Revelation 16:12-21: When All Hell Breaks Loose

12] Then the sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, so that the way of the kings from the east might be prepared.  13] And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet.  14] For they are the spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.

15] “Behold, I am coming as a thief.  Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame.”

16] And they gathered them together to the place called in the Hebrew, Armageddon.

17] Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, “It is done!”  18] And there were noises and thunderings and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such a mighty and great earthquake as had not occurred since men were on the earth.  19] Now the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell.  And great Babylon was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath.  20] Then every island fled away, and the mountains were not found.  21] And great hail from heaven fell upon men, each hailstone about the weight of a talent.  Men blasphemed because of the plague of the hail, since that plague was exceedingly great

Perhaps the title sounds unusual, perhaps a little excessive, or even profane.  Sometimes the expression in it is used when some catastrophe or violence breaks out somewhere on earth.  It means something is really terrible.

In this case, however, it isn’t profane, but an expression of a solemn reality – hell will really break loose in one final attempt to defeat the purpose of God.  It will be “terrible” beyond anything this world has experienced.

There are two parts to this vision:

1. The Deception, vs. 12-16.
2. The Determination, vs. 17-21.

1. The Deception, vs. 12-16.

We’ve already been introduced to the dragon, the beast and the false prophet.  For more than three years, they’ve pretty much had the run of things, even though the dragon, that is, Satan, knows his time is running out, 12:12, hence the increased wickedness and violence.  Now, in this last few weeks, what turns out to be the final act begins.

For most of its existence, and certainly its recent existence, Israel has been the object of scorn and hatred.  Though it’s ancient history to a lot of people today, WWII was a nearly successful attempt to wipe out Jewry.  Though some today deny any such thing as the Holocaust, the times just after the war was over and the terrible pictures of emaciated men, little more than skeletons in skin, liberated from the death camps, or the piles of corpses found in those camps, the bodies of those murdered by the Nazis say otherwise.  Yes, it was real.

This will be far beyond that.

Satan hates God, and has tried to thwart Him at every turn.  He tried in the Garden of Eden.  He tried with Abraham.  He tried in Egypt.  He tried in the wilderness wanderings and after Israel entered the land.  He tried when our Lord walked the dusty roads of Palestine.  Even that very name – Palestine, a name given to the land by her enemies – is a denial of Israel and her claim to that land, a claim still vigorously and sometimes violently disputed.

At the beginning of our verses we’re told that the River Euphrates will be dried up so that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared.  The longest river in that part of the world, the Euphrates has long stood as a barrier between Western Asia and the West.  Further, it is vital to the economy of the region, several nations being dependent on it for irrigation or hydroelectric energy.

Who are “the kings of the east”?  Older commentators understood them to be from China, with her teeming millions, or from other countries in the Far East.   That may be, but there are “teeming millions” much closer – in Syria and other nearby countries.  Because of overpopulation and overuse, the water table in many of these countries has dropped, in some cases severely, and the Euphrates itself has been affected to some degree, as its sources of water begin to dry up or are closed off with dams.  It may be more than Wiley the poet in the comic strip B. C. can understand, but there’s been more than one war started over water.  This may be the last one.  (And that no doubt by now obscure cultural reference may tell how old I am.  Oh, well.)

But there’s more.  And it’s not really a joking matter, though my sense of humor often gets in the way.  We read that the sixth angel will pour out his bowl over the River and what may have begun by natural and environmental forces will be finished all at once and the River will be gone.

This will open the door for much easier access into the Levant as, not only from the east but the kings of the earth and of the whole world, will gather for an onslaught against Jerusalem.  This will turn out to be Satan’s last attempt to destroy Israel.  We see his minions energizing the beast and the false prophet as no doubt they urge this invasion once and for all to settle “the Jewish problem,” v. 13.  I want to point out once more the Scripture mentioning that these demons perform “signs,” v. 14.  If he can’t get folks to deny the Word outright, then he’ll draw their attention to counterfeit things like “signs and miracles.”

But it isn’t just Satan and his minions and his subjects.  It isn’t just political maneuvering or racial hatred.  In Zechariah 14:2, the Lord God says, I will gather all nations to battle against Jerusalem,” emphasis added.  We never want to get the idea that somehow God is outside all this, or that He’s caught by surprise or unprepared for the doings of sinful men.  While I don’t want to get into the discussion over “free will” and God’s sovereignty, let me simply say that God is quite able to work His will in the context of His own creation.  This last battle is simply His preparation for the return of His Son.

