Acts 5:33-39, The Battle That Can’t Be Won

33] When they heard this, they were furious and plotted to kill them.  34] Then one in the council stood up, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in respect by all the people, and commanded to put the apostles outside for a little while.  35] And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do regarding these men.  36] For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody.  A number of men, about four hundred, joined him.  He was slain, and all who obeyed him were dispersed.  37] After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census, and drew away many people after him.  He also perished, and all who obeyed him were dispersed.  38] And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; 39] But if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it – lest you even be found to fight against God.”

The Scripture for this post follows the apostles’ brave assertion that “we ought to obey God rather than men,” v. 29, and gives us the reaction of the nation’s spiritual leaders.  Instead of repenting, they became furious – often the reaction when error is confronted by truth – and wanted to kill the apostles, only being prevented from this by the counsel of Gamaliel, a Pharisee.  The leaders of the council were all Sadduccees, who believed nothing about the supernatural.  As a Pharisee, Gabriel would have believed in such things.  We read of several Pharisees who were saved, Saul of Tarsus [a student of Gamaliel] notable among them, but there are no records of Sadduccees ever being converted.

Recounting some historical incidents of men who had rebelled and had been defeated, Gamaliel warned the council, saying, “keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it of God, you cannot overthrow it – lest you even be found to  fight against God, vs. 38, 39.

“If it is of God, you cannot overthrow it….”

There is no further record of Gabriel, so we don’t know if he became a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, but he had a higher view of God than many who do claim to follow Him.  In no way do I deny the responsibility of men to obey God; what I do deny is that their rebellion and sin in any way defeats or derails the purpose of God for this wicked world – or for them.

This is not fatalism – that it doesn’t matter what we do.  It does matter.

We live in perilous times.  I’m afraid they’re going to get worse.  Scripture says that men’s hearts will fail them because of the fearfulness of what they see, Luke 21:26.  That verse probably doesn’t refer to this particular day of this year, but it will happen one day.  The point is, Christians and unbelievers alike get so wrapped up in the happenings of this world that they forget about the next.  Granted, unbelievers likely don’t believe in “next,” but Christians sometimes forget it, as well.

If I read The Revelation correctly, there is coming a terrible time in which the Devil will apparently have free reign and he will do everything he can to subvert and destroy mankind.  However, he and all those who follow him will find out, sooner or later, that you cannot win when you fight against God.

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Acts 4:34-5:11: …Greed

34] for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of that things that were sold, 35] and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.

36] And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, 37] having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

5:1] But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession.  2] And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet.  3] But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself?  4] While it remained, was it not your own?  And after it was sold, was it not in your own control?  Why have you conceived this thing in your heart?  You have not lied to men but to God.”

5] Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last.  So great fear came upon all those who heard those things.  6] And the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him.

7] Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.  8] And Peter answered her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?”

She said, “Yes, for so much.”

9] Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord?  Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.”  10] Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last.  And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband.  11] So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.  (NKJV)

We’ve already seen the general description of the unity, selflessness and generosity of the early church in 4:34-37, first with the believers themselves and then with a particular individual:  Joses, or as he was named later, Barnabas.  Right now, he’s just one of them; later on, God will single him out for special service.

No doubt, Joses’ gift was received favorably, but….

Among the believers was a couple named Ananias and Sapphira.  They, too, sold a possession, but brought only a part of the proceeds from it to the apostles.  We’re not told what their thinking was or why they did this, but it got them into trouble.

1. Their falsehood, vs. 1-3.

They brought only a part of what they had received from the sale of their land.  Apparently they made it seem as if they donated the whole amount, not just a part of it.

2. Their freedom, vs. 4.

As we mentioned before, this sharing of possessions was voluntary, not compulsory.  There was no requirement that it be done, or that any certain amount had to be given.  Peter said to Ananias that while he and his wife had owned the property, it was theirs to do with as they wished.  And even after they had sold it, they were in control of what they had received.  If they wanted to give only part of the proceeds, they could have.  There was no need to lie about it.

3. Their forgetfulness, vs. 4-9.

They forgot one important fact:  they weren’t just dealing with men.  They were dealing with God.  They hadn’t just lied to others about this sale; they had lied to God.  I think we’ve forgotten this to a large degree in our culture.  We go by current social or cultural norms instead of by the word of God.  Even in church, too often it’s more about tradition than truth.   We mold our beliefs by the catechism or confession of faith than from the Scriptures.  These may be useful and helpful, but we must always say, “What does the Scripture say,” Romans 4:3, not what does the catechism say.  Even as I write these posts, it isn’t or at least shouldn’t be just to get more visits to the blog or favorable comments.  Yes, they have their place, but if God doesn’t bless these efforts to those who read them, nothing of lasting value is accomplished.

4. Their fate, vs. 5-10.

God killed them for their presumption.

