“In Heaven” H.C. Question 121

Why the words “in heaven”? 
 
Jeremiah 23:23-24 – “Am I only a God nearby,” declares the Lord, “and not a God far away?  Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?” declares the Lord.  “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the Lord.
 
Acts 17:24-25 – “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.

Matthew 6:25-34 – “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
 
Romans 8:31-32 – What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?


It's all in the Plan: H.C. Lord's Day 10

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 10

Q 27. What do you understand by the providence of God?
A 27. The almighty and ever present power of God by which God upholds, as with his hand, heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty—all things, in fact, come to us not by chance but by his fatherly hand.

Q 28. How does the knowledge of God’s creation and providence help us?
A 28. We can be patient when things go against us, thankful when things go well, and for the future we can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing in creation will separate us from his love.  For all creatures are so completely in God’s hand that without his will they can neither move nor be moved.

One of the chief characteristics of God that we hold to be true is His sovereignty over all of Creation.  Essentially, this means that we believe that God has power and authority over all of what He has created, and He exercises that power and authority to bring about His will in the world.  For some, this makes God appear to be more like a dictator, especially if their experience of life has been substantially harder.  We start to ask questions like “why did God make this happen to me?” or “What did I do to deserve this.”

If God is a dictator, however, He certainly is a benign and loving one.  Perhaps, in this instance, the language that the Heidelberg Catechism uses is much better and more appropriate for the discussion.  The writers talk about God’s sovereignty in terms of “providence,” the root word of which is of course, “provide.”  This offers a much more appropriate context for God’s ruling and works in the world.  God is indeed love, and Scripture says that God is working out all things for the good of those who love Him.  We also know that God is actively working to bring restoration to the world which will culminate in Christ’s return and the setting right of all things.  In addition to this, we also know that God is patient, not wishing that any would perish, but providing ample time for people to turn to Him because of His great love for us.

The language of the questions and answers in Lord’s Day 10 can be a bit uncomfortable, though, as well; “all things come from [God’s] hand.”  All things?  Really?  Something about that makes us cringe on the inside.  It’s definitely easier to blame sin, satan, or our own foolish acts for some of the difficult times in life that we experience.  Certainly, our difficulties can come from those things, but Scripture is clear that “all things come from God’s hand,” which means that even if the difficulties we face are a result of a spiritual attack from the satan himself, it is under the direction and purview of God’s power and will.

Let’s be clear about a couple things, though, as we talk about God’s providence.  This is not an excuse to act foolishly or sinfully, only to blame the results on God.  Scripture affirms human responsibility when it comes to the results of actions in our lives, hence the need for a Savior.  The Bible is also clear that temptation to sin does not come from God, which would also allow us to blame God for sin.  But there are seemingly negative things in our lives that do find their source in God in some way.  God is sovereign over creation, over nations and rulers, over both good people and bad.  God has sent trouble and calamity, destroyed nations and people groups, and even hardens the hearts of some.  He uses all of the created order to work His will in the world and His plans cannot be thwarted.

So what does this mean for us?  Should we be scared and living in fear of a God who can do anything at any time just because it pleases Him?  No.  I don’t think so.  When we understand God in human terms, we often think of the worst case scenario.  If we give a ruler too much power, He/She can do whatever they want without any check or balance.  God is not like that.  All of God’s power is exercised in love, as a loving parent exercises loving authority over their children for their benefit.

Lord’s Day 10 is very clear about how this benefits us as well.  When things seem to be going against us, we can be patient knowing that God is working His will and that God is always working for the good of those who love Him.  Think of Joseph or even the Israelite slavery in Egypt, both seemed profoundly negative at the time.  Out of those events, however, great things came to be.  This does take a profound amount of trust, something we have and will continue to talk about here.  These are the times when our faith is tested; they are also the times when God does some of His deepest work in us.

We can also be thankful when things go well, remembering that all good and perfect gifts come from God.  How often do we stop to thank God when we’ve had a good day, a successful meeting, a positive experience with a friend, or anything else for that matter.  It is easy for us to run to God in the bad times, but do we do so in the good times as well?

