Revelations from REVELATION [chapter 19]

Then I heard something like the sound of a great crowd, like the sound of many waters, and like the sound of strong thunder, saying, “Hallelujah! The Lord our God, the Almighty, has become king!” ~REVELATION 19:6

Did you know that the word hallelujah occurs only four times in the entire New Testament? And that all four of those instances are found right here in Revelation 19?

Well now you do!

Hallelujah is the transliteration from a Hebrew liturgical formula which means “Praise Yahweh”. Like Hosanna, it is one of the few Hebrew words which have established themselves into everyday religious vernacular.

A little more “Did You Know?” The Greek word translated as “Almighty” in this verse is used only ten times in the New Testament, nine of which are in Revelation. The only other instance is in an Old Testament quotation in 2 Corinthians 6:18. That word is Pantokrator, meaning “the one who holds control over all things” is “the ruler of all”.

The significance? This shows us the characteristic theme of Revelation: Yahweh is the ONE in ultimate control of all things whatsoever, and thus is worthy of our complete and unending praise. Basically, you really should join and stay on God’s team no matter what.

Let’s go another layer deeper into the significance of all this. Revelation was written to a people and at a time of some of the worst and most intense persecution of God’s followers that we know of. As William Barclay put it:

“There was never a time in history in which such forces were drawn up against the Church as when the Revelation was written. There was never a time when the Christian was called upon to undergo such suffering and to accept so continually the prospect of a cruel death. And yet in such times John calls God pantokrator. Here is faith and confidence; and the whole point of this passage is that that faith and confidence are vindicated.”

As C.S. Lewis said, “We need more reminding than instructing.”

Revelation gives us the most cosmic of reminders–that God created everything, controls everything, and is the hands down, no doubt Victor in the end. God will mete out pure and righteous judgment upon all those who, like Rome in the first century, have committed the worst of sins (teaching others to sin (v.2), and killing God’s people (v.2)–two very big no-nos), all the while refusing to turn from those ways and to turn toward Yahweh. It is in the roughest times that we need these Spirit infused reminders of what is really true, of who is indeed in charge of all things. We do not have to comprehend all things or know every single “why” of each situation. But we are called to be faithful.

It is important to begin each day with praise and gratitude towards our Maker, for it aligns us appropriately for the day ahead, and puts us in our proper place where we were designed to exist and abundantly live. Over the years I’ve talked with several people who said they would begin their day by turning on the news. Now as you know, that can be rather depressing and keenly fear-based. It is not the way I would suggest for anyone to start their day, unless they’re just a little too happy with themselves and need to be knocked down a notch or two.

Instead, each day for us who believe needs to be initiated with some spirit calibration, attuning ourselves anew each day to praising our God, the Almighty, the Pantokrator. Then we need to remind ourselves, throughout the day, of the truth of who holds everything together no matter how it may look at the moment. When our mind is rightly ordered, we exude praise and are manifestly aware, at least on some level, of God’s permeating omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence. One way we can know if we are a bit off center is if the cares of this life are crowding out thoughts of God’s greatness, if the thoughts of this world are overriding our circuits and facilitating fear and disgust more than praise and gratitude. How we need to remind each other of the theme of Revelation! Sometimes we do of course see the Kingdom in action and spreading, and we rejoice. But other times we seem to only see evil getting ahead, and that is probably when we most acutely require the encouragement which comes from praising God simply for who He is, and expressing gratitude for every good gift from above, of which there are a plethora.

And don’t forget, God wins.


Revelations from REVELATION [chapter 18]

Babylon the Great has fallen! She has fallen! She has become a place for demons to live, a refuge for every unclean spirit… ~REVELATION 18:2

Here is the big theological picture of chapter eighteen: Preparing the earth for the reoccupation of its rightful King–Messiah, Jesus. All obstructions to the loving, perfect rulership of Christ will be cleared away. They must be. All false gods must and will be kicked out to make room for the one true God.

The term “Babylon” had come to signify any anti-God world system under satanic influence, any culture seduced and animated by evil entities and their agenda. This is what we mean when we say “the way of the world” with a negative connotation. This also sheds light on the title “Ruler of this world” used for the devil in Scripture. It is not that the devil is so powerful that he runs everything on planet earth, it’s simply a way of saying that he is in charge of those who have surrendered to his seduction, knowingly or not, and who have allowed their God-given authority over their own bodies, minds, souls, and domains to be usurped by the great deceiver, and hijacked for nefarious purposes.

Rome was the Babylon of the first century. She had become a dwelling place for demons. Evil was comfortable living there since the leaders and so many others had surrendered to the seduction of unclean spirits and the worldly comforts of excess they provided.

