?

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Have you ever read a novel or watched a movie and desired that it ended differently? I am sure you have; would I be wrong to think that every human being that has ever lived must have wished a story they heard, ended differently. Why is this so? It is probably because human curiosity and imagination is endless. We continue to ask questions, we continue to probe, what we hear and what we see.

In the book of Genesis, we are told Adam and Eve had a son named Cain; later we are told Cain got married and had children. At some point, you must have asked the question ‘where did Cain’s wife come from?’ The fact that the Bible has no direct answer may have frustrated you. Let’s assume that the Bible gave a direct answer, your natural curiosity would soon lead to another question like ‘was Cain black, white or brown?’ Why does the Bible not probe these questions and give direct answers?

Every book has a purpose, some information in the book are central and very important to achieveing its purpose, some other information are necessary but not central, and some are not necessary at all and are left out. We all filter information in our communication everyday; when I am telling my wife about my trip to the post office, just 10 minutes away from our home, I leave out more than what I share with her; if I were to share everything I saw, heard, and felt, the conversation will never end.

When next you are are reading the Bible, and you come across topics and issues that seem not to be fully covered by the Bible, don’t despair or be discouraged, search deeper for answers, and if the answers are not coming, then consider that the topic or issue may not be central to the purpose of the Bible. That then of course raises the question – what is the purpose of the Bible? I will answer next week.

Meanwhile John 21:25 (NIV) does say: “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” So who was Cain’s wife? It must have been his sister from Adam’s other sons and daughters (see Genesis 5:4).

Great God, show us the purpose of the Bible, we pray, Amen!

LOVE IN HARD TIMES

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There was a time when with $40 I would fill up my car at the petrol pump, now it cost me $100. As the world seems to be coping better with COVID-19, we are entering a period of high petrol price, and continued increase in food cost. Cost of living is rising daily; for some Christians in places like Nigeria, India, North Korea, there is the added persistent persecution from non-Christians to also deal with.

What happens to love in these hard times, and in even more difficult context of living with persecution today. I remember how I struggled to love during a period when I was unemployed. I was not reachable by family, and did not care much for friend, neighbor, or the stranger. One of Jesus more famous parable, the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37, was a commentary on love in hard times.

Jesus told of an Israelite traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho; the Jericho road at that time was called the ‘way of blood’. Israel was under Roman colonisation, and this was resisted by armed jewish rebels; some rebels were also bandits and thieves. The Jericho road was lonely, not well protected, and the playground for armed bandits and thieves. Common advice to travellers was not to stop for anything, keep on moving; this was the dangerous context for the parable of the good Samaritan.

Luke 10:30-35 (NIV) (shortened) says: “… [a] man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers… A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite… But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was… took pity on him… bandaged his wounds… put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn… The next day he took out two denarii (2 days pay for a laborer) and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have…”

During this hard times in Israel’s history, they hated their neighbors in Samaria (the Samaritans); so the Israelites listening to Jesus tell this parable, would have been shocked that a Samaritan, with money, would put himself in serious danger on Jericho road, to help an Israelite. Love in hard times, exposes the person offering love to the needy, to an increased risk of inconvenience and danger. We will all be tested, whether we can love our neighbor, love a stranger, like ourselves in these hard times!

Dear Lord, give us grace, strength, and wisdom to love like the good Samaritan, in these hard times, Amen!

The World Today – Better or Worse Off?

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War in Ukraine, extreme water scarcity in parts of India, gun violence in the US with 19 primary school children shot dead, and a protest in South Africa over French government actions in Africa. These are a tiny sample of the major news headlines in recent times; let’s not forget the big increase in petrol price all over the world, that has added to our daily problems. Is the world getting better or worse?

University students ask me this question from time to time; recent global events, and social life where you live, have probably made you ask this question too. Our answers would probably depend on our wealth status, our nationality or the country where we live, and our religious belief. Many might say scientific inventions have made the world a better place; what does the Bible say about this?

What is the problem with the world according to the Bible? In Genesis 2:17 (NIV) God says to Adam: “…but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” This is the foundational human problem in the Bible – death. When Jesus was on earth, he healed, he provided food, he comforted many, but his celebrated victory was the resurrection.

The foundational human problem in the Bible is not – what shall we eat and drink, where should we live, what shall we wear – what we refer to as the basic needs. The foundational problem in the Bible is that we walked out on God in the book of Genesis and as a result we die. Thus, 1 Corinthians 15:25-26 (NIV) talking about Jesus says: “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” So, how well have we done to overcome death?

This puts the question of whether the world is getting better or worse in a different light. Imagine that you are on a long journey by ship, the food is poor and the sea is rough; you complain to the captain, and the food improves but the sea is still rough. The food is better but the degree of danger, the rough sea, has not gone away, death is still at the door, and the captain cannot change that.