Finally, we can have confidence in the future knowing that, even if all of our worries and fears come true, God will never leave us and He is always working out His perfect will.  God’s ways are higher than our ways, and He is far above all rule and authority on this earth, but He is always with us and always ready to listen.  We can face the future unafraid because we know that nothing moves except by the hand of God.



Providing Help: H.C. Question 28

How does the knowledge of God’s creation and providence help us?

Job 1:21-22 – …and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.  The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;  may the name of the Lord be praised.”  In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.

James 1:3 – because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

Deuteronomy 8:10 – When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 – give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus

Psalm 55:22 – Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.

Romans 5:3-5 – Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Romans 8:38-39 – For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Job 1:12 – The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”  Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.

Job 2:6 – The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.”

Proverbs 21:1 – In the Lord’s hand the king’s heart is a stream of water
that he channels toward all who please him.

Acts 17:24-28 – “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’



Providence: H.C. Question 27

What do you understand by the providence of God?

Jeremiah 23:23-24 – “Am I only a God nearby,” declares the Lord, “and not a God far away?  Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?”  declares the Lord.  “Do not I fill heaven and earth?”  declares the Lord.

Acts 17:24-28 – “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

Hebrews 1:3 – The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

Jeremiah 5:24 – They do not say to themselves,  ‘Let us fear the Lord our God, who gives autumn and spring rains in season, who assures us of the regular weeks of harvest.’

Acts 14:15-17 – “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. In the past, he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”

John 9:3 – “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

Proverbs 22:2 – Rich and poor have this in common: The Lord is the Maker of them all.

Proverbs 16:33 – The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.

Matthew 10:29 – Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.



Acts 27 – The Journey to Rome

Read Acts 27

Paul’s journey to Rome is not an easy one.  He traveled as a prisoner, which meant that little care was given to him.  Yet the centurion that was in charge of Paul seems to have some compassion for him, at least at first.

As the journey continues on, things get rougher for Paul and for all who are on board the ship.  Against Paul’s warning, they decide to leave the relative safety of one harbor for another that would be better for the ship.  This turns out to be disastrous.

Yet in the midst of all of this, the prisoner Paul becomes the voice of calm reassurance and salvation for all those on board this ill-fated voyage.   Ironically, this isn’t the first time a prisoner saved his captors.

Paul tells them the angel’s message, an encouragement if there ever was one in that moment, and then beckons them to eat, breaking bread in the same manner Jesus did at the last summer.  Though the situation seems bleak, God is abundantly present, protecting and providing for Paul and those traveling with them.

We are all called to different journeys in life as we follow God and live out our faith.  Some of these journeys are physical, some are spiritual, but all require us to listen and to obey.  Too often, when we run into difficulty, we think that we might be on the wrong track or that God has somehow abandoned us.  Yet it is clear here that Paul was right where God wanted him to be.

In our faith journey, we can take our cues from Paul here.  I’m sure he didn’t enjoy being tossed about in the boat, much less traveling as a prisoner.  However, he remained faithful through it all, trusting in God’s wisdom and providence.



Day 365: Revelation 20-22; The New Heaven and The New Earth

As we close this journey that we began a year ago, we come also to the final scenes of John’s vision in Revelation, and the final goal of what God has been working towards since the very beginning of this story.  This vision, this end purpose, the final will of God which we see in Revelation chapter 21, is that which we are told about in both our reading today and also that which we have heard about for for the past 364 days.  God’s ultimate goal, God’s overall will for creation has always been reconciliation… and that is what we see here today, reconciliation and restoration… a return to Eden, to paradise, to a time when all of creation lives in the presence of God for all time.

You see, what we read here today is the second high point of salvation history, the first being the salvation brought through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  To think, though, that the scope of this salvation is limited simply to humans would be a gross understatement.  Sadly, however, this understanding of salvation is that which runs rampant in the church today and is perhaps a symptom some of the greatest misunderstandings of discussions about the end times and all that will take place.  For too often we’ve pared down Jesus’ salvation work to the saving of human souls so that they can go to heaven when they die.  Again, this is a sad understatement of God’s plan of salvation throughout the Bible.

