Wednesday, December 28, 2016
I will be teaching a Sunday school class series at my church, Christ Presbyterian Church, 495 Terrell Mill Road SE, Marietta, GA 30067, starting January 8. It will be at 10 AM each Sunday morning for 12 weeks. I will publish the class notes here each Wednesday prior to the Sunday class.
Posted by Earl Flask at 12/28/2016 10:23:00 AM
Sunday, December 25, 2016
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:1-5, ESV)
The end of the Bible, the end of Revelation, takes us back to the very beginning again, to the Garden in Eden. In many ways, the Garden in Eden was a temple, and Adam was the first priest who had direct access to God. The tabernacle and the temples built afterward had garden motifs, trees in its furnishings, reminding of the paradise of God. The temple also modeled the night sky with stars, pointing to how God inhabited his creation. All that pointed to a time in the future when we would directly see God and his creation unspoiled.
Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden. They were prevented access to the Tree of Life. In the new heavens and earth, the Garden is recreated and the Tree of Life is present, and it provides healing for the nations. The bitterness, war, strife between nations will be healed through these trees.
Before Adam's fall, God gave Adam the charge to subdue the earth. This was a spiritual charge as much as a physical command. The Garden only existed in on spot in Eden. The Garden was to grow to cover all of Eden, and all of the earth was to be brought under the dominion of God's image bearers. The human race could not do it, but God will.
Paul tells us in Romans 8 that all of creation awaits its redemption. Randy Alcorn has opened my eyes to the possibility of some of the amazing things that might be in the new creation. This is speculative, but imagine having a conversation with the author of the book of Hebrews while you each ride the backs of Brontosaurs. Far fetched? Perhaps, but maybe not. His book, Heaven, is an interesting book to read. He pulls thoughts from many theologians, many from my own Reformed tradition, and others. Another excellent read on the Garden of Eden and the temple in Revelation is G.K. Beal's book, The Temple and the Church's Mission. A short audio summary is found here.
The new heaven and earth is going to be a fascinating place, a place filled with joy, delighting in God and his creation.
This concludes the advent series on Revelation. Merry Christmas!
Posted by Earl Flask at 12/25/2016 12:00:00 AM
Saturday, December 24, 2016
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4, ESV)
We come to the goal of God's work in the history of redemption. God's dwelling is with the human race and we are fully his people.
Lots of images portray this. This are varying schools of thought on how literal these images will be. Revelation 21 tells of Jerusalem descending from heaven onto earth -- Jerusalem the shape of a cube that is 12,000 stadia in length, width, and depth. This translates to a 1,380 by 1,380 by 1,380 mile cube. Certainly this new Jerusalem is possible with God and would provide plenty of living space for all of humanity. But the number of 12,000 looks to be indicative of symbolism. There is 12 for the apostles and the tribes of Israel, and the factor of 1000 for the millennial rule and is a large ancient number. Personally, I think this is a symbolic description of Jerusalem indicating it is a huge place for God's people. In fact, it is so big that Revelation seems to imply it fills the entire dimension or span of God's new heaven and earth. Revelation 21 says that outside of the New Jerusalem "are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood." Since all of these evil people have been banished to another dimension described as the lake of fire, it implies that Jerusalem fills all of the new creation.
The shape of the New Jerusalem is a cube -- which is the shape of the Holy of Holies in the temple. The New Jerusalem, which encompasses the whole of the new creation, is God's temple. However, John says he "saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb." Also, in another sense, all of God's people are the temple, for they were measured into God's temple earlier in Revelation.
We will not lose our identity in God's new heaven and earth. We will be identified by our nationalities, because in God's light "will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, ... they will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations." In this new creation we will find our true identity, the best of all done on earth will come into the new creation and be made infinitely better.
I have enjoyed traveling to many places in the world and always enjoy the rich, diverse culture, sights, smells, and tastes. That will come through in perfection in the new creation, to the glory of God and our great delight. The new heaven and earth will not be a boring place. We will find wonderful things to explore, work that is enriching, rewarding . It is going to be incredible beyond our fondest dreams for all those who are in Christ. It will be better than the best Christmas every moment of our lives there -- forever.
Posted by Earl Flask at 12/24/2016 12:00:00 AM
Friday, December 23, 2016
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:11-15, ESV)
This passage in Revelation echoes back to the sixth seal:
The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. (Revelation 6:14, ESV)
Revelation 20 amplifies the final judgment spoken of earlier and fills in some of the details. All people will stand before God in judgment. There are two sets of books. The first set contains the record of everyone's activities, good and bad. We know that if anyone were to try to justify their right to enter heaven based on their activities, they will be found wanting. The Apostle Paul tells us in very strong language:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
“Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood;
in their paths are ruin and misery,
and the way of peace they have not known.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
(Romans 3:10-18, ESV)
You might say, that doesn't describe me. However, this is the Bible's description of all of us in our natural condition. We all have sinned. While we may not physically shed blood, there are times we cut down other people in our thoughts and words, which is shedding their blood, diminishing those people. And from this description of each person, sin from God's perspective is very heinous and serious. It is so serious that if we are judged only by the first set of books, we face eternal punishment which is described as being cast into the lake of fire. The only way to not be judged by the first set of books is to have your name written in the other book, the book of life. All who recognize their sin, their need of Christ's death to pay for their sin, and who cling to Christ, they will have their names written in the book of life.
For those whose names are written in the book of life they have the rest of Revelation to look forward to. The next two entries will briefly look at that.
Posted by Earl Flask at 12/23/2016 12:00:00 AM
Thursday, December 22, 2016
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to 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, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while. (Revelation 20:1-3, ESV)
Revelation 20 is the great dividing point for interpreters of Revelation. Many believe this passage refers to the period after the second coming of Christ. The reason is that this vision, they would argue, follows in time sequence, the visions of chapter 19. In this view, Satan is not completely defeated, but is bound for a thousand years and is released at the end of the one-thousand years for a great war against Christ and the saints.
A second view is that this passage is a retelling of the history from the time of Christ's ascension into heaven, nearly two-thousand years ago, to the time when Christ will return again in the future.
By far the most popular view for Christians, at least in the United States, is the first view. I hold to the second view for several reasons. First, I see that Revelation has already presented the visions in cycles of retelling, recapitulation, or overlays of visions on the same period of history. Each overlay presents another view of the period of history between Christ's first advent to his second coming. Secondly, there is a complete destruction of the armies in Revelation 19. There does not appear to be anyone left to destroy again, or any seeds left to sprout into those to be destroyed again. Thirdly, in the bowls judgment cycle, a loud voice from the thrown cries out "it is done" at the seventh seal. Another period of a thousand year period which concludes with more fighting of Satan would mean the judgments were not done with the seventh bowl. Fourthly, numbers in Revelation have symbolic meaning just as other symbols in Revelation. The millennium speaks of the mightily reign of Christ and his church. The gospel has gone throughout the world and Satan could not stop it. Finally, I think the rest of scripture presents a clear picture that all of redemptive history completes with Christ's second coming. If we did not have Revelation 20, there would be no speculation about a millennium after Christ's return where there would be a great battle at the end of the millennium.
