Sin: H.C. Question 3

Heidelberg Catechism Question 3

How do you come to know your misery?

Romans 3:20 – Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

Romans 7:7-25 – What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.

Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.



Guilt, Grace, Gratitude: H.C. Question 2

Heidelberg Catechism Question 2

What must you know to live and die in the joy of this comfort?

Romans 3:9-10 – What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one;

1 John 1:10 – If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

John 17:3 – Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

Acts 4:12 – Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

Acts 10:43 – All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Matthew 5:16 – In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Romans 6:13 – Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.

Ephesians 5:8-10 – For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.

2 Timothy 2:15 – Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

1 Peter 2:9-10 – But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Romans 12 – Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.



Revelation 22 – Maranatha!

Read Revelation 22

John’s vision of the New Heaven and New Earth, as well as the New Jerusalem, is glamorous and exciting; it is truly fun to imagine what life will be like in this time.  Not much is truly known about this time and what it will be like but Scripture indicates that this will be a physical existence with our renewed bodies, those that are renewed in the likeness of Christ’s resurrected body.  What we see here is that, though the New Jerusalem has everything and contains the wholeness and fullness of eternal life, there may be life and living beyond its walls.  Indeed, while we get the sense that everything we need will find its source and life through the presence of God, there may be things to do in this eternal life.  We are not given an indication that we will simply be laying on clouds, plucking our harps.  Indeed our life may also be a perfect fulfillment of the life we are called to live now, worshiping God through the use of the gifts, skills, hobbies, and interests that we have in a new and redeemed way.

All of this, as John describes it, is “Eden restored”.  This is an important image of creation being restored to its original state.  It’s hard to say exactly what this means, but likely it does not mean that we’ll all be living in a garden like Genesis 1 and 2, but rather than all creation is back in the state that God created it to be.  This might be best seen in the image of the lion laying with the lamb; it marks the end of striving, of predator/prey relationships, and a life in which life itself is sustained by God.  This is seen in both the centrality of the river of the water of life, which flows directly from the throne of God down the middle of the “great street”, and also the availability and abundance of the tree of life, something that had been blocked and made unavailable since the fall.  Eternity will be in this perfected state, all creation living in harmony and in the presence of God.

The final words of Revelation reflect, once again, the urgency of the Great Commission: “Behold, I am coming soon!”  I think we often set these words aside, preferring to look at the magnificent splendor of eternity of paying attention to the many images that jump off the pages of John’s Revelation.  However, Jesus’ words here are important; the time is near for Jesus’ return, we are in the “last days” now.  We cannot seal up these words or waste our time in frivolous arguments about peripheral issues that don’t really matter.

As we close our study of Revelation and the whole of the New Testament, the same truth of God’s continuing work in creation remains and we much join Him in this!  The angel bids John, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this scroll because the time is near.”  We too should take these words to heart as we join with the angels and the spirit who say together, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

“May the Grace of the Lord be with God’s people.  Amen.”



Revelation 21 – All Things New

Read Revelation 21

“See I am doing a new thing…” God speaks to His people through the prophet Isaiah.  That phrase reverberates throughout the end of the book of Revelation seeing it’s true fulfillment as John sees the New Heaven and New Earth.  In fact, much of what is happening here takes its cue from the words of the prophets, especially Isaiah as one who envisions “the day of the Lord” and sees that vision unfold throughout His writing.  God has been at work since the very beginning to redeem and restore all creation to its perfect, natural, created state.

John has just witnessed the final fall of Satan, the beast, the false prophet, and all those who oppose God, and the final inauguration of eternity has begun.  This is truly the moment that all of God’s people have been waiting for and the description of the eternal realm could not be more exciting and enticing!

“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them.  They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.  ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

These words contain within them so much beauty, hope, and excitement, and they are full of references that span the Old and New Testament, drawing on imagery from practically every period of Biblical history to describe what is happening.  Allusions to the Tabernacle and the Temple, words of hope from the prophets, and references to the completed and full work of Jesus Christ from Paul are all contained in these short but powerful verses.  John is describing the true fulfillment of God’s redemptive work throughout history.

In this restored world, everything will exist in abundance for those who are God’s children.  All life will draw its sustenance from God and from the Lamb, finding its light and nourishment from them.  The Living Water, that is Jesus Himself, will sustain everything “at no cost,” pointing to a contrast to life as we know it now in which food and nourishment come with toil, sweat, and much work.

John then sees the city of God, Jerusalem restored, coming down to rest on the mountain of God.  This too draws its imagery from the Old Testament, first at Sinai, and then in the prophets who all envision God’s dwelling to be on the “highest of mountains.”  Isaiah, in the second chapter of His book, says this:

In the last days, the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.

Many peoples will come and say,  “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lordto the temple of the God of Jacob.  He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.”  The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.  He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.  They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.  Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

John not only sees this mountain but also the city of God descending down onto it perfectly adorned and beautiful.  Again, this is a vision of the true fulfillment of God’s redemptive work as accomplished in Jesus Christ and culminating here at the end of time.  The city itself, however beautiful, does not shine with her own glory, though, but rather with the glory of God.  This too is a testament to God’s completed work.

The New Jerusalem is packed with imagery.  John finds it to be a perfect square, certainly not an accident, measuring 12,000 stadia, a number that is familiar and represents the fact that it contains the fulness of the people of God.  Having 12 gates is certainly not an accident either, representing a way in for all of the people of God from every direction and never closing for them either revealing that the people will always have access to and be in the presence of God.  Twelve foundations for the wall, representing the 12 Apostles is also not accidental and perhaps is representative of the Church, or more likely the Gospel message that the Apostles were charged with, as being the both barrier and protection; one cannot enter the city without receiving the Gospel message and those within it are protected by it.

