Revelation 17 – Babylon

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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



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)

Read Revelation 3

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.