Saturday, December 27. Revelation 16 – 19

The Babylon of Revelation 18 of course stands for Rome and its empire. Ancient people could not miss the figure of the city set on seven hills.

But it’s not just a city – nor even a particular entity – that is condemned here. It’s not even a particular political system.

It’s a way of life.

A way of life that exalts itself above the judgment of God – either by unthinkingly ignoring Him or rebelliously disobeying Him.

A way of life devoted to business – and busyness.

A way of life devoted to luxury (look at the list in verses 12 and 13.) Verse 14 says they “long” for these things.

It will all come to an end – a violent one.

This life and its trappings are not unimportant. They only become unimportant when the God who makes both possible is left out of the life of those who enjoy them, when the blessings become the focus rather than the serendipity.

Was there ever a nation as great as ours? Was there ever a time better than this? None of it will matter when God brings it all to an end and time, as we count it, is no more.

Friday, December 26. Revelation13 – 15

Just before the blowing of the seven trumpets announcing the discipline and retribution of God on the earth (and its cataclysmic end) there was a note about the people of God (called the 144,000). You see it in chapter 7. Immediately before the trumpets, there is the action of an angel hurling fire to the earth in a foreshadowing of the trouble to come. Everything in chapters 4 – 11 is repeated in chapters 12 – 16. This time, instead of trumpets, there are bowls of wrath, seven of them. Like the first six trumpets, the first six seals are all in an attempt to get the attention of the earth and turn its inhabitants to God. And like the angel hurling the fire on the earth, so in chapter 14, preceding the seven bowls of wrath, there is an angel who forshadows the judgment to come but this time with a harvesters sickle (14:16ff).

It doesn’t work. Not completely anyway.

So once again we ask: Why does God do it? Why use punishment and discipline to get people to change? Why not use love and understanding and kindness instead? After all, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Oh wait. He did use love and kindness and understanding. That’s what Jesus was all about.

So . . . if love doesn’t work, and discipline doesn’t work, why bother?

Because at the end of the day, God can’t seem to give up on His people. “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” God says. “See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me” Isaiah 49:15-16).

Aren’t you glad?

But there’s something else here. If God so loves us, can we who possess His DNA through the blood of Christ love one another any less?

Thursday, December 25. Revelation 10 – 12

There’s a grand old hymn that begins with these words: “When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound and time shall be no more . . .” In Revelation 11, “time” is finally “up.”

The martyrs wanted to know how much longer the faithful would have to endure the slings and arrows of their persecutors (Revelation 6:10). God said: “A little while longer.” In chapter 10, after a magnificent but failing attempt to get mankind to repent, an angel warns that time is about up. There will be no more delay. When the seventh angel sounds his trumpet, time for repentance will be over. The time has come for judging the dead, rewarding the servants, and destroying the earth.

Chapter 11 ends this long section of Revelation 4 – 11 and you are intended to see, but not in detail, that God has brought our reality to an end. The story of these eight chapters will be repeated in more detail in chapters 12 – 16 and you will note that both sections end with the same image: that of lightening, thunder, earthquake and hailstones.

The temptation here is to parrot the old and somewhat dismissive summary of Revelation: “We win in the end!” Yes, that’s true. But there’s more than the end. Until that time, God’s people (the holy city) will be abused by the world (gentiles). The period is described as 42 months (3 ½ years). Many of God’s people (seen in a microcosm of two witnesses) will be killed. But after this period, they will be raised from the dead (the period is said to be 3 ½ days but simply notice the recurrence of 3 ½. You’ll see it again in this book). Then, the end will come.

Yes, we win. But we win only if we overcome, and overcoming is tied directly to perseverance, specifically perseverance in witnessing for God. Winning will not be a walk in the park.

Wednesday, December 24. Revelation 7 – 9

Do you remember the ominous dum dum dum dum dum dum in the old movie “Jaws?” When you heard the score, you just knew something bad was going to happen. Setting the mood throughout a movie or play is a task given to the musical score.

But just as effective as music is also silence – especially prolonged silence. It creates an uneasiness difficult to handle and may, depending on the situation, heighten anxiety – just like the dum dum dum dum of “Jaws.” This is the function of thirty minutes of silence at the beginning of chapter eight. Something ominous is about to take place and God is in control. As Leonardo da Vinci once wrote: “Nothing strengthens authority as much as silence.”

