Revelation 11 – The Witnesses

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Chapter 11 opens with a rather confusing series of events and numbers that jump out at us with very little context.  John is told to measure the Temple of God, though we are not told the results of such a measurement.  He is also told to not include the outer court where the Gentiles would be.  Given the Old Testament understanding of how the Temple functioned, “outsiders” were not allowed to the inner parts of the temple because they were both unclean and not God’s people.

Ezekiel is asked to do a much similar thing in a vision he has of the restoration of the Temple.  In Ezekiel’s vision, God is communicating to Him that eventually, their exile will be over and the Temple, as well as the city of Jerusalem, will be restored.  For the people of Israel, this meant that their connection to God would also be restored.  John is seeing a similar series of events, however, in the book of Revelation, this is happening on a much greater scale, perhaps as a foreshadowing to the end of Revelation when everything is restored and the dwelling of God is here on earth with humankind.  Not including the court of the Gentiles, then, is an indicator that in this time, sadly, there will be those who refuse to acknowledge God.  As such, they are excluded from God’s presence.

We are told, however, that the Gentiles (which is a metaphor for anyone who is not included in the people of God) will be loosed on the “holy city” for a period of time.  Much of the timeframe imagery comes from the book of Daniel, chapters 7 and 12.  In these visions, which are similar in nature and recorded in the same literary style as Revelation, there is a period of time in which the enemies of God will be given a sort of greater liberty to oppress the people of God.  Some interpretations indicate that this is a very specific time known as the tribulation and there is speculation about whether or not the church would even be present during it (depending on your view of the rapture).  However, Scripture is fairly clear that this time will involve the oppression of God’s people so any interpretation that involves the absence of God’s people is suspect, at best.

There have been many periods of time throughout history where God’s people, whether Israel or the Church, have faced increased persecution and oppression.  At the time of John’s writing, persecution of the Church (and of the Jews) was wildly out of control.  Scripture does, however, put a time limit on this.  While this (or these) period(s) of time are unpleasant, they are also a herald of greater things to come and draw our attention to a greater hope and peace in Jesus Christ.

One of the greatest questions of this chapter is “who are the two witnesses” and “what do they represent?”  These two have often been characterized as being similar to the two pillars of the Old Testament, Moses and Elijah.  For some, this carries with it the representation of both the Law and the Prophets, a summary of the Old Testament.  It is also possible that these two represent God’s people both before and after Christ, a sort of Israel and the Church witnessing to God’s love and power.  A bit more of a stretch could be Jesus’ testimony to the two greatest commandments, love God and love your neighbor, against which no testimony or blasphemy can stand.

The fire that comes from their mouths is reminiscent of the fire which God used on several occasions in both the story of Moses and that of Elijah, to lead and guide as well as to show power and destroy the enemy.  Perhaps this is indicative of the power of the true Gospel testimony that they carry, whoever they are.  These two are also given power over creation similar to that carried by Moses (the 10 plagues) and Elijah (drought for many years).  Whether or not this means that the two witnesses are indeed Moses and Elijah, I don’t know.  Perhaps this imagery is signaling the power of their testimony and God’s power over all things.

Here we are also introduced to the beast for the first time.  We will talk about this character more in later chapters, however, it is the first time that we see a major opponent to God’s people, an antichrist figurehead if you will.  The beast comes from the Abyss, the same place the demonic legion came from a couple of chapters ago, indicating and confirming its demonic origin.  After a given time of protected witnessing, the two witnesses are killed by the beast.  Their deaths, however, are not permanent as they experience resurrection by God’s power and then are taken up into God’s presence.

Finally, returning to the trumpet judgments, the seventh and final trumpet is blown and with it comes an announcement that Jesus Christ will reign on the earth forever and ever.  At this point, the doors of the Temple that John was measuring swung open and we see the Ark of the Covenant, the symbol of the very presence of God.  This draws its meaning and imagery not only from the Old Testament tabernacle and temple but also in the event of the Temple curtain being torn in two at the moment of Jesus death.  This event indicates that there is no longer a divide between God and humanity because Jesus has bridged that gap through His death and resurrection.  He, now, is Lord of all and is the mediator of the covenant of God.



Revelation 10 – Sweet and Sour

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The happenings of chapter 10 seem somewhat disjointed from the events that surround this chapter.  However, the imagery that is contained here is once again intimately connected to Old Testament prophetic writings.  Because of this, we can once again see a connection between God’s work in the Old Testament and that of the New Testament.  Remember that the Old Testament is an important anchor for our reading here, revealing to us that God is continuing to work out His plan of for saving the world and defeating evil.John records another interlude, a break in the action before the 7th trumpet is going to sound.  Once again, a “mighty angel,” perhaps the same one that we met in chapter 5 appears with a scroll.  This time, however, the scroll is much smaller and is open, different from the scroll with the seven seals.

John records another interlude, a break in the action before the 7th trumpet is going to sound.  Once again, a “mighty angel,” perhaps the same one that we met in chapter 5 appears with a scroll.  This time, however, the scroll is much smaller and is open, different from the scroll with the seven seals.  The angel’s appearance draws from a great deal of Old Testament imagery as well.  Most people are familiar, at least in part, with the story of Noah; the angel with a rainbow above his head is a reminder of God’s promise never again to destroy the earth with a flood.  Ezekiel also sees an image like this in his first vision.  Given the Exodus imagery that we’ve already seen, the pillars of fire may be reminders of God’s guidance in that time as well.  His face “like the sun” is similar language to many encounters with angels or with God, which we call theophanies, and is the same language used to talk about Jesus in the transfiguration and at the beginning of Revelation.

