Witnesses on earth; war in heaven: Revelation 11-12

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Today’s reading: Revelation 9-12.

John was shown an earthly temple and told the Gentiles would trample it for forty two months. This period of three and a half years hearkens back to the vision of Daniel, who was told that there would be a period of distress for God’s people such as never had been since the beginning of time. This Great Tribulation would begin at the half-way point of a seven-year treaty made with “the ruler who will come.”

He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.” Daniel 9:27

“The ruler who will come” breaks the treaty, desecrates the Jewish temple, and initiates the Great Tribulation. Daniel was told that between the start of this tribulation, when the abomination is set up in the temple, and its end, there will be 1,290 days, or roughly three and a half years. This prophecy implies that the temple in Jerusalem will be rebuilt (there has been no temple since it was destroyed in 70 AD). Perhaps the treaty with the “ruler to come” will pave the way for this end-time temple.

During the three and a half years of the Great Tribulation, the same time that the Gentiles will trample the temple, two witnesses will stand in the temple area and prophesy to the lost world. Like Moses and Elijah they will send plagues and stop the rain. Like Joshua and Zerubbabel at the time of the exiles’ return, they will pour themselves out on behalf of God’s people. No one will be able to stop them until their witness is complete. Then the Antichrist will kill them, but God will resurrect them and take them to heaven in a display of his mighty power.

Then the pendulum of Revelation swings back in time to the birth of Jesus. In allegorical fashion John describes a woman clothed in the sun, with the moon under her feet, and a crown of twelve stars. She labors to give birth to a son who will rule the world with an iron scepter, the Lord Jesus. As she labors the great red dragon, Satan, stands ready to devour her child, who is snatched up to heaven. Who is the woman? Not the church, since Jesus gave birth to the church rather than the other way around. Not Mary, because this woman is pursued by the dragon during the same three and a half year period associated with the tribulation. She most resembles Joseph’s vision of the sun, moon, and eleven stars bowing down to Joseph. Jacob recognized the dream concerned himself (Israel) and his family. This woman is Israel, but also the universal assembly of God’s people in every age, Jews and Gentiles who “obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” (An alternative interpretation says that this prophecy refers specifically to believing Jews in the tribulation.)

Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). John saw a great battle in heaven between Satan with his angels and Michael with his angels. Satan lost and was expelled from heaven. Commentators argue about when this did or will happen. Some say it describes Satan’s original fall from grace, others say it describes Satan’s loss of power with the victory of Jesus on the cross, and still others say it will happen just before the tribulation. The results are the same for all these possibilities: the kingdom has come, and the devil works furiously in the short time left to him.

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.” Revelation 12:10-12

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Heaven and Earth: Revelation 4-8

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Today’s reading: Revelation 4-8.

Because Jesus is a Lion-like Lamb and a Lamb-like Lion, he has the right to bring the world to an end for the glory of his name and the good of his people. – John Piper

The Revelation swings back and forth through space and time like a cosmic pendulum. Now in heaven, now on earth. Now in the present, now in the future. God’s rule over all these events is the most important lesson for the churches.

Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” Revelation 5:11-12

In heaven

  • A holy God. God sits on his throne, in a scene that is both present and future, surrounded by elders, angels, and heavenly creatures. No matter what happens, He is in control and waits to receive his saints.
  • The worthy lamb. Who can open the sealed scroll? Who holds the property deed to the world? Who has the authority to dictate what will happen on earth? Only King Jesus, the lion of Judah and the lamb of God.

On earth

  • The four horsemen. The opening of the scroll sets terrible events in motion. The white horse, conquering the world, is most likely the Antichrist. The red horse brings war, the black horse famine, and the pale horse death. These are the birth pangs of the end times as described by Jesus in Matthew 24.

Between heaven and earth

  • The cosmic disturbance. The darkened sun, blood-red moon, and falling stars are further events from Jesus’ description of the end-times, leading to his second coming.

In heaven

  • The multitude from every group of people. These are the saved, the redeemed, those bought by the blood of the lamb. Where are they? In heaven. Where did they come from? From out of the Great Tribulation. Did they arrive before, during, or after the tribulation? Christians disagree, but Jesus says the angels will gather his elect after the cosmic disturbance (Matthew 24). Paul says it will not happen before the man of lawlessness, the Antichrist, is revealed.

On earth

  • The trumpet judgments. With the church removed from the world, God begins to pour out the full measure of his wrath upon the unbelieving world. One third of the earth’s resources are destroyed. Yet the cry from heaven is “Woe, woe, woe” because even greater judgments are coming.

