bible blog 869

This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with  a headline from world news:

One in 5 UK workers paid less than a living wage

Revelation 11:1-14

The Two Witnesses

11Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, ‘Come and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there,2but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample over the holy city for forty-two months.3And I will grant my two witnesses authority to prophesy for one thousand two hundred and sixty days, wearing sackcloth.’

4 These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.5And if anyone wants to harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes; anyone who wants to harm them must be killed in this manner.6They have authority to shut the sky, so that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have authority over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire.

7 When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them,8and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that is prophetically* called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.9For three and a half days members of the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb;10and the inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and celebrate and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to the inhabitants of the earth.

11 But after the three and a half days, the breath* of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and those who saw them were terrified.12Then they* heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, ‘Come up here!’ And they went up to heaven in a cloud while their enemies watched them.13At that moment there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell; seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.

Malala: faithful witness

This passage is a kind of interpolation between Chapter 10 in which the author is commanded to prophesy and Chapter 11: 15 where that prophecy begins. But it’s not an inappropriate vision as it concerns the fate of those who obey God’s command to speak the truth. The measuring of the inner temple is a sign that it is protected while the outer court is given over to the “nations.” This may have had some connection with the tragic details of the Roman destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in AD 70, but here it surely refers to the inner life  or soul of the faithful witnesses which God protects even though their bodies are destroyed.

The witnesses sound fearsome but it’s important to note that the fire they use issues from their mouths. This indicates that they wage war with the Word of God they speak, rather than any physical means. No one can withstand their words but the beast from the abyss, the spirit of human arrogance, cruelty and lies (the spirit which animates the Roman Empire) is permitted to kill them. This is the fate which the author has only just escaped by being exiled, and which he may yet anticipate as a reward for his continuing prophecies. But who are these two witnesses who are both olive trees and lampstands? The imagery is from Zechariah 4, but it seems to me that it  means something different here: there are two witnesses, because there is always ONE true witness to God’s rule, who s Jesus Christ, but now he is always accompanied by ANOTHER,  representing the community of believers in their prophetic ministry in the world: they share the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. Their dishonoured corpses lie in the streets of the world city, as if utterly defeated; but God will raise them to heaven to share his victory. The number three and a half, which is half of seven, the number which indicates perfection, means for this author the time God allows evil to do its worst before revealing his final justice.

The passage seems very obscure but when we read it with care, picking up the Old Testament clues, we see it as a vision of the prophetic ministry of God’s faithful witnesses amidst the lies and overwhelming power of a corrupt civilisation. Relying only on God’s truth and the companionship of Jesus, they stand firm until swept away by the tide of evil. In this way they share the cross of Christ and the power of his resurrection. We should be clear that God’s faithful witnesses are not defined by formal membership of the Christian Church but by faith in God’s rescuing justice and readiness to stand up for it in the world.

Luke 11:14-26

Jesus and Beelzebul

14 Now he was casting out a demon that was mute; when the demon had gone out, the one who had been mute spoke, and the crowds were amazed.15But some of them said, ‘He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.’16Others, to test him, kept demanding from him a sign from heaven.17But he knew what they were thinking and said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself becomes a desert, and house falls on house.18If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? —for you say that I cast out the demons by Beelzebul.19Now if I cast out the demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your exorcists* cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges.20But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you.21When a strong man, fully armed, guards his castle, his property is safe.22But when one stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away his armour in which he trusted and divides his plunder.23Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

The Return of the Unclean Spirit

24 ‘When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting-place, but not finding any, it says, “I will return to my house from which I came.”25When it comes, it finds it swept and put in order.26Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first.’

Bob Dylan: You gotta serve somebody

Those who think the imagery of cosmic battle in the New Testament is confined to the book of The Revelation, should read this passage with care. Jesus, accused of casting out evil spirits by the power of the Prince of Evil, makes the reasonable point that this would indicate a civil war in the kingdom of Evil! But if in fact Jesus casts out the evil spirits by the finger of God, then God’s rule has arrived and is present amongst them. I like the “finger of God”: in this cosmic battle God’s pinky is stronger than all the armies of Evil.

Jesus goes on to tell a cautionary story about evil spirits. Yes, he can cast them out of the house but if the house is left empty, the evil spirit will gather a bunch of evil squatters and come back to take possession. What is this house? It is both the human person and the human community. If someone or some community is unoccupied by God’s spirit, God’s goodness, then it is easy prey to Evil. The human house cannot be untenanted: either God dwells there or Satan. One of Dylan’s songs says, “You gotta serve somebody; it may be the Devil or it may be the Lord; but you gotta serve someone.” I’ve tried to spell out the Bible’s use of “house (Greek: oikos) imagery” in a special blog which may be helpful to readers. (

The cosmic battle is fought within the human being and human community. God asks for human help.



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