Placing his feet on both land and sea gives the impression of power over the whole earth and with a roar like a lion, perhaps we are getting the impression that the “Lion of the Tribe of Judah,” that is Jesus, is claiming His Lordship over all things. Hosea speaks to a similar vision late in his book.

John then hears thunder in response to this roar which is often symbolic for the punishment that comes from God to the wicked.  This is more than likely connects what we have been reading to the moment now, linking the judgments to God.  As John continues to record, he is given directions not to tell what the seven thunders have said.  Something similar happens several times in the book of Daniel (chapters 8 and 12), perhaps indicating something to deep or great for us to know at this time.  At the end of Revelation, however, John is instructed not to seal up any of the words he has written.  Some knowledge, it seems, may be time sensitive, but in the end, God’s plan and love will be revealed to all.

Verses 5 through 7 are all likely linked to the persecution that was taking place at the time John wrote the book of Revelation.  These are also words of hope for those who have faced and will face persecution in their lifetime.  This link comes from the name that is given to God here: “him who lives for ever and ever, who created the heavens and all that is in them, the earth and all that is in it, and the sea and all that is in it.”  The name reflects the name that Jesus was introduced by in Revelation 1 and also communicates God’s full and total reign over all things.  The oath that is sworn here is reflective of the covenant promise that God made with His people, starting with Abraham, and continuing throughout the Old Testament.  Here too God is swearing to bring His people into the true promised land, a promise that will never fade no matter the circumstances we find ourselves in.

Finally, we see John taking part in the action, taking the scroll from the angel.  A similar scene unfolds in the books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel.  Oddly, John is told to eat the scroll, which will taste sweet in his mouth but turn sour in his stomach.  The eating of the scroll is symbolic of the taking in of its words, grasping fully what they say and making them a part of you.  We use similar language when we talk about reading the Word of God.

At first, for John, the scroll tastes sweet, just as the message of the Gospel is like honey on our lips.  It is sweet, inviting, and very desirable.  However, the message of the Gospel isn’t an invitation to the easy life, there is suffering that is involved.  Jesus talks about this in the Gospel of John saying, “In this world, you will face trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.”  This too is an indication for us of both the arc of the narrative being revealed here in Revelation and the path that we are on as followers of Jesus Christ.  Still, as John is called to prophesy about what he is seeing, to and about all the peoples, nations, languages, and kings, we too are called on this outward trajectory, living into the great commission and preaching the Gospel to all people.



Revelation 9 – Trumpets (Part 2)

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Trumpet judgments five and six introduce some new and downright disturbing imagery into the mix of things we’ve already seen.  John is able to describe the agents of both judgments in vivid detail.  It is important, looking toward the end of this chapter, to keep in mind the ultimate purpose of these judgments.  We easily see the pain and suffering that is taking place here, however, Scripture indicates the strong desire to see repentance and turning toward God as the primary goal of these happenings.  In fact, Scripture testifies to that as well in 2 Peter, indicating that it is God’s desire that all will turn to Him and that none would perish.

The fifth trumpet judgment sees the star that had fallen become a sort of divine agent, possibly a reference to the devil himself, having fallen from heaven and creating bitterness on the earth.  He releases a demonic army that is sent to torture the people of the earth who are not sealed by God.  This judgment draws its imagery again from the plagues of Egypt, particularly the plague of locusts.

Describing the locusts that he sees, John shows us a very scary image of these demons.  Each aspect, though, represents a part of these demons.  They have human faces representing cunning and intelligence, not just a mindless rabble.  Their crowns represent a given power, not something weak or helpless.  Having women’s hair could represent a sort of false beauty that might be present, and the lion’s teeth the cruel and inhuman ability to devour.  Having armor may represent a strength that these demons have; iron armor was the strongest armor present at the time.  In and with their tails they have the ability to torment, perhaps representing the sting of sin and the resulting pain it always causes.

The head of these demons is called “Appolyon,” which means destruction; a fitting name for the devil and his demonic hordes.  Even with all this ability, though, their power is limited as is the time that they have to carry out their task as represented by the 5-month time limit.

Moving on to the sixth trumpet judgment we see a new entity, an army of horses and riders with eerily similar powers except that this time they could actually kill.  The number of these riders is beyond counting, and their appearance is equally as frightening as that of the locusts.  Much of the imagery is the same, the tails having the head of a snake on them confirms their demonic origin.

Contained in these verses is something that could easily be missed but is quite important to what we have been experiencing.  Verse 15 states that these 4 angels had been kept for the very hour, day, month, and year that this was happening.  The exact nature of this action, along with all the rest is important.  In the midst of the chaos that we are reading through here, it is important to note that God is still very much in control.  In fact, what He is working out here in the book of Revelation is all part of the plan, even if it doesn’t seem so to us.

What may not be readily evident here is what this all represents.  Certainly, it would be much easier for us to look at these things happening in some cataclysmic period way in the future and be ok with it.  In fact, that is how many people tend to look at the book of Revelation.  However, that is not necessarily how we have been looking at this book nor is it how we look at prophetic Scripture in general.

Remember that all of Scripture is living and active, that the main thrust of prophetic literature was to communicate what God was doing at the time it was written.  We also believe that Scripture speaks to our situation here and now.  John was writing in the midst of extreme persecution against the Christian community but ultimately their hope and ours rests in the strength and protection that is found in Jesus Christ who has and who will be victorious over all the evil and activity of the enemy.



