1385.) Revelation 20

August 22, 2014

Rev20 Thousand_Year_Reign_With_Christ

Revelation 20  (NRSV)

The Thousand Years

This chapter has led to many differences among Christians.  What is the meaning and the timing of the millennium?  Let’s start by defining some terms, realizing that even the meanings of the terms are subject to argument.

The Millennium: The thousand-year reign of Christ mentioned in Revelation, chapter 20.  (My husband has a saying:  The millennium is a thousand years of peace over which theologians war.)

Premillennialism: The belief that the Second Coming of Christ occurs before the millennium, which is a literal 1000 years. The resurrection of Christians occurs at the beginning of the millennium, the resurrection of the unsaved at the end of the millennium. It will be the fulfillment of Old Testament promises to ethnic Israel, that the prophecies of the promised earthly kingdom will be fulfilled and Jerusalem will be a shining city from which Jesus reigns on earth over all other nations.

Postmillennialism: The belief that the Second Coming of Christ occurs after the millennium. There is an increase in the spread of God’s rule in every area of life during the millennium (a figurative concept referring to the entire New Testament age). The kingdom of God is a present reality, and its purpose is essentially to usher in the reign of Christ. It is expected that all nations are converted to Christianity followed by one thousand years of peace before Christ’s return. It isn’t until after the thousand years of peace that there will be an outbreak of apostasy and rebellion against God; it is during this time that the Antichrist will step into the picture before he is vanquished by the return of Christ.

Amillennialism: The belief that the Second Coming occurs at the end of history, like postmillennialism, but there is no earthly millennium. The millennium is purely spiritual, applying only to heaven and the Church, a symbolic representation of the current church age. The term one thousand years is a metaphor for a long time. This view also holds that the kingdom does not refer to ethnic Israel proper, but instead to all of God’s saints.

Click on this image to see it enlarged.

Click on this image to see it enlarged.

My position?  Christ said his coming will be like a thief in the night, and I try to be ready at any moment!

Seven final visions:  No. 3

Rev20 angelchain

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and locked and sealed it over him, so that he would deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years were ended.

“The final importance of Satan is perhaps indicated in the fact that it is not the Father who deals with him, nor the Christ, but only an unnamed angel.”

–Leon L. Morris

After that he must be let out for a little while.

Seven final visions:  No. 4

Then I saw thrones, and those seated on them were given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection.

Rev blessed6 Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. Over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him a thousand years.

2 Timothy 2:11-13  (ESV)

The saying is trustworthy, for:

If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.

Satan’s Doom

Seven final visions:  No. 5

Rev20 Satan lake of fire
When the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, in order to gather them for battle; they are as numerous as the sands of the sea. They marched up over the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from heaven and consumed them. 10 And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

Finally, evil is extinguished forever.

The Dead Are Judged

Seven final visions:  No. 6

Rev20 book-of-life
11 Then I saw a great white throne and the one who sat on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books. 13 And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and all were judged according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; 15 and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.

Saved by faith, judged by works.  Two sides of the same coin.  As James wrote, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:26).  Let us ask God to help us grow in faith and excel in good works!

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Music:

What is under your name, my name, in the books that will be opened on that great day?  HERE  is a song that speaks to that report, which we write every day as with the help of the Holy Spirit we choose our words and our deeds to honor the Lord.

From Wikipedia:

“I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” is a Christian hymn originating from India.

The lyrics are based on the last words of a man in Assam, north-east India, who along with his family was converted to Christianity in the middle of the 19th century through the efforts of a Welsh missionary. Called to renounce his faith by the village chief, the convert declared, “I have decided to follow Jesus.” In response to threats to his family, he continued, “Though no one joins me, still I will follow.” His wife was killed, and he was executed while singing, “The cross before me, the world behind me.” This display of faith is reported to have led to the conversion of the chief and others in the village.

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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.

1384.) Revelation 19

August 21, 2014
calligraphy by Timothy Botts

calligraphy by Timothy Botts

Revelation 19   (NRSV)

The Rejoicing in Heaven

News is received of Babylon’s demise, and heaven responds with a liturgy of praise.  And it is loud!

After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying,

Back in Revelation 7:9-14, we saw a great multitude saved out of the Great Tribulation, ready for the end of the world system and the Antichrist’s reign on earth. Here, this great multitude, the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures all join in celebrating the fall of the Antichrist and the world system that supported him.

