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.