Revelation 8 – Trumpets (Part 1)

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When the last seal is opened, John records something unique to Revelation so far: silence.  While silence is certainly not a foreign concept in the Bible, often indicating reverence or awe in the presence of God.  This could certainly be the case as the scroll that was sealed is now open for all.  However, it could also be that this silence brings a time of preparation for what is known as the “trumpet judgments,” the next series of seven judgments that are about to take place on the earth.

The golden censer and the burning incense draw their symbolic meaning from the altar of incense in the Tabernacle and Temple and from Old Testament imagery of prayers and actions before God.  Such things rose up to God like the smoke of a fire and were thought to produce either “pleasant” or “fowl” odors before the Lord.  John records that the incense that was in the golden censer was indeed the prayers of God’s people.  Old Testament tradition holds that angels played a part in mediating between God and humanity though this is certainly not something that the New Testament indicates.  Jesus Christ is our mediator and also the perfector of our prayers and worship as He presents them before God.

As the seven angels begin to blow their trumpets, the judgments that are poured out on the earth contain some familiar imagery.  Thunder, fire, and earthquakes we have seen before indicating in some fashion the presence of God in whatever is happening.  The first trumpet judgment, like many of these, draws its imagery directly from that of the 10 plagues in Exodus, something that is echoed in the book of Ezekiel.

The impact of these judgments is expressed by the fraction 1/3, indicating that at least partially, the punishment that is being poured out here is not yet complete.

The second trumpet judgment’s impact is reminiscent of the first plague on Egypt when the whole of the Nile river was turned to blood.  Jeremiah also records the image of the mountain begin destroyed as part of a vision regarding the punishment of Babylon, which becomes an image for all the is evil in the world and a focal point for the battle between good and evil later on in Revelation.

Wormwood, the falling star of the third trumpet judgment, is a very bitter tasting plant.  The star, John says, taints the fresh water of the world, making it poisonous to drink.  This event is reminiscent of the miracle of the waters of Marah, recorded in Exodus 15, except in reverse.  Jeremiah records a similar series of events in his prophecies as well in both chapter 9 and chapter 23 of his book.

The fourth trumpet judgment carries a similar theme to the ninth plague on Egypt, that of darkness.  These similarities are important to the overall theme of Revelation, that of the ultimate freeing of God’s people.  Israel’s exodus represented the freeing of God’s people from bondage; the plagues were God’s action on behalf of His people to punish the enslaver.  Here we see similar things happening again, but on a cosmic scale, signaling the coming of the “final exodus” of God’s people from the oppression of sin and evil in the world.  This is also why we draw so heavily on imagery from the prophets because they too envisioned this as a result of the coming of the Messiah and the ultimate redemption, reconciliation, and victory that He would bring.

Drawing on imagery like this doesn’t always “explain” what exactly it means, but rather creates connections in the redemptive work of God throughout salvation history.  We can then see that what John is witnessing here is not necessarily something new, but instead is the great revelation of God’s work to reconcile the whole world to Himself and put an end to sin and evil once and for all.



Revelation 7 – The Great Multitude

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John records a delay before the opening of the seventh seal in which a different sort of seal is placed on those who are faithful to God.  This seal of God is said to be a protection and is a sign of belonging or “ownership” of God’s people for Himself.  Somehow, they will be protected, possibly from the many things that we just read about in chapter 6.  The four angels could very well be the four horsemen given that they had been given the power to harm the earth.

As John records those who are sealed, we see him using the names of the tribes of Israel with at least one exception, Joseph, as he did not have his own tribe and the omission of Dan, possibly because of their idolatry which is recorded in Judges 18.  In some of the mainstream books and discussion about the book of Revelation, a great deal of emphasis is placed on Israel; this is true in America as well.  Evangelical beliefs have led us to take a vested interest in the land of Israel, thinking that doing so will somehow put us on the good side of God at the end times.  However, long after the nation split and the Northern Kingdom was destroyed, Scripture still uses the language of “Israel,”to talk about the people of God.  More than likely that is what is the case here as well.

It also doesn’t make much sense for the direction that Revelation has been taking, talking about Christians, the Church, Christ’s work, and even those that have been martyred for the faith, and then to suddenly jump back to Biblical Israel for 8 verses, before returning to Christians again.  Instead, what John is referring to here is the whole of the people of God.  He references that 12 tribes of Israel and that 12,000 from each tribe were sealed.

The number 12 is a significant number in Scripture as well, representing the fullness of the people of God.  In addition to that, the number 10, as well as its multiples (10, 100, 1000), are readily used in Scripture to talk about things being complete.  So, 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes is symbolic of the whole of the people of God being sealed and protected.

What happens next is a familiar sight for both John and his readers as once again worship around the throne of God is recorded.  All the people of God from everywhere in the world and throughout all time raise their voices in worship to God and to the Lamb.  Once again, their sole concern is worship to God above all else.

All of these people are wearing white robes, representing the purity they have because they are washed in Jesus’ blood.  John writes that they have come out of the “great tribulation” which could be reflective of their experience of persecution on earth.  Jesus refers to such a time in Matthew 24, a time that is near the end of time.  Perhaps this is reflective of a period of time in which the world will see a worsening of persecution against the Church and those who faithfully follow Jesus.

I’m probably not telling anyone anything new when I say that most people don’t relish the idea of persecution, much less greater persecution than one is already experiencing.  However, Scripture says time and again that the world will hate those who love Jesus.  But Jesus also reassures His disciples to “take heart, for I have overcome the world.”  This reassurance is exactly what God is communicating in Revelation; despite everything that has taken and will take place, Christ is the victorious conqueror and our victory, like those depicted in this chapter, is found solely in Him.



