Monday, January 25, 2016

More about Revelation, a sort of overview of the first half

A few years ago, I wrote about creation on this blog, and received the following comment from a friend of mine who is a pastor.

I once read a book called "The Science of God," by Gerald Schroeder, a Jewish physicist and theologian. I don't agree with everything he says, but he points out (perhaps similarly to Shawn) that time is relative. He says that if you measure the age of the universe by the rate of the flow of time on Earth today, it's almost 15 billion years. But if you measure it by the rate of the flow of time for the universe as a whole at the moment that matter emerged after the Big Bang (called "quark confinement"), the universe is almost but not quite seven days old. That would mean we're actually still living in the sixth day of creation. That would mean that Gen. 2:1-3 actually describes the future—that everything is still being built into what is "very good." It would explain why Jesus worked to improve human life on the Sabbath after the pattern of his Father (John 5:17). It would mean that what the author of Hebrews says about the Sabbath rest is more than a metaphor (Heb. 4:1-11).
(The author of that comment is Cory Hartman, and if you are interested, you can read his blog here.)

The idea that we are still in the sixth day, and that the seventh day is the culmination of all history, when redeemed creation will exist eternally in the presence of God, when the saints enter God's perfect rest (see Hebrews 4)--this is very interesting to me.

I think it fits with the way the seven seals and seven trumpets unfold in Revelation.  In both cases, there is a gap before the seventh, and the seventh arrives with the fully revealed presence of God.  In the gap, it talks of how the elect are saved.  (I haven't gotten to the seven bowls yet, but they are a bit different--there isn't so much of a gap between 6 and 7, although the seventh still demonstrates the revealed presence of God, very similarly: thunder, lightning, earthquakes.)

If you read Genesis carefully, between chapter 1 and chapter 2, it seems to tell all the way through to the seventh day, but then to go back and rest on the sixth day (Genesis 2:4--review Cory's comment above regarding Genesis 2:1-3).  In this sense, Genesis never really explicitly comes back out of the sixth day, almost as though it sets up the rest of what follows throughout scripture as part of the sixth day, until we get to Revelation 21-22 (and of course some allusions to The End by Old Testament prophets).

Have you ever had the chain of a necklace get knotted up on you?  When this happens to me, I have to lay out the necklace on a smooth, flat surface, put on my very best reading glasses, and use two straight pins, one in my right hand and one in my left.  I gently work at the knots of the necklace with the pins, sticking the pointed tips into the thickest parts of the knots and pulling carefully outward to try to tease out the tangles.  Sometimes I have to do this for quite a long time before anything loosens enough for me to be able to see how the knots are tied up, and therefore how to go about undoing them.  Sometimes I feel as though I'll never get it.

Over the years, as I have read and tried to study Revelation, I've often felt like I was at the beginning stages of trying to untangle a particularly fine metal chain.

Although I am still far from figuring it out, recently I've been feeling as though I'm starting to make some progress, starting to see how some things fit together.

I think it is important to read with a view to the circular nature of Hebrew rhetoric.  While there is undeniably a sense of crescendoing chaos as we hurtle towards the Last Day, there is also a great deal of repetition in Revelation.  I think we can quite safely break The End down to only a few events, and not perhaps the complicated and sometimes convoluted timeline that some pull out of this book.

Currently, in my BSF study, we have arrived at Revelation 12, and Revelation 12 has always been a signpost to me that this book is not a sequence of chronological events along a timeline.  In Revelation, sometimes we are looking forward to the future, sometimes we are looking backward at the past, and sometimes we are in the present.  Sometimes a symbol may stand for a very specific and particular thing, and sometimes a symbol might stand for a universal idea or be one picture of what may, throughout history, be a recurring event.

Here are what I think are the defining themes of Revelation:

(1)  Jesus is Lord.  Jesus is Victorious.
I base this first on Revelation 1, where the first verse states that this is the revelation of Jesus Christ.  Revelation 1:4-8 proceeds to tell who Jesus is, what He has done, and what He will still do in the future.  Revelation 1:9-20 describes John's vision of Jesus, and Jesus' instruction for John to write this message for the churches.  Revelation 1 lays this foundation, but theme of Jesus as our victorious Lord recurs again and again throughout the book.

