Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Revelation 22

Provisions from God (vs. 1-5)--The final resting place of the redeemed, as noted in the post on Revelation 21, is pictured from three angles, fellowship with God (21:1-8), protection by God (vs. 9-26), and here in 22:1-5, provisioned by God. John sees a "pure river of water of life, clear as crystal" flowing from the throne--note the source, directly from God and the Lamb. (v. 1). The tree of life is in the middle of the street, next to that river, yielding sustenance the year round (v. 2). There will be no "years" in heaven, of course, but this is apocalyptic literature where anything can happen. "There shall be no more curse" (v. 3). The tree of life and the curse remind us of Genesis 3, and the Bible comes full circle. What was lost in Genesis 3 is finally and completely restored in Revelation 22. The Bible tells one tale and the unity of 66 books written over a period of 1600 years by 40-odd different men can only be explained by divine inspiration. We will serve Him (as we ought, though the particulars of how are not noted) and we shall see His face (v. 4)--something that could not happen before. "His name shall be on their foreheads" (v. 4), showing possession by God. Again, "there shall be no night there" (v. 5); the Lord God will be sufficient light and the victory shall be "forever and ever." How long is "forever"? Well, add an "ever" to it for emphasis. Never an end to the beautiful home of the righteous soul. We will be with Him forever, protected within the four walls of His city, and provided for from the very throne upon which He sits. What more could we want?

Epilogue (vs. 6-21)--The Redeemer issues the final words of the book, pressing upon the readers the importance of the message. What John has been given is "faithful and true"--it is assured to happen, for it comes from "the Lord God" (v. 6). The quick coming of the Lord doesn't mean immediately; it references the swiftness of His judgment. Thus, "Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book" (v. 7). John again is so overcome by the visions he has seen that he worships the angel who delivered them to him, but is told not to do that . Angels are servants, too, as are the prophets and all who obey the Lord (v. 9). The "words of the prophecy of this book" would come to pass soon, "for the time is at hand" (v. 10), not 2,000 years in the future. Again, the message is designed to provide comfort to the beleaguered saints in the Roman Empire who needed to know their great enemy would be judged. People must make a choice as to how they will live (v. 11).

One more time, Jesus comforts the readers with a "behold, I am coming quickly." He will reward everyone "according to his work" (v. 12). The surety of the message is once again re-affirmed because it came from the everlasting God (v. 13). A reminder of the necessity of obedience follows: "Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city." Only the righteous have access to that tree which provides eternal sustenance. Outside the city are all manner of scavengers and immoral people (v. 15), and we do not want to be with them because of their eternal destiny. Remember, protection is found only in the city. Jesus testifies that He is the author of the book, the looked-for descendant of David, "the Bright and Morning Star" (v. 16). I like Clarke's comment on that phrase: "I am splendor and glory to my kingdom; as the morning star ushers in the sun, so shall I usher in the unclouded and eternal glories of the everlasting kingdom." All are invited, if they thirst for spiritual drink (v. 17). The shame is that so few accept the invitation. The book--and the Bible--conclude with a very strict warning against adding to or taking away from what has been written within its pages (vs. 18-19). While this warning is directed especially towards the book of Revelation, it is a warning found elsewhare in God's word (Deut. 4:2; Prov. 30:6; Gal. 1:8-9). It is presumption of the highest order to think we can improve upon what a perfect God has written. This warning is in this case directed towards Christians, who would be the main readers of the book, of course, for those who pervert the message would have their part "taken away...from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book" (v. 19). Such could only apply to those who already had those things promised to them.

And, one more time, there is a promise of the Lord of the quickness and surety of judgment (v. 20). John longs for that coming. I wonder if we do. The book closes with the only hope we have--"the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ" (v. 22). That's the source of our hope; it must be coupled with our obedience to Him (v. 14).

Revelation is a marvelously beautiful book. It teaches nothing, however, that is not found elsewhere, without figures and symbols, in the Bible. Unfailing devotion to Christ is demanded (Luke 14:33); "if we deny Him, He also will deny us" (II Tim. 2:12). Such is the reminder of the final book of the Bible.

Stand up, stand up for Jesus, the strife will not be long;
     This day the noise of battle, the next the victor's song.
To him that overcometh a crown of life shall be;
     He with the King of Glory shall reign eternally.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Revelation 21

Fellowship with God (vs. 21:1-8)--With the devil and his minions defeated and no longer able to plague God's people, the remainder of Revelation is given to the destiny of the redeemed. It is, truly, a lovely picture, for the cause of all evil, pain, and suffering (Satan) has been completely and forever removed from the scene. The destiny of the unredeemed is pictured in chapter 20:11-15, 21:8, 22:15, so there will be two reminders yet of the need for faithfulness. Otherwise, the image is one of peace, comfort, beauty, and hope.

The "new heaven" and "new earth"--i.e., the final dwelling place of those who did not succumb to Satan's wiles--is pictured from three angles in chapters 21 and 22. In 21:1-8, there will be fellowship with God--"the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people" (v. 3). That which was pictured as once having separated the redeemed from full access to Him is gone--"there was no more sea" (v. 1). Again, with the source of all misery removed, there will be no more tears, death, sorrow, crying, or pain; those things "have passed away" (v. 4). The absolute surety of this is stated in verse 5--the words are "faithful and true." "It is done," as surely as if it had already happened, and we can rest confident in it because it is the will of "the Alpha and the Omega," the eternal God. All needs will be provided for (v. 6). Verses 7 and 8 give us a subtle reminder. We must overcome while on this earth, and if we do, we shall "inherit all things" as a child of God. But those who do not submit to God’s will "shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death" (v. 8). It is interesting that "cowardly" ("fearful," KJV and ASV) and "unbelieving" are the first two sins mentioned here. If we do not have the courage to stand against persecution (such is especially the way John's readers would read this) and the faith that the things written in this revelation are true, then how are we different from the devil and his followers? We will almost surely live a life of wickedness and debauchery.

Protection by God (vs. 9-27)--The second portrayal of this final resting place of the righteous is found in verses 9-27--we have God's protection. This protection is illustrated in the form of a perfect, beautiful city where God is the only light needed. Some have questioned whether this is truly a picture of heaven. Twice in the chapter the city ("new Jerusalem," v. 2, and "holy Jerusalem," v. 10) is described as "descending out of heaven." Well, regardless of its particular meaning, it does come from heaven and it is where God's people will live. The description here is obviously figurative. There will be no literal 12 gates, 12 foundations, a wall of jasper and a street of gold (notice there is only one wall and one street--perfect unity and oneness. This would surely not be lost on John's readers, but is lost on too many of us today when we sing of the "streets (plural) of gold.”) The twelve gates have the name of the twelve tribes of Israel written on them (v. 12) and the 12 foundations the 12 apostles (v. 14). Everything is perfect--note how many times 12, or a combination thereof, is used--12 gates, 12 tribes of Israel, 12 apostles, 12,000 furlongs, 144 cubits, 12 pearls. As noted in my second article on the symbolism of numbers, 12 represents "organized religion," a combination of three, the divine number, and four, the world number. So, by using 12 (or a multiple thereof) the completeness between the divine and the human are represented--a perfect dwelling place, created by God, for all of His redeemed through the ages. What a incomparable picture. All of this is described in human terms--a city, the expensive materials used, etc.--because that's the only way we can understand it. How does one describe the magnificence of the final home of the saved? Picture it in a way we human, as best we can, understand it--with the most priceless and beautiful materials available. What else could John do?

There was no temple in this city, "for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple" (v. 22). There was no sun or moon, because "the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light"--the Lamb, of course, is equally God (v. 23). All the saved walk in that light, "and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it" (v. 24), something John's readers would understand better than we because of our democratic, egalitarian society. In the first century, only kings and the high nobility lived in "glory and honor;" the rest, peasants, were left to fend for themselves in poverty. The gates of the city will never be shut (v. 25)--they won't need to be, for no enemy shall ever attack. Pure safety in the presence of God. There will be no night (v. 26), when the evil plot and perform most of their mischief. And nothing vile or abominable shall ever enter that city, "but only those who are written in the Lamb's Book of Life" (v. 27). What else could be said of the perfection, beauty, and peace of the final home of God's people?