Revelation 6 – Break the Seal

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This chapter is known for the images of the “Four Horsemen of the Apocolypse” which are represented here by the events that follow the opening of the four seals.  These events represent the beginning of what some call the “tribulation”, a time when the inhabitants of the earth face the wrath and judgment of God.  Depending on your view of the timeline of the “End Times”, particularly if you believe in the rapture and hold to a “dispensational pre-millennialist” view, Christians aren’t present for this.  In this view, God spares Christians His wrath while judging the unbelievers in hopes that some will turn back to Him.  We will talk about this particular view in a later posting.

Reformed Theology, holds to a different view called amillennialism.  In this, there is no escapist mentality but instead, the church is present and active in the “Last Days,” still fully engaged in mission with God to spread the Gospel and fulfilling the great commission.  Again, we’ll talk more about this when the time comes.

The four horsemen have become somewhat mythical in their and prevalence in places outside of Scripture.  John’s descriptions of them provide many with wild and often confusing images.  Often we want to spend time trying to figure our who or what specifics these represent.  For example, the first horse, the conqueror, has often been portrayed as Jesus Himself.  With the color white which is the color the purity, a crown, and no outwardly negative things associated with his arrival, this could be a decent fit.  However, being bent on conquest doesn’t necessarily fit the Biblical image of God’s Son, the humble servant.  So perhaps, then, this is actually the antichrist.  Satan, afterall, masquerades as an angel of light.  This could very well be the case.

Another thought, one that falls a bit more in line with the themes of the other horsemen is that this is a “spirit of conquest.”  What does this mean?  Possibly that, in these last days, there will be a human desire and push to rule over each other, and not in the nicest of ways.  Remember that when we talk about the “last days” we are talking about the Scriptural reference to the time after the Messiah has come.  In the Old Testament prophecies, this is what is meant here; it is not necessarily an undetermined time that signals Christ’s return.

The fact that this spirit, like the other horsemen, was brought forth, or at the very least allowed to come forward by heaven suggests that this is part of God’s plan and purpose.  Certainly, there is Biblical precedent for this, looking at the kingdoms of Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome as well as Paul’s words reminding us that there is no authority on earth except that which is given by God Himself.  I think we can say that we’ve seen evidence of this throughout the last 2000 years as well from both individuals as well as governments.

As Jesus continues to open the seals we see similar spirits, depicted as horsemen, that are allowed to go out from heaven.  Each has its own task and ability to disrupt creation and human life.  It is also important to note that, with the third rider, there is a limitation placed on its ability to harm.  While these judgments and happenings can take their toll, none is more powerful than God.

Taking all four of these together, there is an argument that could be made that these four horsemen represent the effects of sin on the world.  That the devastation, disruption, and damage that they cause on all creation and human life, the consequences of sin, are a form of judgment in and of themselves.  This too would fall in line with the idea that these represent a number of spirits that are loosed on the earth.

Opening the fifth seal brings about a totally different set of images, that of martyrs.  The souls that are under the altar are indicative of the sacrifice that they have made for the sake of the Gospel.  In Old Testament sacrificial rites, the blood of the sacrifice was poured out on the base of the altar.  Yet these souls are not dead but instead are alive, representing the life that is had in Christ.  Because of their commitment to the Gospel, the fact that they did not back down or deny Christ, they are given white robes representing their purity (in Christ).

One theme that comes along with this image is also something that gains credence throughout Scripture, the continuing persecution of the church.  Jesus references this in the Gospel of John and it is mentioned in other places throughout the New Testament.  Here the Lord acknowledges it, that it will continue until the end, something we have certainly seen more vividly in recent months in the middle east.  This too, however, has a limit, and when it is reached, we can be assured that Christ will return victorious.

The events of the 6th seal are reminiscent of a number of visions that the prophets had in the Old Testament.  Some of them even Jesus attested to in His discussions about the “end times.”  When God shows up there is often an associated earthquake that takes place (Isaiah 29:6; Ezekiel 38:19; Psalm 97:4; Exodus 19:18). The sun’s darkening (Isaiah 50:3; Matthew 24:29) and the resulting red glow of the moon (think of a lunar eclipse) are also events that are said to take place with the opening of the sixth seal.  Stars falling from the sky (Isaiah 34:4), as well as the changing of the sky (2 Peter 3:10), are magnificent events the John sees.  Each carries with it Scriptural imagery, much of which would have been familiar to those familiar with the Old Testament.

Last on the list for the 6th seal are the removal of islands and mountains.  This too may seem a bit random and disjointed, however, it carries with it very familiar Scriptural imagery as well.  Many times in the Old Testament we see the coming of the Lord being heralded by the removal of obstacles.  Psalm 46:2, Isaiah 54:10, Jeremiah 4:24, Ezekiel 38:20, and Nahum 1:5 each reference events similar to this as well as the Isaiah’s words of comfort to the people of Israel in chapter 40.  Many of these carry the theme of prophesying Jesus’ first coming which is picked up by John here in talking about the second.

So what are we to make of these?  Events similar to these have certainly taken place throughout the years which is why searching for a single one as a focal point is futile.  Does that mean that they are meaningless to us, that they won’t happen at some future time, or that it is simply symbolism?  Not necessarily… But perhaps the point here, like the rest of Revelation, is not to be looking for specific times, places, people and events, afterall Jesus says that no one knows the time and to not believe those that say “this is the Christ.”  Perhaps, instead, these things are set to be reminders, signals for the faithful and unfaithful alike, that God is still at work and that we are in the “last days.”  Perhaps, like a weather alert causes us to consider weather conditions, so too should these things give us pause and cause us to evaluate how well we are loving God and loving our neighbor…

Therein may lie the true purpose of the book of Revelation as God says in Revelation 1:3, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.”  Like all prophecy, the message is meant for God’s people in the moment with meaning for the now, not a cryptic message about the future that needs to be deciphered.  Afterall, “revelation” is a “revealing,” not a hiding.