But those of the first view might ask, If the millennium is now, how was Satan bound? The answer comes from Jesus. He told the Pharisees in Matthew 12:24-29 that he does his work because he has bound the strong man Satan. period Christ also spoke of Satan falling in Luke 10:17-19 when the seventy-two disciples excitedly reported back after Jesus had sent them out ahead of them.
This binding of Satan relates the the gospel going forth to all the nations. Before Christ's first advent, the people who responded to God were largely the Israelites and the Jews. Since Christ's advent, the gospel is going to all the nations.
So, what does this have to do with us? We live in the millennial period where the kingdom of God is spreading to all the nations and people groups. God is powerfully at work. Since we live in the period of God extending his kingdom, we can have the joy of taking part in this. This is not a time to hang back, but a time to celebrate God's millennial rule by participating in it.
Posted by Earl Flask at 12/22/2016 12:00:00 AM
Wednesday, December 21, 2016
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure”—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. (Revelation 19:6-8, ESV)
Revelation 19 and 20 presents six snapshots:
- Rejoicing in heaven over the fall of Babylon.
- The marriage supper of the Lamb.
- The last great battle.
- A recapitulation of history from Christ's ascension to second coming, expressed as 1000 years.
- The defeat of Satan.
- The final judgement.
The saints in heaven rejoice over Babylon's fall. These were the ones under the alter in Revelation 6 who cried out how long will it be before God avenges them. The fall of Babylon, along with Christ's second coming and the marriage feast of the Lamb, are God's answer to their prayers. All believers who face persecution and hardship can look forward to the fall of the corrupt, evil systems of this world and to Christ's return. This vision has given strength to millions of Christians throughout the ages when they could not fight back, and allows others who can fight to yield their desire for vengeance to God, who is the one that will set everything aright.
The marriage feast in Revelation 19:6-10 shows the great celebration of Christ's return. Christ's church will be consummated in marriage to Christ.
The last part of the Revelation 19 depicts the final battle. The sea beast (referred to as the beast) and the earth beast (referred to as the false prophet) are defeated.
We are entering the glorious part of Revelation, where Christ's second advent will usher in the new heaven and the new earth. All evil will be defeated. A party unlike all others will erupt in heaven and come to earth. All the suffering, no matter how great, will pale to the celebration that follows.
As the angel says: "Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb." Don't miss out on this. Come to Christ. Those who are already in Christ, we have a lot to look forward to. As we celebrate Christ's first advent, let us also remember
Posted by Earl Flask at 12/21/2016 12:00:00 AM
Tuesday, December 20, 2016
After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was made bright with his glory. And he called out with a mighty voice,
“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!(Revelation 18:1-3, ESV)
She has become a dwelling place for demons,
a haunt for every unclean spirit,
a haunt for every unclean bird,
a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast.
For all nations have drunk
the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality,
and the kings of the earth have committed immorality with her,
and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living.”
When John wrote Revelation, Babylon was exemplified by Rome. Rome was the commercial power center of the world, was Rome. Rome was rotting at the core and would topple a few centuries later. Other Babylons arose throughout the ages, and they too will fall. The church must not be wedded to the Babylons of its age.
Let me give an example of the church being wedded to strongly with the culture. What isn't too well known is that Christianity spread to China during the T'ang dynasty (618 - 907 AD). One of the Christian communities got official recognition from the ruling authorities. However, in the 800s, the T'ang dynasty was in serious decline. When it fell, Christianity in China was virtually extinguished. The church in China had become so entangled with the ruling party the when the dynasty vanished, the church vanished too.
As great as my country is, the United States, there are many Christians and churches that are too closely wedded to it. There are two polar opposites we need to tread carefully. One is shunning all contact with the culture and the world so that the church does not engage with Christians in any meaningful way. The other is that the church so identifies with the culture it loses being a church at all. The church is to be in the world but not wedded to the world. The world as we know it, the civilizations will perish. We need to be apart from the Babylons of this world
Posted by Earl Flask at 12/20/2016 12:00:00 AM
Monday, December 19, 2016
And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth's abominations.” And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. (Revelation 17:1-6, ESV)
This is one of the most disturbing pictures to me in the book of Revelation.
I live in a country and time where I do not face persecution for my belief in Christ. Oh, there is a little mild inconveniences. People will look at me strangely if I tell them I am a Christian and that other people who do not believe in Christ face hell. Even someone commenting on one of the blog entries in this series said I was a bigot. Those kinds of things are not persecution -- just some oddities.
There are some in this country that face stiffer persecution. I think of florists, bakers, and photographers who cannot in good conscience provide their services for same sex weddings, who face ruinous fines and sanctions. Freedom of religion is eroding in the United States.
There are other Christians in other countries that face real persecution that includes enslavement, rape, taking away families, and death for being a Christian.
Where I live, life is comfortable. I am easily seduced with the comforts of life. I'd like a big computer for Christmas (that won't happen), games to spend lots of time on. I want to keep the comforts of a lifestyle of pleasure. Giving up time to pray, to study the Bible, to spend time with the friendless, those who need encouragement, even my family, well, it is easy for me to put those aside. In other words, I find the whore of Babylon altogether too appealing. That is why I find this vision disturbing -- very disturbing. This vision is a warning to me and people like me. In fact, God warns us:
“Come out of her, my people,
lest you take part in her sins,
lest you share in her plagues”
(Revelation 18:4, ESV)
The whore of Babylon is very beautiful. The description in Revelation tells how she is dressed beautifully, with fine clothes, rich accessories. She carries a exquisite golden cup. She is winking at you, at me. She is enticing. But she is drunk -- drunk on the blood of the saints.
The whore rides on top of the beast, the sea beast, who have great military might. They have an alliance -- but not a happy alliance. Ironically, the beast will destroy Babylon the whore. Those who profit from her will morn over her -- for the money and wealth they loose at her demise.
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21, ESV)
Take your delight in Christ. Seek Christ's kingdom above all else. John Piper stated this principle well when he said: "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him."
Take your full delight in God rather than the pleasures of this world. In pursuing God, you will find your heart's content.
Sunday, December 18, 2016
After this I looked, and the sanctuary of the tent of witness in heaven was opened, and out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, clothed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes around their chests. And one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever, and the sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished. (Revelation 15:5-8, ESV)
I am skipping ahead. I cannot cover all of Revelation before Christmas. Chapter 14 is an interlude with a vision of heaven with the 144,000, the announcement of the destruction of a yet to be introduced player in the tribulation, Babylon the harlot, the harvest of the Christians from the earth (the grain harvest) and the nonbelievers (the grape harvest). Following this are the final judgments God pours though his angels carrying the bowls onto the unrepentant dwellers of the earth. The previous cycles of the seals and the trumpets had a warning element to them, calling for repentance. With the conclusion of the bowls, God's wrath is finished. Some interpreters see the bowls are the final act of judgment just prior to Christ's return. Others see this as the final act of judgment on individuals throughout history. Whatever the case, it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, to quote Hebrews. As Paul reminds us, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
When troubles, illness, disaster come out way, we can have several reactions. The first is to be angry at the unfairness of it all, to move away from God, to hate anyone who could permit such a thing to happen. Another response is to see God's warning, that you do not control your life, that indeed you are a sinner in need of God and come running to him.
Those who flee to Christ and depend on him will not be disappointed.
