Friday, June 25, 2010

Reflections on Isaiah 1

    Isaiah 01 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. I am Isaiah, the son of Amoz. And this is the message that I was given about Judah and Jerusalem when Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah were the kings of Judah:
  2. The LORD has said, "Listen, heaven and earth! The children I raised have turned against me.
  3. Oxen and donkeys know who owns and feeds them, but my people won't ever learn."
  4. Israel, you are a sinful nation loaded down with guilt. You are wicked and corrupt and have turned from the LORD, the holy God of Israel.
  5. Why be punished more? Why not give up your sin? Your head is badly bruised, and you are weak all over.
  6. From your head to your toes there isn't a healthy spot. Bruises, cuts, and open sores go without care or oil to ease the pain.
  7. Your country lies in ruins; your towns are in ashes. Foreigners and strangers take and destroy your land while you watch.
  8. Enemies surround Jerusalem, alone like a hut in a vineyard or in a cucumber field.
  9. Zion would have disappeared like Sodom and Gomorrah, if the LORD All-Powerful had not let a few of its people survive.
  10. You are no better than the leaders and people of Sodom and Gomorrah! So listen to the LORD God:
  11. "Your sacrifices mean nothing to me. I am sick of your offerings of rams and choice cattle; I don't like the blood of bulls or lambs or goats.
  12. "Who asked you to bring all this when you come to worship me? Stay out of my temple!
  13. Your sacrifices are worthless, and incense is disgusting. I can't stand the evil you do on your New Moon Festivals or on your Sabbaths and other times of worship.
  14. I hate your New Moon Festivals and all others as well. They are a heavy burden I am tired of carrying.
  15. "No matter how much you pray, I won't listen. You are too violent.
  16. Wash yourselves clean! I am disgusted with your filthy deeds. Stop doing wrong
  17. and learn to live right. See that justice is done. Defend widows and orphans and help those in need."
  18. I, the LORD, invite you to come and talk it over. Your sins are scarlet red, but they will be whiter than snow or wool.
  19. If you willingly obey me, the best crops in the land will be yours.
  20. But if you turn against me, your enemies will kill you. I, the LORD, have spoken.
  21. Jerusalem, you are like an unfaithful wife. Once your judges were honest and your people lived right; now you are a city full of murderers.
  22. Your silver is fake, and your wine is watered down.
  23. Your leaders have rejected me to become friends of crooks; your rulers are looking for gifts and bribes. Widows and orphans never get a fair trial.
  24. I am the LORD All-Powerful, the mighty ruler of Israel, and I make you a promise: You are now my enemy, and I will show my anger by taking revenge on you.
  25. I will punish you terribly and burn away everything that makes you unfit to worship me.
  26. Jerusalem, I will choose judges and advisors like those you had before. Your new name will be "Justice and Faithfulness."
  27. Jerusalem, you will be saved by showing justice; Zion's people who turn to me will be saved by doing right.
  28. But those rebellious sinners who turn against me, the LORD, will all disappear.
  29. You will be made ashamed of those groves of trees where you worshiped idols.
  30. You will be like a grove of trees dying in a drought.
  31. Your strongest leaders will be like dry wood set on fire by their idols. No one will be able to help, as they all go up in flames.

Isaiah's prophetic vision concerned the southern nation of Judah, though the division of Israel into northern and southern kingdoms had not yet occurred. In these opening verses of his book, Isaiah seeks to make plain Judah's sinful condition and need for repentance, while keeping up front God's desire, not to punish, but to restore Judah to His blessings. Those who see in the books of the Old Testament an angry and vengeful God read these books with blinders that see only a portion of the truth. One might be described as angry and vengeful if they deal out pain and destruction with no higher purpose than to get even. But this does not describe God who is the definition of love. Everything He does is motivated by love with a purpose of bringing good to His people.  Not unlike parents who are motivated by love to discipline their children in order to teach them. But no human is capable of love at the level of God's love, nor do they fully understand it. This is one reason God's love is often misunderstood.

Israel was like a recalcitrant child who is disciplined for bad behavior and then returns to that same behavior only to have the discipline repeated. Thus the question in verse 5, "Why do you want more beatings? Why do you keep on rebelling?" Judah's land was desolate, her cities burned, her fields devoured by foreigners, and yet she continued to turn her back on God. Judah had not abandoned her religious activities. They continued with routine regularity, but they had no meaning. Thus the Lord says, "Stop bringing useless offerings. I despise your incense. New Moons and Sabbaths, and the calling of solemn assemblies--I cannot stand iniquity with a festival. I hate your New Moons and prescribed festivals. They have become a burden to Me; I am tired of putting up with them." (1:13-14) Iniquity and worship are incompatible. We cannot claim to worship God extolling our love for Him while also practicing iniquity. Love for God requires obedience which does not permit iniquity. If anyone should doubt these truths they should notice what happens when they or someone else practice behavior that is disobedient to God or what happens when a child is disobedient to his parents. They automatically take on an attitude of belligerence toward God or their parents. They don't have to be told that worship and iniquity are incompatible. It plays out in them naturally. It is further belligerence that then causes one to continue their religious activities while practicing iniquity as if they are innocent. This was the situation with Judah as described in this chapter.

One might ask, "Isn't it like an evil king who punishes or kills his subjects for not paying him due respect if God punishes His people for not worshiping Him?" But the question, and the thought that raises it, misses the point. God knows that the people He created are in for worse suffering than the discipline He gives them if He leaves them to their own devises and those of Satan. If they turn to Him and truly worship Him, thus accepting the lifestyle He teaches them, they will have a life of blessing and not of destruction. This is what God desires for all people. This is not like an evil king who wants only to be honored by his subjects.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Reflections on Revelation 22

    Revelation 22 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The angel showed me a river that was crystal clear, and its waters gave life. The river came from the throne where God and the Lamb were seated.
  2. Then it flowed down the middle of the city's main street. On each side of the river are trees that grow a different kind of fruit each month of the year. The fruit gives life, and the leaves are used as medicine to heal the nations.
  3. God's curse will no longer be on the people of that city. He and the Lamb will be seated there on their thrones, and its people will worship God
  4. and will see him face to face. God's name will be written on the foreheads of the people.
  5. Never again will night appear, and no one who lives there will ever need a lamp or the sun. The Lord God will be their light, and they will rule forever.
  6. Then I was told: These words are true and can be trusted. The Lord God controls the spirits of his prophets, and he is the one who sent his angel to show his servants what must happen right away.
  7. Remember, I am coming soon! God will bless everyone who pays attention to the message of this book.
  8. My name is John, and I am the one who heard and saw these things. Then after I had heard and seen all this, I knelt down and began to worship at the feet of the angel who had shown it to me.
  9. But the angel said, Don't do that! I am a servant, just like you. I am the same as a follower or a prophet or anyone else who obeys what is written in this book. God is the one you should worship.
  10. Don't keep the prophecies in this book a secret. These things will happen soon.
  11. Evil people will keep on being evil, and everyone who is dirty-minded will still be dirty-minded. But good people will keep on doing right, and God's people will always be holy.
  12. Then I was told: I am coming soon! And when I come, I will reward everyone for what they have done.
  13. I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.
  14. God will bless all who have washed their robes. They will each have the right to eat fruit from the tree that gives life, and they can enter the gates of the city.
  15. But outside the city will be dogs, witches, immoral people, murderers, idol worshipers, and everyone who loves to tell lies and do wrong.
  16. I am Jesus! And I am the one who sent my angel to tell all of you these things for the churches. I am David's Great Descendant, and I am also the bright morning star.
  17. The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" Everyone who hears this should say, "Come!" If you are thirsty, come! If you want life-giving water, come and take it. It's free!
  18. Here is my warning for everyone who hears the prophecies in this book: If you add anything to them, God will make you suffer all the terrible troubles written in this book.
  19. If you take anything away from these prophecies, God will not let you have part in the life-giving tree and in the holy city described in this book.
  20. The one who has spoken these things says, "I am coming soon!" So, Lord Jesus, please come soon!
  21. I pray that the Lord Jesus will be kind to all of you.

The previous chapter described the new heaven and earth and the new Jerusalem which is the Holy City and the eternal home for all whose names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life. This chapter continues to describe it all for us. Flowing through the middle of the new Jerusalem will be a "river of living water." (22:1) On either side of this river will be the tree of life which also existed in the Garden of Eden. Though the leaves of the tree are for healing, there will be no curse in this place to cause illness. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city and those living in the city will be privileged to serve God and to see Him face to face, and to have the honor of having His name on their foreheads. There will no longer be any night or darkness for God Himself will dispel all darkness.

All those who wash their robes, presumably in the blood of the Lamb, may enter the city through its gates, while those who continue in ungodly activities remain outside the city. However, the invitation is given for all who hear to come and take the "living water as a gift." (22:17) Since those who have washed their robes may enter the city, we may assume that this invitation to "come" is for people to wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb and enter the city where exists the river of living water.

