Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Revelation - Lesson 14

144,000 & a Multitude - Revelation 7

Prayer: Lord, I thank & praise you that in the midst of a book that teaches of many troubling things there remains hope.  Please help us, even as we might struggle with the meaning of individual elements of this passage, to come out on the other side of it with the message of hope.  Amen!

Before we took a break for Holy Week we were in a dark & troubling passage in Revelation, and there are more to come; but, just as Easter follows Good Friday there is encouraging news following the trouble we learned about in chapter 6.

This chapter consists of two inter-related visions, the first of which appears to fit chronologically, but the second of which does not.  Both of these visions are inserted here as a "pause" in the activity of the flow of the overall book of Revelation, and this is a pattern we will see.  There are multiple types of 7s (seals, trumpets, bowls) that each have a parenthetical pause inserted between the 6th & 7th of their type.

Vision #1: Revelation 7:1-8 - Who are these 4 angels, what are they doing?  These angels are likely the angels we're going to meet next time in chapter 8, and they have a specific purpose we'll learn about then when we get to the 7th seal & the first 4 trumpet judgements.  In any case, they are powerful beings doing God's bidding & at this point they are holding back the winds & holding back judgements that will be coming soon afterward.

I'm hoping that none of you is getting hung up on the "4 corners of the earth" idiom, but just in case you are here are some thoughts for you:
  • The Greek word translated "4 corners" here is "gonia" which more accurately would be translated as the 4 compass directions (North, South, East, West).  Since they are holding back the winds from the earth it makes sense that they would be referred to as being at each of the compass directions - even today we speak of the winds in these terms.
  • Earth has actually been found to have 4 corners, 4 protuberances that stand out from the basic spherical geoid.  Earth is slightly flattened at the North & South poles, and bulges at the equator, and along the equator it has been discovered that there are 4 measurable protuberances.  But I think this is going a bit into left field, I think the compass directions are more likely what is meant.
So where specifically are these angels located?  We don't know, those who have thought this through more than I have speculate there may be one at each pole, and the other two at opposite sides of the Earth along the equator - perhaps one in the Atlantic & one in the Pacific.  In any case if they were located in such a manner from a human perspective on the surface of the Earth there would be one in each compass direction.

These 4 angels at this point are holding back the winds, bringing a sort of temporary calm to the Earth after the cataclysmic events of Chapter 6.

There is a 5th angel & he commands the 4 to wait - he has a job to do before they are allowed to cause harm.  His job is to seal the 144,000 witnesses of the tribulation.

Who are these 144,000?  Here are the predominant points of view:
  1. Remnant of the nation of Israel, and the numbers are Literal.
  2. Remnant of the nation of Israel, and the numbers are Symbolic.
  3. Members of the Church who have taken up Israel's inheritance, numbers Symbolic.
  4. The people of God in general, Jews or Gentiles, numbers Symbolic.

Let me tell you what I think & why.
  • I think option number 4 is stretching things to the breaking point.   Those who think this like to justify it mathematically, as follows:
12 Tribes x 12 Apostles x 1000 blessed generations (Exodus 20:6) = 144,000
  • I think option number 3 is in error because it represents Replacement Theology, the idea that the Church has inherited the promises of God.  There are only weak passages (like Galatians 3:23-29) to back up this idea, and they to me appear to be mutilated to get to that idea.  On the other hand there are many strong passages (like Luke 21:5-36, esp. v24) that indicate that God still has a future plan for Israel.  Also, the Abrahamic covenant was made by God alone - he put Abraham to sleep so that no man was involved - since God made a covenant with Himself there is no action on man's part can break it; the result, God has a permanent covenant with the descendants of Abraham.  I also think the return of the Jews to their land in the last century is proof that God is still preserving them for a future purpose.
  • I think option number 2 is weak because it bases the numeric symbolism on the same Exodus passage that options 3 & 4 use.
  • I think option number 1 is strong because the language here is very specific, and usually when language in the Bible is meticulously specific (as this is) it is meant to be taken literally.  The other reason this option appeals to me is that it makes sense, especially if the Church has been taken out of the world, that Jews would once again be given the opportunity to become God's servants - they at the very least would have the Old Testament scriptural groundwork laid.

What about the "10 lost tribes"?  This is a myth that should be rejected!  Let me tell you why.  When the kingdom of Israel split in two the lands of 10 tribes were in the Northern Kingdom (called Israel) and the lands of 2 tribes were in the Southern Kingdom (called Judah).  The tribal lands in the Southern Kingdom were those of Judah & Benjamin, with Judah being the royal family (line of David).  Remember that the Levites were dispersed amongst the tribal lands, so Levites would have been living in those territories (that brings us up to 3 tribes).  Add to this the passages, like 2 Chronicles 15:9 that tells us that large numbers of people from other tribes (specifically Ephraim, Manasseh & Simeon) had migrated south after the kingdom had split.  We must remember that the tribes didn't strictly keep to their assigned lands, and we must also remember that not everybody would have wanted to stay in the Northern tribe - especially after the worship of idols was introduced & eventually forced upon the people.