Well, there is a little more said in chapter 22. We have a chapter break that would probably be better not being here, but it is, so I will consider the final chapter, with concluding thoughts, in my next post.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Revelation 20

The overthrow of Satan (vs. 1-9)--There is very little that is easy about this chapter and I won't pretend that there is. I hesitate not in saying that I do not know all of what is being conveyed here, but I do think the basic ideas are clear; let us be reminded of Revelation 1:3 which pronounces a blessing on anyone who reads the book. If total understanding of this chapter is lacking, then there could be no blessing accruing from it. So there are some wonderfully comforting thoughts here which can inspire and solace us. And while I may not know all of what this chapter means, I do know what it does NOT mean, and it does not teach that there is going to be a literal 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth. This chapter says nothing about a reign of Christ on earth and, in keeping with the very nature of apocalyptic literature, the 1,000 years is almost surely symbolic as well. The whole concept of a 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth is taken from this one text; there is no other passage in the Bible that even remotely hints of such a thing. To build an entire system of Biblical interpretation on one short cluster of Scripture, and one that is in the midst of the most symbolic, figurative book in the Word of God, is shaky hermeneutics indeed. It should not be done. What does the Bible say, clearly, in other locations? Figurative passages should be interpreted in line with the plain passages, not visa-versa. And if the 1,000 years in this chapter is literal, then why not the key to the bottomless pit, the great chain, the binding of Satan (and is he a dragon or a serpent?). To be consistent, these things should be interpreted literally as well. But no one does this.

The major thrust of Revelation 20 is the final defeat and overthrow of Satan. As I noted in the last chapter, the enemies of God and His people are introduced in chapter 12. In that chapter, Satan comes forth. In chapter 13 come the two beasts, and in chapter 17, the harlot. Then, in reverse order they are all defeated--the harlot in chapter 18, the beasts in chapter 19, and now here, in chapter 20, Satan is finally and forever conquered. That's the point of this chapter, not the 1,000 years. If verses 4-6 of Revelation 20 were not in the Bible, no one would ever have conceived of a 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth. Again, as best, it is very, very poor scholarship and handling of God's word to base a system of theology on three verses in the Bible. Yet, premillennialism is a materialistic philosophy; people love the things of this world and want God to give this earthly junk to them for as long as possible. That's just not what the Bible teachers. We are not love this world or the things thereof (I John 2:15). Our treasures are to be placed in heaven, not the earth (Matt. 6:19-20). God is spirit, not flesh, and the true reality, true happiness, eternity, lies in spiritual matters, not physical. We simply must get our minds and hearts out of this world and into the next one.

Ok, given that, what does Revelation 20 mean? As repeated ad infinitum in this blog on the book of Revelation, how would John's beleaguered readers in 95 AD understand the passage? They would see their greatest adversary, the devil, effectively stopped from deceiving the nations (via emperor worship and the Roman Empire). An angel bounds Satan with a chain (vs. 1-2) and casts him into a bottomless pit for 1,000 years (vs. 2-3). The limiting of Satan's power is obviously in view here, not his final destruction, and that's the main point. John's readers perhaps--and I have no intention of being dogmatic or absolute here--would see this as Satan no longer being able to deceive the nations through the emperor worship demanded by the Roman Empire. Frequent reference has been made in earlier chapters to the "kings" and "nations" and their obsequious obedience to Rome. That's going to end. The 1,000 years may refer to a complete period of time (10x10x10), or it may mean the completeness of the destruction of the Roman Empire and not a time period. Be that as it may, after the 1,000 years--the ability of the devil to no more "deceive the nations" (via Rome, v. 3)--he will be "released for a little while" (v. 3). The Roman Empire is not the end of the work of Satan.

But it was the problem that John's readers faced. And with Rome "bound," the oppressors are defeated and the oppressed are victorious, enjoying total victory with Christ. Who the "they" are in verse 4 is unclear; perhaps the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, since the godhead ultimately works in tandem in judgment. The victory and reigning of those "who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands" (v. 4) is called "the first resurrection" (v. 5). The "rest of the dead" (v. 5) perchance refers to the faithful of God who had not lived under Roman domination. This is difficult, I make no bones about it, but I always come back to John's readers--they are the ones who need comfort here so the message applies primarily to them. They did not serve Rome, they were willing to die for the Lord, and thus they will reign with him. Over them, "the second death has no power" (v. 6). Again, this passage says nothing about a reign of Christ on earth; indeed, the martyrs were already in heaven (Rev. 6:9).

But Satan is relentless (vs. 7-10). After the Roman Empire, Satan was "released from his prison" (v. 7)--he still plagues us today, and will continue to "deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth" (v. 8). These nations are called "Gog and Magog," who have been enemies of God's people since Ezekiel 38 (the only other location in Scripture in which they are mentioned). They attempt to make war against the saints and persecute them (v. 9), but "fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them" (v. 9)--we are saved by Him, not by ourselves. Satan and his emissaries are then "cast into the lake of fire and brimstone" where "they will be tormented day and night forever and ever" (v. 10). Folks, Satan is not in hell right now; he's on the earth. Hell is reserved for him, too. This is not just the teaching of this passage, but other, plainer, passages elsewhere (cf. I Pet. 5:8). Satan will ultimately be defeated where he can tempt us and destroy our souls no more. What greater, more comforting knowledge is there than that? Emphasizing the 1,000 reign in this chapter completely misses the magnificent promise of the final defeat of our greatest enemy.

The great white throne (vs. 11-15)--God is there on that throne (v. 11-12), and "the dead, small and great" will someday stand before Him (. 12). No escapes the final judgment. The "books" (the Bible) were opened, as well as the Book of Life; that these first books refer to the Bible is evident in that all will be judged "by the things which were written in the books" (v. 12). And we will be judged "according to [our] works" (v. 12)--there is indeed a part man plays in his own salvation. Again, all, even those who are dead at the time of the final judgment, will face God. When that judgment is over, there will be no more death, and no more Hades, which is apparently the resting place of the soul before the final judgment (v. 14). The saved will be with God (as described in the next two chapters) and the lost will be "cast into the lake of fire" (v. 15). God's people will live forever; God's enemies will live forever, too--but not in His presence.

I do believe I've captured above the general essence of Revelation 20, "general" being the point of apocalyptic literature anyway. The specifics have been debated since the book was released to the public almost 2,000 years ago. The earthly 1,000 year reign has been propagated ever since, but again, I find no warrant for such a doctrine anywhere else in the Bible. Indeed, when it speaks clearly, without a figure, inspiration tells us of heaven, not the earth. Victory, a heavenly home with God for eternity, is what we await.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Revelation 19

Rejoicing over the fall of Rome (vs. 1-10)--The ultimate collapse of the Roman Empire was still a few centuries away (476 A.D. is the "official" date because that is the last time a Roman sat on the imperial throne), but so sure is that collapse that it is spoken of in the past tense--"He [God] has judged the great harlot...and has avenged on her the blood of His servants shed by her" (v. 2). This is a cause for great rejoicing, which takes place all through this section. A few noteworthy points. The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures of chapter 4 are still around worshipping God (v. 4). As noted in that chapter the twenty-four elders perhaps represent the redeemed of all dispensations, while the four living creatures indicate that everything in the natural world worships and praises God. Again, I say "perhaps" because we must be careful not to be dogmatic about the specific symbols and events of apocalyptic literature. The word "Hallelujah," found in three verses (vs. 1, 3, and 6) means "praise the Lord." God is worthy of "glory and honor and power" (v. 1), His judgments are "true and righteous" (v. 2), He is "Lord" and "omnipotent" (v. 6). He has prepared a marriage for the Lamb (cf. Matt. 22:1-14), and those who are called to it (those who have accepted the gospel) are "blessed." "His wife has made herself ready" (v. 7). This is very possibly a reference to the church, which is referred to as the bride of Christ in Ephesians 5:30-32. The wife was clothed in "fine linen, clean and bright" (purity, v. 8); the "fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints" (v. 8). God sees our works and rewards us for them. John was so overcome with what he saw that he fell down and worshipped the messenger, who corrected him and told him to worship only God. The last statement in verse 10 is interesting: "For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy," which almost surely means that the ultimate purpose of the preaching/writings of the Old Testament prophets was to speak of the coming of the Messiah.

The defeat of the two beasts (vs. 11-19)--It's interesting to note that Satan was introduced first (chapter 12), then the two beasts (chapter 13), and then the harlot (chapter 17), but their overthrow is in reverse order--the woman first, then the two beasts, then Satan. Whether there is any significance to this or not, I do not know, except the devil, being the ultimate enemy, would--and will be--the final foe defeated. If the harlot represents the totality of the Roman Empire and the first beast, as I suggested, represents the emperor, then, in the order of things in Revelation, we have the empire overthrown before the emperor. I don't think the "chronology" here is important. In apocalyptic literature, anything can happen at any time, and chronology is of little or no importance. It's the ultimate message that is significant.

