Friday, June 06, 2003

No post Today

Dog tired last night. Went to bed early. See you here Monday. God's blessings.

Thursday, June 05, 2003

The Revelation of Jesus Christ

The Face of Wrath

For those who would like to start at the very beginning of this series on the book of Revelation, click here.

If you have not followed this series from the beginning, I recommend that you visit this post about the structure of Revelation. The thesis of that post is that the structure of the book of Revelation, after the vision of the throne, consists of seven profiles of the future. Each profile tells the establishment of God's kingdom on earth, but each has its own time line and purpose.

The breaking of the seven seals tells the story of God's coming judgment and kingdom from a naturalistic point of view. There are wars, famines, violence, and awesome physical phenomenon leading up to the wrath of God and the Lamb. Here is what this profile looks like:

  • Seal 1 -- A white horse and a conqueror. The complexities of studying Revelation are illustrated by the fact that some commentators see the rider on this horse as Jesus and others see him to be the anti-Christ. Those who see him as Jesus connect the white horse here with the white horse in chapter 19. However, there are three facts that argue against the rider being Jesus. First, the white horse is the first seal and it is more reasonable to assume Jesus' return in general and the events of chapter 19 specifically suggest His return to be closer to the end. Second, the other three horses represent effects that often follow conquest, and we would not want to attribute these to Jesus. Third, the fifth seal introduces a multitude of martyrs and it seems strange that they would appear after Jesus' return. Minimally speaking, the white horse represents war associated with the end. Beyond that is conjecture (some would say even the words "associated with the end are conjecture.")
  • Seal 2 -- A red horse. Peace is taken from the earth and violence grows.
  • Seal 3 -- A black horse with words of famine and luxury. The angel says, “A quart of wheat will cost a day’s pay and three quarts of barley will cost a day’s pay. But do not damage the olive oil and the wine!” Since I grind my own wheat to make bread, I know that a quart of wheat berries will make a good size load of bread. The black horse speaks of a time when a man would have to labor for a day to earn a loaf of wheat bread. The "oil and wine" speak of others who will continue to live in luxury. Even in the worst of times, there are a class of people who will profit from the misery of others. From fiction, I can think of Thenadier in Les Miserables. In contemporary politics, I can think of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos and Sadam Hussein. Dozens more could be listed.
  • Seal 4 -- A pale-green horse that brings on sword, famine, and disease. These always go together as the sword creates chaos and destroys society's infrastructure, which brings about shortages and promotes disease.
  • Seal 5 -- The martyrs. This is the first indication that we have that there is a spiritual backdrop to these events. Perhaps, as Psalm 2 would suggest, the nations are raging against God and directing that rage against His people. The sovereignty of God, which completely under girds the message in Revelation, is expressed by verse 11, "Each of them was given a long white robe and they were told to rest for a little longer, until the full number was reached of both their fellow servants and their brothers who were going to be killed just as they had been." God seems to have an exact advanced count of those who will be killed.
  • Seal 6 -- The wrath of the lamb. I hate to say that I had been a student of the Scripture for over 30 years before the complete irony of the phrase "wrath of the Lamb" hit me. The Lion of the Tribe of Judah was worthy to open the seals. He is the one who is worthy to bring God's wrath upon the earth. But the Lion motif recedes and the Lamb becomes prominent. And so, I want you to look at this picture and marvel that mankind would cry out for death rather than face its wrath. To be sure, I searched for an especially docile image. But how much more ferocious can a lamb be? Why does Revelation portray the Lamb's wrath and not the Lion's? The answer, I believe, is that God will continue to extend His mercy and the offer of salvation to the very end. God's wrath always has the face of mercy, because He desires that people will repent.
  • There is an interlude that introduces the 144,000 sealed from the twelve tribes of Israel. I will forego a discussion of who these are and whether the number is exact or symbolic. My purpose in this series is to be practical with this book, and there are many books that will speculate. Rather I will state that the purpose of this interlude and similar interludes is to give a picture of the believers in the context of the unfolding events. Besides the 144,000 are a great multitude of believers who have come out of the great tribulation. Who have kept the faith and who are now dressed in white and give glory to the Lamb.
  • Seal 7 -- Silence in heaven. The seven trumpets are introduced.

