The more I grow in my faith, and in my relationship with Jesus, the more I can’t believe how much of the bible I had gotten wrong. And I don’t think I am the only one. I attended many different “bible only” churches and received wrong teaching in scripture interpretation. It’s no wonder I didn’t have a relationship with Jesus. How can you have a relationship with someone when you don’t understand a thing they say? Or even worse, you can’t trust them because they seemingly contradict themselves again and again?
For example, Revelation 20
[ The Thousand Years ] Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years were ended. After that he must be loosed for a little while.
I was always taught this to be literal and about the end times and the rapture. Really? Suddenly near the end of earthly time an angel is going to come with a chain that can hold a spiritual being without a body? In a pit? For a thousand years? I wonder what that chain is made of. Also, what about other scripture where God promises His church will NEVER end? His kingdom will rein FOREVER not a thousand years?
Matt 16: 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.
2 Samuel 7:16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever.’”
Here is another example with the opposite error.
John 6: 51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
I was always taught that this is symbolic and NOT literal. If that is true then why did Jesus (who IS God and IS love) allow hundreds of people to walk away who believed this was a literal teaching? Go ahead read it again. Read the whole chapter. Jesus doesn’t just say it once. He says it again and again. He lets hundreds maybe even thousands of people walk away from following Him because they took Him literally and could not understand. Why didn’t Jesus say, “I am only speaking metaphorically” so that they would stay? I think a loving God would not let them leave if they had misunderstood Him. Jesus WAS speaking literally. I didn’t know that the Catholic Church believes they eat the real body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ! I didn’t know the Eucharist is His true presence body, blood, soul and divinity.
Why didn’t I know this? What is going on here! Who can read the bible? Why didn’t God give us help to understand His teachings?
He did! Jesus established His Church on earth; He built it upon the rock of Peter…
Matthew 16: 13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesare′a Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Eli′jah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
In this narrative the people are confused about who Jesus is, but Peter is not. What does Jesus say about that? “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my father in heaven.” It is not ‘of man’ but of divine revelation. Jesus gives Peter and the disciples authority on earth to protect the deposit of faith. Peter is the first Pope and the Catholic Church is THE Church Jesus built on the rock. AND this church is entrusted with protecting and interpreting the deposit of faith. The Catholic Church has done just that for over 2000 years. The teaching has not changed. The problem of “who can read the bible” started after Martin Luther left the divine protection of the Holy Spirit to make changes that suited him in the 1500’s. Since that time there have been several more divisions and now there are over 30,000 different denominations of ‘bible only’ churches. Why? Because you cannot take scripture out of context and understand its meaning. Context is NOT just the verse before and the verse after. Context is many things. Who is the author? Who is the audience? What does the author already assume the audience knows? When was it written? What is the author trying to teach? Is it literal or symbolic or both? How does this fit in Salvation history? You may ask how can we possibly know all this from 2000 years ago. By the power of the Holy Spirit and by the promise of Jesus! The Catholic Church has kept the deposit of faith intact in word AND tradition.
1 Timothy 3: 15 if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.
God did not leave us a bible to try and figure out ourselves. He left us a Church, which is the “pillar and bulwark of the truth!”
So now let’s look at the context of the book of Revelation. The Author is the Apostle John. He is writing to the early churches about a vision/prophecy he saw on the Lords day. What do we do, and they did, on the Lord’s Day? Celebrate the Mass. They would have recognized the images in John’s prophetic vision as parts of the Mass, and other images from the Old Testament prophets. In the time this was written not many people could read and there was no mass production of scripture. The ancient Jews had memorized scripture. This is how John can assume they would understand His vision. Revelation was written around 90 AD. The audience of this book is well aware of the symbolic use of numbers again and again in scripture. The number 6 represents evil, or the beast, it is falling short of 7, which means covenant and represents perfection. A thousand means the fullness of time or the fullness of people.
Here is what The Church teaches (and always has) about my first example. Quoted from Michael Barber’s book Coming Soon Unlocking the Book of Revelation.
“Traditionally, Catholics have understood the ‘1,000 year reign’ as referring to the age of the Church. In this interpretation, the ‘thousand’ years are understood symbolically. The thousand years stand for the time Christ would reign through the Church-from the time of His first coming to the time of His Second Coming. Satan is restrained- the power of the sacraments administered by the Church hold him at bay. The first resurrection –the one prior to the final resurrection at the end of time- refers to the saints being taken up to God. At the end of time there will be a final confrontation between the Lord and the devil, wherein God will crush Satan once and for all. This view is well attested to in the Fathers of the Church.”
The key in Revelation 20 is the same key given to Peter in Matthew 16 and is the power of the sacraments. And the Church will reign until the fullness of time.
With correct context and the help of the “pillar and bulwark of the truth” we can correctly interpret the book of Revelation as teaching about what was, and is, and is to come. (Interesting… Jesus was, and is, and is to come.) That is, the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, Jesus in the Eucharist, and the final days of tribulation before Jesus’ Triumphant second coming that EVERYONE will see. Revelation is clearly NOT about an antichrist and the rapture that Hal Lindsey wrote about in the 1970’s. His predictions did not come to pass and there is NO mention of the antichrist or rapture in the book of Revelations.
Now my second example of Jesus’ body and blood has always been understood in the Church as His True Presence. Our faith is rich indeed. I challenge you to look at the Churches teachings and understandings of scripture. I dare say it will give you a true relationship with Jesus. Because what do we do with someone we don’t understand? For me I avoid that person and spend less time with them. And what do we do with someone who we believe lies to us? For me I keep them at arms length. I do NOT let them into my heart.
We have an abundance of resources to use. The Catechism of the Catholic Church can be found online for free. The Lighthouse Catholic Media app has, under related content; many free audio downloads of scripture teachings from greats like Scott Hahn, Brant Pitre and more. Another favorite of mine is the Institute of Catholic Culture that has 100’s of hours of free audio bible study.