24
Jan
22

revelation 9… the trumpets continued

Revelation 9

13 Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew directly overhead, “Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!”

1 And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit. 2 He opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft. 3 Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth. 4 They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. 5 They were allowed to torment them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings someone. 6 And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them.

7 In appearance the locusts were like horses prepared for battle: on their heads were what looked like crowns of gold; their faces were like human faces, 8 their hair like women’s hair, and their teeth like lions’ teeth; 9 they had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle. 10 They have tails and stings like scorpions, and their power to hurt people for five months is in their tails. 11 They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit. His name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon.

The fifth trumpet and first woe

Here judgement comes not from heaven or earth but from under the earth. A star fallen from heaven is given the key to (and so controls) the Abyss. The Abyss (meaning bottomless) some say has its roots in the primal chaotic deep (Gen 1:2). It is the prison of demons. They are described as locusts echoing the plague in Egypt (Ex 10:12-15). Unlike the Egyptian locusts these do not attack the land but attack people, everyone but those sealed by God, the saints. In the OT plagues of locusts could be a punishment for idolatry. The locusts torment humanity taking from it the will to live. A locust sting is apparently several times more powerful than that of a wasp. Presumably their description as locusts conveys their appallingly large number while tails like scorpions suggests their power to hurt. Scorpions were also associated with demonic powers (Lk 10:17-20).

They erupt Vesuvius like from the sulphurous underworld and their hideous and terrifying appearance reveals their demonic nature (Joel 1-2). They are swift and powerful like war horses. Yet they are reasonable and have human intelligence. They claim regality wearing crowns they do not intend to lay before the throne. They have a gracious beauty (hair like women’s hair) yet are ferocious (lion’s teeth). They are well protected and furious in battle (breastplates of iron and sound of chariots). Their danger is not immediately obvious, it is in the tail. John writes of their king though locusts have no king, clearly we are looking at a symbol. (Prov 30:27). Their king is the angel from the Abyss. His name is Abaddon meaning destruction or Apollyon meaning destroyer; this aim is destruction. However they are limited. Once again he who sits on the throne holds the leash. They are not allowed to kill only torment and their duration is five months (apparently the typical length of a locust infestation).

Some see a reference here to the Parthian barbarians that threatened Rome. Rome that attacks God’s people will be attacked. Whatever the merits of this view, it seems likely, however, that these demons seek to beguile and deceive by all kinds of false ideologies and thinking. Their torment is psychological. They only afflict unbelievers. Their destructive lying philosophies drive people mad (Deut 28:28, 29, 34).They feed destructive lies that enslave. They may appear reasonable even good (human faces) but are ultimately demonic and produce despair. We can see something of this in the various ideologies that are gripping people today and turning God’s laws for good living on their heads; superficially plausible they bring only pain and anguish. Those who took the lives of God’s people now long to die.

A plague of locusts is a devastating thing in every sense of the word (Joel 1-2). They were considered a harbinger of the day of the Lord (1:15; 2:1). The day when God destroys those who destroy (11:18).

The first woe is passed and two woes have yet to come (v!12). The announcement is ominous.

13 Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar before God, 14 saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” 15 So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour, the day, the month, and the year, were released to kill a third of mankind. 16 The number of mounted troops was twice ten thousand times ten thousand; I heard their number. 17 And this is how I saw the horses in my vision and those who rode them: they wore breastplates the colour of fire and of sapphire and of sulphur, and the heads of the horses were like lions’ heads, and fire and smoke and sulphur came out of their mouths. 18 By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed, by the fire and smoke and sulphur coming out of their mouths. 19 For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails, for their tails are like serpents with heads, and by means of them they wound.

20 The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, 21 nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.

The Sixth Trumpet and second woe

We arrive at the penultimate trumpet. The sixth in each series always precedes the imminent arrival of the kingdom of God (Rev 11:14). In the previous woe permission was given to torment. Now the permission is to kill. The golden altar was where prayers oof the saints mingled with incense ascended to God (8:1-5). There we were on the threshold of the End and once again that is where we are. The angels have been prepared for this very time underlining God’s sovereignty in the trumpet devastation. Four angels are released who are bound at the great river the Euphrates. They are the architects of the coming destruction through mounted hordes.

As an initial reference, we seem to be looking at the Parthian hordes. They were enemies of Rome on the other side of the Euphrates and an attack on Rome by them was a fear. But they and Rome were but templates for a bigger canvas. The army is inconceivably vast and terrifying, far beyond the Parthian hordes (Ps 68:18). It is hellish in origin…. Breastplates the colour of fire and sulphur. (Rev 19:20) The horses have plagues of fire and smoke and sulphur coming out of their mouths. Their tails are like serpents. All this is devilish and designed to inculcate dread i.n the reader. However, we must remember we are reading imagery and symbols. We are not told what the corresponding reality will be. We should remember, however, that whatever the real world counterpart, it will be every bit as horrific as the symbol.

A third of humanity died.

Yet despite these judgements humanity does not repent. They persist in their idolatry. Idolatry may be literal or an attitude of heart that gives supreme allegiance to someone other than the one true God. The heart becomes hardened against God and will even curse him in defiance (16:10).

As with the seals an interlude follows before the seventh trumpet when ‘the mystery of God’ shown to his servants the prophets would be fulfilled (10:7). Partial judgement will give way to final judgement.

21
Jan
22

genesis 3… your desire shall be to your husband

I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be [contrary] to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” 17 And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife. and have eaten of the tree. of which I commanded you, You shall not eat of it,’. cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face. you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Genesis 3 is an account of the divine judgements that result from eating the forbidden fruit. The judgements are pronounced in reverse order – first the serpent is judged, then the woman and finally the man. It is the man who is primarily held responsible. It was Adam who, before Eve was created, received the command not to eat the forbidden fruit. Although Eve was clearly aware of the prohibition. Eve’s sin was persuading Adam to eat (the serpent knew what he was doing attacking Adam through his wife). Adam’s sin was his moral weakness in listening to his wife and defying God by breaking an express command.. Doubtless we can see some of the dynamics of the sexes in this episode; both compromised their God given role.

Many see the judgement that follows as a further play on these sex dynamics. Thus the ESV quoted above has God say to the woman,

Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.

The word ‘contrary’ is an interpretive addition making the sense of the passage a war between the sexes.

For a number of years I was convinced of this interpretation but now I’m not so sure. The word ‘desire’ can mean ‘to attempt to usurp or control’. Hence the ESV translation (Cf. Gen 4:7). Thus the woman seeks to dominate the man and he seeks to dominate her. The man appears to win the battle. However, ‘desire’ in itself is neutral. Desire can be evil or good. The desire of the woman may simply be the desire for a loving relationship with him; the desire to be his helper.

This seems a likely interpretation for a few reasons.

1. The war of the sexes is consciously a modern concept, I don’t know if it was a live issue and articulated as such in the ancient world. Certainly it doesn’t seem to be a dominant theme in Scripture though wives are encouraged to submit to their husbands and have a meek and quiet spirit (Eph 5:24; 1 Pet 3:4).

2. It seems unlikely that the judgement would be a propensity to sin – to seek to dominate her husband. God is not the author of sin. He tempts none to sin. This is a weighty point to my mind.

3. A judgement that incites to sin does not fit with the pattern of the judgements. For both Adam and Eve, God’s judgement is that the main foci of their lives turn against them. Thus, for Eve, the joy of childbirth is accompanied by pain. The husband to whom the woman as a homemaker reaches out will abuse his God-given authority, The man, whose labours are outside the home will find the sphere of his work constantly frustrates him. Indeed, it is this frustration in life’s activities that is the hallmark of life after the fall. Every appointed area of toil will become an area of trouble; every source of pleasure will involve pain; all that was intended for concord will now involve conflict.

And so it seems to me that ‘Her desire shall be contrary to her husband’ would be better translated, ‘her desire shall be towards her husband’. The judgement is not an ordained fault; it is distress in the area where previously there was delight. At one time this was the traditional interpretation and it may well be the best.

We praise God that in his grace these judgements are often alleviated and we do not receive as our sins deserve,

16
Jan
22

revelation 8 (2)… the seven trumpets

The Seven trumpets

The second series of judgements begin. Judgements are not a reason to despair but a reason to repent; in a sinful world God’s salvation always comes through judgement. The seventh seal ushered in the End. The trumpets repeat the pattern of the seals; they are not necessarily chronological except that, like the seals, they bring.history to a climax in the sixth and seventh trumpet. Since each ‘seven’ brings us to the end they must to some extent run concurrently. Like the seals, there is an interval between the sixth and seventh trumpet where once again the focus is primarily on the people of God. The trumpets introduce judgement on a larger scale than the seals – a third of the earth and not simply a quarter are affected. The trumpets are a warning, a wake up call (Ezek 33:1-5). These judgements and those of the bowls are frequently modelled on the judgments in Egypt only what were then judgements on one country are now judgements affecting the whole earth. The world like Pharaoh is called to repent, however, we read,

8: 20 The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, 21 nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.

As with Pharaoh, such is the human heart that judgement hardens it in its resolve to rebel. In the case of Jericho where the trumpets were sounded seven times they were announcements of imminent judgement. And with the seventh trumpet judgement fell.

In the later seven bowls the judgements are total. Here mercy is still evident.

Like the seals there is a four three divide. The last three are accompanied by three woes.

The first four trumpets

6 Now the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to blow them.

7 The first angel blew his trumpet, and there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, and these were thrown upon the earth. And a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.

8 The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. 9 A third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.

10 The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. 11 The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it had been made bitter.

12 The fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of their light might be darkened, and a third of the day might be kept from shining, and likewise a third of the night.

13 Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew directly overhead, “Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!”

The first trumpet

Now that God’s people are sealed judgements on the natural environment can take place (7:3). The first trumpet (hail, fire and blood) parallels the judgements on Egypt (Ex 9:22-25, Ps 78:47). Egypt’s judgements were aimed at exposing the weakness of the gods of Egypt, producing repentance in Pharaoh and the freeing of God’s people. The judgements initially created a change of heart in Pharaoh but it was superficial and temporary. Blood perhaps suggests death. The death of grass suggests economic collapse as grass was important to livestock. In these first trumpet judgements there is no sign of repentance.

These, if not symbolic, are mainly, it seems, ecological disasters (v7).

Second trumpet

It is difficult to determine how literally to read some of these judgements. The second trumpet on the face of it describes judgement on the sea. The sea turned to blood is again an echo of Egypt (Ex 7:20,21). Or is the great mountain a kingdom and the sea the nations of the world. Babylon is described as a burnt mountain (Jer 51:25). Babylon’s ruin brings ruin to part of the world economy suggested by ships (18:17-19). Something similar may be implied in this trumpet.

Third Trumpet

This time a star not a mountain is on fire. Again it may point to an ecological disaster but perhaps refers to the fall from grace of some major world leader who was or ought to have been a source of light and guidance. In Isaiah the demise of the king of Babylon is described as a star falling from heaven (Isa 14:12). The ramifications of the collapse of John’s star is bitterness and even death for many (Cf Jer 23:15). If God offers to those who believe springs of living water here the springs have become deadly (7:17; Jer 9:15)). God’s judgements involve the rise and fall of leaders sometimes with devastating consequences. It may refer too to a fallen angel (9:1).

Fourth Trumpet

Here the judgement seems more clearly ecological. Again it echoes the Exodus judgements (Ex 10:21-23). It is a judgement that anticipates the entire darkness of the day of the Lord (Matt 24:29; Isa 13:9-11). During the bowl plagues the kingdom of the beast is plunged into darkness (16:10). It may, however, point to the collapse of many leaders who can no longer be a light. Moral darkness is allowed increased sway in the world.

The reenacted Egyptian plagues show that the Lord alone is God but as in Egypt they produce no repentance.

The final three trumpets are accompanied by three woes introduced by a flying eagle or vulture a carrion-eating bird of prey and a sign of death nearby ( Rev 19:17,21). Judgements escalate and create more urgency. The threefold woe announces disaster (isa 5:8,9; Han 2:9,10).

13 Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew directly overhead, “Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!”

1 And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit. 2 He opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft. 3 Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth. 4 They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. 5 They were allowed to torment them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings someone. 6 And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them.

7 In appearance the locusts were like horses prepared for battle: on their heads were what looked like crowns of gold; their faces were like human faces, 8 their hair like women’s hair, and their teeth like lions’ teeth; 9 they had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle. 10 They have tails and stings like scorpions, and their power to hurt people for five months is in their tails. 11 They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit. His name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon.

