"In the name of…" H.C. Question 102

May we also swear by saints or other creatures? 

Romans 9:1 – I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit—

2 Corinthians 1:23 – I call God as my witness—and I stake my life on it—that it was in order to spare you that I did not return to Corinth.

Matthew 5:34-37 – But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

Matthew 23:16-22 – “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’ You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.

James 5:12 – Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned.



Worth 1,000 words? H.C. Lord's Day 35

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 35

Q 96. What is God’s will for us in the second commandment?
A 96. That we in no way make any image of God nor worship him in any other way than has been commanded in God’s Word.

Q 97. May we then not make any image at all?
A 97. God can not and may not be visibly portrayed in any way.

Although creatures may be portrayed, yet God forbids making or having such images if one’s intention is to worship them or to serve God through them.

Q 98. But may not images be permitted in churches in place of books for the unlearned?
A 98. No, we should not try to be wiser than God. God wants the Christian community instructed by the living preaching of his Word—not by idols that cannot even talk.

Why does it seem like the inside of churches is so drab?  Especially in Protestant churches, the walls are often quite plain and the decor can seem… well… less than inspired.  While this might not be true of all churches, in many cases plain is the name of the game.  But why?

At the time of the reformation, there was a great push by the reformers to remove the icons and imagery from the church.  One of the chief fears and complaints about much of the art work that is present, much of which you can see in old cathedrals in Europe, is that the art itself became the center of worship rather than what it was meant to point to.

The same is true with icons and with relics.  These things are “infused” with special spiritual meaning and intended to be a way of helping the people of God focus on God.  However, over time these things became the objects of worship themselves.  People kiss images of Mary and other saints; are we honoring God with that, or the person whose image is portrayed?

Granted, everyone answers to God for their own heart, but if the Church is promoting such idolatry, isn’t that a problem that it should address?

The reformers said “yes.”  Their response was to remove almost everything artistic from the church.  Many great master pieces were lost during that time as Protestants took over places of worship and rid them of their so called idolatry.

Many would ask if this was the right way to go.  It certainly was a response that was the otherside of the pendulum swing.  For them, there was no middle ground.

Yet God is a God of beauty; His artistry can be seen throughout creation.  He also created us with a creative spirit and gifts to bring that creativity out.  No doubt He desires us to use these gifts in ways that honor Him.

What is important about this week’s Lord’s Day is the nature in which that happens.  So much can be drawn from artwork.  Themes, emotions, and even metaphors can be found there in ways that are not possible anywhere else.  Indeed, these gifts should be celebrated.  However, it is also important that we remember

However, it is also important that we remember that these creations are not meant to be worshipped, but instead to direct our focus to the gift giver: God.  He is the ultimate creator, the one who holds the universe in His hands.  He alone is to be worshipped and adored.



Images: H.C. Question 97

May we then not make any image at all?

Exodus 34:13-17 – Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and cut down their Asherah poles. Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.

“Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices. And when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same.

“Do not make any idols.

2 Kings 18:4-5 – He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan.)

Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him.



The Second Commandment: H.C. Question 96

What is God’s will for us in the second commandment? 

Deuteronomy 4:15-19 – You saw no form of any kind the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman, or like any animal on earth or any bird that flies in the air, or like any creature that moves along the ground or any fish in the waters below. And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars—all the heavenly array—do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshiping things the Lord your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven.

Isaiah 40:18-25 – With whom, then, will you compare God?  To what image will you liken him?  As for an idol, a metalworker casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and fashions silver chains for it.  A person too poor to present such an offering selects wood that will not rot; they look for a skilled worker to set up an idol that will not topple.

Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  Has it not been told you from the beginning?  Have you not understood since the earth was founded?  He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers.  He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.  He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.  No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.  “To whom will you compare me?  Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.

Acts 17:29 – “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill.

Romans 1:22-23 – Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

Leviticus 10:1-7  Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Moses then said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke of when he said:

“‘Among those who approach me I will be proved holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored.’”  Aaron remained silent.

Moses summoned Mishael and Elzaphan, sons of Aaron’s uncle Uzziel, and said to them, “Come here; carry your cousins outside the camp, away from the front of the sanctuary.” So they came and carried them, still in their tunics, outside the camp, as Moses ordered.

Then Moses said to Aaron and his sons Eleazar and Ithamar, “Do not let your hair become unkempt and do not tear your clothes, or you will die and the Lord will be angry with the whole community. But your relatives, all the Israelites, may mourn for those the Lord has destroyed by fire. Do not leave the entrance to the tent of meeting or you will die, because the Lord’s anointing oil is on you.” So they did as Moses said.

1 Samuel 15:22-23 – But Samuel replied:  “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord?  To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.  For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.  Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.”