This thinking, as I said, is held by many people and often leads to an “escapist” mentality of the end times.  Whether it be from natural death or the second coming of Christ, the prevailing opinion that seems to have taken mainstream Christianity by storm is that of the hope of “getting out of here” to be with Jesus.  Thinking like this has become rather prevalent in the idea of the rapture, the idea that Christian’s somehow get to be taken away from the earth in these last years so that they don’t have to endure the awful judgments and trials that are described in Revelation.  While one can understand the desire to not be around destruction of that magnitude, if indeed these are literal things that are going to happen on earth.

However, what is very clear here at the end of Revelation is that this escapist mentality is not what is described in the vision that is given to John.  In fact, it is not what has been shown for us throughout the whole of Scripture.  When sin entered the world, all of creation was affected, and the effect was systemic.  From that point on, God has been working His will through the people that He has called, to bring about the restoration of all creation, so that all things would be reconciled to Him.  How do we see this?  Because what is described to us in these final chapters is that of Heaven coming to a renewed and restored creation.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”  And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.  The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.

There are several characteristics of this New Heaven and New Earth that we see here.  We hear the voice from heaven saying that “The dwelling of God is with men.”  More than this, in the words that follow John describes the New Jerusalem as being without a Temple.  This is interesting because the Temple was THE center of Jerusalem and the center of all religious life for the Hebrew people.  However, when the New Heaven and the New Earth are present, and God is dwelling with people, there is no need for a center of Worship because God will be the center of worship.  Jesus is the light and there is no need for the sun.  In short, God is the source of everything, the sustaining force of all that will be present in this new Eden.  I think this is even more interesting because this has been the Hebrew view of reality all along.  God is the center, the source, the completion of all being.  As John writes, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

From the beginning to the end, all things have been and continue to be through God.  He is the sustaining force of all creation and at the same time is working to redeem it, restore it, and reconcile it back to Himself.  This is the end of the story, the true end of all things… the conclusion of our journey both through Scripture and in life.  This is the fulfillment of the Covenant, the completion of the people being God’s people and He being their God.  This too is the truest and fullest realization of the Kingdom of Heaven as it comes to earth when the true King comes in all of His glory, splendor, and majesty on the day that only the Father knows.  Maranatha!  Come Lord Jesus.

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.

(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.)



Day 364: Revelation 17-19; The Fall of Babylon and the Marriage Supper

In many ways, today’s reading has a lot to do about sex.  At first glance this seems rather odd to us as we have been talking about the end times and all that is to come, and suddenly we are talking about a prostitute and a great beast and all the sexual immorality of the earth.  But, if we think back over the course of our reading of Scripture again we will remember that God and the prophets often refer to Israel’s idolatry as a form of spiritual prostitution, and God often relates their running after God to the same idea as adultery.  The vision we get of Israel is of a young woman that the Lord saved from her misery, pulled her out of the proverbial mud, cleaned her up and adorned her with white robes as a bride.  However, this bride was unfaithful to Him, going off and prostituting herself to other gods.  At times the prophets said that she would welcome in anyone that she encountered on the street corner.  This is how bad things had gotten in Israel, yet even in that God still welcomed her back.

We get a lot of this same vision today, however we see it on a much grander scale applying to the people of the world.  They have gone off and prostituted themselves to the beast, to the antichrist and opened themselves to him.  The reason that sexual imagery is used here, I think, is to communicate the depth of personal giving that is taking place in the hearts of those who follow the antichrist.  Not only do they sin by not listening to  God and not living in the way that He would have them live, they have given their whole selves up to the antichrist in the way that God so desires them to turn to Him.  It is this depth of knowing, this depth of giving that conjures up images of marriage and sex, the deepest self giving that we know as humans.  It is important to note here too that, as detestable as this sounds, even John marveled at the beast and the prostitute which I think goes to show how incredibly enticing this will be.  While I don’t know about what this is or could be actually pointing to, but I know that there is a sinful lifestyle out there that, though we may condemn, we also often stop to take a second look.  We too must be careful because the beast is out there seeking whom he may devour.