(2)  There will be a Last Day.
The corollary to this point is that, at the Last Day, it will be the end, and too late to change one's mind.
This idea is implicit in the letters to the seven churches (in Revelation, chapters 2-3).
Another way to state it is: Be Ready!
But also, for the faithful who actually are ready, the message is :  Hold Firm!
To those who are drifting into disobedience, the message is:  Repent!

(3)  The faithful will live forever in eternal glory with the Lord.
By the marvelous grace of God, this truth is highlighted at the beginning of the visions, in chapters 4-5.  Personally, I think the Lord does this to build our hope and confidence before showing us what difficulties we may be called to face before we arrive at our prize.  Revelation encourages God's people to trust in God's promises and to hope for the future.

(4)  Those who are unwilling to repent, who reject Christ's offer of redemption and eternal life, will be cast out (Revelation 2:22, 20:15).
This is not our favorite thing to think about.  It is frightening and sorrowful.  However, God warns us and gives us time to repent, because of His great mercy and grace.  This is part of why the book of Revelation is so important.  It is a warning, a call to action.

(5)  There will be suffering, trials and tribulations for God's people on earth, but nothing can compare to the everlasting paradise we will gain when we get home to Jesus.
I do not think that these trials and tribulations are necessarily specifically matched to historical events, or revealed to us in a particular order to help us draw up a timeline for predicting the date of the Lord's return, although they might be.  However, I think the point we should be sure to take away is this: We will experience difficulties, but they will be controlled and limited by our sovereign God, and we can be completely assured that He will save His people in the end, providing eternal comfort and joy.

(6)  Satan, sin and death will one day be completely destroyed, never to come back and mess with us, ever again.
Revelation 20:10 is one of my favorite verses.  The tempter, the accuser, the father of lies will be cast away, and we will be free of him and safe for ever after.  No more pain or sorrow or fear or danger or waste or loss.  Amen!

(7)  Perfect fellowship between God and humankind will be restored, and God will make His dwelling with His people, among us.  We will be in God and God will be in us.
Ages ago, there was a golden ark hidden in the most interior room of the tabernacle, a perfect cube of a room, draped in curtains and too holy for anyone to enter.  The death of Jesus tore the veil away, and the Holy Spirit now resides in every believer.  But after the Last Day, perfect fellowship with God will be restored, the City of Our God will be the perfect cube (replacing, or fulfilling, the Holy of Holies), and we will all live within Him and see Him face to face while He will provide our light (this is from Revelation 21 and 22; I am not making it up).  I think we cannot understand much of what this will entail, being mortal and finite as we are, but I have faith that it will be marvelous beyond anything anyone has ever been able to imagine (1 Corinthians 2:9).  We'll have constant, uninterrupted access to the Lord.

I think that just about anything we come across in Revelation can be categorized under one of these seven themes.

Revelation 1 -- Jesus is Lord

Revelation 2-3 -- There will be a Last Day

Revelation 4-5 -- Jesus is Lord

Revelation 6 -- There will be suffering, There will be a Last Day

Revelation 7 -- The faithful will live in eternal glory with the Lord, Perfect fellowship with God will be restored

Revelation 8-9 -- There will be suffering, Those unwilling to repent will be cast out

Revelation 10  -- Jesus is Lord

Revelation 11 -- There will be suffering... but nothing cam compare to the everlasting paradise

Revelation 12 -- There will be suffering, Jesus is Lord

If I get a chance to write about this again, I would like to discuss the inter-relatedness of chapters 10-12.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

... more thoughts on Revelation 10

This saga began here.

I apologize for the scatteredness of these posts.  Honestly, when the connections and understanding dawned on me, I was awake nearly an entire night, thinking through it all.  It is simple, yet complicated.  I wanted to explain my thoughts as simply as possible.  How I hope and pray that someone will bear with me and hear me out.