Repeatedly Christ is quoted as saying "I am coming quickly!" (22:7, 12, 20) Therefore, the message of this book is urgent. There is no time to waste if one is to be prepared for His coming. John is instructed not to seal "the prophetic words of this book," since the time of His coming is near. (22:10) In addition, there are strict instructions not to add to or take away from the words of this book. The words of this book are intended to be understood. Though parts are difficult to grasp, it is not intended to be a mystery. We should be careful not to make a mystery of it with formulas and systems that are often built around it. 

Monday, June 21, 2010

Reflections on Revelation 21

    Revelation 21 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The first heaven and the first earth had disappeared, and so had the sea.
  2. Then I saw New Jerusalem, that holy city, coming down from God in heaven. It was like a bride dressed in her wedding gown and ready to meet her husband.
  3. I heard a loud voice shout from the throne: God's home is now with his people. He will live with them, and they will be his own. Yes, God will make his home among his people.
  4. He will wipe all tears from their eyes, and there will be no more death, suffering, crying, or pain. These things of the past are gone forever.
  5. Then the one sitting on the throne said: I am making everything new. Write down what I have said. My words are true and can be trusted.
  6. Everything is finished! I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will freely give water from the life-giving fountain to everyone who is thirsty.
  7. All who win the victory will be given these blessings. I will be their God, and they will be my people.
  8. But I will tell you what will happen to cowards and to everyone who is unfaithful or dirty-minded or who murders or is sexually immoral or uses witchcraft or worships idols or tells lies. They will be thrown into that lake of fire and burning sulfur. This is the second death.
  9. I saw one of the seven angels who had the bowls filled with the seven last terrible troubles. The angel came to me and said, "Come on! I will show you the one who will be the bride and wife of the Lamb."
  10. Then with the help of the Spirit, he took me to the top of a very high mountain. There he showed me the holy city of Jerusalem coming down from God in heaven.
  11. The glory of God made the city bright. It was dazzling and crystal clear like a precious jasper stone.
  12. The city had a high and thick wall with twelve gates, and each one of them was guarded by an angel. On each of the gates was written the name of one of the twelve tribes of Israel.
  13. Three of these gates were on the east, three were on the north, three more were on the south, and the other three were on the west.
  14. The city was built on twelve foundation stones. On each of the stones was written the name of one of the Lamb's twelve apostles.
  15. The angel who spoke to me had a gold measuring stick to measure the city and its gates and its walls.
  16. The city was shaped like a cube, because it was just as high as it was wide. When the angel measured the city, it was about fifteen hundred miles high and fifteen hundred miles wide.
  17. Then the angel measured the wall, and by our measurements it was about two hundred sixteen feet high.
  18. The wall was built of jasper, and the city was made of pure gold, clear as crystal.
  19. Each of the twelve foundations was a precious stone. The first was jasper, the second was sapphire, the third was agate, the fourth was emerald,
  20. the fifth was onyx, the sixth was carnelian, the seventh was chrysolite, the eighth was beryl, the ninth was topaz, the tenth was chrysoprase, the eleventh was jacinth, and the twelfth was amethyst.
  21. Each of the twelve gates was a solid pearl. The streets of the city were made of pure gold, clear as crystal.
  22. I did not see a temple there. The Lord God All-Powerful and the Lamb were its temple.
  23. And the city did not need the sun or the moon. The glory of God was shining on it, and the Lamb was its light.
  24. Nations will walk by the light of that city, and kings will bring their riches there.
  25. Its gates are always open during the day, and night never comes.
  26. The glorious treasures of nations will be brought into the city.
  27. But nothing unworthy will be allowed to enter. No one who is dirty-minded or who tells lies will be there. Only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life will be in the city.

As we come to chapter 21, judgment and destruction are in the past and only new and awesome are in the present. This chapter unveils the new heaven and new earth and the new Jerusalem, referred to as the Holy City. It should be emphased that the new earth is not the old earth that has been 'reconditioned' nor is it a copy of the old. The new earth has no bodies of water nor is there mention of any other forms of life other than the saints of God and other heavenly beings. The new heavens will have no heavenly bodies such as a sun and moon to serve as light for the earth for there will be no need for a light source other than "God's glory" and the "lamp is the Lamb." (21:23)  

It appears that all those who live on this new earth will be city dwellers living in the new Jerusalem. But overcrowding will not be an issue. On the one hand is the size of the city which will be 1,400 miles square, or 1,960,000 square miles. On the other hand will be a much smaller population, for all "cowards, unbelievers, vile, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars" will be "in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death."  Though we are given no numbers it might be safe to assume that one-half or more of the world's population will be accounted for among those in the lake of fire. We should be clear here. Living in the new Jerusalem will not be based on whether one has ever committed any of these sins. Scripture is very clear on the fact that no one is without sin. Living in the new Jerusalem is determined by having our names in the "Lamb's book of life," which is based on our faith in Jesus Christ Who cleanses us from all sin.  Our works are not the basis of our salvation, only the evidence or lack of it.

There will be only life in this new earth, for death will no longer exist, nor will there be any grief or pain. All sources of grief and pain will be gone. Only good will exist, for those living there will live in the very presence of God where "nothing profance will ever enter." (21:27) All nations will be represented by those living in this new Jerusalem and there will be no sanctuary or place of worship for "the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its sanctuary."

Friday, June 18, 2010

Reflections on Revelation 20

    Revelation 20 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. I saw an angel come down from heaven, carrying the key to the deep pit and a big chain.
  2. He chained the dragon for a thousand years. It is that old snake, who is also known as the devil and Satan.
  3. Then the angel threw the dragon into the pit. He locked and sealed it, so that a thousand years would go by before the dragon could fool the nations again. But after that, it would have to be set free for a little while.
  4. I saw thrones, and sitting on those thrones were the ones who had been given the right to judge. I also saw the souls of the people who had their heads cut off because they had told about Jesus and preached God's message. They were the same ones who had not worshiped the beast or the idol, and they had refused to let its mark be put on their hands or foreheads. They will come to life and rule with Christ for a thousand years.
  5. These people are the first to be raised to life, and they are especially blessed and holy. The second death has no power over them. They will be priests for God and Christ and will rule with them for a thousand years. No other dead people were raised to life until a thousand years later.
  6. (SEE 20:5)
  7. At the end of the thousand years, Satan will be set free.
  8. He will fool the countries of Gog and Magog, which are at the far ends of the earth, and their people will follow him into battle. They will have as many followers as there are grains of sand along the beach,
  9. and they will march all the way across the earth. They will surround the camp of God's people and the city that his people love. But fire will come down from heaven and destroy the whole army.
  10. Then the devil who fooled them will be thrown into the lake of fire and burning sulfur. He will be there with the beast and the false prophet, and they will be in pain day and night forever and ever.
  11. I saw a great white throne with someone sitting on it. Earth and heaven tried to run away, but there was no place for them to go.
  12. I also saw all the dead people standing in front of that throne. Every one of them was there, no matter who they had once been. Several books were opened, and then the book of life was opened. The dead were judged by what those books said they had done.
  13. The sea gave up the dead people who were in it, and death and its kingdom also gave up their dead. Then everyone was judged by what they had done.
  14. Afterwards, death and its kingdom were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
  15. Anyone whose name wasn't written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.

Chapter 19 tells of a battle between Satan and his followers and Christ leading the armies of heaven. Christ was victorious and the beast and false prophet were "thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur." (19:20) The rest of Satan's army were killed and their flesh eaten by the birds. Events now move quickly toward Christ's return. Chapter 20 opens with Satan, depicted as a dragon, being bound and thrown into the abyss which is sealed. Satan will remain imprisoned in the abyss during the 1,000 years that Christ will reign on earth.

After Satan is imprisoned, those martyred during the tribulation will be resurrected to reign with Christ during His 1,000 reign. What about all other Christians? There are various views regarding this question, but it seems that all other Christians, who make up the church, were resurrected, or raptured, prior to the time of the tribulation. Those who come to Christ and follow Him during the tribulation are then represented by these martyrs mentioned here. To follow Christ and be faithful to Him during the tribulation will be a certain death sentence. All other people, those who are unbelievers, will come to life following Christ's 1,000 reign. 

Once the 1,000 are completed, "Satan will be released from his prison." (20:7) This will lead to a short rebellion which will bring Satan's final defeat. Once released, Satan will gather a huge army from the earth whose "number is like the sand of the sea." (20:8) This army will surround Jerusalem which is Christ's headquarters during His 1,000 year reign. It appears, though, that before any battle ensues, fire will come down from heaven and consume Satan's army. This will be his final defeat. He will be thrown into the lake of fire to join the beast and false prophet, and "they will be tormented day and night forever and ever." 