The fifth trumpet and first woe

Here judgement comes not from heaven or earth but from under the earth. A star fallen from heaven is given the key (and so controls) to the Abyss. The Abyss (meaning bottomless) some say has its roots in the primal chaotic deep (Gen 1:2). It is the prison of demons. They are described as locusts echoing the plague in Egypt (Ex 10:12-15). Unlike the Egyptian locusts these do not attack the land but attack people, everyone but those sealed by God, the saints. In the OT plagues of locusts could be a punishment for idolatry. The locusts torment humanity taking from it the will to live. A locust sting is apparently several times more powerful than that of a wasp. Presumably their description as locusts conveys their appallingly large number while tails like scorpions suggests their power to hurt. Scorpions were also associated with demonic powers (Lk 10:17-20).

They erupt Vesuvius like from the sulphurous underworld and their hideous and terrifying appearance reveals their demonic nature (Joel 1-2). They are swift and powerful like war horses. Yet they are reasonable and have human intelligence. They claim regality wearing crowns they do not intend to lay before the throne. They have a gracious beauty (hair like women’s hair) yet are ferocious (lion’s teeth). They are well protected and furious in battle (breastplates of iron and sound of chariots). Their danger is not immediately obvious, it is in the tail. John writes of their king though locusts have no king, clearly we are looking at a symbol. (Prov 30:27). Their king is the angel from the Abyss. His name is Abaddon meaning destruction or Apollyon meaning destroyer; this aim is destruction. However they are limited. Once again he who sits on the throne holds the leash. They are not allowed to kill only torment and their duration is five months (apparently the typical length of a locust infestation).

Some see a reference here to the Parthian barbarians that threatened Rome. Rome that attacks God’s people will be attacked. Whatever the merits of this view, it seems likely, however, that these demons seek to beguile and deceive by all kinds of false ideologies and thinking. Their torment is psychological. They only afflict unbelievers. They drive people mad (Deut 28:28, 29, 34). Perhaps they feed destructive lies that enslave. They may appear reasonable even good (human faces) but are ultimately demonic and produce despair. We can see something of this in the various ideologies that are gripping people today and turning God’s laws for good living on their heads; superficially plausible they bring only pain and anguish. Those who took the lives of God’s people now long to die.

A plague of locusts is a devastating thing in every sense of the word (Joel 1-2). They were considered a harbinger of the day of the Lord (1:15; 2:1). The day when God destroys those who destroy (11:18).

The first woe is passed and two woes have yet to come (v!12). The announcement is ominous.

13 Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar before God, 14 saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” 15 So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour, the day, the month, and the year, were released to kill a third of mankind. 16 The number of mounted troops was twice ten thousand times ten thousand; I heard their number. 17 And this is how I saw the horses in my vision and those who rode them: they wore breastplates the colour of fire and of sapphire and of sulphur, and the heads of the horses were like lions’ heads, and fire and smoke and sulphur came out of their mouths. 18 By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed, by the fire and smoke and sulphur coming out of their mouths. 19 For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails, for their tails are like serpents with heads, and by means of them they wound.

20 The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, 21 nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.

The Sixth Trumpet and second woe

We arrive at the penultimate trumpet. The sixth in each series always precedes the arrival of the kingdom of God in the seventh (Rev 11:14). In the previous woe permission was given to torment. Now the permission is to kill. The golden altar was where prayers oof the saints mingled with incense ascended to God (8:1-5). There we were on the threshold of the End and once again that is where we are. The angels have been prepared for this very time underlining God’s sovereignty in the trumpet devastation. Four angels are released who are bound at the great river the Euphrates. They are the architects of the coming destruction through mounted hordes.

Some think the reference may be to the Parthian hordes. They were enemies of Rome on the other side of the Euphrates and an attack on Rome by them was a fear. If so they and Rome were but templates for a bigger canvas. The army is inconceivably vast and terrifying, far beyond the Parthian hordes (Ps 68:18). It is hellish in origin with.,,breastplates the colour of fire and sulphur. (Rev 19:20) The horses have plagues of fire and smoke and sulphur coming out of their mouths. Their tails are like serpents. All this is devilish and designed to inculcate dread in the reader. However, we must remember we are reading imagery and symbols. We are not told what the corresponding reality will be. We should remember, however, that whatever the real world counterpart, it will be every bit as horrific as the symbol.

A third of humanity died.

Yet despite these judgements humanity does not repent. They persist in their idolatry. Idolatry may be literal or an attitude of heart that gives supreme allegiance to someone other than the one true God. The heart becomes hardened against God and will even curse him in defiance (16:10).

As with the seals an interlude follows before the seventh trumpet when ‘the mystery of God’ shown to his servants the prophets would be fulfilled (10:7). Partial judgement will give way to final judgement.

09
Jan
22

revelation 8 (1)… the power of prayer

Revelation 8

The seventh seal.

Silence in heaven. It is the silence of stunned awe as final judgement is unleashed.

1 When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. 2 Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. 3 And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, 4 and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. 5 Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.’

In Revelation (ch 5) Jesus takes from the right hand of God a scroll with seven seals. It is God’s blueprint to bring history in a rebellious world to a conclusion. It contains various judgements that God has decreed to take place in the world including the final climactic day of judgement that will give way to God’s everlasting kingdom. To Jesus (the Lamb) is given the task of revealing and executing the contents of the scroll – God’s final judgements on the earth (Ps 2).

What is startling is that God’s plan to bring history to a conclusion takes into account the prayers of God’s people. In the heavenly temple the combined prayers of God’s people mingled with fragrant incense (much of Revelation borrows OT imagery) lead to an angel taking fire from the (golden) altar (Lev 16:12) and throwing it on the earth resulting in ‘peals of thunder, rumbling, flashes of lightning and an earthquake’ (16:8). This is metaphorical language for the arrival of the day of the Lord and final cataclysmic judgement on a godless world. History as we know it comes to an end and one of the direct reasons for this is the prayers of God’s people.

Presently the world is once again profoundly unstable. Destructive forces are pulling from various directions, all threatening to the church. One particularly nauseous evil is the internal corruption of the church itself. Ours is a world (and church) ripe for judgement. Personally I have little doubt that Covid is a judgements like those contained in the scroll. The judgements of the scroll are probably describing the days of the very end though Jesus speaks of horsemen like judgements throughout history (Matt 24:2-14). Certainly in our days Covid seems like the fourth horseman of the apocalypse has been riding; the rider on the pale horse’ or someone similar has been sent out (Rev 6:7,8) as a warning shot over the bows. Yet tragically, God’s judgements, while intended to lead to repentance, rarely do, instead hearts become hardened and human hubris arises – we will triumph… our science will solve it… glory to man in the highest. There is a singular absence of any sense that we must humble ourselves before God. Read the account of the seven trumpets in Revelation if you’re inclined to think adversity brings humanity to call on God (Rev 9). It doesn’t. God’s judgements largely create railing not repentance… they lead to cursing not contrition (Rev 16:9). Adversity simply causes human rage to grow.

In the face of rising evil what can we do? We can pray. We can pray ‘your kingdom come your will be done on earth as in heaven‘. On the face of things it seems so little. The world mocks pious praying Christianity. And we are tempted to wonder if they are right. John tells us the reality is these prayers are more powerful than all the armies of men and the rage of a million tweets.

It is the one who sits on the throne (Ch 4) who controls history. Events on earth are determined in heaven. It is the scroll that dictates the future not the crowd. And the scroll is partly shaped by the accumulated prayers of ‘all the saints’ dead or alive, every ‘how long O Lord‘ (6:9,10) and every ‘your kingdom come’ is heard by God and as a direct consequence of these combined prayers the fire of final judgement is hurled upon the earth. John’s focus is on the saints at the end of history but the truth straddles the whole history of the church. The cumulative cry of the saints and martyrs throughout history urges on the arrival of the kingdom.

Do you feel your prayers are ineffective? This text gives thee lie to such feelings. Our prayers are effective (Jas 5:16). They play an important role in hastening the day of God. Prayer not only changes us it changes history. These are robust times calling for robust faith. Therefore we ought always to pray and not to faint. May the Lord help us to persevere in believing prayer.

01
Jan
22

revelation 1 (5)… a time frame

Revelation has known a variety of interpretative approaches over the years. These inevitably affect the time frame in which the middle section of the book is considered to be set (Ch 6-18). Different systems understand this time period differently.

first, some general comments on time in Revelation

Revelation is apocalyptic prophecy. It stands in conscious continuity with previous. biblical prophecy (OT and NT) which was also sometimes apocalyptic (10:8-11). It is the last biblical prophecy bringing canonical prophecy to a climax and conclusion. John’s immediate template, living as he does in C1, is the Roman Empire. The End may well be played out in the C1 and C2 but if not a generation will come where Revelation’s prophecies will be realised.

the time is near

Time is important in Revelation. Revelation begins by commenting on time. Chapter 1:1 tells us the prophecy concerns ‘the things that must soon take place’ and that the ‘time is near’ (1:3). Later in Ch 1 a further time division occurs dividing the book into ‘the things you have seen – things that are and things that have to take place after this (1:19) The ‘things that are‘ appear to refer to the seven churches of Ch 2&3 while ‘the things that have to take place after this’ refer to events described in the main body of the book, Ch 4 – 22:5. In Ch 4, John is summoned to heaven (as God’s prophets often were) by the reigning Christ and told, ‘Come up here and I will show you the things that must take place after this.'(4:1). These ‘things’ are events revolving around the return of Christ, both preceding and succeeding it. Broadly speaking, Chs 4-18 describe events preceding Christ’s coming while 19-22 describe events at and beyond his coming. It is the time-frame of 4-18 that is our concern here.

imminency

In Revelation the End (the Second Coming and events surrounding it) is always near; it is imminent (1:3). OT prophecies envisaged a time at the close of history marked by climactic divine judgement and salvation. The final convulsions of history would take place ushering in the kingdom of God (Dan 2,7, 9, 12). Sometimes this time was called the ‘latter days‘ or ‘the last days’ (Dan 2:28). In Daniel it is also called, ‘the time of the End‘ (Dan 12:4).

In the OT the time of the End lay in the distant future. Daniel was told to seal his prophecy for it concerned a time far ahead (Dan 12:4,9 Cf. 8:24). With the advent of Messiah to Bethlehem Daniel’s future, however, began to be arrive. With Christ’s coming the time of the End began and its beginning implied that completion was imminent. And so John, as he describes the End, is instructed not to seal up the prophecy for ‘the time is near‘ about which he writes (22:10). This sense of ‘imminency’ marks the life of the NT church. The arrival of Jesus began the ‘last days’ the OT anticipated (Hebs 1:2, 9:26, Acts 2 :16-18; 2 Tim 4:1) and so for the early church the completion of the events began was ‘near‘. John in his letter says ‘it is the last hour’ (I Jn 2:18). Paul says, ‘the night is nearly over, the day is at hand’ (Roms 13:11,12). Peter says, ‘the end of all things is near’ (1 Pet 4:7). Given it is the last days it must be so… the church in every generation of the ‘last days’ lives with the end is in sight… the day is approaching (Hebs 10:25). We are alert and expectant (Rev 3:2,3; Matt 24:36-51). Imminency, in biblical sense of ‘near‘, grows out of the apostolic conviction that ‘the End’ had already begun. The events of the End had been set in motion in the arrival of Jesus and therefore their completion cannot be far away (Lk 18:8).

True, a tension exists. imminency sits alongside ‘delay’ (6:10,11; Matt 24:6, 45-51). Events that resemble the events of the End may occur yet the End is ‘not yet‘ (Matt 24:6). If events of the End don’t unfold as quickly as expected then Peter reminds us,

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

Imminency and ‘delay’ must be held in tandem. However, in Revelation the focus is emphatically on imminency. If in the opening verses of the book we are told ‘the time is near’ then three times in the closing epilogue Jesus says, ‘I am coming soon’.

Revelation’s stress on imminency is important. John is not asking his readers to envisage a protracted church age, rather he invites his C1 readers to live with the expectancy that the events described (6-18) may happen in their lifetime.

In Ch 4 and 5 John is a prophet in the heavenly throne room. He sees a scroll in the open hand of God which is taken by Christ, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the slain Lamb. It is the scroll of destiny, God’s decree for how history is to be brought to a conclusion. The stormy throne hints that judgements will be integral to the end. While the scroll eventually fades out of focus it Ch 6-18 describe the events that belong to the End.

6-18 judgements, characters and events

The judgements that the stormy throne implied and the scroll contained are visited upon the earth in subsequent chapters (6-18). In a literary sense these judgements provide the narratival backbone of 6-18. All other activity occurs around the framework of these judgements. In God’s world, God’s actions are primary even if they are acts of judgement. God’s judgement is dispensed through four series of seven (seven seals, trumpets, plagues (or bowls) and thunders, though the thunders remain concealed). The three revealed sevens display increasing intensity of judgement and have an advancing though overlapping time frame. Each sequence of seven reaches a climax with the sixth taking us to the brink of the End; the seventh in each brings history as we know it to an end with the final victory of God in Christ.