Revelation 5 – Seal and Scroll, Harp and Bowl

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Of all the things that we see throughout the book of Revelation, the events of chapter 5 may feel the most familiar.  Images of “the lamb that was slain” and references to the “Root of David” are common references to Jesus.  The reference to the “Lion of the Tribe of Judah” is also a somewhat familiar reference, dating back all the way to Jacob’s blessing on Judah in Genesis 49.

The scroll that has writing on both sides would be reminiscent of the giving of the law; God wrote on both sides of the tablets of stone that Moses brought down the mountain.  Ezekiel saw a similar scroll in one of his visions; that scroll contained words of lament and woe.  We are not told the contents of this scroll, only that it is seven times sealed.

There is a great deal of reference to the number seven throughout Scripture.  It is the number of God, the number of perfection, and the number of completion.  God created the world in seven days; there are always seven lampstands which represent God’s presence.  The seven seals on the scroll are possibly a reference to the perfection of God’s Word.  Perhaps one of the more confusing references, though, when it comes to the number seven, is that of the “seven spirits of God.”

As I am unfamiliar with this reference, I have done a bit of research.  There seem to be some mixed thoughts on what this is a reference to.  In Isaiah 11, the prophet references the “Spirit of the Lord” which will be on the prophesied Messiah.  Including the reference to the “Spirit of the Lord”, there are also the spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord.  Together these could reflect the “seven spirits of God” that we see many times in the book of Revelation.

Others have referenced the seven gifts of the Spirit that Paul references in Romans 12:6-8.  He writes,

 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.

There have also been some references to these seven Spirits being a special class of heavenly being.  Scripture references the Archangels, the most powerful of heavenly beings next to God.  In the canonical books of the Bible, we meet two such Archangels, Gabriel, the messenger of God, and Michael, who leads the armies of heaven.  In the book of Enoch, a non-canonical text which is referenced by the book of Jude, the Archangels  Raphael (also mentioned in the book of Tobit), Uriel, Raguel), Remiel, and Sariel are mentioned.  I guess it bears mentioning here that Lucifer, also known as Satan, the devil, is thought to have once been an Archangel, but fell victim to pride, according to tradition, and was cast out of heaven.  That said, and 8th Archangel does cast a bit of doubt on the “Seven Spirits” = Archangels idea.

One other probable explanation for the “seven Spirits of God” reference is that it is simply pointing to the perfect work of God and the perfect ministry of God the Holy Spirit.  While this may not be quite as entertaining an explanation, it certainly is a probable one that would fall in line with the symbolism of Revelation.  Perhaps it’s a combination of several of these ideas.  What do you think?

One other thing that bears mentioning in chapter 5: a challenge goes out for someone worthy to open the scroll.  The search encompasses heaven, earth, and under the earth, a common phrase in Scripture that references the universal nature of the challenge.  John makes it very clear here that there is no one anywhere, at any time that is worthy to open the scroll… except the Lamb that was slain.

The praise and worship the erupts when the Lamb comes forward is also universal in nature, bringing wonderful imagery of the whole of humanity and all creation joining in.  For many, this is evidence of the mandate of the Great Commission being fulfilled and of the universality and unity of the Body of Christ, the Church, as she joins with all creation and the heavenly beings (10,000 x 10,000 = 100,000,000 angels) worshipping the Lord.  This is truly an image of worship without boundary, something we can take our cue from as we think about worship in our churches today.  Their only concern was to worship the Lamb.  Is that our only concern in worship?



Revelation 4 – The Throne Room

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Image Credit: "Word of God"

Image Credit: “Word of God

John’s revelation and the bulk of what we often think about when we reference this book begins in chapter four.  After writing the letters to the churches from Jesus he looks and sees an open door and then is brought into the dwelling place of God.  One of the essential and non-shared characteristics of God is immortality, His eternal nature.  God stands outside of time, something we cannot comprehend.  He sees all of history in a glance.

Some have taken verses 1 and 2 as a particular reference to a theological concept known as the “rapture.”  This is an idea that God is going to take away all Christians from the earth at a particular point in time before the time of the “tribulation.”  Rapture theology, part of a doctrine known as “dispensational pre-millennialism” is fairly popular in the U.S., but has little bearing in the church universal, being only 150-200 years old.  It takes several disjointed verses throughout Scripture and pieces together an idea that is all about escaping the trials of this world.  I would put this on the same level as thinking that we know everything about a person based on 4 or 5 tweets or social media posts.  When we look at the greater arc of Scripture we see God’s intentional work to redeem and restore the world and creation from the damage of sin.  At the end of Revelation (spoiler alert) John sees a “new heaven and a new earth” and sees a “new Jerusalem” coming down to earth.  The “dwelling of God” will be with humans… not the other way around.

Image Credit: "DWELLING in the Word"

Image Credit: “DWELLING in the Word

John then turns to the vision of God that he sees, being in God’s dwelling place.  These images are quite abstract at times, perhaps even a little scary.  We can marvel at their magnificence while puzzling at their obscurity all at once.  However, like John’s vision of Jesus, all of these things are steeped in Scripture and have a rich wealth of meaning and splendor.  In fact, all of it is reflective of other points in Scripture where God has revealed Himself through visions and descriptions.  Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel all have visions of God on the throne, Isaiah 6 being the most well-known of the three.