Jesus appears from heaven (v. 11). That this is Christ is unquestionable. He is "called Faithful and True" and He judges in righteousness (v. 11). He was clothed in a robe dipped in blood (probably a reference to His own redeeming work), and "His name is called The Word of God" (v. 13). See John 1:1-2 for an exact parallel to this. A sharp sword (the word of God, Ephesians 6:17) came out of His mouth, and that will be His tool to "strike (judge) the nations" (v. 15). He, indeed, will judge mankind by His Word (John 12:48). And if there remains any doubt as to the identity of this individual, verse 16 should totally remove it: On his robe and thigh were written "KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS," which is exactly what Paul calls Him in I Timothy 6:15. His judging responsibilities are further indicated in verse 15: "And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God." On His head He wore "many crowns"--not just one, to indicate His authority over all the earth (Matt. 28:18). In verses 17-18 an angel calls out "to all the birds [scavengers in this case] that fly in the midst of heaven" and tells them to get prepared "for the supper of the great God, that you may eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, both small and great." The slaughter of the Lamb's enemies will be great. There was indeed a great battle (v. 19); the wicked fight mightily against the Lord, but the outcome is never uncertain. The two beasts were captured and "cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone" (v. 20), and all those who had followed them were likewise dispatched, "killed with the sword" and food for the birds (v. 21). As always, we must ask, how would John's readers understand this, and the answer would surely be in reference to their current conditions--persecution by the Romans, something that would continue, sporadically, for another two+ centuries. Trying to relate all of this to events 2,000 years later would be of only limited benefit to 1st century Christians. It's nice to know that Satan would ultimately be defeated (they knew that anyway); what they needed was some assurance that their earthly enemy would also be punished, and that in a temporal way. John gives them that assurance as the book draws to a close.

Incidentally, this coming of Jesus is not the 2nd coming. This is a "coming" in judgment upon Rome; the war is made against her and those who supported her. The final three chapters do speak of the ultimate overthrow and defeat of Satan and the eternal home of the saints, but they simply "telescope" ahead to insure all of us that he who is trying to destroy our souls in hell will eventually end up there himself.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Revelation 18

"Babylon is fallen, is fallen" (vs. 1-8)--A lot of the language of this chapter is derived from the Old Testament in regards to the ancient city of Babylon. "Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen" is taken directly from Isaiah 21:9. This whole chapter deals with the judgment of God against the city of Rome. The first eight verses explain why, some of which has already been mentioned in earlier chapters. Demons dwell there (or will), as well as "every unclean and hated bird" (v. 3). Rome's "fornication" (immorality) and wealth are also reasons for her destruction (v. 4). God's people are not to get caught up in Rome's glory and splendor "lest you receive of her plagues" (v. 5). God sees Rome's sins and "remembered her iniquities" (v. 6). The angel who is speaking then requests that the Lord "repay her double according to her works" (v. 6); as great as Rome's glory has been, let her punishment match it, for her pride and arrogance knows no bounds (v. 7). "Therefore her plagues will come in one day"--her judgment is sure and swift (v. 8). Her judgment will be complete (v. 8). Rome, which during the great heyday of her empire had probably over 1,000,000 in population, at one point in the 5th century dwindled down to 10,000.

The wicked sorrow over "Babylon's" doom (vs. 9-20)--This section accurately describes the tremendous wealth that flowed into and out of Rome. Many, many people--mainly kings and merchants--grew rich off trade with the city, and thus "will weep and lament for her, when they see the smoke of her burning" (v. 9). They will wail "''Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! For in one hour your judgment has come'" (v. 10). Verses 12 and 13 lists some of the fine products that will no longer be available and will no longer enrich "the merchants of the earth" who will "weep and mourn over her, for no one buys their merchandise anymore" (v. 11). Indeed, Rome's fall led to a period in European history popularly referred to as the "Dark Ages," though historians of the period prefer "Medieval Europe." But Rome will not longer live in and provide the luxury she once did (v. 14). Shipmasters as well will be distressed at Rome's fall, for obvious reasons (vs. 17-18), "weeping and wailing, and saying, 'Alas, alas, that great city, in which all who had ships on the sea became rich by her wealth'" for, again, "in one hour she is made desolate" (v. 19). That thought of "one hour" (or "one day", v. 8) is found four times in this chapter--verses 8, 10, 17, and 19--indicating the surety and swiftness of Rome's punishment. God's people will rejoice "for God has avenged you on her!" (v. 20). Comforting words to John's readers. They would not live to see Rome's fall, which was some 300 years in the future; but they could rest assured that God saw their plight and that their enemy would be punished and they would be redeemed and victorious in the end. That last thought will be more fully elucidated in chapter 20.

The great millstone (vs. 21-24)--Then "a mighty angel" cast a "stone like a great millstone" into the sea; a nice illustration of how Rome will sink, "and shall not be found anymore" (v. 21). Some premillennialists have argued that there will be a "revived" Roman Empire before the "rapture," "Antichrist," and "Battle of Armageddon," but John says the Empire "shall not be found anymore."  The city itself still exists to this day, of course, but the Roman empire is gone and will never rise again. Amusement and business life (v. 22) as well as home life (v. 23) will cease. Verse 24 explains why: "in her was found the blood of prophets and saints, and of all who were slain on the earth." God's people will indeed be avenged of this terrible enemy.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Revelation 17

The scarlet woman: Rome (vs. 1-18)--There are four great scenes that finish up the book of Revelation: this history and fall of Rome (17:1-19:10), the overthrow of the beasts and Satan (19:11-20:10), the universal judgment (20:11-15), and the glories of the new Jerusalem (21:1-22:5). So important was the first topic (the destruction of Rome) that almost three complete chapters are given to it. This, of course, was the crux of the problem which John was writing about and what his beleaguered readers wanted to know. But it wasn't enough just to know that Rome was due for judgment; that great power behind the Empire (Satan) must be destroyed as well and the glorious future of the saints assured. All of that is encompassed in these last six chapters of Revelation.

This is probably the most difficult of the final chapters. The identification of the woman (harlot) introduced here is not hard to determine. She sits on "many waters" (v. 1), which is defined in verse 15 as "peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues," certainly an apt description of the Roman Empire. She also sits on seven mountains (v. 9), which was geographically true of the city of Rome. Kings fornicate (figuratively) with her--they give themselves over to her, for a price, and "the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication" (v. 2)--a revelry of paganism that demonstrated Rome's dominance over the peoples it ruled. The woman herself sat on a "scarlet beast" (blood?), which was full of "names of blasphemy," and had seven heads and ten horns (v. 3)--more on that in a moment. The woman herself was arrayed in royal garments (v. 4), and was identified by a name on her forehead as "the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth" (v. 5). She was "drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus" (v. 6). John marveled at her appearance (v. 6), but was questioned about it by the angel (v. 7). The beast the John saw (probably the first one in chapter 13) "was, and is not"--existed, and some day won't, but will, with its followers, "go to perdition" (v. 8). The destruction of Rome would be an amazing, and frightening, thing to those "whose names are not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world" (v. 8). Indeed, when the Roman Empire finally crumbled and was no more, it was shattering to many people. Rome had ruled the world for almost 1,000 years; how could it not be? St. Augustine wrote his famous and very influential book The City of God to try to explain the end of something that seemed timeless. We, in America, can hardly imagine a world without the United States, but we've only been around a little over 200 years. Imagine how the ancients felt at the fall of Rome! Yet the city of Rome was dominant in western civilization for another 1,000 years for it was the seat (and still is, of course) of the Catholic Church. And Roman law, adapted by British common law, remains the basis of western law. The influence of the Roman Empire is yet felt to this very day. And just as the pagans in that empire tried to undermine and destroy Christianity, so the pagans today would love to eradicate the religion of Jesus from the world. They will have as much success as Domitian, Marcus Aurelius, and Diocletian had. Modern pagans are ignoring the book of Revelation, too, but the message, though immediately intended for the early centuries of the Christian era, is timeless and as valuable today as it was when first written.