The seals have a human face: war, famine, disease, terror, and martyrdom. Except for the wrath of the Lamb, there is nothing here, except maybe by degree, that mankind has not endured over and over again. Having a futuristic view of Revelation, I imagine that this represents a coming time when these things have a heightened severity. The seals represent that aspect of coming judgment that is the result of natural consequences. As Isaiah wrote:

Terror, pit, and snare are ready to overtake you inhabitants of the earth! The one who runs away from the sound of the terror will fall into the pit; the one who climbs out of the pit, will be trapped by the snare. For the floodgates of the heavens are opened up and the foundations of the earth shake. The earth is broken in pieces, the earth is ripped to shreds, the earth shakes violently. The earth will stagger around like a drunk; it will sway back and forth like a hut in a windstorm. Its sin will weigh it down, and it will fall and never get up again. At that time the Lord will punish the heavenly forces in the heavens and the earthly kings on the earth. They will be imprisoned in a pit, locked up in a prison, and after staying there for a long time, they will be punished. The full moon will be covered up, the bright sun will be darkened; for the Lord who leads armies will rule on Mount Zion in Jerusalem in the presence of his assembly in majestic splendor. (Isaiah 24:17-23)

Monday: The Seven Trumpets

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

The Revelation of Jesus Christ

The Sealed Scroll and the Lion-Lamb

For those who would like to start at the very beginning of this series on the book of Revelation, click here.

Focus changes from a description of the throne in heaven to a scroll in the hand of God. The drama of this scene is extraordinary:

Then I saw in the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne a scroll written on the front and back and sealed with seven seals. And I saw a powerful angel proclaiming in a loud voice: “Who is worthy to open the scroll and to break its seals?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or look into it. So I began weeping bitterly because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 

Then one of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has conquered; thus he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” 

Then I saw standing in the middle of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the middle of the elders, a Lamb that appeared to have been killed. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. Then he came and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne, and when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders threw themselves to the ground before the Lamb. Each of them had a harp and golden bowls full of incense (which are the prayers of the saints). They were singing a new song: 

“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals because you were killed, and at the cost of your own blood you have purchased for God persons from every tribe, language, people, and nation. You have appointed them as a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” 

Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels in a circle around the throne, as well as the living creatures and the elders. Their number was ten thousand times ten thousand—thousands times thousands— all of whom were singing in a loud voice: 

“Worthy is the lamb who was killed to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and praise!” 

Then I heard every creature—in heaven, on earth, under the earth, in the sea, and all that is in them—singing: 

“To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb Be praise, honor, glory, and ruling power forever and ever!” 

And the four living creatures were saying “Amen,” and the elders threw themselves to the ground and worshiped. (Revelation 5:1-14) 

The scroll is interesting. Having writing on the front and the back symbolizes great content. As for the seals, I have long been bothered by the picture of a scroll with seven seals all in a row. Perhaps it looked like this instead:

  • A seal is likely a dab of sealing wax imprinted with the mark of the message's owner. Only he can grant permission to break the seal and see the contents of the scroll. What if he wanted to have separate sections of the scroll covered by different seals?
  • It does not make sense that the seven seals are on the leading edge of the scroll such that you have to break all seven seals in order to read the contents. Rather the seals have to be set in such a way that the breaking of each allows the next section of the scroll to be read. 
  • Think of a book containing seven chapters. However, instead of our paged book, these pages are printed on leather and sown together. At the end of each chapter, a cord is sown into the seam that connects it to the next chapter. The cord extends a few inches above and below the page. Now, when the scroll is rolled onto its rod and the cord separating the chapters is wound, the cord is tied through one of seven holes in the bottom of the rod, pushed through a hole in the top of the rod, and the the loose end at the top is attached with sealing wax.
  • After the entire book is rolled up, there will be seven seals that each give access to the next portion of the book. The cords attached to the rod prevent the remaining section of the book from being read until the seal is broken.

"Who is worthy?" The entire drama of this chapter surrounds this question and its answer. It is a variation of the king who offers the hand of his daughter in marriage to the knight who can do the most daring deed. John seems to understand that his having this privileged position of standing in heaven and the contents of this book are linked. But he certainly has no call to go forward. He scans the living creatures and the elders and the myriads of angels. No one comes forward. He weeps because he knows the book is of value to mankind and it looks as if he will return with the message, "No one could open the book." This scene has connections to Isaiah and Daniel:

Tie up the scroll as legal evidence, seal the official record of God’s instructions and give it to my followers. (Isaiah 8:16) 

“Seventy weeks have been determined concerning your people and your holy city to finish the transgression, to bring sin to completion, to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up the prophetic vision, and to anoint a most holy place. (Daniel 9:24)

“But you, Daniel close up these words and seal the book until the time of the end. Many will dart to and fro, and knowledge will increase.” (Daniel 12:4)

The time seems to be at hand for the unsealing of sealed prophecies--it's just that no one has done what it takes to have permission.

