1383.) Revelation 18

August 20, 2014

Rev18 city burningRevelation 18   (NRSV)

The Fall of Babylon

Following the description of Babylon as a drunken prostitute seated on the scarlet monster, the angelic interpretation of this vision, and a prediction of her fall, Revelation now describes in vivid terms the aftermath and its effects.  The fall itself is not described, but left to the imagination of John’s audience, based on the violent announcement of the last chapter (Revelation 17:16-17) –

The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire.  For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to hand over to the beast their royal authority, until God’s words are fulfilled.

This same idea will be picked up again at the end of this chapter (verse 21-24).

The response to Babylon’s fall will continue into chapter 19.  There, however, things will be viewed from the heavenly vantage point.  In this chapter, although heavenly beings and voices are involved, things are viewed from an earthly perspective, with human voices caught up in the drama and pathos of the great city’s demise.

–Ian Boxall (and all following comments in red)

Angelic announcement of doom:

After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority; and the earth was made bright with his splendor. He called out with a mighty voice,

“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!

“Babylon” is John’s code word for Rome.

    It has become a dwelling place of demons,
a haunt of every foul spirit,
    a haunt of every foul bird,
    a haunt of every foul and hateful beast.
For all the nations have drunk
    of the wine of the wrath of her fornication,
and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her,
    and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxury.”

This eerie description of Babylon is one of a ghost town, a deserted city which once knew so much activity, now reduced to a dwelling for wild and uncivilized beasts.  The reason for this desolation is directly related to Babylon’s idolatrous arrogance (metaphorically expressed as her flagrant sexual immorality) and her excessive luxury.  Rome’s crime is not simply that of political dominance supported by worship of the deified emperors, in which earth’s kings are implicated; it is also one of economic dominance and exploitation, necessary to support the extravagant lifestyles of a tiny minority of her population.  For this, the complicity of earth’s traders has been necessary; for them, in their turn, the benefits of their compliance have been immense.

Summons to God’s people to leave the doomed city:

Then I heard another voice from heaven saying,

“Come out of her, my people,
    so that you do not take part in her sins,
and so that you do not share in her plagues;
for her sins are heaped high as heaven,
    and God has remembered her iniquities.

What does it mean to “come out of Babylon”?  It is a call to the Lamb’s followers, wherever they find themselves, to abjure that unjust, idolatrous culture which can permeate any city in any age.  The values of God’s people are to be the values of the new Jerusalem.

Render to her as she herself has rendered,
    and repay her double for her deeds;
    mix a double draught for her in the cup she mixed.
As she glorified herself and lived luxuriously,
    so give her a like measure of torment and grief.
Since in her heart she says,
    ‘I rule as a queen;
I am no widow,
    and I will never see grief,’

She is so entitled that she feels nothing amiss with her life.

therefore her plagues will come in a single day—
    pestilence and mourning and famine—
and she will be burned with fire;
    for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.”

Lamentations of those who have been enriched by the wicked city:

That they weep and mourn suggests a lament over the dead; however, they are probably lamenting not simply the city’s demise but also their own personal loss which that demise has brought to them as kings, merchants, and seafarers.  From a human perspective, it is difficult not to be moved by the words of these three groups.  But there are two reasons for not reading this section as a straightforward lament.  First, the words of all three groups include not only words of woe, but also, ironically, words of judgment.  Second, the laments are almost certainly being reported by the heavenly voice of verse 4:  viewed from a heavenly perspective, the appropriate response is not lament but a cry of “Hallelujah!”

And the kings of the earth, who committed fornication and lived in luxury with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning; 10 they will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say,

“Alas, alas, the great city,
    Babylon, the mighty city!
For in one hour your judgment has come.”

11 And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore, 12 cargo of gold, silver, jewels and pearls, fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet, all kinds of scented wood, all articles of ivory, all articles of costly wood, bronze, iron, and marble, 13 cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, olive oil, choice flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, slaves—and human lives.

John’s list of twenty-eight products specifically reflects the imports of the city of Rome in the first century.  Virtually every area of the known world is covered, from Spain to China, Greece to North Africa, Sicily to Egypt.  The emphasis is not upon items required for daily life, but upon extravagant luxury goods.  Most shocking is the end of the list, particularly if what is mentioned last reflects its position as the least significant — slaves.

