Then I looked, and there was a white cloud, and sitting on the cloud one like a son of man. He had a gold crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand. And another angel came out of the temple, shouting in a loud voice to the one who was sitting on the cloud, “It’s harvest time! Put in your sickle and reap: the harvest of the earth is ripe!” ~REVELATION 14:14-15
Upon first reading, I was taken aback by what appeared to be an angel giving a command to Christ. But after digging below the surface, I learned that the angel is merely relaying the command of Yahweh, for the angel came out of the temple with this message. This makes perfect sense since the word “angel” means messenger.
Much more interesting is that many commentators connect this to Mark 13:32 where Jesus said, “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, only the Father.” Revelation seems to be amplifying this declaration, showing that it really is only Papa Yahweh who knows when it’s all going to go down. So you apparently have complete permission to enjoy a convivial laugh at and with anyone who tries to predict the date for the end of the world.
Another interesting observation is that when the angel does tell Jesus that it is time to start reaping, Christ already has the sickle in His hand. He may not know the day nor the hour, but I think this signifies that He is ever at the ready to do His Father’s bidding. This takes me back to Abraham’s response when God called on him in Genesis 22. “Hinneni” was Abraham’s response in his language, and we could translate that as: “Here I am, your servant. I am at your disposal. Tell me what you want me to do!” Jesus, being one with the Father, was in a constant state of hinneni, as should we be.
Yet another fascinating aspect is the dual purpose of the sickle. Jesus’s reaping of the harvest in verse 16 is the gathering of God’s followers into His kingdom. Here the sickle is used to gather and protect, a “salvific ingathering” as Brian Blount says it. But in verse 19 an angel uses its sickle for judgment. This “fifth angel” of Revelation 14 takes those who have allied themselves with the dragon and the beast, and throws them into the great winepress of God’s anger. Sounds like a place I don’t want to be.
What a powerful visual, this “Hinneni Sickle” in hand at all times, ever at the ready to do God’s will, using this heavenly tool to gather and protect those who Yahweh puts in your path in need of compassion and companionship. Also using the same implement to extricate yourself from a harmful situation or toxic relationship which serve the evil one’s purpose to pull you away from Christ and His Spirit. We might also think of using this reaping hook for protecting and preserving good habits, as well as cutting off injurious ones.
May we remain in a posture of listening for Papa Yahweh’s timely command, with our hinneni sickle always in hand.
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?
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 desperateand 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.”
“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.”
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.
We come to our next interlude. And like the chapter 7 interlude which came after the sixth seal was opened and before the seventh, this one comes after the sixth trumpet is blown and before the seventh trumpet. And also like the chapter 7 interlude, this one is a two-parter, with chapter 10 being the first part, and 11:1-13 being the second part.
Let’s dig in to chapter 10.
John sees another strong or mighty angel come down from heaven. This is no ordinary angel, as you can clearly detect from the description in the first few verses (in picture form above). The description vividly matches that of none other than the risen Christ Himself. I agree with the interpreters who say that what we have here is “angelomorphic Christology”. How fun is that to say?? The point is not that the risen Christ was an angel and thus created, but rather to associate the risen Christ with the Angel of Yahweh who is God. The Angel of Yahweh visited people in the OT and was the form God took during those visitations. [for example: Exodus 3:1-6]
This “mighty angel” is holding a small open scroll in His left hand which is most likely the scroll from chapter 5 which had those seven seals ripped off and is, therefore, open. The angel figure having his right foot on the sea, and his left on the land connotes sovereignty over all of creation, another reminder that God is ultimately in control of everything.
When he shouted, the seven thunders answered with their own voices. (v.3) The seven thunders could be the very voice of God, with an allusion to Psalm 29–which is a very cool Psalm. Or they could be powerful, heavenly beings.
Just as John is about to write down what the thunders say, he is told by a voice from heaven to seal up what they said and to not write it down. Most say that they were probably uttering another round of sevenfold judgments to come, parallel to the sets of seven seals, trumpets, and bowls, but not to be revealed. This would be in keeping with the four sets of seven judgments of Leviticus 26 that God says He will send against His people if they disobey Him. As one scholar puts it, “The command to seal up what they said interrupts the movement toward increasingly devastating judgments, showing that they represent threats that are not to be carried out.”
