Saturday, November 19, 2011

New Testament Lesson #45 "He That Overcometh Shall Inherit All Things"

Revelation 1-3; 12

See the previous post for a preparatory thought to share with your class the week before this lesson.

Hand out the five questions on "The Power of Imagery" to five class members to read aloud when asked.  Hand out the seven descriptions of Christ to seven class members.  Ask them to think about what this imagery tells them about Christ and prepare to share it with the class.

ATTENTION ACTIVITY: SCRIPTURE CHARADES

Call one person up front to face the class.  Divide the class into two teams.  Write on the board, behind the person, one of the key words or phrases from Revelation 12 below.  Have the class members then try to act out the word in turns without saying anything.  (Use a timer and give each team 30 seconds.)  Whichever team conveys the idea to the person wins the point.  Continue with a new person each time until all eight words or phrases have been guessed.
  1. A woman
  2. The sun
  3. The moon under her feet
  4. A crown of twelve stars
  5. A baby boy
  6. A rod of iron
  7. A great red dragon
  8. Two wings of a great eagle
THE POWER OF IMAGERY

Ask the class to think about the following five questions as they are read by the assigned class members.
  1. Why are nightmares so terrifying, when we know they are not real?
  2. Why is a story acted out in the temple endowment ceremony?
  3. Why did Christ teach with parables?
  4. Why are McDonald's commercials so effective, even though they rarely show the product they sell?
  5. Why on earth did Joseph Smith say that the Book of Revelation was "one of the plainest books God ever caused to be written?"
The answer to all of these questions is THE INCREDIBLE POWER OF IMAGERY.

I believe it was Gerald Lund who said, "Of course Joseph Smith said it was one of the plainest books God ever caused to be written:  He saw the movie!"  But just because Joseph Smith saw many things in vision that we have not seen, it does not mean we cannot envision them ourselves.  We just have to put on our spiritual 3-D glasses as we read.  (See previous post.)

There are many theories that we possess two opposite kinds of thought--one that deals in words and logic, and one that deals in imagery and creativity.  If we're used to the logical, verbal side of the brain, the temple can be frustrating.  It's supposed to be the gospel "university" on the earth, isn't it?  Well then, why do we watch a movie, rather than hear a lesson?  Why can't we take notes?  Or, at least, why don't we have a little class with the temple president before we watch the movie so he can tell us "this is this, and that is that" and we can learn more?  Gradually, as we attend the temple more often, we come to the understanding that the reason that the temple ceremony is total imagery is that it is a better teaching method.  With the technology of the movies we see now in the temple, we have even more imagery.  For example, as we learned last week in class, God is Light.  If we watch for light in the temple movie, we can see and feel the light through the movie and receive more depth of understanding about it.

The logical brain controls willpower, but the imagery-focused brain is where we get drive.  Willpower is when we force ourselves to do something; drive is when we can hardly stop ourselves from doing something.  Psychologists who help Olympic athletes or performing musicians to do their best under pressure know that if we can imagine a winning outcome, we are more likely to end up actually achieving it.  God knows that, too.  If we can use our subconscious, imagery-driven, spiritual eye to catch the fire and grandeur and scope of the vision John received, it can become our own driving force to compel us to the grand finish line with the winning team, the Kingdom of God.  When we get discouraged or experience a setback, the images in the Book of Revelation can provide powerful encouragement to help us carry on.

THE BOOK OF REVELATION

"The title of the book in Greek is Apocalypsis, from which we get its other common name, the Apocalypse. Apocalypsis is formed from two Greek words—apo, a preposition denoting separation or removal, and kalypto, a verb meaning to cover, hide, or veil. Apocalypsis, then, literally means removal of the veil or covering. Hence its title in English, the book of Revelation (or the uncovering or unveiling).

"While many might find the title to be ironic, arguing that few books are more hidden or veiled, it is an appropriate one, for it truly reveals many things. Elder Bruce R. McConkie, in response to the question 'Are we expected to understand the book of Revelation?' answered:

'Certainly. Why else did the Lord reveal it? The common notion that it deals with beasts and plagues and mysterious symbolisms that cannot be understood is just not true. … If we apply ourselves with full purpose of heart, we can catch the vision of what the ancient Revelator recorded.' (Ensign, Sept. 1975, p. 87.)"  (Gerald Lund, "Seeing the Book of Revelation as a Book of Revelation," Dec. 1987 Ensign.)

The Book of Revelation, however, was written in a sort of "divine code."  (That phrase comes from my friend, LeAnn Whitesides.)  Only those who truly study and are guided by the Spirit can understand it.  This is a blessing, because, just like the similarly encoded book of Isaiah, it underwent very little change over the hundreds of years since it was written, as it passed through many hands.  People couldn't understand it, so there was no need to change it.  Even the changes made by Joseph Smith's editing are not really doctrinal, just clarifying.  The book, written by "John the Divine" (divine = seer) has been preserved in its purity.


REVELATION 1

Many sources give good information on Revelation 1-3, including those cited in this post, and also The Gospel Doctrine Class website, which was immensely helpful to me when I began teaching years ago, so I will not attempt a complete treatment of these chapters, but just an additional perspective.