So from here we see an angel that is calling out and declaring the fall of Babylon.  Now, in Hebrew literature, Babylon is the symbol of all evil, idolatry, and eternally the enemy of God.  This started being true in the Exile, when the Babylonian army destroy the Temple in Jerusalem.  From then on, they were labeled as the enemies of God.  Some have taken these references to Babylon to mean that, in the last days, the antichrist will actually seek to rebuild the city of Babylon and will rule from there.  I don’t necessarily agree with this notion, though I don’t see it as being out of the realm of possibility either.  Remember that this whole time we have been talking about the fact that these Scriptures do not necessarily denote a series of events, but rather a broad brush stroke of what is to take place before all things come to their already given conclusion.  Babylon, like the beasts and much of the other vivid imagery may just be an image, a grouping of the enemies of God.  In this instance, the angel is communicating to us that the enemies of God have fallen, no longer to rise.  This could mean spiritually there is no turning back for them, or it could mean that in this instance they are truly defeated.  In any case, what we see is that “Babylon,” despite all of her good looks, fine clothing and jewelry, and all that she offers to entice the people of the earth, at some point this will come to an end, that she will not do business anymore, and that the true lie of all she does will be exposed.

For this, all those in heaven rejoice!  Not simply because the truth of Babylon has been exposed to the whole world, but because God has judged her accordingly and she is indeed fallen.  Later we see Jesus coming on a white horse and throwing down Satan, the beast, and capturing him.  All of heaven rejoices at this happening!

Finally today, we get a chance to talk about the marriage supper of the Lamb.  This is an image of a great feast that will take place in heaven with all believers, those whose names are written in the book of life.  Jesus invites everyone to His table, all those who believe in His name are welcome there.  When we celebrate communion together as a church, not only “do this in remembrance” of Jesus’ last supper, but we do it in anticipation of this event that will take place in the future as well!  There will be a time when Satan is defeated and sin is no more and all those who believe in the name of Jesus and have been saved by grace, through faith in Him, will sit down at His table and feast with Him!  What an exciting prospect to be a part of this some day!  This is what we look forward to at the end of time, being in the presence of our Savior and Lord, sitting and eating at His table, being free from sin, death and persecution forever and ever, amen!

(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.)



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.)



Day 362: Revelation 8-12; Trumpets, Witnesses, and a Great Battle

We talked a bit about judgment and wrath yesterday, however we did not speak of one important aspect to God’s wrath and God’s judgment, something that I think needs to be mentioned here as we continue in our journey to the end of all things.  If we think back to the prophets, we see the warnings of the impending doom that come from the mouths of the prophets, warnings of the judgment AND a call to turn to God, to repentance so that the judgment may be averted.  While many of these images are unique to the book of revelation, they do hold similarities to those warnings spoken by many of the prophets about the judgment that would take place on Israel, Judah, and Jerusalem.  Here too we see God working to get the attention of all people, working to call them to repentance that they may turn to Him and be saved.  The image of the trumpets then, is not one that is so strange as trumpets and horns have been used throughout the ages to communicate with and get peoples’ attention.

I’m kind of at a loss for words in what to write next.  As we are walked through the judgments we see a great number of people dying and horrible natural disasters.  There is this meteor that falls into the water of the earth called “wormwood” which is the  name of a very bitter plant.  It could be representative of the bitterness of God’s judgment.  We also see that only a portion of the world’s population was killed, which means that there are limits to the judgments that are being poured out, at least for the time being.

There is really so much to write about here in these five chapters, we see a number of angels and demons working in different ways.  The demons seem to be working to torture and tempt those still on earth, working against God to continue to keep humanity on its destructive and sinful paths.  The Angels also seem to be at work, warning humanity of its impending judgment, carrying out the work of the Lord.  We also see that there are “witnesses” that show up as well.  In the “Left Behind” series these witnesses are Elijah and Moses who come back to earth with supernatural powers.  Actually, many of the signs that they do are indicative of the things that both did while they lived on this earth.  They were also present at the transfiguration of Christ before He journeyed to Jerusalem and to His death.  It could also be symbolic of the witness of the Word of God to the people, the two could simply represent the Old and New Testaments.  In any case, these join with the work of the Angels and that of the believers in declaring the Word of the Lord and warning humanity of the impending judgments and encouraging them to believe in Jesus.