If that's not enough evidence for you that the "10 lost tribes" are a myth there is more.  In 722 BC Assyria defeated the Northern Kingdom.  The Assyrians deported a large number of the people & replaced them with peoples from other conquered lands, but the numbers recorded (for which there is historical evidence) show that only about 1/20th (5%) of the Israelites were deported & replaced.  This caused some intermingling, and the "Samaritans" are the intermingled "half-breed" group that resulted.

In 586 BC, about 136 years later, Babylon defeated the Southern kingdom.  Babylon also defeated the Assyrians, in essence "recapturing" the somewhat-intermingled Jews still living in the North.  How many had their blood lines polluted during that 136 year period?  It is very possible there were still many non-intermingled people among this group.  Being all under the Babylonians, when the Jews began returning to their land they likely had representatives of all the tribes.  Remember God is in control of the destiny of the Jewish people, and God always keeps a remnant for Himself.

Are these Jews? I think that it is pretty clear they are.   Lest you think the Jews are being unfairly favored take a moment and realize that 144,000 represents less than 1% of the Jews in the world today.  Additionally, we will learn in Chapter 14 that these ones are called "pure", they are blameless and do not lie, and they have not defiled themselves with women - the implication is that they are virgin males.  In any case they are certainly a group that have hearts soft for God & His ways.

Which tribes are missing from the list?  Jacob had 12 sons, and 2 "adopted" sons (Joseph's sons Ephraim & Manasseh), so the list of possible names here could be as many as 14.  Each time that the names of the 12 tribes are listed there are "missing" names, and these instances are telling.  The most common list removes Levi, since as priests they didn't have a tribal land assigned to them (they were dispersed) & they also would not have been called up to military duty.  The most common list also typically removes Joseph & replaces his name with the names of his two sons (Ephraim & Manasseh).  In the common case all of the descendants of Jacob are still recognized, but in this case there are two different names removed.

One of the missing tribes is Dan, the other is Ephraim.  We could argue that Ephraim's tribe is included in Joseph (and it is) but there is definitely a "jab" being made by not naming this tribe specifically.  There is no sight of Dan, and this isn't the first time Dan has gone missing.  In the book of 1 Chronicles, chapters 1-8, there are detailed genealogies of the tribes; however, the descendants of Dan are completely missing.

The tribe of Dan is the tribe through which idolatry entered the land (Judges 18:30-31), as had been prophesied by Jacob (Genesis 49:17), and they continued to lead in apostasy until the time of the defeat of the Northern Kingdom.  Deuteronomy 29:18-21.

The two golden calves where the people of the Northern Kingdom worshiped were in the area where the tribe of Dan had migrated (far North) & in the tribal area of Ephraim.  The slight to Ephraim's tribal name may be because they allowed the idol to be placed in their tribal land.

The last thing I want to talk about before we move on to the second vision is the seal itself, what it is & what it's purposes are.  There is a passage in Ezekiel 9:4 where the soft-hearted of Jerusalem are marked, and the mark given was the Hebrew letter Tau - the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  Many believe this same mark is implied in this passage, this letter appears like "x" or "+".  A scholar named Krodel notes that to Greek Christians this sign would suggest the first letter of Christ (Chi), the Greek word for Messiah, or it would have represented the Cross of Christ.  For Greek Christians, reading the passage in Ezekiel would have given them chills.  If this is the case then this speaks strongly of Jews who take Jesus as Messiah, perhaps doing so during the events noted in chapter 6.  This is further supported by Revelation 14:1 which tells us the seal contains the name of the Lamb (Jesus) and the name of His Father.

What does this seal do?  Other than the obvious of marking these as belonging to God, Revelation 9:3-4 indicates that this seal protects the 144,000 from some of the troubles of the tribulation period.

This is not the same seal we as believers are given in which the Holy Spirit indwells, these saved ones are of a different sort & after the Church has been removed; however, the Holy Spirit is still present and active during this time.  The Holy Spirit is also not restraining evil in the world during the time period of these 144,000; the role of the Holy Spirit is changed.

This leads me to think there are 3 types of saints:  Old Testament saints, New Testament saints, and Great Tribulation saints.  I also have to wonder about believers in the Millennium... will they be yet another unique group?  Each group has a purpose of their own, and each group has a destiny of their own.

Later in the book of Revelation the unrepentant will take the mark of the Beast.  We must remember that everyone chooses, even today those who don't choose God are choosing to reject Him.