John bears a beautiful and unusually worded testimony to introduce his revelation:

"I, John, the faithful witness, bear record of the things which were delivered me of the angel, and from Jesus Christ the first begotten of the dead, and the Prince of the kings of the earth.  And unto him who loved us, be glory: who washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God, his Father.  To him be glory and dominion, forever and ever.  Amen.  For behold, he cometh in the clouds with ten thousands of his saints in the kingdom, clothed with the glory of his Father."  (Rev. 1:5-7 JST, p. 812 of the LDS Bible)

All numbers in Hebrew have a verbal meaning.  The number 10 means "testimony."  The number 1,000 means "divine completeness and the Father's glory."  (See Biblical Numerics.)  So there will a huge number (undoubtedly many, many more than tens of thousands--consider all the millions of infants alone who have died unsullied by earthlife and are saved) of glorified, perfected saints, who have been faithful to their testimonies of Christ, and who will be with Christ in his kingdom.

"If one of the major purposes of Revelation is to give us encouragement, we receive it almost immediately.  If myriads of people will return to reign with Christ--if tens of thousands are crowned kings and queens in his eternal realms--there is hope for each of us" (Michael Wilcox, Who Shall Be Able to Stand? Finding Personal Meaning in the Book of Revelation, Kindle Edition, chap. 1, para. 17).

John heard the voice of Christ identifying himself (1:10-11).  When he turned (notice, it took an action on his part to receive the vision), he saw seven golden candlesticks and Christ in the midst of them.  The meaning of the candlesticks is found in verse 20: they are the church congregations.

"The word 'candlesticks' reflects the King James translators' familiarity with wax candles.  What John actually saw, however, was a seven-branched menorah with a bowl at the top of each branch.  Each bowl held olive oil, into which a wick was placed and then lit, providing light...




"The seven churches must be filled with the Spirit that they might bring light, healing, and peace to the world.  The challenge has not changed for us today" (Wilcox, ch. 1, par. 18-19).  (See D&C 45:56-57 where the symbol of oil is explained to mean the guidance of the Holy Spirit.)

"John describes the voice of Christ 'as the sound of many waters.' (Rev. 1:15)  I frequently ask my classes when we reach this point to close their eyes and hear in their imagination the sound of many waters.  I then ask them to tell me what they are listening to.  I get three answers.  Some hear the waves of the sea rolling to shore, some hear a mountain stream rushing from high peaks, and some hear the thunder of waterfalls cascading down the rocks.  It doesn't matter which they hear, for all suit the purpose of the poetic description.  In each case the sound is a powerful one, impossible to ignore.  Yet when I ask them how they feel when they hear these sounds of water, they respond with words like 'Peaceful!' 'Calming!' 'Soothing!' 'Healing!'  The voice of God is powerful but instills solace" (Wilcox, ch. 1, par. 22).

"And he had in his right hand seven stars..." (v. 16) 

This is also interpreted in verse 20: it is the leaders of the churches.

"In the ancient world people used the stars for navigation.  People looked to them for direction because they were constant and unchanging.  On the central west tower of the Salt Lake Temple, about halfway up, you can see the Big Dipper carved into the granite.  These stone stars represent the priesthood, who will show us the way, just as we use the Big Dipper to find the North Star.  The local leaders must be constant in order to direct their members.  The Savior's upturned hand is a testimony of his willingness to succor them" (Wilcox, ch. 1, par. 24).

REVELATION 2-3

In these chapters, each of seven branches of the church of Christ is given a message, and each message follows a distinct pattern.  By picking apart the pieces of this pattern, we can see the messages in a new way that can show a relevance to our own lives.

The Savior's Self-Portraits
In each message, Christ identifies and describes himself. 

Have the assigned class members read their descriptions and tell how the images make them feel about Christ.

  1. He that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks (2:1). 
  2. The first and the last, which was dead and is alive (2:8).
  3. He which hath the sharp sword with two edges (2:12).
  4. The Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass (2:18).
  5. He who hath the seven stars (3:1).
  6. He that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth, and shutteth and no man openeth (3:7).
  7. The Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God  (3:14).
Some supplementary comments:

For number 6:
  "Anciently, locks were hand-carved from wood or hand-forged from metal and they were large, bulky and expensive...therefore used to protect only very valuable treasure...keys usually were held only by the wealthy and powerful--or entrusted by them to stewards.  Keys were typically worn around the neck on a chain, so if people saw a man on a street wearing a key, they could rightly assume that he was a man of power and authority." (Lund)

For number 7: "Amen is a word used so frequently in the Church that you would think that most Christians would know its meaning. However, many do not. Others tend to use the word frivolously, some even thinking that it simply means, 'the end.' But this word is much more than just the standard thing to say, or the appropriate ending of a prayer.

"[Amen] is one of the few words of scripture which is written in its original Hebrew form. In fact, it is practically a universal word, having been adopted directly from the Hebrew into Greek, Latin, English, Spanish, and many other languages. Found both in the Old and the New Testaments, it is also translated in different ways, depending upon the context of the passage in which it is found. This Hebrew amen is derived from the root [aman], which means to be firm or solid in the sense of permanency or faithfulness. Thus by implication, it means to be sure or true." (The Mountain Retreat; see also Bible Dictionary.)