There are other Scriptures which weigh in on this.  For example, Isaiah 66:16 says,

For by fire and by His sword
The LORD will judge all flesh;
And the slain of the LORD shall be many.

And further,

At His wrath the earth will tremble,
And the nations will not be able to endure
His indignation,
Jeremiah 10:6.

See also Ezekiel 39:17-20.

It’s interesting that in the midst of this description of one of the worst times in human history, the Lord Jesus interjects a promise, “Behold, I come as a thief,” Revelation 16:15.  But there’s also a warning:  “Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame.”

I don’t know how this last part will play out, but it’s a solemn warning not to get so caught up in current events or in trying to decipher “the signs of the times,” that we forget our personal responsibility to live holy lives, lives looking for more than the transient things of this world.  See also 1 John 2:28.  Satan will not have the final word, no matter how desperate things seem to get.

2. The Determination, vs. 17-21.

The seventh angel pours out his bowl of wrath in the climactic act of judgment in Revelation.  These judgments include a great earthquake, such a mighty and great earthquake as had not occurred since men were on the earth, v. 18.  This is the last of several earthquakes recorded in Revelation, and is likely the one associated with the physical return of our Lord as recorded in Zechariah 14:

And in that day His feet will stand on the
Mount of Olives,

Which faces Jerusalem on the east.
And the Mount of Olives shall be split in
two,
From east to west,
Making a very large valley;
Half of the mountain shall move toward the
north
And half of it toward the south.
…All the land shall be turned into a plain from Geba to Rimmon in the south, Zechariah 14:4, 10.

By the way, this will more than make room for the temple and its environs spoken of in Ezekiel 40-45.

Isaiah 24:20 says, the earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard.  With the physical and geological catastrophes ravaging this poor planet, we can certainly see why!

Revelation 16:19 refers to the judgment of the great city, identified a little later in the verse as great Babylon.  Since more than two chapters are devoted to the destruction of this city, we’ll save further comments until later.  The “chronology” of the book skips from 16:21 to 19:11.  The portion in between is explanatory, the “director’s cut,” the idea that inspired the title for this series.

Verses 20, 21 continue the description of the judgment of the seventh bowl.  Every island fled away, and the mountains were not found.  These catastrophes are accompanied by great hail from heaven, with hailstones weighing from 75 to 100 pounds each.

None of this moves men toward God, but further away.  They continue to blaspheme, to curse, not to repent.  It is the “great day of His wrath.”

Paul referred to the time of the beast in 2 Thessalonians 2:9,10:  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, emphasis added.

You see, we’re not saved by faith in “signs,” but by faith in the Son, His perfect life and death, what He did for sinners on the Cross, taking their place and enduring the wrath of God against their sin.  They, and they alone, are saved.

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved,” Acts 16:31.

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Revelation 2:1-7, The Church at Ephesus: Duty, not Delight

“To the church at Ephesus write, ‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands:  “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil.  And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.  Nevertheless I have something against you, that you have left your first love.  Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place – unless you repent.  But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.”‘
(NKJV)

As we go through these seven letters, we’ll look at the city in which the church lived.  Our Lord uses what they experience there in His counsel to them.  Then we’ll look at the description Christ uses of Himself, descriptions which come from the vision opening the book.  Then we’ll look at the content of the letter and what our Lord said to each church.

The City of the Epistle.

Ephesus was a very important city of the Roman province of Asia, which, as we’ve seen, was not in the Far East, but was in what we know as Turkey. Until the harbor filled in with silt, it had been a prominent sea port.  It remained a center of commerce, a point of contact between Greek and Asiatic cultures and was noted for its riches and trade.

By NT times, Ephesus had enjoyed a rich and varied history.  A focus of that history was the famed Temple of Diana (Artemis), the pride of the city.  It had been burned down on the night of the birth of Alexander the Great, but was rebuilt larger and more beautiful.  Its construction took 220 years and required contributions from the whole province of Asia.  Paul saw it at the height of its glory, when it was listed among the seven wonders of the ancient world.  There was, in addition to and connected with this temple, a tremendous emphasis on magical powers.  Paul had to deal with this while he was there.