Vision #2: Revelation 7:9-17 - This section is chronologically out of order, but I think you'll understand why God placed it here.  Who is this throng?  These are the Great Tribulation saints!  This tells us that those 144,000 witnesses were powerful to draw people to Christ, this innumerable crowd is the fruit of their work.  Despite going through portions of what Jesus said would be the greatest time of tribulation on the face of the earth, these came to faith.

A question was asked in Revelation 6:16-17, this passage answers the question.  These are the ones who stand.  They carry Palm leaves, reminiscent of Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem when the people shouted Hosannah & welcomed Him as their King.  They no longer suffer, but are led by Jesus Himself to springs of living water, protected by God and set apart to serve Him in His heavenly temple - their specific purpose in heaven.

Prayer:  Lord, thank you for bringing out the redemption of man, including us.  We thank you that your work is not complete & that your work will bring many souls to salvation.  It hurts us to think that many may not come to you, but we can find joy & hope in knowing that an innumerable number will.  Amen!

Reflection & Prayer: 
  • Think about how divided people have become.  Countries at war, nations fractured from within, political extremes, vehement hatred of religion & Christianity in particular, extremes differences throughout society (business practices, medical research findings, financial strategies, morality).  The world is becoming increasingly polarized.  Truth is under attack & people care more about being respected for their opinion than knowing & speaking the truth.  Try to imagine how much worse it might be if Christians are removed & disasters are prevalent.
  • Think about how God works during times of trouble.  Think about how the worst of times can bring about the best in some.  Ponder how amazing a harvest is done in 7 years by this relatively small group of witnesses, so that the number saved are beyond a man's ability to number.
  • What is your response?

Take some time to pray with one another.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Revelation - Lesson 13

The Tribulation Begins - Revelation 6

Prayer: Lord be at work in my heart & mind & mouth as I teach this passage, and be at work in all of our hearts & minds as we read and attempt to understand.  May your Holy Spirit enlighten us as we seek to be blessed by studying this precious book.  Amen!

Last week we witnessed the Lord Jesus take possession of the 7-sealed scroll, He was the only one found to be worthy and able to take the scroll & unseal it.  Now for the breaking of the seals.  I want to mention up front that I had to seriously distill down this information so that we could cover it in a reasonable amount of time, there are many outside references we could have used, but I have tried to stick as close as possible to our immediate text here in Revelation.

The first 4 seals follow a pattern, so in order to keep from repeating this pattern I'm going to provide it up front.  When the Lamb, Jesus, opens/breaks the seal:
  • one of the Living Creatures, in a voice like thunder, says "Come", the meaning of this particular word may more accurately be "Go forth"
  • a horse & its rider come forth & ride out to fulfill a particular task

Each of the 4 living creatures gets a turn in this activity.  The 4 riders are known in literature as the 4 horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Seal #1: Revelation 6:1-2 - A white horse, it's rider has a bow and a crown, and his purpose is conquest.  

Some believe this is Christ, and would point to Revelation 19:11 where Christ comes on a white horse as a reference, but that doesn't seem to fit the context.

Many think this is the one who has been called the "Antichrist" (though this is a poor specific use of a general term, which was meant to apply to any who opposed Christ).  A more accurate name might be the "Ruler Who Will Come" mentioned in Daniel 9.

A quick side trip will help us get an idea of how Revelation tracks with the "70th week of Daniel".  There is a coming world leader, who will rule for 7 years (Daniel 9:27).  This 7 years mentioned in Daniel is the same period we call the "Tribulation", it starts when this ruler confirms a 7 year covenant.  This covenant is believed to be some sort of peace agreement, believed to be a world-wide peace agreement of some sort.  For a while Israel will be able to hold sacrifices, but in the middle of this 7 years (3 1/2 years in) the sacrifices will be stopped & an abomination will be put in place in the temple - but we will be getting to this later in Revelation.  The last 3 1/2 years is called by some the "Great Tribulation", as opposed to just the "Tribulation" to emphasize how much worst things will get in the 2nd half of this time period.

Why I think this is the "Coming World Leader" (sometimes called Antichrist):  
  • He takes on the appearance of Christ, tries to imitate Christ.  Anything God does the Enemy attempts to counterfeit.
  • Unlike Christ (Revelation 19) this rider has a Bow, Christ has a Sword.  This Bow could be a couple things, it could be for the purposes of destruction.  It might be symbolic, relating this rider to Nimrod the "hunter before the Lord" who went against God at Babel.  Or, it could also be a Bow symbolic of a covenant, as God used a rainbow a symbol of a covenant after the Great Flood.  The word in Greek & Hebrew is the same word for both meanings.  Could this represent the 7 year covenant?  Perhaps.
  • This rider has a crown, but this is not a royal crown as Christ would wear, this is a victor's crown - like the wreath given to the winner of an athletic contest.