The Savior's Knowledge of the Works of the Churches
Read these descriptions as a class and ask class members to listen with their hearts and feel whether Christ is speaking any of these words to them personally.

  1. I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience...for my name's sake [thou] hast laboured, and hast not fainted (2:2-3).
  2. I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) (2:9).
  3. I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is; and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith (2:13).
  4. I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first (2:19).
  5. I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest and art not dead (3:1).
  6. I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name...Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth (3:8, 10).
  7. I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot... (3:15) .
Some supplementary comments:

For number 2: The meaning of being rich despite poverty is defined by its inverse in number 7.

For number 4: The word "works" is mentioned twice in this sentence.  Is it just carelessness?  Knowing the difficulty of recording scripture in ancient days, we can assume that every repetition has a purpose.  The purpose here is revealed when the Savior says he knows "the last to be more than the first."  These saints have increased their works from when they first began, through their faith, charity, service and patience.  The Lord is pleased when we improve; in fact he expects improvement.

For number 7: This church received no commendation. 

Christ's Rebukes
After receiving recognition from the Lord for what they were doing right, he pointed out what they needed to improve.  Are any of these warnings applicable to us?

  1. "I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love [passion for the gospel].  Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works..." (2:4-5)
  2. The second church received not a rebuke, but a warning that they would suffer and great deal, but it would last ten days (2:10).  Remember the meaning of ten?  It would last as long as they testify.  But for being faithful unto death, they will receive a crown of life.
  3. "Thou has there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam" (2:14).  In their midst, there are people who would convince the saints to dilute or divide their worship in order to obtain material gain.
  4. "Thou sufferest that woman Jezebel."  David Stern (Jewish New Testament Commentary) translates this as "that Jezebel woman," or a woman who is like Jezebel.  In the Old Testament, Jezebel led the people into idolatry.  This congregation apparently had a similar woman, who was not being disciplined despite the fact that she had not repented.  The curse to her would also apply to her bedfellows, or the saints who followed her or tolerated her behavior.
  5. "I have not found thy works perfect before God.  Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent" (3:3).  This counsel would apply to every single member of the church everywhere and in every age, as none of our works are perfect unless we remember what we have received and heard (the doctrine of the atonement), hold fast to it, and repent.
  6. This church received no rebuke.
  7. "I would thou wert cold or hot.  So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.  Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.  As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent" (3:15-19).  The Savior offers his atonement to make them rich, to clothe them, and to show them the way.  The price is to be zealous and repent (repentance requires effort).

The Promises to Those Who Overcome
Suggest to your class that they highlight these verses, preferably in a special color (I like yellow), so they are easy to find.  In times of discouragement, they can turn to Revelation and quickly become buoyed up by the promises for overcoming whatever trials are afflicting them.

These promises are huge!!!  Notice that thy seem to be in a progressive order.

  1. "To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God" (2:7).  By turning away from the filthy water, and the great and spacious building of Lehi's dream, holding to the rod of iron through the mists of darkness, we can reach the tree of life, the fruit of which is the Atonement of Jesus Christ, the greatest manifestation of God's love.
  2. "He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death" (2:11).  Through the Atonement of Christ, we will be safe from spiritual death.
  3. "To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it" (2:17).  What is manna?  Pure nourishment from heaven.  What is the white stone?  A personal Urim and Thummim "whereby things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms will be made known" (D&C 130:10).  What is the new name?  "The key word" (D&C 130:11), a key that unlocks the door to the person's true identity, divine potential, and membership in the Lord's family.  Hmm.  Sounds an awful lot like the temple endowment.
  4. "And to him who overcometh, and keepeth my commandments unto the end, will I give power over many kingdoms; and he shall rule them with the word of God; and they shall be in his hands as the vessels of clay in the hands of a potter; and he shall govern them by faith, with equity and justice, even as I received of my Father" (2:26-27 JST).  Those who continue until the end in this state will become kings and priests, queens and priestesses, ruling over kingdoms, with the power to shape and form them, governing (guiding and protecting) them as the Gods do.  Are you seeing the progression here?
  5. "He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels" (3:5).  We're still on the same train of temple thought, knowing that the white clothing in the temple symbolizes the purification of the Holy Spirit and the Atonement of Christ.  The nakedness and vulnerability of man's fallen state can be covered by the Atonement.
  6. "Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out; and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name" (3:12).  Walls, doors, stairways and windows of a building may be moved, but a pillar is a main supporting post and cannot be removed.  Those who become "fixtures" in the temple to go no more out will receive the name of Christ, and will be known as citizens of his heavenly city.  What is Christ's new name?  A new name according to Bible traditions would relate to a change in status.  When did Christ's status change?  When he overcame all through his Atonement and became the Father of our Spirits.
  7. "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne" (3:21).  Wow.  This is such an awesome image, it's hard to fathom.  Those who make it through the challenges of life, overcoming through the power of the Atonement, who keep their temple covenants and endure to the end, will actually be sitting on Christ's throne with him.  This implies becoming as he is, one of the revolutionary doctrines of the restored gospel.  There really isn't anywhere to go up from here.  That's why this is Promise #7: the number seven symbolizes divine completion and perfection.
REVELATION 12

The entire chapter is found in the JST Appendix of the Bible, p. 812-813, and it is best to read it there as there are many editorial changes and even a resequencing of the verses. 