Seeing the foundations of the walls closer, John records that they are also made with precious stones that correspond to the stones that were worn in the ephod of the High Priest’s clothing.  This is a beautiful picture too of the transfer of the priestly office away from a High Priest and being given to the entire city, the whole of the people of God.  It is a bridge between the priestly order of the Old Testament and the role of the entire people of God a “Kingdom of priests,” as Scripture says.

Finally, John recognizes that there is no Temple present in the city.  This is an important revelation about the nature of God’s dwelling in this renewed world.  God’s throne is in the city, and His dwelling place is among the people.  No longer is a special building needed for worship because God is with them in perfect reconciliation and relationship.  John points out that “all nations will walk by its light,” meaning that everyone will be worshipping God and living in perfect union with Him.



Revelation 20 – Millennium

Read Revelation 20

There is a lot packed into these last few chapters of the Bible.  At the end of Chapter 19 we see the Beast, symbolic of the antichrist, and the false prophet captured in the last battle between the armies of God, led by Jesus, and the forces in opposition to God.  Then John sees an angel coming down from heaven who binds up Satan.  Associated with this is a 1,000-year reign of Christ and the martyrs who were faithful to Him and did not worship the beast.

How this all plays out is a bit difficult to interpret.  Many have offered their interpretations and many “doctrines” have come out of these attempts.  The three major interpretations are known as Premillennialism, Postmillennialism, and Amillennialism, each carries a different interpretation of when Christ’s actual return will be in relationship to the millennial reign” that is spoken of here in Revelation 20.

Postmillennialists believe that the physical appearance of Christ at the second coming will be the culmination of a 1,000-year era of blessedness that will take place in the world.  As the church grows and the Gospel spread, it was thought that things on earth would get increasingly better until a time that evil was practically non-existent.  This would mark the supposed binding of Satan and would last for a millennium until the time that Satan would be loosed, Jesus would appear, and the final judgment would take place.  Especially toward the end of the second millennium, that is the years 1,000 – 2,000, many people started to believe this.  As countries developed and life became better for some people, there was a notion that somehow the Church and the spread of the Gospel were causing this era of blessing which, some believed, would culminate in a 1,000-year reign beginning, perhaps, at the end of the millennium.  The height of this view’s popularity was in the early 1900’s before a significant decline following the first and second world wars.

Premillennial belief is a bit more complex as there are two forms that it comes in.  Normal Premillennialists, also known as historical premillennialists, believe in the rapture, a time in the future where Christ will “return” to take all the faithful up to heaven with Him.  Following that will be a period of great tribulation and persecution, the time of the rule of the antichrist, and the period when the judgments that we have read about will be poured out on the earth.  This will also be the last chance for people to turn to Christ.  At the end of this period, which many believe will be seven years, drawing on the numbers from different parts of Revelation, Christ will return and set up His millennial reign on earth which will mark the period when Satan is bound as well.  All of this will take place for 1,000 years which will be followed by the final judgment and eternity.  This belief was held early on in the church but started to die out mid 300’s B.C. and was given little consideration until it was revived in the post-reformation era.

Dispensational Premillennialism offers a similar premillennialist view but casts it within a greater understanding of how God deals with humanity in different, successive ways, or dispensations, throughout time.  Each dispensation is a further revelation and offers a new understanding of God and the way He deals with humankind.  Another marker of Dispensational Premillennialism is the literal view taken on the differences between Israel and the Church.  God’s dealing with the world through the Church is different than His dealing with Israel, prior to Christ, and He will return to His work with Israel post-rapture, during the time of the tribulation.  Those sealed from the tribes of Israel, then, would be an actual number of Jewish people saved prior to Christ’s physical return roughly seven years after the Rapture.  This particular spin on Premillennialism comes largely from U.S. Biblical Fundamentalists, finding a most of its roots in the 1800’s, and has become widely popular in U.S. culture.  Many books such as the widely popular Left Behind series have been written from this perspective and have served to popularize this theory all the more.  Much of the political dealings with Israel as well as a number of other things throughout western culture have been influenced by the Fundamentalist influence, something you won’t find much in Christianity throughout the rest of the world.

Amillennialists hold to the view that, like the rest of Scripture, and especially the book of Revelation, the numbers in chapter 20 are symbolic and there is no “true” millennium.  Amillennialism, also known as realized millennialismsays that the binding of Satan took place at the time of Jesus resurrection, that Jesus is reigning now along with the saints and the Church, and that this reign is spiritual in nature. This binding of Satan and the reign of Christ is shown in the spread of the Gospel throughout the world because Satan “cannot deceive the nations anymore”.  At the end of the so-called millennium, which if you remember the number 1000 is a symbol in other places for power, strength, and completion, Christ will return, the final judgment will take place, evil will be vanquished forever, and the eternal reign of God will begin.  Along with this view of eschatology comes a particular grounding in Scripture and Covenant theology, much of which we have talked about, and does not look at Revelation differently than the rest of Scripture but views it within the context of the entire Bible, as we have tried to do here.  At some time in the future, it seems that Satan will be set free to deceive the nations once again and gather the people in opposition to God for a final battle at which time He will be summarily defeated and the eternal reign of God will begin.