We don’t like that.  The god of contemporary Christianity loves everybody and wants to bless them.  Everybody’s going to a better place.  Everyone is a child of God.

That God is love is a wonderful Bible truth, 1 John 4:8, but it is not the only Bible truth.  Earlier in 1 John, he said, God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all, 1 John 1:5.  He goes on to say, If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.

Hebrews 12:29 puts it like this:  Our God is a consuming fire.  This after the admonition in v. 28, Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptable with reverence and godly fear.

“Godly fear.”

This leads to our next thought.

5. The fear, v. 11.

Great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.

I don’t want to make too much of this, but I think perhaps we tend to make too little of it.  A common definition of “the fear of God” is “reverential awe.”  Is that what these people who had seen or heard of Ananias and Sapphira being struck down for their sin – is that what these people felt?  Just “awe”?

Or was it an actual fear coming from divine judgment?

By this, I do not mean that we should come cringing into the presence of God, expecting Him to hit us up side the head if we don’t do everything just right.  He is the God who has saved us and brought us into His family.  He has exhibited a great deal of patience with our fallibility and fallenness.  He sent His Son to take our place.  That’s something we should remember this “Christmas.”  Jesus wasn’t born on that long ago morning so we could give each other presents, have family get-togethers and eat too much.  He was born into this world because there is not a single thing we can do to redeem ourselves.  Without that birth, there would be no death.  Without that death, there is no salvation.  God did all that, things way beyond our understanding, in order that sinners like us might be saved.

At the same time and for all that He has blessed us, God is God, not our buddy.

Acts 2:22-23, “Man Proposes…”

22] “Men of Israel, hear these words:  Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know – 23] Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death;”  (NKJV)

In our last post, we looked at the first part of this chapter and its description of the events of that extraordinary day.

Remember, it was only 50 days since the crucifixion of Christ.  Many of the men and women in Peter’s audience, for we need not suppose there were only men, many of them had no doubt witnessed the events surrounding that sad day.  Though many of them lived elsewhere, they had traveled to Jerusalem to participate in Passover and the Feast of Weeks, one of the names by which Pentecost was known.  Little had they known when they started out that they would see the fulfillment of what those two days foreshadowed.

Peter reminds them of the facts of the Lord’s ministry, v. 22.  In the words he used on another special occasion, Jesus “went about doing good,”  Acts 10:38.

“He went about doing good.”

I can’t think of a better epitaph.

But he also reminded them of the Lord’s murder, v. 23.

It is here we get into muddy waters, so to speak, not that the Lord died, the Scripture is clear about that, but on the processes or principles that lay behind that death:  “Him being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by wicked hands, have crucified and slain.”  Or as the KJV put it, “the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God.”

This tells us that the death of Christ wasn’t an accident.  It wasn’t a mistake, as some have taught.  It wasn’t the result, as one writer put it, of “a hastily called meeting of the Divine council.”  How could a professed believer have such a dishonoring view of God?

In one of his writings, Peter put it like this:  He [Jesus] indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world…, 1 Peter 1:20.  And Revelation 13:8 refers to Him as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

“Wait!’ says someone, “Peter says it was done according to the foreknowledge of God.  God foresaw what would happen, just as He chose those whom He foresaw would accept Jesus, 1 Peter 1:2.”

This is a common viewpoint, that God merely reacted to what He foresaw in the actions of men as He looked down from heaven.

Is it Scriptural?  Does God really just “react”?

There’s a lot that could be said about this.  In fact, we did a post a while back on this subject.  For now, let’s just say that Scripture itself uses this imagery of God looking down from heaven.  Psalm 14:2 says,

The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men,
To see if there are any who understand, who seek God
.

If the “foreknowledge” view were correct, we would expect to read that God does indeed see many “who understand, who seek God.”  Is that what the Psalmist describes?

On the contrary.  Psalm 14:3 says,

They have all turned aside,
They have together become corrupt:

There is none who does good,
No, not one.   (emphasis added)

Paul refers to this in Romans 3 in his teaching of the universal sinfulness, rebellion and condemnation of mankind and concludes, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, v. 23.

This doesn’t mean that there isn’t good, humanly speaking, among men.  I expect even Hitler did “good” to those whom he loved, in spite of the misery and suffering he caused a lot of other people.  It means that there is nothing good in men as far as God is concerned.  Isaiah 64:6 puts it like this,

But we are all like an unclean thing,
And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags:
We all do fade as a leaf,
And our iniquities, like the wind,
Have taken us away. 

That phrase, “filthy rags”?

It refers to a cloth used by a woman during her time of the month or used by a leper for his sores.  Not a very pretty description.

And that’s “our righteousnesses,” those little acts of goodness we do once in a while.  What must our “unrighteousnesses,” our sins be like?