Verses 9-12 are a real enigma. Many have tried to specifically and literally identify the "seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come. And when he comes, he must continue a short time" (v. 9). The "ten kings" of verse 12 are also difficult to name with exactitude. Given the nature of apocalyptic literature and the symbolism of numbers, there is a better than even chance that the numbers in verses 9-12 should also be understood figuratively. The seven kings represent the completeness of the time Rome will rule; five have come, so that rule has not yet finished. The beast "is himself also the eighth, and is of the seven, and is going to perdition" (v. 11), which can, and has, been interpreted so many different ways that it's obvious no one knows for sure what it means. I don't, and I won't hazard a guess. This genre of literature (apocalyptic) is so foreign to us that its expressions, at times, are completely beyond our comprehension; humility is absolutely essential when approaching this language. The ten horns that were on the scarlet beast "are ten kings" (v. 12), who will serve Rom "for one hour" (a short time, vs. 12-13); they will also "make war with the Lamb" (v. 14), and be defeated. These "ten kings" are probably not ten literal kings, but the totality of nations ruled by the Roman empire, and they will one day rebel against her, "hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire" (v. 16). No one served Rome out of love, but only out of fear. And when that fear was passed, revolt and revolution were the standard. Think of the modern Soviet Union. When its satellite countries perceived weakness, they went their own way and their was nothing the USSR could do about it--but crumble and fall. Just like Rome. In verse 17, John tells us that the destruction of Rome by others was God's plan; Rome also had its part of play in His purposes (v. 17), but once fulfilled, no longer was needed. The "pax Romana" provided a wonderful background for the establishment and spread of Christianity. And nothing Rome would eventually attempt could stave off the growth and spread of the kingdom of God. And nothing today will stop it, either.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Revelation 16

The seven bowls of wrath (vs. 1-21)--As we move towards the final climax, punishment will now be meted out on the earth in the form of seven "bowls of wrath." The first six come rapidly (vs. 2-12): "foul and loathsome" sores came upon those who "had the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image" (v. 2). Then the sea became blood (v. 3), rivers and springs also became blood (v. 4), men "were scorched with great heat" (v. 8), the kingdom of the beast "became full of darkness" (v. 10), and the Euphrates River dried up. In the midst of this, one of the angels proclaimed the justice and righteousness of God. "They have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. For it is their just due" (v. 6). "True and righteous are Your judgments" (v. 7). Men "blasphemed the name of God...they did not repent and give Him glory" (v. 9).

The specific meaning of these first six bowls is almost surely impossible to determine, and it is extremely problematic that they have no reference to any precise historical events. The whole effect, God's retributive wrath, is what is important. Those to whom John wrote would of a certainty see this as wrath executed upon the Roman Empire.

Verses 13-16 are an interlude between the sixth and seventh plagues. The three great enemies introduced so far--the dragon and the two beasts--attempt to fight back. They each belch out "unclean spirits like frogs" who are "spirits of demons, performing signs" (vs. 13-14) and they round up the "kings of the earth and the whole world" to do battle against God. They gathered at a "place called in Hebrew, Armageddon" (v. 16).

Armageddon, or the valley of Megiddo, was a famous Hebrew battlefield. It was in this region that Gideon and his 300 defeated the Midianites, Saul was defeated by the Philistines, Deborah and Barak won a victory over the Canaanite king, Jabin, King Ahaziah dies of Jehu's arrows, and the Egyptian Pharoah Necho conquered and killed Josiah. Megiddo had long symbolized to the Jews an example of national grief. Sometimes God's people won victories there, sometimes they lost. Thus, Armageddon fitly served symbolically to John's readers as a place for the final, ultimate battle of good and evil. This is NOT a literal battle, nor is it going to be; it must be understood as a figure--unless the devil's forces are going to be led by three frogs! If the battle is literal, then why aren't the frogs? We must be as consistent as possible in our interpretations, and always remember that this is apocalyptic literature where grotesque, awesome, sometimes frightening visions are used to describe great spiritual truths. There is no non-figurative passage of Scripture in the Bible that speaks of some actual "battle of Armageddon" in the future. It is extremely, extremely dangerous Biblical hermeneutics to build systems of doctrines on symbolic language. Such is the grave error of the premillennial system.

In the midst of this horrible picture, there is a word of comfort (and warning) to God's people: "Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame" (v. 15). Faithfulness is demanded in the face of persecution. There is no excuse, especially since God has given advance notice in this book of what the saints will have to face.

The final scene of the chapter (vs. 17-21) has the seventh angel pouring out his bowl "into the air," and a voice is heard "out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying 'It is done'" (v. 17). The judgment and condemnation of the wicked is sure. John heard noise of thunderings and lightenings, and there was a great earthquake "such a mighty and great earthquake as had not occurred since men were on the earth" (v. 18). These great events picture the forthcoming of great judgment upon "the great city" (v. 19)--Rome--which was divided into three parts (falling apart?), and the nations standing with her "fell.” God "remembered" the city ("Babylon"--Rome), to "give her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath” (v. 19) This is certainly a message of comfort to John's readers who were and would suffer at the hands of this pagan city. Another plague (hailstones which weighed either 55 or 113 pounds, depending upon whether Greek or Jewish weights for the "talent" is used) fell upon men, who "blasphemed God" (v. 21), but apparently did not repent. This sets the stage for the four final scenes of the book, where all the enemies of God will be punished and victory and glory are assured.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Revelation 15

The song of Moses and the Lamb (vs. 1-4)--In one major sense, this chapter sets the stage for the ending of the book. John sees seven angels appear, "having the seven last plagues, for in them the wrath of God is complete" (v. 1). The earlier judgments of the angels (the seals, the trumpets) did not affect all the wicked; the final judgment is approaching, however, with glorious victory for God's people. The "sea of glass" had been introduced in Revelation 4:6, apparently separating God and His people. Now, those "who have the victory over the beast" are "standing on the sea of glass" (v. 2)--getting ever closer to the heavenly Father. Revelation 21:1 says, "There is no more sea." Nothing will separate us from God throughout eternity. These victorious saints in chapter 15 "sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb" (v. 3). The "song of Moses" refers back to Exodus 15, a beautiful ode to God at Israel's deliverance from slavery and the final defeat of the Egyptians—two themes John’s readers would be glad to be reminded of. This current song combines praise for the power of God, His justice, His holiness, and His righteous judgments, which "have been manifested" (v. 4). Those "judgments" had not been fully "manifested" yet; that won't happen until the final Day of Judgment. But they are so certain that the song is sung as if they had already happened.

The seven angels with the seven plagues (vs. 5-8)--John then witnesses seven angels, dressed in pure, exquisite clothing (vs. 5-6) come out of the heavenly temple, having seven plagues which were lodged in "seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever" (v. 7). They are about to pour out these bowls of wrath (mostly in chapter 16). The final scene is an awesome one, with the temple being "filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power" (v. 8). Clouds and smoke often represent the power and splendor of the Almighty. Such a scene as John describes is reminiscent of God's appearance to Israel on the mount: "Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly" (Exodus 19:18). Who can stand before the might, majesty, and power of this unrivaled Deity? No one, and now, in Revelation 15:8, no one was allowed to enter the heavenly temple till the seven plagues were completed. God must finish His work and then He will welcome us into His eternal abode.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Revelation 14

The Lamb protects His own (vs. 1-5)--Chapters 12 and 13 introduced us to some fearsome monsters, adversaries of God's people who have great cunning, strength, power, authority, and charisma. Who can protect the elect from such horrible creatures? A Lamb. Quite an irony. Perhaps the most helpless animal on earth can defeat the most terrible foes of God's faithful. In verse 1, He stood on Mount Zion, with 144,000 with Him--the totality of the saints, not one being overlooked. They had "His Father's name written on their foreheads.” Remember, in chapter 13, that those who serve the beast have "a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads" (13:16). God's people carry His stamp. There was great rejoicing in heaven; a new song was sung that only the redeemed could sing (v. 3). Nothing, NOTHING could harm them as long as they remained pure and followed "the Lamb wherever Him goes" (vs. 4-5). Incidentally, if the 144,000 is literal, as the Jehovah's Witnesses and some others teach, then why not the statement "these are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins"? No women among the 144,000? This shows the tremendous danger of trying to literalize apocalyptic language. His people, pure in life and tongue, will be perfectly protected in the judgment to come.