These topics are very interesting to talk about and even debate with our brothers and sisters in Christ.  It is important, however, to recognize that our views of “eschatology,” the study of end times, are peripheral in nature and not central to the doctrines of salvation by grace.  They should not be dividers within the Church nor should they be barriers to the Gospel.  Scripture is very clear that, while the signs of the “end times,” can be clearly seen, and we’ve talked about that throughout this book, the actual times and dates, as well as the specific events that will take place, are known only to the Father.



Revelation 19 – Victory!!

Read Revelation 19

Again we hear from the great multitude in heaven as they worship God over the defeat of Babylon the Great.  Chapter 19 marks an extremely important event in salvation history, one that is rivaled only by Christ’s death and resurrection.  The defeat of Satan, along with the beast, the false prophet, and all the sin that is symbolized by Babylon is what has been foretold since the very beginning.  God’s judgment against sin, as well as the punishment that comes along with it, is just and is a true revelation of the character of God.

People often ask the question, “how could a ‘loving’ God condemn so many people to eternal punishment?”  Indeed, this is a good question, one that makes little sense on the surface.  But God doesn’t condemn all people to punishment, despite our deserving of it.  A loving God that gave no one a chance after the fall would be a much more difficult thing to understand.  The pages of Scripture reveal the love of God in the grace and salvation that He offers through His Son Jesus who, through His life, death, and resurrection, conquered sin.  Without Jesus, there is no way to God, no offer of salvation, and no reconciliation.  What we see in this moment is a celebration of the ultimate revelation of God’s truthfulness, faithfulness, and love.

You may be wondering how we see that here as we mark the defeat of sin and evil.  Simply put, we see it here because God accomplishes exactly what He said He was going to do.  Think about it this way, if a parent threatens punishment for something that their children do repeatedly but never follows through, then that parent is made out to be a liar and their threats are meaningless.  The parent doesn’t want to punish the child, but the punishment is necessary (as I’m sure any parent knows).

Others bring up the subject of fairness and justice of the discipline and punishment in this conversation, which is also something to consider.  However, if the rules are clearly laid out as they are in the Bible, and the consequences are also clearly defined as they are throughout Scripture, then fairness is, one again, God following through on what He has clearly communicated.  To not do so would make God either a liar, which is counter to what we know about God as being completely true, or incapable of following through or carrying out the punishment that was forewarned, making Him somehow less than all powerful which is also counter to what we know about God.

And what of those who have listened to the Word of God and have followed Jesus as their Savior?  Those who speak of fairness are often those who desire the benefits of salvation without “burdening” themselves with the “work” of faith.  The contrast of results is indeed fair and just, even though no punishment seems fair at the time one is being punished.  If there is no difference in the outcome, why does one’s actions in the present matter?  Once again, what we see here is the true revelation of God’s character on an eternal and universal scale.

With all heaven and earth watching, God works through the mighty warrior on the white horse to go out and strike the final blow, win the final victory and had been initiated in Jesus’ death and resurrection.  This warrior, who is undoubtedly Jesus as He was revealed at the beginning of Revelation, captures the beast as well as the false prophet, and “strikes down” all the enemies of God with the sword coming out of His mouth.  Remember that the sword represents the “Word of God” that comes from the mouth of God and is “sharper than any double-edged sword.”

This too is important because it reveals that God doesn’t simply go out and destroy anyone He pleases, but it is the Word of God that convicts the enemies of God.  The same Word is that which justifies and brings to salvation those who stand with God in this moment and celebrate the victory over Satan and all those who oppose God.

One thing that I think is interesting to notice is what happens in the final battle.  We had been given a glimpse of this before, seeing the armies of God and the armies of the Beast line up for war.  Yet, at the climactic moment when the battle is supposed to begin, the Beast is captured and the enemies of God destroyed.  The people of God do no fighting, Jesus does it all.  I think this is notable because it shows truly where they power of God really lies, not in the might of an army, not in the tactics of battle, or in the number of the multitude present, but in the strength and power of Jesus Christ alone.

In the time that John was writing this, a vision of God’s power in this way would have been powerful for the Christians were experiencing extreme persecution. Their strength and power and hope, as well as ours, in the face of everything that would seek to destroy us is found only in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.



Revelation 18 – Get Away

Read Revelation 18

When the first Gulf War erupted in 1990, there was considerable speculation from a number of Christian groups that thought these events hailed the coming of Jesus Christ.  They pointed to the destruction of Babylon, recorded here in chapter 18, as proof that we were witnessing the final events of the world as we know it.  Babylon, as a Biblical nation, was located in modern day Iraq, its capital located in the central portion of the country between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.  The coalition attack on Iraq and subsequent speedy victory over the country, for some, became further proof that Jesus’ coming was right around the corner.

As we have talked about several times now, however, it is very difficult to make links like this between modern day events and what is written in Revelation.  Sadly, a large number of failed predictions like this have led to a great deal of confusion and even apathy among believers when it comes to “end times” discussions.

John is taken by an angel to see the destruction of “Babylon,” which is described as “the great prostitute.”  Remember that in Scripture, those people and nations who commit idolatry against the Lord by worshiping false Gods are often described by the prophets as having “prostituted” themselves to these idols.  There is a considerable amount of sexual language and reference that is included in these references pointing to the intimacy of the relationship that God desires with us and the abundance of pain and betrayal that comes with idolatry.  This language is no accident; even Paul writes that, in talking about the relationship between husband and wife he is also talking about Christ and the church.