If you have items that would depict parts of the chapter, you may want to bring them in a bag and pass them around the class just for a tactile relation to the subject.  People remember better if they have held (even fidgeted with) something relating to the subject.  Ideas might be stars, a lightbulb, a picture of bright sun rays, a dress, a moon, a bejeweled tiara, a photo of a newborn baby, a miniature metal rod, a toy Tyrannosaurus Rex or dragon, something that is red, a paper crown like from an English Christmas cracker or from a Burger King restaurant (or a homemade one).

Chapter 12 of Revelation tells the story of an astonishing, awe-inspiring woman.


The Glorious Woman and Her Child

V. 1  "And there appeared a great sign in heaven, in the likeness of things on the earth; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars."  We have the interpretation for the symbol of the woman in verse 7, and the symbol of the twelve stars...  The woman is the Church of God, and the twelve stars are the apostles.  With these two interpretations in mind, we should then ask ourselves, "What image is this verse trying to transfer to us?" in order to flesh out the revelation.She was "clothed with the sun."  She is not the source of light herself, but she is dressed in light.  Not only that, but the light that she is wearing is the sun, the most glorious source of light known to earthly men, so brilliant we can't even look at it.

"And the moon under her feet."  What is generally under our feet?  Our shadows.  This woman is so brilliant, she has no shadow, only light.

"And upon her head a crown of twelve stars."  A crown is worn by ruling royalty.  The number 12 in Hebrew indicates priesthood.  Her crown is her witness of Christ: the twelve apostles.  This provides her direct link (revelation) with heaven and the source of Light as she rules.


"The importance of this description is seen in such places as temple architecture.  The Nauvoo temple had starstones, moonstones, and sunstones, These were repeated in the Salt Lake Temple and even in more recent temples, such as the one in Palmyra.  In descending order from top to bottom the stones are placed--stars, sun, moon.  The stars encircle the top of the temple, resting above the sunstones.  The moonstones lie at the foot of the pillars.  Thus, when seen together, they duplicate the description of the woman in Revelation 12." (Wilcox, chap. 12, para. 8.)

(See "The Trumpet Stone" blog for photographic images of these symbols on temples, including the Big Dipper, mentioned earlier.)

V. 2  "And the woman being with child, cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered."  Those who have delivered a child know they don't call it "labor" for nothing, do they?  It is one of the hardest things physically that a body can do.  Those who have adopted a child can also relate, as it is one of the hardest things emotionally that a woman can do.  (I speak from experience, as we have brought children into our family both ways.)

But then, as soon as the baby is delivered, there is tremendous relief and overwhelming joy.  This baby is the most wonderful thing the world has ever seen!  He was worth every minute of pain!  We would do it all again!  (But not right away!)  It is possible that our joy in the baby is greater because of the pain we endured to bring it into existence.

V. 3 "And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up unto God and his throne."  Who is this man child?  Verse 7 tells us he is the kingdom of our God and his Christ.  "The name of the child is Zion.  It has been the purpose of the Church in every age to establish a Zion community on the earth." (Wilcox, chap. 12, para. 9.)  The rod of iron with which he will rule is interpreted in Lehi's vision of the Tree of Life as the word of God.  (See also Rev. 2:26-27 JST.  Remember:  the best commentary on scripture is scripture.  The prophets all get their material from the same Source.) 

So:  The entire world will someday be ruled by the scriptures and revelation!  Won't that be wonderful?  At a couple of points in the existence of this earth, such a kingdom did exist, for example, in the City of Enoch.  But the kingdom was "caught up unto God and his throne," to remove it from Satan's grasp.  The future kingdom, however, will encompass the entire earth and become heaven.

The Great Red Dragon
V. 4 "And there appeared another sign in heaven; and behold, a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads.  And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth.  And the dragon stood before the woman which was delivered, ready to devour her child after it was born."

The dragon is Satan.  Why is this a good image for the devil?  In opposition to the word of God, his mouth breathes fire and destruction.  He is greedy and angry and hordes treasure for himself.  He is difficult to defeat. 

And why the color red?  Red is associated with heat, with fire, with danger, with pain, with suffering in most cultures of the earth.  (As are dragons).

There may be multiple meanings of the seven heads and ten horns.  Heads can symbolize political kings (17:9-12).  Gerald Lund hypothesizes that the seven heads may have been the emperors of Rome.  In our day, they may symbolize the "seven deadly heresies" named by Bruce R. McConkie. (Read about them at this link.)  As the number seven means "completion," they may also indicate that every type of evil or sin is employed by Satan.

Horns in scripture typically refer to power. Since ten means "testimony," this may refer to false testimony, lies, heresies and the power that they wield among men.

No matter the individual meanings of the symbols, the overall message is clear: Satan is attempting to rule over the earth with great power. 

His method of governance follows in the next sentence: with the power of his tail, he sweeps and crushes his servants, and flings them down.  He uses people and then casts them aside.  It is his ever-mistaken belief that by putting others down, he himself will be elevated.  But he is wrong and (verse 13) he himself is cast down.  His reign is as temporary as a paper crown.