These sequences of seven (seals, trumpets and plagues or bowls) reveal we cannot read Revelation as a straightforward linear narrative. The sevens have a degree of chronological overlap not least being that each climaxes in the day of the Lord.

In a series of interludes mainly sandwiched between these divine judgements players are introduced who fill the stage in the final climactic scene of history. The principal focus in the interludes, other than God, is the people of God. Other actors are largely significant as they impact on the church. The people of God are prominent. They form the first interlude and appear in further interludes. Their preservation, persecution, worship, prophetic witness. and ultimate victory is highlighted.

The church (for I take it the saints in these chapters are the final generation of the church) is viewed variously as the messianic army of the Lamb that conquers through sacrifice (144.000), a multitude from every tribe and nation (Ch7), temple worshippers, the holy city, two fearless and martyred witnesses (Ch 11), and a woman clothed with the sun (Ch 12). They live through a period John calls, ‘the great tribulation’ (7:14) echoing Jesus’ reference to a time of ‘great tribulation’ at the end of history (Matt 24:21). This ‘tribulation‘ involves the wrath of Satan vented on the church through ‘the beast from the sea‘ and the ‘beast from the earth‘ (12,13). These beasts are demonic political and religious leaders working in tandem to deceive and destroy the people of God (Ch 13). Like all else in God’s creation they cannot act without divine consent. They are given divine permission to kill God’s people, however, God preserves his people in the way that is most necessary (11:3, 12:6); they may die but not a hair of their head will perish (11: 1-3; Lk 21:18).

Ultimately the trinity of evil (the dragon, beast and false prophet) do not fully destroy the holy city, the people of God. They do, however, destroy the corrupt city, Babylon the city of man. They destroy their own creation: one way God expresses his justice is by allowing evil to consume itself. With Babylon’s collapse, Christ returns judging and destroying all who oppose God and his people and bringing everlasting salvation. He conquers Satan’s forces, the beast, the false prophet and all who follow them. The destroyers will be destroyed in keeping with the biblical principle of justice, lex talionis or exact equivalent (Rev 11:18) and the righteous will be delivered in triumph to reign in God’s eternal kingdom. Rev 6-18 is a story of hope.

imminency revisited

C1 believers, hearing this letter read to them, would readily envisage its scenarios played out in the Roman world in which they lived. The language and allusions were Roman. Rome persecuted believers. Faithful witness had already led to martyrdom for some (Rev 2:13). Christianity did not sit comfortably in C1 Rome. Roman emperors and the cult of emperor worship could easily and quickly morph into John’s beast and false prophet. Satan’s final attack on the church through the beast and the false prophet was already at work in persecution, false teaching and seduction (2,3). And was not John’s seven-hilled city Rome (Rev 17:19)? That the End may arrive in their lifetime in their familiar Roman world seemed very possible.

Furthermore, John’s emphasis on the nearness of the End, a perspective common in the NT, no doubt filled the early church with expectation. The NT taught that signs of the End were already evident. Both John and Paul see elements of the final antichrist already at work. John writes,

Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour’ (1 Jn 2:18).

Paul, writing to the Thessalonians, says of the day of the Lord,

For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. 5 Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? 6 And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming’ (2 Thess 2:3-8).

If the End did not arrive with the first generation of Christians then the next generation will look out on the world anticipating the End arriving in their lifetime. Each successive generation of Christians lives with this sense of imminency, the sense that the End is near, that the end of all things is at hand (1 Pet 4:7). Only time reveals that ‘the end is not yet‘ (Matt 24:6). Traumas that seemed to signal the end proved to be but ‘birth pangs’ of the End (Matt 24 1-12) However, for one generation, alert and watching for the Lord’s return, contractions will give way to final convulsions that birth the kingdom of God. Christ will come to establish God’s kingdom. The stone cut out without hands will grind the kingdoms of men to powder and become a great mountain that fills the whole earth (Dan 2).

a futurist reading of 6-18

There are four main approaches to Revelation – preterism, historicism, idealism and futurism. Preterism believes the much of the prophecy was fulfilled in the C1. It faces problems in its dating of Revelation and the close chronology between the events of Revelation and Christ’s actual return. Historicism sees Revelation fulfilled in various ways through history but there is no agreement about historical references and fanciful schemes have brought this approach into disrepute. Idealism sees the prophecy as principles at work in history but not tied to specific historical events, however, prophecy in the OT was not abstract but described true historical people and events; it’s hard to read Revelation as historically abstract. Futurism sees the events of Ch 6-18 as temporal (albeit couched in symbolic language) and describing the years immediately prior to Christ’s return. It struggles with the emphasis on imminency since many years have passed, however, this is a problem with which all views must grapple.

Each view, no doubt, has some legitimacy. Undoubtedly the book speaks into the C1. Furthermore, aspects of the final conflict run throughout history. However, with some reservation, I find the futurist reading the most convincing*. In my view, Chs 6-18 primarily describe people and events in the last few years prior to Christ’s coming, events as yet unfulfilled. Each generation lives in anticipation that the events John describes may happen in their lifetime and so approach the book as potential participants rather than detached observers. One generation will not be potential participants but actual participants: the church living in the final traumatic years immediately preceding the coming of Christ.

In my view, the drama of these chapters seems to demand an end of history interpretation. The events described are too extreme, too specific, too concentrated and too climactic to describe the whole of church history. These chapters are a denouement, the final convulsive struggle of history. They are, in the popular sense, apocalyptic. They display an escalation in divine judgements, blasphemous arrogance by world leaders, breathtakingly extensive world government and fearsome persecution of God’s people along with profound spiritual deception. Such is the heightened drama of these times they must surely belong to the End. In reading these chapters the sense that we are observing history’s dramatic convulsive climax is difficult to avoid. In fact those who advocate a ‘whole church age’ reading of 6-18 often add ‘with special reference to events at the end.’ They feel the pressure of the apocalyptic and ultimate., not to mention the NT expectation of difficult times at the very end before Christ’s return (Matt 24:15-35).

This (6-18) time period is called by one of heaven’s elders, ‘the great tribulation’ (7:14). Some see this expression as describing the sufferings of the church throughout her history (Matt 24:9). It is true that tribulation is the promised lot of the church through her history. And while I am drawn to this view it seems better to understand John’s phrase as echoing the words of Jesus who describes the last days of history foreshadowed in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 as a time of ‘great tribulation‘ (Matt 24:21,29). Both Jesus and John are drawing from Daniel which envisages a time of intense persecution or trouble for God’s people just prior to the arrival of God’s final kingdom (Dan 12:1-4; 7:21-27). It exceeds all that has gone before in ferocity; this fits well with Rev 6-18 which depicts a drive by Satan and his servants to annihilate the church (Rev 12,13).

Also drawing from Daniel it features specific individuals. For example, John’s beast from the sea is not a general reference to human empires or even a reference to a particular empire; it is more specific still and is a reference to a definite ‘emperor’ or ‘king’ (Rev, 13,17:11). The beast, it seems, is the anticipated ‘antichrist’ or ‘lawless one’. He is Daniel’s ‘little horn’. This places the events firmly in the few years immediately preceding the return of Christ.

time, times and half a time

In fact, John supplies a time frame for the events he describes in 6-18. They will unfold in, ‘a time, times and half a time’ , that is , in a period of 3½ years (12:14) . This time frame is similarly described as, ’42 months’ and ‘1260’ days.

Between Ch 11-13 are told:

  • the holy city will be trampled for 42 months (11:2)
  • the two witnesses will prophecy for 1260 days before being martyred (11:3)
  • the woman ‘clothed with the sun‘ flees into the wilderness for divine protection for 1260 days (12:6) or ‘a time, times and half a time‘ (12:14)
  • the beast from the sea is given authority for 42 months (13:5)

Are we to understand these years as actual or symbolic? Many understand them to be symbolic. They believe the whole age of the church is in view (12:13,14). It is true numbers are often symbolic in Revelation. However, they are not always symbolic, or not always only symbolic. . The seven churches are representative churches, with seven suggesting completeness, but they are also seven actual churches. The New Jerusalem has as its foundation the twelve apostles. The number twelve has symbolic meaning in Revelation but there were twelve actual apostles who are the foundation of the church. The city of Rome was literally a seven hilled city (17:9). We read of the beast in Ch 17,

‘the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her… The the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; 10 they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while. 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 royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast.’

These numbers describe various kings belonging to a God defying empire and the intricate detail given suggests they describe real historical figures. The description echoes similar texts in Daniel’s apocalyptic prophecy describing real historical figures. Numbers in Revelation, it seems, are sometimes symbolic and sometimes actual and sometimes both. No hard and fast rule can be applied. Each number should be considered on its merits.

How are we to understand the 3½ years? I think the 3½ years are primarily literal years** describing the last few years of history before Christ’s return.

The use of three different measures to describe the same time period (1260 days, 42 months, a time, times and half a time) points towards the time span being literal and concrete. Also, the time frame is drawn primarily from Daniel where 31/2 years is a literal period describing years of intensified persecution prior to the arrival of the kingdom of God (Dan 7). Throughout Daniel this time frame is repeated and intended literally.

Perhaps the strongest argument in favour of actual years is that this time period is located in the reign of the beast from the sea who makes war on the saints and conquers them (13: 5-8). The beast, in Revelation, is not simply a symbol of anti-god political power throughout history, he is ultimately the final autocratic ruler of hostile demonic government… the satanically empowered political leader of the final world empire – the antichrist (17:11). He is very precisely defined (13,17). He reigns for a short time at the end of history before being overthrown by Christ at his Coming. If the beast is an individual, the expected antichrist, as suggested, then an actual 3½ year span of terror over God’s people is likely. To make 6-18 simply a broad description of the characteristics of the gospel era seems to do violence to the particularities found in these chapters.

However, let me draw back a little and regroup. John says ‘the time is near.’ For John it was possible as we have observed that these events may happen in his lifetime. He describes the end-time events in terms of the Roman Empire. Allusions to Roman times abound. Rome was the template for Babylon. A Nero-like emperor was the template for the beast. And so as persecutions broke out or persecuting emperors emerged to Christians it looked like the 3½ years of the world’s last days had arrived. The same applies beyond the Roman Empire and throughout history. Persecutions, antichrists and divine judgements occur that suggested to the believers living through them the end of history had come and Jesus is about to appear.

In this way we can see that the 3½ years is not simply a static period at the End but has a dynamic life for Christians in every age, especially those who face persecution when a leader arises who makes life intolerable. There are many antichrists before the antichrist. The mystery of lawlessness is already at work. This is the perspective with which the apostles lived as we saw in some texts above. In this sense the gap between those who view the 3½ years as symbolic of the whole era of the church and those who view them as specifically describing the End is not so wide.

Perhaps allied to the above is the near and far perspective that marks OT prophecy. There is an initial reference to Rome (preterism), an ongoing reference (historicism, idealism) and a future reference (futurism).

Yet ‘near’ though these years may be in the experience of God’s people nevertheless , I repeat, they do primarily describe a specific time that has clearly not yet arrived. They have a particularity that can’t be avoided. They describe a period of particular judgements, particular suffering for the church and a particular final world leader who rebels God and persecutes his people. Moreover, the beast is destroyed and the saints are rescued by the Second Coming of Christ; End-time persons and events interface with Christ’s return. There may be many foreshadowings but there will be only one finale.

in conclusion

John places the events of 4-22 in a time that is ‘near’. In the experience of the church the time of the end is always ‘near’. OT End-time events began with Christ’s First Coming and so his Second Coming where these are completed cannot be that far off. Prior to the ‘completion’ at Christ’s Second Coming are 3½ concentrated years of divine judgements on the earth, world-wide persecution of the church, and prophetic witness. Each generation looks at the signals they see suggesting the End is approaching and remain alert. For one generation the end time events will be realised and Christ will return. Meanwhile the wait calls for patient endurance.

*There are of course two main futurist approaches to Revelation. The first is historic premillennialism and the second is dispensational premillennialism. My own (tentative) position is historic premillennialism which views much of Revelation as the last days of the church in history followed by the Second Coming and accompanying events. Dispensational premillennialism is different. It believes a sharp line exists between Israel and the church. The church is raptured to heaven at the beginning of Ch 4 and 6-18 describes the experience of those converted after the church has been raptured. This means large chunks of Revelation, a book written to the church, are not about the church and describe a time when the church is already in heaven. Inevitably this makes much of Revelation merely of curiosity interest. If Scripture is not describing a future in which the reader has a stake then interest is more detached. This is precisely the opposite effect from that for which John is aiming: personal involvement not detached observation is key.