Saturday, December 17, 2016
Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. (Revelation 13:11-12, ESV)
The dragon (Satan) brings up the third creature of the unholy trinity, the earth beast, who is later known as the false prophet. The earth beast counterfeits the work of John the Baptist and the prophets that speak in power through the Holy Spirit. He directs worship to the sea beast through counterfeit miracles.
God's people are marked with a seal. The beast has his own mark, the mark of the beast. It is described in Revelation as the number of a man, 666. Personally I have been curious about this number. For the first audience of Revelation, the seven churches in Asia Minor, whether Revelation was written around 90 AD (the earliest written traditions say so, and it thought so by most scholars), or written before 70 AD (a popular idea among others that study Revelation), it is very possible they thought of Emperor Nero, because of some popular ways of playing with the letters of people's names and adding up the letter values. Nero and other later Roman emperors demanded worship. The cultic emperor worship fit as a prototype for the earth beast described in Revelation. In any case, those who serve the beast take on his mark.
What is the mark like when it is applied to people? Just as the mark of God (his seal) on his people is invisible, so probably is the mark of the beast is invisible. This mark allows people to do commerce and it could take various forms throughout history. For those who crave material comfort, they can become slaves to personal credit debt. The number could be symbolized by their credit score, or credit card account numbers. As in the previous blog entry,
I think people need to think outside of the typical parameters in popular discussions, sermons, and novels on end-times. We need to ask the question, what do I desire, crave? Is it a nice home that I can't afford? New cars? Gadgets? Games? Sports? Do I control my spending, or does my spending control me? Am I tithing? Am I going beyond the tithe? If not, why not? Do I live a lifestyle that prevents me from giving to God and others? These questions can give insights to where your real treasure is.
The earth beast also has a religious tone to it. During the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church oppressed and persecuted Protestant Reformers. Martin Luther and others saw the Church of Rome as the beast. Any religion that draws people away from Christ is a form of the beast. This includes popular "civil" religion which claims that all the religious faiths of the world worship the same God, that there are multiple paths to God and heaven. This thought is the work of the earth beast, the false prophet. Groups and churches that pervert the gospel are used by the beast. Health and wealth churches have sprung up all over. Religious cults are growing, such as Scientology. All of these are forms of the earth beast.
Economics and religion -- used by the earth beast to entrap and enslave those outside of Christ. Am I saying that credit cards, Visa, Master Card are the beast? They have beast-like features that draw people to become slaves to debt. Much of their advertising is deceptive. Using credit does not give freedom, it enslaves many people. Are we to flee all credit? Not necessarily, but you need to see the snares of it. Being debt free grants a freedom that those piled under debt don't realize.
Are we to avoid dealing with false religions? Can we cooperate with common issues? For instance, the Mormon church and Roman Catholicism oppose aborting unborn infants. Can we work in cooperation with them? Yes, but recognize the entanglements and compromises.
Currently within conservative American presidential politics, some conservatives are defining tolerance to mean accepting all faiths as being valid to worshiping God. First, this isn't logically possible because these faiths have major inconsistent beliefs about God. They all cannot be valid ways of worshiping God. Further, accepting the premise that all religions are valid ways to worship God denies the words of Christ, that he is the only way to God.
This brief examination of Revelation 13 shows a major weakness with popular views that the beast is only something that happens immediately prior to Christ's second coming. Such teaching closes our eyes to the activity of the beast now. Does this mean there will be no intensification of the beast just prior to the return of Christ? No, there probably will be an outbreak of intense evil just before Christ's return, with a virulent form of the beast. But we should not close our eyes to the activity of the beast today.
Believers need to be alert today for the activity of Satan and his beasts. We cannot be complacent or side into deceptive teaching. John provides a glimpse into the deep battles going on. Satan has been defeated and soon faces destruction. Satan is furious over his defeat and is taking it out on the people of God. With these insights, believers, being strengthened and kept by God, can persevere through Satan's worst, whether it is a direct onslaught of persecution, or more subtle forms of deceptive teaching or
Friday, December 16, 2016
And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear's, and its mouth was like a lion's mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority. One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” (Revelation 13:1-4, ESV)
The one God we worship is three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the previous entry I mentioned how Satan counterfeits God in trying to emulate knowledge, power and authority. Satan also has fashioned a counterfeit trinity. There is Satan who counterfeits the Father, and in this passage we see Satan giving rise to the beast from the sea, the second of his perverted trinity.
At the end of chapter 12, the dragon stands on the sand of the sea. The sea, for ancient Israel, was a place of unrest and evil. The sand in the Old Testament is used to describe the descendants of Abraham. Satan is claiming lordship over all the peoples of the earth.
The beast the coming out of the sea is the image of the dragon, Satan. The sea beast (to distinguish it from the beast that comes out of the earth), has seven heads and ten horns. Instead of seven crowns that the dragon has (one for each head), the beast has ten crowns, one for each horn. The beast mimics the Son of God in that one of his heads has a fatal wound that was healed, mimicking the death and resurrection of Jesus.
The beast is an amalgam of four creatures from the book of Daniel, that represented four empires, the last being Rome. The amalgam indicates the universal nature of the sea beast. The beast has authority for 42 months, the symbolic timespan from Christ's resurrection until the time of intense evil just before Christ second coming (as seen with the two witnesses in Revelation 11). The people of the earth who do not belong to God worship the beast.
The sea beast represents oppressive power throughout the time between the two advents of Christ. At the time Revelation was written, the oppressive power was Rome. Later we will see allusions to Rome and possibly Nero. In fact, it is quote possible that one example of the fatal wound that was healed was the turmoil in Rome in the events surrounding the suicide of Emperor Nero. Rome was rife with rumors of revolution and upheaval during the years immediately after Nero's death. With Domitian, stability returned to the empire. In history, other oppressive regimes had periods of near demise followed by seemingly miraculous recovery. Examples in the twentieth century include the Soviet Union, where during the Russian revolution of 1917, the communist movement looked like it faced extermination but survived and grew, and the Communist Chinese revolution that appeared to die and then come back to life to take over China.
The sea beast can show up in many guises. There are the obvious political and military oppressive governments that persecute and suppress Christians. Islamic countries are examples of those. It can take subtler forms. It can take the form of governments usurping the authority of families in raising their children in the nurture of the Christian faith. This includes western democracies that prevent parents from homeschooling their children. Germany is one country where Christian families cannot homeschool. In the United States, various states and school districts can make homeschooling difficult and cumbersome.
Public schools are a powerful means by which the state indoctrinates its children and subjects. I am not saying Christians should not send their children to public schools. But Christian parents need to be aware that indoctrination takes place there that is not necessarily friendly to Christ.
I raise the homeschooling example not as the prime example of the beast at work today, but to get us thinking outside the usual categories concerning the beast that many Christians have. The beast is not just some outrageous power in a future seven year tribulation in The Left Behind series. The beast include powers operating today, around us, that coerce us away from Christ.
We are to watch and persevere. As we look in upcoming passages in Revelation on the earth beast and the harlot, we will see other ways in which Satan is working today. This will guide us in resisting Satan and persevering.