When people therefore say the Bible is doom and gloom, I show them that actually the Bible is doom and future hope. The doom, death, already happened at Eden, and the rest of the Bible is about how God brings us back to life from death. While we do our best to make the current world livable, and better off, death and its effects, like on our bodies getting old and sick, continue torment us.

Lord, help us to see the future hope that Jesus preached, Amen!

The Purpose of the Book of REVELATION

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Burj Khalifa in Dubai is one of the tallest buildings in the world. The length of iron bars used in its construction would go over a quarter of the way around the world; the weight of aluminium used is 5 times the weight of the largest airplane in the world; and 110 million kilos of concrete was used on the foundation. When you look at this great building, do you stop to think about the complexity, the materials, and the effort it took to build it? Is that even what the builders want us to focus on?

The book of Revelation is a great book given to John the Apostle by Jesus in a series of visions. The book has a lot of details about God’s dealings with the world and with Satan from the past and into the future. However, the details of the message in the book, and the purpose of the message, are not the same. Engineers study the details of how the Burj Khalifa was built, but you and I simply go out there to enjoy the purpose of the Burj Khalifa – its usefulness and its beauty as we look at it.

We started our study of Revelation from March; the study has focused on the purpose for the message in the book of Revelation. It was given by Jesus to John and reveals Jesus in charge of the destiny of the Church, the destiny of Israel, and the destiny of the world. We see this from Chapters 1 to 12.

We also see from Revelation Chapters 13 to 20 the old enemy, Satan, challenging Jesus authority. Satan started a war in heaven and lost; then set out to destroy Jesus and Israel on earth and lost; then attacked the Church and lost; and then go on to make war twice against God on earth and lost.

When Satan has been clearly revealed to all as the root cause of war and suffering on earth, this old world will be shut down, the new heaven and earth takes its place. Satan will not be a part of this new creation (see Revelation 20 and 21); there will be no diseases there, no pain, no tears, no death, halleluya!

Revelation 21:16 (NIV) states: “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

Jesus says at the very end of Revelation that the message is for the Churches, to assure us that Jesus is our David (victorius King) and our bright Morning Star – the brightest star in the sky, seen in the morning, used by travellers throughout history and in many cultures to guide their journey. This is the purpose of Revelation right here – not to make us afraid, but to strengthen our faith in Jesus.

Lord, help us to see the purpose of Revelation clearer and clearer, from day to day, in Jesus name, Amen!

REVELATION Chapters 13-20: The Incredibly Patient God

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Revelation Chapters 13-19 are as complex and overwhelming to the human mind, just like Genesis Chapters 1-3 about the creation and the fall of Adam. They are Bible passages that speak about things that are not part of our everyday experience, and therefore we cannot perfectly interprete every line in these passages. No wonder both passages are taught in many different ways by Bible scholars.

In order not to add to the confusion, instead of seeking to interprete every single line in those six chapters, it is more helpful to ask what is the big picture in these chapters? Or stated differently, we can ask, what is the main message to us in the midst of all the symbols and all the activities taking place in these chapters.

Revelation 13 follows the vision of Satan’s failure to destroy Jesus and Israel in Revelation 12. Enraged by failure, Satan turns his attention to complete domination of humanity through a person referred to as the Beast with the number 666. Revelation 14 shows that even with heavy opposition to God, there is still a super faithful group, the 144,000 who stay with Christ no matter the situation.

Heaven responds to the reign of the Beast with more plagues in Chapters 15 and 16. The Beast responds by acquring more power to himself through forceful overthrow of more established rulers, referred to as Babylon in Revelation Chapters 17 and 18. Eventually, there is open warfare between Jesus and the Beast in Revelations 19, and Jesus wins; but Satan did not give up, coming back for a rematch in Revelations 20. Satan lost aagain and it becomes clear that Satan will not change.

Thus from Revelation Chapters 12-20, we see Satan the dragon wage one war after the other against heaven. In these wars, Satan partnered first with some of the Angels in heaven but failed; Satan later partnered with humans, twice, and still failed. God is not quick to condemn; God is patient even with Satan.

The Apostle says in 2 Peter 3:9 (NIV): “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

Lord, thank you for your patience with all, Amen!

REVELATION – The Book that Unwraps God’s Big Big Plans

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In the past ten weeks we have been studying the book of Revelation. The focus has been on the resurrected Jesus who assures the Church that he is protecting them, who coordinates the execution of God’s plans for shutting down this current world, and who leads us into the new heaven and new earth.

Like Noah and the flood in the book of Genesis, or Moses and the ten plagues in Egypt in the book of Exodus, when God executes judgments on the earth, it is through elements of nature. When this happens, there is always a rescue for God’s people. During the flood, it was Noah’s family; during the ten plagues of Egypt, it was Israel. In the book of Revelation, it is the Church and Israel that are rescued. I hear you asking, why is this earth being shut down and replaced by a new one?