The gemstones that John sees here reflect a brilliant image of God who, as Paul writes, dwells in unapproachable light.  Seeing the rainbow too is a very vivid and familiar symbol of God and His promises.

He then references 24 thrones and twenty-four elders around God’s throne.  Scripture references the number 12 many times in both the Old and New Testaments, referring to the tribes of Israel and, not at all by accident, the disciples of Jesus.  These 24 thrones and elders represent, then, the whole of the people of God all worshipping God along with the four creatures.  These creatures are quite similar to the creatures Ezekiel saw in His encounter with God and have six wings, like the seraphim of Isaiah’s vision as well.  These Seraphim, a particular type of angel, are around the throne of God always worshipping God.  Their “everywhere eyes” are also seen in Ezekiel’s vision, reflective of God’s “everywhere” vision; nothing goes unnoticed or escapes their vision.

Something that always seems to accompany the “theophany” of God, that is the revelation, experience, and appearance of God is that of lightning and thunder, reminiscent of God’s appearance on mount Sinai to His people.

A sea of crystal is an interesting image.  Throughout Scripture, the sea and the ocean often represent chaos.  They were present before God created the world, Scripture says, and it was from this chaos that God created everything.  Yet here, the sea is of glass, crystal.  It’s no longer dark, as in Genesis, and would be quite still if it was glass (like a pond on a calm morning).  Perhaps this is representative of God’s power over the chaos.  It could also be representative of the bowl for cleansing in the Temple and the true purity that is present in God’s dwelling place.

The main theme of this chapter is the worship that takes place.  Each of the beings and all that is represented here have a place in the dwelling of God, high and exalted in His presence, and yet all are bowing down to God, laying their crowns and all that they have before Him always and forever.



Revelation 3 – Letters to the Seven Churches (part 2)

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The Church in Sardis

Sardis was a capital city known for its great wealth and fame.  There is not much written about the city of Sardis other than that, but I have often related this particular letter most readily to the church in North America.  Jesus says, “You have a reputation for being alive, but you are dead.”  In a country where great wealth and fame are what defined and viewed as important, the church seems to have taken a back seat.  Because of our country’s place in the world, we may assume that this too is where the church is the strongest… but in reality, the church is declining in the U.S. faster than any place in the world.

The question that this letter poses to the church in North America is what it looks like to be faithful in the midst of this.  How indeed can we actually be alive?  How do we live as those who haven’t “soiled ourselves” and stand with the one who is victorious before the Father?

The Church in Philadelphia

Philadelphia was a city known for its trading located on the main trade route from Rome into the province of Asia.  As such, the city was a main place for pagan worship and church persecution.  In the midst of this, Christ’s points to an “open door” that He has placed before them.  While the church here had endured a great deal, their direction was clear.  Interestingly, this has almost always been the case for the church when it faces persecution.  In these difficult times, the Gospel spreads and the church grows.  Perhaps this is what Scripture is referring to here.

The change of name imagery that we see here is one that is often found in Scripture.  Many people have undergone these changes at pivotal times in their lives.  Abram becomes Abraham, Jacob becomes Israel, Saul becomes Paul.  Each time the change represents God’s calling on their life and the new life that it brings about.  Here, Jesus promises to write the name of “God” and “the city of God” on them.  This too is a symbol of new life and new calling reflective of what we see in Scripture.  Those who God calls, who place their faith in Him, are marked as Christ’s own forever.

The Church in Laodicea

Laodicea was also a city of great wealth and influence known for banking establishments, medical schools, and textile industry.  The many water references in this letter come from the fact that the city had no source of fresh water.  Jesus’ reference to the “one true God” is perhaps an allusion to that here in his discussion about their “lukewarmness.”  It is important that believers find their source of spiritual water from the only source of true living water, that being Jesus Christ Himself.

Jesus’ words here also challenge the church in its action.  The church of Laodicea has not hot, possibly referring to the hot water used in medicinal practice, or cold, possibly referring to the refreshing and thirst-quenching ability of fresh water.  The only way to get either would be to return to the source, not having it shipped in or pumped in through other means.  This too is a good word to the church in North America, which has spent an inordinate amount of time pumping in water from culture, government, and any number of other places rather than returning to the source our healing and refreshing: the Gospel of Jesus Christ.



Isaiah 40:1-11 "Advent Peace"

The Prayer of St. Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is discord, harmony;

Where there is error, truth;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek

To be consoled as to console;

To be understood as to understand;

To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.



Revelation 2 – Letters to the Seven Churches (part 1)

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After seeing Jesus, John is told to write a letter to each of the seven churches, represented by the seven lampstands.  These letters could simply be letters to each of those churches, addressing issues that were present at that time.  However, with the greater arc of this book being to the Church Universal, limiting the writing and its meaning in that way wouldn’t necessarily fit the whole of the book of Revelation.  Notes in my Study Bible suggest the possibility of these letters being a “preview of church history in its downward course toward Laodicean lukewarmness.”  Another possible interpretation would be that these letters represent the “characteristics of various kinds of Christian congregations that have existed from John’s day until the present time.”  Being that we believe God’s Word to be “living and active,” each and/or all of these could have some semblance of truth to them.

The words for each church come from Jesus, but His introduction in them bears one of the different characteristics of His appearance, found in chapter one.  Each difference is based on the message that is coming to them, both the tone and the type of message.