Thursday, December 15, 2016
And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days. (Revelation 12:1-6, ESV)
Revelation 12 presents another overlay of history. This overlay unmasks the deep questions of what is behind history. Why the conflict on earth? Why is there persecution? Revelation 12 gives a glimpse of the deep conflict. Things in this world are not just the battles of politics, corporate greed, war among nations, or terrorism. The conflict is the war of Satan and his demons against God, God's angels, and God's people.
As I keep rereading Revelation, I am drawn by its imagery. The Holy Spirit working through John gives us the most striking, subtle, and deep imagery in all of world literature. Revelation 12 announces this is a great sign. The sign opens with a woman. Not any woman. This is a beautiful woman, robed with the dazzling radiance of the sun. She is standing on the moon; she wears a crown of twelve stars. The stars allude to the Old Testament of Old Covenant Israel. But the woman is pregnant, and not just pregnant, she is in the pangs of labor. Her child is the one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron -- the messiah, Jesus Christ. Thus now the woman appears to be Mary. But as we read further, the woman also appears to be the church. Who is she? Israel, Mary, or the church? I think the woman is all of these. That's one of the things I like about the subtlety of Revelation. Revelation paints a breathtaking picture of the woman. In this painting there is the Old Covenant Israel, but the strokes also reveal Mary, and other strokes also reveal the church. The painting shows her to be the mother of Christ and also the mother of all who believe in Christ, and yet some other strokes she is all of God's people.
Another sign is the dragon. As beautiful is the woman, the dragon is ugly. He is red, misshapened with seven heads and ten horns. He is a counterfeit of God. His seven heads of cunning counterfeits God's wisdom and omniscience. His ten horns of power counterfeits God's omnipotence. The dragon's seven crowns counterfeits God authority. The dragon's power to sweep away a third of the stars is impressive, but it isn't comprehensive. The dragon is trying to destroy the Messiah. Who is the dragon? He is identified as Satan, the old serpent -- indicating Satan has been battling God's people since the Garden of Eden. Satan fails to devour Christ. When Satan looses the battle with Christ, he is goes to war with the woman and she flees to the wilderness. We see again the number of 1,260 days, the period of the woman's tribulation and simultaneous protection by God. As multifaceted is the imagery of the woman, so is this 1,260 days in the wilderness. It is protection of Mary from Herod who tried to kill Jesus. It is the protection of the church from Satan after Christ's ascension into heaven until the consummation of history with Christ's return.
Revelation 12 also recasts this war of the dragon with the woman with the war in heaven of with Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. Satan is cast out of heaven. He now cannot accuse God's people in heaven like he did with Job. Christ's resurrection and ascension threw Satan out of heaven.
But Satan still continues to make war against God's people. Revelation 12 shows him vomiting water out of his mouth -- trying to drown the faith of the church with deceptive teaching. God again protects her by opening up the earth to swallow the water, as God opened the earth to destroy the deceivers, Korah, Dathan, and Abiram in the Old Testament (Numbers 16:31-33).
We are in a deep conflict. As the Apostle Paul says,
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12, ESV).
This conflict started even before the fall of Adam and Eve. It continues today. But Christ has defeated Satan, he is cast out of heaven. Satan is enraged over his defeat and while he will be soundly defeated at Christ's return, he continues to war against God's people. But we are protected by God. We are not protected from physical violence nor from persecution; we are protected spiritually from destruction.
As we celebrate Christ's birth 2000 years ago, we can rejoice that while we live in the tribulation of Satan's war against God, Satan already has lost the major battles and will ultimately be defeated by Christ. If you belong to Christ, you will be saved from destruction. You are protected in this wilderness
Wednesday, December 14, 2016
Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15, ESV)
At the seventh trumpet, the last trumpet, Christ returns. The scene of the seventh trumpet is heaven. All in heaven are rejoicing at the consummation of history. The temple in heaven is opened and the ark of the covenant is visible, the footstool of God. God is with his people. Paul reflects on this in 1 Corinthians:
Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corithians 15:51-58, ESV)
No matter what happens, God is in control. He is bringing history to its glorious consummation, where God will dwell with his people. Suffering, death, difficulties, everything will pale in significance to the glory of Christ's return. Everything you go through will not be in vain. That is a reason why we can be steadfast and persevere to the end. If you are a child of God, this is your inheritance to supremely enjoy God forever.
Tuesday, December 13, 2016
Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, “Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months. And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.” (Revelation 11:1-3, ESV)
There are various ways this passage is interpreted. By far the most popular is that this vision depicts activity just a few years prior to Jesus' second coming, during a great seven year tribulation period. The references to time, 42 months and 1,260 days are viewed as actual periods of time for this activity.
A less popular view, but gaining some popularity, is that vision is about the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple around 70 AD.
Personally, I think the truth literally is between these two views.
This vision in this section of Revelation is between the sixth and the seventh trumpets. The language of Revelation is highly symbolic. Some prefer to follow a motto that we are to read and interpret Revelation literally as much as possible unless the literal meaning is impossible. I think a better approach is to recognize the symbolic form of the visions and see how those symbols work. This is recognizing that Revelation fits a genre of apocalyptic literature, and that the Holy Spirit is painting with metaphors. Numbers are included in those metaphors. The number three in Revelation, particularly with reference to God where there is a triad statement (e.g., the one who was, who is, and is to come) refers to the Trinity. The number four often refers to earth or the creation (e.g., the four living creatures, the four winds). We now see the numbers 1,260 days, 42 months, and later, time, times, and half a time -- which refer to the same period of time, 3 1/2 years. In the ancient Jewish calendar, a year was 360 days, or 12 thirty day months. Do the math and you see that all these refer to the same period of time. This period of time is associated with difficulty, tribulation, and persecution. A natural question is when does this time begin? Revelation chapter 12 indicates it begins with Christ's ascension, which I'll examine in two days on December 15. This period of 42 months or 1,260 days is a metaphor for the period from Christ's first advent, particularly his ascension, until his second coming, or soon before Christ's second coming.
Revelation chapter 11 presents two images. The first image is measuring the temple, specifically the alter and those who worship there versus the outer court. The second image is the two witnesses.
The metaphor of measuring indicates ownership. Those withing the boundaries of the measurement, the ones who worship God, belong to God and in a fundamental sense they are protected by God. However, the outer courts of the temple are not measured. The outer courts will be trampled upon for 42 months. Those who are associated with the temple will face trials and persecution. However, all who truly worship God, who are the sealed ones, are ultimately protected by God.
The two witnesses are called "the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth." To understand these metaphors, we need to be reminded what the number two was used for in the Bible. In legal trials, there was the requirement that charges would be corroborated by two or three witnesses. The number two is not a literal number per se, but symbolic metaphor that emphasizes the "witness" purpose of the two witnesses. Further, the witnesses are are referred to as lampstands. Lampstands in chapter 1 stood for the churches. Thus the two witnesses represent the church from Christ's ascension until his second coming. The function of the church shown in this vision is a legal testimony, where the church presents the charges of idolatry and sin to the dwellers on the earth who don't know God. The church has considerable power. It has the power, through prayer, to bring God's judgment upon the earth in various ways. At the close of the 1,260 days, there will be a brief time (three and a half days) where the church will suffer intense persecution, to the point of looking dead, prior to Christ's second coming. People will rejoice over the apparent death of the church. But God will vindicate his church, to the terror and amazement of the dwellers on the earth. This will happen at the judgment, where the earth is destroyed and transformed.
