During Pentecost Season 2022, the Revised Common Lectionary offers two “tracks” of readings from the Hebrew Bible. Congregations may choose either track.
The first track of readings follows major stories and themes, read mostly continuously from week to week. The second track of readings thematically pairs the reading from the Hebrew Bible with the Gospel reading.
The readings from the Epistles are the same in both tracks.
17 For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.
19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.
20 No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
21 They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
23 They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD — and their descendants as well.
24 Before they call, I will answer, while they are yet speaking, I will hear.
25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent — its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.
The Book of Isaiah is a composite of writings from three distinct periods in Ancient Israel’s history. The writings were compiled from about 700 BCE to about 300 BCE.
Chapters 1-39 are called “First Isaiah” and are the words of a prophet (one who speaks for YHWH – translated as “LORD” in all capital letters in the NRSV) who called for Jerusalem to repent in the 30 years before Jerusalem came under siege by the Assyrians in 701 BCE. “Second Isaiah” is Chapters 40 to 55. In these chapters, a prophet brought hope to the Judeans during the Exile in Babylon (587 to 539 BCE) by telling them they had suffered enough and would return to Jerusalem. “Third Isaiah” is Chapters 56 to 66 in which a prophet gave encouragement to the Judeans who had returned to Jerusalem (which was largely destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BCE) after the Exile had ended.
Today’s reading is from Third Isaiah and appears to be a late insert into Chapter 65. The first seven verses in the Chapter are a lament by YHWH that the people had not asked for assistance even though YHWH was ready to assist. The Jewish Study Bible points out that the fact that YHWH “spread out My hands” (v.2) meant that YHWH assumed a human-like posture of prayer. Verses 8 to 16 are a statement by YHWH that those who are his servants shall prosper, but those who forsake YHWH and worship foreign gods will perish.
Verses 17 to 25 have an apocalyptic tone – the existing dire situation will be reversed because divine intervention will bring about a profound change. Similar eschatological motifs are found in the so-called “Isaiah Apocalypse” in Chapters 24 to 27.
The reading presents a “new world” (v.17) in which there is no infant mortality and persons will live more than 100 years (v.20). This eschatological vision reversed some of the consequences of the “Disobedience Event” in the Garden of Eden. Endless and sometimes futile toil (Gen. 3:17-18) is changed into “you shall not labor in vain” (v. 23). As in the Garden of Eden before the Disobedience Event (Gen. 1:29-30), no creatures (human or animal) will kill for food (v.25).
The images in verse 25 (“the lion and the lamb shall feed together” and “the lion shall eat straw like the ox”) became integrated into the expected signs of the Messiah’s presence and the Shalom (peace, good order) that the Messiah is expected to bring.
The Jewish Study Bible notes that although the new era will be one in which persons will live to an old age, there is no prediction of eternal life or resurrection in these passages. The JSB also notes that there are passages in Daniel and in the Isaian Apocalypse that did form a basis for Rabbinic Judaism to formulate a belief in the resurrection of all.
1 See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. 2a But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.
The Book of Malachi is the last book of the 12 “Minor” Prophets – so called because these 12 books are much shorter than the three “Major” Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel). His name literally means “my messenger” and the book appears to have been written in the 5th Century BCE, after the Second Temple was built.
Malachi held a high view of the Temple priesthood and its responsibilities and wrote to an audience that was disheartened that the hopes of the “restoration prophets” (Haggai and Zechariah) had not materialized. Malachi asserted that YHWH (“LORD” in all capital letters) had been true to God’s promises, but that the hopes of the other prophets were not fulfilled because Judah (Judea and Jerusalem) had not been faithful.
Malachi asserted that the “Day of the LORD” was coming soon, and the “messenger” of the Day of the LORD was later identified as Elijah (4:5). In most prophetic books, the Day of the LORD was presented as a time of wrath, darkness, fear, and trembling.
In today’s reading from the last chapter in the book, the author reiterated that the Day of the LORD will be terrible for the arrogant and evildoers, but that those who revere YHWH’s name will rise (v.2). The Jewish Study Bible suggests that a “sun of righteousness” (or “victory” in the Jewish Publication translation) in v.2a is a metaphor for a new “day” – a new era of history.
In the Hebrew Bible, the Books of the Prophets are in the middle of the Bible and are followed by the Writings. In Christian Bibles, Malachi is the last book of the Hebrew Bible, so that when one turns the page, a prophet much like Elijah (John the Baptist) is encountered in the Gospel According to Matthew.
