Revelation 15 – Seven Angels

Read Revelation 15

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 10 – Sweet and Sour

Read Revelation 10

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)

Read Revelation 9

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)

Read Revelation 8

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.



Day 173: Psalms 103-105; How Great is Our God

Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples!

These are fitting words for the psalms that we read through today!  All three are psalms of praise that tell of the many acts and words of the Lord and all three proclaim His glory and splendor!  I don’t honestly think that there is a lot to be added to these Psalms… I think that they are best re-read over and over.  I would encourage you to do that today!  Take time to read these Psalms at least two more times.  As you do this, take time to think back over the past 6 months… over all that we have read and encountered in the Scriptures.  Do you remember the times that the psalmist is talking about?  Take some more time to think about the things in your life… how have you seen God at work in your day to day walk?

PSALM 103-105 are psalms of praise and thanksgiving that are written anonymously.  Each is didactic in nature, with psalm 105 actually being more of a historical account of God’s amazing works in redemptive history.  Though all three reference times past, they can also draw our attention to God’s work in the present and in our own lives as well.



Day 62: Joshua 1-4; Crossing the Jordan

I can’t believe that it’s already been two months since we began this journey!  We’ve made it through the first 5 books of the Bible, commonly known as the “Torah” or the “Pentateuch.”  These books are classified as the books of the Law.  We are passing now into the realm of the books of history, from Joshua through Ester.  You will probably note fairly quickly that these books are marked by a rather different writing structure: Narrative… mostly.  A rather large portion of the coming books are the retelling of Israel’s history from the time after Moses through to times of the Exile.  They are not all in Chronological order, and later when we get into the prophets, we’ll jump around as far as the timeline is concerned.  We’ll do our best to make sense of all that while also allowing the Scripture to work on us and speak to us through the Holy Spirit.  Every one of these narratives is not simply a story, but tells us about God, as He is the main character in the Bible.  Be sure to pay attention to how God acts, even if it is not expressly stated.  As you read narrative, look for God… continually ask yourself, “where is God in this reading?”  The picture below is Christoph Unterberger’s depiction of the Crossing of the Jordan.  I found it on The State hermitage Museum website.  Notice where God is in this painting.  I think it is a powerful image of the power of God at work in this story.

Notice where God is in this painting.

Notice where God is in this painting.

So now we have entered into the book of Joshua.  Moses has just died and the there’s a new sheriff in town.  God waists no time in telling Joshua what to do next.  Once again He promises to be with Joshua and the people of Israel, to go before them and deliver the land and the people of Canaan into their hands.  This is quite evident in how God immediately provides for the people of Israel in two very specific ways.

First, the ordeal with the two spies and Rahab.  This is likely a familiar story to most people, especially if you ever heard the story of the Battle of Jericho before.  Yet I think that there are a few lesser known parts of this story that perhaps need to be brought to light.  Do you find it interesting that the only action taken by the spies that is recorded for us is that they go right to the house of a prostitute?  Men from the people of God, the holy ones set apart to be a “kingdom of priests” go right to a prostitute.  Well, giving them the benefit of the doubt, in many pagan cultures of that time, these prostitutes worked as a sort of ‘welcoming party’ to visitors.  They also often ran ‘inns,’ or more appropriately, had places for travelers to sleep.  It is very interesting to me though to look at how God chose to use this prostitute, working through her to protect the spies.  I doubt that anyone from Israel would be overly thrilled to enter into the promised land if their two spies were killed right off the bat.  God uses this woman, and later on, because of her obedience to Him, incorporates her into the people of God and, get this… into the lineage of King David and thus Jesus Christ as well!  What a wonder that God would use such a lowly, sinful person we might say… but then again God always upholds the least, last, and lost in the world.  So, for anyone who is keeping track, the lineage of David, and Jesus now includes Tamar, the tricky daughter-in-law of Judah turned prostitute of Genesis 38, and now Rahab the Prostitute as well.  God clearly can use anyone which shows us that we shouldn’t be looking down on anyone for any reason.  For more information on this, you can see Matthew 1 for Jesus’ genealogy.