Judgment announced upon the wicked (vs. 6-13)--For truly judgment was about to come. Again, keep in mind John's readers. They were under the threat of severe persecutions. Frightful enemies had been introduced (chapters 12 and 13). But here they are given assurance that they will be sheltered by the Lamb they serve and that those who trouble and hurt them will get their just due. In verses 6 and 7, and angel appears "flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth--to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people" (v. 6). His message of good news is for all of mankind. And that message is one including judgment (v. 7). Thus, all men are encouraged to "fear God...and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water" (v. 7). Another angel followed and pronounced doom upon "Babylon": "Babylon is fallen, is fallen" (v. 8). This language is borrowed from Isaiah 21:9 regarding the destruction of that once-powerful city/empire. No doubt John's readers would understand this to be Rome, "that great city, [which] has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication." Babylon, in ancient times, was a symbol for wickedness and debauchery, and the saints in the first century would certainly believe the same of Rome.

A third angel then appeared "saying with a loud voice" (so that all could hear and understand) that any who served the beast in any way would "drink of the wine of the wrath of God" (v. 10). So those who drank Rome's "wine of wrath" would soon drink of God's "wine of wrath." Those who meet that fate "shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb" (v. 10). In the presence of the angels and Jesus? Are those in hell going to be able to see the joy and rejoicing in heaven? Luke 16:19-31 (the rich man and Lazarus) seems to indicate so as well. Regardless, their punishment is eternal (v. 11). There is, of course, an implicit warning for John's readers. Christian martyrs who were burned at the stake suffered only a few minutes of torment, and afterwards possessed eternal life in fellowship with God. The torment of fire never ends for those who reject the Lamb. Indeed, "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on" (v. 13). They rest from their labors and their works follows them (v. 13). Who are these people? Those who have been patient, "those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus" (v. 12). The contrast in eternal destinies could not be starker.

The sickle of judgment (vs. 14-20)--John then sees a "white cloud" (purity and holiness) with one "like the Son of Man" sitting on it. He had a crown on His head ("King of kings") and a sharp sickle in His hand (v. 14). Another angel came forth ("out of the temple") and announced the reaping of the earth via the Son of Man's sickle (v. 15)--"the time has come...the earth is ripe." This reaping takes place in verse 16: "He who sat on the cloud thrust in His sickle on the earth, and the earth was reaped." Two more angels then make their appearance, one carrying another sharp sickle, and another telling him to "Thrust in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe" (v. 18). The angel with the sickle obeyed, and cast the vines "into the great winepress of the wrath of God" (v. 19). The grapes were trampled, and blood came out, "up to the horses' bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs," about 200 miles (v. 20). The judgment of God is severe upon those who oppose Him and harm His saints. This chapter (and the coming ones) give great encouragement to the readers. Satan has vicious, powerful foes and many will submit to them. The saints will be oppressed (13:17), but, as long as they stay faithful, a new day of victory and judgment will dawn, all demonstrated in the typical signs and symbols of apocalyptic literature.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Revelation 13

The beast of the sea (vs. 1-10, 18)—The dragon of chapter 12 was not without helpers when he attacked the people of God.  Indeed, such helpers would be his main tools.  We are introduced to two of them in this chapter, the “beast of the sea” and the “beast of the land.”  These two beasts have engendered countless attempts to identify them, but if we hold true to our foundation point—how would John’s readers understand them?—then I think we can come up with a pretty good idea on both.  This first beast had “seven heads” (all wisdom) and “ten horns” (all power).  The dragon “gave him his power, his throne, and great authority” (v. 2).  This wisdom, power, and authority is from a worldly perspective, of course; this beast is certainly not in God’s camp.  Even if you cut off one of his heads (and this doesn’t represent any major historical event), he still lives—he seems invincible.  So “all the world marveled and followed the beast” (v. 3).  He blasphemed God and everything related to Him (v. 6), and persecuted His people (v. 7), but only for a limited, but indefinite, period of time (v. 5).  “And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation” (v. 7).  Everybody, except the saints, submitted to him (v. 9).  He will eventually be destroyed by his own weapons, but until then, God’s people must be patient and faithful through this period of trial and persecution (v. 10).

Now, you’re one of John’s readers.  Who would you identify the above with?  It’s not hard to figure out.  This is a pretty good description of the Roman emperor.  His number (v. 18) is “666.”  The symbolic number “6” falls short of the divine number “7,” and was a number of evil to the ancients (much like the number 13 is to many today).  So take “6,” stretch it out three times—“666”—and you have evil, evil, evil.  Read again my article on “Numerical Symbolism” elsewhere on this blog (check the March archives) for a full explanation of this exceedingly important part of apocalyptic literature.  There can be little doubt, if we put ourselves into the minds of those to whom John wrote, that they would identify this creature with their greatest enemy, the Roman emperor, who demanded they worship him, and often persecuted them severely if they did not.  This is further confirmed by John’s statement in verse 18 that the 666 “is the number of a man.”

There is no reason to make this any harder than it is, which is what some people have done.  If it’s too hard, then John’s readers wouldn’t have been able to understand it, either.  If so, then what good would it have done them?

The second beast (vs. 11-17)—This beast is a little more difficult to identify.  His main characteristic is that he “causes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast” (v. 12).  He performed great signs, and deceived the world (vs. 13-14).  Part of his authority was “to give breath to the image of the [first] beast” (v. 15), that is enforce his laws, and “cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed” (v. 15), which was pretty literal.  Just as God’s people were “sealed” on their “foreheads” (7:3), even so, those who submit to the [first] beast were “to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads” (v. 16).  This was significant, because “no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name” (v. 17).  There is some literalness to this, but mainly the idea is that those who did not serve and worship the Roman emperor and religion were going to be in dire straits—perhaps lose their lives, but at best, not be able to buy, sell, or get gain.

Who is this second beast?  Again, he’s a little more difficult to pinpoint exactly, but given his description, he certainly represents the false religion of the Roman empire.  Summers believes that the beast would be understood by John’s readers as the Roman “concilia” (committee) to enforce emperor worship—that legal arm that put the emperor’s religious demands into practice.  This is the best explanation I have seen.  Or, John’s readers might simply see this beast at the whole bureaucratic structure that implemented the emperor’s laws. 

These two beasts, added to the dragon of chapter 12, provide strong forces of evil engaged in battle with the forces of righteousness.  And the devil isn’t through unsheathing swords yet.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Revelation 12

Satan’s first attempt: devour the male child (vs. 1-6)—Satan will make three attempts in this chapter to destroy God’s people/interfere with His plan for man’s salvation. When those three attempts fail, he will call up some pretty frightening helpers in chapter 13. Chapter 12 starts another major division of the book, which goes through the final chapter and ultimate victory for the saints. The action here is fast and furious; Satan and his host will win some battles but the war is the Lord’s. Again, very comforting to the Christians of John’s day. Since the enemy is so vicious and terrifying in this part of the Revelation, the end of chapter 11—which prefigures eventual triumph—was very helpful and encouraging. At least we know the end result.

In verses 1-6 we see a woman gloriously arrayed (v. 1). She is with child and about to give birth (v. 2). But then “a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads” appears (v. 3); what a horrifying creature! The seven heads represent great wisdom (evil wisdom). The ten horns represent the total power he possesses in the world (to do evil). The seven diadems indicate his perfect reign over the lives of many. Even though it is a vision of Satan, it’s also a pretty good representation of the Roman empire; at least the Christians of John’s day would no doubt think so. He’s a very powerful creature, able to wipe out a third of the stars of heaven with his tail and cast them to the earth (v. 4). He tries to devour the child of the woman at birth, but is unsuccessful. The child was “a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and His throne” (v. 5). This is obviously Christ and if Satan had been able to destroy Him, such would have ended Christianity then and there. But the devil fails. The woman flees into the wilderness, to a place prepared for her by God, where she stays for an indefinite period of time.

The identity of the woman has long been debated. Some think she represents Judaism, out of whom the Christ was born; others think she is the Christian church because of matters later in the chapter. Frankly, I don’t know and won’t attempt a guess. Such is not the point of the chapter anyway. John is warning his readers here of the relentlessness of Satan, that he just won’t give up.