THE DEFEAT OF THE DRAGON

How to fight the dragon? 
"One of the most dangerous things one could do when fighting a seven-headed dragon would be to single out one head, label it the enemy, and focus all attention on its destruction.  The single focus would allow the other heads to attack." (Wilcox, Chapter 12, "The Red Dragon," para. 3.)  We have to be alert to attack from every direction.

V. 4  "And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she had a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore years." Michael Wilcox explains that this number, which equals the other scriptural phrase "time, times, and half a time" (see Dan. 7:25, and Rev. 12:14), and three and a half years, means a time of apostasy and trial, seeming best represented by the great apostacy, the time of Lucifer's most total power. 

"In the New World, the lights went out completely with the last great battles of the Nephites and Lamanites at the time of Mormon and Moroni.  The sacred plates were buried, and within a few centuries almost all remnants of Christian belief were eclipsed in the mystery religions of the Maya, Aztec, and other groups on this continent.  Only fleeting shadows of a white god who promised to return, along with some distorted rituals, remained as witness of the American gospel...Yet even here, the buried plates with their precious messages would not perish.

"However, in the Old World, in spite of the apostasy, Christianity survived.  Though changed in many of its doctrines, ordinances, and priesthood, many essential truths remained.  Most remarkable, the scriptures survived.  Some 'plain and precious truths' were removed, but what endured still carried a rich fullness.  The belief in resurrection, baptism, sacrament, atonement, priesthood, and scripture, though all distorted, continued to exist...We owe a deep debt of gratitude to hundreds of individuals who preserved, copied, debated, lived, displayed in art, and passed on the tenets of Christ's teachings.  The great cathedrals of Europe have always filled me with thanksgiving, in spite of their more somber elements, for they represent the triumph of the woman over the dragon.  This is not to deny the condemnation of the apostate church...in chapter 17, but to give credit where credit is due and validate the Lord's wisdom in keeping the woman from annihilation.  She fled into a gentile wilderness and lived."  (Wilcox, chapter 12, "The Woman in the Wilderness," para. 4-5.)  (For an example of this preservation of gospel truth through the apostacy, see a previous post.)

The story of the war in heaven is interjected in verses 6-13.  Why?  To show that the devil is always defeated.  "And the dragon prevailed not against Michael, neither the child, nor the woman which was the church of God...For they have overcome him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony...Therefore, rejoice O heavens, and ye that dwell in them." (V. 7)

V. 15 "And the serpent casteth out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood." What comes out from the mouth?  Words.  God rules with his word.  Satan hopes to rule with words.  Interestingly, the word "devil" comes from the Greek diablos, which means "slanderer" or "accuser."  Is this not a cool thing to know?  Slandering is what the devil does best.  He uses his words to ensnare others, to drag them down to destruction.  The meaning of the word "Satan," which is Hebrew, is "adversary".  So the dragon, the devil, uses his words, his doctrines, to oppose and destroy.  Just as Christ is the Living Water, the devil releases his killing water as a flood upon the earth to drown the inhabitants. 

What will save them?  The answer to this is not what we might expect.

V. 16  "And the earth helpeth the woman, and the earth openeth her mouth, and swalloweth up the flood which the dragon casteth out of his mouth."  The earth?  What could "the earth" refer to?  The laws of nature.  The devil may twist the truth and put forth his false teachings that seem to make sense, but he cannot change the consequences.  He fools himself and his followers into thinking that they can make destructive behaviors yield happiness and freedom just by making them sound right, but this mortal existence is not a court of law wherein the suit is won by the person who presents the best argument.  Instead it is governed by actual truth, the outcomes of right and wrong actions are already in place, and the devil and his servants ensnare only themselves.  The laws of nature, "the earth," swallow up their false teachings in the end.

...AND THEY ALL LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER

The great news, and the end of the story, is found in the story of the war in heaven, which is the precursor of the war on earth.  Just as the devil was "cast out [of heaven] into the earth" (v. 8), he will be cast out of the earth in the end.
"And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ; for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. 

"For they have overcome him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; for they loved not their own lives, but kept the testimony even unto death.  Therefore, rejoice O heavens, and ye that dwell in them" (12:9-11).

Friday, November 18, 2011

Preparation for New Testament Lesson #45

You  may want to share the following story with your class at the end of lesson 44 to get them in the right frame of mind for reading the assignment in Revelation.

When our older children were little, we took them to a 3-D movie.  For one of them, who was only four or five years old, it was the first
3-D movie she'd seen.  This was in the early days of 3-D and the movies were made 3-dimensional by playing two views of the scene on the screen at once which were slightly offset from each other and in slightly different colors.  You had to wear little cardboard glasses that had one blue lens and one red lens, so each eye would be watching a different "movie" and as the images were sent to your brain it created the special 3-D effect. (Click here for a link to a picture of 3-D glasses and an explanation of how they work.)

Well, our little daughter was upset about having to wear the funny glasses and refused.  She had never had to wear glasses to see a movie before, and she didn't see why she should have to for this one.  Beside, the glasses felt awkward to her.  Of course, as the movie began to play, she was even more upset because she couldn't see the movie!  Without the uncomfortable glasses, everything on the screen was just a blur.