It seems to me that one of the biggest mistakes people make, when they study Revelation, is in assuming that it is all written out in a chronologically sequential order.  That assumption is probably based on our western mindset; it's how Americans and Western Europeans approach things.  One, two, three, you know.  Steps in order.  Ordered points leading to a conclusion.  To us, it seems the right way to do something.

I've read Revelation a number of times, probably at least six times.  Now, reading something and understanding something, those are two very different things.  I've studied Revelation, and portions of it, a few times.  Some of the studies have made more sense to me than others.  But, whether reading or studying, I've noticed something.  Certain themes, images and phrases keep rolling around and coming back again in Revelation.  For instance, the twenty-four elders keep falling on their faces, overcome with worship for Almighty God.  This happens in Revelation 4:10, 5:8, 7:11, 11:16, 19:4 (and in 1:17, John himself fell at the feet of Jesus, as though dead).  Now, certainly the awesome presence of the Lord could (and most likely will) cause this kind of worship to happen repeatedly in eternity.  However, I think we can also consider the possibility that this climactic moment of worship is, in fact, one climactic moment of worship--at the culmination of all that God has accomplished in Christ--that is so significant and stunning that the visions continually revert to describing it.

I say this because my understanding is that Hebrew rhetoric, unlike western rhetoric, is not linear.  Hebrew rhetoric is circular.  In Hebrew rhetoric, one considers a point, and then one circles around and considers the same point from a different angle, and again and again, until myriad angles have been examined.  This being the case, I think we ought to be very cautious before we plunge into Revelation assuming that it is written in a linear, chronological sequence.  No matter what else you may or may not agree with me on here, nobody can deny that Revelation 12 is out of sequence, a flash back in time.  Revelation 12 clearly describes the incarnation of Christ.

The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour the child as soon as it was born.  She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule the nations with an iron scepter.  And her child was snatched up to God and to His throne.
Revelation 12:4b-5 (NIV)

If Revelation 12 is "out of sequence," why would we assume that the rest of Revelation is all (or mostly) in chronological order?  Perhaps rather than event-following-event-following-event along a timeline, we may be dealing with just a few major events, examined from multiple angles.

If this is the case, then I think it could be quite possible that Revelation 10 is a vision John was given to help him (and us) understand more deeply who Christ is, the grandeur and deity of the Christ whom John had pledged his life to follow while He was on earth as a man.

In my previous post, I explained how--after I had been frustrated by trying to figure out Revelation 10, but at a time when I was thinking about something entirely different--the Lord led me to Luke 9:21, where Jesus told his disciples not to tell anyone who He was.  That reminded me of Revelation 10:4 when John was told not to write down what he had seen.  This connection was a huge clue to me: this chapter could be all about Jesus.  Revelation is, after all, "The revelation of Jesus Christ," (Revelation 1:1).

In my previous post, I proceeded to work through Revelation 10:1-3, verse by verse, trying to show through cross references how this idea could be supported.  I'll continue to work through the chapter that way, beginning by finishing what I was trying to say about Revelation 10:3.

Revelation 10:3a (NIV)
... and he gave a loud shout like the roar of a lion...

Jesus is the Lion of Judah, in fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy.  This was even mentioned earlier in  Revelation, in a clear reference to Jesus Christ.

Then one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep!  See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed.  He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals."
Revelation 5:5 (NIV)

Revelation 10:3b (NIV)
When He shouted, the voices of the seven thunders spoke.

Seven is the perfect number, complete, fulfilled.  God's presence on earth is often accompanied by thunder and lightening.  The voices of the seven thunders in Revelation 10:3b immediately make me think of the voice of God at the baptism of Jesus--

When all the people were baptized, Jesus was baptized too.  And as He was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased."
Luke 3:21-22 (NIV)

And it also makes me think of how God spoke at the Transfiguration--

Jesus . . . took Peter, James and John with Him and went up onto a mountain to pray.  As He was praying, the appearance of His face changed, and His clothes became as bright as a flash of lightening . . . [A] cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.  A voice came from the cloud, saying, "This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to Him."
from Luke 9:28-29, 34-35 (NIV)

Revelation 10:4 (NIV)
And when the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write; but I heard a voice from heaven say, "Seal up what the seven thunders have said and do not write it down."

