Your friend, the reader, pauses and clears his throat. He asks for a drink. The room is silent. Even if it weren’t you are so excited you know you hear your heart beating. Everyone is excited. This letter…these are words you’ve never heard before. The ideas are familiar but hearing them now they seem fresh and new; both to your Jewish ears and your Christian heart. And though your pulse pounds, the adrenaline flowing through your veins contains not one drop of fear. Not like when you first came into the house.
You’d barely escaped them, the “Dagger Men”. The most radical group of the Ka-na-im, they were called the Sicarii because they all carried the assassin’s blade and used it often. The leader’s of the insurgency were all Sicarii. They were determined every soul in Jerusalem would be converted to their cause or die by their knives. In just a few months from now they would poison the food supply of the whole city in order to compel more of the citizenry to unite with them to repel the 60,000 soldiers sent to avenge the massacres in Jerusalem, but now they were concentrating on you and bringing you into their fold. If it hadn’t been for a more tempting target…a handful of young Hebrew men not yet 20 who were just then passing by…you wouldn’t have been able to slip their company and make it breathless into the fellowship of your friend’s home. Your head was burning when you sat down cross legged on the already crowded floor and the acid in your stomach nearly ate its’ way through both your tunic and your cloak. But as your friend began to read this letter you felt the familiar calm take control of you. Your pulse never slowed, it may have even sped up a click or two. Still, the calm that has been your comfort ever since that first time your friend told you the story of Jesus and you listened, really listened for a change; that calm changed the acid to warm honey and your burning brow to a cool smile.
Your question leaps out of you as your friend swallows his water.
“Why does it say the “Last Days”?”
“Sorry, Ishmael? What was that?” you are known for blurting out whatever you’re thinking and your friend is accustomed to having you repeat what’s on your mind. You think it’s because his hearing is not so good. The truth is it’s an old trick of his. In the time that it takes you to repeat yourself he has had the time to consider his own response.
“It said the Father spoke to us in the past through the prophets, but in these last days he speaks through the Son. Why does he say the “Last Days”?
Smiling, your friend clears his throat and nearly chuckles, “Three decades ago when I was baptized…in the Mikva’ot at the foot of the Temple steps…those were my thoughts, too. The sermon quoted Joel saying, ‘ in the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people’. That was Peter’s sermon, that first day; the day of Pentecost not two months after the Awful Day…, ” your friend pauses as most Christians his age always do when they remember the crucifixion of the Lord, “…the thing that struck me in his sermon was that it was time. I should not wait another second. I had crucified the Lord with my own sins and He had paid the price for it all. These were the last days and I needed to repent.”
Your friend, the reader, now straightens his shoulders and takes on that look in his eyes that always makes him appear to be years younger and set on fire. You’ve seen him do it so many times. The friendly brother becomes the Teacher of God. With head held high and with great solemnity he says, “We have been living in the Last Days for over three decades now. In all of man’s history only three dispensations have occurred. All of man’s time can be divided in this way: from Adam to Moses the Father spoke through the heads of families. From Moses to the Cross the Father spoke through the Law given on Mt. Sinai. And from the Cross to now, the last days, the Father has spoken once and for all through his Son.”
Looking back at the letter in his hand he says, “I like this already. This letter begins with the most important fact of life stated first…that the Son, our Lord, is supreme. He is the appointed heir of all things, and through Him the Father made the universe. We have heard John Zebedee say that many times, ‘without Jesus nothing that was made, was made’.”
Your friend pauses again smiling at the thought of old apostle John’s way with words and another person in the room who has trouble not blurting out whatever he’s thinking says instantly, “I miss John Zebedee.”
“I do, too, ” your friend says, ” Yes, I do.” And in these words is conveyed an unspoken knowledge of loss among this small band of believers; Peter is dead, as is his wife and many others. Paul is dead, gone on to what he often said was the better of two choices. And John was sent into exile by Nero himself. Yes, he missed John Zebedee, too.
“But we shall all be reunited some day. Ultimately, that’s what this letter is saying, in so many words. ‘The radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being’…remember the story of Moses glowing after being in the presence of the Father? And then our Lord, glowing in radiance with Moses and Elijah on the mount? If I snuff out this little lamp shining here before me we would strain to see one another. But in its’ glow we see each other so well. Our Lord was killed, snuffed out, but then came the miracle. He arose and even now glows so that we can see in the darkest of days, the darkest of Last Days. He is the radiance of our Father. Before He showed us the way in the dark, we feared even imagining what the Father might be in all His awful power and glory, as though our Father was cloaked in shadows. In our dark hearts maybe He was. But then, along comes His Son who in love lives for us and dies for us. He embraced us, walked and talked and lived with us. He even cooked fish for his friends. When we see Him we see the exact representation of what the Father is truly like. And this letter is like every other word associated with our Lord. Powerful, meaningful. Life sustaining. So, Ishmael, do not worry about the Dagger Men in the streets.”
You are caught off guard by this direct statement from your friend. It’s not the first time you have felt like your secret thoughts were exposed somehow whenever you sat in this assembly; the reader seemed to always say what was really on your heart.
“One day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day….I have been living in the Last Days for thirty years. And these last days may go on for another hundred or even a thousand years.” He had no way of knowing that in the next short years the Temple would be destroyed, the Ka-na-im slaughtered and the Sicarii would retreat to Masada. Or that two thousand years later the letter he was now reading would be read by disciples who had persevered through the millenia. He waves the letter at the room, “No, don’t be afraid of Sicarii, or any Ka-na-im, or Roman soldiers, or emperors. They come and they go. Neither zealot’s dagger nor caesar’s sword can harm us for long. For our Lord (he holds the letter up to his eyes and reads again) ‘provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.”
And before you could stop your tongue you heard your own, compulsive voice say, “What’s all this about the angels?”
…to be continued…