Revelation does not paint a picture where Christians escape from trouble and persecution. Personally, I would prefer a rapture of the church before the tribulation, as the Left Behind series does. It fits my desires to escape pain, difficulty, and suffering. I always prefer the easy way out. But God does not give that option to Christians. But what God does give is ultimate victory, conquering. Conquering the same way that Christ conquered, through death. We are Christians -- little Christs. If Christ was persecuted and suffered, what right do we expect to escape persecution and suffering in our lives? But God grants us strength to endure and to achieve victory.
This is not a popular message with the wider Christian culture today. We have a crisis of a crossless Christ. People are told to try Christ to solve their problems, to have a happy life, to fix their lives, to even get material wealth. They way of the cross, the way of endurance, perseverance, is not taught in many circles. Even our popular eschatologies have escapism, a "beam me up, Scotty" mentality when the problems of the end of the age come. Further, such an attitude is a mockery to the millions of Christians who have and are enduring unimaginable suffering for Christ throughout the centuries. The intensity of the great tribulation was and is very real to them.
We are to fix our eyes upon Christ, not escaping, not material comforts, not safety. Christ's power will enable us to serve and endure to victory.
Once again I quote Paul:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. ...
Monday, December 12, 2016
Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, “Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll. And he said to me, “Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.” And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter. And I was told, “You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.” (Revelation 10:8-11, ESV)
The gospel. How sweet it is. You see, I've always known I've been broken. Not merely broken, but broken in a really nasty way, what the Bible calls sin. It is so nasty that I can't bear to look at it. I fail people, I fail God in so many ways. I fail and hurt the people who are the most important in my life. My wife, my children, my friends, those who count on me. I know I've been broken since I was little. But brokenness doesn't begin to describe it. Sin is more than brokenness. Sin is the willful spite to turn against God and place myself first.
As bad as I am, I remember the sweet discovery that Jesus paid for all my sinfulness, past, present, and future. The sweet, sweet discover of the gospel. I recently reread John Bunyon's Pilgram's Progress. I cried as Christian stood at the cross because Bunyon nailed my thoughts as Christian stood there. The relief of the burden falling off my shoulders of all the nastiness, my shame, my guilt, my sin.
I have an ache. I'd love for my friends to know this sweet gospel. It is sweet to the taste -- I can't think of anything sweeter. But I've had friends get upset about the gospel, who refuse to hear anything more about the gospel. If they continue down that path, they will die forever. This isn't a lights out, no more consciousness type of death. It is a death facing the wrath of God.
Many Christians have deeply cherished family that don't know Christ, who refuse to listen to anything about Jesus. These family members have been those who contribute to the family, who are there for the holidays, when kids are sick, through thick and thin. Sometimes they turn to the gospel, but there are others that don't. That is the bitterness of the gospel.
Sweet and bitter. So sweet is the salvation of ourselves and family and friends. How bitter it is to see others we deeply care about tossing away the gospel, they bridge to life that they cannot begin to imagine -- in exchange for a death too horrible to contemplate.
John was given a scroll that was sweet in the mouth, but bitter to the stomach. I think I understand. We cannot shrink back from sharing Christ with others around us. Others will discover the sweetness. But there will be a bitter aspect to seeing others walk away.
Sunday, December 11, 2016
Now the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to blow them.
The first angel blew his trumpet, and there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, and these were thrown upon the earth. And a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up. (Revelation 8:6-7, ESV)
Recapitulation. That is a big word. A shorter form of it is used in sports casting all the time: recap. Sequences in visions could be sequences in time -- or they could recap the same span of history from another angle. Hebrew poetry has forms of recapitulations where one stanza is restated in another parallel stanza. We see this in the Psalms and other passages. This is on a larger scale. The trumpets look again at the history from Christ's first advent until his second coming.
But that isn't the only kind of recapitulation happening. The trumpets in revelation recapitulate the trumpets on Mount Sinai, the coming of the Lord to Israel, the trumpets surrounding Jericho sounding warning and its doom and fall. Many of the plagues of the trumpets echoes the plagues the Lord sent to Egypt to extract the chosen people of God out of Egypt. In a similar way the plagues with the trumpets in Revelation are sent on the earth to announce that the Lord is coming, as warning to the people who dwell on the earth, and prepare God's chosen ones to be delivered into heaven.
What God did to deliver Israel in the Old Testament is a shadow and type of what God will do deliver not only ethnic Israel, but also all who are grafted onto true Israel, God's people who comes from every tribe, nation, and language, the people blessed through Abraham.
The imagery of the trumpets paint a canvas of metaphors of the trumpet plagues that visit earth between the first and second advent of Christ. The first trumpet's fire correspond with the savage activities of the seals, where warfare and conquering had widespread fiery destruction crops and orchards. The second trumpet shows the disruption of trade and fishing from war and natural disasters. The third trumpet shows the polluting of rivers, springs, and wells -- often brought about by war, but also the human general fouling of the water in its fallen economic activity. The fourth trumpet shows the results of war with burning cities, fields that were put to the torch by military conquerers. The fifth trumpet delivers images of locusts whose activity is spiritual in nature -- the do not harm those who have God's seal. The fifth trumpet illustrates how Satan's allies are tormented. These torments come in various ways, those outside of God see the cruel meaninglessness of life, to various curses that accompany life outside of Christ. The sixth trump brings war.
These six trumpets show the activity throughout the inter-advent age. War, destruction, famine, economic disruptions. All of these come from God's ordained plans, at the call of the angels. When we see these things we are reminded that God is working in history and we look towards our ultimate redemption. We are not to hold fast to the things of this world, but keep our eyes focused on Christ, our champion and redeemer.
Saturday, December 10, 2016
When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake. (Revelation 8:1-5, ESV)
Silence. The four living creatures and the twenty four elders were praising God throughout Revelation. But now they are silent. The great multitude that no one could number were crying out in joy with a loud voice, but now they are silent. Everyone on the earth who hid themselves in caves and in the mountains crying out, "wrath has come, and who can stand?" were now silent.
Why silence? Silence is an anticipation of God's action to come. For many, it is the expectant, hopeful expectation of God carrying out his promises, of consummation of salvation, rescue, the joy of his coming, the coming new heavens and new earth, and the joy of God dwelling with them forever. For others, it is the silence of dread. The silence of being caught and being stripped bare of any and all excuses, fully seeing the folly of their ways, dreading what they will hear and what they will face.
In this seventh seal we see an interesting interlocking of the trumpets with the seals. In many ways the trumpets will replay history from the first advent to the second coming of Christ. The trumpets will be another overlay, giving another perspective of the same period of history that the seals gave. The angels are being readied for the trumpet vision sequence. As the trumpet angels are being readied, another angel takes incense from the alter, where the martyrs reside that cried out, "how long?" Incense represents prayers, and the prayers of the saints, including those under the alter, are added to the incense censor. The angel heaves the censor down to the earth, resulting in lightning, thunder, and earthquakes -- more wrath and judgment on the earth. Those who wear the seal of God are protected, those who don't bear the full fury of God's wrath.
The interlocking of the seventh seal with the trumpets shows that the events associated with the trumpets come, at least in part, from the prayers of the saints. God will answer the prayers of his people. Sometimes it may seem to come slowly, but it will come. I am reminded of long ago, the prophet Habakkuk, who prayed for God's judgment, for God's intervention. God answered:
For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
it will surely come; it will not delay.
