“John the Elder” – who was he? Clearly, from the context, it was John, the Apostle, the “Disciple that Jesus Loved”. In both these short letters he styles himself as “The Elder”. This one is probably to a church in western (modern-day) Turkey, in which John had a pastoral role, in addition to his apostolic ministry. Peter did exactly the same (see 1 Peter 5:1).
He wrote to a good friend – either one of his own disciples or someone he had pastoral care over. Gaius was a Roman name – therefore probably a gentile – and was clearly making his spiritual father very proud in the way he faithfully walked with Jesus and held tightly to the truth. In fact, John appears to equate Jesus with ‘The Truth’ throughout these letters (see v12b).
One of the good works that Gaius did was hospitality, a basic necessity for all believers, but doubly necessary in that situation that John was describing. A team of missionaries had evidently travelled from John’s home church to Gaius’ town in an attempt to evangelise his district. They needed somewhere to stay, and Gaius was delighted to provide them with food and shelter, realising that he was serving Christ and furthering the gospel by doing this.
There were probably no hotels, in any case, and there was no point in expecting the pagans to show hospitality. However, normally the nearby local church would have done the decent thing and put them up – but this was no normal local church because of its lead elder, Diotrephes. The man was running the church as a dictatorship and was clearly threatened by any kind of outside ministry, particularly if it promised to be more effective than his own. He would have made that local church ‘reclusive’ with no connection with any others – probably on the pretext of ‘doctrinal purity’ and to avoid ‘contamination’. Other church leaders were slandered and regarded as substandard or ‘liberal’.
He had such a tight grip on his flock that anyone who mixed with outside believers or gave them shelter was immediately evicted from the church community. It would appear that Gaius had already suffered that fate! It must have saddened the heart of Jesus to see a particular ‘flock’ isolated and harshly treated by a leader who had to be so right that he was dead right! You wondered why they put up with him!
Demetrius may have been the postman for John’s letter and, as another person who had come under John’s care, was a good man, loved by all. One of the key aspects of good shepherding is a generous spirit – not rushing to self-defence or self-justification – and John had generosity in abundance! He was clearly a man who loved human company and sought out face to face conversations.
He sends his friend Gaius a parting gift: “Peace to you!”. Coming from the “Disciple that Jesus Loved”, this was quite some blessing.
ZECHARIAH 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7
What do you make of flying scrolls, multi-coloured horses pulling chariots, God’s Branch, a golden candelabra connected to a couple of olive trees by golden pipes, guys in turbans changing their gear, and angels running around cities with tape measures? If your name is Zechariah (‘The Lord Remembers’) then this is all in an average day’s work – in fact, eight visions in one evening – and you take it in your stride!
Zechariah was a contemporary of Haggai and his main prophetic message was to encourage the Jews returning from exile to (a) Return to the Lord too; and (b) Get moving with the temple-building programme. “Return to me and I will return to you – declares the Lord”.
First, Zechariah encounters The Angel of the Lord – a code name for the pre-incarnate Jesus himself – standing in a ravine among some trees with a collection of red, brown, and white horses around him. Confusingly, another angel (on a lower pay grade!) was standing next to Zechariah, interpreting his visions for him. The Angel of the Lord called out to Almighty God on his throne and interceded for mercy for Judah; the response was that Jerusalem would indeed be shown mercy and would be rebuilt and ‘overflow’ with prosperity. The fierce nations that had scattered God’s people – these nations represented by four bronze horns – were probably Assyria, Egypt, Babylonia, and Persia.
A man with a measuring line was then asked to measure Jerusalem and immediately the city was declared to be too small; it will now be ”without walls”, to enable such a great number of redeemed people to live within it. Walls mean protection, but their absence does not matter, since God himself will be their protection: a ”wall of fire around it” – and ”their glory within”! (2:5). Immigration will feature heavily, since “…many nations will be joined with the Lord in that day and become my people. I will live among you…”. This will be a fulfilment of the promise made to Abraham in Genesis 12:3.
Joshua the high priest features in the next vision; as a priest he represents the people to God. In the vision, Satan – whose Hebrew name means ‘accuser’ – was standing right next to him…accusing! There may have been grounds for this, since we see that Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes – smelly, distasteful, and disgusting – which represented the sin of Judah. But God removed those rags and replaced them with fine new clean garments, also putting a clean turban upon Joshua’s head. This all symbolised the redemption that Jesus has brought to his people: “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (Hebrews 9:14). Zechariah 3:9 says: “I will remove the sin of this land in a single day”.
The Jews then – and the people of God today – are reminded of the source of their power. A solid gold candelabra had a large reservoir at the top of it, with its ‘lights’ feeding from that oil. But the source of oil was not just that, there were two olive trees nearby piping the oil to the candelabra. These trees represent the anointed priest and king of Judah, both sources of unlimited oil in them. Oil represents the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the meaning is perhaps that God’s Holy Spirit, seen in our lives and in the lives of many Christian ministries, provides the fuel and the light for all our lives. We ourselves might also be represented by those olive trees – sinking our roots into God to source a constant and sustainable flow of oil for life and ministry!
In chapter 6, the four chariots had horses of four different colours. Interestingly, these colours are also seen in the horses of Revelation 6 (see my interpretation of that passage too, when it is published). These pairs of horses were sent in four different directions – perhaps symbolic of the gospel or of judgment from God to the ends of the earth.
Finally, the man whose name is “the Branch” (the Messiah) will be the one truly to build the temple of the Lord. And then he will rule in majesty, as a priest and as a king on his throne. From that time on, there will be harmony again between the priesthood and the king. Jesus says to us: “I will build my church” and he is indeed doing that today. The prophets Haggai and Zechariah would encourage us to leave our own isolated dwellings and, working alongside the true King, to help build that ‘temple’.