The Law of God: H.C. Lord's Day 34

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 34

Q 92. What is God’s law? 
A 92. God spoke all these words:

THE FIRST COMMANDMENT
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.”

THE SECOND COMMANDMENT
“You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

THE THIRD COMMANDMENT
“You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.”

THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT
“Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.”

THE FIFTH COMMANDMENT
“Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving to you.”

THE SIXTH COMMANDMENT
“You shall not murder.”

THE SEVENTH COMMANDMENT
“You shall not commit adultery.”

THE EIGHTH COMMANDMENT
“You shall not steal.”

THE NINTH COMMANDMENT
“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”

THE TENTH COMMANDMENT
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Q 93. How are these commandments divided? 
A 93. Into two tables. The first has four commandments, teaching us how we ought to live in relation to God. The second has six commandments, teaching us what we owe our neighbor.

Q 94. What does the Lord require in the first commandment? 
A 94. That I, not wanting to endanger my own salvation, avoid and shun all idolatry, sorcery, superstitious rites, and prayer to saints or to other creatures.

That I rightly know the only true God, trust him alone, and look to God for every good thing humbly and patiently, and love, fear, and honor God with all my heart.

In short, that I give up anything rather than go against God’s will in any way.

Q 95. What is idolatry? 
A 95. Idolatry is having or inventing something in which one trusts in place of or alongside of the only true God, who has revealed himself in the Word.

That Law of God has, in modern times, gotten some pretty bad press.  All the rules and regulations that are laid down in Scripture causes people to feel the weight and the guilt of our sins.  Often, people have turned to the New Testament, ignoring this part of Scripture completely.

“God is love,” we say, “and He loves me for who I am.”

While certainly this is true.  God loves everyone in spite of who we are; He loves us for who He knows us to be… who He calls us to be.

So what about this law stuff then?  Is it obsolete?  Old news?  Not relevant?

The simple answer is no.

We often overlook this, but it is important to note that the writers of the Heidelberg Catechism placed the exposition of the Law in the “gratitude” section, not the “guilt” section.  I tend to think there are two important purposes for this.

First, it is important to understand that new and renewed life that God calls us to live in gratitude for the gift of grace that we are given.  The Law, specifically the 10 Commandments or their Jesus given summary: Love God and Love Neighbor, create a model for a life set apart for God.  While many of these would seem self-evident, one doesn’t have to look far to see a culture in which things like “idolatry” or “sabbath” mean very little.  Yet we are called to be counter-cultural and set apart from the world.

Really, what these commandments have to do with is love.  As Jesus said, they are indeed summed up in two commands: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.  Properly oriented love is the way that God calls us to live.  Misdirected, misguided, misoriented love is what causes us to sin.  This is the fundamental root of idolatry: disoriented love.  Whether this shows up through selfish behavior or worship of the “other,” that is elevating things to a level of importance in our life that is equal to or above God, it is disoriented love.

That brings us to the second reason for these commandments: sin.  Scripture says that the Law is in place to help us recognize our sin.  Yet, we still find this in the “gratitude” section.  Why?  Because sin is not the end of the story.  Sin simply reveals to us our desperate need for a savior, for our Savior, Jesus Christ.

When we skip over all this “law stuff,” we actually tend to overlook the problem of sin.  While no one really likes to talk about their sin, it is important that we understand its presence in our lives.  Without sin, we don’t need a savior.  Without a savior, there is no Jesus and no grace.  If those do not exist, the Christianity is nothing more than a religious gathering with semi-professional motivational speakers… all of which amount to nothing significant beyond this life.

No, sin is real, and so is our need for a Savior.  The 10 commandments reveal that need within us in a very real, very stark way.  The exposition of these commandments brings these out in an even more in depth manner.  It not only reveals, but through Scripture, begins to root out the presence of sin through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Then, not only can we be grateful for the grace we are shown in Jesus Christ, we can rejoice in the understanding that God isn’t finished with us yet.  He loves us so much that He will continue His good work in us until the day that Jesus Christ comes again and we are glorified with Him and live in His presence forever!



Idolatry: H.C. Question 95

What is idolatry? 

1 Chronicles 16:26 – For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.

Galatians 4:8-9 – Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?

Ephesians 5:5 – For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

Philippians 3:19 – Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.



The First Commandment: H.C. Question 94

What does the Lord require in the first commandment?

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 – Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

1 Corinthians 10:5-14 – Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry.

1 John 5:21 – Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.

Leviticus 19:31 – “‘Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the Lord your God.

Deuteronomy 18:9-12 – When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord; because of these same detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you.

Matthew 4:10 – Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

Revelation 19:10 – At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers and sisters who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For it is the Spirit of prophecy who bears testimony to Jesus.”