“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
but the righteous shall live by his faith.”
(Habakkuk 2:3-4, ESV)
Friday, December 09, 2016
After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree. Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.” (Revelation 7:1-4, ESV)
The judgment has come, the wrath of Christ, the Lamb of God, has come to the evil doers of the earth. They ask, "who can stand?"
John's vision of the seals being broken is interrupted with another vision. This vision takes us back to another time prior to the events of the sixth seal. Think of it as a flashback from God's perspective. Four angels are standing at the four corners of the earth. They are holding back the four winds from harming the earth. Before any harm, God sends another angel to put God's seal of protection on all God's servants. The angel applies this seal to the foreheads of all God's people. Later in Revelation, we will see that the seal is the name of Christ and the name of God. All who receive this seal are "branded" as being owned by God. All who have God's seal will be protected from the wrath of the Lamb that we see in the sixth seal.
The passage immediately following says, "I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel." The tribes are then listed in none of the ways they were listed in the Old Testament. One commentator has noted that ordering of the tribes elevates the sons of the concubines (slaves, outsiders) to positions 3 through 6, and eliminates Dan, the tribe that became notorious or leading the northern kingdom of Israel into idolatry. The changes made here in Revelation, versus the Old Testament, are not accidental. It indicates a symbolic nature of the 144,000. It includes not only the Jews, but also outsiders, the Gentiles, and excludes the idolaters. The number, 144,000, is also symbolic, representing a large number of the saints on earth prepared for battle. Remember, numbers above 1000 in ancient times were considered huge numbers. But this number, 144,000, compared immediately to "a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation" makes the 144,000 look small in comparison.
What do we learn from Revelation, chapter 7? First of all, when the judgment comes with the wrath of the Lamb, all of God's people are protected from God's wrath. Secondly, God has organized his people to be ready for battle. But the victory is achieved through suffering and ultimately death. Those who come through suffering and death will be an uncountable multitude who will praise God. They will wear white robes, having been cleansed by Christ's death, and will have the joy of shouting to God their victory because what God the Father and Christ has done for them.
It is most interesting to note that the uncountable multitude shouting their joy before God are the same ones who were under the alter earlier, who pleaded, "how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" God answers their prayer, and John records,
“They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
(Revelation 7:16-17, ESV)
Those of you who are believers, who rely on Christ for your salvation, you are the ones who are sealed with God's protection. While others will wither before God's judgment, you will persevere with the others, withstanding the onslaught of all the evil in this world. The evil can be blatant power against God's people, or it can be the insidious call to comprise and comfort rather than standing with God. If you belong to God, you are part of God's army. You will persevere -- so persevere in the faith. Do not compromise, do not give up. As the Apostle Paul says:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:18, ESV)
Thursday, December 08, 2016
When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Revelation 6:12-17, ESV)
With the words, "The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place," this looks like the end of the world. The end will come. The world is not prepared for it. In some movies there will be bedraggled old bearded man wearing a clapboard sign which elicits the reaction from the audience the man is a kook. The most respectable end-of-the-world scenarios in the past were nuclear holocaust (most notably during the Cold War of the 1950s through the end of the 1990s) or, presently, some environmental disaster brought on by industrial pollution leading to global warming. But God actually bringing an end to the world and universe is not a respectable idea now -- and those holding to it are looked upon as anachronism in the best light, or evil intolerant bigots in less charitable minds. But God will bring about the end of the world.
The end of the world is God's wrath pouring out on the evil doers of the world, from kings, the rich and powerful, to the poorest -- to everyone. This is the sixth seal, and notice that this seal comes after the cry of the saints in seal five for vengeance.
Dr. Dan Doriani, expressed some gallows humor to this situation. "I have thought a couple times about the way I would like to die and about some ways I would not like to die. My favorite way of dying is to die of a heart attack on a tennis court. Or failing that, another good way would be being in my right mind and having sudden death. On the bad end, I would say that being buried alive would be really low on my list. It is definitely in the bottom five. But the kings, the rich, the mighty, the generals are saying they would rather be buried alive under a mountain than face the wrath of the Lamb." (Dr. Dan Doriani, Hebrews to Revelation, Lesson 25). Those who do not come to the slain Lamb of God for the forgiveness of sin, place their faith in him, face the wrath of the Lamb of God at the end of the world. It is a wrath that is unimaginably horrible. It is a wrath that, when someone faces it, they would literally rather have other terrible things happen to them than face this wrath. Those who face the terrible day of judgment ask rhetorically, "Who can stand it?" The answer is provided in the next chapter in Revelation.
Those who read this blog entry to this point are most likely Christians. Some Christians will disagree with the particulars about this passage, placing the events here as not the actual final judgment. Whatever the case, there is agreement among Christians that there is a final judgment, a final judgment that will be horrible for the nonbelievers to face. Those who read this who are not Christians will most likely think this is superstitious folly, ill guided, or not worthy of a God of love. However, there are some reading this who are not Christians and, if they stop and listen within, hear the voice of Christ calling to them. If you are one of those, come to Christ, don't delay.
Wednesday, December 07, 2016
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been. (Revelation 6:9-11, ESV)
The first four seals focused on the earth and events on the earth. The fifth seal looks at heaven. We see an alter. Alters, like this one, were associated with the tabernacle and temple. In the temple, there were two alters, the alter in the outer courtyard that was used for sacrificing animals to atone and cover sin, and an alter in the Holy Place just before the curtain of the Holy of Holies. This last alter was the incense alter. The burned incense represented the prayers of the people. The one alter in Revelation appears to serve both purposes the two alters in the temple.
In this passage the alter as the alter of sacrifice. John sees "those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne" under the alter. Under the alter was the place where the blood of the sacrificed animals would be poured out. Those under the alter are the souls of those suffered and died for Christ. Their blood had been sacrificially poured out in their suffering and death. They are without physical bodies, they live in heaven in the period after Christ's first advent and before his second coming. It is an indication that those who die in Christ will consciously live in heaven with God. They will be aware of what is happening on earth. They remember how the earthly "courts" condemned them to death and ask the highest judge of the universe to vindicate them.
In a sense, all who belong to Christ, even on earth, groan for the final redemption when all things are put right. We read in Romans:
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:19-25, ESV)
How long must they wait before Christ returns to set things aright? The answer elsewhere in scripture is that Christ will not return until the gospel, the good news of Christ, goes throughout the nations. The flip side of the coin is shown in this passage in Revelation, Christ is waiting until the rest of the designated number of the saints on earth are slain. The gospel comes with a price for going throughout the world. First and foremost, Christ was slain for the sins of the world which is the foundation for the gospel. But the gospel also goes forth throughout the centuries through the suffering and blood of the saints.
God comforts those who have been slain. God grants them a white robe, rest from their toil, and a promise they will be vindicated. The white robe is God's recognition of their purity, their victory, having suffered for Christ. But ultimately the white robes come from Christ's sacrifice on their behalf. The saints in heaven before Christ's second coming enjoy the peace and rest from their labors. They see the face of God and enjoy his presence. They see God hearing their prayers and responding to them and all the saints on earth.