"The Lion of the tribe of Judah." But the worthy one does come forth. The Lion of the tribe of Judah. The root of David. The conqueror. These are majestic terms. They are full of strength and glory. It is surprising then when John looks and sees a Lamb whose throat had been cut. Weak, docile, and dead. Yet this Lamb had seven horns, which speaks of perfect authority and seven eyes which symbolizes perfect sight and vision.

Three songs of praise and worship are sung. Singing begins with those closest to the center of the throne, moves to the angels around the throne, and then to all of creation. Here was the one who conquered, who overcame by His own blood, and the testimony of His power, and that He did not love His own life, but accepted death. Here is the Lamb with the heart and authority of the Lion. Here is the ruler who will lay down His own life to show mercy. This is why the Book of Life in Revelation 20 is the Lamb's Book of Life. It is full of the names of men and women that He purchased. 

The "lion" is not mentioned again in Revelation: only the Lamb. The Lamb, however, acts like a Lion. The significance of this, I will cover tomorrow.

Thursday: The Face of Wrath

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

The Revelation of Jesus Christ

The Throne in Heaven

For those who would like to start at the very beginning of this series on the book of Revelation, click here.

I now leave the seven letters to the seven churches in Asia. It is time to look at the vision that John sees of the throne in heaven. It must have been an amazing thing to see:

After these things I looked, and there was a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet said: “Come up here so that I can show you what must happen after these things.” Immediately I was in the Spirit, and a throne was standing in heaven with someone seated on it! And the one seated on it was like jasper and carnelian in appearance, and a rainbow looking like it was made of emerald encircled the throne. In a circle around the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on those thrones were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white clothing and had golden crowns on their heads. From the throne came out flashes of lightning and roaring and crashes of thunder. Seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God, were burning in front of the throne and in front of the throne was something like a sea of glass, like crystal. 

In the middle of the throne and around the throne were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second creature like an ox, the third creature had a face like a man’s, and the fourth creature looked like an eagle flying. Each one of the four living creatures had six wings and was full of eyes all around and inside. They never rest day or night, saying: 

Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God, the All-Powerful, Who was and who is, and who is coming!” 

And whenever the living creatures give glory, honor, and thanks to the one who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders throw themselves to the ground before the one who sits on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever, and they offer their crowns before his throne, saying: 

“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, since you created all things, and because of your will they existed and were created!” (Revelation 4:1-11)

Of course, John was not the first to see a vision of the throne. Elements of what John saw are seen in Old Testament accounts of similar visions. I have a theory that each vision was substantially the same, but given the newness and surrounding events not all details were perceived and/or remembered. So I will walk through these earlier visions and show how they build on each other. I then want to conclude with the very unique perspective of John's vision and its theological implications.

I will start with the book of Job. Even though Genesis tells older stories, Job is likely the oldest book that we have in the Bible. He had a vision of the Lord, but the description is quite scant:

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: (Job 38:1)

That's it. The significance, as I will show, is that the whirlwind is a part of several other visions, some quite detailed. I suspect that the interrogation of Job during this appearance was such that Job did not look up to really see what was before him.

The next leg of this journey appears in Exodus:

And the Lord said to Moses, “Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship from a distance. Moses alone may come near the Lord, but the others must not come near, nor may the people go up with him. (Exodus 24:1-2)

Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel; and there was under his feet something like a pavement made of sapphire, and clear like the heaven itself. But he did not lay a hand on the leaders of the Israelites, so they saw God, and they ate and they drank. (Exodus 24:9-11)

Moses, Aaron, Aaron's sons, and the seventy elders of Israel saw a vision of the throne from a distance. Notice the reference to the "pavement made of sapphire a clear like heaven itself." Compare this to John's "in front of the throne and in front of the throne was something like a sea of glass, like crystal." The common elements link these two visions as seeing the same thing.