–David Guzik (and all further comments in red)

“Hallelujah!

“Hallelujah” is Hebrew for “Praise the Lord.”

Salvation and glory and power to our God,
    for his judgments are true and just;
he has judged the great whore
    who corrupted the earth with her fornication,
and he has avenged on her the blood of his servants.”

Once more they said,

“Hallelujah!
The smoke goes up from her forever and ever.”

The song makes clear that God’s actions are not arbitrary.  The harlot has corrupted the earth, God’s creation.  She has also exacted the ultimate price from the martyrs.  God’s actions appear appropriate to those who suffered through the difficult days.

It does seem less than Christian to rejoice in the maiming of others, no matter how evil they have been.  John does not sidestep the issue.  In his view, justice related closely to mercy; in fact, it is one aspect of it.  Those who remained faithful have earned the right to the reward, the other side of which is the justice meted out to those who opted for less honorable paths.  It is important to bear in mind through the final chapters that John does not see punishment as a contradiction to God’s nature.  Christians throughout the centuries, however, have disputed John’s view of how that justice is, and will be, expressed.  None have disagreed with him that justice matters greatly to God.

–Robert H. Conn

And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who is seated on the throne, saying,

“Amen. Hallelujah!”

And from the throne came a voice saying,

“Praise our God,
    all you his servants,
and all who fear him,
    small and great.”

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunderpeals, crying out,

“Hallelujah!
For the Lord our God
    the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
    and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
    and his bride has made herself ready;

The heavenly celebration is not for the defeat of the harlot.  It is the introduction to a marriage feast.

–Robert H. Conn

Rev19 TheMarriageSupper

“In Biblical times a marriage involved two major events, the betrothal and the wedding. These were normally separated by a period of time during which the two individuals were considered husband and wife and as such were under the obligations of faithfulness. The wedding began with a procession to the bride’s house, which was followed by a return to the house of the groom for the marriage feast. By analogy, the church, espoused to Christ by faith, now awaits the parousia when the heavenly groom will come for his bride and return to heaven for the marriage feast which lasts throughout eternity.”

–Robert H. Mounce

to her it has been granted to be clothed
    with fine linen, bright and pure”—

for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

Rev blessedAnd the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are true words of God.”

On that day, everyone will see the church for what she really is: the precious bride of Jesus. “The Bride of Christ is a sort of Cinderella now, sitting among the ashes. She is like her Lord, ‘despised and rejected of men'; the watchmen smite her, and take away her veil from her; for they know her not, even as they knew not her Lord. But when he shall appear, then shall she appear also, and in his glorious manifestation she also shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of the Father.”

–Charles Haddon Spurgeon

10 Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your comrades who hold the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”

The Rider on the White Horse

Seven final visions:  No. 1

Jesus returns!

Jesus returns!

According to Zechariah 14:3-4, when Jesus returns He will come first to the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. The plea of Isaiah 64:1-2 is now fulfilled: Oh, that You would rend the heavens! That You would come down! That the mountains might shake at Your presence; as fire burns brushwood, as fire causes water to boil; to make Your name known to Your adversaries, that the nations may tremble at Your presence!

11 Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse! Its rider is called Faithful and True,

This glorious title shows Jesus is the keeper of promises, including His promises of judgment.

and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, wearing fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, “King of kings and Lord of lords.”

The Beast and Its Armies Defeated

Seven final visions:  No. 2

This chilling scene is the antithesis of the Lamb’s wedding banquet, to which God’s people have just been invited (Revelation 19:9).  Christian audiences may also hear it as a gross parody of the Eucharistic banquet.

–Ian Boxall 

17 Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly in midheaven, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, 18 to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of the mighty, the flesh of horses and their riders—flesh of all, both free and slave, both small and great.” 19 Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against the rider on the horse and against his army. 20 And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed in its presence the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. 21 And the rest were killed by the sword of the rider on the horse, the sword that came from his mouth;

Allow me some poetic license with Luther’s hymn “A Mighty Fortress” — “Lo, their doom is sure; one little word shall fell them.”

and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.

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Music:

We join the great multitude in heaven (verse 6) and Michael W. Smith to praise the one who is Faithful and True —   HERE  is “Hallelujah! For the Lord God Almighty Reigns!”

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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.

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.

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