The fifth seal is a pivotal seal in the events in heaven and earth. We will see God responding to their plea in the rest of Revelation.
Are you caught in difficulty and suffering because of Christ? Do you seem to be at wit's end? Are you suffering because of this fallen world? Death, disease, and toil all result from the fall. The whole of creation is groaning from the fall of Adam. The fifth seal and the martyrs' death represents the suffering for all who persevere through suffering. We have a God who cares, who hears our cries for help, and responds. For our ultimate vindication, we will need to wait until all the appointed suffering is complete, which is intimately linked to the spread of the gospel throughout the nations. If you are a true follower of Christ, God will grant you strength to persevere until death, and through death you will gain your ultimate victory of the white robe of purity and conquest, and you will enjoy the rest of being in the presence of God.
Tuesday, December 06, 2016
Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” 2 And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer. (Revelation 6:1-2, ESV)
This begins the cycle of the seals. The opening of the seals displays events throughout history from Christ's first coming until the judgment. Sometimes readers of Revelation wonder if things John describes are the actual things he saw, or if they are of things John could not express in the words of his time and chose words to best describe what he saw but could not describe fully. For instance, when John tells about locusts, many think John is actually seeing a future war with Apache attack helicopters. However, I think the most logical understanding is that John is telling us exactly what God shows him in the visions. The images are highly symbolic, they are metaphors that represent things. Knowing the whole of scripture can help in understanding the symbols. Often, as with the lampstands and stars in chapter one, there is a narrative explanation of the symbols.
In this opening seal we don't have an explicit explanation. A crowned rider with a bow rides out on a white horse to conquer. Many knowledgeable interpreters have differing opinions on what this represents. Even within my theological tradition the differing opinions can be very startling. One interpreter thinks this rider is Christ going forth to conquer for the church. Another interpreter thinks this rider is anti-Christ. Quite a diverse set of opinions! No matter what the proper interpretation of the first seal, the seals show tribulation and problems. A red horse comes from the second seal that takes peace away from the earth. Famine comes with the third seal, although luxury items such as oil and wine are still found, bringing to mind that even during famine there are those who are able to avoid the effects of famine while other less fortunate suffer around them. The fourth seal reveals death.
The seals are one of the history "overlays" of Revelation that extends from the first advent to the second advent of Christ. All of these seals come by divine permission. When experience the good things and when we face trouble, that too comes from the permission of God. God is not the author of evil, and God's righteous wrath will be displayed against all who do evil. But we must remember that God does reign even when we see evil and trouble all around us. We will see that God tenderly loves his own and will make sure that nothing will ultimately harm his people.
Monday, December 05, 2016
Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” (Revelation 5:1-2, ESV)
God has written before the foundation of the world, a scroll. The scroll described here is reminiscent of important Roman legal documents, which were scrolls sealed with seven wax seals. Often these were last wills and testaments. This looks to be God's redemptive plan of history, seeing what happens as the seals are broken and finally when John later eats the scroll.
Who is worthy to open the scroll? No one is worthy except Christ Jesus.
God not only rules in heaven with great power and authority, but God has ordained all that will happen in history. All of this will be consummated to at the last judgment and when the new heavens and earth are ushered in.
We are not to be disheartened in trials and trouble. God rules and God has planned all that will come to pass.
We now stand poised to see history unfold in Revelation. The history will come in cycles of retelling. The history from Christ's first coming to the final judgment will in several series, when the seals are broken, and repeated again when the trumpets are sounded, and yet again in other ways. This retelling of history over and over will give us different vantage points to see what is going on and see the deeper spiritual battle that takes place. Think of these retellings, these recapitulations of history, as overlays on the time span from Christ's first coming to his second coming. Each overlay provides more understandings of how God is at work in defeating evil.
God reigns in heaven. God reigns in righteous anger, purity, grace and mercy. God reigns in that he has planned all the has happened and will happen in history -- to his glory and to the victorious
Sunday, December 04, 2016
After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.
And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come!”
(Revelation 4:1-8, ESV)
John gave a picture of the churches from the time after Christ's first advent in chapters 2 and 3. Now the angel replays the history of the church from the perspective of the heavenly throne room. The angel tells John, "I will show you what must take place after this." -- meaning this is the next vision rather than what takes place next or after in the time sequence of Revelation 2-3.
Each of the images describe God metaphorically. God is not a jasper, but is like a jasper in his purity. The jasper is described as clear and quite possibly we know it as a diamond. The carnelian is red which shows God's avenging wrath. A rainbow frames God's throne, and the principle color is emerald green -- which color associated most frequently in ancient times with the rainbow. The rainbow brings to mind God's grace and mercy. This picture of God is not merely a "Jesus meek and mild" picture. God is not simply reduced to one adjective, but many perfect attributes in his being and personality. God is at once pure, wrathful, gracious and merciful. Not a politically correct God, nor a tame God we can control.
Before God are elders who fall down and worship him. We don't know who these elders are, but their number, twenty-four, is a pair of two twelves, which symbolically point to the whole of humanity, both Old Testament and New Testament, that worship God. There are twelve elders that represent the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve elders that represent the twelve apostles that are the foundation of the post advent church. Their purity is shown in the white garments, their crowns show victory and joy before the throne of God.
Lightning, thunder proceed from the throne of God, showing his righteous power that will avenge his people. The Holy Spirit is present at God's throne. There is a sea in front of God. The sea was the source of demonic power to ancient Israel -- but the sea is tamed by God, made perfect and glass like. God is in perfect control.
Four creatures fly around the throne of God. Their descriptions draw from the major animal groups of the ancient world. The number four is associated with the earth and the created order (the four compass points, the four corners of the world, etc.). The creatures are covered with eyes indicating they see everything in God's creation and sing praise to God.
This image of heaven, with God reigning, is quite a contrast to how things appear to us on earth. God is reigning and all of God's attributes are involved in his rule. God's power, wrath, grace, purity -- all are perfectly involved in his rule, and heaven declares his holiness and glory.
In my daily life I often forget how God is reigning -- in fact I confess that I do not even at my best moments appreciate how God does rule and reign. I am influenced by my mercurial moods throughout the day, by my personal petty successes and failures, only dimly aware the God is reigning in such splendor. What a lifetime we can spend in refining our delight in God's glory, because on this side of heaven we only see in part.
My prayer is to more contemplate the glory of God in his splendor, to more glorify God, and more fully enjoy him forever. Our God reigns!
Saturday, December 03, 2016
“And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God's creation.
“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’” (Revelation 3:14-22, ESV)
Laodicea was a prosperous city in Asia Minor, now modern day Turkey. The city had an important black wool trade along with other businesses that frequently transacted larges amounts of money. It was about 12 miles west of Colossae and 5 miles south of Hierapolis. It was founded over three hundred years previously by Antiochus II Theos in 261-253 BC. The people of the city were hard working, self reliant, and were very successful on their own. This is evident because in 60 AD Laodicea was completely destroyed by a strong earthquake. Tacitus reports in his history how Laodicea refused aide from the Romans to rebuild and rebuilt their city entirely by their own means. The people worked hard, prospered, and were not dependent on anyone. The city was not only known for its businesses, but it was also a cultural, scientific and sports center. It has temples, theaters, and a stadium. It also had an aqueduct, which carried water from hot mineral springs five miles south of the city. The disadvantage was that the water tasted tepid, unlike to hot springs of nearby Hierapolis, or the clear cold water of Colossae. Laodicea had a renowned medical academy and had many well known doctors, including an ophthalmologist. The church in Laodicea was a microcosm of the city. The members were wealthy, prosperous, and able contributers to the city's economy and life.