**Yet I can’t help but notice indications that these years may be more flexible than I think. For example the four horsemen of the first four seals (Rev 6) follow precisely the temporal calamities Jesus mentions in Matt 24; events that were part of ongoing history and not the end. The 144,000 are saints at the End. Yet given their numerical alignment with the New Jerusalem the temptation is to see them as the whole church. Rev 12:6 may imply that the 31/2 years begin at the ascension. Furthermore the only saints we are told that reign with Christ in the millennium are the dead believers (martyred or otherwise) from the final tribulation and those who do not worship the beast. There are problems with most views that call for humility.

29
Dec
21

depression and assurance of salvation

Depression often generates troubling thoughts. One distressing thought it can raise in a Christian’s mind is, ‘Am I saved?’ It’s easy to doubt your salvation. How do we address these doubts. In this brief post I’m going to assume these doubts are arising from depression and not from major persistent high-handed sins. If these are present they should be repented of and a new start made. If we look to Christ in faith and confess our sin then he will forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

In fact, for many of us repentance may be necessary. It may be that there is some specific sin or sins we need to confess and forsake. Perhaps our depression is tied into some specific sin or sins. It need not be but sometimes it may be, If so, as I say above, we are called to confess the sin to God and forsake it. However, often depression brings up the same sin repeatedly or dredges up things we have done wrong perhaps many years ago. Unless these are of a very significant nature requiring some action in the present it seems to me we simply say to the Lord something like, ‘Lord you know about all these things. You know I’m sorry about them. I have forsaken them help me to forget them.’

Forgetting them is what we must do. God has put them out of his mind and so must we. When past failures repeatedly arise in our minds they do not come from God – he has put them out of his mind – they arise from our own minds or perhaps from Satan. Accompanying them may be the worming suggestion that we are not saved. How can we be with such a mountain of past failures? At this point we may need to counter these snaring thoughts.

When assurance is attacked it is the time to remind our hearts that we are trusting in Jesus. Our faith and obedience may be (will be) imperfect but it is all directed at Jesus. Our confidence is in him,

Yes we have sin – but the blood of Jesus, God’s son, cleanses us from all sin’ 1 Jn 1:7. Repeat this over to yourself as often as helps. Rejoice in it. Exult in it as your mental health allows.

If we sin, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, Jn 1:9

Remind your heart it is by grace you are saved through faith and it is not of yourself but a gift of God.

Remind yourself that where sin abounds grace abounds all the more.

We should not be looking to our performance as the main source of our assurance but to work of Christ. We find our rest in him. It is as we focus on Him and his salvation that the inner witness of the Spirit thrives and grows. Depression makes us turn in on ourselves and assurance is lost. We must look out to Christ and God that faith and assurance may flourish.

There are many different ways that assurance of salvation can be attacked. I have suggested only two of the most basic ways to counter this attack.

1. If real sin is present confess it and determine to forsake it. If general sins from the past are thrown up perhaps ask the Lord’s forgiveness once but refuse to look at them again and again. Replace accusations with truths that counters the accusation. The word ‘grace’ can be a great word to lodge in the back of your mind as a response to guilt.

2. Remind yourself of the great truths of the gospel. Whoever comes to him he will never cast out. He gives to his sheep eternal life and they will never perish. By grace we are saved through faith. Whoever believes in him has eternal life (Jn 3:16). Hold on to these promises and refuse to doubt them. Look to Christ by faith far more than you look within.

These are very basic points. If this is a real problem you may find it helpful to speak to someone you know who may be able to help you. Perhaps an in-depth book may help. Remember too that depression is an illness and your doctor may prove to be a great help. I regret I am unable to answer any questions.

19
Dec
21

revelation 7… the 144,00 and the great multitude.

Revelation is a visionary narrative of what John saw and heard. It is describing End-time events. However, it is not a simple chronological narrative. The backbone of the narrative is God’s judgements. God’s judgements, expressed in the seven seals, trumpets, thunders and bowls sweep the world at the end of history. They are an expression of his wrath as are many destructive events in history but they are not properly the day of wrath. The. Day of wrath/of the lamb/of the Lord – the return of Christ – comes at the very end of each cycle of judgements. (6:12-17). Each cycle of seven ends with the arrival of the End. However, between the sixth and seventh judgement in the seals and trumpets and between the ‘seven’ trumpets and bowls there are interludes which focus in on specific actors or events in these final times. Ch 7 is an example of such an interlude.

Six seals of the book of God’s activity in judgement have been opened. The sixth announces the arriving of the day of the Lord which generates fear in a godless world. We read,

15 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Cf. Nah 1:6).

The End is upon them… the seventh seal is about to be opened. Who can stand? Chapter 7 is an interlude before the the final seal and the arrival of that final day. Narratively this serves to heighten tension as we await the seventh seal. However, fundamentally it answers the question posed in the sixth seal… who can stand in the day of ultimate judgement. The answer is, those who have God’s seal will stand (v3). The servants (slaves) of God will stand (v3) The 144,000 will stand (v4), the redeemed (14:4). The first interlude focuses on the people of God which I take to be the church. The church will stand and will stand too in the days that precede when the four winds of God’s judgement are unleashed on the world (Zech 6:5) and when Satan’s hatred is unleashed against the saints by the beast.

I heard…and I saw

Ch 7 describes two people groups. They seem quite different. The first group is composed of the tribes of Israel while the second group is from every tribe and nation. The first group is a defined number 144,000: the second group is a great multitude no man could number. The first group is on earth: the second group is in heaven. The first group is protected from God’s judgments: the second group have been persecuted through the great tribulation. The first group John hears about and the second group he sees.

This hearing… seeing… is a device we have met before. In Ch 5, John is distressed because it seemed no-one could open the sealed book – until he hears about the ‘Lion of the tribe of Judah’ who, when seen, is ‘a Lamb’ (5:1-6). The figure about whom he initially hears and subsequently sees is the same person but viewed from two perspectives; it is Christ the Davidic King who conquered through becoming the sacrificial Lamb. In Ch 7, John again ‘hears‘ and ‘sees‘. He hears of the numbered tribes of Israel (v4-8) and he sees ‘a great multitude that no-one could number from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages’. It seems we have the same people group viewed from two perspectives; two contrasting yet complimentary visions The first group is an army… the army of the Lion of the tribe of Judah. Israel was numbered for battle. The second group are sheep shepherded by the Lamb (v17). They wear robes made white by the blood of the Lamb (v14). They have suffered but their suffering is over. They are in heaven… they are the church triumphant who like their Shepherd, have been sheep counted for slaughter (Roms 8:36).

144,000

The 144,00, however, are on earth. Some take them to describe the redeemed of Israel. I can see why this may be so. They are after all taken from the twelve tribes of Israel. However, once again we must remember we are in visionary symbolic literature. The use of highly stylised numbers should remind us we are interpreting symbol. These multiples of 12 and 10 remind us of the New Jerusalem where 12 and multiples of 12 often appear (Rev 21). Moreover, not all the tribes are included. Dan is missing probably because that tribe was associated with idolatry. The sealed 144000 are those who hate idolatry (Ezek 9:4); they have no lie in their mouth (14:5). The 144000 look less and less likely to be ethnic Israel converted in the last days.

When we follow the 144000 to Ch 14 we discover they are all men and all are celibate (virgins); they have not ‘defiled themselves with women’. It is by now obvious the 144000 are an image and the image is fairly clear – this is an image of the church as an army. Israel was numbered for warfare (Numbs 1,2 Cf. Numbs 31:4-6). Soldiers in Israel when engaged in a holy war maintained ritual purity by avoiding sexual relations before a battle (1 Sam 21:5). This army ‘follows the Lamb wherever he goes (14:4). It is a firstfruits to God (v4 Cf. Jer 2:3; Jas 1:18).

The 144,000 are the army of the Davidic King, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Lamb (Cf. Ezek 37:10). It is Judah who heads the list and Benjamin who finishes it; the two tribes loyal to the Davidic King bookend the list. These are they who are called to be conquerors and conquer through the blood off the lamb, the word of his testimony and through not loving their lives even unto death (12:11).

The 144,000 are the church militant about to enter the arena of the final traumatic battle of the church before the return of Christ. We should not be distracted by the Jewish symbolism. After all, the New Jerusalem (Ch 21) is clearly the church yet it is a Jewish city with Jewish names on its foundations (the 12 apostles) and each gate is named after a tribe of Israel. The church has its roots firmly in Israel. The lesson national Israel found hard to learn, despite it being taught in various ways in the OT, is that Israel, the true Israel of God, the holy nation, ultimately includes every nation (Isa 19:24, 25; Eph 2:19-22). ‘My people’ are Gentiles as well as Jews (Roms 9:25). Gentiles are wild shoots that have been grafted into the Jewish olive tree of faith (Roms 11). The 144,000 are called ‘servants’ (v3) a descriptor also used of the church in Revelation (1:1; 2:20)

The 144,000 are sealed. The ‘sealing‘ is a mark of divine ownership and (probably spiritual) protection through God’s judgements though sometimes physical protection may be envisaged (9:4). There are two people groups sealed and juxtaposed – those loyal to the beast (13:6, 14:9,11) and those loyal to the Lamb (14:1). The seal for the 144,000 is the name of the Father and of Christ; it is a Christian identity (14:1). That it is solely the 144.000 who are sealed, further confirms they represent the complete people of God. Would God seal some of his people and not others? The OT background to the seal is probably Ezek 9. There those who opposed idolatry were sealed and the idolaters were not (14:5. Cf. Isa 26:20.21). The evidence mounts, I think, that the 144,000 represent the complete people of God And not an elite band within Israel (6:12-16, 7:3, 22:15; Ezek 9:3-6; 2 Thess 2:11; 2 Tim 2:19).

When we move away from apocalyptic imagery to the more prosaic language of other NT books the church is still described in military terms (Matt 16:18; Phil 2:25; Phil 1:2; 2 Tim 2:3,4, 1 Cor 9:7) . OT Israel was both a people and an army. Canaan was the land to inherit but it was full of enemies of God and the people of God who must be destroyed by holy war (Nums 21). The church too is engaged in holy war. Its warfare is not physical but spiritual (2 Cor 10:3,4). It is against spiritual powers and requires a soldier’s spiritual armour (Eph 6:10-18). Essentially the church is the 144,000 who follow the Lamb wherever he goes (Hebs 12:22). To follow the Lamb is to accept the Lamb’s way as our way and his fate as our fate; they have taken up the cross (Rev 12:11; Matt 26:24-26). However, while the 144,00 in principle denotes the whole church, the focus in Revelation is the church’s warfare in the final days before Christ’s return during the period of final tribulation and it is specifically they who are the 144,000..

a great multitude no man could number

John heard of the 144.00 but he sawa great multitude no man could number’.

Israel. as noted, has now expanded to include people from every nation on earth (Eph 2; 1 Pet 2:9). The shepherd had flock from another fold and together they become one flock and one shepherd. The walls of Jerusalem have been expanded to embrace the nations (Isa 54; Ps 87). And so there is no contradiction between the two images in the chapter. The 144,000 are about to embark on a holy war. How will they fare? The second image tells us; they triumph. Here God’s people do what a guilty world could not do – they stand before the throne and the Lamb (v9). This seems to be within the circle of elders (4:5). They can stand because they are dressed in white robes – they are clean – their robes have been washed in the blood of the Lamb (Cf Dan 12:10). They sing a song of salvation to God and the Lamb. They wave palm branches of victory. They have conquered. The Lamb has conquered.

An elder asks John who these people are and where they have come from. John replies, echoing Ezekiel before him, that the elder knows and can inform John (Ezek 37:3). He is told that they are the saints who are coming out of ‘the great tribulation’. Is ‘the great tribulation’ a reference to the whole of the church age or specifically to the final days of persecution under the beast (Rev 13; Matt 24:21; Dan 12:1)? Jesus does describe the whole era of the church as a time of tribulation, however he envisages a period of ‘great tribulation’ (Matt 24). Daniel more clearly identifies the period of AntiChrist as the time of great trouble (Dan 7:21,25, 12:1). From Ch 4-19 Revelation’s main focus is the last days of the final antiChrist. It seems likely that ‘the great tribulation‘ applies to this time.

Yet, while identified by its final experience of hostility in the great tribulation it is probably the whole church in view. We must remember that John is describing things soon to come. He writes of those aspects of prophecy still to be fulfilled before Christ comes. Also what happens to the church in the last convulsive days of history is but a concentration of what has always been its experience. So it is possible that the church at the end functions as a synecdoche with the part representing the whole.

Now their suffering is over and their joy has begun. They praise God and the Lamb for salvation. They are priests serving in the temple of God (v15). They are protected and shepherded by God and the Lamb (Ezek 34:23). Their deepest spiritual desires are satisfied as they are led to springs of living water (Isa 49:9,10) and every tear is wiped from their eyes (Isa 25:8; Rev 21:4). Parallels with new creation and the New Jerusalem are obvious. Then ‘the great church victorious will be the church at rest’.