We are told this rider is a conqueror bent on conquest,  who or what he is conquering is not clear - we can only guess.  But his going forth is ushering in the Tribulation.

Seal #2: Revelation 6:3-4 - A fiery red horse, with a large sword.  He is given power to remove peace, to make men slay each other.  Most think this horseman represents War, perhaps civil war or ethnic wars since men are turning against each other, but in any case his coming means that there is not peace on the earth.

Seal #3: Revelation 6:5-6 - A black horse, it's rider holds scales, it is pretty much agreed he represents Famine.  A voice from among the 4 living creatures, I believe this is God, specifies the extent of the Famine.  In modern terms this would be:
  • 1 day's wage for 1 day's ration of food (wheat)
  • 1 day's wage for 1 day's ration of cattle feed (barley)
However, the Famine has limits, the Oil & Wine are not to be touched, God is limiting the extent of the famine.

Some thoughts on the Oil & Wine, the meaning of which may be either literal or symbolic, or both:
  • Oil is symbolic of the Holy Spirt, and is used for anointing
  • Wine is symbolic of the Blood of Christ
  • Both have medicinal value
  • Both may be considered luxuries, so this may point to some having much while most having little - a huge divide between the haves & have-nots.

One commentator pointed out that nearly all Famine is caused by politics, not scarcity.  We hear news reports of emergency supplies being held by those in power, sometimes until what was supplied was wasted.  There is plenty of food in this world, but the food distribution is horribly skewed.

Seal #4: Revelation 6:7-8 - A pale horse, it's rider is Death & he's followed by Hades.  The word "Pale" is a poor translation, it is the Greek word "chloros" & has been described as follows:  exceedingly pale green, a ghastly ghoulish color,  the appearance of a dead body that has not been embalmed (greenish), or simply "vomit green" - Yuck!

We are told who the rider is, he is Death & is followed by Hades; perhaps this represents the death of both body & soul.  We know that humans experience physical death but there is also a second death that is experienced by unbelievers.  Hades is the unpleasant place where the unsaved dead go while awaiting their final destination, which we will read about toward the end of Revelation.

There purpose is to kill 1/4 of the inhabitants of the earth by various means: sword, famine, plague, wild beasts.

We are done with the horsemen, but we still have 3 more seals to go.

Seal #5 Revelation 6:9-11 - This seal is called the "Cry of the Martyrs".  The martyrs are crying out for their blood to be avenged, and we will see later in Revelation that their blood is avenged.  They are told to "wait", or more accurately to "rest" while God allows their number to come to completion.  Does God know how many will be martyred?  Of course He does, they are precious to Him!  John hears their cry, but is not one of them, as he lived to a ripe old age & died of natural causes - the only one of the apostles to do so.  That John sees their souls at the base of the altar is highly symbolic (though quite possibly literal as well), it may be symbolic of the altar of sacrifice in the temple - where the blood of the sacrifice would be poured over the base of the altar.  Their blood has been poured out, but not as an atonement for sin, rather as a sacrifice to the heart of God - only Christ's blood can be poured out for sin.

We see martyrdom as a terrible tragedy, and it is good for us to value life & see it's loss as tragic; however, a life poured out for God is a beautiful gift, and those who give their lives for the sake of God have a special honor.  God is not unmoved by these martyrs (Luke 18:7-8a).

Revelation 6:12-14 - This is the seal of "Cosmic Disturbances", each of these disturbances is also elsewhere in the scriptures speaking of the end times, but we simply don't have the time in this class to look them up.  I'd say either trust me on this or look them up for yourselves.  We have the disturbances listed for us:
  • a Great Earthquake - perhaps a worldwide chain of earthquakes
  • the Sun is turned black - whether the Sun itself goes black or appears to go black is cause for debate, either case is bad.
  • the Moon turns blood red - similar thought as to the Sun.
  • the Stars fall to earth like late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind.  In ancient times the word for "Stars" was used for any heavenly luminary that was not the Sun or Moon.  "Stars" would also be used for Meteorites or Asteroids, in any case they are falling & possibly pummeling the earth.  Perhaps this is even what is causing the whole earth to have spontaneous earthquakes.
  • the Sky Receded like a Scroll, the opinions are various.  Some think that clouds are rolling and hiding the heavens (though this seems like a stretch), others think that this is God reversing His act of stretching the heavens in creation (there are many references to this in the scriptures).  Whatever is happening it is disturbing.
  • every Mountain & Island is removed from its place.  This again might be the result of a worldwide earthquake.