Babylon, as a city and a nation, is used here to describe the seat of the resistance against God and His people. Babylon was, in the Old Testament, the second “Egypt experience” that God’s people had after Jerusalem was conquered and the people forced into exile in 587 B.C.  In exile, the people of God were forced into idol worship, breaking the law by the foods that they were made to eat, and were completely cut off from their homeland and the Temple.  This civilization was given considerable power by God to dominate the world at that time, punishing both Israel and the surrounding nations for the sins that they had committed.

Daniel, however, also records God’s punishment of the sins Babylon as well in the story of the writing on the wall in Daniel 5.  At the peak of her power (and incidentally her idolatry as well) King Belshazzar holds a feast and uses many of the items from the Temple of the Lord.  In the middle of the feast, a hand appears and writes on the wall something only Daniel could interpret: “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN.”  He translates it for the king: MENE, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; TEKEL, you have been weighed and found wanting; and PERES, the kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.

A similar fate is sealed for Revelation’s Babylon as well, though the Kingdom will not be divided but rather redeemed and restored to its rightful state and ruler, Jesus Christ.

A warning is issued to God’s people living in Babylon, they must leave or not even they will be spared the wrath of God that is about to be poured out.  This warning echoes the story of Lot who is brought out of the city of Sodom before God destroys is and Gomorrah as well.

The doom of Babylon is said to be equal to that of the judgment that Babylon imposed on the people of God.  This is, at least on some level, true of the Old Testament Babylon, losing everything just as the Jews lost everything.  In Revelation, this is also true.  As we have seen, Babylon, along with its leaders the dragon and the two beasts, have been active in their persecution of God’s people.  Scripture says she receives a “double portion” of what she poured out.  In essence, the scales are to not just going to be balanced at the end, but the weight of sin and evil will be completely eclipsed by God’s grace and love.

John records that many will mourn the loss of Babylon.  Kings, merchants, and seamen are all groups of people that had benefitted greatly from Babylon and her luxuries.  Their benefits and wealth are matched only by their grief for her loss, not because of a conviction of sins, however, but most likely a mourning of the great financial loss that they incurred because of Babylon’s fall.

There is one final point that is made about Babylon’s fall and that is the finality of it.  After all of this is shown to John, the angel shows him exactly what this end is to mean for the “great” city.  It will be like a millstone thrown into the sea; it will never be found again.  While I think that we’ve talked about this a number of times, it does bear mentioning again that this is the ultimate trajectory of Revelation and it is an eternal one.  The enemies of God will be thrown down, all opposition to God will be removed, and the earth will once again experience the full measure of love and grace with the presence of God being here with us.



Isaiah 9:2-7 "The Light has Come"



Revelation 17 – Babylon

Read Revelation 17

What is Babylon?  This is a question we have to address in chapter 17.  We have seen several references to it during our journey through Revelation, but as we near the end the focus shifts onto Babylon and it’s eventual demise.

Babylon is described as a prostitute sitting by “many waters.”  In the Old Testament, those of the people of God or other nations who worship idols and followed false gods were often described as “prostituting themselves” before those gods.  This language of sexual intimacy as it relations to our relationship with God is not at all accidental.  Indeed there is nothing in the human experience that can really relate the depth of intimacy that God desires with us than that of a monogamous relationship between husband and wife.

Scripture uses such language to talk about God’s love for Israel which is described as a “bride” waiting for her groom.  In the same way, when Israel commits idolatry, it is as if she were committing adultery; the depth of the betrayal and hurt is that intense.  This, however, only further reveals the love that God has for His people as He continues to pursue them, working for their salvation.

Babylon, though, is the “great prostitute.”  The “many waters” that she sits by are the “inhabitants of the earth,” all those who have turned away from God.  When the angel takes John into the wilderness he sees this woman who is sitting on the beast, an interesting metaphor for showing that her actions and the beasts are very much related.  The beast being scarlet shows a similarity to the dragon we met earlier in chapter 12; the beast is the beast from the earth, that is the false prophet who led many astray to worship the other beast.

The women, whose name here is “Babylon the great,” is adorned with many great looking things.  Just as the things of this world often look great on the outside, so too does the great prostitute entice the people of the world to join her.  It seems also that she has partaken in the persecution and murder of God’s people again solidifying the idea that her actions and that of the beast are one and the same.

As the angel is explaining the mystery of the woman and the beast, we get a sense of imitation that is going on here.  The beast “once was, now is not, and yet will come.”  This could be a two-fold description of an imitation of Jesus who lived, died, and rose from the dead as well as perhaps being significant of a set of time periods where the beast will be present, then will not be prominent for a while, and then will return.  Evil is certainly persistent, and we can probably look back through history to see times when it seemed like evil was much more prevalent than at other times.

Following this is a series of references to seven hills, seven kings, an eighth king, and then ten more kings.  These have been interpreted in a number of different ways.  Seven hills could be an obvious reference to Rome, a city built on seven hills.  Hills and mountains, though, are also a reference to royalty and power, something that coincides with the references to kings.  The seven kings have been interpreted as seven emperors of Rome and also as rulers of some of the empires that had come before.  An eighth king comes along, a reference to the antichrist, to whom all the other kings give their power.

So, is Rome (the city or the empire) actually what is being referenced when we say “Babylon?”  Perhaps.  It is difficult to identify one specific interpretation that fits everything.  As we have seen throughout Revelation, though, these references to royal and political power that resist and stand in opposition to God could very easily be speaking to the totality of political, economic, and other worldly powers that turn from Christ and resist both God and oppress the people of God.  We can see examples of this throughout history and even in our present day governments.  Revelation could be revealing the trajectory of secular power, the governments of the world, that move away from Christian principles and even go so far as to oppress Christians.