Vv 9-13

*In Numbers the tribe of Levi is omitted from warfare because it had been set apart for the priesthood. However now all God’s people are priests and all are warriors it can now be included.

12
Dec
21

revelation 6… the seven seals

John is a prophet commissioned by Christ to reveal to the church the events that will bring history as we know it to a conclusion (1:1,2). These events were described as ‘near’ (v3).

In Ch 4, 5 John is translated to the heavenly court to observe divine councils, a mark of a true prophet. The heavenly court scene underlines that history is neither haphazard nor in the hands of men or demons; history is God’s drama written and directed by him. John sees a throne and one who sits on it. The throne dominates the heavenly court. It throbs with the majestic sovereignty of God. The message of the throne is – God rules. Then the scene shifts from the throne to the Lamb. He takes a scroll with seven seals from the right hand of God. It is the scroll of destiny, God’s plan to bring the ancient battle between heaven and its demonically driven enemies to a conclusion. Consequently it is a scroll of divine judgements and divine victory. Again the message is clear, the Lamb will execute God’s plans in history. He too is sovereign.

judgements

In Ch 6, God’s end-game for history begins to be enacted. It is, for the unbelieving rebellious world, a tale of judgement and woe. We are left in no doubt that the seals mean judgement and that they are God’s judgements. The scroll that lay in the hand of God is now held by Christ who begins to break its seals. Each opened seal unleashes a new judgement upon the earth. The Father has given all judgement to the son (Jn 5:22). Four horsemen are summoned by the four living creatures that surround the throne (‘Come’). These riders are tasked with implementing the divine judgements (1,3, 5,7). To each horsemen it is ‘given‘ to bring havoc and death upon the earth (this divine passive functions elsewhere in Revelation). We should not be squeamish about attributing judgements to God. When wars, plagues, famines, disasters and the like happen God is both judging and appealing to humanity. These are God’s megaphone calling a sin hardened world to repentance before it is too late. And these judgements are no less than we deserve.

structure

The seven seals is one of three (or technically four) ‘sevens’ of divine judgement (trumpets, thunders and bowls or plagues) in Revelation. Each ends with the final crushing of wickedness and the complete triumph of God. The first five seals have no linear sequence; they can happen in any order. However the sixth seal, as with the sixth trumpet and sixth bowl, brings us right to the brink of the final day of judgement and the arrival of God in Christ. The three cycles of seven, the seals, trumpets, and bowls increase in ferocity though once again apparently have considerable overlap in time frame. The cycles of seven indicate God’s judgements are perfect and complete.

time

This is a difficult one. Part of me wants to say the first four (the horsemen) happen throughout the history of the church. Indeed a glance at history tells us these horsemen have indeed been active in the ways John describes. There is also a close correlation between events Jesus predicted in the experience of the early church and the four horsemen (Matt 24). However, for reasons discussed in an earlier post, it seems best to view the time-frame of 6-18, the period of ‘the great tribulation‘ and of the beast’s demonic reign, as the final few years of history, – John delimits them as 3½ years (13:5-7). Certainly, although the horsemen seem to have been at work throughout history, here they initiate havoc perhaps on an unprecedented scale, precipitating the Day of the Lord (Joel 1:15-2:11).

interludes

Between the sixth and seventh seal and the sixth and seventh trumpet there is an interlude. Dramatically this interlude creates tension as the sixth seal heralds divine wrath and we must wait to see what the seventh and final seal reveals. However, the main purpose of the interlude is theological. The interludes focus on various players in this final curtain closing act in the drama of history. In each subsequent ‘seven’ the scale and intensity of the judgements increases. A quarter of the earth judged in the seals becomes a third in the trumpets while the bowls are extensive judgements on the kingdom of the beast.

four riders

The first four seals have a near legendary status. Many who know little about the Bible have heard of the four horsemen of the apocalypse and probably realise, at least vaguely, they are riders of wrath. The imagery is theatrical. It is drawn from Zechariah. There they patrol the earth, involved in God’s administration of it. The earth belongs to the Creator (ch 4) who continues to rule it. The horsemen in Zechariah report peace on earth which seems unjust as God’s people suffer. For change to come God would need to disturb the peace (Zech 1:1-11). God’s judgements in the world are initiated for the sake of his people.

The seals reveal judgements but these judgements are measured – only a quarter of the world is disrupted. God’s wrath is never unmeasured. He never acts on impulse or rashly. The decreed judgements are written on a scroll which is given to Christ to execute. The horsemen are each summoned by a different living creature…’Come‘. Each is ‘given‘ authority to inflict different judgements on the earth and there is divine restraint albeit extensive judgments. A chain of command revealing deliberation precedes the judgements. We tend to be far too reticent to say God is involved in the disasters that happen yet chapters like this could scarcely be clearer (Isa 45:7; Deut 32:39). God judges the peoples of the earth. He would hardly be good if he didn’t.

Identifying the scourges of four horsemen is relatively free of controversy. Their judgements are plain. They bring war, famine and various kinds of death. Only the white horse occasions debate. Some, because of the reference to ‘conquering’, associate the white horse with military and political power. On the other hand, Christ coming on a white horse in Ch 19 has caused some to think the white horse is the conquering power of the gospel. This is unlikely since the horsemen bring judgement not blessing. Much more likely is that the horse represents false ideology… counterfeit gospels… an alternative Christ** (13:11-14, 17:18, 18:2). Ideas conquer bloodlessly but enslave and kill just the same. The Red horse initiates wars, bloody and demented. The black horse brings famine but it is prescribed; in judgement there is mercy . One of the four general judgements brought by the Pale horse (resembling a corpse in colour) is pestilence bringing Covid to mind (Cf. Ezek 14:21). We have witnessed God use a micro-organism, invisible to the naked eye, to bring the whole world to its knees. Covid is a shot over the bows. It reminds us that paradise is not to be found in a fallen world and we ought not expect it. Pax Romana was largely a myth in the C1 as are all visions of utopia. Throughout history Jesus anticipates birth pangs of the End. Here as the End approaches these contractions increase in intensity and multiply in occurrence as the horsemen ‘leave a trail of death and destruction’ (Mounce). The final agonising kingdom-birthing convulsion of history is near.

martyrs

The fifth seal focuses on persecutions, including martyrdom, Since the beginning the Christian church has been persecuted (Acts 7:54-60; Rev 2:13). John envisages martyrdom for Christians who are faithful in witness (20:4). Once again the image is cast in OT language. The souls under the altar cry ‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?‘ Only if we overstate the disjunction between the OT and NT is this a problem; the NT fulfils the OT it doesn’t forsake it. God’s people cry for vengeance (justice) in both testaments (Ps 79:4-6,10; Roms 12:19)***. Jesus promises it is a cry that will not go unheard (Lk 18:7,8). Under the altar suggests their lives were a sacrifice offered to God in the ultimate way (Roms 12:1). White robes point to their righteousness and connects them with those who conquer in the church (3:4, 7:9). TheIr deaths were no accident. This too was written in the scroll. God has ordained that some of his people will die a martyr’s death. He, not their persecutors, is in control of what happens to his people (6:11). That the Lord is involved at every point is a source of comfort and courage in the face of martyrdom. The Lord who loves us is ultimately behind the events that overtake us and not some hating human face (14:13). Our death is in his hands not theirs. Their persecutors are they who dwell upon the earth, a common expression in Revelation for those for whom the present world is everything. The scroll promises final redemption for God’s people.

the edge of the end

The sixth seal begins to initiate the End (Mk 13:24-27). The cry for vindication by the martyrs is about to be answered. The cosmic disturbances described are those commonly associated with the day of the Lord (6:12-14; Isa 13:9-13; 50:3; Ezek 32:7,8; Joel 2:31, 3:14; Matt 24:29). The language throughout is drawn from OT Scripture. We must be careful just how literally we read these descriptions. They describe massive dislocations in the world but how literally they are to be taken calls for hesitancy. The reason for caution is twofold. Firstly, the OT uses similar language for mini ‘days of the Lord’ where cosmic disturbances were not literally fulfilled. Also, if every mountain and island was moved from its place it’s difficult to see how those fearful of the wrath of the Lamb could call on the mountains to fall on them and hide themselves in caves (v15). Literal readings don’t always make good sense. Rather, the mountains falling into the sea suggests the collapse of what seems most stable and sure while the islands moved shows this disturbance is world wide. This is language in the first instance describing the complete collapse of the old world order and the transition from this present age to the age to come.

And yet, we must not diminish the cosmic collapse of the End. It is a time of cataclysmic judgement. The judgements of the End are truly catastrophic, earthshakingly catastrophic (Hebs 12:26). The plea by the people of the world for the mountains to fall on them and cover them is drawn from the OT (Hos 10:8; Isa 2:10,19, 21) and vividly reveals the raw terror of the nations; collapsing mountains is preferable to the wrath of the Lamb. None can escape from the dissolution of the cosmos, from the greatest and most secure, to the least of humanity (seven categories) all will be humbled (Isa 2:17). All find their bowels loosen in fear driving them to deranged self-destructive desires; they want the the mountains to fall on them (Lk 23:30; Hos 10:8). Things have not changed since Adam and Eve hid from God in the garden (Gen 3:8). Only now mercy is a thing of the past. Judgements that initially fell on Israel in the OT are universalised and now apply to the whole world. Such is the darkness of the day of the Lord (Amos 5:18) as both ‘he who sits on the throne’ and ‘the Lamb’ are united in final judgement. The ‘wrath of the Lamb’ is a startling image; meekness has given way to might. The seven horns are in full evidence.

The question rings out, ‘…the great day of their wrath has come and who can stand?’ (Nah 1:6). The following chapter will reveal who can stand. The 144,000 sealed by God will stand. God’s people will stand.

In the meantime the End is arriving as it does a number of times in Revelation and we have a preliminary tantalising glimpse; the temporal is about to be conquered by the eternal (6:17, 8:1, 10:7, 11:15-19, 14:14-20, 16:13-21; 19:11-21).

This Spiritual captures a little of the spectacle of the End

Refrain:

My Lord, what a morning; my Lord, what a morning; oh, my Lord, what a morning, when the stars begin to fall.

You’ll hear the trumpet sound, to hear the nations underground, looking to my God’s right hand, when the stars begin to fall.

You’ll hear the sinner moan, to hear the nations underground, looking to my God’s right hand, when the stars begin to fall.

You’ll hear the Christian shout, to hear the nations underground, looking to my God’s right hand, when the stars begin to fall.

My Lord, what a morning; my Lord, what a morning; oh, my Lord, what a morning, when the stars begin to fall.

*Christians are often reluctant to attribute wars, disease, natural disasters etc to God. This is surprising because the Bible without embarrassment does (Amos 3:6). Again and again terrible things happen to Israel and the nations and the Bible sees them as part of God’s judgements. Some Christians see these judgements as exceptional interventions of God in biblical times. But that is rather disingenuous. There are far too many exceptions. Further, the Bible so often asserts the sovereign involvement of God in all things that the idea of exceptions lies dead in the water (Job 42:2; Prov 21:1, Prov 16:33; Isa 45:7-9; Lam 3:37-39; Acts 4:27,28; Eph 1:11 and many more). The biblical examples of God judging are not exceptions they are the rule. The Bible is simply revealing that God is active in every page and line of human history.

Behind the reluctance lies fears of making God seem a monster. Instead we have created an anaemic God, a passionless and powerless God in the name of creating a God of love. This, however, is not the God of the Bible. It is not the God of love we find in the Bible. God’s love is a sovereign love. That is, he chooses to love. He sets his love on sinners who are anything but loveable. His love is a holy love. God never loves in a way that compromises who he is. His love must be holy. He will only finally save those who repent of their sin. Love is offered but if rejected love is withdrawn. When God brings judgements upon humanity it is a sign love is not yet withdrawn. These are a call to flee from the wrath to come for there is a coming day of judgement. There is a day of wrath, fury, and judgment for a world that has stubbornly and persistently defied its Creator and refused to bow to his sovereignty. Revelation has as a foundation vision of God upon a throne ruling the universe by his wisdom and will. His holiness and goodness mean that intractable evil must be overthrown. It is only in this certainty that there is hope for the triumph of what is right and good over evil.

**Some see a connection with the Parthians who attacked Rome and were harbingers of the end of imperialistic power. They rode white horses and used bows which the Romans didn’t use. It is possible that John was using this historical reference to construct his apocalyptic message of greater world significance.

