1387.) Revelation 22

August 26, 2014

Rev22 13

Revelation 22   (NRSV)

The River of Life

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city.

Psalm 46:4-5  (NIV)

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
    God will help her at break of day.

On either side of the river is the tree of life

The Bible begins with a tree of life (Genesis 3:22-24) which man was not allowed to eat from after the sin at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Now we see the tree of life again.

–David Guzik (and all following comments in red)

with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3 Nothing accursed will be found there any more.

In heaven, the curse is gone. Since the fall, man and creation have lived with the effect of the curse described in Genesis 3:16-19: sorrow and pain in childbirth for women, friction between the sexes, the necessity of hard and often futile work for man’s sustenance, and most of all death.

But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face,

1 Corinthians 13:12  (NIV)

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

Sun of my soul, O Savior dear,
It is not night if Thou art here!

And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true, for the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.”

“See, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”

Rev blessed

Luke 11:27-28   (NIV)

As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.”

He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

Epilogue and Benediction

I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me; but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your comrades the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God!”

10 And he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. 11 Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.”

12 “See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates.

Rev blessed

John 14:1-6 (NIV)

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

15 Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

16 It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”

These terms together mean that Jesus is the beginning, middle, and end for the Christian. “Preach orthodoxy, or any form of doxy; if you have left out Christ, there is no manna from heaven, no water from the rock, no refuge from the storm, no healing for the sick, no life for the dead. If you leave out Christ, you have left the sun out of the day, and the moon out of the night, you have left the waters out of the sea, and the foods out of the river, you have left the harvest out of the year, the soul out of the body, you have left joy out of heaven, yea, you have robbed all of its all. There is no gospel worth thinking of, much less worth proclaiming in Jehovah’s name, if Jesus be forgotten.”

–Charles Haddon Spurgeon

17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”
And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.

18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book; 19 if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

20 The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.”

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

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

Rev22 Graham quote
_________________________

Music:

HERE  is “Soon”  by Hillsong.

_________________________

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.

1386.) Revelation 21

August 25, 2014

Rev21 NewJerusalem

Revelation 21   (NRSV)

The New Heaven and the New Earth

After the worship in heaven and the removal of evil from the earth, one would expect God to constitute either a heavenly or an earthly paradise.  John sees it otherwise.  Conflict, anger, tears, and violence have filled the calendars of both places.  Neither is the proper setting for what God chooses to bring about.  God plans a new heaven and a new earth.

This has a precedent in the Old Testament.  Isaiah had written,  For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; for behold, I create a Jerusalem as a rejoicing, and her people a joy (Isaiah 65:17-19).

It is the New Jerusalem, Jerusalem rejoicing, that John now portrays.

–Robert H. Conn

Seven final visions:  No. 7

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem,

This is the Jerusalem of hope (Hebrews 12:22), the Jerusalem above (Galatians 4:26), the place of our real citizenship (Philippians 3:20).

coming down out of heaven from God,

Representing a sharp contrast to human attempts to build the tower of Babel up to heaven, this city is God’s gift.

–Ian Boxall

prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

Rev21 all things new

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

Vision of the New Jerusalem

Don’t be put off by the symbolism that is used in the Bible to describe heaven. This does not make it any less real. John Buckeridge, assistant editor of Alpha, says that when he was a child he imagined that everyone would be busy digging up the streets. “After all the preacher said that the streets of heaven were paved with gold—so I figured a jack hammer or pick-axe would be a lot more useful than a harp!” Heaven is no more literally made of gold and precious stones than the promised land of Canaan literally “flowed with milk and honey”, but the image being presented is clear enough in both cases. It is sad, however, when adults avoid the issues raised by the biblical teaching on heaven by poking fun at its symbolism. C. S. Lewis has a delightful  passage in Mere Christianity about this:

There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of ‘Heaven’ ridiculous by saying they do not want to “spend eternity playing harps.” The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them. All the scriptural imagery (harps, crowns, gold, etc.) is, of course, a merely symbolical attempt to express the inexpressible. Musical instruments are mentioned because for many people (not all) music is the thing known in the present life which most strongly suggests ecstasy and infinity. Crowns are mentioned to suggest the fact that those who are united with God in eternity share His splendour and power and joy. Gold is mentioned to suggest the timelessness of Heaven (gold does not rust) and the preciousness of it. People who take these symbols literally might as well think that when Christ told us to be like doves, He meant that we were to lay eggs.

http://www.christianity.co.nz/life_death8.htm

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. 11 It has the glory of God and a radiance like a very rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal. 12 It has a great, high wall with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates are inscribed the names of the twelve tribes of the Israelites; 13 on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. 14 And the wall of the city has twelve foundations, and on them are the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

15 The angel who talked to me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. 16 The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width; and he measured the city with his rod, fifteen hundred miles; its length and width and height are equal. 17 He also measured its wall, one hundred forty-four cubits by human measurement, which the angel was using. 18 The wall is built of jasper, while the city is pure gold, clear as glass. 19 The foundations of the wall of the city are adorned with every jewel; the first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst.

The primary echo here is of the breastplate of Israel’s high priest, which was adorned with twelve precious stones representing each of the twelve tribes (Exodus 28:17-20).  For this new Jerusalem is the city of the new priestly people, and of the Lamb who has already appeared to John as the heavenly high priest (Revelation 1:13).

–Ian Boxall

21 And the twelve gates are twelve pearls, each of the gates is a single pearl, and the street of the city is pure gold, transparent as glass.

 Rev21 street-paved-with-gold

You know the story about a rich man who wanted to take his money with him beyond the grave.  When he was nearing death, he prayed fervently about the matter.  An angel appear to him and said, “Sorry, you can’t take all your wealth with you after death, but the Lord will allow you to take one suitcase.  Fill it with whatever you wish.”  Overjoyed, the man got the largest suitcase he could find and filled it with pure gold bars.  Soon afterward he died and showed up at the gates of heaven.  St. Peter, seeing the suitcase, said, “Hold on, you can’t bring that in here with you.”  The man explained how God had given him special permission.

“OK,” said St. Peter.  “You can bring the suitcase in with you, but first I must check its contents.”  He opened the suitcase to see what worldly items this man had considered too precious to leave behind.  “I don’t believe it!” exclaimed St. Peter.  “You brought pavement??”

 22 I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.
In him there is no darkness at all;
the night and the day are both alike.
The Lamb is the light of the city of God:
Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus.
24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25 Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
“The exhortation warns present readers that the only way to participate in the future city is to turn one’s loyalties to the Lamb now.”
–Alan F. Johnson

_________________________

Music:

HERE  is “Jerusalem” beautifully sung by the incomparable Jessye Norman.

_________________________

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.

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!

_________________________

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.

_________________________

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.

_________________________

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!”

_________________________

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.

_________________________

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.
_________________________

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.”

_________________________

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.”

_________________________

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. 

_________________________

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.”

_________________________

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.