Revelations from REVELATION [chapter 13]

Then I saw another monster coming up from the earth. It had two horns like those of the lamb, and it spoke like a dragon. ~REVELATION 13:11

In this chapter we have two beasts–one from the sea, and one from the land. The beast from the sea is Rome and its political power. The beast from the earth represents economic and religious forces supporting the cultic empire. Behind the two beasts, empowering them, is the dragon. So we have here an unholy trinity.

This second monster, looking like the Lamb, but speaking like a dragon, shows that there were evil religious forces pushing the agenda of the empire, and also reminds us of Jesus’s warning to be on the lookout for wolves in sheep’s clothing. (I just love that artwork above from the latest album by Ritual Servant, a most excellent Christian metal band with up front Scripture-based lyrics)

This beast from the earth is later called “the false prophet” in chapters 16, 19, and 20. G.K. Beale sums up nicely in his commentary: “A true prophet leads people to worship God, but the false prophet leads them to worship the state (and, by extension, the devil).” This is such a simple test, isn’t it? Does the teacher in question lead and encourage you to follow God? Or someone or something else? This we must ever keep before us.

A person may speak very well, be charismatic and passionate, but who or what are they really leading you to? The speaking like a dragon in this verse reflects the alluring, deceptive speech of satan, the dragon, which led to the sin of Adam and Eve. And later, in the first century A.D., false teachers under the influence of the same dragon were encouraging compromise with the culture’s idolatrous institutions.

I’m thinking a lot along this subject line lately as I’ve been immersed in the story of the twentieth century false prophet Jim Jones. So immersed in fact, that the other day my wife Ana asked me, “So when are you going to come back home from Jonestown?” She knows all too well that when I dive in to something, I take up residence there for a month or two, absorbing every drop I can soak up before returning–hopefully with life lessons learned and wisdom to pass on.

Jim Jones never really encouraged the worship of God, but rather the worship of socialism and of himself. In fact, in an interview the year before his death, he said that he was an atheist and never actually did believe in God. Yet he was ordained in the Disciples of Christ denomination! How can this happen?

When you speak like a dragon.

When you are “gifted” in the way of saying what the people in front of you want to hear. If you are speaking to Bible-based believers, you quote Scripture. When you’re in front of a crowd of non-religious folk who have a heart for social justice, you downplay God, maybe even denigrate the Bible, and talk about how we need to help the downtrodden. This is how the not-so-reverend Jones did it. But not everyone was fooled of course.

The speech of the false prophet may be alluring, but even a mildly careful listen will clue you in on the fact that this is dragon speak, and not truly Lamb-like. Again, the main item you listen for is who they point you to.

By showing us what Babylon is really like, Revelation is asking us: Who do you belong to? Where do your loyalties lie? What are those basic commitments that make you who you are? Does your life bear the seal of God, or the mark of the beast?

Revelations from REVELATION [chapter 12]

So the great dragon was thrown down to the earth… ~REVELATION 12:9

At the high risk of intense persecutions and disruption of life if they showed allegiance to Christ over Rome, the people John was writing to no doubt had to wonder, “What’s the point? Why not go along to get along? Why not compromise with Babylon to make this life much easier and more comfortable?” In the incredible verses of 7-12 we get the answer.

Because satan has already lost the war.

At the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, war broke out in heaven between the archangel Michael and his angels against the dragon and his angels. Team Michael won, and the devil was thrown out of heaven and cast down to earth. Apparently, before this salvation event, satan had free access to God’s presence in the heavenly realm to accuse the people of God day and nite, an angelic prosecuting attorney if you will. Recall the story of Job and that the Hebrew word satan means accuser.

But after Jesus was snatched away to God and His throne (Rev 12:5), the devil’s range of operation became severely limited. This was very upsetting for him. Since then, satan has doubled his efforts to inflict as much damage as he can on God’s people and throw them off course, knowing that his time is limited and that he can’t take away believers’ eternal destiny with God. (He really thought that whole crucifixion thing would turn out quite differently.) But he does what he can to get as many as he can to choose for themselves to turn away from God, or at least to live a quiet life of drawing no attention to God or the victory of Christ.

Here’s the crux of the passage: the reason evil is at work so relentlessly in the world is not because satan is so powerful, but because he is desperate and losing.

He’s prowling around like a caged lion in his limited domain desperately inflicting damage because he’s wounded and angry, knowing that he lost the war in heaven and doesn’t have forever to do his dirty work.

Not all of the dragon’s damage is obvious tragedy. A significant portion of what the devil does is to breed a sort of cynical complacency. If he can get you to think the fight is not worth it and that the force of evil is just too strong in this life , then he gains a victory (a battle victory, not the war). Better yet, if he can coax you into thinking their’s nothing to fight, then he wins even more ground in this life since non-fighters will be numbed into marching to the beat of Babylon and joining the dragon’s team. Remember our takeaway from last time, that the point of this letter by John was a call to bear witness to the truth, to the lordship of Jesus Christ.

How is your speech or lifestyle giving testimony to the lordship of Christ?

What do your words and life choices say has ultimate place and is in control?

Are you living a nice, quiet life of little to no influence for Christ the Victor?

Or is your life a witness to the redemptive power of God?

The hope is through now knowing that the forces of evil have a definite time limit, are defeatable, and losing, that you are inspired and strengthened to do what John encouraged the seven churches to do in the face of evil–resist. Resist through the blood of the Lamb, the word of your testimony, and loving Christ more than your life (Rev 12:11). For to capitulate is to sign up with the losing side. I love one teacher’s summary of Revelation: “God’s team wins. Choose your team. Don’t be stupid.”