God is going to invade this earth in force. But what’s the good of saying you’re on his side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else, something it never entered your head to conceive comes crashing in. Something so beautiful to us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left. This time it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love, or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down, when it’s become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing; it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realize it or not. Now, today, in this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last forever; we must take it or leave it. – C. S. Lewis

The wars and famines predicted in the second and third seals are not unfamiliar events in the history of the world, but never before since the time of Noah has a judgment so devastating been consummated as to destroy one-fourth of the earth’s population at one stroke. – Walvoord

It seems best to say that the seals, trumpets, and bowls that will be described later are not strictly sequential events. Chronologically, the trumpets do not follow the seals and the bowls do not follow the trumpets. The first six seals are “a summary of the judgments distributed over the whole book; a brief summary of what will occur in ‘the day of the Lord,’ up the time of His actual Apocalypse or Unveiling in chapter 19.” (Bullinger) That span begins with the revelation of the Antichrist (the first seal) and it concludes with the revealing of the face of Him who sits on the throne (the seventh seal). – David Guzik

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The Unveiling: Revelation 1-3

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Today’s reading: Revelation 1-3.

Revelation begins with the end in sight.

Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” Revelation 1:7-8

It’s not a gospel book of the good news about Jesus, or a historical account like Acts, or an instructional letter. It is an apocalypse. In modern usage that implies the end of the world, but in terms of Revelation it refers to a title, a theme, and a style. This book is, literally, the Apocalypse of Jesus Christ, meaning the unveiling or uncovering. Something mysterious or hidden is being revealed. That is the title and theme. The style of the book is also apocalyptic, and that style gives meaning to the message of Revelation. Apocalyptic writing, like that in the book of Daniel, includes symbolism, dreams or visions, angelic interpreters, symbolic numbers, forecasts of the end times, and an expectation that this world will have to pass away to make room for a better future. Like Daniel’s vision which was sealed up until the end time, it may also mean that parts of Revelation will not make sense until the time of its fulfillment.

This is the Apocalypse of Jesus. He is its author and its subject. Revelation emphasizes that Jesus is eternal. He has existed since before the creation of the universe. He will still be ruling when this world melts away and is replaced. He is ever-present. He stood among the churches in the days of John the apostle and he still stands among his churches today. He is pre-eminent. To say he is first and last speaks of his superiority in time but also his exceeding greatness in character. He is expected. His coming again is near, so that we must remain watchful for his return.

Revelation speaks of things that have been, the time when Jesus walked the earth in human form. It speaks of things that are, the present age when Jesus walks among his churches in spirit. It speaks of things to come, when Jesus will return to reign on earth.

Above all else, Revelation is a message to the churches, and it conveys a pastor’s or shepherd’s concern, whether that be Jesus or the apostle John, for the congregations of the churches. I don’t believe the seven churches of Revelation symbolize seven periods of world history – these were real churches – but they do exemplify strengths and weaknesses of many churches and they illustrate how Jesus interacts with his body of believers.

Ephesus: the church that abandoned its early love for Jesus. To them he is the one who holds them in his hand and walks among them. He commands them to repent, but commends their perseverance. Those who overcome will eat from the tree of life. If we love Jesus greatly we will receive the gift of eternal life.

Smyrna: the church facing persecution. To them he is the first and last, the one who died and rose to life. If they remain faithful, even to death, they will receive the crown of life. Those who overcome will not be hurt by the second death. Persecution will not destroy our faith because believers do not face spiritual death.

Pergamum: the church with false teachers. To them he is the one with the two-edged sword. Jesus commands them to repent, or he will fight against them. Those who overcome will receive the hidden manna and a white stone with a new name written on it. Believers have a unique relationship with Jesus by which he nourishes and strengthens them.

Thyatira: had a false prophetess. To them he is the one with eyes like fire and feet like burnished bronze. Unless they repent, those who commit adultery with the false prophetess with suffer. Those who overcome will receive authority over the nations and will be given the morning star. Believers will govern the nations when Jesus returns.

Sardis: had fallen asleep. To them he is the one who holds them. Jesus told them to wake up or he would come like a thief.  Those who overcome will receive white clothes and their names will never be removed from the book of life. The righteous actions of believers are a confirmation that they will receive eternal life.

