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.



Day 241: Ezekiel 10-13; Ezekiel's Vision and the Glory of God

Today I would like to take a bit of a closer look at the vision of Ezekiel in chapter 1 that he sees again in our chapter 10 of our reading today.  This is the second time that Ezekiel sees a vision like this and describes it for us.  These visions, like many of his visions, are full of crazy imagery that seems weird to us.  It almost seems like it is something out of a messed up movie or some B-rates sci-fi, made for T.V. movie or something.  There have been some that claim that these visions of Ezekiel are actually the first recorded sightings of U.F.O’s visiting the planet and this is Ezekiel’s attempt to interpret the advanced technology that he is seeing.

While I highly doubt that Ezekiel saw any U.F.O’s during his time in Babylon, it is very clear that what he is seeing is strange and completely out of the ordinary.  Yet it is also true that when God speaks to us and reveals Himself to us, He does so in means and ways that we are capable of understanding, even if it doesn’t seem like it at first glance.  The people of Israel would have been able to recognize much of this symbolism, though its difficult to ever say that a particular part of any vision like this has a direct one-to-one correlation, especially for people in the 21st century, over 2,000 years removed from this cultural context.

Speaking of context, it is important to remember that Ezekiel is in Babylon when he is seeing these images, one of the exiles from the first wave that was brought over by King Nebuchadnezzar.  In both of Ezekiel’s visions he sees the four creatures and the four wheels.  Lets take a look at these things first.  The four creatures each have four heads with four faces, yet their bodies seem to be like those of a human.  Often times these different faces would be representative of the perfect nature of God.  Each could represent a different aspect of God’s nation like strength, intelligence, and even divinity.  It could also be though that these creatures are representative of the whole of creation in all of its majesty.  In one commentary that I read, there is a comment made about a link between each of these faces and each of the four gospels:

Matthew – The Lion; Matthew represents Christ as the Lion of Judah.

Mark – The Ox; Mark represents Christ as the Servant of God

Luke – The Human; Luke represents Christ as the perfect Human

John – The Eagle; John represents Christ as the Divine Son of God

We’ll talk more about the differences in the gospels in a couple weeks when we get there. It is also important to note that these creatures in Ezekiel’s vision are parallels to the creatures around the throne of God that John sees and records in the book of Revelation.  More to come on this as well in a couple months!

The other prominent thing that Ezekiel sees in both visions is the 4 “wheel within a wheel” apparatuses that are next to the four creatures.  Both times these wheels are covered in eyes and he even describes them as having fire within them.  This is linked heavily to the phrase “wherever the Spirit would go,” pointing towards the ability to go in any direction at any time.  This would have been contrasted with the vehicular transport of the time, mainly horse and chariot, and their slower and more awkward ability to make turns.  God’s throne, as Ezekiel sees it, is able to go anywhere at any time in an instant, wherever the Spirit wills to go.  They are covered with eyes and contain a flame therein, representing, most likely, the ability for the Spirit of God to see all things everywhere with a sight that is both penetrating and purifying.  Though seemingly terrifying, this is actually representing a message of comfort to the people in exile, showing them that God both sees them in their foreign land and is with them while they are there.  If they believed that the throne of God was somehow limited to being in Jerusalem in the Temple, Ezekiel’s vision is letting them know that it is able to be anywhere and everywhere all the time.

There are some more familiar images in both visions too.  Ezekiel sees a throne with one sitting on it.  There is a rainbow above Him, something instantly recognizable by anyone, especially the Hebrews.  The second vision is like the first, except that it is set in the Temple, which is considered to be the throne of God by the Hebrew people.  It is here that Ezekiel recognizes the creatures as Cherubim, the angels that are present in the throne room of God.

All of this, everything that Ezekiel describes to us, is representative of the glory of God translated into images that are manageable and meaningful to us as humans.  The Divine is so wholly other, so incomprehensible to us as finite humans, that there is no way for us to see it as it really is, much less understand it.  Ezekiel is seeing and describing for us the human translation of the presence and glory of God Almighty.  The vision ends abruptly at the end of chapter 10 though, as the glory of the Lord ascends from the Temple in Jerusalem and departs from that place… something that we will pick up on tomorrow…



Day 240: Ezekiel 5-9; A Watchman for Israel

As I said yesterday, today we are going to talk more about the call of Ezekiel and the vision that he has.  Moreover, I would like to talk about some of the meanings of the vision, not all though because he actually has this vision again in chapter 10, which we’ll talk about tomorrow.  Ezekiel’s life is also full of symbolic actions and is itself part of the message that he is delivering to the people of Israel.  His actions, words, and visions all coalesce into what the Word of the Lord is for the people of Israel living in exile in Babylon.