14 “The fruit for which your soul longed
    has gone from you,
and all your dainties and your splendor
    are lost to you,
    never to be found again!”

15 The merchants of these wares, who gained wealth from her, will stand far off, in fear of her torment, weeping and mourning aloud,

16 “Alas, alas, the great city,
    clothed in fine linen,
        in purple and scarlet,
    adorned with gold,
        with jewels, and with pearls!
17 For in one hour all this wealth has been laid waste!”

And all shipmasters and seafarers, sailors and all whose trade is on the sea, stood far off 18 and cried out as they saw the smoke of her burning,

“What city was like the great city?”

19 And they threw dust on their heads, as they wept and mourned, crying out,

“Alas, alas, the great city,
    where all who had ships at sea
    grew rich by her wealth!
For in one hour she has been laid waste.”

20 Rejoice over her, O heaven, you saints and apostles and prophets! For God has given judgment for you against her.

In this last great act of judgement and justice, the cry of the martyrs (6:9-11) and all the “prayers of the holy ones” (8:3-4) have definitely been answered in the heavenly court.

Symbolic action representing the total destruction of the city:

21 Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying,

“With such violence Babylon the great city
    will be thrown down,
    and will be found no more;
22 and the sound of harpists and minstrels and of flutists and trumpeters
    will be heard in you no more;
and an artisan of any trade
    will be found in you no more;
and the sound of the millstone
    will be heard in you no more;
23 and the light of a lamp
    will shine in you no more;
and the voice of bridegroom and bride
    will be heard in you no more;
for your merchants were the magnates of the earth,
    and all nations were deceived by your sorcery.
24 And in you was found the blood of prophets and of saints,
    and of all who have been slaughtered on earth.”

The angel reminds Babylon again of the reason for her fall.  She has blood on her hands.  This is not simply, however, the blood of God’s faithful people, including those recently slaughtered under Nero.  Babylon in her Roman incarnation has gone farther than that.  Recalling the unnamed multitudes regarded as indispensable in the swift progress of Roman dominance across the Mediterranean world, hinting at the vast numbers of silent deaths necessary to establish the Pax Romana, the angel adds a third group to the list.  Roman Babylon is answerable no less for the blood of all those slaughtered on the earth.  That explains why her fall must be so great.

God acts in history and he will have the final word.

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Music:

Years ago, following World War II, a short poem was found carved on a cellar wall in Cologne, Germany. The cellar was a place where many Jews had hidden during the holocaust.

“I believe in the sun,
even when it is not shining.
I believe in love,
even when I don’t feel it.
I believe in God,
even when he is silent.”

HERE is this poem, now a haunting anthem composed by Mark Miller.  Amid so much ugliness and death, as in the chapter above, we still believe that God in his mercy and justice will do what is eternally right.
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New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)  New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

1382.) Revelation 17

August 19, 2014

Scarlet Woman

 Revelation 17   (NRSV)

The Great Whore and the Beast

Revelation 17-18 and 19-20 tell two stories, but they are meant to stand side by side.  In the first story, John tells of an evil woman who rides upon the beast of chapters 13-14.  She is given the name of Babylon.  Babylon, to all who knew the Old Testament (and the Greek Old Testament was the Bible of the early Christian church), symbolized great evil.  Babylon had pummeled and destroyed Israel, exporting her riches, breaking up her families, and razing her place of worship.  It was while in exile following that brutal attack that the psalmist had written, By the water of Babylon there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion (Psalm 137).

But John wants his readers to know that, in his telling of the story, Babylon is used as a symbol  It is Rome he has in mind.  The beast he describes offers us some decisive clues in that direction.  The seven heads of the beast, he explains, are seven hills—the seven famous hills upon which Rome sat.  The seven heads also are the seven kings.  Rome had had more than seven kings, but the mathematics of Revelation are not meant to be arithmetic so much as symbolic.  As such, they not only denote the rulers of Rome; they have a message to send about them.

The second story of chapters 19-20 works in contrast.  The evil woman (Rome) is compared to the good woman, the church, the bride of Christ.