The second attempt: war in heaven (v. 7-12)—If people think Satan is a spineless coward, all they need to do is read this section. He goes right up into heaven, into the very presence of God to make war against Him. Now, obviously, this is figurative, but it does picture to us a bold, belligerent being who is not afraid of anything. Michael, the archangel, and his host wage war against “the dragon and his angels” (v. 7). The good guys won and Satan was “cast, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan” (v. 9). This is actually the first time in the chapter that the dragon is specifically identified. With Satan booted out of heaven, salvation is announced and assured: “the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down" (v. 10). Verse 11 is significant. Who is it whom Satan accuses and how do they become part of the redeemed? “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.” Jesus’ blood provides us forgiveness, His word gives us guidance, and our willingness to die for His cause means allegiance to Him above all. Those who dwell in heaven may rejoice, but those still on earth are faced with a woe: “the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time" (v. 12). This, of course, especially means the beleaguered saints John was writing to. They will have to deal with the devil, but only for “a short time.” And, again, the route to victory has been given to them (v. 11).

The third attempt: waging war against the woman (vs. 13-17)—Whoever this woman is, she’s obviously important to God’s cause, having given birth to the Christ. The devil, now on earth, “persecuted” her (v. 13). This would lead us to believe that the woman symbolizes the church; but the church didn’t give birth to Jesus, of course. It doesn’t matter; she’s important, Satan hates her, and he’s after her. But she was given “two wings of a great eagle” where she was transported to safety in the wilderness. Well, almost safety. “The serpent spewed water out of his mouth like a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away by the flood” (v. 15). He just won’t quit. But the earth protected the woman, swallowing the flood (v. 16). What the specifics of this might mean, I do not know; all I know is that Satan fails in his endeavor to destroy that which is precious to God. Well, since Satan was unable to destroy the woman, he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (v. 17). That’s not good news for John’s readers, and indeed, in chapter 13, more horror is introduced.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Revelation 11

Measuring the temple (vs. 1-2)—The “temple” represents the people of God, i.e., Christians (I Cor. 3: 16). John is given a measuring rod to measure the temple (v. 1). The “Gentiles” (non-believers) are allowed to “tread the holy city underfoot for forty-two months” (v. 2), an indefinite, but limited, period of time. These two verses are a warning to John’s readers. Because of what God will do to His enemies, Christians had better measure up and not be found among the unbelievers or they, too, will feel His wrath. Don’t give up, is the message here. We must not succumb to hardship and persecution. We will be “measured,” to make sure we “measure” up. Let us not be found wanting.

The two witnesses (vs. 3-14)—God has many weapons in His arsenal, of course. Here we are introduced to “my two witnesses,” who will prophesy 1,260 days—another reference to the indefinite 3½ symbolic number. The witnesses are clothed in sackcloth (v. 3), representing the mourning and humility needed to honor God. Their message brings comfort (the olive trees) and light (the two lampstands); more than one of each means greater comfort and strength (v. 5). These two witnesses are powerful, given authority from God to do whatever is necessary to finish their course (v. 6).

Yet when they complete their work, “the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit” (v. 7—more on him later) will “make war against them, overcome them, and kill them.” Satan wins some battles; we must realize that this is a war that we are in and, in wars, good people as well as evil ones, are sometimes defeated and die. The bodies of the two witnesses are left to “lie in the street of the great city” (v. 8)—where they can be seen as an encouragement to God’s enemies and a discouragement to His people. Clarke’s comment on the “great city…where also our Lord was crucified” is good: “Some say Rome, which may be spiritually called Sodom for its abominations, Egypt for its tyrannous cruelty, and the place where our Lord was crucified, because of its persecution of the members of Christ; but Jerusalem itself may be intended. All these things I must leave to others.” (Adam Clarke's Commentary) As usual in Revelation, we must be careful not to be too dogmatic about particulars. It is the main message that is important. The wicked rejoice over the death of the two witnesses, “make merry, and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth” (v. 10). Yes, indeed, the Word of God torments sinners!

But, the truth will triumph. “After the three-and-a-half days,” the witnesses are resurrected (v.11--God’s purposes cannot be defeated forever), His enemies are frightened, and the witnesses ascend to heaven (v. 12—victory). The Lord then takes vengeance. This is still just a partial judgment, however (only a tenth of the city was destroyed, v. 13). This is the second woe upon the wicked (see 9:12), and there is one more to come (v. 14).

The seventh trumpet (vs. 15-19)—Finally we get to the sounding of the seventh trumpet. It is a trumpet of victory and rejoicing. The kingdoms of the world belong to the Lord and His Christ, “and He shall reign forever and ever” (v. 15). The 24 elders before the throne worship Him with words of thanksgiving and praise. His wrath comes upon the nations and His servants are rewarded (v. 18). Dark days are still ahead (v. 19), but we have been assured that God’s cause will triumph and His people will be protected. Again, this is the message John’s readers needed to hear. Why does he keep repeating it? Because that’s the nature of apocalyptic literature.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Revelation 10

The angel and the 7 thunders (vs. 1-7)—Revelation 10:1-11:13 actually constitute a whole. They picture the interlude between the sounding of the 6th and 7th trumpets. John sees four visions, two in each chapter, and we will look at each in turn.

The crux of the first vision is the sounding of seven thunders (v. 3). In verse 1, John sees an angel, “clothed with a cloud.” Clouds are often associated in Scripture with judgment. The angel had a rainbow on his head (the merciful covenant of God), his face shone like the sun (reflecting the glories and purity of heaven), and his feet were like “pillars of fire” (strength and destruction). He had a little book in his hand (v. 2), but we don’t know what was in it and it’s useless to speculate, though I will later in this post. The angel had one foot on the sea and one on the land—his message will cover all the earth (v. 2). When he spoke, his voice was “as when a lion roars”—fierce and frightening—and “seven thunders uttered their voices” (v. 3). They said something and John was about to write it down, but was not allowed to do so (v. 4). The angel who was standing on the land and see “swore by Him who lives forever and ever” that “there should be delay no longer” (v. 6). In other words, God’s judgments would come very soon. That would have been quite comforting to the beleaguered, persecuted saints to whom John wrote. That’s what they wanted to know; how long their trials would continue. The seventh angel (trumpet) was “about to sound” and “the mystery of God would be finished, as He declared to His servants the prophets” (v. 7). Exactly what this “mystery” was is a mystery; if we knew what it was, it wouldn’t be a “mystery”! Given the purpose of John’s book, it perhaps refers to the ultimate destruction of Rome, or victory by the church over Rome. Daniel wrote about this in Daniel 2 and 7, and many of the prophets spoke of the conquest of God’s kingdom (the church) over the world (spiritually). If it does refer to the destruction of Rome, then John would not want to write about it openly, lest such information fall into the hands of the authorities and create greater problems for the saints. But, as always, we must be very careful in our interpretations of specifics in apocalyptic literature; it is the whole which is to be grasped, so we mustn’t get bogged down in details, which, if they were (are) important, were explained.

The little book (vs. 8-11)—The second vision John sees in the interlude is a command from heaven for him to take the little book that was in the hand of the angel (v. 8; the book was mentioned in verse 2). John obeys, requesting the book, and the angel told him to take it and eat it. The book was obviously filled with some message from God; it was sweet to the taste, but bitter to the stomach (v. 9). God’s word is beautiful—“How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103). But the bitter consequences of the wrath of God is a sorrowful, sad thing. My best guess as to what the little book contained would be the rest of the revelation, for the angel “said to me, ‘You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings’" (v. 11). John’s work wasn’t finished yet, and the remainder of the book of Revelation contains both bad news and good.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Revelation 9

The fifth angel blows his trumpet (vs. 1-12)—And unleashes a massive locust plague. When the trumpet sounds, John sees a star falling from heaven to earth. To this star “was given the key to the bottomless pit” (v. 1). The “star” almost certainly represents an angel bathed in light. When he opened the bottomless pit, a great amount of smoke ascended, so great that “the sun and the air were darkened” (v. 2). Then followed locusts, and they were “given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power” (v. 3). This was different from an actual locust plague because here, in chapter 9, the insects could not harm anything but “those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads” (v. 4)—non-believers; God’s people would be protected. Thus, the locusts were a plague against men, not the earth. They didn’t kill, but only tormented, and this they did for five months (the normal length of a locust plague, v. 5). Their sting was like that of a scorpion (v. 6), and was so dreadful that men sought death to escape, but did not find it; “they will desire to die, and death will flee from them” (v. 6). John describes the locusts in verses 7-10, and they don’t look like any locust that man has ever seen. Yet again, we are dealing here with apocalyptic language, so even though these creatures looked like horses, had crowns “something like gold” on their heads, had the faces of men, hair like women, teeth like a lion’s, breastplates of iron, tails like scorpions, and wings that sounded like chariots…John still saw them as locusts. They had a king, whose name was “Destroyer” (v. 11). This was a horrible plague, but there were still two more trumpets to be sounded (v. 12).