Ezekiel’s call and vision happen concurrently, one right after another, and are very much related to each other.  As a priest of Israel, Ezekiel was responsible for being the mediator between God and His people.  Under normal circumstances, Ezekiel would have been working in the Temple of God in Jerusalem performing sacrifices for the people of Israel, worshiping God and mediating between the divine and the terrestrial.  In Babylon however, the people of God were cut off, or so they thought, from their theological center, 500 or so miles from Jerusalem (actually it was about 1,000 miles by way of caravan as they would have meandered through the land for trade and safety).  The Temple represented the presence of God to the Israelites and being disconnected from it meant being disconnected from God.  I can’t imagine the confusion and sense of loss that Ezekiel and the exiles were feeling when this vision came to him.

Ezekliel's Vision Photo Credit: www.flickr.com

Ezekliel’s Vision
Photo Credit: www.flickr.com

The vision itself is overflowing with imagery in an apocalyptic genre of Biblical literature.  Ezekiel sees beings with different faces that have wings able to take them anywhere.  These beings were next to “a wheel within a wheel” that is covered in eyes.  Finally, all of this is under a throne “and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance.  And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him. Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around.

Ezekiel's Vision Photo Credit: www.julian.spazaspace.com

Ezekiel’s Vision
Photo Credit: www.julian.spazaspace.com

While these images, like many others we encounter in prophetic literature, seem rather strange to us, they would not have necessarily been completely off the wall to Ezekiel or his contemporaries.  These things were representative of the One who is giving the vision, namely God almighty.  We will talk more about the meanings of the different things when we talk more about the vision of Ezekiel tomorrow, but suffice to say now that in seeing this Ezekiel got the message that God was not limited by time or space and was with Him and the rest of His people in exile just as much as He was with them in Jerusalem and the promised land.

Interestingly, and somewhat of a revelation to me today, is the fact that it isn’t just this imagery that carries with it representation from God.  Ezekiel’s life is in many ways a representation of the very message that God is communicating to the people of Israel.  Even the call of Ezekiel is representative of God’s call to His people knowing that they have been rebellious and haven’t listened to Him.  He even says it to Ezekiel, telling him that when he hears the message he should not be rebellious like the people of Israel had been.  Not only was Ezekiel to listen though, he was also to take it in, to “eat the scroll” and take it inside of himself.  Eating means making it a part of you that it may nourish and fill you, which is exactly what the Word of the Lord is supposed to do.  This very line has echos all the way back to the giving of the Law and the Shema.

As far as the revelation I had today about this and about Ezekiel, I realized when I noticed that God was calling him “Son of man” and that Ezekiel’s life and actions were representative of Israel, that in many ways Ezekiel himself is a foreshadowing of the coming of Christ.  Jesus refers to Himself as “The Son of man” and is representative of what Israel was supposed to be as the people of God.  Some of the actions of Ezekiel as similar to that of Jesus and, what I found to be most interesting, Ezekiel does things to represent the punishment of Israel and Judah whereas Jesus actually takes that punishment on Himself at the cross!  What a genius foreshadowing that we see here and will continue to see throughout this book.

Finally, though what has been said here is quite a bit, I want to just address the section of Ezekiel 3 where God says to Ezekiel, “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel.”  I think this is a very interesting image that God gives Ezekiel about his duty to the people he has been called to speak to.  God says that whatever He tells Ezekiel to say, it is Ezekiel’s responsibility to say it to them.  If there is a warning, Ezekiel is responsible for warning them.  Furthermore, if Ezekiel doesn’t speak what the Lord says, not only will the “wicked person” die, but his blood will be on Ezekiel’s hands.  Ultimately the responsibility for turning from evil lies with “the wicked person,” but the responsibility for warning him/her is on the one whom God has appointed, namely Ezekiel.

As a seminary student feeling called to potentially lead a congregation and be a leader of the Church, I think that this warning and appointment as a “Watchman” is very important for us to hear.  Pastors and church leaders are called to be these Watchman for their congregations and for the Church as well.  I think that too often we don’t say what we know God is telling us to say, to our own members or the greater Church either.  Perhaps we get bogged down in procedure, or maybe we think that it is none of our business.  It could be that Pastors don’t want to “get up in people’s faces” or are more concerned about keeping their job and speaking the Word of God.  I wonder if in this day an age is might simply be people getting caught up in moral relativism?  However, God is saying here that, like Ezekiel, we are called to speak God’s Word, even if is the unpopular message, because it is the Word of God.  If we don’t, their “blood” may be on our hands as well…  I know I’m just as guilty as the next guy…  but this is a wake-up call for me and for the leadership of the Church and even the leadership of Christian families:  We need to be alert.  We need to be listening for the Word of God.  We need to be willing to speak God’s Word.  We are called to be Watchmen.