The Church in Ephesus:

By now, the church in Ephesus is quite familiar to us.  Having read Paul’s letter to them as well as some discussion around the church in other letters, we know that the city was one of great importance and as such, the church there faced a number of challenges from false teachers both outside and inside the church.  To that, though, Christ speaks words of praise; they have readily resisted those teachings including those of the Nicolaitans, a heretical sect that had worked out a compromise with pagan society.

Yet, in the midst of this battle, they seem to have forgotten that which is most important, love.  It’s easy to begin with love but as many in relationships know, love takes hard work and dedication to continue on in.  This isn’t simply true in human relationships, it is also very true in our relationship with God.  We need to hold onto this love because it is that love, the love of God in Jesus Christ, that will bring victory in the end.

The Church in Smyrna:

Smyrna was a city that was closely affiliated with Rome and therefore desired greatly to worship the Emperor.  It was also home to a very large Jewish population that was hostile to the church there.  Christians here likely experienced a lot of persecution, something that Jesus Himself was familiar with.  Jesus’ words are those of encouragement to persevere despite the conditions there for their true home and true victory lie in something much greater than this life.

The Church in Pergamum:

The city of Pergamum was the capital of the Roman province of Asia and as such it was the official center of emperor worship in that region.  This gives light to the comment that “satan’s throne” was there and it also explains why Jesus uses the image of the sword in His introduction.  Antipas is traditionally known as the first martyr in Asia.  His death makes some of the things we hear about terrorists doing today look tame.

Though they have remained faithful in the midst of intense persecution and cultural pressure, Jesus still calls them out on some false teachings that they continue to allow within the church.  It is not enough for us to remain open and functioning as a church in the midst of persecution.  If we give in and allow for culture and heresies to change us, we might as well not even be there.  True victory comes from faith in Jesus Christ, the true victor, not in remaining physically present at the expense of salvation.

The Church in Thyatira:

Thyatira was a military outpost known for its guilds and trading.  It is also known for being the home of Lydia, a prominent woman in the early church.  This may be one of the reasons for the images Jesus uses in his introduction; refining fire and burnished bronze are both things that would be familiar to this city, their worth, having been refined, was much greater.  Jesus commends the church here for their growth, how things seem to be getting better.  Yet, just one is growing does not mean that evil things within its bounds can be tolerated.

Yet, just one is growing does not mean that evil things within its bounds can be tolerated.  This has applications both personally and corporately.  Sometimes, when things are going well, we want to ignore the negative things that might be happening so as to not create waves.  To this, Jesus says “no”.  He is not in the business of comfort, nor does He desire half growth… we cannot keep our pet sins as we continue to grow and be sanctified.  True victory comes in wholeheartedly following Jesus, putting off all other things.



Revelation 1 – Seeing Jesus

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John begins his writing by orienting his readers to what is happening and the purpose of his writing.  The whole of this book is a revelation from God that is given to John to make known that which will take place soon.  Remember that we talked in 2 Peter about the dimensions of time when it comes to God’s actions and history.  In fact, all of what “is going to take place” is a New Testament reference to the Old Testament phrase “in the last days.”  This is a phrase that is often used by the prophets to talk about the time when the Messiah would come which means that, since Jesus came to earth, we are in those “last days”.

As he begins his writing, John also directs this letter to the “Seven churches” in the province of Asia.  Each of these churches is specific, however, the meaning of the number seven in Scripture is also important.  Seven is associated with the number of God, perhaps meaning that this letter, while given specific destinations, is also directed to God’s Church, the Universal Church made up of all those who put their faith in Him throughout all time.  Further evidence of this would be the introduction of God as being both “Alpha and Omega.”  Both would seem to indicate that the scope of this letter is much greater than simply seven churches at one point in time.

1bc068bd89998b7e40c90cc47ad06afbThe vision that John has of Jesus is pretty intense and packed with imagery.  These images can seem foreign to us, especially because our study this year has only contained New Testament passages.  However, Jesus is actually revealing Himself in a way that would have been familiar to both John and to readers of God’s Word (which at that time was only the Scripture there was).

John records that he saw 7 golden lampstands.  This may be a reference to the menorah, the lampstand with seven arms that was made for the tabernacle and the temple of God.  He then saw “someone dressed like a son of man.”  Both Daniel and Ezekiel, in their visions, also describe an image of the Messiah in this way.  Isaiah, in his vision of the Lord, sees God dressed in this way, perhaps reflective of the High Priest who also wore such a robe.

The golden sash that Jesus is wearing in this vision is also noted in another vision of Daniel.  A head of white hair suggests wisdom, as referenced in Proverbs; Jesus is often described in the New Testament as the “Wisdom of God.”  His eyes of fire suggest a “penetrating” or “refining” gaze; Daniel again sees this in his visions as well as the feet of glowing bronze.

Ezekiel hears a similar voice in one of his visions.  The rushing water is perhaps a reference to the “living water” that Jesus offers.  Out of His mouth, John writes, came a double-edged sword.  Isaiah makes references to this several times in His writing; the author of Hebrews also makes reference to the Word of the Lord being a double-edged sword.  Jesus is the Divine Word Incarnate (in the flesh).

Jesus then introduces Himself to John who has rightfully fallen down before Him in what was likely a mix of fear, reverence, and worship.  He says to John, “Do not be afraid.”  This too is a normal greeting for a Divine being to give to a human when a revelation is occurring.  There is obvious reason to be afraid, but Jesus reassures John and us that we need not fear because of who He is and what He has done for us.  This greeting becomes, for us, the basis in which we can approach the rest of the book:

“Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.  I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever!  And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”



Introduction to the Book of Revelation

The book of Revelation, also known as the Revelation of John is, in all actuality, the Revelation of Jesus Christ.  “Revelation” means to reveal something that had otherwise been hidden beforehand.  It is, then, an appropriate title for this book, not because there are secrets that we need to dig out of it, but because Jesus Christ is revealed in greater clarity as is the plan and work of God’s redemption and restoration, as well as the ultimate war against and defeat of evil in the world.