The next event will be the great white throne judgment. Though the one seated on the throne is not identified, it is commonly thought to be Christ. Again, there are various interpretations on this point, but it seems that this judgment is for those who are unbelievers, that this is the resurrection of unbelievers that was to come after Christ's 1,000 reign. At this time, "the sea gave up its dead, and Death and Hades gave up their dead; all were judged according to their works. Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And anyone not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire." 

A number of questions come to one in reading these passages. One question concerns the period of Christ's 1,000 reign. One would think that after the defeat of Satan's army prior to this 1,000 year period, the imprisonment of Satan, and then Christ's free reign without Satan's assaults on people, that Christ's reign would be a utopia in which everyone follows Christ and everything is good. It may be that this is much the case. But then, where does this numberless army come from that Satan assembles at the end of the 1,000 years when he is released from prison if everyone during the 1,000 years are followers of Christ? Evidently, regardless of the best of conditions for following Christ and regardless of the evidence that Christ is real and is the way of salvation, people still do not accept Him. Though the claim of most unbelievers is a lack of faith, that they don't believe, in reality the issue is one of choice. It is not the lack of evidence that keeps one from following Christ but a choice, in spite of the evidence, not to follow Him. In light of the evidence it is an unreasonable choice, and the further one follows the pathway of that choice the more unreasonable they become. Reason escapes them.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Reflections on Revelation 19

    Revelation 19 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. After this, I heard what sounded like a lot of voices in heaven, and they were shouting, "Praise the Lord! To our God belongs the glorious power to save,
  2. because his judgments are honest and fair. That filthy prostitute ruined the earth with shameful deeds. But God has judged her and made her pay the price for murdering his servants."
  3. Then the crowd shouted, "Praise the Lord! Smoke will never stop rising from her burning body."
  4. After this, the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures all knelt before the throne of God and worshiped him. They said, "Amen! Praise the Lord!"
  5. From the throne a voice said, "If you worship and fear our God, give praise to him, no matter who you are."
  6. Then I heard what seemed to be a large crowd that sounded like a roaring flood and loud thunder all mixed together. They were saying, "Praise the Lord! Our Lord God All-Powerful now rules as king.
  7. So we will be glad and happy and give him praise. The wedding day of the Lamb is here, and his bride is ready.
  8. She will be given a wedding dress made of pure and shining linen. This linen stands for the good things God's people have done."
  9. Then the angel told me, "Put this in writing. God will bless everyone who is invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb." The angel also said, "These things that God has said are true."
  10. I knelt at the feet of the angel and began to worship him. But the angel said, "Don't do that! I am a servant, just like you and everyone else who tells about Jesus. Don't worship anyone but God. Everyone who tells about Jesus does it by the power of the Spirit."
  11. I looked and saw that heaven was open, and a white horse was there. Its rider was called Faithful and True, and he is always fair when he judges or goes to war.
  12. He had eyes like flames of fire, and he was wearing a lot of crowns. His name was written on him, but he was the only one who knew what the name meant.
  13. The rider wore a robe that was covered with blood, and he was known as "The Word of God."
  14. He was followed by armies from heaven that rode on horses and were dressed in pure white linen.
  15. From his mouth a sharp sword went out to attack the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod and will show the fierce anger of God All-Powerful by trampling the grapes in the pit where wine is made.
  16. On the part of the robe that covered his thigh was written, "KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS."
  17. I then saw an angel standing on the sun, and he shouted to all the birds flying in the sky, "Come and join in God's great feast!
  18. You can eat the flesh of kings, rulers, leaders, horses, riders, free people, slaves, important people, and everyone else."
  19. I also saw the beast and all kings of the earth come together. They fought against the rider on the white horse and against his army.
  20. But the beast was captured and so was the false prophet. This is the same prophet who had worked miracles for the beast, so that he could fool everyone who had the mark of the beast and worshiped the idol. The beast and the false prophet were thrown alive into a lake of burning sulfur.
  21. But the rest of their army was killed by the sword that came from the mouth of the rider on the horse. Then birds stuffed themselves on the dead bodies.

Following the judgment of Babylon, recorded in chapter 18, come the events of this chapter which foretell Christ's coming. The chapter begins with rejoicing in heaven over the judgment of Babylon. The rejoicing praises God because His judgments are "true and righteous," (19:2) and because the corruption of Babylon was dealt with and the blood of God's servants avenged.

Following the rejoicing over the judgment of Babylon, there was the roar of a vast multitude saying Hallelujah "because our Lord God, the Almighty, has begun to reign!" It is almost time for Christ to receive His bride, the church. The church has survived, despite the prediction of her critics. Not only has the church survived, but it is "permitted to wear fine linen, bright and pure. For the fine linen represents the righteous acts of the saints." (19:8) In the present age we become cynical about the church because of so many problems we see in individual churches, but God's purpose for the church at large prevails. Those who are followers of Christ cannot give up on the church since Christ "loved the church and gave Himself for her." (Eph 5:25) Christ had a reason to give Himself for the church, and as His followers we must trust ourselves to that reason regardless of what we see in the churches of our day that seems to contradict it. If we love Christ, we cannot help but love His church. Nor can we intend to serve Christ without serving Him through His church.

As mentioned above, it is almost time for Christ to receive His bride, but not quite. There is some business to which He first needs to attend to. Verse 11 says that heaven then opened and there appeared a white horse whose rider is "called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war." Christ must first attend to Satan and his followers. Christ is followed by the armies of heaven which are poised to do war with Satan and the armies of "kings of the earth" who follow him. (19:19) The birds are summoned in advance of this great battle in preparation of the feast they will have eating "the flesh of kings, the flesh of commanders, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and of their riders, and the flesh of everyone, both free and slave, small and great." (19:18)  These are all those who followed Satan.

Christ and the armies of heaven are victorious and the beast, along with the false prophet, are taken prisoner and thrown "alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur." The rest of those following the beast and false prophet "were killed with the sword that came from the mouth of the rider on the horse (Christ), and all the birds were filled with their flesh." Regardless of how things may appear now, Christ will be victorious and His followers will share in that victory.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Reflections on Revelation 18

    Revelation 18 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. I saw another angel come from heaven. This one had great power, and the earth was bright because of his glory.
  2. The angel shouted, "Fallen! Powerful Babylon has fallen and is now the home of demons. It is the den of every filthy spirit and of all unclean birds, and every dirty and hated animal.
  3. Babylon's evil and immoral wine has made all nations drunk. Every king on earth has slept with her, and every merchant on earth is rich because of her evil desires."
  4. Then I heard another voice from heaven shout, "My people, you must escape from Babylon. Don't take part in her sins and share her punishment.
  5. Her sins are piled as high as heaven. God has remembered the evil she has done.
  6. Treat her as she has treated others. Make her pay double for what she has done. Make her drink twice as much of what she mixed for others.
  7. That woman honored herself with a life of luxury. Reward her now with suffering and pain. "Deep in her heart Babylon said, 'I am the queen! Never will I be a widow or know what it means to be sad.'
  8. And so, in a single day she will suffer the pain of sorrow, hunger, and death. Fire will destroy her dead body, because her judge is the powerful Lord God."
  9. Every king on earth who slept with her and shared in her luxury will mourn. They will weep, when they see the smoke from that fire.
  10. Her sufferings will frighten them, and they will stand at a distance and say, "Pity that great and powerful city! Pity Babylon! In a single hour her judgment has come."
  11. Every merchant on earth will mourn, because there is no one to buy their goods.
  12. There won't be anyone to buy their gold, silver, jewels, pearls, fine linen, purple cloth, silk, scarlet cloth, sweet-smelling wood, fancy carvings of ivory and wood, as well as things made of bronze, iron, or marble.
  13. No one will buy their cinnamon, spices, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, olive oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle, sheep, horses, chariots, slaves, and other humans.
  14. Babylon, the things your heart desired have all escaped from you. Every luxury and all your glory will be lost forever. You will never get them back.
  15. The merchants had become rich because of her. But when they saw her sufferings, they were terrified. They stood at a distance, crying and mourning.
  16. Then they shouted, "Pity the great city of Babylon! She dressed in fine linen and wore purple and scarlet cloth. She had jewelry made of gold and precious stones and pearls.
  17. Yet in a single hour her riches disappeared." Every ship captain and passenger and sailor stood at a distance, together with everyone who does business by traveling on the sea.
  18. When they saw the smoke from her fire, they shouted, "This was the greatest city ever!"
  19. They cried loudly, and in their sorrow they threw dust on their heads, as they said, "Pity the great city of Babylon! Everyone who sailed the seas became rich from her treasures. But in a single hour the city was destroyed.
  20. The heavens should be happy with God's people and apostles and prophets. God has punished her for them."
  21. A powerful angel then picked up a huge stone and threw it into the sea. The angel said, "This is how the great city of Babylon will be thrown down, never to rise again.
  22. The music of harps and singers and of flutes and trumpets will no longer be heard. No workers will ever set up shop in that city, and the sound of grinding grain will be silenced forever.
  23. Lamps will no longer shine anywhere in Babylon, and couples will never again say wedding vows there. Her merchants ruled the earth, and by her witchcraft she fooled all nations.
  24. On the streets of Babylon is found the blood of God's people and of his prophets, and everyone else."