Revelation 22:8-9 – I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. But he said to me, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your fellow prophets and with all who keep the words of this scroll. Worship God!”

John 17:3 – Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

Jeremiah 17:5, 7 – This is what the Lord says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord…

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lordwhose confidence is in him.

Psalm 104:27-28 – All creatures look to you to give them their food at the proper time.  When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things.

James 1:17 – Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

1 Peter 5:5-6 – In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”  Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

Colossians 1:11 – being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience,

Hebrews 10:36 – You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.

Matthew 22:37 – Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’

Deuteronomy 6:5 – Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

Proverbs 9:10 – The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

1 Peter 1:17 – Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.

Deuteronomy 6:13 – Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name.

Matthew 5:29-30 – If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

Matthew 10:37-39 – “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.



Revelation 18 – Get Away

Read Revelation 18

When the first Gulf War erupted in 1990, there was considerable speculation from a number of Christian groups that thought these events hailed the coming of Jesus Christ.  They pointed to the destruction of Babylon, recorded here in chapter 18, as proof that we were witnessing the final events of the world as we know it.  Babylon, as a Biblical nation, was located in modern day Iraq, its capital located in the central portion of the country between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.  The coalition attack on Iraq and subsequent speedy victory over the country, for some, became further proof that Jesus’ coming was right around the corner.

As we have talked about several times now, however, it is very difficult to make links like this between modern day events and what is written in Revelation.  Sadly, a large number of failed predictions like this have led to a great deal of confusion and even apathy among believers when it comes to “end times” discussions.

John is taken by an angel to see the destruction of “Babylon,” which is described as “the great prostitute.”  Remember that in Scripture, those people and nations who commit idolatry against the Lord by worshiping false Gods are often described by the prophets as having “prostituted” themselves to these idols.  There is a considerable amount of sexual language and reference that is included in these references pointing to the intimacy of the relationship that God desires with us and the abundance of pain and betrayal that comes with idolatry.  This language is no accident; even Paul writes that, in talking about the relationship between husband and wife he is also talking about Christ and the church.

Babylon, as a city and a nation, is used here to describe the seat of the resistance against God and His people. Babylon was, in the Old Testament, the second “Egypt experience” that God’s people had after Jerusalem was conquered and the people forced into exile in 587 B.C.  In exile, the people of God were forced into idol worship, breaking the law by the foods that they were made to eat, and were completely cut off from their homeland and the Temple.  This civilization was given considerable power by God to dominate the world at that time, punishing both Israel and the surrounding nations for the sins that they had committed.

Daniel, however, also records God’s punishment of the sins Babylon as well in the story of the writing on the wall in Daniel 5.  At the peak of her power (and incidentally her idolatry as well) King Belshazzar holds a feast and uses many of the items from the Temple of the Lord.  In the middle of the feast, a hand appears and writes on the wall something only Daniel could interpret: “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN.”  He translates it for the king: MENE, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; TEKEL, you have been weighed and found wanting; and PERES, the kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.

A similar fate is sealed for Revelation’s Babylon as well, though the Kingdom will not be divided but rather redeemed and restored to its rightful state and ruler, Jesus Christ.

A warning is issued to God’s people living in Babylon, they must leave or not even they will be spared the wrath of God that is about to be poured out.  This warning echoes the story of Lot who is brought out of the city of Sodom before God destroys is and Gomorrah as well.

The doom of Babylon is said to be equal to that of the judgment that Babylon imposed on the people of God.  This is, at least on some level, true of the Old Testament Babylon, losing everything just as the Jews lost everything.  In Revelation, this is also true.  As we have seen, Babylon, along with its leaders the dragon and the two beasts, have been active in their persecution of God’s people.  Scripture says she receives a “double portion” of what she poured out.  In essence, the scales are to not just going to be balanced at the end, but the weight of sin and evil will be completely eclipsed by God’s grace and love.

John records that many will mourn the loss of Babylon.  Kings, merchants, and seamen are all groups of people that had benefitted greatly from Babylon and her luxuries.  Their benefits and wealth are matched only by their grief for her loss, not because of a conviction of sins, however, but most likely a mourning of the great financial loss that they incurred because of Babylon’s fall.

There is one final point that is made about Babylon’s fall and that is the finality of it.  After all of this is shown to John, the angel shows him exactly what this end is to mean for the “great” city.  It will be like a millstone thrown into the sea; it will never be found again.  While I think that we’ve talked about this a number of times, it does bear mentioning again that this is the ultimate trajectory of Revelation and it is an eternal one.  The enemies of God will be thrown down, all opposition to God will be removed, and the earth will once again experience the full measure of love and grace with the presence of God being here with us.



Revelation 17 – Babylon

Read Revelation 17

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 14 – The Harvest

Read Revelation 14

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.