I’m glad God didn’t decide to give us what we deserve, but sent His Son to do what we couldn’t do.  No force on earth could have put the Lord Jesus on the Cross if He hadn’t been willing to go.  And no force on earth could have kept Him away from it since He was willing.

But Peter doesn’t stop with the counsels and purpose of God.  He goes on in v. 23,

“you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death.”

The question is often asked,  “If God is sovereign and foreordains everything, how can man be responsible for his actions?”  And that’s a good question.

The Scripture never answers it.  It just says that they’re both true statements.  There are many instances of this in Scripture.  Perhaps the best known one is found in Genesis 50.

You remember the story.  Joseph had been the favorite son of his father Jacob.  Moreover, he apparently was a tattle-tale, telling his father of the misdeeds of his eleven brothers.  They got back at him by selling him into slavery and, for 13 years, Jacob lamented the death of his son.  Fast forward, and Joseph has become second-in-command in Egypt.  His brothers needed to go down to Egypt twice to get food, and the second time, Joseph revealed to his brothers that he was their brother.  Naturally they were terrified and begged him not to pay them back for what they had done to him.  He replied, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God?  But as for you, you meant  evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive,” vs. 19, 20.

The brothers meant only evil toward their brother and were responsible for what they did.  God meant only good.  So here, with Peter’s message.  The crowd who crucified Jesus meant only evil and were fully responsible for their attitudes and actions.  God meant it for good.

Two  parallel truths.

God is God.

Men are responsible for their attitudes and actions.

Revelation 17: “Mystery, Babylon the Great.”

1] Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and talked with me, saying to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, 2] with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication.”

3] So he carried me away in the Spirit into the wilderness.  And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.  4] The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication.  5] And on her forehead a name was written:

MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT,
THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS
AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS
OF THE EARTH.

6] I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.  And when I saw here, I marveled with great amazement.

7] But the angel said to me, “Why did you marvel?  I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns.  8] The beast that you saw was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go into perdition.  And those who dwell on the earth will marvel, whose names are not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.

9] “Here is the mind which has wisdom:  The seven heads are ten mountains on which the woman sits.  10] There are also seven kings.  Five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yer come.  And when he comes, he must continue a short time.  11] The beast that was, and is not, is himself also the eighth, and is of the seven, and is going to perdition.

12] ‘The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast.  13] These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast.  14] These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful.”

These verses describe a “woman,” but who is she?  John himself tells us.

In v. 5, he sees that she has a title:  “Mystery, Babylon the Great.”  But in v. 9, he goes even further:  the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits.  What one city in the world is known for sitting on seven hills?  It’s Rome, the capital of Italy.  If you don’t believe me, google “city of seven hills.”  And in v. 18, she is described as “that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth.”

But what does Rome have to do with Babylon?  What’s the “mystery”?  (In Scripture, a “mystery” is not something to be solved, but something not previously revealed.)

We dealt at some length with this in our post of the letter to the church at Pergamos, so here let’s just say that the link between these two is found in the title Pontifex Maximus, the title held by the Popes since the time of Constantine, and before then by the High Priest of pagan religions, which originated in Babylon, hence she is the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth.

In this chapter, John shows the final development of the Church, completely allied with the world.  The beast on which she sits is described as one who was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go into perdition.  While I won’t be dogmatic about it, it seems to me that this refers to what we’ve already seen in that the beast, in this case, the head of the final world government, who will die and be allowed to come back to life.

This will result in the world saying, “Who is like the beast?  Who is able to make war with him? Revelation 13:4.  Revelation 17:8 continues, and those who well on the earth will marvel, whose names are not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world, when they seen the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.

I attended a Bible Conference with several hundred pastors.  One of the speakers had as his text Revelation 17.  As he read the chapter, he got to verse 8, and read the first part. Then there was silence for what seemed like a long time, but probably only a few seconds.  He skipped over the part of the verse we quoted in the last paragraph, went to v. 9 and read it and the rest of the chapter.  He never once read or referred to the part of the verse he left out.

I understand there’s a lot of controversy over the topics of election and predestination – the group to which I belonged at the time was very opposed to the Reformed view of them, but to skip over and not even read a portion of Scripture simply because it doesn’t fit a doctrinal viewpoint??

I’m not going to get into those subjects myself at this time.  I’ve done that enough in other posts.  Just remember, our Lord commented that the deception John prophesied would be so great as “to deceive, if possible, even the elect,” Matthew 24:24.

In v. 12, John explains the meaning of the ten horns.  There’s a lot of discussion about who they are, some trying to find them in historical figures, some finding them in consecutive forms of government or rulers.  But John says they’re all contemporaries of the beast and will with one mind yield their power to him.  They will be at the forefront of the “battle” when the Lord comes back, having gathered together with all their armies to invade and conquer Israel.

