Revelation 12 – The Woman and the Dragon

Read Revelation 12

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 6 – Break the Seal

Read Revelation 6

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.



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.



2 John – Walk in Love

Read 2 John

Though 2 John is the shortest book in the Bible,  it is no less important because of the message that it carries.  The author, presumably the Apostle John, continues in the theme he carries throughout his writings, to show and live out the love of God daily.  John says that he is not giving them a “new command,” but rather is reiterating the one that Jesus gave to His disciples: love one another.  When we walk in love, we are walking with God and are obeying the commandments that God has given to us.  This is, as Jesus points out, the essence of the whole Law.

What is interesting here, and at other points in 1 John as well, is what it means for those who claim to be Christians to not love each other.  John says that they are “a deceiver and the antichrist.”  This may seem a bit extreme as we often think about the “antichrist” as being a person who will appear in the end times to openly oppose God and actively persecute Christians.  Views like this have been perpetuated in today’s culture by books like the “Left Behind” series and other “end times” type books.

Yet the way that John uses the term “antichrist” is one that references the work of the devil on a daily basis, not an evil figurehead.  In fact, if we were to follow this line of thinking, it makes sense that Satan is the antichrist, the one who opposes God in the world and that those who deny Jesus, those who do not love God or show God’s love for others participate in the work of Satan, the antichrist.

In the same way that those who love as God first loved them are in Christ and participating in the salvation and redemption of the world, following God’s lead and Lordship, so too are those who do not, participate in the Devil’s campaign against God and His work in the world.



2 Thessalonians 2 – Antichrist

Read 2 Thessalonians 2

While this is the first time that Paul directly addresses the notion of an “antichrist” figure, labeled here as “the man of lawlessness,” it isn’t original to him.  In fact, the first mention of such a person, a sort of human embodiment of evil that comes with the power of satan, is in the seventh chapter of the book of Daniel.  Here this figure comes as the vision of a horn on a beast.

This figure shows up again in Daniel 9, 11, and 12 as well as the extra-canonical book of 1 Maccabees.  In each of these cases, this person, empowered by satan himself, comes to deceive and to claim the place of God in the world.  He/She does so by desecrating all that is seemingly holy and stop the worship of God, replacing it ultimately with the worship of him/herself.

Jesus also picks up this theme, directly referenced in Matthew 24 and Mark 13, with a more indirect reference in Luke 21.  All of these references, from Daniel to Paul, are directly related to eschatological (end times) discussion.

Throughout history, however, it has happened at least twice that a ruler from a foreign land has attacked Jerusalem, laid waste to the Temple of God causing the sacrifices and worship to stop, and desecrated the Temple in some way.  This happened after the life of the prophet Daniel, in 168 BC, when Antiochus IV Epiphanes sacrificed a pig on the altar of burnt offerings.

Later it would happen when the Roman military, led by Titus (a different Titus than the one Paul traveled with) attacked Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and raised it to the ground.  Several of the Roman Emperors in that time proclaimed themselves as “gods,” though none, I believe, did so in the Temple of God.

Over the years there have been many “antichrist” figures that have risen to power.  Each of these, in their own right, have fulfilled parts of what Daniel, Jesus, and Paul all warned the people of God about.  Yet none have lived up to the true “antichrist” described in Scripture either.

Honestly, though, finding the real “antichrist” is beside the point.  Christians have spent far too much time trying to determine who this person is.  Perhaps this president, or the next one.  Maybe it’s the Russian president or the Pope?  If we’re spending all of our time looking for who it is, or is going to be, we’ve missed the point of Paul’s teaching here.  The fact is that there are many who will come, evil people who will seek to defame and destroy God and his people, setting him/herself in God’s place… but only for a time.

This “antichrist’s” time is already numbered for, as much power as satan can give him, it as nothing before the power and might of our conquering Savior.



Day 363: Revelation 13-16; The Beasts, The Mark, and the Bowls of Wrath

Today we get the dubious pleasure of meeting more beasts and seemingly crazy images that John is being shown in this vision.  Right off the bat we meet two beasts.  The first one is a beast the arises out of the Sea and has many of the same features as the dragon from yesterdays reading.  In fact, the dragon gives in the power that it has and “his throne” on earth.  There have been many interpretations about what this image means.  Some have interpreted it as a symbol of the Roman empire and its rule in the world.  At this time the Roman empire was heavily persecuting Christians throughout the known world, times were rough and the empire itself probably seemed like a beast of sorts, trying to stamp out the Christian movement while it was still in its infancy.