–Robert H. Conn

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great whore who is seated on many waters,with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and with the wine of whose fornication the inhabitants of the earth have become drunk.” So he carried me away in the spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her fornication; and on her forehead was written a name, a mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of whores and of earth’s abominations.”

Babylon was a literal city on the Euphrates River, appearing in the Bible first in Genesis 1o, after the flood.  Babylon was later the capital of an empire that conquered Judah and was remembered for its cruelty, sin, idolatry, lust, and greed.  In John’s day, Rome was a type of Babylon, embodying all the antagonism and opposition to the Christian faith.

–David Guzik

And I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of the witnesses to Jesus.

Rev17 woman

Who does the woman with “Babylon”  on her forehead symbolize?  Opinions vary.  Scholars over the centuries have understood Babylon here to mean Jerusalem, unfaithful like a prostitute.  Others see it as ancient Rome, built on seven hills (see verse 9), and seated on many waters (see verse 1), an indication of her world-wide power and dominance.  Her being drunk with blood points to Rome’s persecutions of believers. 

“But perhaps a more satisfying interpretation is that Rome represents the latest incarnation of that oppressive and idolatrous city, the ‘great city’ which originally bore the features of Mesopotamian Babylon.  Ultimately, Revelation is confronting its hearers with two visionary cities which promise two very different destinies to humanity:  ‘the great city’ enthroned over the waters of chaos, and ‘the holy city’ or City of God, in which flows the river of the water of life.”

–Ian Boxall

When I saw her, I was greatly amazed. But the angel said to me, “Why are you so amazed? I will tell you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her. The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to ascend from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the inhabitants of the earth, whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will be amazed when they see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come.

“This calls for a mind that has wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; also, they are seven kings, 10 of whom five have fallen, one is living, and the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain only a little while.

Rev17 seven kings

Who are these seven kings?  This is one of the more difficult passages in the Book of Revelation.  Some explain these seven kings, five past, one present, and one to come in the succession of Roman emperors in John’s era, but there are many historical difficulties with this approach.  Where should the list begin?  With Augustus, with whom, strictly speaking, the Roman Empire began?  Or with Julius Caesar?  Should any emperors be left off the list?

Since the days of the Reformation, many people have found the connection between religious Babylon and Roman Catholicism irresistible, with the seven kings representing seven popes.  Recently the list has started at 1929, the date of the Lateran Treaty, in which Italy recognized papal sovereignty over the Vatican City (109 acres) and recognized the pope as an independent sovereign ruler.  Of course, as time goes on and there are more popes, the list has to be reshuffled . . . and reshuffled . . .

Again, this is a much-debated passage.

11 As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction. 12 And the ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast. 13 These are united in yielding their power and authority to the beast; 14 they will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.”

Rev17 Jesus-King-of-Kings

The victory of Christ over the empire of the antichrist!

15 And he said to me, “The waters that you saw, where the whore is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages. 16 And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the whore; they will make her desolate and naked; they will devour her flesh and burn her up with fire. 17 For God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by agreeing to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God will be fulfilled. 18 The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.”

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Music:

HERE  is a throwback from Petra, a music group regarded as a pioneer of the Christian rock and contemporary Christian music genres.  Formed in 1972, the band took its name from the Greek word for “rock.”  They disbanded formally in 2006.  I like the driving energy of their rendition of “King of Kings” (see verse 14 above) and “Jesus, Glorious One.”

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New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)  New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

1381.) Revelation 16

August 18, 2014

Rev16 bowls

Revelation 16   (NRSV)

The Bowls of God’s Wrath

The descriptive details are not to be understood literally, but as contributing to the general effect of intense calamity and terror.  (The New Oxford Annotated Bible)

What John’s hearers are now presented with is a repeated proclamation, with ever increasing intensity, that humanity must ultimately be held accountable for the choices it has made, if God is indeed the God of justice and faithfulness.

–Ian Boxall (and all following comments in green)

Then I heard a loud voice from the temple telling the seven angels, “Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.”

Since no one could enter the temple (Revelation 15:8), this loud voice from the temple must be God Himself, who personally initiates the horrific judgment of the bowls.

–David Guzik

So the first angel went and poured his bowl on the earth, and a foul and painful sore came on those who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped its image.