There’s an interesting description of those who will accompany the Lord Jesus when He returns:  they are called, chosen, and faithful, v. 14.

1. They are called.

This is a common designation of believers, especially in Paul’s epistles.  Cf. Romans 1:6; 8:28; 1 Corinthians 1:2, 9, 24, 26, chapter 7, to name just two of them.  Then there’s Romans 8:28, a favorite verse of many, and a comfort to believers:  And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose (emphasis added).

There are those who look at the word “foreknew” in v. 29 and say that God simply looked down the corridors of time and chose those whom He foresaw would choose Him.  On that basis, He chose them.

The Scripture itself uses that picture.  Psalm 14:2 says, The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of the sons of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God.  If the “foreknowledge” view is correct, we’d be told that God saw some folks who would receive Him.  Is that what we’re told?

Not at all.

Psalm 14:3 says, They have all turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is none good, no, not one.  Paul quoted this portion in Romans 3:11 as he shows the complete and utter corruption of mankind, concluding, There is no fear of God before their eyes, v. 18.

2. They are chosen.

What does this mean?  We’ve already commented on “called.”  Our Lord put “called” and “chosen” together when, in the parable of the wedding feast, He said, “For many are called but few are chosen,” Matthew 22:14.

I heard a pastor quote that as, “Many are called, but few choose.”

There’s a common mindset that just simply cannot wrap itself around the idea that God chooses people to be saved.  But without that “choice,” there would be no one saved.  In Romans 9:29, Paul wrote, And as Isaiah said before:  “Unless the LORD of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we would have become like Sodom, and we would have been made like Gomorrah.”

While it’s true that Paul was referring to Israel, it holds equally true for us Gentiles as well, for there is no difference [between Jew and Gentile], for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23.  If God didn’t choose us, we would never choose Him.

But there’s a final word describing these believers:

3. They are faithful.

There’s a charge made against those who hold the doctrine of God’s sovereign election that we can live as we like and don’t have to worry about holy living.  And it’s true that some do live just like the world, but that’s not a result of the doctrine, but of a misunderstanding of it.  Ephesians 1:4 says that He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him.

In vs. 16-18, John closes his description of this wicked woman and her surroundings.  “The waters” are simply the nations of the world over which, with their rulers, she holds sway, v. 18.  The “ten horns,” whatever kind of alliance that turns out to be, will turn on her and destroy her.  Perhaps this will be because she does claim to represent God, and the beast will himself claim to be God – and will allow no competition.

V. 17 again reminds us that God is overseeing and superintending what goes on in this world.  It also answers the common idea that we must be “willing” before God can work with us.  Here are godless, wicked rulers and yet God has no difficulty putting it into their hearts to fulfill His purpose,…until the words of God are fulfilled (emphasis added).  It’s their purpose, but it’s God’s as well, cf. Genesis 50:20.  A lot of people are bothered by that idea, as Daniel, or rather Nebuchadnezzar, put it, in Daniel 4:35:

“He does according to His will in the armies of heaven
And among the inhabitants of the earth.
No one can restrain His hand
Or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’ ” 

But why is God so opposed to this “woman”?

Perhaps the answer can be found in the golden cup she holds.  What is the central part of her worship?  Is it not the Mass?  And what is the central part of the Mass?  Isn’t it the offering of “the unbloody sacrifice” of the Lord Jesus in that bread and wine, which are said to be transformed into His actual body and blood?  In this way, what the Lord Jesus Himself did on the Cross is negated and the efficacy of His sacrifice is made to depend on the utterance of a few words by a priest.  This is presumption of the highest order.

There is no salvation in such things.

We cannot, we dare not, try to add to what He did or to say that men must come to Him through some ritual or ceremony as part of a church service, whether it’s the Mass or an altar call.

There is only one way of salvation, and that is through faith in the finished work of Christ on the Cross.  There is nothing to be added to it.  Indeed, such “additions” only subtract from what He did.

Is your hope of heaven in what some man has done?

In what you have done?

Or, in what the Lord Jesus Christ did?

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.

Revelation 15:5-16:11, “I Will Repay,” Says The Lord.

5] After these things I looked, and behold, the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened.  6] And out of the temple came the seven angels having the seven plagues, clothed in pure bright linen, and having their chests girded with golden bands.  7] Then one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever.  8] The temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power, and no one was able to enter the temple till the seven plagues of the seven angles were completed.

16:1] Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, “Go and pour out the bowls of the wrath of God on the earth.”

2] So the first went and poured his bowl upon the earth, and a foul and loathsome sore came upon the men who had the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image.

3] Then the second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it became blood as of a dead man; and every living creature in the sea died.

4] Then the third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood.  5] And I heard the angel of the waters saying:

“You are righteous, O Lord,
The One who is and who was and who is to be,
For You have judged these things.
6] For they shed the blood of saints and prophets,
And you have given them blood to drink.
For it is their just due.”