Next stop is 2 Kings and the chariot that took Elijah to heaven:

As they were walking along and talking, suddenly a fiery chariot pulled by fiery horses appeared. They went between Elijah and Elisha, and Elijah went up to heaven in a windstorm. While Elisha was watching, he was crying out, “My father, my father! The chariot and horsemen of Israel!” Then he could no longer see him. He grabbed his clothes and tore them in two. (2 Kings 2:11-12)

Note the windstorm, just like Job saw. And there are what appear to be a fiery chariot and fiery horses. However, I suspect that what Elisha saw was very similar to what Isaiah and Ezekiel would see later. Here is Isaiah's vision:

In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.” And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. (Isaiah 6:1-4)

Isaiah saw the Lord sitting on a throne. He also saw beings that he named "seraphim" or "fiery ones." Isaiah coined this term to describe them, and it will not be until Ezekiel that these are revealed to be cherubim. He had more time to look at them than did Elisha, for I conclude that these seraphim and the fiery horses are the same. This is further evidenced by what Ezekiel saw:

As I watched, I saw a windstorm coming from the north—an enormous cloud surrounded by a radiance and a fire flashing forth, and in the fire something like a glowing substance. In the fire were what looked like four living beings. As for their appearance, they had human form. Each had four faces and four wings, their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like calves’ feet. They gleamed like burnished bronze. They had human hands under their wings on their four sides. Each of the four had faces and wings; their wings touched each other. They did not turn as they moved, but went straight ahead. Their faces had this appearance: each of the four had the face of a man, with the face of a lion on the right, the face of an ox on the left and also the face of an eagle— thus were their faces. Their wings were spread out above; each had two wings touching the wings of one of the other beings on either side and two wings covering their bodies. Each moved straight ahead—wherever the spirit would go, they would go, without turning as they went. The appearance of the living beings was like burning coals of fire, like torches. The fire moved back and forth among the living beings. It was bright, and lightning was flashing out of the fire. The living beings ran backward and forward like flashes of lightning. As I looked at the living beings, I saw a wheel touching the earth beside each one of the four. The appearance of the wheels and their construction was like jasper, and all four wheels looked alike. Their structure was like a wheel within a wheel. When they moved they would go in any of the four directions they faced; they did not turn as they moved. Their rims were high and awesome and the rims of all four wheels were full of eyes all around. (Ezekiel 1:4-18)

Ezekiel saw it all: the windstorm, the seraphim (which he later identified as cherubim), the wheels, and the flashes of lightening. Ezekiel goes on to describe more:

Over the heads of the living beings was something like an expanse, glittering awesomely like ice stretched out over their heads. Under the expanse their wings were stretched out, each toward the other. Each of the beings also had two wings giving cover—each had two covering the body. When they moved, I heard the sound of their wings—it was like the noise of mighty waters, like the voice of the Almighty, a sound of tumult like the sound of an army. When they stopped moving, they lowered their wings. (Ezekiel 1:22-24)

Ezekiel also saw the clear expanse that Moses and the elders of Israel saw.

Putting it all together, we have this composite picture:

  • A transparent expanse (Exodus and Ezekiel)
  • A whirlwind (Job, 2 Kings, Ezekiel)
  • Chariot like appearance (2 Kings, Ezekiel)
  • Other beings (2 Kings, Isaiah, Ezekiel)
  • Throne (Isaiah, Ezekiel, and possibly Exodus)

You can see that Ezekiel records all the details only partially recorded by the other accounts. There are a few reasons for this. One is that he had the descriptions of the other accounts so the vision was not entirely new. Second, he saw this same vision at least twice and was able to record and remember more details.

Now an interesting and important point about all these Old Covenant visions is that the everyone looked up. They were below the throne and their ability to see who sat upon it was limited.

Now I will return to John's vision. He does not record everything, but he does add new material:

  • John sees the expanse as a sea of glass like crystal.
  • Although there is not a whirlwind, he records lightning and crashes of thunder.
  • He sees the four living beings.
  • He sees the throne of God
  • And he sees Seven lamps and elders.

But the most remarkable thing is that John sees the throne of God at eye level. He is not below. He is there! As Revelation chapter 4 begins, "Come up here." For John there was a door open into heaven and he walked through. That was the difference that Jesus' death and resurrection made. This is what Jesus has provided in the New Covenant. We have access that the Old Covenant saints did not have. We have the Son's blood that cleanses instead of animal blood that covers our sin. We have the Holy Spirit within us. As the writer to Hebrews says:

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the fresh and living way that he inaugurated for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in the assurance that faith brings, because we have had our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. (Hebrews 10:19-22)

John's vision of the throne of God at eye-level speaks the same truth as Hebrews. He is there because of the blood of Jesus. The 24 elders are there because of His blood also.

It is only a matter of time, before we will also see this sight. There will be one final difference. What Job, Elisha, Moses, John and the others saw was a representation of heaven. We must not confuse it with heaven itself. As Ezekiel put it:

The appearance of the brilliant light all around him was like a rainbow in the clouds after the rain. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of Lord. When I saw it, I threw myself down with my face to the ground, and I heard someone’s voice speaking. (Ezekiel 1:28)

The "appearance of the likeness" is at least two steps removed from reality. It might be compared to a color photograph of a splendid sunset that is subsequently used to create a pencil drawing. John and the others saw the drawing and we read a description of those drawings. We are three steps removed. When we see it finally, it will be the very Glory and Magnificent of God Himself.