One major aspect of Rome’s evil was that they had turned everything, which the Lord ultimately made and provided, into a commodity. They slapped an exorbitant price on everything they could get their self-serving hands on. There is quite the inventory list of Rome’s commodities in vv. 12-13, which the merchants of the world are weeping and mourning over because Rome is being utterly destroyed for her wickedness. What is particularly sad is found at the end of this inventory list, the merchandise mentioned after cattle, sheep, horses, and chariots–the bodies and souls of human beings.

Rome had turned human lives into a product to be bought and sold.

The language John uses is peculiar. Apparently no one really wrote like this in the first century when speaking of slavery. Ancient writers would indeed say “bodies” as John does, but not “souls”. That is interesting, and poignantly appropriate, isn’t it? With slavery, trafficking, you are disrespecting and disregarding human souls–the whole person. This particular evil is all-encompassing and horrifyingly dehumanizing, as I believe John is trying to convey here. Not only had Rome turned the precious stones, spices, and animals of the earth into their own exclusive cargo for profit–again, all created and generously provided by Yahweh for everyone–but they had even taken God’s uniquely special creation, humans made in His image, and treated them as mere property.

All of this was done under the influence of evil spiritual beings (that’s a Ripple for another day), and therefore must be undone in order for God’s kingdom to be fully consummated and for abundant Life to flourish.

It was serendipitous to come across this verse as we just saw Sound of Freedom in the theater this week. It is one of the most powerful films I’ve ever seen. I was an absolute tear-drenched mess while watching it, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. As difficult as it is, we do need to face the reality and horror of what happens to so many of God’s children. I love this powerful line delivered by Jim Caviezel: “God’s children are not for sale.”

May we each do our part to bring God’s Kingdom into reality more and more fully while we are here, and push back the gates of hell a little farther every day.

Revelations from REVELATION [chapter 17]

I saw that the woman was drunk on the blood of the saints and the blood of the witnesses to Jesus. And I was completely amazed when I saw her. Then the angel said to me, “Why are you amazed? I will tell you the mystery of the woman...” ~REVELATION 17:6-7

Rome was pretty proud of herself. She thought quite highly of the empire she had become. That’s Roma the Roman goddess up there on the right side of a coin from about A.D. 71. She sits atop seven mountains as Rome was known as “the city set on seven hills”, and this was a picture of world domination. Rome was this great world power in the first century. But John depicted Rome as nothing more than a drunken whore.

Strong language.

While many back then called Rome “the mother of all cities”, John calls her the mother of whores and of the vile things of earth (v.5), characterized by conspicuous consumption and violence. Apparently John was not impressed.

Or was he?

It struck me that when he sees her, drunk as she is on martyrs blood, that he is “completely amazed” at the sight of her. The Greek word here is thaumazein, and I’ve also seen it translated as greatly astonished, tremendously impressed, and as literally amazed with great amazement. It’s a little ambiguous just how John was amazed at her. One commentary asks, “Was he perplexed and disturbed? Was he baffled like seeing an unusual work of art? Was he puzzled and astonished? Was he impressed?” Since the angel asks in the next verse, “Why are you amazed?” and then offers interpretive help with the vision, we are led to believe that John had at least a hint of admiration for a moment or so. There was at least a shred of awe for a second. How could one not marvel at a sight such as this? (the sight described in verses 3-5)

Even horrible things can be “impressive”. Evil can dress up for a fancy nite out and look seductively attractive.

Do not be fooled.

Take the time and thoughtful energy to look below the surface of impressive organizations or people. I don’t think John was standing there gawking in wonder for very long, for he knew the wretchedness before him, but it is still very easy to get caught up for a moment with something that is beyond what we have experienced before.

I have been looking at cults a lot this year, which has complemented my studies in Revelation quite nicely. In all of the cults I’ve looked at so far, each one does indeed impress me on some level. It’s truly amazing that they were able to build Jonestown in the middle of thick jungle many miles from civilization. Living communally in an austere compound, studying the Bible for hours a day in Waco for so long, making it work as they did, is somewhat admirable. Hillsong’s music really is wonderfully written and quite moving.

Don’t be fooled.

These imposing feats and displays are built on some pretty sandy foundations.

For some reason, we still look to people to follow. We still get fooled by humans who make themselves out to be more than human, and who accept followers, and sometimes even worship, as if they are deserving of being venerated as demigods. At times we are easily impressed with people who are no greater in God’s eyes than you or me. I tell you who is impressive–the Person who made all persons, our Trinitarian Creator, GOD.

Jesus is the one person worth following. Any other human is merely that–human, and just as imperfect and ready to sin as you and I are. Now I would say there are people who are inspiring, but may it appropriately stop there and serve to simply spur us on toward loving God and others more deeply, pursuing Christlikeness more passionately, caring for those in need more often, and following the Holy Spirit ever more intensely.

Soli Deo Gloria