The opening of the seven seals brought a vision of martyrs who, having paid the last full measure of their devotion, cried out to God: “How much longer are you going to allow this to go on?” God replied: “A little while longer.” What follows in this chapter are the attempts of God to get mankind to repent and turn to Him. It is very much like the words of Amos 4. In stage after stage, God sends punishments: famine, drought, blight, plagues and war and yet, none of these are effective in getting people to turn to God. “Still,” he says, “you have not returned to me.”

If you don’t think God still sends calamities to get people to wake up, chapter 8 should clinch it for Bible students. But, as it turns out, these calamities are no more effective in promoting repentance in Revelation than they were in Amos (Revelation 9:20-21).

So why do it this way?

It is not to say that the punishments were/are totally ineffective. Some were bound to review their lives and come to God. It is however to say that the majority paid no attention. The disciplines in those cases, rather than be seen as correctives should properly be seen as punishments. But why would God do this, especially when often the innocent (children) also suffer?

Such is the encompassing nature of sin. The suffering of the guilty bleeds over to the innocent. The guilty should be aware that it is not just their own lives they are ruining, but also the lives of others.

Saturday, December 28. Revelation 21, 22

Whew!

Are you feeling a sigh of relief?

Two relatives have told me recently: “I’m a few days behind, but I am going to make them up and complete this reading.”

I’m confident they will. There’s nothing like the feeling of completion – especially when that completion is accompanied by knowing you’ve read God’s word all the way through.
Congratulations!

I find it interesting that in these last chapters of Revelation, John is so overcome with emotion that he falls down and worships at the feet of the angel who brings him the Revelation. In fact, he does it twice, and both times, the angel rebukes him.

It’s really our problem too isn’t it?

We lean away from God when we begin to worship something other than God – and sometimes, what we choose to worship is even religious – perhaps “Christian” – in nature. Nothing, absolutely nothing, should get in our way of bringing glory, honor, and praise to God every day of our life. In our private thoughts, in our words to others, in our demeanor, in our ethics – all should be done with the goal of bringing the Lord glory, honor, and praise. And when we are tempted to neglect, or do otherwise, let us hear the angel of the Lord say: “Do not do it. Worship God!”

Friday, December 27. Revelation 19 – 20

The final section of the Revelation, chapters 17 – 22, give us a much more detailed description of the end of the world as we know it than we have seen thus far.

But first remember something: this book was written in troublesome times to first century people. The book has maintained that the kingdoms of the world, particularly the empire of Rome, is being influenced by Satan but everything is under the control of God. At the end of chapter 19, the power and influence of Satan is drastically reduced as Satan is thrown into the abyss. A long period of time follows, described in Revelation as a thousand years (chapter 20).

During this long period of time – not “just” a thousand years since few of the numbers in this book are literal – those who have been martyred for their faith enjoy an exalted status with Christ, a status promised to all Christians but realized early by the martyrs. At the end of that time, Satan will be released to inflict unbridled pain on God’s people. But he will not succeed. Before a final planned conflict begins, he will be removed by God forever.

If he is going to be removed forever, why not remove him now?

I do not know. The point is, everything is subject to the eternal plan and power of God.

Are we in the long period (thousand years), or is it to come?

It would seem to me that since the long period began with the end of the Roman empire, we are now in that long period. Satan may be restrained (bound with a chain), but we can expect his influence only to continue and become stronger. We can also expect that God will, in His time, bring it all to an end.

Thursday, December 26. Revelation 16 – 18

Chapter seventeen begins a new section with a new vision. Remember as you read: symbols with meaning are always explained. Symbols that are not explained should be considered as “color,” and their meaning should not be guessed at. We’ve enough to do to consider the meanings revealed.

The vision is that of a woman named “Babylon” sitting on a red beast with seven heads and ten horns. She and the beast ride over “many waters.” The waters stand for “people, multitudes, nations, and languages.” The beast “once was, now is not, and will come up out of the Abyss only to go to his destruction.” I believe the beast is either Satan, or a deputy of Satan – both described similarly in 12:3 and 13:1. Either way, neither has the authority of God who is first and last and lives for ever and ever (1:17).

The seven heads of the beast stand for seven hills on which the woman also sits. This description seals it for us: the woman is the ancient city and empire of Rome. She is drunk on the blood of God’s people. The seven heads also stand for earthly kings who likewise derive their power (life) from Satan.