The Book of Revelation is like an epic 3-D movie.  We have to approach it with an entirely different perspective than we do, say, the Book of Mormon, and if we refuse to do that, it's all just a blur of nonsensical words.

The irony of the Book of Revelation is that John had a wonderful vision--three-dimensional, multi-facted, sensory-laden, and emotionally-charged--all the stuff of the subconscious mind or the right brain or the artistic side, but the only "technology" available to him to convey his vision to us was the written word--the stuff of the conscious mind or the left brain or the logical thought process.  Somehow we have to transfer the language back into the mode in which John received the revelation.  If we just try to understand the words, it is a silly, disjointed story at worst, or a list of symbols and their interpretations at best.  BUT, if we can transfer the words back into the images, and call upon the spirit of personal revelation available to those who fervently study the scriptures, we can experience the emotions, the grandeur, the spiritual fire that this vision gave to John, and which still carries him in his work on the earth today.  To catch the vision of the Book of Revelation, we have to step out of our "spiritual couch-potato" comfort zone and put on our 3-D glasses. 

Keep that in mind as you study Revelation 1-3 and 12 this coming week.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

New Testament Lesson #44 "God is Love"

1, 2, and 3 John

JOHN'S TESTIMONY

John begins his first epistle with his powerful testimony.

"Brethren, this is the testimony which we give that that which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life;

"(For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;)

"That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.

"And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full" (1:1-4). 

This is the purpose of testifying: to bring joy to others--not just a bit of joy, but complete joy.

POETRY AND IMAGERY

John is good at imagery and poetry.  After all, he's the same guy who wrote Revelation.  "An important characteristic of poetry is compression, or concentrated language"  (Creative Writing Now).  John is not verbose (his two epistles are among the smallest in the New Testament), but as a poet, he uses words with concentrated meaning and imagery to instill in us more deeply the truths he wants to teach.  "Often what causes the strongest emotions is not what the poem describes, but what it makes the reader imagine." With well-written poetry, it is not the literal meaning of the words that matters, but what kinds of intangible feelings those words provoke.

"'Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar' (Percy Bysshe Shelley).  Here Shelley points out an important aspect of poetry, which is to find fresh ways of looking at things we think we know well" (ibid.). 

"Sir Philip Sidney [said], 'Poetry is a speaking picture' (ibid.).

Ask the class members to take 1 minute to come up with a one-word, all-inclusive description of their mothers.

It is difficult to describe a person with only one word, and cover all the various aspects of their complex personalities.  But John is a poetic genius and his subject (God) is simpler than most people realize, so twice in the first epistle John is able to describe God completely with only one word.  What are these two one-word descriptions he gives of God? 

God is Light (1:5).
God is Love (4:8).

With these words, John links us with images and feelings that help us understand God in a fresh way. What images and feelings do you get when you think of light?  And what about love?  How is it that each of these words can completely describe such a powerful being as God?  I'd like to say that we'll figure that out in the next few paragraphs, but actually the depth and meaning of those words and their relation to God could be studied productively for many years.

But we'll give it a start...

GOD IS LIGHT


"This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all" (1:5).

To make this metaphor clear to us, John elaborates with alternating verses about what it means for us to be in darkness and then how God can be as a Light that dispels that darkness.

Darkness: "If we say that we have fellowship with [God], and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: (1:6)

Light: "But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin." (1:7)

Darkness: "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." (1:8)

Light"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1:9)

Darkness: "If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us." (1:10)

Light: "If any man sin and repent, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the world.  And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments." (2:1-3 JST)

Darkness: "He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him." (2:4)

Light: "But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.  Brethren, I write a new commandment unto you, but it is the same commandment which ye had from the beginning.  The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning.  Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing was of old ordained of God; and is true in him, and in you: because the darkness is past and the true light now shineth." (2:5-8)

Darkness: "He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even unto now." (2:9)

Light: "He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him." (2:10)

Darkness: "But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes."  (2:11)

(See also D&C 88:6-13.)

So, to summarize, if we follow the new commandment (which is really just the old commandment) to love, we will no longer be in darkness but will be walking in the Light--Light with a capital L.  Which leads us to John's second one-word description of God.

GOD IS LOVE

John uses the word "love" and its variations 46 times in the first epistle.  Although by the time of Christ the Law of Moses had morphed into a huge conglomoration of rules and regulations, many of which had completely lost their original meaning, the Law of Moses was originally based on love.  The phylacteries which the Hebrew bound upon their foreheads as they prayed contained the words of the Shema, the central prayer of the Jew and often the first scripture that a Hebrew child learned.  They were the first words uttered in the morning and the last at night.  Shema means "hear."  (Blair G. Van Dyke, "Profiles of a Covenant People," Covenants, Prophecies, and Hymns of the Old Testament: The 30th Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium, p. 37)

Click on this link to hear the Shema sung in Hebrew, and to learn more about its meaning to the Jews.

The first part of the Shema is Deuteronomy 6:4-9.  "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.  And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart." (Deut. 6:4-5).