This recalls the sixth Egyptian plague, which brought festering boils on the Egyptians and their livestock (Exodus 9:8-12).  This horrid physical mark echoes the invisible but far more destructive branded mark of the monster (Revelation 13:16-17).

The second angel poured his bowl into the sea, and it became like the blood of a corpse, and every living thing in the sea died.

The third angel poured his bowl into the rivers and the springs of water, and they became blood.

KWS Mona Lake dead fish 6.JPG

The actions of the second and third angels together reflect the first Egyptian plague, in which the River Nile, and the other waters of Egypt (its rivers, canals, ponds, and pools of water) turned to blood, killing all the fish (Exodus 7:14-24).

And I heard the angel of the waters say,

“You are just, O Holy One, who are and were,
    for you have judged these things;
because they shed the blood of saints and prophets,
    you have given them blood to drink.
It is what they deserve!”

And I heard the altar respond,

“Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty,
    your judgments are true and just!”

In contrast to the deadly blood of the plague, we see the life-giving blood of Jesus and praise the Lamb!

The fourth angel poured his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire; they were scorched by the fierce heat, but they cursed the name of God, who had authority over these plagues, and they did not repent and give him glory.

"Scorched by the Sun" by Peter Olsen.   ©1974-2009 Peter Olsen

“Scorched by the Sun” by Peter Olsen. ©1974-2009 Peter Olsen

The fourth bowl-plague, with its focus on the sun, brings to mind the the ninth plague of Egypt, in which darkness covered the land for three days (Exodus 10:21-29).  But here the opposite effect occurs.  Rather than the sun being darkened, it was permitted (a divine passive, expressing God’s ultimate control) to scorch people with fire, a sign of judgment.

10 The fifth angel poured his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness; people gnawed their tongues in agony, 11 and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and sores, and they did not repent of their deeds.

"The Great Day of His Wrath," by John Martin, 1853 (Tate Britain, London)

“The Great Day of His Wrath,” by John Martin, 1853 (Tate Britain, London)

The fifth angel pours his bowl upon the throne of the monster.  The result of this, namely that the monster’s royal rule was thrown into darkness, is a much closer parallel to the ninth Egyptian plague (Exodus 10:21-29).  The response of the people, to curse God, shows their hardness of heart.  The people who belong to the dark not only hate the light, they cannot comprehend the light and so they choose to remain where they are (as in another of John’s books, John 1:5 — And the light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out.)

12 The sixth angel poured his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up in order to prepare the way for the kings from the east. 13 And I saw three foul spirits like frogs coming from the mouth of the dragon, from the mouth of the beast, and from the mouth of the false prophet. 14 These are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty.

the plague of frogs from The Usborne Children's Bible

the plague of frogs from The Usborne Children’s Bible

The consequences of the sixth bowl evoke two scenes from the original Exodus narrative:  the drying up of the waters of the Sea of Reeds (Exodus 14:21-25), and the second Egyptian plague, which brought frogs (Exodus 8:1-15).  The only other references to frogs in the Bible are in relation to this Exodus plague.  Hearers of the Apocalypse would be in no doubt that the new Exodus journey, in which the Lamb leads a new people from “every nation and tribe, people and language,” had reached its climax.

15 (“See, I am coming like a thief!  Blessed is the one who stays awake and is clothed, not going about naked and exposed to shame.”)

Rev blessed

It seems to be the voice of Christ, reassuring the listeners that he has already defeated the powers of evil on the cross.  He encourages them to stay awake and alert, with even their clothing clean and in a state of readiness.

Garments are pictures of spiritual and practical righteousness. We are given the righteousness of Jesus as a garment (Galatians 3:27), but we are also called to “put on” the nature of Jesus in terms of practical holiness (Ephesians 4:20-24).

16 And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Harmagedon.

Rev16 Armageddon

Har-Magedon, or its more popular spelling Armageddon, contains associations which run deep in the collective psyche of Western culture.  In popular imagination it is associated with cosmic destruction and, since the middle of the twentieth century, nuclear war.  Located literally on a map of the Middle East, it plays a prominent role in futurist “end-time” scenarios which have serious implications in the political arena.  This is not a battle instigated by humanity, however.  And in line with Revelation’s symbolic geography, it is not to be located at any particular spot on the earth’s surface.  Rather, Revelation evokes memories of battles won and lost, anxieties about enemies still around, and traditions about the great battle yet to come.  All these coalesce in the evocative name Har-Magedon.