7] And I heard another from the altar saying, “Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments.”

8] Then the fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and power was given to him to scorch men with fire.  9] And men were scorched with great heat, and they blasphemed the name of God who has power over these plagues; and they did not repent and give Him glory.

10] Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues because of the pain.  11] They blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and did not repent of their deeds.  (NKJV)

For nearly three-and-a-half years, a great world leader (great as the world understands it) has led mankind in an overt rebellion against the God of heaven.  He’s been able to perform astounding miracles, even himself cheating and defeating, or so it seemed, defeating death itself.  He’s murdered countless numbers of those who refuse to bow before him.  Apparently he has free reign.  Nothing can stop him.

But now there is a drastic change.  Those heavens which had been so silent now respond.  First of all, John shows us the scene in heaven, that heaven which up til now has been silent – but no longer….

There is activity.  Seven angels come out of the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven, v. 6.  Why such a long description?  Perhaps it has something to do with the innermost workings of the Divine mind and purpose.    I don’t really know.  The focus isn’t so much on where these angels came from as it is on what they’re going to do.  No one will be able to enter the temple until they are done, v. 8.

We’re only looking at the first five of these seven bowls of judgment, because the sixth judgment introduces a new element.  Some of these judgments mirror things we’ve seen before – in earlier judgments and much earlier in Egypt.

1. The First Bowl, 16:2:  Terrible sores.

A foul and loathsome sore came upon the men who had the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image.

This mirrors the sixth plague in Egypt: boils which afflicted man and animal, Exodus 8:8-12.  The sores in this judgment afflict only those who follow the beast.  These are the kind of sores that afflicted the beggar Lazarus in Luke 16:21, a “festering, inflamed, running sore that refuses to be healed.”

The insolent challenge had risen to the heavens:  “Who is like the beast?  Who is able to make war with him?” Revelation 13:4.  In these judgments, he and his followers will find out.

2. The Second Bowl, 16:3:  The sea turned to blood.

Then the second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it became blood as of a dead man; and every living creature in the sea died.

This bowl and the next one mirror the first plague in Egypt, where the water was turned to blood, also what happened during the second trumpet.  In the trumpet judgment, however, only a third of the sea was affected, with the water turning to blood and a third of ships being destroyed.

Something is said of this “blood” that shows the severity of this plague.  Running through our veins, blood brings oxygen to every cell and carries away waste products.  The life of the flesh is in the blood, Leviticus 17:11.  For all our science and technology, I’m not sure we understand the wonder and complexity of our blood.  Carefully preserved and protected, blood can be useful and life-saving, as in blood transfusions.  It can even be a preventative, as in forming scabs to cover wounds.  The blood of the second bowl isn’t like that.  It is blood as of a dead man, foul and corrupt.  Instead of preserving and protecting life, it will kill every creature in the sea.

Why are the ships affected?  Well, imagine what will happen when that great mountain – perhaps a giant meteorite – hits the ocean – and the tidal wave that will follow.  It will dwarf the wave that hit the Indian Ocean in 2004.  Our son was in Sri Lanka a few years afterward and said you could still see where the water came up to on the palm trees.  That was nothing compared to what will happen in the future.

3. The Third Bowl, 16:4-7:  Fresh water turned to blood.

Then the third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood.

The judgment of the third trumpet affected only a third of fresh water and only made these waters bitter.  This judgment affects all fresh water and makes it not bitter, but blood.

We can’t even begin to know what this will be like.  Imagine.  The Great Lakes in the US, Tanganyika in Africa, Titicaca in South America, the Mississippi River, the Amazon, the Volga, Old Faithful in Yellowstone Park, to name only a few sources, running in blood, not water.

A lady once told me she was bothered by all the blood mentioned in the Old Testament, and indeed, many are offended and call ours “a bloody religion.”  Some people faint at the sight of blood.  What will this judgment be like?

Regardless of how men will react, the heavenly world will acknowledge God’s absolute righteousness and justice, vs. 5-7.

“You are righteous, O Lord,
The One who is and who was and who is to be,

Because You have judged these things.
For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets,
And You have given them blood to drink.
For it is their just due.”
“…Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments.”

4. The fourth bowl, 16:8, 9:  Scorching heat.

Then the fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and power was given to him to scorch men with fire.  And men were scorched with great heat, and they blasphemed the name of God who has power over these plagues; and they did not repent and give Him glory.

Because of the darkness which follows in the next judgment, some have said that the Sun suffers a type of nova, that is, it greatly expands and then collapses, going out.  Perhaps.  I don’t really know.  Whatever happens, it will be something terrible, and will cause heat never before experienced on this world.  What is believed to be the highest ground temperature ever recorded is 201 degrees in Death Valley, at Furnace Creek, California, in July, 1972.  This was a local phenomenon.  What Revelation describes will be world-wide, and worse.