The sixth trumpet sounds (vs. 13-21)—At the sounding of the next trumpet John heard a voice which came from “the four horns of the golden altar which is before God” (v. 13). This voice told the sixth angel to “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates" (v. 14). Bad news. These four angels, “who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year” (God will act at the appropriate time), were given the authority to kill a third of mankind (v 15). They had an army of 200,000,000 (v. 16), an utterly fantastic number in John’s day (and today, for that matter). This number indicates the complete dominance of the Lord and His cause; none of His enemies could stand against such a force. And they were let loose to punish those who persecuted His people. This again, would be of great comfort to John’s beleaguered readers to know that God has resources at His command that none, even the Roman emperor and his legions, could withstand. The various horses are described (v. 17), and they are awesome creatures indeed, with the heads of lions and breath of fire, smoke, and brimstone. What would any army do if it saw horses like that coming at them—especially if there were 200,000,000 of them? A third of mankind were killed via these horsemen (v. 18; they even had tails like serpents, v. 19). But regardless of this awesome display of power and destruction by God, “the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk” (v. 20). Well, it isn’t God’s fault. He gave them fair warning of what happens to those who do ”not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts” (v. 21), and if men are too obtuse and stubborn to humble themselves before Him, they will have to suffer the consequences.

So in chapters 8 and 9, we have six of the seven trumpets sounding (there will be an interlude before the seventh trumpet blows). At the sounding of these horns, God sends hail and fire mingled with blood, thunderings, lightenings, and earthquakes, and even the angel of death. Wormwood, gall, and an horrendous locust plague to soften the hearts of men (torment, not kill, 9:5). Like the Egyptian plagues were designed to soften Pharaoh’s heart so that he would no longer brutalize God’s people, even so these plagues are sent for the same reason. Yet, like Pharaoh, those whom John sees do not repent, so since they refuse to quit persecuting the Lord’s elect, justice will be served. John to his readers: Those who trouble you will face the wrath of God.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Revelation 8

The seventh seal opened (vs. 1-6)—In principle, this chapter offers nothing new; but then, that will almost be the case for the rest of the book. After making sure that all of God’s people on earth were protected (chapter 7), the Lamb opens the seventh seal (v. 1). There is silence in heaven for “about half an hour”—deep and solemn things are about to happen. Then seven angels appear with seven trumpets—the next judgment of God to be announced (v. 2). Another angel appears and he acts as a priest. He has a golden censer, in which is “much incense” which he will offer to God “upon the golden altar which was before the throne” (v. 3). This incense will be offered “with the prayers of all the saints” (v. 3), who are obviously praying for strength and deliverance. God hears the fervent prayers of his struggling and afflicted people and causes His judgment to go forth against their enemies. That’s the subject of the rest of this chapter and the next.

The first four trumpets (vs. 7-13)—Very similar to the seven seals. These first four trumpets bring woes upon nature, a partial destruction of the world—warning judgments sent upon wicked men. The first trumpet brings woe upon the land—hail and fire (reminiscent of the plague in Egypt) mingled with blood. This burned up a third of the trees and all green grass (v. 7). The second trumpet brought “something like a great mountain burning with fire [which] was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood” (v. 8). This destroyed a third of the living creatures in the sea and a like number of ships (v. 9). The third trumpet’s woe brought a great star which “fell from heaven, burning like a torch”. It descended on a third of fresh waters (v. 10). The star had a name—Wormwood—which was a bitter herb. The waters were thus made bitter and “many men died from the water” (v. 11). The fourth trumpet affected the heavens: a third of the sun, moon, and stars, thus “a third of the day did not shine, and likewise the night” (v. 12). The chapter ends with another angel appearing, announcing woes “because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!" (v. 13). The fifth and sixth trumpets will blow in chapter 9; the seventh will not sound until chapter 11.

The apocalyptic nature of this language must be remembered. John sees dramatic visions of impossible events, horrendous destructions on the earth. Well, obviously these things can’t be literal; they picture the judgments of God. Again, if one is familiar with Old Testament judgment language, then what John sees here is not in the least surprising. And it would be comforting to the Christians in distress to know that their prayers are being heard and that the Lord will avenge them. Now, these events in chapter 8 are not the final judgment; only a third of the earth, etc. was affected. But the point is made. God sees and God acts. Perhaps much of the rest of the world will see this righteous wrath of God and repent. Chapter 9 hints that such is part of the motive for these judgments.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Revelation 7

Vengeance restrained until the righteous are sealed (vs. 1-3)—Chapter six ended with God’s wrath being poured out upon the wicked of the earth (vs. 12-17). Yet, unless His people be harmed in the process, four angels appear (7:1), “standing at the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, on the sea, or on any tree.” Another angel appeared and instructed “the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea” (v. 2) that they should do no more harm “till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads” (v. 3). So when the Lord comes in vengeance upon His enemies, His people will not be caught up in that retribution. He “knows those who trust in Him” (Nahum 1:7), and they will be protected.

Sealing the 144,000 (vs. 4-8)—The “tribes of the children of Israel” (v. 4) represent the redeemed on earth; not Jews, but Christians. There will be 144,000 “sealed,” 12x12x12x10x10—“12” standing for God’s people and “10” for completeness. Thus, when these two number are multiplied out as they are, it indicates total protection for all of God’s people; not a one will be lost in the coming judgment (see my posts on numerical symbolism). That this is not literal Israel is obvious from a few points. Verses 5-8 indicate that exactly 12,000 from each tribe would be sealed. Obviously, this cannot be strictly true. Plus, there is no “sealing” from the tribe of Dan, but there is from the “tribe of Joseph.” There was no “tribe of Joseph.” Joseph’s allotment in the land of Canaan was divided among his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. Interestingly, in this list in Revelation 7:5-8, Manasseh is listed, but Ephraim is not. So, again, what we have here is a figurative reference to all the people of God, on earth, who would be protected from God’s vengeance when He poured out His wrath upon those who had persecuted His people. Note that, contrary to Jehovah’s Witnesses doctrine, the 144,000 were on earth, not in heaven.

The heavenly scene (vs. 9-17)—Indeed, those who were “standing before the throne and before the Lamb” were “a great multitude which no one could number” (v. 9). They were from all peoples, and they were clothed in white robes (purity), “with palm branches in their hands” (at peace). They were praising God (v. 10), as were “all the angels [who] stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures” (v. 11). Their song of thanksgiving came up to God (v. 12). One of the elders at the scene asked John, “Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?" (v. 13). The apostle either didn’t know or was hesitant to say (v. 14). So the elder told him, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb”—in other words, persecuted saints, those who perhaps had lost their lives for their faith. This is an important point. Remember John’s readers. This vision is to encourage them to remain faithful, even in the face of death, and they would receive the eternal reward as well. Many of John’s readers might have known someone who had died for Christ; Revelation 7 tells those readers where those departed saints now were—in heaven before the throne of God. And there will be no more persecution for those who have passed on: “They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat…And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes" (vs. 16-17). The Lamb—Jesus—“will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters” (v. 17). A picture of perfect peace and happiness. And it awaits those who endured the Roman persecution, and indeed, it awaits all of us who remain faithful to the Lord unto the end. We will be “before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among” us (v. 15). Isn’t this what we are living for?

Thus, in chapters 6 and 7, John has seen the instruments of persecution (or perhaps God’s judgment), the request for justice from those before the throne, the terror of the wicked at the approaching judgment, and the protection and reward of God’s people during that judgment. A perfect example of apocalyptic literature and John’s readers would certainly understand it and be encouraged by it. This is really a pretty good summation of the entire book of Revelation, but it will be repeated, again and again, for emphasis, to give the beleaguered Christians of John’s day supreme hope and encouragement.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Revelation 6

The first four seals (vs. 1-8)—Here we are introduced to the famous “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” though the Bible never refers to them in such terms, of course. The Lamb opened the seals—six of the seven in this chapter. Then there will be an interlude in chapter 7 before the seventh seal is opened in chapter 8.