***The cry of the souls under the altar crying for vengeance is really a cry for justice, for wrong to be righted. This is a big subject but we should be aware that imprecations are found not only in the OT but also the NT (Lk 18:7; Matt 25:41; Acts 13:10,11;1 Cor 16:22; Gals 1:8,9; 2 Tim 4:14).

05
Dec
21

psalm 143… a prayer for help based on God’s mercy

1 Hear my prayer, O LORD;
give ear to my pleas for mercy!
In your faithfulness answer me, in your righteousness!
2 Enter not into judgment with your servant,
for no one living is righteous before you.
3 For the enemy has pursued my soul;
he has crushed my life to the ground;
he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead.
4 Therefore my spirit faints within me;
my heart within me is appalled. 5 I remember the days of old;
I meditate on all that you have done;
I ponder the work of your hands.
6 I stretch out my hands to you;
my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. Selah
7 Answer me quickly, O LORD!
My spirit fails!
Hide not your face from me,
lest I be like those who go down to the pit.
8 Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love,
for in you I trust.
Make me know the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.
9 Deliver me from my enemies, O LORD!
I have fled to you for refuge.
10 Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God!
Let your good Spirit lead me
on level ground!
11 For your name’s sake, O LORD, preserve my life!
In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble! 12 And in your steadfast love you will cut off my enemies,
and you will destroy all the adversaries of my soul,
for I am your servant.

I struggle with depression. For me, guilt is one of its symptoms (perhaps one of its causes) . Perceived sin in me or others can overwhelm causing anxiety and further depression. The reason I mention this is that Psalm 143 is personally helpful because it recognises no believer is righteous in themselves. It stresses that we are ever dependent on the mercy of God.

The psalm is perhaps best divided by the ‘selah’ in v6. In Vv1-6 the psalmist lays out his dilemma. In vv7-12 follow a series of further petitions arising from his initial plea.

David brings his plight to the Lord. Often in the psalms a plea for help is based at least partly on personal righteous – the writer believes he is living with integrity before the Lord (Ps 7:8, 18:29, 24; 35:24; 112:3,4) However, in this psalm there is no assertion of personal righteousness instead he confesses his unrighteousness.

2 Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.

The psalm is a plea to the Lord. An unnamed enemy or enemies is attacking David (vv3,4, 9) The enemy has hounded David, crushed him. and forced him into darkness (v3,4). It is likely that David’s enemy (or enemies) are physical people. Some think that the background is David hiding in a cave when hunted by Saul. But a believer’s enemies come in various guises. The thoughts bearing fear, guilt and depression that can grip our minds can be crushing and confining enemies. They can isolate us from others and put us in a dark place.

The psalm is the last of the so-called penitential psalms though no specific sin is mentioned. David is God’s servant, he is a believer, but he still sins and recognises his need of mercy. Indeed he recognises that sin is a universal malady. Both Grogan and Boyle note this is an unusual perspective in the psalms (Ps 53:3-5, 103:3; Roms 3:23). At any rate, David does not appeal to his personal righteousness as other psalms do. Instead his total appeal is to God’s omnipotent mercy that flows to his people as a result of his covenant faithfulness and righteousness (v1). Later he will include God’s covenant love in his plea (v12). God’s great promises to his people expressed in the covenants are the source of his hope. It is always the great promises of the gospel (for many of the covenants were gospel covenants) that give his believing people a solid rock on which to stand (Gals 3:8). Our own obedience is so flawed that our confidence must lie only in God’s saving grace. God’s righteousness and not ours is where salvation lies. I find this heartening. Depression can undermine a sense of salvation. Like David, I know my personal righteousness is defective even as I seek to follow Christ and so for my security I must look by faith to God’s righteousness expressed in the gospel… a righteousness that declares me righteous despite my sin on the basis of the death and resurrection of Christ (Ps 24:5). In Christ is the righteousness I need and it is a gift from God.

Sometimes when we bring a concern to the Lord, we focus more on the concern than the Lord and prayer becomes a form of worrying.. David does not fall into that trap. He looks away from his enemy to the Lord. In the psalm his focus is on the Lord. He reflects on all that God did in the past, no doubt both in creation and redemption; acts that reveal his incredible power and might. These mighty works in the past assure David that the Lord is well able to deal with his trouble in the present. And so he holds out his hands in supplication to the God for whom he thirsts (vv7,8). In our struggles we need to look away from the threat and focus on the solution – the Lord and his might committed to us. And this side of the cross there is so much more that we know of God’s mighty power in Christ. The God who has power to raise and transform the crucified Christ is powerful indeed. Whatever or whoever our enemy, Christ is more than able.

David’s prayer seems to take place at night possibly during the night. The worst time to deal with problems is the middle of the night. Problems at night grow arms and legs. David is certainly greatly stressed. His spirit is failing (v7). He is unsure about the way forward (v8). He is not even completely confident of the Lord’s support (don’t hide your face). In the middle of the night and in deep anxiety losing perspective can easily happen. Established certainties flee. David looks to the morning for resolution. He calls on the Lord to make known his steadfast love in the morning. Many of us have known the phantoms of the night that disappear with morning light. Morning is the time of deliverance (Ps 30:5, 46:5). Yet not all night fears are phantoms. Many are real issues that require to be dealt with and often the morning enables us to regain perspective. The key response to our fears real or imagined is found at the beginning of v8. ‘for in you I trust’. David looks to the Lord to show him the way he should go.

Various petitions shape vv7-12.

Answer me quickly, O Lord… Hide not your face from me… Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love… Make me know the way I should go… Deliver me from my enemies… Teach me to do your will… Let your good Spirit lead me… Preserve my life… bring my soul out of trouble.’

David is committed to the Lord. He looks to the Lord for direction and deliverance. And it is emphatically to the Lord he looks: in you I trust… you lift up my soul…I have fled to you for refuge…for you are my God.

The psalm finishes where it started. God in his covenant love and righteousness is the source of his hope. The Lord in his covenants promised loyalty to his people. All that he is, he is for them. And David declares his loyalty when he says, ‘you are my God’ and ‘I am your servant’. He submits to trust and obey (albeit imperfectly). In this reciprocated loyalty saving relationships lie.

David reminds the Lord that his reputation is involved in preserving David’s life. As the anointed king, David’s well-being reflected on the Lord. He certainly sees God’s covenant commitment as ensuring his deliverance (v11,12). In the NT, the final and ultimate David is also under attack from enemies. He too is in distress and cries to the God to whom David cried. His hands are stretched out too, not in supplication but on a cross. He, however, is not delivered but forsaken. Deliverance and vindication for him are beyond death. In the NT, the Lord’s commitment to his people remains. However, his promise is not deliverance in this life but that in life’s trials he will keep us from falling and bring us faultless into his glorious presence in his eternal kingdom. Like Messiah, our Lord, it may be through death even violent death. The enemy may kill our bodies but they will rise to eternal life.

29
Nov
21

revelation and dispensationalism

Revelation and Dispensationalism

In these posts on Revelation I adopt a historic premillennial approach. Part of me is inclined to amillennialism because it permits all final judgements and blessings to flow immediately from the Second Coming which seems to articulate with many NT texts. However, in Rev 20, amillennialism faces a difficult, maybe insurmountable, uphill struggle. It requires resurrection in the chapter to be interpreted as spiritual and not physical which is not an easy interpretative decision to swallow. Many are premillennialists, me included, because it seems the only responsible reading of Rev 20.

There is another group of Christians who are also premillennial, however, they understand most of Revelation quite differently from historic premillennialism. I’m referring to dispensational premillennialists. Although clearly evangelical and orthodox on all the foundational doctrines of the faith, including eschatology, they employ an interpretative hermeneutic that creates significant differences between their approach to Scripture and other mainstream approaches.

The hermeneutic that makes their interpretive grid radically different is their core belief that an absolute distinction exists between Israel and the church. God has two programmes; an earthly programme involving ethnic Israel and a heavenly programme involving the church. From this premise troubling consequences flow. Many parts of Scripture are not about the church; they are about Israel. This inevitably makes parts of Scripture less relevant to Christians than they may otherwise be. A great chunk of Revelation (6-18) is distanced from its Christian readers since it does not describe their future but the future of Israel after the church has been raptured to heaven.

Dispensationalism’s two distinct peoples (earthly Israel and the heavenly church) results in two separate comings; the rapture (Christ’s coming to the air to rescue the church) and the revelation or Second Coming (Christ’s coming to the earth to rescue Israel and judge the world). In Revelation, the rapture, dispensationalism affirms, takes place at or before Revelation 4:1.

A full dialogue with dispensationalism is beyond this post. Here I simply want to mention a few points to consider. I write as a friend, as one reared in dispensationalism who has many friends who remain committed dispensationalists. Their faith, loyalty to Christ, commitment to Scripture and understanding of it is not in question though clearly in some areas I consider them mistaken.

typological trajectories

In my view the fundamental flaw of dispensationalism is a failure to weigh adequately OT typological trajectories. This is ironic, since Brethren churches, from which dispensationalism hales, majored in typology. Yet it seems to me dispensationalism has failed to think through typological implications.

Should you speak to a dispensationalist and ask him if his Reformed brothers are right to baptise infants on the basis of the Abrahamic covenant’s circumcision he would probably (rightly) reply in the negative. This is not simply because his church tradition is credobaptist but because he recognises the Reformed argument as a typological error. Dispensationalists recognise the progress of redemption means that new covenant fulfilment has replaced the type with the anti-type; circumcision of the body in the Abrahamic covenant pointed to and is superseded by circumcision of the heart in the new covenant. They see a trajectory at work; human circumcision gives way to divine circumcision (Col 2:11); the merely earthly type has given place to the heavenly antitype.

However, what they see clearly in this instance, they fail to see in other examples of OT typology; they miss the pattern at work. They do not recognise that messiah, land, people, city, temple, sacrifices, priesthood, monarchy etc are all on a flight path from the earthly to the heavenly. Dispensationalism grounds OT promises, prototypes and prophecies on earth while their course is heavenly. It fails to recognise the escalation between the type and the antitype.

Of course, dispensationalists do not make this mistake with all types. They recognise for example that earthly Adam, the first man, is a type of the heavenly Christ, the second man (1 Cor 15:47). They recognise that the animal sacrifices of the OT which were used to purify earthly temples pointed to the once and for all sacrifice of Christ whose blood cleanses the heavenly sanctuary (Hebs 8:5, 9:23,24) and that Aaron, High Priest serving in an earthly sanctuary typologically pointed to Christ as High Priest serving in a heavenly sanctuary (Hebs 9). Indeed, the earthly tabernacle and temple were copies or shadows of heavenly realities – they pointed to what was heavenly (Hebs 9:23). Yet while the direction of travel is recognised in these types the dynamic at work is missed; Messiah, the second man, is heavenly and defines the course for the whole purpose of God. In Christ, all promise becomes heavenly in their trajectory.

Other examples could be given. The trajectory from earthly to heavenly, is marked. For example, the divine warrior victorious in battle who ascends earthly Mount Zion in victory procession in Psalm 68, in the NT becomes Christ after the victory of Calvary ascending to heaven (Ps 68:18; Eph 4:8). Micah prophesies that in the last days the mountain of the house of the Lord will be higher than all mountains and the nations will flow to it (Mic 4:1-4). The NT views this fulfilled in the gospel as gentiles become Christians and come to the heavenly mount Zion (Hebs 12:22,23); the earthly prototype is fulfilled in a heavenly reality.

The hope of OT saints was a heavenly hope. Abraham did not settle in the earthly Canaan for he was looking for a heavenly country (Hebs 11:16). He and others of OT faith were not looking for an earthly city, an earthly Jerusalem, but the heavenly Jerusalem whose builder and maker is God (Hebs 11:10, 12:22). They expected a kingdom which the NT tells us is heavenly (2 Tim 4:18; Hebs 12:28) where they will partake of the heavenly gift (Hebs 6:4). This is the kingdom that Jesus and the apostles proclaimed. There is only one kingdom just as there is only one kingdom people – those born of the Spirit who respond in faith to the Kingdom’s King (Jn 3:5). These eschatological sons of the kingdom (Matt 13:38) are a people with a heavenly calling (Hebs 3:1), citizens of a heavenly city (Phil 3:20) with a heavenly Father (Matt 5:48). They are on earth but it is not home; they long to put on their heavenly dwelling or body (2 Cor 5:2). Indeed they already by faith are seated in heavenly places (Eph 2:6). The kingdom has arrived yet its full realisation is yet future and the kingdom sons, like OT believers, live on earth yet seek a heavenly homeland.