This is where I first began to see that this might be a passage about Jesus, when God led me to Luke 9:21 (NIV)--"Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone."

The same command followed the Transfiguration, recorded in both Matthew and Mark--

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, "Don't tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead."
Matthew 17:9 (NIV)

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
Mark 9:9 (NIV)

Revelation 10:5-7 (NIV)
Then the angel I had seen standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven.  And he swore by him who lives forever and ever, who created the heavens and all that is in them, the earth and all that is in it, and the sea and all that is in it, and said, "There will be no more delay!  But in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound the trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as He announced to His servants the prophets."

Rather than blathering on and on with my own words, I'm just going to give you some scriptures to read, and you can do your own reflecting on how they might relate to this passage.

So Jesus said, "When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be, and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.  The one who sent me is with me, He has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases Him."
John 8:28-29 (NIV)

Therefore, when Christ came into the world, He said,
Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
but a body you prepared for me;
with burnt offering and sin offering you were not pleased.
Then I said, "Here I am--it is written about me in the scroll--
I have come to do your will, O God.
Hebrews 10:5-7 (NIV)

Jesus replied, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified."
John 12:23 (NIV) 

"Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say?  'Father save me from this hour'?  No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.  Father, glorify Your name!"
Then a voice spoke from heaven, "I have glorified it, and will glorify it again."
John 12:27-28 (NIV)

Father, the hour has come.  Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify You.  For You granted Him authority over all people that He might give eternal life to all those You have given Him.
John 17:1-2 (NIV)

He went away a second time and prayed, "My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may Your will be done.
Matthew 26:42 (NIV)

When He had received the drink, Jesus said, "It is finished."  With that, He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.
John 19:30 (NIV)

My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ.
Colossians 2:2 (NIV) 

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms,
according to his eternal purpose that He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Ephesians 3:10-11 (NIV)

(Actually, that Ephesians reference may also shed some light on what is going on in Revelation 11, too, but I'm not dealing with Revelation 11 today.) 

Revelation 10:8-11 (NIV)
Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me once more: “Go, take the scroll that lies open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.”
So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, “Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but ‘in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey.’

I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour. 
Then I was told, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings.”

I feel that this part of the chapter is much easier to understand if we view the preceding verses as a revelation of the deity and perfect ministry of Christ.

If the little, open scroll is the prophecy of the life and times of Jesus Christ, and the vision is confirmation that Christ accomplished all that the Father sent Him to do, then for John to eat the little scroll would be for him to share in the life and ministry of Jesus.  John had done and was doing exactly that.

It gives special meaning to the opening of John's gospel when we see it this way:  

In the beginning was the Word.  And the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
John 1:1 (NIV)

The Word is the scroll, and the Word is Christ.

To know and follow Christ is unutterably sweet, but also painful in this lifetime.

When Jesus was a baby at the temple, Simeon told Mary:

"This child is destined to cause the rising and falling of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.  And a sword will pierce your own soul, too."
from Luke 2:34-35

Jesus tried to explain about the duality of weeping and rejoicing in the Christian life, before He went away:

Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.
John 16:20 (NIV)
Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.
from John 16:22 (NIV)

The end of Revelation 10, as it ushers into Revelation 11, discusses the time of weeping that Christ's followers will face.  But Revelation never leaves us there.  Indeed, it seems to me that God so mercifully desires the encouragement of our hearts, that He had John start out with visions of the culmination of glory in the throne room of heaven (Revelation 4-5) before He even began to reveal any of the intermediary difficulties.

The last verse here, Revelation 10:11, gives John the directive to go and prophesy about many peoples, nations, languages and kings. Now is the time to prophesy. Earlier, while Jesus was on earth, John had been told not to tell people what he had seen until after Jesus had died and risen again, but all that has now been accomplished. The time has come to bear testimony, to trust God and bear His gospel to the nations regardless of the risks. Revelation 11 will develop more on the theme of bearing testimony.