17 The seventh angel poured his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple, from the throne, saying, “It is done!”

Again from John (John 19:30), from his account of the crucifixion — “It is finished.”

18 And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a violent earthquake, such as had not occurred since people were upon the earth, so violent was that earthquake. 19 The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. God remembered great Babylon and gave her the wine-cup of the fury of his wrath. 20 And every island fled away, and no mountains were to be found; 21 and huge hailstones, each weighing about a hundred pounds, dropped from heaven on people, until they cursed God for the plague of the hail, so fearful was that plague.

Rev16 justice-love

God remembered.  The idea that God remembers, both to save and to judge, is well established in the biblical tradition.  This is not because God is some unforgiving tyrant who harbours grudges and store them up for the future.  Rather it is because ultimately God does not forget his people, and what they have had to endure.  There are times when earth calls to heaven for justice:  genocide or violent rape, terrorism or cruel and dehumanizing dictatorships, are regarded as unacceptable even by fragile human standards of justice.  Arrogance and oppression must not be allowed to go unchecked indefinitely.  Here the final collapse of Babylon is announced. 

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Music:

Oh, to be clothed in the garment of righteousness from Jesus Christ!  HERE  is Hope Koehler (Wow!  What a voice!) and The American Spiritual Ensemble with “I wanna be ready.”

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New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)   New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

1380.) Revelation 15

August 15, 2014

Rev15 7 angels with 7 plagues

Revelation 15  (NRSV)

The Angels with the Seven Last Plagues

Then I saw another portent in heaven, great and amazing: seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is ended.

This idea is also in Leviticus 26:21 — Then, if you walk contrary to Me, and are not willing to obey Me, I will bring on you seven times more plagues, according to your sins. These seven last plagues are God’s judgment on a disobedient and contrary world.

–David Guzik (and all following comments in red)

And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands.

Because many of the images in this chapter are connected with the Book of Exodus, some simply see an indication of the color red (fire), and with it an allusion to the Red Sea and the deliverance from bondage. Also in this chapter we see plagues, Moses, the tabernacle, and the cloud of God’s glory. This chapter shows the ultimate Exodus, the freedom of God’s people from a sinful and persecuting world.

And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb:

“Great and amazing are your deeds,
    Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways,
    King of the nations!
Lord, who will not fear
    and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
    All nations will come
    and worship before you,
for your judgments have been revealed.”

My son Devlin has joked about the me-ness of certain Christian songs — “Here I am singing about me singing about Jesus.”  This song, however, is entirely focused on the Lord, and all the pronouns refer to the Lord, “you,”  and not to the worshiper, “me.”

After this I looked, and the temple of the tent of witness in heaven was opened,

Exodus 25:8-9 and Hebrews 8:9 remind us that the tabernacle God told Moses to build was based on a heavenly pattern. The temple of the tabernacle here refers to the heavenly reality of the tabernacle, not the earthly copy.

and out of the temple came the seven angels with the seven plagues, robed in pure bright linen, with golden sashes across their chests. Then one of the four living creatures gave the seven angels seven golden bowls

Golden bowls, resembling the bronze basins used by the priests in the sacrificial ritual (Exodus 27:3).  (The New Oxford Annotated Bible)

full of the wrath of God, who lives forever and ever; and the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power,

When the cloud of glory fills the temple in heaven, no one can enter. It was the same when Moses could not enter the Tabernacle when the smoke of the cloud of God’s glory, sometimes called the Shekinah, filled the tent (Exodus 40:34-35).

and no one could enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were ended.

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Music:

“The Song of Moses” — here are three completely different songs, each quite lovely.  I couldn’t choose just one!  So you take your pick!  HERE by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.  HERE  by Aaron Keyes.  HERE  by Paul Wilbur.

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New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)   New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

1379.) Revelation 14

August 14, 2014

Rev14 die in the Lord

Revelation 14  (NRSV)

It is interesting to me that, just as I am posting Revelation and we are reading about the glories of heaven and the majesty of God, my precious father has been called home to Jesus.  I thank God for the new song Daddy is now singing to his blessed Redeemer, and for the cross of Christ that opens the door to everlasting life for all who believe.