Instead of repenting, men will curse the God of heaven.  Perhaps this is an answer to those who imagine that the pains of hell will finally cause men to repent, and everyone will eventually be saved and brought to heaven.  This tells us something far different.  In probably what will be the closest approximation to hell this world will ever see, it won’t bring men to repentance.  It will simply confirm them in and increase their rebellion and hatred of God.

5. The fifth bowl, 16:10, 11:  Darkness and pain.

Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues because of the pain.  They blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and did not repent of their deeds.

Though this seems to be an entirely separate thing, as another angel pours out his bowl, some of the effects of previous bowls still linger. Pain of the sores from the first bowl coupled with the intense heat of the fourth bowl make men gnaw their tongues.  Then they are plunged into complete darkness.

This is similar to something that happened in Egypt as Moses and Aaron were dealing with Pharaoh’s stubbornness in allowing Israel to leave.  In Exodus 10:21, we read,  Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, darkness which may even be felt.” 

“Darkness which may even be felt….”

Have you ever experienced that kind of darkness?  I don’t mean emotional pain or distress that seems to block out everything else.  That is certainly “felt,” but I don’t think that’s what the Lord had in mind in Egypt, and it’s not the kind of darkness the folks in Revelation will experience.

I was in a cave once, it might have been Carlsbad Caverns, I don’t really remember.  What I do remember is that while we were down there, far from the surface, the guide turned off the lights.  There was no light whatever; it was absolutely dark.  I could feel my eyes straining to see something – anything.

Anything at all.

It was quite a relief to the group when the guide turned the lights back on.

It’s said that unrelieved absolute darkness will result in blindness.  I don’t really know, but the fifth bowl will bring that kind of darkness.

Yet those who suffer it will simply bow their necks and continue in their rebellion against God.

We mentioned earlier those who believe there will be a “second chance” for salvation after death.  This is a false and fatal hope.  There’s also some discussion about whether or not Christians will go through the Tribulation period.  It’s not really my purpose to get into all that, but simply to say that while I believe that true believers will not go through that time of trial on this earth, there will be a lot of church-members who will.

Perhaps that sounds harsh and judgmental.  I make no judgment about any particular person, but the Lord Jesus said that there is only one way of salvation, not many, one road to heaven, not many.  In John 14:6, He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”   In our culture of “diversity” and “inclusiveness,” this is considered bigoted and narrow.  Nevertheless, it stands true.

Peter echoed our Lord to the Sanhedrin, the ruling body in Israel:  “nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved,” Acts 4:12.

To the Philippian jailer, Paul and Silas said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”

There’s no name of a church or denomination, no routine or ritual, no ceremony that will bring folks to heaven. There’s no baptism, whether of adult or infant, immersion or sprinkling, that will do it.  No other “religion” is able to get you to heaven.  Only those who by faith have received the Lord Jesus Christ, who He was and what He did for sinners, will escape the judgment to come.  Oh, that you might be one of them.

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”

Revelation 13:11-18, A Beastly Situation, part 2.

11] Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon.  12] And he exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence, and causes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed.  13] He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men.  14] And he deceives those who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who was wounded by the sword and lived.  15] He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed.  16] He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads. 17] and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.

18] Here is wisdom.  Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man”  His number is 666.  (NKJV)

Here is the second “beast” of the two.  The word translated “beast” in both cases is “therion,” a wild beast, not a tame or domesticated one.  This one has been called, “The False Prophet.”  His role is to promote the worship of the first beast.  He is described as having two horns like a lamb, a harmless and inoffensive creature, but he spoke like a dragon.  There’s a lesson here for us.  Our Lord warned against “false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves,” Matthew 7:15.  And John wrote, Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try [test] the spirits whether they are of God:  because many false prophets are gone out into the world, 1 John 4:1.  It’s no good having horns like a lamb if one speaks like a dragon.

But not only does this individual have words; he has mighty works, to the point that even he makes fire come down from heaven to earth in the sight of men, v. 13.  His ultimate work is to make an image of the beast who was wounded by the sword and lived, an image that is able both to speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed, v. 15.

This probably seemed like an impossible thing in John’s day, but with the advent of electronics and “special effects,” perhaps this will not be as hard as it might appear.  Regardless of how it’s accomplished, it will be a serious thing, to the point of death for refusal to bow down to the beast.  A final test will be to receive a “mark” on the right hand or forehead, a mark that will be required in order to “buy or sell.”  In other words, it will affect the basic necessities of life.

There’s something for us here.  There’s a lot of talk about “miracles” in our day.  Whole ministries are built around them.  Perhaps these verses could warn us not to place an undue emphasis on “signs and wonders”.

