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.