The destruction of Babylon continues. Chapter 17 tells of the alignment of Babylon with Satan and his followers while this chapter tells of the destruction of the city by turning it over to Satan's demons and unclean spirits. It becomes a haunt for these satanic beings. This infestation of demons turns it into a debacle, taking away the luxury it once knew. And, the destruction is sudden - in an hour. We can imagine people in the city arising to a normal day and at some point in the day, in an hour's time, the city is overtaken with these demonic creatures and suddenly all is lost.

In this sudden hour of destruction, the people of the city will also be struck with plagues and famine, and the city will be burned. The grief and torment of its citizens will be in equal measure to the luxury they once knew. God's people are told to "come out of her" so they "will not share in her sins, or receive any of her plagues." (18:4) No longer is the city a center of commerce. Kings and merchants and sailors who once did business in the city and partook of her practices will look at her destruction and lament and mourn over the loss of this city.

The destruction of Babylon is not yet complete, though. Another angel appeared and "picked up a stone like a large millstone and threw it into the sea, saying: In this way, Babylon the great city will be thrown down violently and never be found again." (18:21) At this time the destruction will be complete and there will no longer be the sounds of music heard in the city or the work of craftsmen or the voice of a groom and bride. Life will cease in this city. Why such complete destruction and suffering? "Because all the nations were deceived by your sorcery, and the blood of prophets and saints, and all those slaughtered on earth, was found in you." (18:24)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Reflections on Revelation 17

    Revelation 17 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. One of the seven angels who had emptied the bowls came over and said to me, "Come on! I will show you how God will punish that shameless prostitute who sits on many oceans.
  2. Every king on earth has slept with her, and her shameless ways are like wine that has made everyone on earth drunk."
  3. With the help of the Spirit, the angel took me into the desert, where I saw a woman sitting on a red beast. The beast was covered with names that were an insult to God, and it had seven heads and ten horns.
  4. The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet robes, and she wore jewelry made of gold, precious stones, and pearls. In her hand she held a gold cup filled with the filthy and nasty things she had done.
  5. On her forehead a mysterious name was written: I AM THE GREAT CITY OF BABYLON, THE MOTHER OF EVERY IMMORAL AND FILTHY THING ON EARTH.
  6. I could tell that the woman was drunk on the blood of God's people who had given their lives for Jesus. This surprising sight amazed me,
  7. and the angel said: Why are you so amazed? I will explain the mystery about this woman and about the beast she is sitting on, with its seven heads and ten horns.
  8. The beast you saw is one that used to be and no longer is. It will come back from the deep pit, but only to be destroyed. Everyone on earth whose names were not written in the book of life before the time of creation will be amazed. They will see this beast that used to be and no longer is, but will be once more.
  9. Anyone with wisdom can figure this out. The seven heads that the woman is sitting on stand for seven hills. These heads are also seven kings.
  10. Five of the kings are dead. One is ruling now, and the other one has not yet come. But when he does, he will rule for only a little while.
  11. You also saw a beast that used to be and no longer is. That beast is one of the seven kings who will return as the eighth king, but only to be destroyed.
  12. The ten horns that you saw are ten more kings, who have not yet come into power, and they will rule with the beast for only a short time.
  13. They all think alike and will give their power and authority to the beast.
  14. These kings will go to war against the Lamb. But he will defeat them, because he is Lord over all lords and King over all kings. His followers are chosen and special and faithful.
  15. The oceans that you saw the prostitute sitting on are crowds of people from all races and languages.
  16. The ten horns and the beast will start hating the shameless woman. They will strip off her clothes and leave her naked. Then they will eat her flesh and throw the rest of her body into a fire.
  17. God is the one who made these kings all think alike and decide to give their power to the beast. And they will do this until what God has said comes true.
  18. The woman you saw is the great city that rules over all kings on earth.

By this point in Revelation, the seven seals have been opened, the seven trumpets blown, and the seven bowls poured out. It was one of the seven angels with the bowls who showed John the scenes depicted in this chapter. Chapter 17 is difficult to understand and has had many interpretations. What can we say about it without speculating too much? Well, we know from verse 1 it has to do with the judgment of the "notorious prostitute" who represents Babylon. Babylon has historically been a source of mystery religions and has been influential in paganizing Christianity. Indeed, some of its so-called religious rites have crept into the rituals of Christian churches. Also, since in history, Rome eventually conquered Babylon and adopted its false deities, it became not only Babylon's political successor but also successor of Babylon's idolatry. Therefore, Rome is widely considered to be the reference in this mention of Babylon in chapter 17.

Verse 2 says "The kings of the earth committed sexual immorality with her, and those who live on the earth became drunk on the wine of her sexual immorality." This gives the understanding that Rome will have world-wide religious influence in the years leading up to Christ's return, drawing national leaders into her pagan religious practices. The inscription on the forehead of the woman in these verses says it all, "THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES AND OF THE VILE THINGS OF THE EARTH." Pagan religions incorporate all the vile practices of mankind because they are man's invention, not God's, and they seek to legitimize man's sinful nature.

Along with the vile nature of pagan religions is also their nature to strike out at those who are followers of Christ, and thus, followers of the true religion instituted by God. This woman who is Babylon, we are told in verse 6, was "drunk on the blood of the saints and on the blood of the witnesses of Jesus." She is guilty of killing God's people. John was taken, in the spirit, into the desert where he saw the woman sitting on a scarlet beast. (17:3) Then he is told in verse 7 that he will be given the secret meaning of the woman and the beast. Verse 8 tells us that the beast is the one mentioned before in Rev_13:3, that had a head that was fatally wounded but was healed. The whole world was amazed and followed this beast. This beast, says verse 8, was, is not, and is about to come up from the abyss. Thus, when it was not is when it had the fatal wound, and when it will be again is when it was healed. But its return from this fatal wound will be from the abyss - the abode of Satan. So the woman, Babylon or Rome, is riding the beast who is from Satan. In other words, she is aligned with Satan. Rome and its false religions, in these last years of history, are aligned with Satan.

Verses 9-14 go into a revelation of the meaning of the heads and horns of the beast. There has been much speculation as to who the kings are that are represented by these heads and horns. Without going into such speculation, we can rightly go to the underlying point which is that world rulers, those represented by the heads and horns, will be raised up by the beast, receiving their authority from him, and their one purpose will be to use their power and authority on behalf of the beast. And this purpose will be to make "war against the Lamb." However, they will be conquered by the Lamb.

In the end, the woman, Babylon, comes to destruction at the hands of those with whom she had been aligned. Namely, the beast and all of his other followers. But this will all be a fulfillment of God's plan.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Reflections on Revelation 16

    Revelation 16 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. From the temple I heard a voice shout to the seven angels, "Go and empty the seven bowls of God's anger on the earth."
  2. The first angel emptied his bowl on the earth. At once ugly and painful sores broke out on everyone who had the mark of the beast and worshiped the idol.
  3. The second angel emptied his bowl on the sea. Right away the sea turned into blood like that of a dead person, and every living thing in the sea died.
  4. The third angel emptied his bowl into the rivers and streams. At once they turned to blood.
  5. Then I heard the angel, who has power over water, say, "You have always been, and you always will be the holy God. You had the right to judge in this way.
  6. They poured out the blood of your people and your prophets. So you gave them blood to drink, as they deserve!"
  7. After this, I heard the altar shout, "Yes, Lord God All-Powerful, your judgments are honest and fair."
  8. The fourth angel emptied his bowl on the sun, and it began to scorch people like fire.
  9. Everyone was scorched by its great heat, and all of them cursed the name of God who had power over these terrible troubles. But no one turned to God and praised him.
  10. The fifth angel emptied his bowl on the throne of the beast. At once darkness covered its kingdom, and its people began biting their tongues in pain.
  11. And because of their painful sores, they cursed the God who rules in heaven. But still they did not stop doing evil things.
  12. The sixth angel emptied his bowl on the great Euphrates River, and it completely dried up to make a road for the kings from the east.
  13. An evil spirit that looked like a frog came out of the mouth of the dragon. One also came out of the mouth of the beast, and another out of the mouth of the false prophet.
  14. These evil spirits had the power to work miracles. They went to every king on earth, to bring them together for a war against God All-Powerful. But that will be the day of God's great victory.
  15. Remember that Christ says, "When I come, it will surprise you like a thief! But God will bless you, if you are awake and ready. Then you won't have to walk around naked and be ashamed."
  16. Those armies came together in a place that in Hebrew is called Armagedon.
  17. As soon as the seventh angel emptied his bowl in the air, a loud voice from the throne in the temple shouted, "It's done!"
  18. There were flashes of lightning, roars of thunder, and the worst earthquake in all history.
  19. The great city of Babylon split into three parts, and the cities of other nations fell. So God made Babylon drink from the wine cup that was filled with his anger.
  20. Every island ran away, and the mountains disappeared.
  21. Hailstones, weighing about a hundred pounds each, fell from the sky on people. Finally, the people cursed God, because the hail was so terrible.