Day 198: Isaiah 4-6; The Introduction to and Call of Isaiah

Overview of Isaiah Photo Credit: www.visualunit.me/tag/isaiah

Overview of Isaiah
Photo Credit: www.visualunit.me/tag/isaiah

The book of Isaiah is the first, and arguably the most well written book of the prophets.  Isaiah is a very eloquent writer, doing a superb job of weaving together prophecy and the call to redemption, but not leaving the people without the hope of the coming kingdom of God.  This is the longest book of the prophets as well, separated into two sections.  The first half of Isaiah talks very heavily about the coming judgments on Israel, Judah, and the nations around them as well.  He does this by pointing out the sins that they are caught in and calling them to repentance, warning that if they do not repent they will face the judgment and wrath of the Lord.  There is a is bridge between the two sections around chapters 36-39, which leads into the second section which in which Isaiah speaks God’s comfort to a nation that has been punished with exile.  In it, Isaiah talks of a coming restoration and a time in which all things would be made right.

Part of the comfort that Isaiah speaks of is that of a coming messiah, a servant of the Lord who will bring peace and restoration.  However, this isn’t the only purpose of the coming man of God, the messiah that is promised more in Isaiah than in any of the other prophetic books.  Much of what we look to when it comes to the time of Lent in the church calendar comes from Isaiah’s prophecies of Jesus’ coming.

Timeline of Isaiah Photo Credit: www.visualunit.me/tag/isaiah

Timeline of Isaiah
Photo Credit: www.visualunit.me/tag/isaiah

The actual writing of the book of Isaiah takes place over the course of many years in the history if Israel and Judah during the middle of the 8th century through the beginning of the 7th century B.C.  In fact, Isaiah’s call to be a prophet starts in the year that king Uzziah dies and his ministry takes place throughout the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah in Judah and Pekah and Hoshea in the kingdom of Israel.  He wrote during a very turbulent time in both Israel and Judah, dealing with the rise of the Assyrian Empire to the north, the empire that would eventual decimate and deport the northern kingdom of Israel.  However, as Isaiah will say later, even Assyria was under the judgment of God and fell to the Babylonians.

Isaiah's Vision in Isaiah 6 Photo Credit: www.patheos.com

Isaiah’s Vision in Isaiah 6
Photo Credit: www.patheos.com

Today we pick up the beginning of the ministry of Isaiah.  The first five chapters could be considered the introduction to the whole book, and chapter 6 the actual event of Isaiah’s calling and commissioning as a prophet of God.  As I said yesterday, it is entirely possible that Isaiah was a priest, likely the high priest, working in the Temple of God when he saw this vision.  It is also entirely possible that this vision happened on the day of atonement, when the High Priest was allowed to go into the Most Holy Place and commune directly with God.  He starts his account of the vision as if he wasn’t expecting anything out of the ordinary, and then he sees this amazing vision of God.  The description that follows is one full of beautiful images of the throne room of God.  Many of the images are ones that we see repeated in other visions in the Bible, from the prophets to the vision of John in Revelation.  This is called “apocalyptic writing,” imagery that is very representative of things that would have been already well known by the Hebrew people.

The Angel Touches Isaiah with a burning coal Photo Credit: www.anthonyuu.wordpress.com

The Angel Touches Isaiah with a burning coal
Photo Credit: www.anthonyuu.wordpress.com

The part of the vision that strikes me the most, as a seminary student and preacher, is the vision of the angel touching the mouth of Isaiah with a burning coal.  This strikes me in several different ways.  Isaiah’s confession of being unclean has a very familiar ring to it in my life, and likely in yours as well.  As we all work through the calling of God on our lives, or even as we encounter God in worship and/or devotions, it is very easy to recognize our own weaknesses and defects.  We are indeed a people of unclean lips and we often succumb to the lie that we are not able or even worthy to do the things that God has called us to.  Isaiah recognizes this too, and something happens to him in his vision that has happened to us as well, he is touched by a burning coal from the alter of God.  This cleanses his lips and prepares him for the service which the Lord has called him to.  We too have been touched, cleansed in the blood of Jesus Christ.  The gifts that we are given and the things that God has called us to do are made righteous, cleansed from any sin that may taint them as we truly offer them to God.  Like Isaiah, the words that we say come from God, the actions that we take are ordained by God.  On our own we are not worthy, but we are not on our own are we?  The Spirit walks with us each moment of each day, directing, counseling, and sanctifying us in Christ Jesus as we seek to live for him