Then the angel whom I had seen standing on the sea and on the land raised his right toward heaven and swore an oath by the One who lives forever and ever…(v.5) This is a very direct allusion to Daniel 12:7, some of it pretty much verbatim, where Daniel is referring to “the man clothed in linen.” And what was the oath? That there would be no more time (v.6), or literally “time shall be no longer.” Everything (history and God’s mystery) will be “completed” or “finished”.
Here’s some of professor of New Testament G.K. Beale’s great words on God’s mystery being completed in verse 7: “When the seventh angel sounds his trumpet, the prophecy of Dan. 11:29-12:13 will be fulfilled and history will come to an end…The fulfillment of the prophesied gospel is occurring, and will continue to occur, in a mysterious and unexpected manner from the human perspective….This mystery is that of the cross…John is told that the “latter days” prophecies to Daniel have now begun, and that this has been set in motion through the ‘mysterious’ manner of Christ’s death and resurrection. That is, the prophecy of God’s defeat of the evil kingdom is being ironically fulfilled by this evil kingdom’s apparent physical victory over Christ and the saints.”
The voice from heaven speaks to John again, telling him to go take the scroll from the angel’s hand. So he goes up to the risen Christ in angel form who also tells him to “take it.” This shows us that God’s revelation is not forced on anyone, but must be taken. Then he tells John to eat it, and it tastes like sweet honey in his mouth, but felt bitter in his stomach, just as the angel had promised (and just as Ezekiel was told by God to eat a scroll and it was sweet as honey in Ezekiel 2:8-3:3). The eating of the scroll indicates complete identification with it, ingesting it into your very life and being. It is sweet because it is God’s word, and a privilege to be His messenger. It is bitter from unrepentant response and the judgment it foretells.
Now that John has digested the contents of the scroll, he must now make its contents known to others. This is his recommissioning from the Angel of Christ to prophecy again about many peoples, nations, languages, and kingdoms (v.11). The verb “Prophecy” does not refer only to predicting future events, but also to providing God’s revealed perspective on what is happening in the present.
This RIPPLE has been more along the lines of a traditional Bible study, so I’d like to leave you with one of the very excellent “suggestions for reflection” which Beale provides at the end of each section of his commentary:
On the divinity of Christ. As presented here (10:1-6) and in many other places in the book, the divinity of Christ is a major and consistent theme in Revelation. The divine angel of the Lord, identified often in the OT with Yahweh, is here also identified with Christ, for which idea the commentary provides much support. Has a shallow reading of Revelation, with a focus on misguided eschatology, drawn us away from its presentation of the exalted Christ? What has drawn us to focus on (often poorly understood) eschatological timelines and miss the heart of the book, which is the glory of God and of Christ?
Then the fifth angel blew his trumpet….Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet….All the other people, the ones who had not been killed in these plagues, did not repent…~REVELATION 9:1,13,20
When the fifth trumpet is sounded, an angel with a key opens the shaft of the abyss, or bottomless pit, and smoke pours out; out of the smoke comes demonic beings which John sees as locusts with the power of scorpions tormenting people for five months. This scorpion sting-like torture is so awful, that people are longing to die so that it will just end, but they aren’t be able to find death.
When the sixth trumpet is sounded, a voice from the four horns of the altar in front of God says to release the four angels bound at the Euphrates River. These four lead an army of 200 million riders on horses to kill one-third of the human race by way of fire, smoke, and sulfur coming out of the mouths of the horses’ lion-like heads. Oh, and their tales are like snakes with heads which inflict damage as well.
So the fifth and sixth trumpets bring five grueling months of scorpion torture and then one-third of the entire human race being slaughtered..!!!
Try to let that sink in for a second. It’s nearly impossible to make sense of.
And of all this insanity, here’s the craziest thing that stood out to me: the remaining two-thirds of the earth’s population that was not killed by the demon horses still did not repent.
I mean, what does it take?
Apparently not retribution alone. Is this what John is telling us? That is what one commentator said, which caused me to pause and think, because it’s an angle I’ve not considered before. He said that John is showing the reader what an outpouring of divine wrath would look like, and that the non-repentance shows us that plagues in and of themselves would be ineffectual. (see the extended quote at the bottom for more contextif you so desire)
Things in life don’t always work the way we think they will.