Chapter 16 outlines events leading up to the end of time which are described in the pouring out of the seven bowls. Much destruction has preceded these events with the opening of the seven seals and then the blowing of the seven trumpets. The series of sevens have been successive. The opening of the seventh seal launched the blowing of the seven trumpets, then the blowing of the seventh trumpet launched the pouring out of the seven bowls. When reading through Revelation, this succession can easily be missed due to the parenthetical narrative that comes with the seventh seal and prior to the beginning of the seven trumpets, and then another parenthetical narrative with the seventh trumpet and prior to the seven bowls.

Here is an overview of successive events leading up to the pouring out of the seven bowls:
Open of the seven seals --
  • Opening of the first seal: A white horse appears whose rider has a bow and was given a crown. He was sent out as a victor to conquer. 
  • Opening of the second seal: Another horse appears whose rider was empowered to take peace from the earth, so that people would slaughter one another.
  • Opening of the third seal: A third horse appears whose rider had a balance scale in his hand. John heard a voice announce high prices for food, indicating a famine. 
  • Opening of the fourth seal: A fourth horse appears whose rider was given authority over a fourth of the earth to kill using the sword, famine, plague, and wild animals.
  • Opening of the fifth seal: John saw the souls of those who had been martyrd because of their testimony. They were assured their deaths would be avenged once the number of those who were to be martyred was completed. 
  • Opening of the sixth seal: An earthquake occurred followed by the sun turning black, the moon becoming like blood, and stars falling from heaven. Then the sky separated like a scroll and every mountain and island was moved from its place. 
  • Opening of the seventh seal: Seven angels were revealed, each with a trumpet.
Blowing of the seven trumpets --
  • Blowing of the first trumpet: "hail and fire, mixed with blood, were hurled to the earth," resulting in the burning up of a third of the earth, a third of the trees, and a third of the green grass. 
  • Blowing of the second trumpet: A huge object, "like a great mountain," that was ablaze with fire was hurled into the sea. A third of the sea became blood from a third of the sea creatures being killed and a third of the ships being destroyed. 
  • Blowing of the third trumpet: A star falls to earth and the waters into which it falls are the waters of earth other than the oceans - the rivers and springs of water. It is not the falling of the star into these waters that causes destruction but the poisoning of the waters from the star so that people who drink from the water are killed.
  • Blowing of the fourth trumpet: A darkening of the heavenly lights is the result of this seventh judgment. We are told a third of the sun, moon, and stars was struck causing a third of them to be darkened. The effect is not a third less light, but a third less time of the day and night that have light. This would seem that the damage to the heavenly bodies changed their rotational course.
  • Blowing of  the fifth trumpet: A star fell from heaven to earth. To this star, who is thought to be Satan, a key was given to the abyss. With the opening of the abyss came creatures called locusts that had deadly stingers like that of scorpions. They were sent, for a period of five months, to torment those who were unbelievers - those who did not have God's seal. The torment will be such that they will wish they were dead, but death will not come. 
  • Blowing of the sixth trumpet: "four angels bound at the river Euphrates" were releaased. (9:14) The release of these angels will be timed to a particular hour, day, month, and year, and they will kill a third of the earth's population. Along with the destruction that has preceded this, a half of the world's population will have been destroyed. This destruction will be caused by an army of 200 million. In spite of these events, people do not repent. They continue to worship their idols and demons and to murder and do other ungodly things.
  • Blowing of the seventh trumpet: There were loud voices in heaven saying: The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Messiah, and He will reign forever and ever! The 24 elders, who were seated before God on their thrones, fell on their faces and worshiped God. God's sanctuary in heaven was opened, and the ark of His covenant appeared in His sanctuary. There were lightnings, rumblings, thunders, an earthquake, and severe hail.
Now we come to chapter 16 and the pouring out of the seven bowls --
  • Pouring out of the first bowl: Severely painful sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped his image. 
  • Pouring out of the second bowl:  The sea turned to blood like a dead man's, and all life in the sea died. 
  • Pouring out of the third bowl: The rivers and the springs of water became blood. The angel states that God is righteous as are His judgments. Those suffering from this judgment deserve it because they "poured out the blood of the saints and the prophets." (16:6)
  • Pouring out of the fourth bowl:  This bowl was poured out on the sun and the angel was given the power to burn people with fire. Those who were burned "blasphemed the name of God who had the power over these plagues, and they did not repent and give Him glory." (16:9)
  • Pouring out of the fifth bowl:  This bowl was poured out on "the throne of the beast, and his kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues from pain and blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, yet they did not repent of their actions." (16:10-11)
  • Pouring out of the sixth bowl:  This bowl was poured out "on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the east."  (16:12) Spirits came from the mouths of the dragon (Satan), beast (Antichrist), and false prophet and went about to convince the kings of the earth to assemble for battle in a place called Armagedon. With the pouring of this bowl Christ announces that He is about to come "like a thief. Blessed is the one who is alert and remains clothed so that he may not go naked, and they see his shame."  (16:15)
  • Pouring out of the seventh bowl:  This bowl was poured into the air and a loud voice came from the throne in the sanctuary saying, "It is done!"  (16:17) This was accompanied by lightnings, rumblings, and thunders and "a severe earthquake occurred like no other since man has been on the earth."  (16:18)  The city of Babylon was split into three parts and all other cities fell. Babylon was given the cup filled with "the wine of His (God's) fierce anger."  (16:19)  The islands and mountains disappeared and hailstones weighing 100 pounds fell from heaven. Despite all this, people still blasphemed God and refused to repent. 
It seems amazing that after all these events God's existence and power over creation would be evident and people would turn to Him to escape this judgment. But that is not the case. Denying God's existence or acknowledging His existence but refusing to follow Him are choices people make. Some may say they "can't" believe God and His teaching, but the truth is that they "won't" believe. It is a choice in the face of overwhelming evidence. Over time, evidently this choice becomes irreversible and they "can't" choose God. This would seem to be the case with those who experience these bowl judgments but continue to blaspheme God.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Reflections on Revelation 15

    Revelation 15 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. After this, I looked at the sky and saw something else that was strange and important. Seven angels were bringing the last seven terrible troubles. When these are ended, God will no longer be angry.
  2. Then I saw something that looked like a glass sea mixed with fire, and people were standing on it. They were the ones who had defeated the beast and the idol and the number that tells the name of the beast. God had given them harps,
  3. and they were singing the song that his servant Moses and the Lamb had sung. They were singing, "Lord God All-Powerful, you have done great and marvelous things. You are the ruler of all nations, and you do what is right and fair.
  4. Lord, who doesn't honor and praise your name? You alone are holy, and all nations will come and worship you, because you have shown that you judge with fairness."
  5. After this, I noticed something else in heaven. The sacred tent used for a temple was open.
  6. And the seven angels who were bringing the terrible troubles were coming out of it. They were dressed in robes of pure white linen and wore belts made of pure gold.
  7. One of the four living creatures gave each of the seven angels a bowl made of gold. These bowls were filled with the anger of God who lives forever and ever.
  8. The temple quickly filled with smoke from the glory and power of God. No one could enter it until the seven angels had finished pouring out the seven last troubles.

In chapter 15 the stage is being set for God's final wrath to be poured out on the Anti-Christ and his followers, which takes place with the pouring out of the seven bowls "filled with the wrath of God," (15:7) also equivalent to the "seven last plagues" mentioned here in verse one. Present at the appearance of the angels with the seven plagues are the saints who had been martyred that were first mentioned in chapter 6.  Verse 10 of chapter 6 records their question to God, "O Lord, holy and true, how long until You judge and avenge our blood from those who live on the earth?" Now they are about to witness the avenging of their blood. As they sing praises to God they predict that the time will come when everyone on earth will worship Him because His "righteous acts have been revealed." More specifically, they have seen God's judgment and no longer doubt its reality. If one doesn't worship God because of His greatness and His love and mercy, they will worship Him because of His judgment.