There’s been some discussion about what this mark is.  Some have suggested that it might be some kind of electronic chip imbedded under the skin, like a tracking chip in an animal.  That might be, but I believe that it will be a visible symbol, readily apparent to all who look at the person.  There will be no “secret” disciples during this time.  I further believe that it will be in answer to those servants of God who have His mark in their forehead, Revelation 7:3; 9:4.

Perhaps there will be some who reason that they will receive the mark in order to be able to live and even seem to worship the beast, but “in their heart” they won’t be agreeing to these things.  That dog won’t hunt, because the very act of receiving the mark itself will doom the person, cf. 14:11; 16:2.  One of the things spoken of those who are saved in this time is that they have not received this mark, 15:2; 20:4.  They “have not loved their life to the death.”

What about “the mark of the beast” or “666,” v, 18?  There’s a lot of discussion about this, and even the world recognizes the number.  I don’t know that it’s all that important at this time.  When it does become important, it will be readily apparent as to its meaning.  There will be no doubt.  There will be no hiding from it.

The mark or the number may have no meaning to us today, but there is something that does have meaning, a meaning that will affect eternity.  That is our relationship and reaction to the Word of God.  The phrase, “the word of God,” appears five times in Revelation:  1:2, 9; 6:9; 19:13; 20:4.  In Revelation 19:13, the phrase is given as the name of the Lord Jesus as He returns to this world.  The other times, it occurs in connection with another phrase.  In 1:2 and 9, it’s the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.  6:9 records the cry of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held.  In 20:4, we read of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast.

The Word is to be the ultimate measure of everything we believe and do.  It will not do to say that Dr. So-and-so is teaching this or that some preacher on TV preaches it.  It’s not enough that some “Study Bible” has notes about it.  Do not not get me wrong on this last; study Bibles can be very useful.  I have several myself.  Commentaries can be very useful, and the writings of men.  I even hope my posts are helpful.  But none of these in themselves are authoritative.

A Puritan whose name I don’t remember said this:  “There are only two things I want to know:  has God spoken, and what has He said?”  It’s not, “What do men say that God has said,” though some today (falsely) claim to be His mouthpiece.  What does God say?  And the only place we can find that is in the Scriptures, that is, the Holy Bible, the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments.

But even the Scriptures have a purpose.  Our Lord spoke to some very serious Bible scholars of His day, men who would have died defending what they had of the Bible.  He said, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.  But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life,” John 5:39, 40.

The purpose of Scripture is not to make us scholars, but saints.  If we don’t know the One to whom the Scriptures point, then what we know of them, no matter how much, will only add to our condemnation.  At the same time, we can’t truly know Him apart from the Scriptures.  This may seem like a paradox, but it isn’t.  We have to know Scripture, not just for the sake of that, but for the sake of knowing the one to whom they point.  If our study of Scripture doesn’t ultimately take us to the Lord Jesus, we haven’t studied it correctly.

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, Romans 5:1.

Revelation 13:1-10, A Beastly Situation, part 1.

1] Then I stood on the sand of the sea.  And I saw a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads a blasphemous name.  2] Now the beast which I saw was like a leopard, his feet were like the feet of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion.  The dragon gave him his power, his throne, and great authority.  3] And I saw one of his heads as if it had been mortally wounded, and his deadly wound was healed.  And all the world marveled and followed the beast.  4] So they worshiped the dragon who gave authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast?  Who is able to make war with him?”

5] And he was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies and he was given authority to continue for forty-two months.  6] Then he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven.  7] It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them.  And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation.  8] All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

9] If anyone has an ear, let him hear.  10] He who leads into captivity shall go into captivity; he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword.  Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.  (NKJV)

This chapter introduces the last of the seven beings.  We’ve seen the woman, the Child, the dragon, Michael the archangel, the remnant, and now we’re introduced to two “beasts,” one from the “sea” and the other from the “earth.”  There’s a lot of discussion about these two beings.  Until the time they’re actually here, this will continue, but it will be seen that John describes them perfectly, not in a “physical” sense, but in a moral and spiritual sense.  We’ll join the discussion on the first one in this post.

As we get into the chapter, the first thing is a note on the phrase, Then I stood on the sand of the sea, v. 1.  It’s said that this should read, “he stood on the sand of the sea,” referring to the devil as he goes about to make war with the remnant of the woman’s offspring, 12:17.

Then John sees a beast rising up out of the sea and goes on to describe it as having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads a blasphemous name.  There’s some discussion about what this means.  Some say it refers to a “revived Roman Empire.”  Others say it refers to the leader of that empire.  I kind of like the phrase, “revised Roman Empire,” because I don’t know that the actual empire will be revived.  And certainly one individual is singled out, as we’ll see.  However it happens, it will be a political thing in play at the same time as other things with the same description, or these things being explained, 12:3; 13:1; 17:3.