Finally today we come to a somewhat extended narrative in this vision about “the woman and the dragon.”  There is a lot that takes place in chapter 12 and we will be revisiting it in further chapters as well.  John says that “a great sign appeared in heaven.”  This sign was that of a woman that was dressed like the sun, and had a great deal of imagery about her that is similar to one of the dreams of Joseph way back in Genesis 37.  It is enough to say that with this imagery, most people think that she is representative of the people of God.  In fact, we have talked about Israel being represented in the Bible as a woman adorned for her bridegroom, who is God.  Here she is pregnant and gives birth to a Son, another image of Jesus present in Revelation.

The dragon is also there, ready to snatch up the baby, who we are told is “the one who is to rule all the nations…”  Many people associate this dragon with Satan, with the different heads and crowns and horns to represent his earthly rule over the kingdoms of the world.  Some have also seen this as an image of the Roman empire, or perhaps corrupt world governments in general throughout history.  However, what we see is that the powers of evil were working against the plan of God, trying to prevent the coming of Jesus and the salvation that He brings.  We saw this with Herod at Jesus birth and we tend to see it often in our lives with those that persecute Christians and repress the freedom to worship God.

The deeper imagery here is revealed in verse seven of chapter seven, of a great war that is going on between the angels of God and the dragon, the evil powers that would seek to enslave and destroy all things.  While we may be naive as to what is going on all around us, there is a great war that is being waged between good and evil, between God and Satan.  This is something we tend to dramatize, glorify, and even over emphasize.  I think though that the point here really is that we need to make sure that we are aware of what is going on around us in our world today.  Satan would have us believe that he doesn’t exist, that demons don’t exist, and that he is not working against us to bring about our destruction.  What John is showing us here is that there is definitely more to this world than what we see with our eyes.  This doesn’t necessarily give us the right to start attacking corrupt governments, destruction groups, or evil people, but rather to pray against them, pray for them, and ultimately trust that God is on our side and that He is fighting for us.

We see clearly that the dragon is defeated here.  He has been thrown out of heaven and though he is still on the earth seeking those that he may devour, his doom has been sealed and his final defeat assured.  It is only a matter of time really, which is yet another thing that John is communicating here.  Has he had been encouraging the churches with his letters, so to does he encourage them now by laying out this vision that we might persevere with the assurance that the end of this story has already been told, and that our victory is assured in Jesus Christ the only true King and ruler of this world.

(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.)



Day 361: Revelation 4-7; Worship, Seals, and Horsemen

The first thing that we see after the seven letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor is John’s description of what is going on in the throne room of heaven before the presence of God.  John is drawn up into heaven, or perhaps what we talked about in the prophets as being the spiritual realm that exists alongside of ours.  We often think of heaven as being this far away, very distant place in which we get to go when we die and escape from this world.  However, the prevailing vision of the prophetic literature as well as the Hebrew culture is that of an “alternate reality” of sorts that exists alongside of our own.  Things that happen in this world are but shadows of that which happen on the other side of the divine.  This is why we have seen things like the Temple, the house of God and the center of the universe for Hebrew culture, illuminated in visions and other theophanies where the barriers between the physical and the spiritual worlds “break down.”  As we continue to read through Revelation, remember that this is one of the things that John is likely thinking right now.  His experience is like that of Isaiah, Moses, and other people in Israel’s past that have experienced a direct encounter with God, and this would be the way in which he understands what he sees.

What we see today, first and foremost, is the worship that is taking place around the throne of God.  John is drawn up into the heavenly realm in which he is able to witness the true nature of worship.  This too has been something that has been talked about through the Scriptures time and time again.  Isaiah witnesses this in the narrative of his calling in Isaiah 6, many of the prophets talk about the nature of true worship, and Jesus Himself, when talking to the woman at the well in the Gospel of John talks about the true worship of God being that of worship in Spirit and Truth.  While the worship at the Temple may have been representative of the worship of God, it was but a shadow of the true worship which is always taking place around the throne.