Revelation 6:15-17 - The result of these first 6 seals?  The people of the earth, rich to poor, king to slave, flee for their lives.  They take refuge in caves & call out for the rocks to fall on them and save them from the wrath of the Lamb.  There is the sense that they are acknowledging God here, but if so it is more like a "foxhole conversion", for most it is a temporary acknowledgment at best.  In any case they are not repenting, just trying to avoid God's wrath which they know they cannot withstand.

Today we experience some trials & tribulations, and they can be used by God to see His purposes done in this world.  When God brings disaster in scripture we can see a pattern:
  1. He Warns - allowing some trials during the warning period
  2. He Removes the Righteous from the situation
  3. He Drops Judgement on those who remain
We see this in Noah's day, we see this in Sodom & Gomorra, and so forth.

Why does God allow troubles to come on mankind?  Hosea 5:15 - God's purpose for affliction is to cause men to seek Him.  In truth, God is exercising epic restraint!  These punishments are God's response to unrepentant wickedness.  Righteousness Matters!!  God help us if we pervert the Grace of God to suit our own self-righteousness.

Prayer:  Lord again we have studied a passage that we admit we don't completely understand.  We are unsure of some of the symbols, we don't have all the answers, but we know you do & for that we are thankful.  Help us to apply what we have learned, to take it and use it for your purposes.  Amen!

Reflection & Prayer: 
  • Think about the evil in the world.  The porn industry is a multi-billion dollar industry.  There are governments oppressing & starving their own people.  There are those who lie & cheat & foment war for money or power or both.  Genocide, Ethnic Cleansing, Extortion.  Public schools & universities teaching things that are in opposition to God.  Scientists who foment scorn on fellow scientists in order to undermine their work to show that there is evidence of special creation.
  • Think about how God might want to deal with this evil, how the actions described in this book are his actions in response to evil.
  • What is your response?

      Take some time to pray with one another.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Revelation - Lesson 12

Worthy is the Lamb - Revelation 5

Prayer: Lord, please open our hearts & minds to your word today.  Give us understanding of the things that we read, and give us wisdom to help us to apply these things.  Lord we will never understand, at least not in this life, the great sacrifice that was made on our behalf so that our salvation could be achieved.  May we respond to you in Love.  Lord as I begin to speak, please work through the power of your Holy Spirit to teach these things; for I am completely incapable & totally dependent on your power.  Amen!

Last week we learned about John being transported into the Throne Room of Heaven, and the scene he found himself in was difficult for him to describe, but that was just setting the scene.  Starting this week we begin to learn about the events John was privileged to witness, the majesty of which I am having difficulty expressing.

Revelation 5:1-5 - God is on the throne, and in His right hand he holds a very special object.  It is a scroll that contains writing both on the inside & the outside, and it is sealed with seven seals.

As the seals are opened in the following chapters we're going to learn of their significance, but what is this scroll?  What does it signify?  Good Question!  We're not told precisely what it signifies, but there are hints - some from ancient dealings in Israel (cultural hints) & some from God's Word both here in Revelation as well as elsewhere.  So I'm going to share what I think it might be, but understand that this is simply opinion (and there are others).

I think it may be a form of Title Deed to all Creation, now that I've said that I'll tell you why I think that.  
  • In ancient Israel a Title Deed for land would be put on a scroll like this (one is recorded in Jeremiah 25), and would be sealed with the seals of those who witnessed the transaction.  If land in Israel was sold it was supposed to be later Redeemed by a Kinsman, since land in Israel was a gift from God rather than a possession (Leviticus 25:23-25).
  • Creation is God's possession (Psalm 24:1-2), He made it & it belongs to Him.  Adam had been given dominion over the earth by God similar to how Israel had been given dominion in the Promised Land, but Adam lost his possession due to sin; thus, Adam needed a Kinsman to redeem... but let's hold that thought for a bit.
  • The actions that are going to take place at the breaking of the seals also imply that the scroll is some sort of Title Deed for creation, since the consequences directly impact God's creation, but we don't want to get to far ahead of our current passage.

The scroll had writing on both the inside and outside.  Papyrus in John's day would have been the material used for creating a scroll, it was smooth on one side & that was typically the side that was written on.  Typically if something was written on the outside of a scroll it was instructions for the opening of the scroll, or requirements that must be met by the one opening of the scroll, or the like.  In the case of land it might indicate how to redeem & whose kinsman was able to redeem.

When the Angel calls out asking who is worthy to break the seals & open the scroll, he may have been referencing the writing on the outside of the scroll.  Who was able to meet the requirements?  When it says "no one" that would probably more correctly read "no man", there is no man (human) that is worthy, none qualified (Romans 3:10).  No man who had ever lived was worthy, none was found who could redeem.