If that is the case, it is also possible that the woman that is depicted here could be representative of the people of God.  As I said, this image of an elegantly adorned woman is one that is used in the Old Testament to describe Israel.  Perhaps what John is seeing here is not just the city of Babylon but rather, the people of God who have sold themselves out to the secular powers of politics, culture, civil religion, and anything else that promises some sort of hope but ultimately, as John records at the end of chapter 17, leaves her naked and ruined.

In this instance, perhaps Revelation is issuing a warning to the people of God not to follow the currents of the world, to stay separate and chaste from the idolatry that the world offers.  Certainly, this has implications for the church today as we have seen a dramatic shift toward cultural trends that demand we stay “relevant” and “up to date” on things.  Often times our emphasis on such things leads us away from the truths of Scripture for the sake of contemporary (here and now) significance.  When we turn toward these things as our hope and strength… perhaps we become the prostitute?

 

 



Revelation 16 – Bowl Judgments

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The last series of seven judgments makes the end of the pouring out of God’s wrath on the world as well as the final defeat of Babylon, which has become synonymous as the center for evil and opposition to God in the world.  Looking closely, we can compare the first four bowl judgments with the first four trumpet judgments.  They are both similar in nature and draw their imagery from the plagues that we called down on Egypt.  Plagues of boils and sores, blood in the water, and impacts on the sun itself.

John makes a point of recording the reactions of the people of earth, those that worship the beast and are enemies of God.  Rather than turning to God and finding refuge and salvation in Him, they curse God because of the things that are happening.  Recognizing that God has the ability to not do these things, they blame Him for their own troubles which they have brought upon themselves by their allegiance to the beast.  This, to me, is strangely reminiscent of many conversations I’ve had about the love of God vs. the wrath of God.  When people, even Christians, experience hard times in life, rather than turning to God who can help them, they blame God for what is happening.  Here, however, is a different story.  In life, God allows us to face trials and struggles, not causing them but working in them to shape and mold us into the image of His Son (a process we call sanctification).  What John is seeing here is much different; a calamity that God authorizes in a last ditched effort to see some turn to Him while also punishing sin and evil in the world.  How are these different in our lives now?  It’s hard to say.

Much of the symbolism that is present here suggests the possibility of things that happen in our lives today.  Some, however, suggests a much greater calamity down the road.  The plague of blood on the water which people then have to drink is, or at least seems to be, a punishment for the crime of the oppression and killing of God’s people.  Fire is something that is often connected to judgment in Scripture, it both burns and purifies.  One thing is for sure, though, like all else, there is a great deal of wisdom that is needed here if we are going to link people’s personal struggles with the judgment of Revelation.  We have to be very careful when doing that or when looking at massive events like natural disasters as somehow being linked to things like this too.

As I have said before, the ultimate purpose of God’s work here is two-fold: the hope of bringing people to Himself and the punishment of evil.  God’s discipline is always restorative in nature; these judgments are not simply meant to kill people for killing’s sake.  When people say things like “hurricane Catrina was God’s punishment for all the ______,” we should be quick to question whether that is true; there is very little evidence in Scripture (none if you read it all within the context of itself) that would support God punishing just one type of sin over and above others.  Sin is sin; God’s punishment of sin is exhaustive and complete.  This, I think, is why we see in Revelation, the outpouring of all these judgments on the earth, the focal point of sin in the universe.  This is symbolized also in the dragon, the beasts, and the city of Babylon.

As we near the end of these judgments, not only are we seeing God’s last-ditched effort to draw people to repentance, we also see a final effort from the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet (the other beast) to rally the enemies of God for one final battle.  C.S. Lewis describes a sort of “Armageddon” image in his book “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” and it is compelling.  Though one thing that is different here is that no real battle takes place.  The armies of the opposition to God gather and then the final judgment is poured out and a voice from heaven says “It is done!”

When those words are spoken, we see many of the same images and symbols of God’s power and presence, like that of Mount Sinai; lightning, thunder, and earthquakes.  This final earthquake, though, flattens everything.  The image of this event echoes that of the words of Isaiah: “every mountain shall be made low, every valley raised up…”  These were the things that were going to happen that hailed the coming of the Lord; all obstacles would be removed.

In this event, even Babylon, the great city of evil, falls before the final judgment.  Here, we are left with the armies gathered and ready for the battle of Armageddon.  While this could be a specific geographical reference to a place known as “Megiddo,” it is more likely that this is symbolic for the final battle and overthrow of evil in the world.  Given that the entire world was flattened by the earthquake, geographical references don’t make much sense anyway.  Megiddo, however, is a place of great importance, being a very strategic location in Israel and the site of many battles throughout history.  John’s readers would have been familiar with the reference and would understand the meaning and importance behind mentioning such a place.  Suffice to say, the battle that is looming at the end of this chapter will be the last battle, a sign and symbol to us that evil’s existence in the world today does have a terminal date to it.  Of this, we can be certain.



Revelation 15 – Seven Angels

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Chapter 15, though brief, is an introduction to the final judgment set that is about to take place.  These judgments are known as the “bowl judgments” or the “bowls of God’s wrath.”  They are also the final judgments that are to take place and will see the final end and defeat of the dragon, the beasts, and all of sin and evil.