We read in Genesis 3:17-19 (NIV) (shortened): “To Adam he [God] said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit… which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat… “Cursed is the ground because of you… It will produce thorns and thistles for you… By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground… for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

God created the earth as a place where he lives with humanity in a collaborative relationship. Adam had the power of choice, and chose to live independently from God. The Bible shows how God is healing this broken relationship with Jesus as the peacemaker between God and humanity. Starting from Genesis 3, God’s plans have included, heal the relationship with humanity, shut down the current broken world of thorns, thistles and death, and replace with a new world.

Revelation 21:1-4 (NIV) (shortened) says: “Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away… I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God… And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people… ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

This is the goal starting from Genesis 3; the book of Revelation showed the early Christians and shows us that the plan is executed to the very end. A big insight from Revelation is that there are many who just like Adam are not interested in God’s plan, and they will find a friend in Satan, and together they will make war against God. The question before us is do we like God’s plan or are we against?

Lord, help us to clearly see your big, big, big plans for us, Amen!

REVELATION 11-12: Israel Rescued from Trouble

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The first time I tried reading modern French philosophy, it was a tragedy, I understood nothing. The books were in English, but one of the difficulty was that I did not know French history. When my knowledge of French history improved, I understood French philosophy better. Revelation demands us to do the same.

When we read Revelation, we read New Testament prophecy in Old Testament Bible language. We read about lampstands, coloured horses, angels with trumpets, serpent, sodom, egypt, babylon. Early Christians understood the Old Testament so it was clear to them, but we find the language of Revelation tough. As we grow in knowledge of the Old Testament, the easier it gets to understand Revelation.

Two weeks ago we looked at Revelation Chapters 8-10, where Jesus opened the mighty 7th seal. It released seven angels who released different plagues on the earth, the way Moses released plagues on Egypt. The impact of these plagues is that the earth begins to fail to support life the way it should. The goal is that humanity will see clearly that the end has come and turn their hearts to God.

The vision of the end was interrupted in Revelation Chapters 11-12, with visions of Israel. Chapter 11 shows that in the midst of trouble in the world, Israel will be sent two preachers, with power to stop rain like Elijah, and to turn water to blood like Moses, two major Old Testament prophets. The preachers will be killed for being hot headed, but will resurrect after three and half days like Jesus.

Revelation Chapter 12 shows how Satan symbolized as a dragon set out to destroy Jesus, the son of the woman (Israel) but failed. A dragon is a snake with great power to kill. The dragon then went after Israel, the woman, but God protected her. The dragon then went to war against her other children who believe in Jesus – the first Christians were Jewish and they suffered terrible persecution.

Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 11:25-26 (The Living Bible): “I want you to know about this truth from God, dear brothers [gentile Christians in Rome], so that you will not feel proud and start bragging. Yes, it is true that some of the Jews have set themselves against the Gospel now, but this will last only until all of you Gentiles have come to Christ – those of you who will. And then all Israel will be saved.”

Lord, you are faithful to Israel to the end; we rejoice with Israel, Amen!

REVELATION – The Future from a Jesus Standpoint

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There are many plans for the future; car makers are planning for a future of electric cars and driverless cars; space explorers are planning for a future where we will live on the moon or on planet Mars; banks are planning for a future without cash, everybody will use cards. Whose future plans matter? The book of Revelation says its God’s plans that matter and go on to show us God’s plans.

Revelation 1:1 (The Living Bible) says: “This book unveils some of the future activities soon to occur in the life of Jesus Christ. God permitted him to reveal these things to his servant John in a vision; and then an angel was sent from heaven to explain the vision’s meaning.”

The book of Revelation unveils, unwraps, reveals, the future from a Jesus standpoint. The early Church knew Jesus as a man who walked around preaching; as a man who ate and drank like them; as a man who bled and died and resurrected. Revelation unveiled Jesus in a new way for them and for us too.

The resurrected Jesus is shown in Revelation, as watching over his Church (Chapters 1-3) and as executioner of God’s plans for the world (Chapter 4 onwards). These plans are to close up the present world (Chapters 4-20), and to bring in the new heaven and the new earth (Chapters 21-22). To the early Church, this unveiling of a powerful Jesus helped them to stay strong, and to overcome persecution.

Two thousand years after John wrote down this unveiling of Jesus, it continues to serve as encouragement to the Church, knowing that Jesus is watching over us, even during troubled times in the world. The future of our world that matters is the future that is seen from Jesus standpoint in Revelation.

Father in heaven, give us the patience and persistence, to study Revelation and clearly see Jesus, leading us to a better world, Amen!