I found these words from Henry Blackaby in the margin of his study Bible to be poignant: “As destructive as our sinful habits may be, we may prefer living with the familiar rather than being freed to experience the unknown. Do you fear change more than you fear God?”
Some people say, “If Jesus would just write His name in the sky, everyone would then believe.” Yeah, right. It would just be explained away, somehow. Anything can be explained away if one is not ready or willing to believe, if there is simply no faith. While suffering increases the faith and dependance on God in one person, the same suffering will serve to only harden the heart of another.
God is just too darn smart. Knows us so much better than we realize.
This all reminded me of my friend I quoted in the last Ripple who was having doubts and wanted questions answered, only to find that it wasn’t his questions being answered that satisfied him, but an undeniable encounter with the very presence of God. He said the next week at church in the liturgy there was this line: “We come to you, God, for answers, but you give us deeper questions.” This is so true, isn’t it? Jesus hardly ever answers a question straightforwardly in the Gospel accounts. Most of the time He answers people’s sincere questions with invitations to go deeper. Again, He’s smarter than us, and knows what we really need. We think we want a simple solution, but that’s just not what our soul truly craves. It is difficult to improve upon Augustine’s classic line, “our hearts are restless until they can rest in You.” Perhaps we could add on to the end of that “beyond answers” for our purposes here.
This is not to say that we need no answers at all, and that they do us no good whatsoever. It’s just that it does seem there is something significant to how we get there which should not be overlooked.
It’s like how effective it is for a good therapist, counselor, or pastor to lead us into discovering a truth for ourselves, as opposed to it being simply handed to us. Maybe this has to do with the effort or seeking put into something being proportional to the value we place on that something.
And sometimes God zaps people with His overwhelming presence in an instant when they’re not expecting it or searching for Him.
Hey, don’t ask me, I don’t have all the answers.
The first six trumpets work with a profound irony. The plagues manifest divine wrath in ways that would have been broadly familiar in the Greco-Roman world. Yet this complicates the issue: Given only the plagues, people have no reason to distinguish the wrath of the Jewish and Christian God from the wrath of the Greco-Roman gods. Therefore, since wrath alone does not move people to repent, the pattern of wrath will be interrupted, so that prophetic witness can be given before the seventh trumpet is blown (10:1-11:13). John will emphasize the importance of witness by creating a literary connection between the end of the sixth trumpet vision and the beginning of the seventh. The sixth trumpet shows a third of humanity being killed and “the rest” (hoi loipoi) refusing to repent (9:20-21). Yet after God’s witnesses have finished giving their testimony, the threat of judgment is moderated, and “the rest” (hoi loipoi) of the people come to glorify God (11:13). When change has occurred, then the seventh trumpet can sound, announcing the coming kingdom of God.
The smoke of incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose up from the hand of the angel in front of God.~REVELATION 8:4
Our prayers give God something new to work with.
Do you realize that our prayers are a tangible ingredient which God can then consider and use within the mix of a given circumstance? If we do not pray on something or over someone, then that factor is not in existence to be regarded among the myriad of other factors in that situation. It’s not that God can’t do a work without our prayers, but from what Scripture communicates to us, God seems to choose to work with us in this way.
Just two weeks ago I experienced a wonderfully affirming answer to the incense of my prayer. A friend had reached out who was going thru a sort of crisis of faith, questioning what he really believed after decades of following Christ. I asked him what I could specifically pray for, even though he was having trouble believing in the power of prayer at that moment. He replied with “to just feel God’s presence.” The rest of that day I did indeed pray for Christ to draw near to my friend in an intimate way. And he experienced a heart change quite literally overnite! I believe Christ saw the smoke of the incense of that prayer rise before His face, added that request into the mixture containing countless other ingredients, considered it, and bestowed upon my friend a manifestation of His loving presence and power, drawing his heart to Himself. Here are my friend’s words of what happened: “I was in a place where I had a lot of questions about God, and still do actually, but it’s really interesting how in the midst of that there was an experience of God that was like, ‘OK, I don’t really know how to explain this, but I know He showed up in my life, and saved me.’ I felt like I was about to fall off a cliff, and God showed me what it would look like if I fell, and then pulled me back. It didn’t answer my questions, and didn’t make those particular concerns disappear, but He showed His presence and His power in an undeniable way. And I know prayer, and your prayers for me were a major part of that.”