The first seal is broken in verse one. A white horse with a man on it who had “a bow and a crown,” and “he went out conquering and to conquer” (v. 2). This horse obviously represents conquest. The second seal revealed the second horse, a red steed, and he who sat on was given power “to take peace from the earth, and that people should kill one another; and there was given to him a great sword” (v. 4). The world will be plagued with war. The third seal exposes a black horse representing famine: “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the oil and the wine" (v. 6)—extremely high prices which symbolizes scarcity. In effect, the numbers given here would equate to a loaf of bread in our day costing $500. The fourth seal opened to reveal the pale horse, which the text itself says “was Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth” (v. 8).

There has been some disagreement as to whether these horses represent a picture of persecution against God’s people, or are they forces that He will use to destroy the oppressors (Rome). The fifth seal seems to indicate the former, but some of the language used in describing the powers given to the horsemen seems broad, not specific; for example, in verse 8, power given to death over a “fourth part of the earth,” and such leads me to think that these are tools God will use against Rome. Arguments can be made for either view, and I’m not going to be dogmatic. Either way, awesome forces are going to be unleashed.

The fifth and sixth seals opened (vs. 9-17)--After the opening of the fifth seal (vs. 9-11), John saw “under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held” (v. 9)—martyrs for the cause of Christ. They wanted to know how long it would be before the Christian blood shed by persecutors was going to be avenged. White robes (purity, innocence, triumph) were given to them and they were told that they “should rest a little while longer” (v. 11) until he full number of martyrs “was completed.” The “little while longer” is vague, of course, but it does indicate an end to the persecutions at some not-too-distant point in the future. Christianity was given full legal protection by the Roman emperor Constantine in 313 A.D., just a few short years after one of the most bitter attacks against the religion by the emperor Diocletian. Diocletian thought he had totally wiped out Christianity. In the late 4th century, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman empire and probably had a significant part to play in the final destruction of the empire because of its undermining of the pagan foundations upon which Rome had been built. Destroy the foundations of any society and that society will crumble. America beware!

The sixth seal is broken and a partial answer is given to the martyrs of the fifth seal. Awesome geological and astronomical events take place (vs. 12-14), symbolizing the catastrophes that would befall the enemies of God. This kind of language—“sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth…the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place” (vs. 13-14) is found elsewhere in the Bible to indicate God’s judgment upon a sinful people (cf. Isaiah 13:10; Matt. 24:29-31). All the great leaders of the earth—those with power, might, dominion, absolute authority, in other words, those who could do as they wished with God’s people (or anyone else)—plus “every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains” (v. 15). They tried to escape the wrath of God, asking even for the mountains and rocks to “"Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?" (vs. 16-17). Better to be crushed by a mountain than to face the wrath of God! This “fall on us” language is found in the Old Testament, in Hosea 10:8, referring to what Samaria will desire rather than the punishment meted out by Jehovah.

So, the first six seals tell us that great disasters and trials will come upon the earth, and that many will be martyred for the name of Jesus. But when the Lord comes in judgment upon His enemies—not a one of them will escape.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Revelation 5

The Lamb Who is worthy (vs. 1-7)—This chapter introduces us to “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David,” the “Lamb as though it had been slain” (vs. 5-6). Though He had already spoken earlier in the book, Jesus appears again, risen, and all powerful. He is alive! That is a message John’s readers needed as desperately as knowing (chapter 4) that Jehovah still sat upon His throne, and had abdicated to no one.

The chapter begins with the One on the throne holding a scroll, “written inside and on the back”—full of the revelation of God—and “sealed with seven seals”—very, very important (v. 1). Yet, no one “in heaven or on the earth or under the earth” was found “worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals” (v. 2). Who knows the future of God’s people? John was very disheartened because of this—he wanted to learn of the destiny of those who remained on the earth. One of the 24 elders spoke to him, however, and comforted him by telling him that “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals” (v. 5). The Lamb, “as though it had been slain” (v. 6) appears “in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures.” He has seven horns (absolute power) and seven eyes (He sees all). The seven spirits of God represent ceaseless and perfect vigilance on behalf of His people. The Lamb knows His people, knows what they are going through, and is perfectly capable of providing everything they need. He took the scroll “out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne” (v. 7). He had already told John (chapter 1) that He held the fate of the churches in His hands, and now that fate is to be revealed. And only He is able to do it.

But again, He is alive, and what a wonderfully comforting thought that is. And to know that it is He who holds the key to our future, and not the human powers of this world.

Praise of the Lamb (vs. 8-14)—The remainder of the chapter records endless praise of this worthy Lamb. The four living creatures and 24 elders fall down before Him, worshipping Him (v. 8), singing a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth” (vs. 9-10). The ASV says that He has made “them to be…a kingdom and priests,” and that “they reign upon earth,” i.e., using the 3rd person, rather than the 1st person as the KJV and NKJV do. Either way, God’s people will be victorious—through the blood of the Lamb. In verse 11, and innumerable host of angels—“ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands”—worshipped Him, also announcing the worthiness of the Lamb to receive all glory and power. Then in verse 13, “And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them” gave praise and laurels to this Lamb: 'Blessing and honor and glory and power Be to Him who sits on the throne, And to the Lamb, forever and ever!'" The four living creatures confirm this (v. 14), and the 24 elders, which, again, represent the redeemed of all ages, continue to worship Him “who lives forever and ever.” If He does, then we will.

This chapter once again illustrates the great statement that ends the book of Psalms: “Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:6). That is exactly what happens in Revelation 5. Before He opens the seven sealed book, it is only right to give Him the honor, glory, and exaltation that is His due.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Revelation 4

Who is on the throne? (vs. 1-11)—Now the real “apocalyptic” nature of the book begins. The curtain is drawn and the stage is set for the drama. From hence forward, in rapid sequence, a series of scenes will be presented to assure the persecuted Christians of John’s day (and, by extension, us) that the cause of Christ is not lost. The struggle will indeed be bitter and hard, but when the final curtain falls at the end of the play (22:21), there is complete assurance of victory.

The figures and symbols used through the rest of the book are not always easy to interpret. But we must remember that it’s not each specific symbol that is important, but the overall picture. What is chapter 4 trying to teach? Like in a movie, much of the “scenery” is incidental, just background setting for the true action. Not that the material is insignificant, but we must not get so bogged down in the details that we miss the main point that the scene is trying to establish.

In verse one, John sees a door open in heaven and a disembodied voice tells him to “'Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.'" They “must” take place; there is no avoiding what is going to happen. John is shown a throne (v. 2). Who is on that throne? Well, it’s not Domitian, the Roman emperor. God still reigns! From John’s point of view, on earth, the picture is dark; but when he sees things from heaven’s perspective, he gets a completely different depiction. There were 24 elders around the throne—recall that 12 is the apocalyptic number for organized religion, so it is likely that these 24 represent the tribes of Israel and all the saved of the Christian age—the totality of the redeemed, and they worship Him. After death, God’s people will be in heaven with Him, perfectly safe in His protective presence.

The One the throne is awesome and powerful and fearsome—“lightenings, thunderings, and voices” proceed from that throne (v. 5). Seven lamps of fire (perfect vision?) and the seven spirits of God are there—those who can surely accomplish all that God wants accomplished. A sea of glass, like crystal, was before the throne (v. 6). We’ll run across this sea again later in the book. At the moment, that sea is separating God from the redeemed. The four living creatures of vs. 6-9 perhaps represent all of the natural world; “4” is the numeric symbol for the world (read my series on “Numerical Symbolism” if you need a refresher in that subject). All of creation worships Him. “Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:6). Each of the creatures has six wings. This reminds us of Isaiah 6:2—“Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.” Two wings showed reverence, two wings showed humility, and two wings were for swift obedience to God’s commands. The four creatures in Revelation 4 never stop worshipping and serving the One on the throne: “they do not rest day or night” (v. 8). As long as these beings gave “glory and honor and thanks,” the 24 elders also worshipped Him (vs. 9-10). That One on the throne “lives forever and ever.” And He is “worthy…to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created” (v. 11). He is “"Holy, holy, holy” (v. 8).

So in this initial vision, the saints of God are told that He has not abdicated His throne to anyone, not even the Roman emperor. This is good news to those in John’s day, and to us. No government, regardless of powerful it may seem, can displace the Creator of all from His position of reigning over all. The Sovereign God—He is eternal, He is the creator, He protects His people, He is on His throne, He is angry with the wicked (the “thunderings and lightenings”), and He is worthy to be praised. Despite how things looked to John’s readers, and to us today, God is still in heaven, ruling over all, watching over His people. That indeed is a comforting thought.