The other thing about this particular reading that might seem vaguely familiar is the narrative of Israel crossing into the land of Canaan.  Like their escape from Egypt, crossing the Red Sea, God once again has stopped up the waters of a route that couldn’t be crossed so that His people can cross on dry ground.  If you remember reading the crossing of the Red Sea post, the crossing of a body of water is very symbolic and carries a great deal of meaning and foreshadowing in it.  We liken this event to Baptism, the going down into the water and rising up as a new individual, washed of the old self and rejuvenated, with a new identity.  From Slaves to Free, from Wanderers to a Nation.  And this time they do something a bit different.  Remember that, when Israel passed through the Red Sea, they were told to remember this event and they were reminded of it time and again in the last 40 years.  Here they set up 12 standing stones, a memorial reminder for all who see it.  As chapter 4 says,

“When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’  then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.”

Do you remember your Baptism?  If you were baptized as an infant it is likely that you don’t.  But I’d be willing to bet that you’ve seen others baptized since then.  At Overisel, we practice infant baptism.  It is a sign and seal of the covenant relationship between God and His people.  It is a sign that we are included into this covenant through no merit of our own, even before we know anything about it.  People say that it is a shame that we don’t remember our own Baptism.  While I would agree that it would be nice to remember the event of my baptism, I also would say that we have the opportunity to remember our own baptism every time we worship.  We keep the Baptismal font in a visible place every Sunday to remind us of our Baptism.  We publicly Baptize new babies and new believers, not just because its a nice ceremony, but so that we can remember our own Baptism.  These are our standing stones, our physical way of remembering that we have gone through the waters and are included in the Covenant, made new in Jesus Christ.  And it is to this that we can attest when our children ask ‘what does baptism mean?’

For more on the meaning of Baptism and the RCA’s stance on this sacrament, please visit the RCA webpage: what is baptism?  I’d love to interact around this topic too if anyone has any questions!



Day 38: Numbers 1-2; The Census

Welcome to Numbers!  This particular reading isn’t a very inviting text to bring us into a new book… but I think that it brushes over a few topics that we’ve talked about already and gives us an opportunity to look back and remember where we’ve been.

First of all, the numbers (no pun intended):  We see again God’s marvelous provision for the people.  As we talked about at the time of the Exodus, only 70 people came down to Egypt, and now their numbers are listed at over 600,000 people!!  It’s actually probably more than that, but they didn’t include the Levites because of their work with the Tabernacle.  God has been with them all along, growing them into a nation, just as He promised.  Also, I think it is important to note that this is just the Men… there were likely as many women and, if you think about the normal nuclear family we like to think of in America, at least 2 kids per couple.  So… doing the math: 600,000 x 4 = 2.4 million people.  “As many as the sand on the seashore” and “more numerous than the stars in the sky.”  We know now days that there are a lot more than 2.4 million stars in the heavens, but remember, seeing it from their worldview… God has kept His promise!

The other thing that we read about today is the way that the Israelites set up camp.  This is very reminicent of something we talked about in the middle of Leviticus.  One very important part of Hebrew culture and life is their connection to the Divine.  God was their center and so they always wanted to be close to the center.  Upon the construction of the Tabernacle, they had a physical Center… the place that God dwelt.  For them, the Tabernacle was the point on which the whole universe turned, the link between God and humanity… the place that Heaven and earth touched.  So, you can see, as you read through Numbers 2 that the way they camped reflected this.  They camped around the Tabernacle, with their doors always facing it.  The picture below is, I think, a good depiction of how it might have looked.  Notice the Tabernacle in the middle, and all the lights of the tents coming out their front openings which are facing toward the dwelling place of God.  Credit for this photo goes to The Razzberry Press.

Tabernacle Encampment



Day 20: Exodus 11-13; Let My People Go: The Passover and The Exodus

Goodness… I don’t even know where to start with this post after reading this section.  There is so much that is going on here!

Well, to continue our discussion from yesterday, this is the final plague, God’s final attack on the Egyptian deities.  He has dismantled many of the other gods that the Egyptians had, but now He has taken on and defeated (as if there was ever a fight to be had) the gods of life and death.  God has shown to Pharaoh his absolute power of all things, and proven to the Egyptians that their gods are nothing in comparison to the God of Israel.  So Pharaoh drives them out of the land just has God had said.  And, like God told Moses, the people of Egypt gave them whatever they wanted and the people of Israel became quite wealthy an account of their former masters.