The next scene, in verses 5-8, depicts the preparation for God's judgment to take place. The seven angels with the seven last plagues emerge from the heavenly sanctuary and are handed the gold bowls with the wrath of God. As they receive the bowls the sanctuary fills with smoke from God's glory and power and no one is able to enter the sanctuary until the plagues are completed. Though God's judgment in history has at times been averted because of the intervention of one of His saints, there will be no intervention on this occasion. No priest or other agent will enter the sanctuary to seek mercy on behalf of those who will be judged. This judgment is certain. God's mercy-seat will be inaccessible for this period of time until the plagues are completed.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Reflections on Revelation 14

    Revelation 14 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. I looked and saw the Lamb standing on Mount Zion! With him were a hundred forty-four thousand, who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads.
  2. Then I heard a sound from heaven that was like a roaring flood or loud thunder or even like the music of harps.
  3. And a new song was being sung in front of God's throne and in front of the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn that song, except the one hundred forty-four thousand who had been rescued from the earth.
  4. All of these are pure virgins, and they follow the Lamb wherever he leads. They have been rescued to be presented to God and the Lamb as the most precious people on earth.
  5. They never tell lies, and they are innocent.
  6. I saw another angel. This one was flying across the sky and had the eternal good news to announce to the people of every race, tribe, language, and nation on earth.
  7. The angel shouted, "Worship and honor God! The time has come for him to judge everyone. Kneel down before the one who created heaven and earth, the oceans, and every stream."
  8. A second angel followed and said, "The great city of Babylon has fallen! This is the city that made all nations drunk and immoral. Now God is angry, and Babylon has fallen."
  9. Finally, a third angel came and shouted: Here is what will happen if you worship the beast and the idol and have the mark of the beast on your hand or forehead.
  10. You will have to drink the wine that God gives to everyone who makes him angry. You will feel his mighty anger, and you will be tortured with fire and burning sulfur, while the holy angels and the Lamb look on.
  11. If you worship the beast and the idol and accept the mark of its name, you will be tortured day and night. The smoke from your torture will go up forever and ever, and you will never be able to rest.
  12. God's people must learn to endure. They must also obey his commands and have faith in Jesus.
  13. Then I heard a voice from heaven say, "Put this in writing. From now on, the Lord will bless everyone who has faith in him when they die." The Spirit answered, "Yes, they will rest from their hard work, and they will be rewarded for what they have done."
  14. I looked and saw a bright cloud, and someone who seemed to be the Son of Man was sitting on the cloud. He wore a gold crown on his head and held a sharp sickle in his hand.
  15. An angel came out of the temple and shouted, "Start cutting with your sickle! Harvest season is here, and all crops on earth are ripe."
  16. The one on the cloud swung his sickle and harvested the crops.
  17. Another angel with a sharp sickle then came out of the temple in heaven.
  18. After this, an angel with power over fire came from the altar and shouted to the angel who had the sickle. He said, "All grapes on earth are ripe! Harvest them with your sharp sickle."
  19. The angel swung his sickle on earth and cut off its grapes. He threw them into a pit where they were trampled on as a sign of God's anger.
  20. The pit was outside the city, and when the grapes were mashed, blood flowed out. The blood turned into a river that was about two hundred miles long and almost deep enough to cover a horse.

This chapter contrasts the preservation through this great time of tribulation of the 144,000, who were introduced earlier in Revelation, with the terrible judgment that will befall those who reject Christ and follow Satan.

In 14:1-5 the scene is at Mount Zion and the Lamb is there on the mount with the 144,000. They are described as those who "had His name and His Father's name written on their foreheads." A sound came from heaven and the 144,000 sang a new song before the throne. These are said to have been "redeemed from the human race as the firstfruits for God and the Lamb. (14:4)  They are the first of those who, during this time of tribulation, remain faithful to Christ and do not accept the lie of the Antichrist. They are said to be blameless.

Following this scene of the 144,000 comes a scene announcing coming judgment followed by two scenes of judgment:
  • Announcement of coming judgment:  An angel is seen flying in mid-heaven and proclaiming, "Fear God and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come."  This angel is followed by a second who says, "It has fallen, Babylon the Great has fallen." A third angel follows saying, "If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he will also drink the wine of God's wrath, which is mixed full strength in the cup of His anger."  What awaits those who receive this judgment? They will be "tormented with fire and sulfur in the sight of the holy angels and in the sight of the Lamb, and the smoke of their torment will go up forever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or anyone who receives the mark of his name." (14:10-11) In contrast to the judgment of those who worship the beast in which they will have no rest day or night, is the blessing of those "who die in the Lord." They will have "rest from their labors." (14:13)
  • First Scene of Judgment:  Then one "like the Son of Man" is seen seated on a cloud with a sharp sickle in His hand. This One is understood to be Christ. An angel tells Him to "Use your sickle and reap, for the time to reap has come, since the harvest of the earth is ripe." He does so and "the earth was harvested." 
  • Second Scene of Judgment:  Finally, an angel appears carrying a sharp sickle and another angel says, "Use your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from earth's vineyard, because its grapes have ripened." He did so and "the grapes from earth's vineyard" were thrown into the "great winepress of God's wrath." When the press was trampled, there was a great flow of blood. 
Scenes such as these are hard for many to understand. We are prone to see God only as a God of love or only in His role as judge.  Scripture shows both roles and we must accept both, being careful not to force God into our image of Him, but instead adjusting our image to see Him as scripture, in full, describes Him.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Reflections on Revelation 13

    Revelation 13 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. (12:18) (The dragon stood on the beach beside the sea.) I looked and saw a beast coming up from the sea. This one had ten horns and seven heads, and a crown was on each of its ten horns. On each of its heads were names that were an insult to God.
  2. The beast that I saw had the body of a leopard, the feet of a bear, and the mouth of a lion. The dragon handed over its own power and throne and great authority to this beast.
  3. One of its heads seemed to have been fatally wounded, but now it was well. Everyone on earth marveled at this beast,
  4. and they worshiped the dragon who had given its authority to the beast. They also worshiped the beast and said, "No one is like this beast! No one can fight against it."
  5. The beast was allowed to brag and claim to be God, and for forty-two months it was allowed to rule.
  6. The beast cursed God, and it cursed the name of God. It even cursed the place where God lives, as well as everyone who lives in heaven with God.
  7. It was allowed to fight against God's people and defeat them. It was also given authority over the people of every tribe, nation, language, and race.
  8. The beast was worshiped by everyone whose name wasn't written before the time of creation in the book of the Lamb who was killed.
  9. If you have ears, then listen!
  10. If you are doomed to be captured, you will be captured. If you are doomed to be killed by a sword, you will be killed by a sword. This means that God's people must learn to endure and be faithful!
  11. I now saw another beast. This one came out of the ground. It had two horns like a lamb, but spoke like a dragon.
  12. It worked for the beast whose fatal wound had been healed. And it used all its authority to force the earth and its people to worship that beast.
  13. It worked mighty miracles, and while people watched, it even made fire come down from the sky.
  14. This second beast fooled people on earth by working miracles for the first one. Then it talked them into making an idol in the form of the beast that did not die after being wounded by a sword.
  15. It was allowed to put breath into the idol, so that it could speak. Everyone who refused to worship the idol of the beast was put to death.
  16. All people were forced to put a mark on their right hand or forehead. Whether they were powerful or weak, rich or poor, free people or slaves,
  17. they all had to have this mark, or else they could not buy or sell anything. This mark stood for the name of the beast and for the number of its name.
  18. You need wisdom to understand the number of the beast! But if you are smart enough, you can figure this out. Its number is six hundred sixty-six, and it stands for a person.

The sixth and seventh personages of the end times are introduced in this chapter. Chapter 12 began a parenthetical period which continues in this chapter, presenting events that are concurrent with the sounding of the trumpets which occurred prior to chapter 12. No chronological progress is being made with the description of these events. Such progress will resume in chapter 16.

The Beast Out Of The Sea:  This sixth personage comes out of the sea.  He is a beast with 10 horns and seven heads and diadems on his horns. He was like a leopard but had bear's feet and a lion's mouth. Power was given this beast by the dragon who is Satan along with great authority. The whole world is said to follow this beast, that is, all except those whose names are written in the book of life. The world follows him because it is amazed at the healing of one of his heads that appeared to be fatally wounded. The world worships him saying, "Who is like the beast?"  He was given a mouth to speak, and used it to boast and to blaspheme God. We notice in 13:7 that he is "permitted" to wage war against the saints. So, though Satan gives him great powers, he only does what God permits him to do.

The Beast Out Of The Earth: While the sixth personage came out of the sea, this seventh one comes out of the earth. He had two horns like a lamb but sounded like a dragon, or like Satan. His role was to support the first beast. The beast out of the sea is seen as a world political leader and this beast as a world religious leader who supports the political leader. To this purpose, the beast out of the earth is given powers to perform signs on behalf of the beast out of the sea. He compels the worshipers of the world leader to make an image of him and gives this image a "spirit" so it can speak and can kill those who do not worship the world leader. I place the word spirit in quotation marks because I question whether this beast out of the earth has power to actually give life, which I believe only God has power to do. Therefore, I assume this spirit he gave the image was more "smoke and mirrors" that real life.