The NT records a period of intense activity, Acts 20:20, 31, and of unusual miracles by Paul, Acts 19:11.  These “unusual miracles” (Gk. “uncommon works of power”) are no basis for the so-called “prayer cloths” or “handkerchiefs” some have offered, but were designed to counteract the pagan focus of the city.  Even to  Paul, these things were “uncommon.”  And “signs and wonders” weren’t permanent, even to the apostles.  We read later in the NT of the sickness of one of Paul’s associates.  We read nothing of Paul “healing” him.

As a result of Paul’s ministry, we read that many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds.  And many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all.  And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver.  So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed, Acts 19:18-20.

Now this true revival and work of God in turning many from falsehood to the worship and service of the true God led to a tremendous decline in the commercial side of the worship of Diana, with loss to the business of selling the little shrines used in her worship, and the consequent loss to those who made and sold them.  And about this time there arose a great commotion about the Way.  For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Diana, brought no small profit to the craftsmen, vs. 23, 24.  The resulting riot forced Paul to leave Ephesus and there are no further recorded visits to the city.

The Christ of the Epistle, 2:1.

Each of the seven letters begins with a characterization of Christ taken from the vision John saw in chapter 1, a characterization suitable to the spiritual condition of the church addressed.  In this letter, Christ is described as the One holding the seven angels, or ministers of the churches, in His right hand.  He is the One who places them there, and it is to Him they are answerable.

Christ says, “I know.”  The word He uses here is instructive.  One of the words the NT uses for “knowing” means, “to progress in knowledge.”  We might say, “to learn” because there’s something of whatever we do “know” that we still  don’t “know.”  That’s not the word our Lord uses here.  The word He chose means “to know completely.”  There’s nothing about this church, or about us, that He doesn’t know everything about or that He has to “learn.”

This means He knows our “secret” sins, our failures, our shortcomings.  There’s no use trying to hide them or to gloss them over.  He knows them.

But it also means that He knows our secret struggles and sufferings.  Sometimes Christians are amazed when suffering in one form or another comes to us.  And there are those who make a good living teaching that the Christian life is “without a care,” as an unfortunate “Gospel” song used to say.  But the fact is we live in enemy territory.  This world, under the leadership of Satan, “the god of this age,” 2 Corinthians 4:4, is no friend to us.  In this country, we’ve been spoiled because we’ve enjoyed many years of relative peace and protection.  That’s coming to an end.  It probably won’t too many years, maybe months, before Christianity and the Bible are declared illegal in this country that was founded by those who had respect for both of them.

Further, we live in a world that’s been cursed because of sin.  It should be no surprise then to find “thorns” in whatever “field” we are in, Genesis 3:17-19.

Our Lord knows all about it.  In fact, I believe He knows it far better than any of us could, having experienced it Himself.  We do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with out weaknesses, but was in all points tested as we are, yet without sin, Hebrews 4:25.

He walked in our shoes.

The Contents of the Epistle, 2:2-7.

1. commendation, vs. 2, 3.

– Our Lord commends the church for their faithful labor:  “your works, your labor, your patience.”  They had labored and persevered to the point of exhaustion.

– He commends them for their faithful diligence.  They could not bear those who are evil.”  There are two main words used in the original for “evil,” often interchangeably, but there is still some distinction between them.  One word is “poneros,” which means destructive, injurious evil.  It’s used of Satan, that “wicked one,” in several places in the NT.  The other word, used here, is “kakos,” and denotes what is useless, incapable or bad.  It describes one who is “useless” in an area in which he ought to be useful:  a cowardly soldier, a lazy student, an unproductive employee.  The Ephesian church could not bear those whom we might call “dead wood,” for example, folks whose bodies are in the pew, but not their minds and hearts.

– He commended them for their faithful listening:  “you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars.”   Elsewhere, John put it like this, Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world, 1 John 4:1.  I wonder what he would say today, with all the means of communication we have:  TV, radio, the internet, print, Twitter.  More than ever, we need that attitude of some who heard Paul, who searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so, Acts 17:11, emphasis added.

Satan has no problem quoting Scripture, cf. Matthew 4:5.  In fact, he probably “knows” it better than most folks.  I once received a tract denying the Trinity, which claimed that Jesus is the only God there is.  It had about 90 Scripture references.  The thing that fascinated me was that several of these same Scriptures are used by Jehovah’s Witnesses to “prove” that Jesus isn’t God at all, but only a created being.  Thus both groups totally miss the point, though using lot of Scripture.

We need to know what it says!

Actually says….