"In Hebrew thought, the heart (not the mind) was the source of thinking, willing, and deciding.  Therefore, to love God with all one's heart was to make a deliberate commitment to steadfast loyalty and unwavering obedience.  To love 'with all thy soul' was the demand for the [servant] to be prepared to die for the [master].  It denoted full devotion.  To love 'with all thy might' meant that a [servant] would come to the aid of the [master] with all his force, with his army and chariots." (ibid.)

John reminded his readers of this new commandment, which was just a restatement of the old commandment that had been obscured by rabbinic law.

"And this is his commandment, that we should 1) believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ [faith in Christ is of course based on a love for Him] and 2) love one another, as he gave us commandment." (1 John 3:23).  "If we could not love on command, the Lord would not have commanded us to love" (Ester Rasband, Confronting the Myth of Self-Esteem, p. 54). 

"He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love."  (4:8).

(Please note the great information on love in the first reader's comment at the bottom on this entry.)

KEEPING COMMANDMENTS ALLOWS US TO FEEL LOVED

In John's gospel, he wrote the words of the Savior:  "If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love." (John 15:10).


Wait--what? 

Isn't the love of the Savior unconditional?  Does this scripture say that the Lord will only love those who keep his commandments?

No.  It says only those who keep his commandments will abide in his love.  If you have ever been able to feel the love of God, you know that it is the most wonderful feeling in the world.  If we could abide in that love always, it would be amazing.

But what if you haven't felt the love of God, or if it has been a long time since you have? 

First, you must check your obedience to his commandments, which can all be summarized into two:  loving God and loving others.  "And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in [God] and [God dwelleth] in him.  And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us' (1 John 3:24).

Second, you must check your willingness to receive God's love. 

"I attended a seminar a few years ago where a questionnaire led us to a conclusion about the expressions of love that we accept.  Some of us accept and recognize love when it is expressed verbally, some when another labors in our behalf, some when a loved one offers demonstrative affection, and some when material gifts are given to us.  There were still other ways.  The series of questions helped us to examine our behavior to see how we are willing to receive love.  The director of the seminar suggested that each of us has the right to receive love in the way that we recognize it and accept it.  His goal, he said, was that we would use this self-revelation to tell our partners how they should give love to us.

"At the end of the quiz I'm sure that I was not alone in feeling more self pity than self-discovery.  No one ever gets all they want from others...

"How valuable it would be to our mental health to examine the ways that others give love to us instead of the ways we are willing to accept it.  Inasmuch as we have a great need to be loved--indeed, a survival need--it seems to me that the great benefit would be in recognizing love that comes to us in ways that are perhaps not our way at all.

"God's love is perfect, but we are not.  Things of the world which we ignorantly would prefer as an expression of love may not be for our best good.  They may even be destructive and therefore would not be an expression of love at all.  We must be so humble that we trust the way our perfect Father in Heaven expresses his love for us and be grateful for it without condition.  If we don't do that, if we are unwilling to receive it, we fail to collect it.  Unrecognized and therefore uncollected, the love does not strengthen us, does not energize us, does not bless us...

"I have heard the same formula repeated many times: 'A loving God would surely see that all of his children were equal in comfort.' 'A loving God would see that all his children were treated fairly.'  However the complaint ends, it is the same: man telling God how to love him instead of seeing God's love in God's omniscient expression of it and being grateful.

"Gratitude is the key to collecting God's love." (Rasband, p. 60-62)

By keeping the covenant to love, and by gratefully recognizing God's hand in our lives, we then are blessed to dwell in His love.  In Hebrew this love of God's is called hesed, a word which, unfortunately, has no English equivalent.  It has to do with love that never fails, with compassion, with mercy and grace.  It is a love that translates into action, a rescuing kindness (Van Dyke).

"Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.  And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us.  God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God and God in him." (4:15-16)

The benefit to us personally of dwelling in this love is the removal of possibly the most debilitating condition of our latter-day existence:  fear.

FEAR

As Paul stated in one of his epistles, "God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind" (2 Tim. 1:7).

At the very low point of the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected President of the United States.  In addition to being elected president of a country in crisis, FDR had faced serious challenges himself, being a paraplegic, and having narrowly escaped an assassination attempt three weeks before his inauguration.  (Five shots were fired, four people were wounded and the Chicago mayor was killed.) 

"In his first address as president, Roosevelt spoke directly to the mood of the day...'First of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself--nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.'

"Of course Roosevelt knew there were plenty of things to fear aside from fear itself.  But he also knew that as serious as the nation's problems were, 'unreasoning fear' would make things far worse by eroding faith in liberal democracy and convincing people to embrace the mad dreams of communism and fascism.  The Great Depression could hurt the United States.  But fear could destroy it.

"It's an insight older than the United States itself.  Roosevelt's line was lifted from Henry David Thoreau, and Thoreau in turn got it from Michel de Montaigne, who wrote, 'the thing I fear most is fear' more than three and a half centuries ago."  (Daniel Gardner, The Science of Fear, Kindle Edition, chapter 1, paragraphs 3-5.)