Chapter 14:  An interlude of three visions intended to reassure the church amid trials and persecutions.  (The New Oxford Annotated Bible)

The Lamb and the 144,000

The Lamb and those redeemed from the earth.

Then I looked, and there was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion!

The two beast of chapter 13 come one from the sea and one from the earth.  Both occupy low-lying places of the terrain.  The Lamb stands upon the mountain.  Geographically, John displays the dominance of the Lamb over the beasts.

–Robert H. Conn

And with him were one hundred forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.

In Revelation 7, the 144,000 are seen at the beginning of the Great Tribulation. Revelation 14 shows them in triumph at the end of the Great Tribulation.

–David Guzik

And I heard a voice from heaven like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder; the voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, and they sing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the one hundred forty-four thousand who have been redeemed from the earth. It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins; these follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They have been redeemed from humankind as first fruits for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found; they are blameless.

The Messages of the Three Angels

Three angels announce the coming judgment.

Then I saw another angel flying in midheaven, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation and tribe and language and people. He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgment has come; and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

1) Babylon (Rome) is as good as fallen.

Then another angel, a second, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.”

2) The beast’s worshipers will face eternal torment.

Then another angel, a third, followed them, crying with a loud voice, “Those who worship the beast and its image, and receive a mark on their foreheads or on their hands, 10 they will also drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured unmixed into the cup of his anger, and they will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image and for anyone who receives the mark of its name.”

12 Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus.

Rev blessed13 And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who from now on die in the Lord.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them.”

3) The faithful will find rest and blessedness.

Psalm 116:15

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful servants.

HELLOMOTO

Jasper Riskedahl
April 28, 1915 – August 2, 2014

Rest in the arms of Jesus, Daddy. 
Ninety-nine years of living is a long time,
and you lived with faith and integrity, honesty and joy.

I love you.

Reaping the Earth’s Harvest

The final judgment of God, involving the in-gathering of saints by one like a son of man and the assembling of the wicked for judgment.

14 Then I looked, and there was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like the Son of Man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand! 15 Another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to the one who sat on the cloud, “Use your sickle and reap, for the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.” 16 So the one who sat on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was reaped.

Rev14 sickle

Matthew 13:24-30 (NLT)

Here is another story Jesus told: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. But that night as the workers slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat, then slipped away. When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew.

“The farmer’s workers went to him and said, ‘Sir, the field where you planted that good seed is full of weeds! Where did they come from?’

“‘An enemy has done this!’ the farmer exclaimed.

“‘Should we pull out the weeds?’ they asked.

“‘No,’ he replied, ‘you’ll uproot the wheat if you do.  Let both grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds, tie them into bundles, and burn them, and to put the wheat in the barn.’”

17 Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18 Then another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over fire, and he called with a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, “Use your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” 19 So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and gathered the vintage of the earth, and he threw it into the great wine press of the wrath of God.

This vivid picture of judgment was the inspiration for The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

 Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord,

He is trampling out the vineyard where the grapes of wrath are stored,

He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword,

His truth is marching on!

20 And the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the wine press, as high as a horse’s bridle, for a distance of about two hundred miles.

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Music:

HERE  is the Robert Shaw Chorale (none better!) and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

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New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)   New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

1378.) Revelation 13

August 13, 2014
The beast from the sea

The beast from the sea

Revelation 13  (NRSV)

The First Beast

Then the dragon took his stand on the sand of the seashore.

Having seen a terrifying dragon expelled from heaven, John now turns his attention to the two lower realms, where the forces of chaos and evil are still at work:  first the sea and then the earth.

–Ian Boxall (and all following comments in blue)

And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads; and on its horns were ten diadems, and on its heads were blasphemous names. And the beast that I saw was like a leopard, its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And the dragon gave it his power and his throne and great authority. One of its heads seemed to have received a death-blow, but its mortal wound had been healed. In amazement the whole earth followed the beast. They worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?”

The beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them.