This, to the best of my ability, is my understanding of Revelation 10.  

I will leave you with one of my all-time favorite verses.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33 (NIV)

Friday, January 22, 2016

Thoughts on Revelation 10

Last week in BSF, we studied Revelation 10-11.  I was confused and frustrated with it.

Yesterday, while I was searching for something else (you can read that story here), God showed me something remarkable.  He led me (while I was searching for something else) to Luke 9:18-21 where Jesus was asking His disciples about their perception of His identity.  The disciples told Jesus how the crowds thought He was one prophet or another, so Jesus asked them, "But what about you?  Who do you say that I am?"  Peter replied (famously): "The Christ of God."  And then, in verse 21, it says, "Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone."

It has always been rather mysterious to me how Jesus did not want His disciples to talk about who He was while He was out and about.  But, just coming out of a study on Revelation 10, reading Luke 9:21 made me think of Revelation 10:4, "And when the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write; but I heard a voice from heaven say, 'Seal up what the seven thunders have said and do not write it down.'" (NIV)

That's where it started.  I am not going to broach Revelation 11 here, but I would like to record what God showed me about Revelation 10.

I'll preface this with a comment.  The BSF position says that in Revelation, an angel is always an angel, so the mighty angel in Revelation 10 could not possibly be Christ.  That came across uncomfortably to me because of the angel in Revelation 20.  The angel in Revelation 20 came down from heaven with the key to the Abyss, seized the dragon, and bound him with a great chain for a thousand years (Revelation 20:1-2).

In Revelation 1, Jesus himself is the one who proclaimed, "I am the First and the Last.  I am the Living One; I was dead and behold I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades." (from Revelation 1:17-18, NIV)  If Jesus is the One who holds the keys, and this angel held the keys, it seems plausible to me that the angel of Revelation 20 might be a symbol for Jesus in one of His roles as the Savior of the world.

If the angel of Revelation 20 could plausibly be a symbol for Jesus, why couldn't the mighty angel of Revelation 10 also be a symbol for Jesus?

The description of the angel in Revelation 10 matches parts of both the description of Jesus in Revelation 1, and the description of God in Revelation 4.  For example:

Revelation 10:1
He was robed in a cloud...

Revelation 4:5
From the throne came flashes of lightening, rumblings and peals of thunder.   (storm cloud?)

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Revelation 10:1
...with a rainbow above his head...

Revelation 4:3
The one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian.  A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne.

* * * * * * * * * * * * 

Revelation 10:1
His face was like the sun...

Revelation 1:14, 16b
His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire... His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Revelation 10:1
...and his legs were like fiery pillars.

Revelation 1:15
His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace.

I do not think the match ups of these descriptions could be happenstance or coincidence.  This angel is a conglomeration of the visions John has already described of Jesus and of Father God.

This suggests to me that John is explaining how he, personally, came to understand that Jesus was divine, God incarnate (Luke 9:18-21, where I began).

Revelation 10:2 proceeds to say that the angel was holding a little scroll, which lay open in his hand.  Let's think about this for a minute.  What actually is the little scroll, and why is it open?  The other scroll we have seen is the scroll with seven seals that only the Lamb could open in Revelation 5:1-7.  That scroll was sealed shut.  What if the little scroll was the prophecy of Jesus' first coming, and what if it was open because it had already happened?  Then the scroll with the seven seals could be the prophecy of Jesus' second coming, when He will destroy Satan, evil and death once for all, and usher in the new heaven and the new earth.  Perhaps that one was sealed shut because and it has not yet happened.

Also in Revelation 10:2, the angel put one foot on land and one foot on the sea.  Conspicuously absent here is the third element of nature: the heavens.  This might signify how Jesus, the God-man, left the heavens and came down to live on the earth and sea.

Revelation 10:3 says that the angle gave a loud shout like the roar of a lion.  This, of course, evokes thoughts of the Lion of Judah, the promised Messiah.  Remember Revelation 5:5?   

 * * * * * * Due to technical difficulties, this post will be continued later * * * * * * *