FDR knew that fear was a grave danger, and so does the Lord.  He knows that fear will incapacitate us and leave us open to the influence of the devil.  It will cause us to retreat rather than to advance.  That is why he has commanded us repeatedly in the scriptures to "fear not."  "For I, the Lord thy God, will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, fear not; I will help thee." (Isa. 41:13)

But we live in the latter-days, the "perilous times" when "men's hearts shall fail them!" (See 2 Tim. 3:1; D&C 45:26.)  How are we supposed to avoid being afraid?  Perhaps, more than anything, it is the peril of fear itself that causes men's hearts to fail.  Because of our worldwide media, we are subject to an endless parade of fearful images right in front of our eyes.  Why?  Because fear sells. Newscasters focus on scary stories, and ask "could this happen to you?"  Most advertising is based on fear that our lives will not be safe or good or we will not be happy without the product in the ad.  Politicians prey upon our fears, offering to resolve the frightening problems they present.  Thanks to these "merchandisers of fear," despite the fact that we have more democratic societies than ever in the history of the world, more babies survive to adulthood even in underdeveloped countries, civil war and war between countries are both at a low point, and a longer and healthier life can be expected on every continent, we have become a "culture of fear."  (Gardner)

How do we overcome the fear that is being force-fed to us? By simply and specifically keeping the great commandment to love.  We can love our God and trust in him, we can love the people we fear, we can love the circumstances we are in, we can infuse love into our environment, our reactions to others, and our basic approach to life.  John taught that when we are filled with the pure love of Christ, it is not possible to be afraid.


"There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment.  He that feareth is not made perfect in love." (4:18)

Mormon lived in a more evil and frightening day than did we, as he witnessed the depraved condition of his people and the destruction of an entire civilization.  And yet he wrote in a letter to his son Moroni, "I fear not what man can do; for perfect love casteth out all fear" (Moro. 8:16).

We may not be facing the total annihilation of our civilization (even though the "fear merchants" may like us to think so), but this principle also has a a very real and very useful daily practical application that can literally change our lives.  If we are feeling "stressed" (stress is just fear by another name), we can ask ourselves what we are afraid of, and then we can see how to overcome that fear with love.  The result is that our stress can turn to joy.  Love is the greatest energizer, and the greatest bringer of peace.  Those very situations that bring us stress can be sources of happy excitement or joyful peace if we can train ourselves to face them with love instead of fear.

Ask class members to share something that stresses them--minor or catastrophic--and see if the class can brainstorm a way that love could overcome the fear.  Example: I am afraid of walking down the halls in the high school because I think everyone is judging my appearance.  Possible antidote:  Focus on others, smiling and saying hi to people who seem to need it.  Example:  I am so stressed out trying to keep my house clean.  Possible antidote:  Express gratitude for each aspect of your home as you work, for the mere fact that you have shelter, for all the items you are putting away.  Example: Fears produced by catastrophic life events can also be overcome by trust in the Lord (another aspect of love for the Lord), a hope to learn valuable lessons from the experience, and a desire to love and serve others also affected.

"Anciently, the Lord spoke to Isaac, saying: 'Fear not, for I am with thee' (Gen. 26:24). The admonition to 'fear not' was clear and direct and meaningful. The promise that 'I am with thee' was equally plain and direct and powerful.

"Down through the ages the same admonition, the same assurance, has been extended to every living soul who is willing to qualify. And yet, fear is prevalent throughout the earth. It stifles initiative, saps strength, and reduces efficiency. It weakens faith, brings doubts, and begets mistrust. Indeed, it tends to impede the very business of being. How negative, frustrating, and futile is fear...

"One lesson we have to learn is that fear is the beginning of defeat."  (Derek A. Cuthbert, "The Futility of Fear," New Era, Nov. 1985).  (See also, H. Ross Workman, Ensign, Dec. 2003.)

"God has given us the power of the gospel to lift us above our fears.

"God has given us the power of truth...

"We have nothing to fear when we walk by the light of eternal truth...

"We need not fear as long as we have in our lives the power that comes from righteously living by the truth which is from God our Eternal Father.  Nor need we fear as long as we have the power of faith...

"I have seen time and again that love of God can bridge the chasm of fear...
"How great and magnificent is the power of love to overcome fear and doubt, worry and discouragement."  (President Gordon B. Hinckley, "God Hath Not Given Us the Spirit of Fear," First Presidency Message, October 1984.)

JOHN'S TESTIMONY AND ADMONITION

At the end of the first epistle, John again shares his testimony:

"And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ.  This is the true God, and eternal life" (5:20).

After bearing this testimony of the Savior, he adds this curious little sentence:

"Little children, keep yourselves from idols.  Amen." (5:21).

It seems disjointed or tacked on but actually it relates directly to, and even summarizes, the entire point of his epistle.  To know God and to be one with him is Eternal Life.  But to achieve this state, we must keep ourselves from idols, or from anything that may compromise our loyalty to the Lord.  The key is to closely control our love.  As he advised earlier:

"Love not the world, neither the things that are of the world.  If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (2:15 JST).

We must examine our pastimes, our passions, our use of resources, our goals, our desires, and make sure they all come up based on getting to know and be one with the Lord.  If they point in any other direction, our hope for Eternal Life as well as daily peace and joy is being frustrated.  We will fail daily, weekly, and eternally if we allow ourselves to be limited by fear, or if we love anything more than the Lord.

Please see the next blog entry for a little idea you may want to tag onto the end of this lesson to prepare your class for studying the Book of Revelation.