[Note: We have completed our daily Bible readings for 2014. Join us Thursday, January 1 for another year of reading the Bible together. Our section that day will be Genesis 1 - 3]. Join us again January 1!
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.
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!”
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.
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?
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.
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.
Ancient papyrus was normally made by glueing horizontal strips of papyrus to vertical strips. The horizontal side was the writing side. The reverse was difficult to write on, but it could be done if the message were particularly long or important or urgent. The scroll in the hand of God contains a message that is all three.
The importance of the message is signified by the fact that it is sealed not with one or two seals, but with seven. Who has the right to reveal such an important message? To the victor belongs the spoils and all rights of the victorious, and the lamb, the lion of the tribe of Judah – Jesus – is the victor. He controls the message of the scroll. He controls the future.
Jesus did not, however, become the victor by trampling on innocent people – like the figures of the four horses in chapter 6. He became victorious in a much more noble way: by purchasing people for God with the payment of his own blood. Jesus does not force people into servitude. He dies for them.
Christ’s death has the power to turn believers into kings and priests, and the benefits of his death are not confined to any race, nation or culture, but available to us all.
One final note: Jesus is not a “servant” or an “adjunct” to God. He is God. He stands in the center of the throne, where God is, and is worshiped along with the Father (5:13) by the same heavenly host, in virtually the same words (compare 4:11 and 5:12).
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.
The first century Church was not immune to congregational difficulties. For the most part, church leaderships countered division with a call to peace.
There were, of course, those occasions when expulsion of a member (we’d probably call it “shunning”) was practiced. Sometimes, it involved a persistent moral failing of a member who refused to change his life (1 Corinthians 5). At other times, it involved members who misunderstood scripture and whose lifestyle brought shame on the whole congregation (2 Thessalonians 3). And at times, it involved church members who were, for whatever reason, just looking for power (Romans 16:17ff).
In an unnamed first century congregation, there was just such a power struggle and we find the story in 3 John. A Christian named Diotrephes had, over time, become a respected church leader. He had become so powerful that he successfully forbade his church to listen to the apostle John (we are not given the reason). Anyone who did so, Diotrephes “put out of the church.” Gaius, another Christian in the same congregation, was at a loss as to what to do. Everyone respected Diotrephes. Gaius did as well. But Gaius also respected John. Gaius had no power and no influence. He wasn’t taking sides, he just didn’t know how to respond.
In his letter, Third John, John could have written to him: “You need to take my side. After all, I am an Apostle.” But he didn’t. That would have just exacerbated the division. Instead, John encouraged him to continue to live in the Christ-like manner he’d been following, and if he had any questions at all, to refer them to another member, Demetrius, who was well spoken of “by everyone.”
Jesus said: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave– just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28). Later Paul wrote: “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me” (Romans 15:1-2).
There are those times when harsh discipline must be meted out in any family, and the family of God is no exception. But when that happens, we must be sure we’ve done all we can to follow these words first.
In difficult times, we all look for someone with a level head whose walk is closer to Christ’s and further from the world’s. Demetrius had such a walk. Someone may be looking for just such an example in you. How’s your walk going?
The word “antichrist”only occurs in the first two letters of John in the Bible and whoever they were, they were a part of the Christian fellowship being addressed.
Popular religious preachers and authors commonly describe “the antichrist” as some world leader, a messenger empowered by Satan, who has yet to arise to lead the world against Christians and deceive Christians into leaving the fold. Customarily, the “antichrist” is paired with the “man of lawlessness” of 2 Thessalonians. But in describing the antichrist, authors and teachers would do well to confine themselves to the texts where the specific identification is made. An antichrist is anyone who undermines our submission to the authority of Jesus. It can be a non-christian, but it is likely also to be a Christian.
Second, this attempt to identify the “antichrist” as some well placed political figure, and the attempt to see him in our own history, leads Christians away from focusing on their own behavior, submitting to the will of Jesus. In doing that, they (and we) ignore the primary message of First John – how we behave determines whether Christians are really disciples, or just hypocrites.
Third, John ties “belief” to behavior. “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God,” he writes. We get side-tracked here into the discussion of whether “belief” is enough to be a Christian, or whether one must be baptized. But that is a mistake of huge proportions. John doesn’t write simply that the one who believes is “born of God,” but rather, that the one who believes and is born of God loves those others who are likewise born of God and keeps God’s commands (note 1 John 4:19 – 5:2). John is not discussing how one becomes a Christian, or how one is saved, but how the saved person acts toward other saved people. After all, John is not writing to the unsaved, but to Christians.