These judgments are likened to the plagues that came upon Egypt when God worked to free them from the hold of Egypt.  The plagues, like these judgments, were a punishment to the evil that enslaved them and their freedom is a foreshadowing of the freedom that all of God’s people will experience as well.

It is interesting to note here that the song that they sing in this chapter is the song of Miriam and Moses that was sung on the shores of the Red Sea after the armies of Egypt were defeated.  That event is intentionally paired with the final judgments on “Babylon” and the defeat of Satan and all his forces of evil.

The image of the Temple / Tabernacle that John sees is also linked directly with both the events in Egypt and those of the final defeat of Satan.  Ultimately this is the purpose and trajectory of the covenant that God makes with Abraham and all the following re-affirmations made with Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and the New Covenant that comes in Jesus Christ as well.  In fact, this has been the end to which God has been working since the fall of humanity into sin at the very beginning.  When the Temple / Tabernacle come into view we get, once again, the image of God’s presence and dwelling humankind.  The Tabernacle is the most connected image to the Exodus story, of course, but the Temple represents the same thing: the dwelling of God and God’s covenant promises to His people.

Out of this come the seven angels with the seven bowls of God’s wrath.  Behind them pours out smoke from the glory of God because of which no one could enter the Temple.  While the Tabernacle was open, none could yet enter because the final series of events had not been completed.  Soon, though, God’s dwelling will rest on earth and we will dwell with Him.



Revelation 14 – The Harvest

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Continuing in the interlude between the first two sets of judgments, the seals, and the trumpets, and the coming bowl judgment, John records a final “harvest” of those who believe in Jesus Christ and are seals with God’s name on their foreheads.  We first saw the image of the lamb back in chapter five which is a reference to Jesus and talked about the number of people sealed, that being 144,000, as being symbolic of the full number of the people of God.  John hears them learning and singing a new song, something other than the worship that we had witnessed in chapters prior to this.  This new song, perhaps, is one of deliverance for the people of God.  We see that only those who are among the 144,000, those who are God’s  people, can learn the song which creates a distinction between God’s people and “the inhabitants of the earth.”  The distinction here is, in many ways, the theme of this chapter.

John points out the fact that those standing with the lamb “did not defile themselves with women.”  Some have argued, and we actually see a living testimony to this in the leadership of the Catholic church, that true obedience to God means sexual abstinence.  This, however, is not necessarily what is being referenced here.  Paul speaks to this in his letters pointing out that there are some advantages to being single, but also saying that those who are married have not sinned.  In fact, it is better, Paul writes, to be married than to succumb to lust, which could be what John is referencing here.  The reference to defiling oneself could also be a direct reference to the idolatry committed by the people of Israel in the Old Testament which is often mentioned in terms of the people “prostituting themselves” before other idols.  Those who stand with God here are those who have Him and Him only.

Following this, John sees three angels who are heralding the coming of the final set of judgments known as the “seven bowls of God’s wrath.”  Interestingly, the message of these three angels are intimately linked together: The Gospel, the defeat of Babylon (sin and evil), and the wrath of God.  This is an interesting dichotomy of themes, but all flow within the same line of thought.

People often talk about the difference between God in the Old Testament and God in the New Testament.  In the New Testament, God shows love and grace whereas in the Old Testament God is a God of killing and wrath.  How is it possible that those things are linked?  The answer is that God’s wrath and God’s love are meant for the same thing, to bring people to God.  If we think about God as a loving Father, we recognize that loving parents do discipline their children in an effort to raise them up correctly.  Similarly, you may remember us talking about the fact that the judgments on the earth that we have seen so far, as well as those to come, are all meant to draw the people’s attention to God.  Scripture says that it is not God’s desire that any should perish; it also says that as a loving father disciplines his children, so God disciplines those He loves.  We know that God loves the whole world, every human that has ever and will ever live.  The purpose, then, of God’s actions both then and now, is to draw people to Himself.

When we think about this we have to be careful about how we approach the subject, especially as it pertains to human suffering.  Some people call earthquakes and hurricanes a “judgment” from God for people’s sins.  However, we must take great caution in thinking this way because those references are toward God’s willful killing of people to prove a point or to punish; this is not the God of Scripture… even though it could seem that way here in Revelation.  God did punish sin in the death of Jesus Christ, and sin has been defeated.  This is the message of the Gospel and of the first angel.  At that same point, the ultimate defeat of sin and evil (as symbolized by the city of Babylon) was sealed as well.

The third angel’s warning, then, is that while the invitation to turn and place our faith in Jesus Christ is always open now, there will come a time when that decision, or its opposite, will become a permanent part of our lives.  God offers grace to all people, willingly accepting and forgiving those who turn and place their faith in Him.  However, there will come a day when our allegiance, wherever it lies, will become permanent.  Those who chose the beast or any part of the opposition to God will be eternally separated from Him.

This thought line brings us to the topic of hell.  Many have asked the question of whether or not hell, a place of eternal separation from God and suffering actually exists.  Others have asked the question of how a loving God can condemn people to eternal suffering.  Perhaps those people just cease to exist when they die (doctrine of annihilation) or at the final judgment?  Scripture offers no support to that.  In fact, there is much more support offered to the notion of an eternal trajectory for all people, whether in the presence of God or not.  It’s a hard reality, but it is a reality that the Bible supports.  One thing that Scripture does not say, however, is that this is a place where the devil gets to torment people forever (implying that he will get what he wants).  This place, as imaged by a pit of fire and sulfur and other such awful images, is a place where he too will be punished for his rebellion against God.