It was a boast of the Roman conquerors that they never totally destroyed their enemies, but assimilated the best of their societies.  Hence the description using a leopard, a bear and a lion.  These are reminiscent of the beasts that Daniel saw in Daniel 7:2-7.  There, they represented successive world empires; here they embody a single empire with the speed of a leopard, the strength of a bear, the splendor of a lion’s roar.

It isn’t just these physical qualities that propel a particular person into the spotlight.  A singular event happens to him: he is mortally wounded, and his deadly wound was healed, v. 3.  This astonishes “all the world,” so that they marvel and follow the beast.

There’s a lot of discussion about this.  Did the man actually die, or did he fake it?

The latter is certainly possible.  There are drugs and chemicals which mimic death to the point that it’s very difficult to know for sure if a person is alive.  That may be, but I tend to the view that he actually dies and is brought back to life.

There are instances, even in our own time, of people being declared dead and returning to life.  One such instance is the book, Heaven is Real, the story of a little boy who gives evidence that he actually was in heaven for a time.  Another instance is the book, 90 Minutes in Heaven, the story of Don Piper, who was declared dead for an hour and a half, a book in which he describes what happened, both to his body and to himself.

There are instances in Scripture of folks dying and coming back to life:  2 Kings 4:34-36; 13:21; Matthew 27:53; Luke 7:14, 15.

The main argument against the idea that he actually dies is that only the Lord Jesus died and rose again.  And that is true.  No one has even risen from the dead as He did.  The individuals mentioned above were or are still mortal and did die or will die again, though I’m not sure about the folks in Matthew 27.

And what about Hebrews 9:27:  It is appointed for men once to die? emphasis added.  That’s generally true, but the instances in Scripture are miracles, which don’t follow natural or normal experience.

What about the devil performing such a miracle?  Scripture tells us that he has on occasion done marvelous things,  Exodus 7:11, 12, 22; 8:7.  Revelation 12 will happen in an unusual time, a time where “normal” isn’t necessarily what happens.

There is more than “normal,” or natural, in all this.  We read in v. 4 of the dragon who gave authority to the beast.  I believe this will be a time when it is obvious that there is more to what’s going on than what meets the eye.  It will be acknowledged that demonic forces are in play.  Men won’t care, but will be deceived into openly following and worshiping Satan.  Such things won’t be hidden, as they are now.

There’s something else here, as well, perhaps only hinted at.  We’ve already seen that the devil as active in all this.  Verse 5 says that this man, whom we’ll call the Antichrist, is given a voice and given authority.  Verse 7 says it was granted to him to do something.  This reminds us so much of Daniel 7:25,

He shall speak pompous words against the Most High,
Shall persecute the saints of the Most High,

And shall intend to change times and law.
Then the saints shall be given into his hand
For a time and times and half a time.

You see, and perhaps you’re getting tired of me making so much of it, but I think it’s necessary in these apostate and degenerate times, the devil can only do what God permits him to do.  Cf. Job 1, 2.  I remember a story of a high school student saying, “Satan rules,” and another student, a believer, didn’t know how to answer him.  He should have answered, “Well, he’d like to have you believe that, but it isn’t true.  God rules.”  He rules even Satan.  That’s what got him in trouble originally.  He wanted to be God.

In the time spoken of in Revelation, Satan is given great sway, even more than he has now, when he deceives the whole world, Revelation 12:9.  Also 1 John 5:19.  Satan works through a number of intermediaries to accomplish this, but in the time of the Antichrist, he will have one man in particular to do his bidding.  He will be successful: All who dwell on the earth will worship him – but only to a point – whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

Our Lord said that this time would be so deceptive and so “real” that, “there shall arise false Christ, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect,” Matthew 24:24 (KJV).

Paul put it like this:  …the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming.  The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved.  And for this reason [not receiving love of the truth] God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness, 2 Thessalonians 2:8-12, emphasis added.  See also Isaiah 66:3, 4; Romans 1:21-32.

It’s a solemn thing, this having access to God’s Word.  This country has been extraordinarily blessed in this manner.  We’ve enjoyed almost unparalleled prosperity and freedom.  But I’m afraid we’re seeing Romans 1 being played out right before our eyes.  Things that were generally unthinkable and unacceptable only a few years ago are openly and aggressively pursued and promoted.  We are truly “worshiping and serving the creature rather than the Creator.”  And we see the results of that, too, in our culture.  Things described in Romans, the “unrighteousness” described there, are everywhere in our society.

But what about you and me individually”  We can’t do much about society in general, but how about in our own lives?  Where is the Word of God in them?  Do we read the Word?  Do we know it?  Does it influence our lives?  Our thoughts?  Or does it sit, neglected and forlorn on a shelf or table somewhere?

O that more Christians could echo Job’s words in Job 23:12, “I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.”