Studying God’s Word

Acts 5:27-32, 40b-41
Revelation 5:11-14
John 21:1-19 [48C]
The long Gospel reading for the Third Sunday of Easter ends with the resurrected Jesus saying to Simon Peter, “Follow me.” Jesus’ divine directive to his followers before and after his resurrection remained consistent: in the midst of everyday struggles, “follow me.”
The first reading is from the Acts of the Apostles. In the storyline, immediately following Luke’s report of the apostles’ remarkable success at evangelization (Acts 5:12-16, heard last Sunday), the religious leaders of Jerusalem publicly arrested Peter and the apostles and put them on trial for disobeying the Sanhedrin’s direct orders not to preach about the resurrected Jesus in the streets of Jerusalem. Today’s reading is an abbreviated version of the entire trial narrative from Acts 5:17-42. Luke’s main point comes through even in this brief excerpt: Peter and the apostles boldly proclaimed Jesus as the crucified and resurrected Messiah, despite the threat of torture and imprisonment. As followers of Christ, they followed their conscience and gave witness to the truth of what they experienced in Jesus resurrected from the dead: “We must obey God rather than men.” The reading ends with Luke commenting that the apostles were “rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.” Within the larger narrative of Acts 5:17-42, we are told that the apostles were actually “flogged” for their public witness to Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 5:40a). A public flogging, which included being stripped naked and severely whipped, was meant to shame and torture prisoners into submission. The apostles’ courageous witness to Jesus’ death and resurrection should not be underestimated. 
As we continue to hear from the Revelation of John for our second reading, some background to this writing is helpful. John’s theology in Revelation is shaped by his apocalyptic worldview. For John, the world was soon to be the site of a cosmic battle between good and evil, with God in ultimate control of the battle and its outcome. In the present (around AD 90–110), John would maintain that he and the seven churches of Asia Minor to which he writes live in a time of crisis and anticipation. According to Revelation 2–3, they face significant challenges ranging from persecution by outsiders to the presence of false Christian teachers (rival leaders) and disillusioned believers within their communities. Most significantly, they will face an unprecedented level of persecution by the forces of evil operative in and throughout the Roman Empire. Throughout Revelation, John weaves together a message of encouragement and a stern warning for beleaguered believers who may be tempted to compromise their faith.
Today’s reading is the ending of John’s initial vision of heaven, Revelation 4:1—5:14. In this vision, John sees God seated on a throne. Surrounding God are twenty-four “elders” on their thrones and “four living creatures,” all of whom sing praises and glory to God. John sees God holding a sealed scroll whose contents only Jesus, depicted as the slain and resurrected “Lamb,” can reveal. (The scroll is thought to contain God’s plan for salvation.) In the Revelation of John, the dominant image of Christ is that of the “lamb” of God; John uses it twenty-eight times as a title for Jesus. All those in heaven, including “countless” angels, worship and offer praise to God and Jesus for they know God and the resurrected Christ control and command salvation history.
The Gospel reading is the final Resurrection appearance of Jesus in John. Its focus is primarily on Peter who is forced to come to terms with his human failings in light of his faith in Jesus. Peter’s struggle mirrors our own journey as people of faith in the resurrected Christ.
Dr. Daniel J. Scholz