As Christ looks at this prosperous city and church, what does he see? The description of Laodicea is ironic. Physically it is prosperous, energetic, builds great wealth. Spiritually it is poor. The church is neither energetically for Christ nor against Christ. They are as bland as their tepid water. Economically they are rich, but spiritually they are poor and wretched. They do not energetically store up their heavenly treasures. While their knowledge of medicine is great and they are famed for they knowledge of eyes, they are blind.
It is interesting how Christ describes himself to this church. This gives us a clue where the Laodicean church is lacking. Christ calls himself the "amen," "the faithful and true witness," and "the beginning of God's creation." In other words, Christ's words are absolutely true, unchanging, throughout all of time from the beginning to the end. The unstated contrast is that the Laodicean church does not unflinchingly hold to the truth and to Christ.
But the church is not lost. Christ tells them how to find their way. They need to buy their gold from Christ along with his white garments. The white garments are the garments made by Christ's death pays and covers the nakedness of their own unrighteousness. The gold is the Christ's righteousness that is given to the believer who has nothing to offer for her or himself.
How do you get these garments and gold? The very fact that Christ is reproving them is evidence that he loves them and has not given up on them. They are to listen to his knocking and open their life to Christ and he will dine with them. Eating and feasting is a happy activity where they will share in the delights of knowing Christ that they will experience by opening their lives to Christ. Those that dine with Christ will be the ones who conquer. They will sit with Christ and the Father at the thrown of grace. But note, they will conquer as Christ conquered. Christ conquered through perseverance and through death. This is not a conquering the world generally expects. It is, in many respects, and ironic conquering -- losing their life to find it.
I live in a wealthy part of my city, state, country and world. In fact, most who are reading this blog have the material wealth that resulted in the education and access to technology to read this blog. For each of us, it is tempting to build upon our wealth, either in things, such as houses, cars, household goods, media, etc. We are the envy of most of the world that is materially impoverished. We are the envy of kings in centuries past by the comforts and plenty we have at our disposal. Yet are we truly spiritually rich? Are you dining with Christ, intimately and faithfully sharing your life with him? Are you conquering through self denial and ready to die for Christ and his people? If not, listen to Christ's knocking at your life. If Christ is reproving you for your life and you hear his knocking, know that Christ's discipline of you is evidence of his deep and tender love for you. Open your life to him and dine with him. He will give you the white garment that covers your sinful, naked life, and gold you'll be able to store in heaven.
Take time to read about the other churches in Revelation 2 and 3. These also give insight
Friday, December 02, 2016
Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength... As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. (Revelation 1:12-16, 20 ESV)
John's vision continues. John is not seeing things as they actually physically are. He is seeing symbolic, figurative pictures. A pattern seen over and over in Revelation is that a visionary image is given and there is an explanation of the image. Among the images are lampstands and stars which, we are told, the churches and the angels of the churches. We see the imagery of Jesus. These are rich images that allude to the richness of the Old Testament. What do we learn from this image of Christ? Many things:
Son of man -- Jesus is the end times Son of man of the Old Testament visions of Daniel. He is the one that will set things right at the end of the age. He will come with power and authority.
Clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash -- Jesus is the royal ruler of heaven and earth.
The hairs of his head were white -- White hair denotes age and wisdom associated with age. Jesus is very wise.
His eyes were like a flame of fire -- Jesus sees everything and nothing misses his penetrating gaze. He purifies. His eyes burn away sin. Who can stand before Christ? Only those who have been cleansed by being freed from their sins by his blood.
His feet were like burnished bronze -- This is Old Testament imagery of a warrior.
His voice was like the roar of many waters -- as Have you ever stood before a huge waterfall, such Niagara Falls? The sound indicates great, overwhelming power. Jesus' voice has that kind of power.
From his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword -- We are reminded that the word of God is sharper than a two-edged sword. Jesus' spoken words cut away sin, defends the weak and cuts down the arrogant.
His face was like the sun shining -- This is Old Testament imagery of a strong and victorious warrior.
Each of these images are metaphors that paints a picture of who Jesus is. This powerful, wise, warrior-king walks among the lampstands, his churches. Christ intimately loves his church, comprised of individual churches throughout the world, and cares for them. We see the kind of care from the symbolic description of Christ. He fights for his churches, provides wisdom, and rules his churches as an exceptionally wise father. In the next couple of chapters we see how Jesus' penetrating gaze sees all in each of the churches, the good and the bad, along with the promise of great rewards for those who persevere. Where each of the churches are weak, the images of Christ in this vision shows the kind of strength he gives to those churches. At the end of Revelation we will see the purified church, referred to as the bride, standing in the new heavens and earth.
Christians are not to live in isolation. We are called to live and serve in the bride of Christ, the church which is comprised of local churches throughout the world. Christs cares for believers especially through the churches. Christ uses each of these attributes of himself and more to tend to his churches. Christ gives encouragement to churches on the good they are doing and admonishes the churches on their failings, all the while strengthening the church through his encouragement and power. In every area of weakness in the churches, Christ various parts of his attributes to best strengthen those churches.
Two thousand years ago the eternal Son of God came to earth and dwelt among the human race. He now reigns from heaven and walks among the individual churches. As you worship with you church you are interacting the the Lord that walks with and cares for your church. Christ's usual means of caring for you is through his church.
Thursday, December 01, 2016
John to the seven churches that are in Asia:
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (Revelation 1:4-6, ESV)
John is writing to seven churches in Asia Minor. Click on the satellite photo on the left to get a larger picture of the region and location of the seven churches. But John is not just writing to these particular seven churches in history, John is also writing to all the churches throughout history after Christ's first coming until Christ's second coming in glory and power. Not only is John writing to churches collectively, but John is writing to Christians individually that make up the church.
From the first we see symbolism in play in Revelation. The number seven is used both literally because there are seven real churches Revelation is addressed to. But seven is also figuratively -- seven represents the full or complete number and hence indicates Revelation is written to the full church. Seven is also used to refer to the Holy Spirit ("seven spirits who are before his throne"). In this sense, seven only has figurative significance. The language of Revelation is symbolic imagery. We need to keep that in mind as we read and listen to the book.
John tells the seven churches, and also to us that we have grace and peace from God. We often forget the magnitude of this news. We deserve God's wrath for our sin, but instead we have grace and are at peace with God. We are freed from our sins through Christ's death which is the basis of our being at peace with God. This is great news!
There is more great news. God the Father reigns from his throne, Jesus has conquered death and being the first born implies we will follow in his steps. Further, Jesus rules the kings of the earth. No matter what we see in the world, Christ is ruling over the kings of the world. Not only that -- we rule also. All who belong to Christ are a kingdom of priests, we are intermediaries between God and the human race. This is a high calling.
God is ruling now. Christ has conquered death. We live in God kingdom as priests. We have been given great grace. As we go on in Revelation we will see how God reigns and how we conquer.