John grieves bitterly, the Greek implies that he sobbed convulsively, with deep penetrating grief.  This is the worst tragedy ever - that there is no one to redeem marks a complete loss of hope for all creation.  How long of a pause is there while God allows the tragedy of this & the grief it causes to sink in?  We don't know, but it was just the right mount of time for the intensity of John's grief to be complete so that God's answer to John's grief could also be complete.  John had to experience the loss so that he could appreciate the gain, this is a pattern God repeats in scripture & also in our individual lives.

John is not left in this place of bitter grief, one of the Elders shares the good news: a Kinsman-Redeemer is here.  Who is this Kinsman Redeemer?  Who is this man who is able to do what no other man is qualified to do?  He is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, He is the Root of David, He has triumphed & is able to redeem.

Revelation 5:6 - John is told He is the Lion, but when he looks he sees the Lamb.  The Lamb who had been slain, God's Passover Lamb who's blood was used to cover over and save His people (John 1:29) - this is none other than John's dear friend & savior Jesus Christ - the only man who had ever been able to live a sinless life & was thus qualified to fulfill the roll of being man's redeemer.  Jesus is the Lion & the Lamb, both God & Man, and perfectly able to represent both.  The blood of the Passover Lamb in Exodus covered the doorposts of the Israelites & marked them so they would be unharmed by the plagues sent by God; and thus, I believe Jesus blood as God's Passover Lamb will cause God's People (believers) to be unharmed by the plagues mentioned later in Revelation.

Where is Jesus?  He is right there with the Father, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four Creatures, and surrounded by the Elders.  This is such an interesting picture since the Father is seated on the throne & yet Jesus is standing in the center of the same throne, the image it conveys is such a confirmation of what Jesus Himself had taught His disciples & had been recorded by the very same disciple witnessing this scene (John 10:30) Jesus & the Father are One.

Jesus is seen here as having seven horns, horns being an ancient Jewish symbol of power & authority, and Jesus power & authority are complete.  He is also said to have seven eyes, and it tells us these seven eyes are the seven spirits (or seven-fold Spirit) of God that had been sent out into all the earth.  These eyes are the Holy Spirit, so we are seeing the Trinity here in this image.

Revelation 5:7 - Jesus took the scroll, He had the right to take the scroll, and He chose to take the scroll.  In ancient Israel, for a man to be a Kinsman-Redeemer, there were certain requirements:  he must be a Kinsman (close relative), he must be Able to fulfill the roll (pay the purchase price), he must be Willing to fulfill the roll, and he must Assume all of the Obligations of the Beneficiary.  Jesus became a man in order to be our Kinsman, He alone was Able to redeem mankind by the sacrifice of His perfect blood, He Willingly chose to fulfill this role for mankind, and He took on Himself our sin (our Obligations) so that we might be redeemed.

I don't think we fully grasp what is happening here, and I say that because of the responses that follow.

Revelation 5:8-10 - The first to respond to Jesus action are the Creatures & the Elders.  They fall down before the Lamb in worship and in song.  They are holding harps (historically this would have been a small instrument) which were likely for the purposes of the song, but they are also holding golden bowls of incense.  We are told that these bowls of incense are the prayers of the saints (Psalm 141:2).  What prayers might be being offered in this case?  Perhaps a portion of the very prayer taught us by the Lord (Matthew 6:10).

In their song they proclaim the Lamb's worthiness.  And if we were unsure before it is clear now that this is Jesus, the one who with His blood purchased men for God from "every tribe and language and people and nation".  Their song ends by proclaiming that believers will be "a kingdom & priests" with specific purposes, we will serve God but we will also reign on the earth.

Revelation 5:11-12 - The second group to respond are the angels, encircling the Throne & Creatures & Elders.  In ancient Greek the largest number that there was a specific word for was Ten Thousand, so saying "thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand" was their way of saying something like "Bazillions" or "Gazillions", or basically way too many to count - innumerable.

I'm wondering how loud this was... but in any case they also sing of the worthiness of the Lamb, and they list seven things that He is worthy of: Power, Wealth, Wisdom, Strength, Honor, Glory, and Praise.

Revelation 5:13 - This is the third group to respond.  I think it's interesting that it doesn't say all the saved, nor does it say every human, but rather every creature... EVERY CREATURE!!  The birds & bees & whales & fish & cows & dust mites & mosquitos & so on... plus every human... no exceptions. (Philippians 2:9-11)  EVERY knee, ALL will acknowledge, all will proclaim who He is & in doing so give God glory... and ALL will be singing this song that says the Lamb is to be given Praise & Honor & Glory & Power for ever, FOR EVER...  And they may not be doing this because they want to, but they will do it because God has willed it & made it so.