For more reflection on Revelation 12:11 go here.

Revelations from REVELATION [chapter 11]

“Get up,” said a voice, “and measure God’s Temple…” I will give my two witnesses the task of prophesying…The seventh angel blew his trumpet… ~REVELATION 11:1,4,15

The first 13 verses of chapter 11 continue the interlude between trumpets 6 and 7. The big topics covered are measuring God’s Temple, the two witnesses, and the seventh trumpet.

Measuring God’s Temple

A measuring rod is given to John and he is told to measure God’s Temple, the altar, and those worshipping in it. “Temple” in Revelation is an image of the Christian community. Calling the worshipping community a temple was common among early Christians. “Measuring” has OT precedence meaning protection, judgment, or possibly restoration. Here it most likely refers to protection. So John is to mark out where true worship is taking place and show that it is protected.

But in verse 2 he is told to “leave out the outer court of the temple. Don’t measure it.” The outer court represents the vulnerable aspect of the church which will be trampled by the nations for 42 months. The 42 months comes from the book of Daniel and shows yet again that God is ultimately in control, keeping the trampling to a limited time.

This simultaneous “protected” and “unprotected” aspect shows that the church during this time is both threatened and preserved. The people of God suffer, yet keep worshipping in Spirit and in Truth, giving testimony to the reign of God among them. It seems the message here is that the followers of the Lamb are spiritually protected–no one can pluck them out of the Father’s hand, yet physically vulnerable to suffering at the hands of the world. This is an encouragement to stay faithful. But this verse could also mean that there is a group of believers who are spared from the physical savageries, while others must go through and experience the great suffering.

The Two Witnesses

I had always heard that these two witnesses are Moses and Elijah, or some sort of reincarnation of them. But in my study of this chapter, most all the commentaries I have, and the two podcasts I listened to, are in agreement that these witnesses are not to be understood as merely two individuals, but as representative of the whole church. These two witnesses describe for the reader a mosaic of Israel’s historical figures who embody what authentic faithful witness looks like. They are the two olive trees like Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua the priest from Zechariah 3 and 4. They stop rain from falling as Elijah did. Like Moses, they turn water into blood. The fire from their mouths recalls the preaching of Jeremiah (Jer.5:14). Their death, resurrection, and ascension even reflect the very story of Jesus.

But if they represent the whole church, why say specifically two witnesses? Commentator G.K. Beale answers this way:

The OT required two witnesses to establish an offense against the law. Jesus also used the same principle [when he sent] groups of two witnesses. So did Paul. God sent two angels to testify to the truth of the resurrection and to the fact that Jesus would return. Above all, only two of the seven churches in chs. 2-3 escaped Christ’s accusations of unfaithfulness (Smyrna and Philadelphia). That these two churches as representative of the faithful church are in mind is apparent from the identification of the “prophetic witnesses” here as “lampstands.” Thus there is pictured here the faithful remnant church who witnesses.

You might recall from the Revelation 1 vision the lampstands which represented the churches John was writing to. We have allusion here to Zechariah 4 which calls Israel a “lampstand”. The lamps on the lampstand represent God’s presence or Spirit which was to empower Israel. From Beale again: “Just as lampstands were a part of Solomon’s temple, so the church is part of God’s new temple. Accordingly, new Israel, the church, as a “lampstand”, is part of God’s spiritual temple on earth, and is to draw its power from the Spirit, the divine presence, before God’s throne in its drive to stand against the resistance of the world.”

Love that.

A lampstand without a lamp is not effective or very useful for getting around in dark places. A church, the people of God, not empowered or led by the Holy Spirit, is just stumbling around in this dark world like anybody else. But! to operate in the Holy Spirit’s power, we are able to see in the dark with the Light of the world, and to withstand the oppression of antichrist forces.

A little sidenote: one of my favorite OT verses is from Zechariah 4. Verse 6 says, Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.

So at this halfway point of Revelation, it might be good to take a few steps back and get a 30,000 foot view of the overall message so far.

You may have noticed that the word “witness” keeps coming up. Here is my big picture takeaway at this point of my intense study of this book, and it is applicable to all of us who are believers:

It is the call to bear witness with our life and speech to the truth–to the Lordship of Jesus Christ–in our own personal context, even if that environment is hostile to that witness.

It is my hope that you keep this message in mind as we go thru Revelation here, as you read it on your own, or whenever you hear it brought up in a sermon or social media. I pray you can keep this word before you as the charge of Revelation even in the midst of the most ridiculous speculations, predictions, and twistings you may encounter along the way of our journey toward New Jerusalem.

The Seventh Trumpet

The seventh trumpet is called “the third woe” (the first woe being the 5th trumpet, and the second woe being the 6th). And yet the seventh trumpet is the glorious ringing in of the Kingdom of God to fruition, the Reign of our Lord fully realized, the kingdom of our world becoming the Kingdom of our Lord and Christ. Why on earth would this be a “woe”? Well, I guess if you’ve lived according to the satanic principle of self-worship, and therefore personal gain thru whatever means necessary, including abuse and oppression of people and nature, then yeah, the seventh trumpet is gonna suck for you. The reign of Christ messes up the lives of those living for what is not Christ.

But if you are God-centered, and feel that Godliness is the greatest gain (1 Tim 6:6), then the coming of God’s Kingdom is not only welcomed, but pretty freaking awesome.