Now of course a dispensationalist will agree that the church is ‘heavenly’. This is precisely the distinction he affirms; Israel is earthly and the church is heavenly. However, that is not the model the Bible builds. It is not an absolute disjunction that the Bible presents between the OT and the NT but rather the relationship is one of promise and fulfilment. Intrinsic to this is continuity and discontinuity. Most significantly there is a typological trajectory that moves from the earthly to the heavenly. There is an unambiguous progression: OT earthly hopes are fulfilled in NT heavenly realities. OT saints, we have seen, were looking for a heavenly fulfilment to the promises. Indeed, as we read the OT prophets it is clear that only what is ‘heavenly’ can do their prophetic descriptions justice; they describe realities that belong to another world (Isa 54:11-14). ‘Heavenly’ is not a designation that arises in a salvation-historical vacuum. It is not the separating identity of a people unknown to OT revelation. ‘Heavenly’ arises within the biblical movement from promise to fulfilment, type to antitype, natural to spiritual and earthly to heavenly. OT believers may have seen only dimly and from afar but they grasped they were looking at an inheritance that did not belong to this world but a world to come, a heavenly world (Hebs 11:13; 1 Pet 4:1). The church is the eschatological people of God to whom OT promise pointed, the heavenly people of God; God’s earthly people become in fulfilment a heavenly people.

But here we must register what we mean when we speak of what is ‘heavenly’. We do not necessarily mean what is ‘in heaven’. It means that which is from heaven and takes its character from heaven (Jn 6:38: 3:12). ‘Heavenly’ is not opposed to what is physical but what is natural and of this fallen world. In the Bible the spiritual and the heavenly are closely related. Thus the heavenly kingdom of God to come and the heavenly city to come are located on earth (Rev 20,21). However, creation has changed; it is completely renewed. Earth is no longer earthly but heavenly. God dwells on a new earth among his people in the new Jerusalem that has come down from heaven. Earthly Eden is renewed and reconfigured into the heavenly and eternal home of God and his people. Earth and heaven become one.

This means when we come to Revelation that we must not assume references to the temple, the holy city etc are necessarily speaking of earthly realities; they may refer, and clearly often do, to heavenly realities.

a heavenly people

In the NT, we discover that a new messianic community is born – the eschatological people of God. In Jesus, Messiah arrived and inaugurated the eschatological kingdom and covenant in his death, resurrection and ascension. He came to national Israel who rejected him. Consequently the kingdom was taken from Israel and given to a nation who through faith union with Messiah would produce kingdom fruit (Matt 24:43). The ‘nation’ was his disciples and all who would subsequently believe in Messiah, both Jew and gentile (1 Pet 2:9). Thus while the foundations of Messiah’s eschatological people remained Jewish (the twelve apostles) in time the people would be multinational: in fact, the OT had revealed that the eschatological people of God would be drawn from all nations. The giving of the new covenant gift of the Spirit (firstly to Jews) revealed the eschatological kingdom had arrived as did the heavenly coronation of the King (Acts 2). The giving of the Spirit to gentiles (Acts 9) demonstrated that they too were part of the kingdom, new covenant members, on an equal footing with Jewish believers; the house of David had been rebuilt in Christ and all nations are seeking the Lord (Acts 15). The church, Jew and gentile, are the heirs to the covenants of promise, fellow citizens, and members of the household of God. (Eph 2). We eat the new covenant meal because we are the new covenant Israel of God with whom the new covenant is made.

In the church, Israel is not replaced rather she is enlarged (Isa 54). In Abraham all the nations of the earth are blessed (Gen 12:1-3). How are they blessed; they are blessed by becoming Abraham’s offspring. Through faith union with Abraham’s one true son, Christ, Jew and gentile alike become Abraham’s seed, heirs according to promise (Gals 3,4) and citizens of Isaiah’s eschatological city (Gals 4; Isa 54). Notice in the these aforementioned texts the flight path from earthly to heavenly. Isaiah’s earthly eschatological Jerusalem Paul calls ‘the Jerusalem above’.

God’s ultimate purpose is fulfilled ‘in Christ’. The messianic community is created ‘in Christ’. Indeed, ultimately salvation is only located ‘in Christ’. There is no salvation outside of Christ. In the OT, believers looked forward to the coming kingdom but were not part of it. However, in resurrection they too will belong to the fulfilment, the ‘in Christ’ family who inherit the promises (Hebs 11:39,40). ‘In Christ’ does not detach us from the stream of OT promise rather it is the location where these promises are fulfilled. All the promises to Abraham are realised ‘in Christ’. It is ‘in Christ’ that the promises are ‘yes’ and ‘amen’ (2 Cor 1:20) and ‘in Christ’ is a heavenly location (Eph 1:1-3).

This means that it is not unnatural or untoward in Revelation for Jewish symbols to refer to the church. Revelation uses much OT symbolism but it is used against the recognised background that the NT church is heir to the OT promises and is the eschatological Israel of God*. When the OT anticipates certain experiences in the future End-times for Israel it is possible, even probable, that many find fulfilment in the church presently and in the future. The NT bears witness to this. Consider the number of times NT writers cite OT passages as fulfilled in the church (Acts 2:16,17, 24-36; 13:47; 15:15; Roms 15:8-12 ; Gals 4:27,28 etc). Given that we are heirs to the covenants and inheritors of the promises this is hardly surprising (Gals 3:28,29; Eph 2:11-22).

Dispensationalism believes that in Revelation the church is raptured from earth from Ch 4. The believers in 6-18 are not the church but in the main belong to God’s recommenced earthly programme for Israel. It has no hermeneutic that moves via OT earthly promise to NT heavenly fulfilment. Yet in a book written to churches we would naturally expect a book mainly about the church. We would expect events raised and developed in the book to impinge upon the church. This seems to be the case in other biblical books. In the OT, prophecies given to Israel impinged upon Israel and her world both in the immediate and in the ultimate future. In NT books, what is written is largely about those to whom it is written. Yet, in a book expressly written to seven churches, dispensationalism affirms that the bulk of the book is neither about them nor impinges upon them. It describes a world they will not inhabit and a people to whom they do not belong. This assertion is very difficult to credit. It is especially difficult since a simple check reveals that many of the descriptors used of the church in the early and later chapters are also used of the believers in Chs 6-18 (saint, servant, brothers, those who conquer, faithful etc). On the face of it both are the same people group.

Once conceded that many OT earthly forms have a NT heavenly fulfilment; once recognised that the church is the messianic sons of the kingdom, the guests invited to the wedding banquet when those initially invited refused; once acknowledged that the descriptors of the church in 1-3 and of suffering believers in 6-18 are the same, then large parts of Revelation change from being text we approach with a fair degree of detachment (it’s not about us) and becomes text with which we are closely connected. It becomes text that describes our future and prepares us for difficult days ahead. Recognising that I may face the persecution of the beast from the sea changed my perspective not only on Revelation but on life itself

in conclusion

Dispensationalism is not beyond the pale and does not make someone a bad Christian. I know dispensationalists far better versed in Scripture than I am and far more godly. All conservative evangelicals agree in the things that really matter about the End times. However, this post is written in the hope of nudging some to reexamine their dispensational assumptions. It is a journey I have taken and hope in God’s grace that others will take it too.

*The title ‘Israel of God’ is only once used of the church (Gals 6). Even there its meaning is debated. The NT is keen to do away with labels (neither Jew nor Greek) among the people of God (Gal 3:28; 6:15). Nevertheless, theologically it is important to recognise our inherited Jewish DNA is found everywhere; salvation is of the Jews (Jn 4:‘22). The church, inheriting the promises is the true circumcision (Phil 3:3). It is a holy nation, a royal priesthood, a people for a possession (1 Pet 2:9). The church is the eschatological temple and city. James writes to the 12 tribes scattered abroad (Jas 1:1) Peter writes to the diaspora (1 Per 1:1). The sense of continuity and fulfilment is hard to miss. Of course, gentile believers do not become ethnic Jews. They are not part of national Israel they are part of spiritual or believing Israel. It is spiritual Israel, believing Israel, that is the true Israel and can trace its origins to Abraham and the patriarchs, the roots of the olive tree (Roms 11; Roms 2:25-29, 4:11,12,13,17; Eph 2) and to that ‘Israel’ we belong. Abraham had only one true son. There is only one true Israel. In both cases this is Christ and by grace all who are ‘in Christ’.

21
Nov
21

revelation 5… the lamb is worthy

1 Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, 4 and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5 And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

6 And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7 And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. 8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God. from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice,

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”

13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

Revelation is an unusual book in the NT. It is a book of apparently esoteric visions and symbols. Presumably John chose this apocalyptic genre intentionally. Reasons are not hard to find. Images are a powerful means of communication. They pack a considerable punch. Their impact is visceral and searing and they convey in a picture what may otherwise require a thousand words. And the picture is likely to stay in our minds much longer. Moreover, in attempting to describe the indescribable, we must use metaphor and analogy, we have no other choice.

Nowhere is the power of the visual better illustrated than John’s vision of Christ in the heavenly court. It is a vision and not reality; clearly God does not really sit upon a throne. However, it describes reality in terms that we can understand. Aspects of the throne room, for example, seem to be based on the court of the Roman emperor. Analogy is inevitable.

John, at the behest of the exalted Christ has been transported by the Spirit into heaven, into the heavenly temple. Like true prophets before him he is made privy to heavenly councils (1 Kings 22:19; Jer 23:18-22; Ps 82:1) In Ch 4 the heavenly scene is dominated by the throne. God – he who sits on the throne – is revealed as the Creator. He is the Almighty who ‘was and is and is to come’. Creation and its history are ruled by him. He is present at every point in its story. In Ch 5 the focus shifts. It is the Lamb who takes centre stage.

Ch 5 opens with a sealed scroll lying in the open right hand (right symbolising power Ex 15:6) of ‘him who was seated on the throne’. The scroll (mentioned seven times in the chapter) is clearly significant for a majestic angel full of celestial gravitas thunders out a call for someone worthy to come and open it. Its royal seals confer divine authority and validity. Written on both sides suggests the message of the scroll is detailed and comprehensive. It will prove to be both the divine decrees for final judgements on a godless world and the final triumph of God (Ch 6, Ezek 2:9,10). John, has been brought into heaven that he may see the things that are yet to come that will bring history to its God ordained conclusion. Presumably he knows the scroll reveals the final climax of history in judgement and salvation and so weeps with consternation, lamenting because none anywhere is worthy to open it and execute it.

It would certainly require someone of exceptional authority to break a divine seal. None, it seems, has the credentials. A search of heaven and earth and even under the earth produces no candidate. None is worthy (worth is apparently a Roman virtue). None is qualified for this role. John’s tears add to the dramatic tension of the moment. Yet, in a sense we are not surprised. We know that no philosopher or world leader can explain history far less lead it to a righteous conclusion. Many have tried usually with disastrous results. The question was always rhetorical; none is worthy but one. That none is found worthy (four mentions out of seven in Revelation are found in Ch 5) serves to underline the uniqueness of the one who is found worthy. Only one can reveal and execute God’s goals in history (Cf. Dan 7; Ps 2).

At this point we arrive at one of the great moments in Christian theology. In a context vibrating with dramatic tension John is told by one of the elders to weep no more,

Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.

The ‘Lion of the tribe of Judah‘. The title conjures images of a mighty warrior. He is a Davidic King anticipated long before Davidic kings existed (Gen 49:9,10). His credentials are not in doubt. He has already ‘has conquered’. We are not told what or how he has conquered. However, his conquering must have been on a massive scale to qualify him for this demanding role. John’s expectations are naturally aroused. Who is this King from the Davidic dynasty who has fought like a lion and triumphed, this shoot from the stump of Jesse (Isa 11:1-10)? Where is this person of surpassing worth? John’s senses shift from hearing to seeing (a frequent device in Revelation) and the contrast is startling.

6 And… I saw a Lamb standing, as though it been slain…and he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.’

John (with his readers) has to process this paradox. He hears of a lion and sees a lamb. It is the glorious cognitive dissonance of Christian belief. The central paradox of the gospel. It contradicts all human corollaries. Lions slaughter, lambs are slaughtered. Lions tear their prey, lambs are their prey. We live in a culture influenced by Christianity but in John’s Roman world and the worlds of preceding empires there was no such cultural influence. Power was extolled and weakness was contemptible. The idea that strength lay in weakness or prowess was displayed in passivity was morally repugnant. Lions were not lambs and lambs could never be lions. The concept was anathema. In the hard cruel world of first century Rome weakness and worth were opposed.

Yet in the paradox of a lion who is a lamb lies the whole Christian message. For the figure who takes the scroll is of course Christ. He has done what no other has done – he is the lamb who has conquered (Isa 53:7). And in his death he provides the model for his people to conquer. We conquer through sacrifice. The lamb (mentioned 28 times) led to the slaughter was an act of supreme submission but it was also an act of supreme power. Christ was never more like a lion than the day when he died as a lamb. The Lion of Judah is worthy to open the scroll because he was the slain lamb (5:9). The final victory over evil he will effect is really only an extension of the victory he won at the cross; the critical battle is won the end now is in no doubt. The roman cross, the symbol of roman might, cruelty and arrogance, is forever the symbol of love and a new kind of power – the power of God made perfect in weakness. On that particular cross it was not Rome but the victim who conquered. Here is a new way of conquest that will reverberate for centuries to come around the world.