However powerful the monster appears to be, and however much it threatens the Church, God is ultimately in control and granting permission for this temporary state of affairs to exist.  Revelation ultimately rejects a cosmic dualism between two opposing gods or principles of good and evil.  God may not actively will the activity of the monster, but God’s world is such that it is allowed to function . . . only for a limited time.

It was given authority over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all the inhabitants of the earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slaughtered.

This deeply meaningful title for Jesus reminds us that God’s plan of redemption was set in place before He even created the beings who would be redeemed. God wasn’t “surprised” by the fall of Adam or any other evidence of the fallen nature of man. God isn’t making it up as He goes along. It is all going according to plan.

  • God the Son had a relationship of love and fellowship with God the Father before the foundation of the world (John 17:24)
  • The work of Jesus was ordained before the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:20)
  • God chose His redeemed before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4)
  • Names are written in the Book of Life before the foundation of the world (Revelation 17:8)
  • The kingdom of heaven was prepared for the redeemed before the foundation of the world (Matthew 25:34)

–David Guzik

Let anyone who has an ear listen:

Mark 4:9 (NLT)

Then he said, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”

Perhaps the exalted Christ is interrupting here, too –

10 If you are to be taken captive,
    into captivity you go;
if you kill with the sword,
    with the sword you must be killed.

Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.

This call for the faithful perseverance of the holy ones is a call that has resounded across the centuries.  Against the backdrop of Nazi dominance in 1930s Germany, for example, Dietrich Bonhoeffer urged the German churches to become a distinctive community which listened to the Apocalypse.

The Second Beast

a beast from the earth

The beast from the earth

11 Then I saw another beast that rose out of the earth; it had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon.

John’s description of the second monster anticipates its ability to lead human beings astray.  First, it has two horns like a lamb’s horns — a satanic parody of the slaughtered yet risen Lamb:  its lamb-like appearance, without the assistance of insight, could easily lead to a case of mistaken identity, even amongst Christians.  When it opens its mouth, however, it speaks like a dragon.  Its ultimate dependence upon Satan, whose words it utters rather than the true words of God, becomes clear.

12 It exercises all the authority of the first beast on its behalf, and it makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound had been healed. 13 It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in the sight of all;

–like Elijah did with the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18

14 and by the signs that it is allowed to perform on behalf of the beast, it deceives the inhabitants of earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that had been wounded by the sword and yet lived; 15 and it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast so that the image of the beast could even speak and cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be killed. 16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell who does not have the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. 18 This calls for wisdom: let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person. Its number is six hundred sixty-six.

Rev12 666

Those persuaded to worship the monster are forced to receive a branded mark on their right hand or on their forehead.  It is probably an allusion to the branded mark or tattoo imposed on slaves or prisoners of war, often made on the forehead, which proclaimed that its recipient now belonged to another.  The Jewish John would probably also detect a demonic parody of contemporary Jewish practice, whereby phylacteries containing words of the Shema were bound on the forehead and the left hand. 

But whatever allusions underlie this description, the branded mark is not a physical mark but a symbolic one.  It cannot be seen by the naked eye (any more than the sealing of God’s servants), but only in apocalyptic vision.  It is the demonic counterpart  to those who have the name or seal of God or the Lamb on their foreheads.  It is a mark of ownership, a reminder that where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Matthew 6:21).  It marks out those who belong to earth from those who belong to heaven.

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Music:

Given the starkness of the choice — heaven or earth?  the Lamb or the beast?  free or slave? — it is utterly clear, and we joyfully choose God!  HERE  is Hillsong and “I Belong to You.”

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New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)   New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 


1377.) Revelation 12

August 12, 2014

Rev12 woman dragon

Revelation 12  (NRSV)

The Woman and the Dragon

A great portent appeared in heaven:

This is the first of seven signs that John relates, and is described as a great sign. In Revelation chapters 12, 13, and 14 the main figures of the Great Tribulation are described, and this great sign introduces the first of the seven:

  • The woman, representing Israel
  • The dragon, representing Satan
  • The man-child, referring to Jesus
  • The angel Michael, head of the angelic host
  • The offspring of the woman, representing Gentiles who come to faith in the Tribulation
  • The beast out of the sea, representing the antichrist
  • The beast out of the earth, representing the false prophet who promotes the antichrist

–David Guzik (and all following comments in red)

a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pangs, in the agony of giving birth.

