While a student at theological college in the United States Bernard Travaieille was playing basketball with some friends. They were using the court at a nearby school, where a friendly old janitor would patiently wait until they had finished their game before locking up. One day Bernard noticed the janitor was reading the bible. In fact he discovered the old janitor was reading the Book of Revelation.
Bernard was surprised. It was a difficult book to interpret even for highly trained bible students! “Do you understand it?” asked Bernard.
“Oh yes, I understand it” the janitor replied.
Now Bernard was really intrigued. Here was this book that baffled scholars, that was the focus of every conspiracy theory known to humanity, and this old man, a janitor with little formal education, claimed to understand it! “You understand the Book of Revelation?! What do you think it means?” asked Bernard.
The old man looked up at him and very quietly said, “It means that Jesus is gonna win.”
It was just last week that we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus and read the events of that morning. According to John, later on that same day, Jesus met with the apostles in a locked room and after showing them the wounds in is hand and his side he breathed on them and gave them the Holy Spirit. This sounds a lot like Pentecost except there were no tongues of flame and speaking in many languages. This was the Christian Pentecost, the gift of the Holy Spirit and the sending out. “As my father sent me, so I send you.” This may seem odd to you, it caught me unawares. Unlike the synoptic Gospels, John did not place this story in the context of the Jewish day of Pentecost, the end of the Jewish Feast of Weeks, or Shavuot, which falls on the fiftieth day after Passover.
Now it is time for a change of time and scene into the book of Acts. The Apostles had been in prison for spreading the Good News in the temple. Just as they had sought to eliminate the threat they felt to their authority in the teachings and popularity of Jesus, the temple authorities were doing all they could to shut down the “Jesus commotion” which had sprung up in force after the resurrection. They had warned the Apostles, threatened them, and then jailed them, but they were released from prison by an angel. Did they stop as they had been commanded? No, they were no sooner free than they were back in the temple and teaching the people the rest of the story of life.
When the council heard that they were back at it, they immediately ordered their arrest and the apostles are brought before them again. Rather than beginning the interview with trying to find out how they got free, perhaps fearing that the answer may lend credence to their message, they begin with something akin to, ‘How many times have we told you to stop?!’
The story the apostles were sharing cast the council in a rather poor light,“bringing this man’s blood on us.” These were the men who had feared Jesus and his growing popularity to the extent that they arranged for him to be crucified. The apostle’s problems are with the authorities and not with the Jewish people in general. It is important to remember that the average Jews had not had anything against Jesus, and did not have anything against the apostles.
In response to the outraged members of council, Peter said, “We must obey God rather than any human authority” (Acts 5:29). Saying this, Peter was saying not only that we don’t need to blindly obey the orthodoxy, but that the orthodoxy is supposed to be following God just as we are. The temple officials had been afraid of losing their power and here was Peter, pointing out that they had moved from being what they are meant to be, followers of God, to working as power brokers for the Romans (Willimon)
In Revelations 1:4-8 John gives new titles to Jesus perhaps to assert that there was far more to be said about Jesus than just what he had said about himself. He first states who Jesus is; the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, the ruler of the kings of the each. And secondly, the three things Jesus did; freed us from our sins, made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father (Boring p 78).
In the Old Testament, the terms Kingdom of God and Kingdom of Heaven are synonymous, especially because it was not acceptable to speak the word God and they thus replaced it with heaven. In the New Testament, the focus of the Kingdom of God is on the role of God in shaping human experience and the power behind the kingdom. The Kingdom of Heaven seems to be more about the area, or the extent or range of the Kingdom. In this opening part of Revelation, John uses the term kingdom to refer to us. Having shaped us into the body of Christ perhaps he meant that we become the area or the range of the kingdom, extending to all who believe.
Just as Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the council, looked after the body of Jesus, a respected rabbi named Gamaliel pointed out to the council that if the Christ movement was from man and not from God it would fall apart; but it would be foolish to try to block a movement of God! After all, look at all that had happened to armies such as those of Egypt and other kingdoms of the past when God opposed them! Just look at the great empires, Greece had already fallen to Rome and we know that in the end even the great Roman Empire collapsed. Things that are started by people eventually crumble, in time they pass away but God’s kingdom is eternal.
For years we have been hearing about the decline of Christian churches. In North America and Europe this seems to be the case, the secularization of society has more people going to the malls on Sunday than to church, at least the mainline churches. We have been told that Christendom is dead and there are many who view that as a great failing. I would like to point out, however, that the church is, perhaps, never as strong as when it faces persecution. In the early community of believers there had already been people persecuted, and killed for preaching about the resurrection. Look to the areas of the modern world where life is the least free, or the hardest for economic reasons and you see the church flourishing. Look to the southern hemisphere, to many countries in Africa, and you will see faith more alive and vital than has been common in the west for centuries.
Both Gamaliel and Joseph of Arimathea were well known and respected members of the council and yet they spoke out in defense of Jesus and the apostles. They weren’t seeking earthly authority for themselves, they were both looking for the kingdom. They recognized that the kingdom was a part of the establishment so long as seeking the kingdom.
God exalted Jesus whom man had condemned. He sits at the right hand of the father and we read about him this morning in the Psalm; “The right hand of the Lord does valiantly, the right hand of the Lord is exalted; the right hand of the Lord does valiantly.” (Psalm 118:15-16). The temple authorities couldn’t keep the Apostles in prison any better than they kept Jesus in the grave. This Jesus commotion which we read about in Acts continues to this day. We are a part of it, “priests serving his God and Father,” (Revelation 1:6) and it up to us to enter the temple of society and share the Good News.
story at the beginning came from: Reported by Bernard Travaieille in Illustrations Unlimited
William H. Willimon – Acts – The Interpretation Series
M. Eugene Boring – Revelation – The Interpretation Series