Philadelphia: had patiently endured. To them he is the one who holds the keys, opening what no one can shut and shutting what no one can open. Because they have patiently endured, he will keep them from the trial coming upon the whole earth. Those who overcome will be a pillar in the temple of God, in the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven. The body of Christ, the church, will be a living temple in the New Jerusalem.

Laodicea: had only a lukewarm faith. To them he is the faithful and true witness, the ruler of creation. He counsels them to buy true gold from him, and white clothes, and salve to cure their blindness. He stands at the door and knocks. Those who overcome will sit with him on his throne. Those who accept Jesus as Lord will rule and reign with him.

Jesus calls to the overcomers because there will be much to overcome in the days ahead. Those who endure the difficult times will enjoy eternal blessings in the new heaven and earth.

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The end is near

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I began reading and blogging through the Bible daily in November of 2013. In the next week or so, after six posts on the book of Revelation, my year (plus a few months) of blogging biblically will be complete. The personal benefit has been tremendous in terms of my own spiritual education. I hope those of you who have been reading have learned some truth as well.

What’s next? I haven’t answered that question yet. I know I won’t be continuing the same daily pace of writing. It is too time consuming for one who is still working in a medical practice and has family relationships to maintain. I will leave the blog posts from the past year online. I encourage you to use them to help you read through the Bible in a year. I will be working on putting the posts into book format to share with others.

If you have suggestions about what kind of posts you would like to see in the future, I would love to hear them. I may continue in a weekly format, but my focus is still undecided. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts.

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Supporting the missionaries: 2 John, 3 John

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Today’s reading: 2 John – Jude.

The world has been full of itinerant preachers since the earliest days of the church. Back then they were called prophets. Today we call them missionaries or evangelists. Many are spirit-filled men and women who are working hard to enlarge God’s kingdom. Some are con-men out to make an easy living. Some are agents of the devil spreading falsehood. Second and Third John try to strike a balance between our awareness of those who are false and our support of those who are true.

Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work. 2 John:7-11

Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth. 3 John:5-8

Second John describes the message of the false teachers who were invading the early church. Second Peter and Jude share many of the same verses about the character and message of the false teachers (Second Peter probably used Jude as source material). They deny the doctrines about Jesus Christ. They run ahead into false teachings that deny the deity or humanity of Jesus, or contest his Lordship, or refute his resurrection. They abuse his grace to promote immoral, sensual lifestyles. Believers need to be on guard in order to identify these deceivers so that they do not support them in any way, such as offering them hospitality.

There are also servants of God who are traveling about, speaking the truth of God to the lost and to churches. Some of them are evangelists who concentrate on speaking the gospel to unbelievers. Others are missionaries who work on establishing churches in unreached areas of the world, including America. They deserve our support and hospitality. As John said, the pagan world will not help them; it’s up to believers to do so. To guard against abuses, the early church had teachings (the Didache) which specified how the itinerant messengers should be treated (housing them for no more than two to three days, for instance; turning them out if it became clear they were only seeking money). The possibility of abuses did not stop the practice of supporting the prophets, however, and we should not stop supporting the tested and true missionaries of our own day.

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Proofs of salvation: I John

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Today’s reading: I John 1-5.

“Is there such a thing as a test of my salvation?”

The tests of true faith are the meat of First John. John said, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” He didn’t write them to identify the faithless but to encourage the faithful. He prescribed a self-test that Christians can take to prove to themselves that they are one with God, or as the song says, so they can “know that they know that they know that they know.”

And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. I John 2:3

One test of salvation is the test of obedience. True believers keep the commandments of God. Perhaps you thought all the commandments went away with the Law of Moses. If so, you were mistaken. The New Testament is full of commands for Christians. “Be holy, as I am holy.” “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thank in all circumstances.” “Show no favoritism.” The list goes on. John said, “the man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar,” and “whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did,” and “you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.” He also states this test in the negative: “Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.

We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. I John 3:14

The next test is the test of brotherly love. According to John, anyone who hates his brother is stumbling around in darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light of God’s guidance and will not stumble. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, killing in thought if not in deed, and those who continue to murder will not inherit eternal life. The one who loves will express his love in actions as well as words. He will lay down his life for his brother. He will share his possessions with his brother who is in need.

And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us. 3:24

We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 4:13

John also wrote about the test of the Holy Spirit. Those who are saved receive the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit within them testifies to the truth of their salvation. As Paul said, the Spirit, which is the down payment or earnest money of our heavenly inheritance, “testifies with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16). This is an assurance that comes directly from the Trinity.