Wednesday: The Sealed Scroll and the Lion-Lamb

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

Monday, June 02, 2003

The Revelation of Jesus Christ

The Rewards for Overcoming

For those who would like to start at the very beginning of this series on the book of Revelation, click here.

I have looked briefly at the letters to the seven churches taking them in pairs to glean some interesting insights from the comparisons. The one thing that I did not look at during those posts was the reward at the end of each letter for being an overcomer. The overcomer in each letter is the one who understands the situation and through faith gets over the top and beyond. In Ephesus, the overcomer would be the one who kept the high standards, but regained a sense of God's love and mercy. For Thyatira, the overcomer would understand that love and mercy were not enough, but that people had to be told and instructed to move to right doctrine and maturity. The overcomer at Smyrna would face the upcoming trials with faith and patience. The overcomer at Philadelphia would gain new strength and continue to hold to the word of faith. The overcomer at Pergamum would expose the growing immorality in the midst of the church. The overcomer at Sardis would wake up and realize what truly makes for a living church. The overcomer at Laodicea would recognize the spiritual poverty that exists and accept whatever is necessary to become rich, and clothed, and able to see.

The rewards for overcoming are quite interesting and all seem oriented toward eternal rewards rather than of this world:

  • For learning to love again, the people at Ephesus would be able to eat from the Tree of Life.
  • For facing persecution with firm faith unto death, the people of Smyrna would escape the second death.
  • For cleaning up their act, the faithful at Pergamum would receive manna and a new name. The new name would speak of a new identity.
  • For combining the love they already had with efforts to move people to maturity, Thyatira would have authority over the nations. They would be able to rule with justice and mercy.
  • For waking up, Sardis would be clothed in white garments to replace the rampant immorality that has characterized them.
  • For gaining strength and continuing to hold on the word of faith, the Philadelphians would become pillars in the temple and have the names of God and the New Jerusalem.
  • And for inviting Jesus to once more be among them, the Laodiceans would be able to sit with Jesus as He ruled the earth.

As I look at this list, I see things that we believers will all share in the New Jerusalem. Surely there is a tasting of the Tree of Life. Surely there is an escaping of the second death and new names and so forth. And whether we can identify as individuals with any of these churches or part of some and others, we all have things in our lives over which we must climb and move on. The call to be an overcomer is a call to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, and, as the Laodiceans were told to buy gold refined in fire, so discipleship and overcoming has a cost:

But they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die. (Revelation 12:11)

We can be disciples, because Jesus paid the penalty of our sin and sent the Holy Spirit. Our discipleship is revealed by our changed lives. We overcome by loving Jesus more than our next breath. I hear many quote two-thirds of this verse as in ,"They overcame by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony." But the final third is more important. Each overcomer in the seven churches would in some way have to die to self. We must walk a walk that does not shrink from martyrdom.

We can prepare ourselves by the small choices in life. Typically we do not face momentous and life changing decisions every day. Instead we face small troubles and situations. I am convinced that how we handle the small stuff can dictate how we handle the important stuff.

  • If you are comfortable with white lies to avoid confrontation, will you be able to tell the truth when the testimony of your faith will place you in harm's way?
  • Which leads more to dying to self, getting your own way or letting go and seeking the welfare of someone else? Which choice will train you to choose death when it might count?
  • If someone wrongs you, do you seek to get even or do you bless? Do you return evil for evil or good for evil?

Each day contains little drills by which we can practice dying. Those choices train our character and spirit to not love our lives so much that we are afraid to die. If you fail when the stakes are low, how will you succeed when the stakes are high? I am not saying that the grace of God will not come into play and give us the extra strength that any of us need when the time comes. I am saying that those who practice now, will have an easier time then.

Men and women of faith have always been called upon to lay down their lives to torture and death. We Christians have enemies and they are concerned about our strength and the strength of our message. Consequently the efforts to shut down our voice get stronger everyday. In this we should rejoice. If we were not effective, they would leave us alone. Before it's all over, the gospel will reach the entire world, and I believe that the Church will be a dazzling beauty in the eyes of Jesus. Consequently, there will be rough days ahead. The book of Revelation is all about overcoming evil in the worst of circumstances and this we will do.

Tuesday: The Throne in Heaven

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>