Satan, his henchmen, and kings of the earth will eventually turn on Rome and destroy her. No one should imagine this to be a “natural course.” It is all by the purpose and will of God. If all things are guided by that purpose and will, the people of God, whose blood is often consumed by their opponents, should not imagine God has abandoned them, but is working out His will for them and all things. As the old hymn says: “The Kingdoms of earth pass away one by one but the kingdom of heaven remains. It is built on a rock and the Lord is its king and for ever and ever He reigns.”

Monday, December 23. Revelation 7 – 9

Who are the 144,000 of Revelation 7?

It’s strange that we ask that question, since John seems to know precisely who they are, or if not, he is not interested.  What he really wants to know is the identity of the innumerable host dressed in white robes before the throne of God.

Unless, of course, the 144,000 and the innumerable host are the same people.

How would these first readers, Christians in Asia Minor at the end of the first century, regard the 144,000?

First off, we might ask why the 144,000 are divided into the twelve tribes of Israel – especially since ten of them were part of the northern kingdom.  Second, we might wonder why the tribe of Joseph is included, since in the Old Testament, Joseph as a tribe is seldom mentioned being replaced by the tribes of his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh.

The twelve tribes stand for all of Israel.  Not, by this time, the Jewish people, but the people of God, made up of those from all nations who have placed faith in Christ.  The fact that they are numbered indicates that God knows who and how many they are.  We are reminded of Paul’s more pointed assurance in 2 Timothy 2:19 – God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his . . .”

It makes no sense to say that “only 144,000 will be saved” when, in point of fact, the rest of the chapter details the salvation of more people than can be counted.  To be in their number however, at least at this point, requires two things: cleansing in the blood of Christ, and perseverance through the difficulties that allegiance to the great Lord are likely to entail.  In the word of chapters 2 and 3, they have “overcome.”

Sunday, December 22. Revelation 4 – 6

There are five major divisions of the book of Revelation:

First comes the introduction in chapter 1. Then, chapters two and three address the specific behaviors God wants each of the seven churches to deal with. Chapters 4, 12, and 17 each begin new sections, all saying the same thing but each with a little more detail. Chapters 4 and 12 both begin with scenes in heaven.

Perhaps you will remember the movie The American President where president Andrew Shepherd (played by Michael Douglas) tells Sydney Ellen Wade the Oval Office was designed to intimidate foreign dignitaries. I’ve visited the Oval Office several times (after hours, guided tours) and while is was not originally designed with intimidation in mind, it is definitely impressive.

The scene in chapter four is that of God’s “Oval Office,” though it is usually referred to as the “throne room scene.” Its depiction is without doubt designed to impress. In the ancient world, you would expect the presence of aged advisers (elders) and you would expect it and the presence of the king to be breathtaking. That’s exactly how John depicts it. Don’t get lost in the imagery. You will see something similar in Ezekiel 1, and another description in Hebrews 12. You have, in chapter four, come into the presence of God.

Who are the four living creatures?

We do not know, except that they are to strike awe in the minds of the readers. The creator of heaven and earth might not be expected to have normal attendants. The elders are not just esteemed advisers. They represent kings, all of whom bow before God, and everyone confesses the worthiness of God because He is, after all, the creator of all things.

Saturday, December 21. Revelation 1 – 3

Does God carry a grudge?

I ask the question because of Jesus’ words in Revelation 2, repeated three times: “I have this against you.”

The heart of the Revelation is found in chapters two and three, for there, up front, is what the book is really all about: changing behavior.

The letters of the New Testament usually have the same format. They open by laying a foundation which will encourage the behavioral change specifically desired later in the letter. Revelation however differs. It requires the change first, then details the reasons for change in the rest of the book.

Though they are only two in number, chapters two and three are full of important teaching. First, each body of Christians (a “church”) is as much the Church as all Christians everywhere. Whether at Laodicea or Smyrna or Pergamum, each is called the church. Second, it is possible for a church to lose its status as a church. It’s called, “removing” the candlestick. Jesus is the one who does it and it is behaviorally determined.

Third, there appears to be no individual judgment in this book. Our normal picture of judgment is that we each appear before the judgment seat of God to be evaluated individually. But as Revelation opens, we are judged as a group in our local congregations. This is why congregational membership and involvement is important, and also why we must each assume responsibility for the direction our community body of Christ takes and our participation in that direction.