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well…And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.  5:1, 11-12

Some tests are tests of action, but the test of belief in Jesus Christ is a test of faith. The man who denies that Jesus is the Christ is opposed to Christ; he is an antichrist. “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.” “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,” and if we can make that profession then we know that we have God’s Spirit in us. If we believe in Jesus, we have accepted God’s testimony about him, that he is truly his own son.

There are a few other tests in John’s letter. There is the test of confession; the one who is saved does not deny his sin but admits it to God. There is the test of worldliness; the true believer hates the ways of the world and is devoted to Jesus. There is the test of habitual sin; no one who belongs to God continually repeats the same sins without remorse or repentance.

Do you see other tests of salvation in John’s letter? Remember, he gave us these tests to strengthen our assurance and to increase the knowledge of our salvation. For those who have doubts, it is an opportunity to examine whether you have repented from sin and put your faith in Jesus Christ as God’s son. John reminds us that we can confidently approach God with all our concerns, including concerns about our faith. He hears us, and having heard us, we will receive what we asked of him, even faith.

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Truth vs. Heresies: 2 Peter 2

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Today’s reading: 2 Peter 1-3.

Peter says some will arise in church who “will bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them,” which tells us that these men are not mere atheistic antagonists of Christianity—we have always had those—but these will be men who claim to be Christians, who profess to love the Lord Jesus, who profess to be followers of Christ; yet the things that they teach will deny everything that he stood for. What echoes of some of the voices that are raised in our day! – Ray Stedman

First Peter was all about hope in a time of suffering, but Second Peter focuses on truth in a time of false teaching. Peter lays down a familiar foundation of New Testament doctrine, then builds a protective wall against the heresies of false teachers who were invading the church.

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them–bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2 Peter 2:1

The character of the false teachers. Not every false teacher would necessarily possess all these bad character traits.

  • Selfish. In the old or original sense, meaning they are full of themselves, prideful, arrogant, boasting.
  • Stupid. Though they claim wisdom and knowledge they are ignorant of the truth and empty of reason, like an animal.
  • Sensual. They pursue the pleasures of the flesh, reveling in sensual sins, and dragging others into their sin.
  • Shameless. They are slaves of depravity and make no excuse for it.
  • Striving for gain. They are greedy, using their position to make a profit.

The heresies of the false teachers. These were the false doctrines that were being promoted in the early church. Versions of them still circulate today.

  • Jesus is not Lord. Peter doesn’t specify how the heresy diminishes the Lordship of Christ. Some heresies claim that he was not fully human, others that he was not divine. Peter says they deny the Lord “who bought them,” suggesting the false teaching either downplays the atonement, or removes the obligation to obey the commands of the one who bought us. “For you were bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your bodies.”
  • The world is unchanging. The false teachers denied the second coming of Jesus and the judgment connected with it. In their opinion the world would just carry on as it always had. Peter sank this teaching by showing how God had intervened in the past at the time of creation and at the time of the flood. He promised God would intervene again when he destroyed the material world with fire. The apparent lack of change was only God’s patience giving time for sinful men to repent.
  • Believers are free to pursue any pleasure. The heretics preached a freedom that was not the freedom from slavery to sin, but a freedom to sin as you please. They based this on a conception that the material body was of no value and therefore it didn’t matter what you did with it, or that grace made up for any sin you committed.

Many of these early heresies were given names. Here are a few of them:

  • Docetism: Jesus was only a spirit being and did not have a physical body.
  • Gnosticism: Dualism characterized this heresy. The body was evil, trapping the soul, which had to ascend back to the divine spirit world through special knowledge.
  • Antinomianism: It stated that because of grace, Christians were free from any obligation to obey a moral code.
  • Arianism: Denied the divinity of Jesus Christ
  • Marcionism: Rejected the Old Testament and the Hebrew concept of God, instead promoting the all-forgiving God of the New Testament.

The answer to give to a person (inside or outside the church) who says that we are enslaved to an old-fashioned sexual morality is this: 1) All immorality is just as old-fashioned as biblical morality. 2) Why should it be called slavery when we freely choose to govern our passions according to divine principles, but be called freedom when you follow the dictates of your passions? If we choose to follow God and you choose to follow your impulses, who’s the fool? Listen! Don’t let the world shape you! The world is covered with darkness ( 2 Peter 1:19). It is enslaved to irrational passions. And unless it turns and repents, it is doomed. – John Piper

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