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
6 Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, 8 and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. 9 This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. 11 For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. 12 Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. 13 Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.
Thessalonica, a port city in northern Greece, was capital of the Roman province of Macedonia in the First Century. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians is the oldest part of the Christian Scriptures and was written by Paul before 50 CE, about 20 years before the first Gospel (Mark) was written. A principal theme of both 1 and 2 Thessalonians is the return of the Lord Jesus in the end time.
In 2 Thessalonians, however, there was what appears to be a conscious imitation of 1 Thessalonians, an emphasis on living in the present, and warnings about forgeries of Paul’s writings. For these reasons, many scholars conclude that 2 Thessalonians was written by one of Paul’s disciples after Paul’s death in 64 CE. Unlike Paul’s authentic letters, this letter is addressed only to Gentiles and, although the author appears well-grounded in Jewish thought, nothing is said about Jews or Judaism.
The New Oxford Annotated Bible observes that in 1 Thessalonians assumes that the Christ’s reappearance will be a surprise, but that 2 Thessalonians suggests that it will come only after a struggle with evil and an unidentified “lawless one” (2:3) at some future time (2:8). The letter addressed problems perceived at the time: persecutions, disagreements about the end-times, and a refusal to work.
Today’s reading is from the final chapter in the letter and was an exhortation to the entire community. The writer presented his own behavior as the model for the community (v.7) and commanded that those who were able to work must do so (v.10).
The verses that follow today’s reading closed the letter with a wish of peace for the community and an assertion by “Paul” that he wrote the letter with his own hand – a claim that ironically shows that the author was concerned about the authenticity and authority of the letter.
5 When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, Jesus said, 6 “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”
7 They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” 8 And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, `I am he!’ and `The time is near!’ Do not go after them.
9 “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” 10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11 there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
12 “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15 for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17 You will be hated by all because of my name. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your souls.”
The Gospel According to Luke is generally regarded as having been written around 85 CE. Its author also wrote the Acts of the Apostles. Both books were written in elegant and deliberatively crafted Greek and presented Jesus of Nazareth as the universal savior of humanity. Both emphasized the Holy Spirit as the “driving force” for events.
The Gospel followed the same general chronology of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as the Gospel of Mark, and more than 40% of Luke’s Gospel was based on Mark. The other portions of Luke include (a) sayings shared with the Gospel According to Matthew but not found in Mark and (b) stories that are unique to Luke such as the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Presentation in the Temple, the Prodigal Son, and the Good Samaritan.
After the Babylonian Exile (586-539 BCE), a modest Temple in Jerusalem was built in the period from 515 to 505 BCE. This is called the “Second Temple” in recognition of the Biblical account of Solomon’s building a Temple in Jerusalem from 961 to 954 BCE (1 Kings 6). Solomon’s Temple was modest (about 15% the size of his Palace).
In 37 BCE, Herod the Great became the King of the Jews and he reigned until 4 BCE. Herod had what has been described as an “Edifice Complex” – he greatly enlarged the Temple starting in 19 BCE so that it covered 20% of the area of Jerusalem inside the walls. It was adorned with gold and was a magnificent structure. He also built the port and amphitheater at Caesarea, and the Fortress at Masada.
Today’s reading is the “foretelling” of the Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE during the Jewish-Roman War from 66 to 73 CE. This foretelling is also described in similar detail in Mark 13 and Matt. 24:1-28.
The New Oxford Annotated Bible observes: “Numerous writers, Jewish and Christian, and also Stoic philosophers, shared the belief that history was headed for some great transforming cataclysm. The destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 CE was seen as the beginning of the end.”
Jesus’ speech used apocalyptic motifs in verses 7 to 11 to caution against over-interpreting any of these apparently apocalyptic events: the Destruction of the Temple (v.6), the claims of false Messiahs(v.7), wars and insurrections (v.9), and earthquakes, famines, and plagues (v.11), each of which were often seen as signs the end is near. Instead, he noted that “the end will not follow immediately” (v.9).
Verses 12 to 17 described the persecution Jesus predicted for the disciples, including being handed over to synagogues (v.12). It is difficult to know if this was a statement made by the Historical Jesus or was an expression by the gospel writing communities after the Destruction of the Temple that recognized some of the consequences of the intensifying struggle between two remaining Jewish sects — the Pharisaic Movement and the Jesus Follower Movement — for control of the future of Judaism.