This picture of our prayers as incense rising before God is a wonderful one, isn’t it? We sometimes need visuals to help solidify what can be ethereal truths. It might be very helpful to imagine each of your pleas as a sweet smelling smoke in front of God’s face. May my prayer be set before you like incense. ~Psalm 141:2
This is not simply fruitless speculation, but rather holy imagination, which is what Revelation invites us into with its abundance of vivid imagery. So many of us have been conditioned to read this book thru the filter of pointless speculation–trying to predict when certain things will happen, who the antichrist is, who the 144,000 are–all the while missing the life-giving encouragement toward discipleship at the deepest level, as well as the display of the unfathomable awesomeness of God.
Revelation 8 picks up where chapter 6 ended, which was the opening of the sixth seal (remember, chapter 7 was all interlude). Now the seventh seal is opened, and there’s silence in heaven for a half hour. In utter silence the prayers of the kedoshim (holy ones) go before Yahweh with the incense. These prayers are the cries of the martyrs from 6:9-10, “Holy and true master! How much longer are you going to put off giving judgment, and avenging our blood on the earth-dwellers?”
That smoke arose before Yahweh, He considered it, and then acted.
Fire is thrown down on earth resulting in thunder, rumblings, lightning, and earthquake. Then seven Angels with seven trumpets start to blow those trumpets, and all sorts of hell rains down, reminiscent of the plagues in Egypt beginning in Exodus 7. So another one of my revelations from Revelation, an aspect that I had not specifically considered before, which came from my many readings , is this: If the violence of Revelation is offensive to you, then you have probably not lived under severe oppression.
Here are some quotes that have given me much to ponder:
“we are to see these…judgments as the deepest desire of the oppressed for justice. They have a very real purpose: to portray the pain of the oppressed and show how it is finally resolved in God.”
“Often it is difficult for persons who have not been hopeless to understand how precious hope (and judgment, that is, justice) can be for those without hope.”
“People who do not know what oppression and suffering is react strangely to the language of the Bible. The truth is that God is the God of the poor and the oppressed….Because they are powerless, God will take up their cause and redeem them from oppression and violence. The oppressed do not see any dichotomy between God’s love and God’s justice.”
“All these..remind the oppressed people of God that it may not look good today, but tomorrow brings new Jerusalem. These judgments have a clear purpose as well: the elimination of evil in the world so the people of God can dwell in peace in the new Jerusalem.”
“Without such judgment there can be no world of peace, of truth, and of justice: terror (the ‘beast’ that devours) and propaganda (the ‘false prophet’ that deceives) must be overcome, evil must be separated from good, and darkness from light.”
There is “a polarity within the heart of Christianity; a crucified Lamb who turns out to be the rider on the white horse. After all, the cross is not forgiveness pure and simple, but God’s setting aright the world of injustice and deception. The polarity is there because some human beings refuse to be ‘set aright.'”
We must also recognize and keep in mind that Revelation does not depict human believers acting violently, nor does it command us to do so. Vengeance is up to God, to the rider on the white horse.
“While Christians follow the standard and act out the legacy of the crucified Messiah, they must simultaneously recognize the right and need of the rider on the white horse to do what he needs to do.” All of this is seen “through the cultural lens of a people who have been raped and pillaged by the bestial power of a force like the one John fights against in Rome.”
After this I saw four angels, standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to stop any wind from blowing on earth, or on the sea, or on any tree….After this I looked, and lo and behold a huge gathering which nobody could possibly count… ~REVELATION 7:1 & 9
We come to the first of the ten interludes in Revelation 6-16. There are two interludes back-to-back in chapter 7: the sealed 144,000 in verses 1-8, and the innumerable multitude of saints in verses 9-17.
This is another one of those features of Revelation which I never noticed before. Why all these interruptions in the narrative flow of this book? Just when you think the seventh seal is gonna get cracked open, we come instead to this digression of four angels holding back destruction.
These interludes, I’ve come to find out, are here to give the listener/reader a little break. They keep you from becoming too depressed from all the carnage and mayhem going on. Most importantly, they give the listener a glimpse of hope by pulling back the curtain to reveal God’s world–what is happening in the heavenly realm, the truest truth, and the realest reality.