And so, like Jesus talks about in Matthew with the parable of the sheep and the goats, there will come a time when everyone’s fate will be decided.  This is the harvest that John speaks to at the end of this chapter.  Remember the theme that Jesus often brought up in the Gospel of John: they will be known by their fruit.  John picks up on that theme here with the harvest metaphor.

How does this work?  I’m not necessarily sure.  What about the people that never heard?  I don’t necessarily know though Scripture does point to the fact that all of creation points toward God which then put everyone on the line and leave no one with an excuse.  Like much of what we are reading here, there is a lot that is still a mystery.  We don’t necessarily know how this all fits together.  One thing, however, is for sure, in this image the spread of the Gospel is an intimate part of the series of events.  The Gospel message comes first before anything else because of God’s love and desire to see all people come back to Him.  We, as followers of Christ, are called to participate in the bringing of that message to the world so that as many as possible can hear and come to know God’s love for them.



Revelation 13 – The Beasts

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Multiple times in this chapter John writes, “this calls for wisdom.”  I believe it is important that we heed this call, not jumping to conclusions about things too quickly.  Much of what John sees here once again draws on images from the visions of Daniel chapter 7.

The first beast the John sees, which comes out of the sea, is the beast that we first met in chapter 11.  We have already talked about this beast as the “antichrist” figurehead in Revelation; a personal antichrist meaning a demonically empowered human.  Yet there have been other interpretations about this beast as well.  Some believe that this beast represents the Roman Empire which would have been easy to see at the time of John’s writing with the amount of persecution and hatred towards Christ and the Church at that time.  Still, others look at this beast and see a sort of “anti-Christian” political power that has arisen and/or will arise.  Rome would have been just one of a number of political powers that have arisen and will rise up to persecute the church in the “last days.”

If you read Daniel 7, and I highly suggest that you do, you’ll see some of these same images.  The ten horns with their crowns represent the comprehensive nature of the beast’s sphere of authority and power.  Each of these ten heads has a blasphemous name on it as well.  Especially during the Roman empire as well as in most of the empires prior, the rulers assumed titles of deity and were often worshiped as such.  Though this doesn’t happen by title today, at least not often, I wonder if we act as though the government, or particular leaders within it, is our “savior” and how we act and participate around such things is something akin to “worship.”  If this were the case, we might actually be looking at a sort of antichrist in our midst even now.

That the beast comes up out of the sea is an important point that could often be overlooked.  In Hebrew culture, the sea was feared as being chaotic and primal.  Genesis 1 talks about the Spirit of God hovering over the waters prior to creation.  Indeed, on day 2, God has to separate the waters before He can continue in the creative process.  On the sea, one was vulnerable to storms, waves, wind, and any number of sea creatures that dwelled within it.  The first beast comes out of the sea, out of the chaos indicating that it has some level of divine power, perhaps even creative power.  Nothing, however, that the beast can do is out of the realm of God’s control.

Others have seen the sea as being representative of humanity.  Human life is chaotic as well and, amid the vast sea of humanity, with all of its war and disasters, politics and oppression, apathy and idolatry, the beast could arise to offer some semblance of hope or direction for the human race.  Once again, though, it is important to understand that any power that this beast has, like that of the dragon or the other beast, is all granted by God, and is just as easily taken away as we will see.  In fact, Scripture reminds us multiple times in this chapter that the power and authority of the beast “was given” and therefore lies within the scope of God’s ultimate authority, power, and control.

John sees a second beast that comes out of the earth.  This beast has often been classified as the “false prophet” of the first beast.  For many, it represents a religious component to the secular/political control and conquest of the first beast.  We see that there is worship involved in a story similar to that of Daniel 3.  There is also a level of divine power that is exhibited through the second beast, calling down fire from heaven and doing other signs that would seemingly link him/her to the prophets of Scripture.  Once again, however, this beast’s power is limited, which was undoubtedly a comfort for Christians in that time who were facing death for not participating in Roman worship.  It can and is a comfort now as well, to those who face the prospect of death in places like the middle east.  No matter how hard the enemy tries, even death itself cannot separate us from God because we are in Christ.

Finally, we come to something that is quite familiar, even to those who are not necessarily familiar with the rest of the Bible: the mark of the beast.  There have been numerous attempts to decode what these numbers mean.  Many people believed that this was code for the name of the Roman emperor at that time, Nero.  Variations of that number show up in official Roman documents and seals from Cesar at that time.  Others have pointed to other possible meanings found in people throughout history.  Nero in particular, was a great persecutor of Christians, starting and sustaining one of the worst and most violent times of persecution against that Church that ever existed.

Another interpretation of this points to an “unholy trinity” that we have just witnessed.  The dragon and the two beasts represent the sum total of the divine (or divinely empowered) opposition to God.  Whereas the number that represents God is 7; we have seen it multiple times throughout Scripture and especially in the book of Revelation (lampstands, stars, trumpet judgments, seal judgments, bowl judgments, spirits of God, days of creation, etc.).  The number 6 then would be the number of imperfection.  God’s number would be 777, a holy number of completion and fullness.  Satan’s number, 666, is a number that represents evil and imperfection as each number falls short of the perfect number seven.

John reminds us again here that this calls for wisdom and indeed it does.  Christians have spent an enormous amount of time and energy trying to figure out what the “mark of the beast” could possibly be in the modern world.  With the advent of implanted chip technology, something that may replace credit cards and be responsible for all identification and commercial transaction someday, Christians have been given new fodder for thoughts about the “mark” as well as who the “beast” is.

