Jesus and Brian

Just found out that this is going to be released in October:

Potentially the best New Testament book ever.

The blurb: “Monty Python’s Life of Brian film is known for its brilliant satirical humour. Less well known is that the film contains references to what was, at the time of its release, cutting edge biblical scholarship and Life of Jesus research. This research, founded on the acceptance of the Historical Jesus as a Jew who needs to be understood within the context of his time, is implicitly referenced through the setting of the Brian character within a tumultuous social and political background.

This collection is a compilation of essays from foremost scholars of the historical Jesus and the first century Judaea, and includes contributions from George Brooke, Richard Burridge, Paula Fredriksen, Steve Mason, Adele Reinhartz, Bart Ehrman, Amy-Jill Levine, James Crossley, Philip Davies, Joan Taylor, Bill Telford, Helen Bond, Guy Steibel, David Tollerton, David Shepherd and Katie Turner. The collection opens up the Life of Brian to renewed investigation and, in so doing, uses the film to reflect on the historical Jesus and his times, revitalising the discussion of history and Life of Jesus research. The volume also features a Preface from Terry Jones, who not only directed the film, but also played Brian’s mum.”

The letter to Philadelphia – Part Two (3:7-13)

Last Friday we began reading the letter to Philadelphia in Revelation chapter 3. We saw that they’d been faithful, despite persecution from the local Jewish community which had rejected Jesus as Messiah. Although they were shut out of the synagogue, the door to God’s kingdom was open to them, courtesy of the new palace keyholder, Jesus. And ultimately, those who oppressed them would have to bow down and acknowledge they were right all along.

Now that’s all well and good for the future. But what’s going to happen in the meantime?

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The letter to Philadelphia – Part One (3:7-13)

We’re up to letter six today, written to the church at Philadelphia (Rev 3:7-13). It’s most similar to the letter to Smyrna: the church is small, yet faithful, despite Jewish opposition. They’ve already suffered for their faith. Let’s take a look at the letter now.

3:7 To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.

Jesus is described as the one who “holds the key of David.” Meanwhile, David is frantically checking his pockets, thinking “I was sure I had them…”

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The Letter to Sardis – (Rev 3:1-6)

The fifth letter, to Sardis, is the most negative of the seven letters to the churches of Asia Minor. The church in Sardis appears to be even further down the road of compromise than those at Pergamum and Thyatira. There is no mention of any persecution – or threat of persecution. And this leads most commentators to think that complacency is the issue. They’re so similar to the surrounding culture; they have compromised so much – that there is no difference between the church and the world. It’s a dead church, that needs to wake up before it’s too late.

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The Letter to Thyatira – (Rev 2:18-29)

The fourth letter in Revelation chapter 2 is addressed to the church at Thyatira. It’s quite a long one. But it seems to describe a situation quite similar to that of the previous letter, the one to Pergamum.  So we won’t spend a lot of time applying it today, instead we’ll move quickly through the text explaining some of the imagery as we go.

Who’s speaking?

2:18 To the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.

This is the only time Jesus is referred to as the “Son of God” in Revelation. It’s probably used here because there’s a quotation later in this letter from Psalm 2, which is about Israel’s king being God’s “son,” or representative.

What’s good?

2:19 I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.

A very brief positive note, before we get to the bad stuff. And an acknowledgement that things are improving.

What’s bad?

2:20 Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.

In the previous letter, Jesus used the imagery of Balaam to talk about idolatry. Here, he uses the story of Jezebel (see 2 Kings 9) as a metaphor for the same thing.

2:21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling.

Jesus has given this false teacher (or group of false teachers) time to repent, but the time is now up.

A warning

2:22 So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways.

The metaphorical punishment (being cast on a bed of suffering) fits the metaphorical crime (adultery).

2:23 I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.

“Her children” probably refers to the followers of this false teacher.

2:24-25 Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, except to hold on to what you have until I come.’

What are “Satan’s so-called deep secrets”? It could be simply a way of characterising the false teaching as being from Satan. Or it may be using the language of the false teachers who claimed to have “deep secrets” from God, and Jesus is here saying that if there are any “deep secrets” going around, they’re from someone else…

A promise

2:26-27 To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’—just as I have received authority from my Father.

The promise to the one who remains faithful: they will rule with Christ. The quotation is from Psalm 2, about David (and his descendents). So those who are victorious will perform a kingly role as God’s representatives.

2:28 I will also give that one the morning star.

The morning star is Venus, and in the ancient world was symbolic of victory and of imperial authority.

There’s also a reference to this term “morning star” in Isaiah, referring to the king of Babylon:

Isa 14:12 How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!

This taps into a Canaanite myth about a star-god who rebels against the head god. In Revelation 12 the story of Satan’s rebellion also gets cast in these terms.

So the term “morning star” might be ironic. Although rebellious creatures (whether they be the king of Babylon in Isaiah’s day, or the Roman Emperor, or Satan, or the current “Jezebel” in Thyatira) might think they’re the morning star (that the sun shines out of their proverbial) – they’ll be cut down in the end. Because the true morning star is Jesus, and he’s the one we’ll be given.

2:29 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

So listen up.

The Letter to Pergamum – Part Two (Rev 2:12-17)

Yesterday, we looked at the letter to Pergamum in Revelation chapter two. We saw how the church had been faithful in the past under intense persecution, but more recently had been lured into idolatry, the “teaching of Balaam” and the Nicolaitans. And we asked the question: why would a church of Jesus Christ need this warning about idolatry? Isn’t it obvious? Shouldn’t it be unnecessary – a warning not to go back to something inferior? What kind of weak-willed Christians were they that required this?

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The Letter to Pergamum – Part One (Rev 2:12-17)

The third letter in Revelation chapter 2 is addressed to the church at Pergamum. We’re going to look at it over two days. Today, we’ll read the text and explain some of the imagery that’s going on – particularly the Old Testament background. And tomorrow, we’ll try to enter into the mindset of the believers at Pergamum, to work out how things had gone so far off track.

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The Letter to Smyrna (Rev 2:8-11)

The second church addressed by Jesus in Revelation chapter 2 is the one in Smyrna. It’s one of the two churches about whom Jesus doesn’t have a negative word to say. (The other one is Philadelphia). Interestingly, these two churches who were the most faithful were also the ones who were undergoing the most serious persecution. Coincidence? Probably not.

Let’s read the letter now. As you do, see if you can spot the pairs of opposites that seem to be the theme of this letter.

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The Letter to Ephesus – Part One (Rev 2:1-7)

Yesterday we began a series through the letters to the seven churches, found in Revelation chapters 2 and 3. So far, we’ve just looked at some background, and the fact that these “performance reviews” follow the same basic pattern:

  • Who’s speaking: a way of describing Jesus
  • What’s good: an affirmation of what the church is doing well
  • What’s bad: a charge against the church for what it’s failing to do
  • How to get back on track: an exhortation to repent and set things right
  • A warning: of what will happen if they don’t
  • A promise: of what’s in store if they do

Today, we’re looking at the letter to Ephesus (2:1-7) under these headings.

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