John, the Apostle and author of the Gospel of John as well as the three letters attributed to His name, is also the author of this book.  He witnessed and recorded all that is contained within this book while in exile on the island of Patmos, a small island off the coast of Greece.

There is a great deal about this book that is unique to the New Testament but is related in large ways to some of the same styles of writing in the Old Testament.  Apocalyptic literature, the category that this book falls under, is often seen as cataclysmic, filled with vivid imagery, symbolism, and meaning that is often lost on those looking at it without context.  Like all Scripture, it is important to read the book of Revelation within the context of all of Scripture.  It is also important to follow general idea that both Apocalyptic literature, like prophetic literature, is speaking to a people at a particular time, revealing a greater reality of what is going on in the world, both physical and spiritual.

Far too often, people have approached this book in an effort to “unlock its hidden meaning.”  They will look at current events and those of recent history and try to match them up to what they see described here.  While there may be some similarities, this is an inappropriate way to view Scripture.  Instead we should be looking at how Scripture speaks into our lives and, should events of the world relate, remind ourselves of how God is revealing Himself and His work in those situations.

As such, our journey through this book WILL NOT include the following:

  • Identifying the specific anti-Christ
  • Relating of today’s nation of Israel to the Biblical Israel
  • Identifying exactly when Christ will return

I will admit, here and now, that I am completely  unqualified to offer commentary on this book.  John Calvin, the great reformer, was unwilling to write a commentary on this book.  What I can offer is, as it always has been, thoughts and reflections as well as learning from my faith journey which includes seminary and Christ-centered, undergraduate education.  I trust that the Spirit will continue to lead us on this journey and bring forth all that needs to be said.

It also bears mentioning that I am approaching this from a Reformed Theological Perspective.  That brings with it a number of assumptions and viewpoints (for example, amillennialist viewpoint) that are not necessarily held by all.  I welcome the conversation as I think we have a profound opportunity to learn from each other here.  We’ll talk more about these things as they arise.  I trust that the Spirit will continue to lead us on this journey and bring forth all that needs to be said.

Disclaimer: Due to the nature of the book of Revelation, many posts here will likely be longer than usual.



The Book of Jude

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The book of Jude is short, unique, and quite beautiful in its writing.  Jude introduces himself as the brother of James who most likely authored the book of James and was the brother of Jesus, a prominent member of the church in Jerusalem.  In this culture, to identify as someone’s brother rather than the son of their father is certainly unique.  However, given James’ status in the church, this made Jude’s writing all the more accepted.

Jude addresses his letter to all those who are called and who are loved by the Father.  In essence, he is writing to everyone.  There really is no one that falls outside of this purview, though the qualifier of having been “kept in Jesus Christ” tells us that these words would impact, in a greater way, those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ.

On of the very unique characteristics about the book of Jude is the author’s use of extra-canonical references.  Extra-canonical books are religious writings, often written in the same time period as the canonical books (those that are included in the Bible) but were not included in the final canon of Scripture when that decision was made.  Many of these books are included in the Apocrypha.  Jude references the Book of Enoch as well as a writing known as “The Testament of Moses.”  Both of these writing were popular and well respected in New Testament times, however, they were not considered to be divinely inspired in the way that the canonical books of the Bible we know today are.

While the Reformed Church and most protestant denominations do not recognize these books as Biblical or Canonical, unlike the Catholic Church and many Orthodox churches, there certainly is still value found in them.  Books like the Maccabees stand as a witness to historical events whereas others stand as a witness to that which is in the canonical Bible.

Martin Luther, one of the fathers of the Reformation said of these books, “[Apocryphal books are] books which are not held equal to the sacred Scriptures, but nevertheless are useful and good to read.” The Belgic Confession, one of the statements of faith in the Reformed tradition, observes, “The Church may certainly read these books and learn from them as far as they agree with the canonical books. But they do not have such power and virtue that one could confirm from their testimony any point of faith or of the Christian religion.”

The Belgic Confession, one of the statements of faith in the Reformed tradition, observes, “The Church may certainly read these books and learn from them as far as they agree with the canonical books. But they do not have such power and virtue that one could confirm from their testimony any point of faith or of the Christian religion.”

Perhaps sometime in the future, these will be a source of study in this blog…



3 John – Hospitality

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We often talk about those who have the gift of hospitality as being those who can put on a good dinner party or those who like to have people over to their house.  Certainly, there is an element of truth to this notion and there are many who are gifted with a welcoming spirit and an open home.  However, Scripture challenges our this notion, pointing out that if hospitality means only welcoming those we know, those we like, and those who believe the same way that we do, it falls short of the true meaning of hospitality.

Here John commends his friend Gaius because of his faithful work and love toward those he does not know.  These people are, apparently, Christians but are strangers to Gaius.  However, Gaius continues on in what he is doing for the sake of the Gospel and receives a commendation from Paul for it.

This is contrasted with the actions of Diotrephes who always wants to be first, the very opposite of hospitality.  John, here, is echoing Jesus’ teachings to His disciples, talking about servant leadership and humility rather than boastful, proud talk.  Such actions are not hospitable and are, in essence, wounding the message of the Gospel.

As is always true, the example that we follow is that of Jesus Christ.  Paul speaks to the humility and hospitality of Jesus in the book of Colossians:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing    by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.