In this vision we encounter some strange images which are not the first that we will encounter.  We see four living creatures, like those in the visions of Ezekiel, and 24 elders, and so on and so forth.  We have talked about these a little bit in some of our discussions about prophetic literature, and there are different people who would say that they mean different things.  Perhaps they do represent all of creation, perhaps they are some sort of divine guardian.  In all honesty though, the interpretation of what they represent is really peripheral to the nature of what they are doing which is worshiping God with their whole being.  We also encounter a great deal of numbers within the visions of the prophets and here again in John.  We’ve talked about this since the beginning of our journey through the Bible as well.  Numbers are quite often important and very often are representative of things.  The number 3, for instance, represents the trinity, and along with 1 and 7 are representative of the Divine.  Seven is also the number of completion representing the whole of whatever it is referencing.  Some have said that the “seven letters” represent God’s message to the whole Church and the “seven spirits” of God represents the fullness of God’s nature.  Seeing the “24 elders” has often be representative of the fullness of the people of God, the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 Apostles (representing the whole Church).  Again, while these numbers are important, they pale in comparison to the fullness of the meaning of what they are all doing, which is worshiping God with all of their being.    This is the image of worship that we are given, true worship in which we are called to participate as the people of God.  Notice that this worship is worship in Spirit and in Truth, it is fully about God, focused only on Him.  Every tribe, tongue, and nation is present, and there is, as has been stated so many times in the epistles, no differentiation between them except for the understanding that they are from different backgrounds.  All are worshiping God; no longer to petty inter-racial or stupid stylistic worship conflicts mean anything, because the only thing that matters is God.

There is really so much to write about in these chapters that books and books could be written, and have been written.  In our reading today we also encounter the narrative of the opening of the seven seals.  While there is much to talk about when it comes to this particular mini-vision I think what I am going to choose to talk about is not the individual seals, though I would be happy to engage that some other time, but rather the greater picture of what is happening and how we understand it in light of the whole narrative of Scripture.  First of all, we need to remember that once again we are seeing that number seven… in fact we see three sevens coming up with the different “judgments” that will take place: Seals, Trumpets, and Bowls.  What I think is important to remember here is what we learned about judgment and wrath from the prophets.  Again, this would be the main way that John would understand what he is seeing here.  God’s judgment and God’s wrath are poured out on the earth here, but all of this, remember, arises from God’s unquenchable love for His creation.  This is an interesting paradox because out of intense love God rises up to judge the earth… like a parent who so longs for their child to live in the right ways and will even punish them for not doing so, God also arises out of this intense love and moves against the sin, the injustice, the oppression that so plagues all of creation.

What we need to understand here too is that John is not necessarily laying out a perfect sequence of events, each of which must happen before the next so that the end of time can come.  This notion of a timeline that is hidden within the books of the Bible and needs to be pieced together has been popularized by those holding to the notion of “Pre-Millennial Dispensationalism” and also the wildly popular “Left Behind” series.  While these folks hold very true to the doctrine that they have pieced together using segments of Scripture from all over the Bible, a method we call ‘proof texting,’ their reading of the book of Revelation and the theology that they come up with does not jive with the union of the whole of the Bible.  John is interpreting what he is seeing here, a vision that is “out of this world” in a way.  Yet it is important to understand, as this is part of the greater narrative of God’s Word, that we understand that God is not suddenly acting different here, doing something completely off the wall at the end of His book as if there is supposed to be some sort of crazy plot twist to thrill the reader.  God has always been working towards this end, an end that sees all of creation brought back to perfection when He again dwells with us here on earth.  God has always been working against evil, working to restore creation and reconcile humanity.  As we read, let us remember what we have already learned, what we have encountered in Scripture, what we have talked about for the past year, and let us look into these words and some of these strange images using that lens, the lens of Scripture, not our own desire to see what we want to see.

(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.)