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.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Revelation 3, Part One

The church in Sardis (3:1-6)—Sardis was the capital of the region of Lydia and located about 60 miles northeast of Smyrna. It was famous for its immense wealth, at least in very ancient times. The kings of Lydia (before Rome) dwelt there, including Croesus. It was a very fertile area, and the dyeing of wool is said to have been invented there. At one time is was also a significant commercial center, but that appears to have diminished by New Testament times.

The author (v. 1)—“He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars.” The ancient Jews believed there were seven angels around the throne of God, serving Him—seven, of course, being the perfect number. The seven stars, as we have already seen (1:20), represent the angels of the churches. In effect, Jesus is in control in both heaven and earth and has the perfect number of angelic assistants to accomplish His will.

The good (v. 4)—Very little here. There were a few people in Sardis who had “not defiled their garments, and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.” Other than that, the Lord has nothing good to say about this congregation.

The bad (v. 2)—“You have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.” This isn’t explained, so we can only speculate as to its meaning. Possibly the church was well known in the Christian brotherhood and was believed to be an active, dynamic, faithful congregation. And perhaps at one time they were. But they were dying (v. 2), and their works were not “perfect before God.” The Lord counsels them to remember “how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent.” If they did not, the Lord would come upon them “as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you” (v. 3). This church reminds me somewhat of a big city liberal congregation who has a great name among certain elements of the brotherhood, but in God’s eyes, has left the faith because of their failure to “hold fast” to His word. A name that lives, but the church is dead.

The blessing (v. 5)—“He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.” “White” symbolizes purity and holiness. Also cleansing, which implies the same thing. Those who overcome will be forgiven and clothed with eternal holiness.

The church in Philadelphia (vs. 7-13)—Philadelphia was about 25 miles southeast of Sardis, in the foothills of some mountains. It was in a region subject to constant earthquakes, which rendered even the town walls unsafe. The expense of repairing the damage was high and costly, hence perhaps the source of the poverty of the church. It was founded by Greeks, surrounded by Turks, and controlled by Romans. Such a combination made it difficult for a church to maintain its strength and purity, but the brethren at Philadelphia had done so.

The author (v. 7)—“He who is holy, He who is true, He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens." The “key of David” probably has reference to entrance into the kingdom. Jesus sets the conditions for entrance, and only He has the authority to do so.

The good (vs. 8-10)—This was apparently a small, poor church—they had “little strength” (v. 8)—but they had “kept My word, and have not denied My name” (v. 8). There seems to have been a persecuting group of Jews in the city—a “synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie” (v. 9). The Lord would give the saints in Philadelphia victory over this false rabble. God will use the faithful: “I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it” (v. 8). And because of their devotion to Him, “I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth” (v. 10). This again is an indication of the closeness (in time) of the persecution of the saints. The “whole world” means the Roman empire, which was the “whole world” to those who lived in it. Jesus encourages the brethren to “hold fast what you have” (v. 11).

The blessing (v. 12)—“He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. And I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name.” We will dwell, unmovable, in the eternal temple of God, never to leave it. And we will belong to Him—have His written upon us.

Revelation 3, Part Two

The church at Laodicea (vs. 14-22)—Laodicea was a city not far from Colossae, and the apostle Paul had written them a letter at the same time he wrote one to the latter city (Col. 4:16). We do not have the letter to the Laodiceans, but whatever Paul told them didn’t do much good, Revelation 3:14-22 being witness to that. Perhaps the problem was that Laodicea was a very wealthy city, and that wealth had affected the church. The trade of the city was considerable, for it lay on a great trade route. The Muslims will eventually completely destroy the city and there is nothing there now but ruins.

The author (v. 14)—"The Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God.” “Amen” means “let it be so,” thus the idea is that whatever Jesus says will come to pass. His word is absolute and true. As the “Beginning of the creation of God,” He is the head and governor of all that is created. This does not mean, as Jehovah’s Witnesses, that He is a created being. The Greek word for “beginning” (arche) can also mean “first cause,” or “ruler” or “power.”

The good—There is nothing good said about the church in Laodicea. How very sad that Jesus could find nothing worthy of praise here.

The bad (vs. 15-17)—This was a “lukewarm” church, “neither cold or hot” (v. 16). They weren’t on fire for the Lord, as they should have been, but then, they hadn’t totally left Him, either. “Get in or get out” is what Jesus wants. Those who only play at religion are among the most harmful of all. And they make the Lord sick:  “I will vomit you out of My mouth” (v. 16). Can you imagine getting a letter from the One Who is going to judge you eternally, and He tells you that you make Him sick? The problem in Laodicea, as noted in the introduction to this section, was wealth: “Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing'” (v. 17). Without the Lord, we are nothing. To think we can live and exist without Him is foolishness to the highest degree. Even atheists are blessed by rain and sunshine from God (Matt. 5:45), though they will never admit it, of course. People like that “do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” in the eyes of God (v. 17). Jesus is trying to wake this dormant congregation up with very strong language; they needed it. His advice to them was “I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see” (v. 18). Obtain from the Lord true wealth, clothing of righteousness, and spiritual eye salve so that they can see their condition before God. Verse 19 is significant: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.” Jesus didn’t write what He wrote to Laodicea because He was harsh, unloving, and unkind. He loved them and wanted them to be saved, and they needed strong medicine. When the doctor cuts a cancer out of our body, it hurts; but we don’t complain that he brought us pain, we thank him for saving our lives. We should always be thankful for faithful gospel preachers who tell us the truth, regardless of its convicting nature. He’s just trying to save our wicked souls. The Lord wants us to be with Him: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (v. 20). But we have to open the door.

The blessing (v. 21)— “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” Reigning eternally with Jesus.

“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”