I can’t honestly say that I know whether or not these chips if mandated someday, would be a modern realization of the “mark of the beast.”  I don’t wish to speculate on that either as I said in the introduction of this book.  One of the main points that is being made at this point in Revelation is the contrast between those who put their faith in Jesus Christ and those who put their faith in worldly things.  Such things could easily be technology, government, economy, or specific leaders; all could qualify as a type of antichrist, asking and possibly even demanding that people place their hope in it rather than in Jesus.  Steve Jobs, the CEO and major designer behind the many Apple products that we know today, didn’t simply work to create a good phone, he worked to create an image, a brand, and even a lifestyle that would be identified by a single symbol that a vast majority of people in the world can easily recognize.

For instance: Steve Jobs, the CEO and major designer behind the many Apple products that we know today, didn’t simply work to create a good phone, he worked to create an image, a brand, and even a lifestyle that would be identified by a single symbol that a vast majority of people in the world can easily recognize.  In fact, the Apple symbol has defined a certain segment of people.  Neuroscientists say that thoughts of Apple products for some of its most loyal fans actually lights up the same portion of the brain as that of religion for those who are devoutly religious…  interesting right?  It is an interesting coincidence that Apple Pay (and its competitors like google) is becoming one of the leading ways to pay for things and do all forms of commerce.  I’m not saying that Apple Inc. is the beast and its

I’m not saying that Apple is the mark of the beast or that Steve Jobs is the antichrist (though there are some that believe that).  But I do think that it should cause us to pause for a moment and think about the priorities that we have in life.  Is the latest and greatest Apple product (or other technology) more important than our relationship with Christ?  Are there other things in life that we prioritize and emphasize over and above our faith?  Those things, no matter what they are, will always lead us to an incomplete, unfulfilled life that falls short of all that God calls us to.



Revelation 12 – The Woman and the Dragon

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As the vision continues to unfold before John, He sees a “great sign” that appears.  When Scripture says this, it is an indicator of something that is pointing to a much deeper meaning.  The woman that John sees has consistently been identified as representing the people of Israel with the twelve stars around her head being one of the chief indicators of that.  Her pregnancy most likely represents the time in which God was working through Israel to bring about the coming of the Messiah, her male child.

The next thing John sees, which is equally as spectacular, is a seven headed dragon which he identifies as Satan, the devil himself.  Whereas the beast of chapter 11 represents the antichrist, the major opponent to God’s people, the dragon much greater and scarier in appearance.  Seven is, as we have said before, the number of the divine, and ten the number of completion and strength.  The dragon comes forth with divine strength and the power to rule as is signified by the crowns.

Satan has always been opposed to the plans of God, attempting to thwart God’s redemptive work at every possible change.  Here we see him seeking to destroy the male child, the Messiah, right as he is born.  However, God protects Him, taking Him into heaven, an act which infuriates the devil.  At the same time, the woman also finds divine protection from the dragon for a period of time which is the same as that of the oppression and persecution mentioned in chapter 11.  Whether or not these are the same times or things that happen sequentially is not necessarily specified.  It is important to keep in mind, as we look at the symbolism of this, that John is experiencing a vision of God’s work on a cosmic scale.  Whereas we tend to think in a linear fashion, as is our way in this life, God stands outside of time and therefore what John is seeing does not necessarily indicate a timeline of events.  This, in particular, is why those who look at the founding of the modern day nation of Israel as being a focal point for end-times interpretation have little credibility (that and the fact that Jesus Himself said that no one knows when He will return except for God).

After this, a war breaks out in heaven.  This is a rather peculiar happening as we often view Satan as not being in heaven.  John’s vision here draws on a great deal of Old Testament understanding of the spiritual realm as well as New Testament language of Satan as “the accuser.”  Heaven, for us, has often been considered to be the place that we go to when we die.  However, Scripturally speaking, heaven is the dwelling place of God.  In heaven are the angels, all that is described throughout the book of Revelation, and, if you read the book of Job, Satan is sometimes there as well, accusing the people of God before God.  I can’t necessarily explain this (nor would I dare try), but what it does do is give us a picture of a much more active place than just cherubs playing harps on clouds.

Whatever the explanation, there is a point at which Satan is permanently expelled from heaven, thrown down by the Archangel Michael, in what was (or is) probably one of the most epic fights of all time.

Satan’s expulsion from heaven, though, seems to bring a much greater anger that is then taken out first on Israel, though God protects here, and then on the rest of God’s people.  How and what this looks like as it unfolds in history is rather unclear.  It begins to unfold over the next couple of chapters as being a systematic persecution of the church and deceiving of the nations of the earth both through physical and spiritual means.  The devil will seek to draw as many away from God as possible and will “wage war” on the people of God through the work of the beast of chapter 11 and those in the coming chapter as well.

Once again we can find ourselves looking for dates and events that coincide loosely with what we are reading here.  Certainly, Israel has been a persecuted nation throughout history as has the church from time to time.  Different religions have and continue to rise up to challenge the people of God and lead the people of the world astray.  Persecution continues to this day in many parts of the world as it has for the past 2000 years against the people of God.  What is important to read out of this too, however, is the announcement once again that salvation and power and the kingdom of God have come to and through the Messiah.  Scripture is clear that the people of God will face persecution; it is equally clear that none of that can hold a candle to the strength and power of God and the hope that we have for eternal salvation in Jesus Christ