Also mentioned here is the vast number of people that left.  Roughly 600,000 men plus women and children.  As we talked about a couple days ago, the people had grown from a group of 70 people into this large number, easily over 1 million.  They were able to do this living in a fertile land area, protected by the world power of the time.  What marvelous providence from God.

Here in this reading too we see the image of the smoke (or cloud) and fire again.  While this time it doesn’t happen in a vision, the Lord leads the people of Israel out of Egypt through a pillar of cloud (smoke) and fire.  These are, like the smoking fire pot, and even the burning bush experience, symbols of God’s power and holiness.

Finally, there is one big thing in this section that will forever impact the coming stories, foreshadowing the coming feasts that we celebrate and will celebrate some day: The Passover.  We’ve talked a little bit about feasts.  If you don’t remember, it was on January 4 with the feast that Melchizedek gave when Abraham rescued Lot.  That was a foreshadowing of the Passover and the many other feasts that would become a part of the Hebrew religious tradition.  All of these feasts, but especially the Passover feast are themselves a foreshadowing of the feast which we now know as the Lord’s Supper!  And, really, the Lord’s Supper (communion and/or Eucharist) is actually itself a foreshadowing of the feast of the Lord in Heaven in which we shall participate when Christ comes again and all things are restored.

There is a great deal of other symbolism in the Passover as well!  The Lamb, the blood of the lamb, the bitter herbs, the lack of yeast, and even the part where they aren’t supposed to leave anything behind.  I’m interested to know your thoughts on what these symbols all mean!

 



Day 19: Exodus 8-10; Let My People Go: The Plagues

As we talked about yesterday, the story of Moses and the 10 plagues is quite familiar to us.  It, like the story of Joseph has been made into movies and dramas many times over.  One of the most popular would be that of “The TEN Commandments” starring Charleston Heston.  This movie follows, fairly accurately, the story of Moses from beginning to end (which is also why it is one of the longer films in cinema history).

The Ten Commandments

Despite this popularization of the story of Moses in Egypt, even these fail to truly capture all that is going on in this time between God and Pharaoh.

As we spoke about yesterday, the true battle taking place here is between God almighty and the “god-man” Pharaoh, and what we see here today is not an arbitrary display of power by God attacking this or that.  These plagues, all ten of them, are a systematic dismantling of the entire Egyptian religious system in which God proves His power of the gods of the Egyptian people one by one, decimating Egypt and showing the world the true power, what we would call omnipotence, of the God of the Israelites.

What do I mean by this?  Well there are several main categories of gods that were worshiped by the Egyptians of that time.  Yesterday we talked about Ra, the god of their gods, god of the sun and thus the giver of life.  Along with this came the gods of the Nile, fertility, crops, animals, weather, death, life, and many more.  In fact, there were many gods for each of these categories.  The gods for crops would be for planting, growth, harvest, etc.  If you are interested in this, you can check out “Tour Egpyt.net” for a list of the gods and their associations.  It really is quite fascinating.

Anyways… God is systematically dismantling the entire Egyptian pantheon.  Pantheon means “many gods.”  It is a word we often associate with Greek and Roman mythologies but is just as applicable here.  The Egyptians worshiped the Nile and its god Hapi as one of the givers and sustainers of life.  God turns the Nile to blood and then makes the Nile produce frogs which both interrupt life and also end up dying and making the land stink.  Egyptians worshiped the earth and its associated god.  God makes the earth produce gnats which get on and in everything (likely causing bites and disease).  After this God sends flies which we read “ruin the land of Egypt.”  God kills all the livestock of Egypt thus rendering the Egyptian god of livestock moot.  God displays His power over the Egyptian god of health in the plague of boils and over the god of weather by sending hail which decimates the crops.  Then, to prove His power over the gods of the crops, harvest, and all growing things, locusts are sent by god and eat everything, and the land is completely ruined.  At this point, Egypt could be considered mostly desolate with the exception of the large cities and vast amounts of people that still live there.

God then goes after the sun god Ra, who is basically their highest deity.  The sun is blotted out and it is completely dark.  I think we can assume from this that God is also showing his power over the god of the night, god of the sunrise, and god of the sunset.

As we talked about yesterday as well, this isn’t a small showing of power just to the nation of Egypt, or just to Israel, or even to both.  These are done that the entire world would know that there is none like God in all of the earth.  We will see the culmination of this tomorrow when God shows His power over death and life itself, the final blow of the plagues, but not the final display of God’s power in this story.