John’s letter is saying to these seven churches, “Hey, you’re not alone! I know it looks bad, but there are way more of you than you realize. Stay faithful. Keep working to bring about the Kingdom of God here on earth as in heaven. Endure to the end. Just take a peek at what it looks like in God’s realm for a minute.”
And what does it look like?
A gathering of people so huge that no one can possibly count them all, from every nationality and ethnicity on earth, standing in front of the throne of Yahweh and in front of the Lamb shouting praise, as well as all the angels, the 24 elders, and the four living creatures falling down before Yahweh and Christ in full-on worship of them. Everyone is completely satisfied, without any hunger or thirst whatsoever, always being lead by the Good Shepherd to springs of living water, having every tear they’ve ever cried wiped away from said Shepherd. They are all experiencing “the joy and praise that come from eternal relationship with God”, as Brian Blount puts it.
So, it’s pretty good there.
In the deep words of Kung Fu Panda, it’s “PURE AWESOMENESS”.
Sometimes, maybe a lot of times, we need to pull back that curtain and be reminded of what is going on in God’s world, where Yahweh and the Lamb are on the throne, ultimately in charge, bringing everything on earth into order, even as we speak. It may look rough, it may not be our timing, but it is surely transpiring. I think of my mom and dad there in heavenly bliss praising God, completely fulfilled as they never could have been here.
We must guard our hearts from sinking into a small, isolated view of this world only and its circumstances. Not that it doesn’t matter, but always remembering there’s more that matters.
Perhaps you need to more regularly pull back the veil and be reminded of just who is really in charge and where this is all going. Or maybe you’re being called to do this for someone else. Do you know anyone who has forgotten God’s world, the realest reality? Or someone who has grown so weak from being beaten down by the world that they no longer think they have the strength to peel back that lighter-than-it-looks curtain?
You can be an encouragement today to someone who is fixated on this world’s darkness only. You can redirect their eyes to see not only the heavenly realm in another dimension but the heavenly kingdom which has already begun to take root like a mustard seed here on earth now. Remind them and yourself that full consummation of all the good being done here and now will eventually come to fruition!
…the lamb opened one of the seven seals…~REVELATION 6:1
Let’s get cracking open these seals, shall we? Up to now we’ve had our prologue with the awesomeness of Jesus (ch.1), messages to the seven churches (ch.2-3), a fantastical throne room vision (ch.4-5), and now in chapters 6-16, we’ll have seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven bowls unleashing all manner of havoc. Interspersed throughout the seal openings, trumpet blasts, and bowl pourings we’ll have 10 interludes, or interruptions or intermissions, if you will, and we’ll start talking about those next time.
Six seals are opened in this chapter, and the first four release those famous horses and riders of the apocalypse. We’ve got war, famine, pestilence, murder, death by wild animals, and one-fourth of the world’s population dying as a result.
But you know what I found most intriguing in this chapter? — and I found a lot — it was the Lamb who opened these seals to unleash all the fury and mayhem.
What is John telling us?
Jesus is ultimately in control of the universe.
As well as that these “plagues” of Revelation have the simultaneous effect of hardening some hearts and purifying others. They are indeed punishment for all those on earth who have persecuted God’s followers and who refuse to turn from their evil and cruel ways of injustice to the loving invitation and justice of YHWH. But they are purification for the followers of Jesus, further refining them into Christ likeness as they endure and stay faithful thru the trials to the end.
Like the two who were on crosses next to Jesus facing the same horrific dilemma, it hardened the heart of the one, but softened the other’s heart towards God.
When Jesus defeated death and rose from the dead, disarming the evil spirits, He turned suffering, and all the world can throw at us, into a mere mechanism for God to carry out His plans, further His kingdom, refine His saints, and rule the universe with Divine Love.
This requires faith. This requires belief in the face of even the most extreme hardships, as we see in this chapter and beyond.
Commentator Brian Blount says, “One of John’s primary theological tasks is assuring his readers that, no matter how chaotic and destructive world affairs appear to be, God as just judge is in control….The chaotic situation erupting in their world is therefore the working out of God’s justice.”
And G.K. Beale writes that “now we see that Christ’s exalted place of rule gives Him authority even over these evil forces, such that He uses their evil intentions to accomplish a greater good–the judgement of unbelievers and the purifying of the saints. [Revelation] 6:1-8 describes an effect of Christ’s death and resurrection. He transformed the suffering of the cross into a triumph. Christ’s sovereignty over the four horsemen shows this…”
We would probably do well to remind ourselves of this often.