The woman appears to be the heavenly representative of God’s people, first as Israel (from whom Jesus the Messiah was born, v. 5), then as the Christian Church (which is persecuted by the dragon, v. 13).  (The New Oxford Annotated Bible)

Then another portent appeared in heaven: a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born.

The dragon is identified in v. 9 as the Devil or Satan. 

And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron.

Psalm 2:7-9  (NIV)

I will proclaim the Lord’s decree:

He said to me, “You are my son;
    today I have become your father.
Ask me,
    and I will make the nations your inheritance,
    the ends of the earth your possession.
You will break them with a rod of iron;
    you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”

But her child was snatched away and taken to God and to his throne; and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, so that there she can be nourished for one thousand two hundred sixty days.

Prepared uses the same ancient Greek word Jesus used in I go to prepare a place for you (John 14:2-3). This demonstrates that God’s careful planning works on earth as well as in heaven.

The church is sustained by God.  (The New Oxford Annotated Bible)

Michael Defeats the Dragon

Victory of St. Michael by Raphael, 16th century

“St. Michael Vanquishing Satan” by Raphael, 1518 (The Louvre)

And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon.

This is a dramatic scene of battle between good angels and bad angels, faithful angels and fallen angels. The dragon represents Satan (Revelation 12:9), and Satan is not the counterpart of God — God has no counterpart. If anyone, Satan is the counterpart of Michael, who seems to be the chief angel opposite this chief of fallen angels.

The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.

This single verse uses many different titles for our spiritual enemy, including Dragon, serpent of old, the Devil, Satan, and he who deceives the whole world. These titles describe Satan as vicious, an accuser, an adversary, and a deceiver.

His angels are also the same as the third of the stars of heaven described in Revelation 12:4. Since Satan only drew a third of the stars of heaven, it means that two-thirds of the angels remained faithful to God.

10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming,

“Now have come the salvation and the power
    and the kingdom of our God
    and the authority of his Messiah,
for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down,
    who accuses them day and night before our God.
11 But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb
    and by the word of their testimony,
for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.

Here are our keys for being an overcomer and getting victory over Satan’s accusations, over his deception, and over his violence! 

The blood of the Lamb:  Satan can remind us of all our sins and actually our sins may be worse than what he says, but the blood of Jesus has washed us clean and we are made righteous by the work of Jesus on the cross. 

The word of our testimony:  And once we have seen and heard and experienced God’s love and grace and forgiveness, we can reject his lies.  Remember that Martin Luther would rebuke the devil’s temptations, saying, “I am baptized!”

In the face of death:  And if we do not cling to our lives, what threat really does Satan have over us?  If we believe to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21), then how can Satan’s violence against us be effective?

Rev12 v-11

12 Rejoice then, you heavens
    and those who dwell in them!
But woe to the earth and the sea,
    for the devil has come down to you
with great wrath,
    because he knows that his time is short!”

The Dragon Fights Again on Earth

13 So when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. 14 But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle, so that she could fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to her place where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time.

15 Then from his mouth the serpent poured water like a river after the woman, to sweep her away with the flood.

by Pat Marvenko Smith

by Pat Marvenko Smith

16 But the earth came to the help of the woman; it opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from his mouth. 

What might this mean?

The woman is now the church.  The dragon pursues the woman.  The Christians of John’s time, suffering under the persecution of the Emperor Domitian, now know that Domitian is the dragon, the devil’s instrument.  Ironically, Domitian regarded himself as the incarnation of Apollo, a pagan god.

Given wings, the woman flees to safety, as, possibly, very many Christians had gone, for the present, to be with God.  The event then reaches in to the riches of the Exodus story for some of its meaning.  The dragon spews water after the fleeing woman,  The earth swallows the water, making a safe way for her.  The church is saved, just as the people of Israel had been saved during the Exodus when God parted the waters, allowing them to move to safety over dry ground.

–Robert H. Conn

17 Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus.

The First Beast

18 Then the dragon took his stand on the sand of the seashore.

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Music:

HERE  Jeremy Camp sings “Overcome.”  Such an encouraging piece!

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New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Images courtesy of:
woman and dragon (from Frank Breaden, Pictorial Aid for Bible Study).

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