Bible Tuesday for All Saints Sunday, 2017
9 After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’
11And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, 12singing,
‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
and thanksgiving and honour
and power and might
be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.’
All Saints Sunday is the only Sunday of the three year church cycle when we hear from Revelation all three years. Revelation is an apocalyptic vision given to John of Patmos which he wrote for early Christians. In the above passage, John relays the part of his vision which depicted God’s throne room. John has already described the hundred plus thousand Israelites from all twelve tribes of Israel who are present before God’s throne. But in the above passage, John speaks of countless peoples from all over the world who hold palm branches and sing God’s praise.
John is addressing one of the major issues of the early church in this passage. There was a strenuous debate among early Jewish Christians about whether or not people had to convert to Judaism to become Christian. This passage depicts both Jews and Gentiles from every land and ethnicity appearing with honor before God’s throne. John also describes ancient Israelite symbols, the lamb, and the palm branch, being used or praised by Israelites and Gentiles alike.
Lamb – The lamb is a sign of innocents and purity in ancient Israelite culture. Lambs were sacrificed on the altar at the Temple to atone for sin. In the above passage, the Lamb who stands next to God, seated in his throne, is “the lamb who was slain but now comes to conquer”, who is Jesus in this vision. The Lamb was sacrificed to atone for the sin of all creation, but is now alive and being worshipped by both Israelites and Gentiles.
Palm branch – Palm branches were cut from trees to wave at military heroes in ancient Biblical times. That carried over into the New Testament times, as evident when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. John of Patmos tells us that these Gentiles appearing before God are also carrying palm branches with which to praise God as their conquering hero.
Psalm 34:1-10, 22
Of David, when he feigned madness before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away.
1 I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
2 My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
let the humble hear and be glad.
3 O magnify the Lord with me,
and let us exalt his name together.
4 I sought the Lord, and he answered me,
and delivered me from all my fears.
5 Look to him, and be radiant;
so your* faces shall never be ashamed.
6 This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord,
and was saved from every trouble.
7 The angel of the Lord encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.
8 O taste and see that the Lord is good;
happy are those who take refuge in him.
9 O fear the Lord, you his holy ones,
for those who fear him have no want.
10 The young lions suffer want and hunger,
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.
22 The Lord redeems the life of his servants;
none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.
When King Saul first threw David out of his kingdom, David fled to the outlying area by himself. Heretofore, if David (then a young man and very capable soldier who was a captain in King Saul’s army) went out, it was always in the company of the soldiers under him. Because King Saul threw David out, David was alone and vulnerable. The king of Gath heard David was alone and wanted to attack him so David pretended he was severely mentally ill by thrashing about and drooling. When the king of Gath saw this, he had his men merely chase David away instead of fighting him to the death. In thanksgiving to God for sparing his life, David wrote this psalm.
It is an acrostic psalm, skipping one Hebrew letter.
1 John 3:1-3
1See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he* is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
“Though it is generally referred to as a ‘letter’ or ‘epistle’, I John does not have the standard opening and closing formulas of a letter. It seems instead to be a kind of essay or homily written to deal with specific problems.” David K. Rensberger
Due to similar writing style and vocabulary, 1 John is thought to be written by the same person that wrote the Gospel of John. While both have been attributed to the apostle, John, due to the topics discussed in the gospel and this epistle, the writing date of both is thought to be later than the apostle, John, likely lived. One theory is that the congregation or disciples of John the Apostle’s wrote down his sermons and then compiled them into the gospel and the epistles.
“The world does not know us…” – “in the world but not of the world.” It seems to me that when there is marketing specifically to “Christians” and political pandering specifically to “Christians” and a demographic category specifically for “Christians”, ie. “the Religious Right”, then the baptized faithful aren’t doing Christianity correctly.
“…what we will be has not yet been revealed…” – Here is a pastor answering the questions, “What happens to us when we die? What is heaven like?” The pastor who wrote this says, “We don’t know, but we will be like Jesus, and we will see things as He sees them.” What a promise!
When Jesus* saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely* on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
There are several things going on in this portion of the gospel of Matthew. First, one of Matthew’s goals is to show that Jesus is the new Moses. Just as Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, so, at the end of Matthew 4, does Jesus lead the Israelites out of their villages and towns and cities to follow him. Just as Moses went up on the mountain to receive the ten commandments, so here is Jesus on a “mount” giving ten statements, nine “blessed” and one “rejoice”. Just as Moses took “the elders” with up part way up the mountain, so Jesus is surrounded by his disciples, whom he called just a few verses earlier. Moses gave the Law but Jesus gives the Gospel, the Good News.
Second, while at the end of Matthew 4 Jesus is going around all of Galilee healing the sick and suffering, here “When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain…then he began to speak and taught them…” Jesus has just spent the last while in the barrios, the pogroms, the slums, the “core area”, with those whom Rome and the wealthy Jews consider human refuse, healing them and teaching them. I think this first sermon of Jesus’ is his meditation on and reaction to whom he has just been ministering. Sure, “When Jesus saw the crowds” does indicate that Jesus is acting like Moses, leading the people out of a sinful oppressor’s territory into the wilderness for retraining and reorientation. But “When Jesus saw the crowds” could also mean when Jesus “noticed” or “paid attention to” or “meditated on” the crowds. First Jesus did ministry, showed ministry, and now he is debriefing and theologically reflecting on that ministry. To whom did Jesus first minister? The poor in spirit, the meek, those in need of justice and righteousness, the grieving, the merciful, the peacemakers.
Third, Matthew is describing Jesus as a powerful rabbi. Jesus assumes the posture of a revered teacher when he goes to a “high” place so his students can gather below him at his feet and be taught. Jesus sits, as rabbis sit when giving sermons, while the students may have stood out of respect, or also sat out of practicality.
Finally, Jesus addresses directly his new disciples. He blesses them even as he describes the difficulties for which they just enlisted. These new recruits are going to be reviled, and lied about, and persecuted all because of their new rabbi. “Even so, be of good cheer! That is just what they did to God’s messengers of old. You