Other’s have seen this beast as the antichrist, a false messiah that will show up in the world speaking great words and drawing many to himself as he has great authority on the earth.  This has been interpreted to signify a particular human or perhaps a government and perhaps even a corporate institution that will both wield authority and also set itself up as a sort of “savior” of the world.  Like we have held all along though, this Scripture is not meant to point out any one specific thing as being exactly what John is seeing here, but rather to serve as a warning, like Jesus’ words in Matthew 24, that there would be those that would come that would try to draw people, especially believers away from God.

We also meet the second beast today, one that rises out of the land.  Where these beasts come from are rather significant in the Hebrew worldview.  Remember that water symbolizes death and chaos, from the time before creation was created.  It was out of the swirling waters of nothingness that God created everything and it is out of this same chaos that the first beast comes from.  However the second beast is one that arises from creation itself, from the land that has been long plagued with sin.  Perhaps this represents a different nature to this second beast.  It is clearly seen that this second beast has a direct impact on the relationships of people as well as commerce and even the ability to live and make a living.

Together these three, the dragon, the beast from the sea, and the beast from the earth have been called the “unholy trinity.”  This is a direct opposition to the Triune nature of God, and these three directly oppose God.  In some ways this makes sense in that the dragon is seen attacking the woman, trying to thwart the overall plan of God, the beast from the Sea comes from the same place that we see John talk about Jesus, the Divine Word made Flesh, coming from in the very beginning.  The second beast then would be in contrast to the Holy Spirit, working within the hearts of humanity, working against their relationships with each other and with God.  While this is an interpretation, the number that is given for this seems to coincide with this a bit.  John gives the number 666 as the mark of the beast, but also says that understanding this number calls for wisdom.  It could mean a lot of things, but the significance of the three numbers that are all one less than seven, a number representing the divine, does seem to suggest something.  The three numbers often represent God, the three persons of God, and the number seven represents wholeness or completeness.  It would stand to reason then, that God’s number could easily be 777.  With that being said, the number 666 represents imperfection, only an attempt to be divine, to have any sort of power.  It is only with the One True God that the fullness and completeness of Divine power, love, and grace and be seen.

Finally today I want to draw our attention once again to the working of God’s wrath in Revelation 16.  These are very powerful images that come to us, visions of God’s wrath being poured out on the earth from bowls.  In some ways it is very difficult to even read about and these images bring to our minds questions about how the God of Love could do such things.  Once again I think it is important to remember that God’s love is actually the source of God’s wrath.  When sin entered the world, all of creation was corrupted and set on a path of sin.  From that time on, oppression and injustice were present.  We see this throughout history and especially when it comes against the people of God, the wrath of the Lord is kindled.  This isn’t judgment out of anger, it is the deep deep passion of God’s love for His creation that has been aroused to righteous anger.  The Lord is indignant because all He has created which He loves so much is being torn apart by sin.  As we read about these bowl judgments we see that it is said time and again that people would not turn to God, that instead of repenting they would curse God and not worship Him.  Ultimately this is the goal of God’s wrath and judgment upon creation; it was when He was judging Israel, it is now, and it will be when these come to pass in whatever form they come in.  God is trying desperately to get the attention of those who refuse to follow Him and in so doing He is also punishing the sin that has plagued all of creation.

Unfortunately, these are not things that we often here anymore.  We talk a length about the love of God and the compassion that He and stuff.  These are all well and good… however it leaves a lot of questions to be answered when we read of God’s judgment on creation.  The fact of the matter is that God is a God of love, but He is also a God of justice and we have to hold both of these things in His hand.  We like to think that everybody is just going to be happy in the end, but as that end approaches there will be those that won’t be happy about it, those that have chosen to reject God and oppose Him.  While there will be ample time for them to repent, with lots and lots of warnings as we clearly see here, there will be a time when the end will come and the choice to oppose God and refuse Him will be final.  Again this is unfortunate; my heart aches even as I write this, but it is the reality that we are presented with in Scripture… no matter how much we don’t want to hear it.  Jesus Christ offers us the hope of salvation by grace alone through our faith in Him.  All we need to do is accept Him as our Lord and Savior and believe in His Name.  We never know how much time is actually left which means that we need to be sharing the Gospel of Grace with everyone all the time!

(I would like to mention, that the articles that I am referencing as “related” are those that have been suggested by wordpress and do not necessarily support of coincide with the beliefs that I hold or write about.  I neither cast my unknowing support to them nor do I say that they are wrong, simply conversational partners in this journey through the Scriptures.)