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What on earth is God up to?

If the world around us appears to be ‘going to hell in a handcart’ (to coin an expression), and yet we believe that God is in charge, it is reasonable to ask what this God is doing about this world? That is the question that John is repeatedly asking—as we can see by the way he structures what he writes. His visions move from a vivid account of the chaos of the world to equal vivid accounts of the serene drama of God’s throne in heaven, often by means of jolting transitions in the text. Revelation furnishes our imagination with images of the four horsemen, fiery mountains, stinging scorpions, hideous beasts and apocalyptic battles at Armageddon—but equally with myriads of angels, harpists seated on clouds, pearly gates, and a city paved with gold. Very often, the images in the second list offer an answer to the images in the first.

These verses come in what every commentator agrees is the central and pivotal passage in Revelation. The story of the woman clothed with the sun, pursued by a dragon and giving birth to a child is a strange one to our ears—because it is making use of a story (about Leto, Apollo and Python) with which we are not familiar. But this tale—of the birth of a divine warrior who, against the odds, defeats the chaos monster who was pursuing his mother in order to devour the hero at his birth (which you can read as Fable 140 here)—was well known to John and his readers, not least because Apollo’s sister, Artemis, was worshipped at the splendid temple in Ephesus. Just as political cartoonists do today, John dropped into the story the characters he was really interested in—the exiled people of God (the woman), Jesus (the male child), and Satan (the serpent-monster)—and used it to make his point. It is Jesus’ death, resurrection and exaltation to the throne of God which offers the ultimate answer to all the questions we have about how the world is and what God is doing about it.

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What’s going on with 1 Cor 14?

When an rather obscure argument about a finer point of textual criticism (the study of differences in early manuscripts of the NT) makes it into the mainstream media, then you might be forgiven for thinking that something odd or rather interesting is going on. That’s what happened last week; in Thought for the Day on […]

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Did Paul have a pastoral strategy?

The apostle Paul is not generally viewed as a pastor. Teaching, fearless advocate for the faith, traveller, apologist, pioneering church planter, yes—but pastor? As we read Paul’s letters, in some part because of our cultural distance, it is easy not to sense that we are encountering Paul the pastor. But the latest Grove Biblical booklet […]

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How do we make sense of the Beatitudes?

The Beatitudes—the collection of sayings that introduce the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ in Matt 5, with their parallel in Luke 6—are amongst some of the most memorable of the teachings of Jesus. They are often cited as favourite texts, and are referred to as a key element of Jesus’ (challenging and puzzling) radical social ethics. […]

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Why read the Book of Revelation?

The Book of Revelation is the most remarkable text you will ever read. Setting aside any claims that we might want to make about it as a result of its being part of the canonical Scriptures of the Christian faith, it is the most extraordinary piece of literature ever written by a human being, and […]

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What does detailed biblical study offer ministry?

Father Richard Peers offers this review of the Tyndale Fellowship NT Study Group at the beginning of July: Anyone following current education debates on Twitter or in the blogosphere will know that there is a revolution taking place in schools. The old progressive ways of discovery learning are giving way to knowledge-based learning. Facts, memorisation […]

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Violence in Christianity and Islam

Following the atrocities in London and Manchester in recent weeks, many commentators have been quick to say ‘This violence has nothing to do with Islam.’ When that is claimed by a leader within the Muslim community, then it appears to mean something particular: ‘This violence is nothing to do with Islamic beliefs as I understand […]

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Preaching on Trinity Sunday

Here it comes again: that Sunday in the lectionary which most preachers dread or (to disguise this) suddenly think of guest preachers who need an opportunity to contribute their ministry. Yes, it is Trinity Sunday! Rather than offer you a sermon as a resource, I thought it would be helpful to point out three things […]

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Why is Ascension Day so important?

What would you identify as the climax and completion of Jesus’ life and ministry? Surprisingly, this is not a trivial question. One of the key differences between John and the synoptic gospels is that, where the synoptics portray the crucifixion as a necessary but incomplete act on the way to the resurrection, John portrays it […]

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