A world religious system is established by Satan through these two beasts which many see as imitating and trying to take the place of the trinity. Thus they see Satan assuming the role of God the Father, the first beast that of Jesus Christ, and the second beast the role of the Holy Spirit. But unlike God who makes us free and allows people to choose freely whether to follow Him or not, these leaders force people to worship them. A mark is given everyone who worships these leaders "on his right hand or on his forehead," and only those who have this mark are permitted to buy or sell. Therefore, those who do not worship them are not permitted a livelihood or the ability to obtain food or other essentials, giving further evidence that this is a false religion. It resorts to force.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Reflections on Revelation 12

    Revelation 12 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Something important appeared in the sky. It was a woman whose clothes were the sun. The moon was under her feet, and a crown made of twelve stars was on her head.
  2. She was about to give birth, and she was crying because of the great pain.
  3. Something else appeared in the sky. It was a huge red dragon with seven heads and ten horns, and a crown on each of its seven heads.
  4. With its tail, it dragged a third of the stars from the sky and threw them down to the earth. Then the dragon turned toward the woman, because it wanted to eat her child as soon as it was born.
  5. The woman gave birth to a son, who would rule all nations with an iron rod. The boy was snatched away. He was taken to God and placed on his throne.
  6. The woman ran into the desert to a place that God had prepared for her. There she would be taken care of for one thousand two hundred sixty days.
  7. A war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels were fighting against the dragon and its angels.
  8. But the dragon lost the battle. It and its angels were forced out of their places in heaven
  9. and were thrown down to the earth. Yes, that old snake and his angels were thrown out of heaven! That snake, who fools everyone on earth, is known as the devil and Satan.
  10. Then I heard a voice from heaven shout, "Our God has shown his saving power, and his kingdom has come! God's own Chosen One has shown his authority. Satan accused our people in the presence of God day and night. Now he has been thrown out!
  11. Our people defeated Satan because of the blood of the Lamb and the message of God. They were willing to give up their lives.
  12. The heavens should rejoice, together with everyone who lives there. But pity the earth and the sea, because the devil was thrown down to the earth. He knows his time is short, and he is very angry."
  13. When the dragon realized that it had been thrown down to the earth, it tried to make trouble for the woman who had given birth to a son.
  14. But the woman was given two wings like those of a huge eagle, so that she could fly into the desert. There she would escape from the snake and be taken care of for a time, two times, and half a time.
  15. The snake then spewed out water like a river to sweep the woman away.
  16. But the earth helped her and swallowed the water that had come from the dragon's mouth.
  17. This made the dragon terribly angry with the woman. So it started a war against the rest of her children. They are the people who obey God and are faithful to what Jesus did and taught.

Chapter 12 begins another parenthetical section that presents "events and situations that are concurrent with the soundings of the trumpets. Chronological progress of events resumes in Rev_16:1-21." (Bible Knowledge Commentary)  Introduced in this section are seven personages that play leading roles in the end times. 

The Woman:  The first personage is a woman clothed with the sun and with the moon at her feet and a crown with 12 stars on her head. She is pregnant and in labor.  She is thought to represent Israel and the 12 stars in her crown to represent the 12 sons of Jacob. She gives birth to a Son "who is going to shepherd all nations with an iron scepter." (12:5) When the Son is born he is "caught up to God and to His throne," and the woman flees into the wilderness to a place God prepared for her to hide from the dragon and to be fed. (12:5-6) If the woman represents Israel as many believe, then it is Israel who the dragon seeks to destroy and who God hides away and feeds in the wilderness.

The Red Dragon:  The second personage is Satan appearing as a fiery red dragon. His 10 horns are thought to represent the 10 kings mentioned in Daniel who will rule simultaneously with the coming world ruler. A sweep of his tail hurls a third of the stars to the earth, and he stands in front of the woman awaiting the birth of her child so that he might devour it. Satan is described in these verses as "one who deceives the whole world," and as the one who accuses the saints before God day and Night. 

The Angel Michael:  The angel Michael led his angels in war against the dragon who fought back with the help of his angels. The dragon was not able to prevail, though, and was thrown out of heaven and down to earth, and his angels with him. With this victory over Satan there is rejoicing in heaven. But the voice that John heard calling for rejoicing in heaven also declared woe to the earth and sea because Satan had come down to them with great fury.  

Satan Cast Out Of Heaven: Though the dragon is also identified as Satan, this personage is defined separately since Satan is now cast out of heaven and is no longer described as a dragon.  When he is cast out of heaven by Michael and his angels and the earth becomes his domain and with the time short, Satan will wreak havoc on the earth. Satan was defeated through Christ's death and resurrection, he is here cast out of heaven, and will later be bound for the duration of Christ's millennial reign, and then will finally be thrown into the lake of fire. When he was cast to earth, it seems Satan focused his fury on the woman representing Israel, trying to sweep her away in a torrent of water that he spewed from his mouth like a river. 

The Offspring Of The Woman:  When the earth protected the woman by opening "its mouth" and swallowing the river Satan spewed at her, Satan then turned his fury to the woman's offspring who are described as those "who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony about Jesus." (12:17)  It is this group to whom Satan turns his attention when he discovers he cannot get to the woman.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Reflections on Revelation 11

    Revelation 11 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. An angel gave me a measuring stick and said: Measure around God's temple. Be sure to include the altar and everyone worshiping there.
  2. But don't measure the courtyard outside the temple building. Leave it out. It has been given to those people who don't know God, and they will trample all over the holy city for forty-two months.
  3. My two witnesses will wear sackcloth, while I let them preach for one thousand two hundred sixty days.
  4. These two witnesses are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand in the presence of the Lord who rules the earth.
  5. Any enemy who tries to harm them will be destroyed by the fire that comes out of their mouths.
  6. They have the power to lock up the sky and to keep rain from falling while they are prophesying. And whenever they want to, they can turn water to blood and cause all kinds of terrible troubles on earth.
  7. After the two witnesses have finished preaching God's message, the beast that lives in the deep pit will come up and fight against them. It will win the battle and kill them.
  8. Their bodies will be left lying in the streets of the same great city where their Lord was nailed to a cross. And that city is spiritually like the city of Sodom or the country of Egypt.
  9. For three and a half days the people of every nation, tribe, language, and race will stare at the bodies of these two witnesses and refuse to let them be buried.
  10. Everyone on earth will celebrate and be happy. They will give gifts to each other, because of what happened to the two prophets who caused them so much trouble.
  11. But three and a half days later, God will breathe life into their bodies. They will stand up, and everyone who sees them will be terrified.
  12. The witnesses then heard a loud voice from heaven, saying, "Come up here." And while their enemies were watching, they were taken up to heaven in a cloud.
  13. At that same moment there was a terrible earthquake that destroyed a tenth of the city. Seven thousand people were killed, and the rest were frightened and praised the God who rules in heaven.
  14. The second horrible thing has now happened! But the third one will be here soon.
  15. At the sound of the seventh trumpet, loud voices were heard in heaven. They said, "Now the kingdom of this world belongs to our Lord and to his Chosen One! And he will rule forever and ever!"
  16. Then the twenty-four elders, who were seated on thrones in God's presence, knelt down and worshiped him.
  17. They said, "Lord God All-Powerful, you are and you were, and we thank you. You used your great power and started ruling.
  18. When the nations got angry, you became angry too! Now the time has come for the dead to be judged. It is time for you to reward your servants the prophets and all of your people who honor your name, no matter who they are. It is time to destroy everyone who has destroyed the earth."
  19. The door to God's temple in heaven was then opened, and the sacred chest could be seen inside the temple. I saw lightning and heard roars of thunder. The earth trembled and huge hailstones fell to the ground.

Chapter 11 continues the parenthetical period begun in chapter 10 which provides background to the seventh trumpet which will be blown next. A literal interpretation will be given the details described here, avoiding the contortions often encountered when attempting to interpret them symbolically or representative of other things or with formulas.

John was instructed to measure God's sanctuary and altar, or in other words, the holy place and the holy of holies, as if to take stock of God's temple. He was also told to count the worshipers, evaluating God's people. God empowered two witnesses who were to prophesy during this 42 month period, or 1,260 days.  We have no way of knowning who these witnesses are and whether they have an historical identification. During the period they were to prophesy, they were given certain powers including powers that would protect them from harm. But when their testimony was finished, God allowed the beast (Antichrist) to come out of the abyss and kill them. For 3 1/2 days their bodies lay in view of the whole world while people gloated over them and celebrated their death because they had tormented "those who live on earth." (11:10)

Death was not the end for these two witnesses, though. In full view of the world, the two witnesses were resurrected after the 3 1/2 days and they stood up and responded to an invitation to go up to heaven in a cloud. Their acension was accompanied by a violent earthquake causing the death of 7,000 people who were in Jerusalem at that time. Then the second woe, that of the sixth trumpet, is pronounced completed and we are told in 11:14 that the third woe of the seventh trumpet is coming quickly. And so it does. Verse 15 announces the blowing of the seventh trumpet. This occurs in prelude to Christ's second coming and is accompanied by great rejoicing in heaven. Those in heaven are rejoicing because Christ will now use His "great power" to reign. (11:17) In addition to the announcement of Christ's reign is the announcement of God's judgment. The ungodly, those who have not accepted Christ, are described here as "the dead." (11:18) They will receive the judgment of God's wrath, while those "who fear Your name, both small and great," will be rewarded.