Revelation 5:14 - The Four Living Creatures respond with a final "Amen", and the Elders fall down & worship.  All is being set right, the One who is worthy is going to break the seals and open the scroll.

Prayer:  Lord God please help us to have a sense of the immensity of the actions taking place in this chapter.  Help us to grasp the beauty of what is taking place, and even more to grasp the beauty of what you did in order to redeem mankind.  And as we begin to grasp these things may our songs of praise rise up to you as we do what we are able to in our fallen state to give you praise & glory & honor.  Amen!

Reflection & Prayer: 
  • Think about the depth of the grief of John, this grief is caused by sin, there is none who is worthy.
  • Think about the amazing sacrifice made by our Lord Jesus, and that even in heaven He bears the scars of being our Passover Lamb.
  • Think about the outrageous love that went to such extremes to redeem rebellious mankind.
  • What is your response?
      Take some time to pray with one another.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Revelation - Lesson 11

What Comes After - Revelation 4

Prayer: Lord, it has been a long time since we have been in this book, and I pray that as we pick it back up we are focused on how you are glorified through it.  Thank You that you promise us we are blessed by reading & considering this book, because it can - to our feeble minds - at times be unclear.  Teach us what we need to know for our own Spiritual growth, and help us to trust you for the things we don't understand.   Amen!

I hope you took the opportunity to look over our previous lessons, because I'm going to jump right in where we left off, but in doing so I have to back up for a single verse to help us understand where we are in the scheme of the book of Revelation.

Revelation 1:19 - John was told to record all that he had seen (chapter 1 - his initial encounter with the resurrected Christ), what is now (chapters 2-3 - the church throughout the church age), and what is "after this" (chapters 4 -22).  The same words translated "after this" (or the like) is in Greek "meta tauta".

Revelation 4:1 - It is interesting that this first verse in chapter 4 both begins and ends with the Greek words "meta tauta" - twice is was said lest we had any question what Jesus meant when he spoke to John 1:19.

Before I go any further I want to point out that the church which has been mentioned many times in chapters 1-3 is not going to be mentioned again for the rest of the book.  That doesn't mean the Church with a capital "C", in other words the Church as a body of believers, isn't around.  Pre-tribulation teachers will point to the conspicuous absence of the Church (or at least by that name) as a proof of the rapture occurring before the tribulation.  I think I've been clear that I don't care what position you take on this (pre, mid, or post) but that you remain open to what the Spirit has to teach, but this argument has strong merit.  Another strong argument is that the judgements to come, that we'll see starting in chapter 6, would not be in harmony with God's promises and provisions to the Church.  I will warn you to be careful in your assumptions - I personally hope & pray for a pre-tribulation rapture, but I am wanting to be prepared in case it is post-tribulation.

The "Bride" will be mentioned later in Revelation, which is a picture of the Church post-rapture.  The church with a little "c", the gatherings of those who might say they believe but who remain after the rapture (false believers) are called the "Harlot" later in Revelation.

I am going to take a few minutes for a side trip into the Ancient Marriage Ceremonies of Israel, I think you will enjoy this & I think it will help our understanding of the Church as the Bride of Christ.

Ancient Jewish Wedding & parallels to the Church:
Betrothal - this was a legally binding contract = New Covenant
The Bride price was paid = Blood of Christ
The Bride was set apart = Sanctification of believers / Church
Bridegroom departs to his father's house = Jesus returning to the Father
Prepares a room addition = Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us
Bride prepares for his imminent return = Church awaits Christ's imminent return
Groom would Surprise the Bride = Jesus will come when we don't expect
Wedding Ceremony itself = Jesus will gather the Church to Himself (rapture)
Seven day Marriage supper = Seven "days" or 70th "week" of Daniel (symbolic of 7 years), believed to be concurrent with the 7 year tribulation of those left behind.

Enough about that for now, as I've said before I'm attempting to teach something I know I don't fully understand.

So, what is happening in verse 1?  John is being invited to go through an open door into heaven, he is invited by a voice he first heard in chapter 1, a voice like a trumpet, a voice believed to be that of the risen Christ.  John was invited into heaven to see what the future held, to see what was "meta tauta".

Ok, admittedly I'm a geek, so I let my imagination wander a bit.  I couldn't help but wonder what a doorway into heaven, a doorway into a place where you could view the future, would be like... And did it simply open up in front of him or was the doorway always there & was he only now aware of it.  But then I reminded myself that I live in a physical world, with physical rules & properties (including time), created by God.  Where John is about to go isn't part of this world, it isn't subject to the same rules & physical properties, so my human imagination can run wild but I'll never be able to "get it" while trapped in this world.  So at this point I'm going to say "don't strain your brain" trying to figure out the how, but instead just take a step of faith & trust God - after all, you're having to take a very small step compared to the one John's about to take.