With regard to unfavorable circumstances, my friend Sam cleverly came up with this poignant self-examining question: “Am I going to allow this to define me, or to refine me?” Thanks to the work of Christ, suffering can always refine us.
Everyday I preach to myself, and hopefully to others, God is real, Jesus is alive and in charge, the Holy Spirit is among us.
One of the elders, however, spoke to me, “Don’t cry,” he said. “Look! The lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has won the victory! He can open the scroll and its seven seals.” Then I saw…a lamb. It was standing there as though it had been slaughtered…~REVELATION 5:5-6
One of the details in Revelation that I never paid close attention to is here in these two verses. And it has huge implications.
First, just a little bit of context. John sees a scroll sealed with seven seals in the right hand of Yahweh sitting on the throne (this throne room vision began in chapter 4). A mighty angel asks if there’s anyone worthy to open it and undo its seals. The answer is: nobody in the universe is able to open it. At this John bursts into tears thinking no one can know the will of God or carry out His plans against evil which are contained in that scroll. But then one of the twenty-four elders tells John not to cry because look! the Lion of Judah/Root of David (Messiah) has conquered and can open the scroll as well as its seals. But when John turns to get a look at this fierce lion of power and majesty, he sees…a little lamb. Not only that, but it’s been slaughtered–yet still standing.
Here is the detail I never really pondered: John hears that the Lion of Judah is worthy, but he sees a slaughtered Lamb. What’s up with this sacred shapeshifting? And not only that, but the Greek word John uses for lamb here is “arnion” which is diminutive and literally “lambkin.” John uses arnion 29 times in Revelation, all referring to Jesus except for one (13:11). Aaaaand, arnion-lambkin is used only one time elsewhere in the entire New Testament, in John 21:15, and there it refers to Jesus’s followers.
What’s the significance?
John is giving a completely new conception to his readers.
John is redefining what victory looks like.
“God’s victory is won through suffering and His triumph is achieved through sacrifice. The Lamb is indeed as powerful as a Lion, but his power is exercised through what he suffers for the sake of others.”, says Professor of New Testament Craig Koester. Contrary to what many modern readers may say, John was not writing in some elaborate code to hide Jesus’s identity, he was revealingJesus’s character. Remember, the word “revelation” means disclosure, not super secret code. (And if John was indeed writing in code, he needs to brush up his game as he gave a major spoiler alert in Revelation1:1!)
God’s kingdom is built through the self-giving sacrifice of Jesus–this is how the Lamb “conquers.” The theme of chapter 5 according to commentator G.K. Beale is: “Christ as Lion overcame by being slaughtered as a Lamb.” And don’t think for a second that this Lambkin is weak–it takes more strength than we can imagine to willingly submit to and walk into what He did for the sake of all of us. The way of the Lamb is not weakness, but strength beyond strength as we understand it, complete and perfect power (symbolized by the Lamb’s seven horns later in verse 6) . By contrast, the way of the dragon and Babylon is violence and exploitation which in the end, is pathetic and weak.
What might this mean for us today?
So back in chapters 2 and 3 in the letters to the seven churches, each message had a part towards the end which said basically that the one who conquers will receive an eternally extravagant reward in the end. For example, in the letter to the church in Laodicea, “This will be my gift to the one who conquers: I will sit them beside me on my throne, just as I conquered and sat with my father on his throne.” Conquering, according to the book of Revelation, is to remain an allegiant or faithful witness to Jesus Christ to the end, no matter how hostile the environment may become towards being such a witness. The words most used to the churches were “works” and “resilience” or we might say perseverance and endurance. Conquering, in the kingdom of God, is simply remaining faithful to Christ and absorbing whatever suffering may come as a result of that.
This is what victory looks like as John is redefining it for us here.
It does not look like crusades, conquistadors, or colonialism.
If I were a Baptist preacher obsessed with alliteration, I would say:
“In Revelation 5 we have a new Conception of Conquering! A new Paradigm of Power! And a new Vision of Victory!”
But since I’m not, I won’t.
I’ll close with some words by Scot McKnight from his new and very helpful book Revelation For The Rest Of Us which just came out last month:
Being an allegiant witness of enduring works is about the public expression and embodiment of the lordship of King Jesus.