At that time, "those who destroy the earth" will be destroyed, and God's sanctuary in heaven will be opened. 

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Reflections on Revelation 10

    Revelation 10 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. I saw another powerful angel come down from heaven. This one was covered with a cloud, and a rainbow was over his head. His face was like the sun, his legs were like columns of fire,
  2. and with his hand he held a little scroll that had been unrolled. He stood there with his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land.
  3. Then he shouted with a voice that sounded like a growling lion. Thunder roared seven times.
  4. After the thunder stopped, I was about to write what it had said. But a voice from heaven shouted, "Keep it secret! Don't write these things."
  5. The angel I had seen standing on the sea and the land then held his right hand up toward heaven.
  6. He made a promise in the name of God who lives forever and who created heaven, earth, the sea, and every living creature. The angel said, "You won't have to wait any longer.
  7. God told his secret plans to his servants the prophets, and it will all happen by the time the seventh angel sounds his trumpet."
  8. Once again the voice from heaven spoke to me. It said, "Go and take the open scroll from the hand of the angel standing on the sea and the land."
  9. When I went over to ask the angel for the little scroll, the angel said, "Take the scroll and eat it! Your stomach will turn sour, but the taste in your mouth will be as sweet as honey."
  10. I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. The taste was as sweet as honey, but my stomach turned sour.
  11. Then some voices said, "Keep on telling what will happen to the people of many nations, races, and languages, and also to kings."

Chapter 10 is a parenthesis, giving background to the blowing of the seventh trumpet which is about to happen. John saw another angel that had a scroll in his hand. The angel "swore an oath by the One who lives forever and ever" (10:6) saying there would be no more delay. The time was ripe for God's judgment. The seventh angel will blow his trumpet and "God's hidden plan will be completed, as He announced to His servants the prophets." (10:7)

Next, John was told to take the scroll from the angel that held it and when he did, the angel told him to eat it. When he ate it, the taste of it was sweet in his mouth, but it became bitter in his stomach. Then he was told to prophesy again about "many peoples, nations, languages, and kings." The scroll held God's word, which was sweet in John's mouth when he ate it, but the message of judgment it contained was bitter in his stomach. This message he was to deliver to many people and nations. 

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Reflections on Revelation 9

    Revelation 09 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. When the fifth angel blew his trumpet, I saw a star fall from the sky to earth. It was given the key to the tunnel that leads down to the deep pit.
  2. As it opened the tunnel, smoke poured out like the smoke of a great furnace. The sun and the air turned dark because of the smoke.
  3. Locusts came out of the smoke and covered the earth. They were given the same power that scorpions have.
  4. The locusts were told not to harm the grass on the earth or any plant or any tree. They were to punish only those people who did not have God's mark on their foreheads.
  5. The locusts were allowed to make them suffer for five months, but not to kill them. The suffering they caused was like the sting of a scorpion.
  6. In those days people will want to die, but they will not be able to. They will hope for death, but it will escape from them.
  7. These locusts looked like horses ready for battle. On their heads they wore something like gold crowns, and they had human faces.
  8. Their hair was like a woman's long hair, and their teeth were like those of a lion.
  9. On their chests they wore armor made of iron. Their wings roared like an army of horse-drawn chariots rushing into battle.
  10. Their tails were like a scorpion's tail with a stinger that had the power to hurt someone for five months.
  11. Their king was the angel in charge of the deep pit. In Hebrew his name was Abaddon, and in Greek it was Apollyon.
  12. The first horrible thing has now happened! But wait. Two more horrible things will happen soon.
  13. Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet. I heard a voice speak from the four corners of the gold altar that stands in the presence of God.
  14. The voice spoke to this angel and said, "Release the four angels who are tied up beside the great Euphrates River."
  15. The four angels had been prepared for this very hour and day and month and year. Now they were set free to kill a third of all people.
  16. By listening, I could tell there were more than two hundred million of these war horses.
  17. In my vision their riders wore fiery-red, dark-blue, and yellow armor on their chests. The heads of the horses looked like lions, with fire and smoke and sulfur coming out of their mouths.
  18. One-third of all people were killed by the three terrible troubles caused by the fire, the smoke, and the sulfur.
  19. The horses had powerful mouths, and their tails were like poisonous snakes that bite and hurt.
  20. The people who lived through these terrible troubles did not turn away from the idols they had made, and they did not stop worshiping demons. They kept on worshiping idols that were made of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood. Not one of these idols could see, hear, or walk.
  21. No one stopped murdering or practicing witchcraft or being immoral or stealing.

Chapter 9 gives the blowing of the fifth and sixth trumpets. Let's place them in context. John was given a vision of heaven in which he saw a scroll in God's hand on which were seven seals. Only the Lamb (Christ) was found worthy in all God's creation to open the scroll and break its seals. Each seal was then opened individually:
  • The opening of the first seal revealed a white horse whose rider had a bow and was given a crown and he was sent out as a victor to conquer. 
  • The second seal brought forth another horse whose rider was empowered to take peace from the earth, so that people would slaughter one another.
  • Opening of the third seal brought a third horse whose rider had a balance scale in his hand. John heard a voice announce high prices for food, indicating a famine. 
  • The fourth seal revealed yet another horse whose rider was given authority over a fourth of the earth to kill using the sword, famine, plague, and wild animals. 
  • When the fifth seal was opened John saw the souls of those who had been martyrd because of their testimony. They were assured their deaths would be avenged once the number of those who were to be martyred was completed. 
To this point the destruction brought to mankind from the opening of the seals was brought on by rather natural causes - primarily war and famine.  What follows is of a cosmic and demonic nature. 
  • The opening of the sixth seal brought an earthquake followed by the sun turning black, the moon becoming like blood, and stars falling from heaven. Then the sky separated like a scroll and every mountain and island was moved from its place. 
  • Finally came the opening of the seventh seal which unveiled seven angels, each with a trumpet.
Rather than ending the judgment, the opening of the seventh seal moved God's judgment to another level as seven more judgments were initiated with the blowing of the seven trumpets.  Yesterday's Reflections outlined the activities brought on by the blowing of the first four trumpets. Here they are again:
  • The first trumpet: "hail and fire, mixed with blood, were hurled to the earth," resulting in the burning up of a third of the earth, a third of the trees, and a third of the green grass. 
  • The second trumpet: A huge object, "like a great mountain," that was ablaze with fire was hurled into the sea. A third of the sea became blood from a third of the sea creatures being killed and a third of the ships being destroyed. 
  • The third trumpet: The judgment coming from the third trumpet is similar to that of the second trumpet. In this instance, though, the object falling to earth is a star and the waters into which it falls are the waters of earth other than the oceans - the rivers and springs of water. It is not the falling of the star into these waters that causes destruction but the poisoning of the waters from the star so that people who drink from the water are killed.
  • The fourth trumpet: A darkening of the heavenly lights is the result of this seventh judgment. We are told a third of the sun, moon, and stars was struck causing a third of them to be darkened. The effect is not a third less light, but a third less time of the day and night that have light. This would seem that the damage to the heavenly bodies changed their rotational course.
We see the cosmic nature of the judgment continuing as the trumpets are blown. The blowing of the fifth and sixth trumpets, outlined in this chapter, are described as woes:
  • When the fifth trumpet was blown a star fell from heaven to earth. To this star, who is thought to be Satan, a key was given to the abyss. With the opening of the abyss came creatures called locusts that had deadly stingers like that of scorpions. They were sent, for a period of five months, to torment those who were unbelievers - those who did not have God's seal. The torment will be such that they will wish they were dead, but death will not come. 
  • The blowing of the sixth trumpet released "four angels bound at the river Euphrates." (9:14)  These are thought to be demonic angels since holy angels are not bound. The release of these angels will be timed to a particular hour, day, month, and year, and they will kill a third of the earth's population. Along with the destruction that has preceded this, a half of the world's population will have been destroyed. This destruction will be caused by an army of 200 million. As with several of these judgments, the descriptions of the thing causing destruction may or may not be literal, but the destruction is. Unfortunately, though there can be no doubt that all that has transpired has come from God, the people do not repent. They continue to worship their idols and demons and to murder and do other ungodly things.