That true worth was demonstrated and real power wielded by submitting to crucifixion was unthinkable, beyond parody, to the Roman world. There were no tales of crucified conquering heroes. There was nothing about the crucified that commanded respect. Everything about crucifixion was calculated to demean and dehumanise. The crucified were objects of utter scorn and contempt. They were worthless wretches, worthy only of derision and abuse. Power and prestige lay with Roman military lions not with those they crucified. But God’s way was not the Roman way. His plans are not human plans. Rome conquered through power, the Lamb conquers through weakness. Rome conquered by killing, the Lamb conquers by being killed. God’s kingdom grows through different virtues nevertheless it is a kingdom that will ultimately crush and grind to powder the Roman Empire and every other pretentious empire of men (Dan 2).

And so John sees a freshly slaughtered lamb. The sacrificial death of Christ is always recent in heaven. The slaughtered lamb is the Bible’s big story. Everything about God’s redeeming triumph in the world is traced to a slaughtered lamb. It is this unique sin-bearing sacrificial death that vanquished the enslaving forces of evil emancipated the nations and created a kingdom of priests (5:9,10; Col 2:15; Hebs 2:14,15; Jn 12:31). Only a warrior who has won a battle like this can bring to a conclusion God’s final acts of judgement and redemption in his creation*. And so John sees a lamb with more than the marks of slaughter. The lamb he sees has seven horns and seven eyes which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth (5:6; Jn 15:26; Phil 1:19). The seven horns symbolise complete royal power and strength (Ps 89:17,24; Matt 28:18) and the seven eyes tell us he sees completely what is happening on the earth; he is overseeing everything (Zech 4:10; 2:23; 2 Chron 16:9). John’s lamb is no longer compliant but conquering and will crush those who defy him for he is King of kings and Lord of lords (17:14 Cf. Dan 2:37). The imagery is militaristic. He will rule the nations with a rod of iron (Rev 12:5, 2:27). Soon the world’s powerful will be calling on the mountains to fall on them that they might hide from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb (6:16)

It is clear that the Lamb is a divine person. He stands ‘in the midst of the throne’ (5:6, 7:17). Indeed he is in the midst of the elders and living creatures too. Like the one who sits on the throne he is at the centre of heavenly rule and authority. The elders are engaged in priestly service of offering incense, the prayers of the saints (5:8; Ps 141:2; Lk 1:10), prayers that God hears and answers (8:3-5); normally incense would be presented to God but here it is presented to the lamb. The elders fall before the Lamb just as they previously fell before God (4:10, 5:8). And as they proclaimed God’s worth as Creator so they with the four living creatures sing of the Lamb’s worth as Redeemer. It is a new song celebrating a battle newly won. Angelic voices join in this doxology with a sevenfold acclamation of worth (Dan 7:10). Indeed, as the camera pans out, the voice of every living creature in heaven and earth and under the earth unites in praise ‘to him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb’. There is no absenting voice (Phil 2:10). Unitedly they ascribe ‘blessing and honour and glory and honour forever and ever’. This to the slain lamb who holds the scroll of destiny in his hands. The camera then retracts and focuses once again on the four living creatures and the elders. The living creatures say ‘Amen‘ and the elders worship (5:14). The worshipping community of created beings is complete. God and the lamb are universally adored. Once again as we see this preview of the heavenly court we remember that worship is the theology and life of heaven.

It is worth observing that God and the Lamb are not in competition. They are one (Ps 2). Together they bring history to its God determined conclusion. God’s will in creation will be accomplished by the slain Lamb (Jn 5:22). The voices of God’s people are part of that universal swell of praise. In fact, if they are represented by the twenty-four elders, they will lead the praise. And understandably so. They have robes made white in the blood of the lamb (7:14) and by this blood they have conquered (12:11). Yet they know that to identify with the Lamb is costly. To follow the Lamb wherever he goes (14:4) means not loving life unto death (12:11). The cost is high but the reward is immeasurably higher; it is eternal life in the New Jerusalem whose throne and glory is God and the Lamb (Rev 21:22,23).

A modern verse captures the heavenly chorus

All hail the Lamb enthroned on high His praise shall be our battle cry. He reigns victorious forever glorious. His name is Jesus, He is the Lord

Now the lamb is about to open the scroll and implement its decrees.

*There seems to be a parallel with the drama of Daniel 7. There the Son of Man approaches the divine throne and is given dominion. In terms of placing this heavenly scene in a temporal context, clearly the crucified Christ is exalted and is about to take up the task of bringing history to its conclusion (Ps 2). However, as we shall see the key word is ‘conclusion’. John’s time frame in 6-18 seems to be mainly if not exclusively the last few years before the Second Coming.

13
Nov
21

revelation 4… the throne

Revelation 4

To read Revelation Ch 4 is to be confronted with the throne.

Ch 4 introduces a new vision and a new section of the book. Ch 4, 5 are the basis for all the chapters that follow. In chapter one, John saw a vision of Jesus as the sovereign Lord of the seven churches, now in chapter four he is invited into heaven and sees a throne and ‘one who sits on it‘. It is God who fills the throne and his sovereignty is universal. This sovereignty is stamped over all the chapters that follow.

John was instructed to write down his visions. These focussed on ‘things which are‘ and ‘things to take place after this (1:19). The ‘things which are‘ comprise the messages to the seven churches where the Lord of the churches examines their present spiritual condition and circumstances. The things that ‘take place after this‘ are revealed in Ch 4-22. John is called by the exalted Christ into the heavenly court. The open door invites him. In the OT, to be privy to heavenly councils was a mark of a true prophet (1 Kings 22:19; Deut 23,18,22; Ps 82:1; Amos 3:7). Having spoken into the immediate situation of the churches in Asia, John is about to learn of the things that are ‘soon to take place’ (1:1). He will discover too that events that happen on earth are determined in heaven. This is already implied in Christ’s words ‘ Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this’. The ‘must‘ is a divine imperative: they must take place because God has so decreed it. In Ch 5 we will see a scroll that contains God’s plan to bring history to its conclusion. The scroll however belongs to the drama of Ch 5, in the meantime Ch 4 creates the setting for this drama by focussing on the throne.

What dominates the heavenly court is the throne. It is the first thing John sees (4:2), a throne and one seated on it. Fourteen times in this chapter the throne is named. God is ‘he who sat there‘(4:3). God is not directly named or closely described. These absences give weight to his majesty. Ezekiel, whose vision of the heavenly court informs John’s vision, describes the ‘likeness‘ of God in more detail (Ezek 1. Cf. Dan 7). John simply says he has the appearance of jasper and carnelian. His glory is conveyed in the apparently fiery hues of these precious stones (15:2). He is identified only in the proclamations of worship that are offered by those surrounding the throne. He is ‘the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come‘. It is he who greeted the churches in the opening benediction and revealed his identity (1:4,8). He is the omnipotent eternal God who straddles history.

The throne is a symbol of absolute authority. It is a metonymy for the complete sovereignty of its occupant. From here he rules history. From here he judges the world. This is the imperial throne of God that rules all he has made. John sees everything in the heavenly court in its relationship to the throne. They may be ‘round‘, ‘before‘, or ‘out of’ the throne but their reference point is the throne. It is the throne that is central. All that surrounds the throne reflects the majesty and gravitas of the throne. The twenty-four elders and their thrones, the torches of holy consuming fire which are the seven spirits if God and the four living creatures with their ceaseless praise all variously express the wisdom, holiness and vitality of the divine throne. Some say the throne room is modelled on that of the Roman imperial power*. If so it is only to expose how diminished the Roman throne is by comparison. Certainly compared to the gravity and power of this throne, the thrones of men and the throne of Satan and of the beast are as nothing (2:13, 13:2).

From one perspective, the throne is tranquil. The pavement before the throne is like a sea of crystal glass (Ex 24:10; Ezek 1:22, 1 Kings 7:23-26). The sea, often a symbol of the wild and chaotic in Scripture, is perfectly still and calm. There is nothing chaotic in the heavenly court. Nothing is unruly or feverish. Whatever convulsions there may be on earth heaven is not dismayed. All is tranquil before the throne of God.

Yet while there is nothing chaotic the scene is full of vibrancy and drama.

An emerald rainbow is around the throne signalling God’s care for and commitment to his creation creation (a care we should share). He will ‘destroy the destroyers of the earth’ (11:18) and renew creation (21:1) The rainbow also reflects God’s glory in creation (Ezek 1:28) and perhaps his role as the divine warrior (his bow encircles his throne) . His glory as Creator is the focus of praise, ‘you created all things and by your will they existed and were created‘(v11). Worth is a Roman virtue. Being a worthy person was valued in the Roman world. Some emperors if considered sufficiently worthy were conferred divinity. John sees where true worth lies. God is worthy because he is the Creator. Everything that exists he has brought into being. Here is incomparable worth. Creation is his and he will judge all who destroy it (Rev 11:18). The four living creatures (mainly a composite of cherub and seraph from Isa 6 and Ezek 1) in the midst of the throne represent animate creation and ceaselessly proclaim God’s praise. Praising the Creator is what his creatures ought to do. They extol his holiness, proclaiming his name and holiness continuously in the heavenly court (v8. Isa 6:3). Full of eyes they see in every direction. Nothing is hid from he who sits on the throne.

Holiness is conveyed by the white robes of the twenty-four elders (v4). Perhaps also the sea of glass. It is conveyed too by the resonance of Sinai (Ex 19:16) in the ‘lightnings, and(rumblings?) and thunders’. Their plurals adding intensity. God’s holiness is awesome and intimidating. Each cycle of ‘seven’ judgements later in the book climaxes with a storm theophany (8:5, 11:19, 16:18) as God visits the earth in final cataclysmic judgement. The description of God’s Spirit as seven lamps of fire burning complete this picture of holy majesty and power ( 4:6,10).

The proper occupation of heaven is worship. The heavenly court resounds with praise and adoration. The twenty four elders fall down before God and worship him who lives forever and ever, casting their crowns at his feet; to him, not them, belongs glory and honour and authority. Opinions differ as to who these twenty- four elders are. Many think they are the complete people of God OT and NT (Eph 1:3). Others think they are the NT church raptured. Perhaps rather than being the complete people of God they represent the complete people of God just as the four living creatures represent created life. Their number suggests the twelve apostles and twelve tribes – God’s people OT and NT – who compose the New Jerusalem. There were also twenty four orders of Aaronic priests and levites (1 Chron 24:5, 25:1). They appear to be priests (5: 8) and kings (4:4) like the people of God (1:6, 20:6). Like the church and the tribulation martyrs they are clothed in white robes (3:10, 7:13), they sit on thrones (3:21, 20:4) and they wear a victor’s or conqueror’s crown (2:10). They sing a new song, however, the song is about the redeemed (5:9,10) which seems to distinguish them from the redeemed. The main point, however, is that in the twenty four elders and the four living creatures God’s people and God’s creatures are represented in heaven. They encircle the throne worshipping and praising he sits on it. He has created all things and by his will they exist and were created. Revelation is the story not only of the triumph of the redeemed but of the rescue of creation. So great will be the liberation of creation that it will be effectively ‘a new heaven and new earth’ (21:1).

John is of course describing the indescribable. His visions are intended to symbolise truth rather than be understood literally – God does not sit on a throne. We are seeing a vision and not a video. John’s purpose is to evoke wonder. And so John leaves imprinted on our minds a sense of the surpassing glory, power and holiness God. He is the eternal God, the Lord God Almighty. He is the ‘Lord‘ who covenantally commits himself to his people. He created the universe and he rules it. He alone is sovereign. Such a vision of God in incomparable power and majesty is what his church in Revelation needs as it face a threatening future. God, not intimidating murderous political leaders controls all things. They need to see that God redeems his people and frees them to share in his reign. This is the focus of the second scene in this heavenly drama.

*Apparently there are parallels between the activity surrounding God’s throne and that of the Roman Emperor. Public appearances of the emperor showed him sitting on his throne surrounded by his friends and attendants. It seems from Domitian onwards the emperor had 24 official bodyguards or attendants. Sometimes when travelling he would be met by representatives of a city dressed in white and presented with golden crowns. Towards the end of the first century the emperor Domitian insisted on being addressed as Lord and God. Admirers surrounding his throne were constantly sycophantically praising the emperor.




the cavekeeper

The Cave promotes the Christian Gospel by interacting with Christian faith and practice from a conservative evangelical perspective.

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