The Bible in a Year – 11 October

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

11 October. 2 Thessalonians chapters 1-3

I wrote yesterday that Paul’s message to the believers in Thessalonica was essentially one of encouragement – to continue living in the good ways that they had already established, and to remain faithful to the gospel in difficult times.

This time, the overall theme as expressed at the beginning and end is much the same.  But there is a darker and more urgent theme in the middle section.  In the first letter, the difficulties mentioned were local persecution, opposition from Jews, and the normal temptations of worldliness.  In chapter 2 of the second letter, Paul appears to be setting out an apocalyptic vision of an imminent time just before the second coming of Jesus when a mysterious figure described as the “man of lawlessness” sent by Satan would set himself up as a god, by implication persecuting those who believe in the true God, and deceiving people with false teaching and false miracles.

Following that time of general persecution, Jesus would return.  This is definitely not the Jesus of the Gospels, not even where he tells his disciples that he would return again. The vision of Jesus here is of one all-powerful, coming “with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel” (1:7-8). This Christ figure is probably derived from Paul’s own vision on the Damascus road when Jesus appeared in a blaze of glory, blinding Saul (as he then was) and condemning Saul’s persecution of Christians, before then appointing him as an apostle.

As with all such apocalyptic, it is pointless to try to identify the “man of lawlessness” with any one historic person, although there was certainly a general persecution of Christians by various Roman emperors in the following few centuries. What matters is the effect this would have had on the readers.  If you believe that life will go on more or less the same into the future, there is no pressure to spread the faith or to repent personally.  But if you believe that some time very soon (for the early Christians believed this would happen in their lifetimes) society would be turned upside down by the presence of evil, leading to a final judgement for heaven or hell, then you will be highly motivated to be on the right side by repenting and joining in the fight against evil, and to do so now.

That is also why Paul warns in chapter 3 against the sin of idleness.  If everything is about to fall apart, there is no place for slackers, just as if a ship is in distress every able-bodied person is expected to help save it.  “Comfortable Christianity” has no place in Paul’s theology – you are either fighting against evil and heresy, or you will be overcome by them.

The Bible in a Year – 21 September

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

21 September. 1 Chronicles chapters 21-23

Much of what will follow these chapters concerns the building of the Temple.  Chapters 21 and 22 provide the “back story” to it construction (written several hundred years later, so presumably passed down orally until then).

We already know from chapter 17 that God had told David that the Temple was to be built in his son’s lifetime and not his own.  But David, following the letter if not the spirit of God’s command, decided as an old man to start on collecting the materials and labour for the work before his death.  But where to build it?

The story in chapter 21 of the angel at the threshing floor of Ornan raises some interesting ideas.  David is tempted by Satan to take a census with the implied intention of starting another military campaign, and is punished by God for doing so.  These days only a minority of Christians believe in Satan as a real and powerful personality (but those who do, take him very seriously).  Rather more will admit the existence of spirits or angels generally, and I know a few people who claim to have seen angels. But they tend to appear to individuals with a personal message or practical support in times of danger.  The angel in this passage is different – the “destroying angel” sent by God to bring a plague on Jerusalem as punishment for David’s hubris, and visible to all who would look up and see it.  With sufficient penitence shown by David and others, God relents and spares the city. The personal cost to David of his sin was the gold with which he bought the site of the angelic appearance to build an altar.

Whatever this visible angel might have been, and whatever we are to understand by the battle for a human soul between God and Satan (as in the book of Job), the consequences were enormous.  Israel moved in the following generations from being a nation with many localised altars as centres of worship to a centralised system with one huge Temple in Jerusalem.  David acknowledged that the period of warfare over which he had presided was at an end, and instructed Solomon to reign in peace.  And from that day to this, the site of the threshing floor of Ornan has been a place of pilgrimage for millions, whether as Jewish Temple or (in its current form as the Dome of the Rock) for Muslims.

Perhaps the lesson from this is that, at a time of crisis, God will act in whatever way in necessary to guide people towards doing his will.  In none of this is there any sense of compulsion: David could have ignored the words of the prophet Gad and carried on with rearmament, probably with disastrous consequences; he could have chosen one of God’s other punishment options (famine or defeat in battle), probably losing the kingship as a result; he could have ignored the presence of the angel (as Ornan did initially), in which case presumably Jerusalem would have suffered the plaque, again with severe consequences for the whole country.

But David was a man of faith. Although he sinned by letting Satan tempt him to a wrong action at the start of the story (not that Satan appeared to him visibly; his temptations are more subtle than that), he knew when God was speaking to him, whether by prophets, angels or through religious laws, and he obeyed.  So the future of God’s people was assured for another generation.

The Bible in a Year -24 June

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

24 June. Zechariah chapters 1-7.

Zechariah is not to be confused with yesterday’s prophet, the similar sounding Zephaniah, although the latter is mentioned in his writings, and they lived at the same time.  Whereas Zephaniah’s style of prophecy was like many others in hearing the word of the Lord in both judgement and mercy, Zechariah was a prophet more like Ezekiel, or for that matter John the Divine (author of Revelation) who saw symbolic visions.


Such visionaries are rare, and given an understanding of the spiritual truths “behind the scenes” of human life.  So in his visions Zechariah saw angels and spirits of various kinds, represented as people, horses or other animals.  Some of these were God’s messengers, sent to “patrol the earth”, and surprisingly they report that the whole world is at peace (1:11) – a rare situation, then as now. It reminds us of Noah’s dove which brought back an olive branch to show that the flood had receded and new life could start.  Here it seems that the report of world peace is the sign for God to start a new movement, of the Jews back to their homeland.


Another of the visions reveals Satan to be stood next to Joshua the high priest accusing him, so that he felt dirty before God.  That is always the devil’s accusation, to make us feel unworthy of God.  So another angel is told to dress him in fine clothes and a clean turban, and he is tasked with rebuilding the temple.  Coming out of the vision, Zechariah does something practical and has a crown made for Joshua as a physical symbol for the whole community of the spiritual truth that he had understood.


The lesson from this? That whatever accusations people or spirits may level at us of being unclean and unworthy, in God’s sight, if we trust in him we are quite the opposite – not only clean but honoured, and called to God’s service in whatever way he has chosen.