Revelation 4:2-3 - John is transported by the power of the Holy Spirit into the throne room of heaven - Yikes!!  John struggles to grasp what he's seeing, he describes it as best he can by relating it to sparkling jewels... we've got to give the guy a break, he's trying to describe what we mere mortals trapped here on Earth haven't experienced.  John is going to try to tell us many things that he sees & hears, he is actually seeing & hearing these things, and he is bearing witness to them.

There is a presence on the throne, it is God, He is described as looking like Jasper & Carnelian.  The Jasper mentioned here would be a clear stone that gave off multiple colors - some believe what he was describing is what today we would call a diamond.  The Carnelian mentioned here would be a blood red stone.  I get the sense he was describing the complete purity & holiness of God, as well as the blood of Christ, but that is just guess on my part.

A rainbow, or perhaps more accurately a halo, surrounded the throne - it was also described like a sparkling stone - an Emerald.  Some think the rainbow here reflects the rainbow given as a promise to never again destroy all life with a flood; honestly we just don't know.

Revelation 4:4 - Around God's throne are 24 additional thrones, on which are seated 24 Elders.  So who are these Elders?  Some think they may be the heads of each of the 12 Tribes of Israel + the 12 Apostles (Disciples - Judas Iscariot + either Matthias or Paul).  Others think that since the throne room is the model for Israel's temple that these are representative priests from the 24 orders of priests set up by King David.  And there are other opinions as well, the truth is that we just don't know who they are.  They are dressed in white, possibly symbolizing that they are or have been purified.  They wear crowns, which may represent the rewards given by God to His faithful ones.  What is going to be more important than who they are is what they do & we'll see that a little later in the chapter.

Revelation 4:5 -  This would perhaps more accurately read that peals of thunder & flashes of lightning continuously emanated from the throne.  God was and continues to be active & at work.  Remember that 7 is the number of perfection or completeness, the seven lamps we are told are the seven spirits (or seven-fold spirit) of God.  Some think that these lamps mean the Church, represented by seven lamp stands in Chapter 1, is now in heaven - but again we can't say that definitively.

Revelation 4:6-8 - Verse 6 mentions a Sea of Glass, and there are many theories about what this is or could represent. One commentary thought it might represent the Laver - the place of ceremonial washing in the Temple, another thought it represented the sea in which God casts our sins never to be returned, and yet another thought it represented absolute calm.  There were other thoughts as well, but none seemed particularly strong.

What I find more interesting is the creatures described, they sound somewhat horrific with eyes all around, but I'm certain that they are beautiful beyond my imagination.  These are believed to be an exalted form of angelic being, specifically tasked with guarding the heavenly throne & leading the worship of God.  Ezekiel 1 and Isaiah 6 also attempted to describe these creatures (or similar creatures).  The purpose of the eyes is believed to be so that nothing escapes their attention.

They lead worship with "Holy, Holy, Holy" - some think this is due to the triune nature of God, others think it is due to the fact that God is eternal (past, present, future).  The worship they lead doesn't cease, it is ongoing.

The creatures are said to resemble a Lion, Ox, Man, & Eagle.  People have written loads of theories how this relates to many other things in scripture from the 4 Gospels to the 4 Ensigns of the lead tribes as Israel traveled through the wilderness, and a variety of things in between.  All or none of these theories may be valid, but we just don't know.

Revelation 4:9-11 - The 24 Elders respond to the leading of the 4 creatures.  Though they have thrones and crowns of their own they don't consider themselves above falling down before the throne of God & casting their crowns at His feet.  They acknowledge God as worthy of all glory & honor & power, and they acknowledge God as creator of all things.

What I find interesting & a personal challenge is that God is present at the center of this scene.  He is center & the focus of the creatures, He is center & the focus of the Elders, and He is center to even more that we will hear more about in the following chapters.  In this chapter God is at the center, right where He should be.  He is rightfully the center of heaven & the center of all the Universe (creation), but what is challenging is how hard it is for us to keep God always at the center.  We are faulty fallen beings, prone to being self-centered and placing ourselves on the throne of a universe of our own imaginations, and so frequently we fail to even acknowledge God in our daily lives.  What a different picture is painted with heavens throne room, in which God is the complete focus & all else is inconsequential.

Prayer:  Lord God please help us to be like John the Baptist who know He needed to decrease for the sake of Your glory.  Please keep us aware that you are in our lives and actively involved, and in our world and actively involved.  Help us to become more & more God-centered, to run to you & not away, to be brave in living out our faith in "fear & trembling" before you our Awesome Holy God.  Amen!

Reflection & Prayer: Think about how you have spent your time, money, energy this last week.  Consider where were you self-centered rather than God-centered.   Take some time to pray with one another.