– He again commends them for their faithfulness in serving Him, v. 3. “and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.”  This is the second time He’s mentioned their works and labor.  One would think that’s enough; it certainly seems to be in our time.  Church calendars are full of activities of all kinds.  But there’s more….

2. complaint, v. 4, “Nevertheless….”

Oh, what a solemn word this is!  The average pastor would likely be glad to have a zealous church like this, yet our Lord sees a grievous imperfection:  “you have left your first love.”  Note, they left, not lost, that love.  The love of Christ and the church is compared to that of a bridegroom and his bride, yet how little fervency there is in the average Christian.  I’m afraid we’ve grown to want what He gives us, but not Himself.

“Love” is a key word with regard to this church.  In Paul’s letter to this church, there are some 18 references to “love,” beginning with God’s love toward us in eternity past in choosing and predestining us to adoption as sons, then focusing on Christ’s love and the effect it should have in our lives as believers, and closing with that grand crescendo of a man’s love for his wife.

With regard to this last, I think of Genesis 29:20, which happens during Jacob’s troubles with his father-in-law, Laban.  Remember the story in Genesis 29.  Jacob had fallen for Rachel, the younger of Laban’s two daughters.  He agreed to work for Laban for seven years in order to be able to marry her.  However, when the time came, Laban tricked him and gave him his elder daughter, Leah.  Genesis 29:20 gives us Jacob’s attitude during this first seven years, and I like the KJV rendering here:  And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed to him but a few days, for the love he had to her.  “Seven years…a few days…for love…to her.”

Ephesus had lost that view, that lightness of spirit that make hard things easy.  Serving Christ had ceased to be a delight; it had become simply a duty.

What should they do?

Our Lord tells them.

3. Counsel, v. 5.

– remember (lit. “keep remembering”).  See the same word in Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesian elders, Acts 20:31.  Remember the first ardor of salvation.  Remember who He is.  Remember what He did.  Remember what He has promised.  Remember, remember, remember!

Yet how quickly we forget!

– repent.  There are those who tell us that repentance is a “Jewish” doctrine and that it’s now unnecessary.  Yet our Lord told His church in Ephesus to “repent” (twice).  He told five of the seven churches to “repent.”  Ephesus was to repent of leaving His love (cf. Jude 20, 21), and to –

– return, “do the first works.”

This is not a call to “service”!  What is needed is not just more “service:” more activity, more items on the church calendar, more “things to do,” but a return to that supreme love to and for Christ.  This love is the only acceptable motive (to God) for our service, a love that would make that service so much easier, not because we would do less (we likely would do more!), but because such love would change it from a “duty” (which is usually a burden) to a “delight” (which is something altogether different!)

– remain, “or else….”

This refers to our Lord’s coming in judgment to remove the church’s witness as a light-bearer.  The church in Ephesus has been gone a long time.  So have the other six churches.  We wonder how many Christians and churches are still going through the motions, but have their true witness removed.  And how many church buildings have been sold and are being used for something else.  I think of one here locally that’s now a beauty salon.  There are countless others.

It’s a solemn thought.

4. Commendation, “But this you have, that you hate the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.”

There is some discussion as to what this means.  I tend toward the view that it refers to the separation of Christians into “clergy” and “laity.”  This distinction has no basis in Scripture and introduced a great evil into the churches, namely, the evil of seeking for, and pride in, “position.”  Such easily becomes the goal, instead of that love of and for Christ that is the only worthy and acceptable motive for service.

5. Conclusion, v. 7, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  To him who overcomes I will give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.”

What does this mean?

It’s pretty clear that it means salvation.

“I thought we’re saved by grace through faith.”

Amen and amen.

We are.

Hear, or read, Paul:

In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love, Galatians 5:6.

There is a lot of stuff in this world that calls us away from the Lord Jesus.  As we saw in our study of Hebrews, there’s danger in leaving Him; it might mean we were never His to begin with.  This is why He calls the Ephesian church, and us, back to that loving faith in Him which is the only acceptable motive for Christian living, and that perseverance which is the only real evidence that we’re His.

Revelation 1:4, Greetings

John, to the seven churches which are in Asia:  Grace to you and peace from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. (NKJV)

In this verse, we see those to whom John originally wrote, as well as the blessing he desired for them.

1. the seven churches which are in Asia.

First of all, the “Asia” John knew isn’t the Asia we know, that is, the Far East: China and such, but was a part of the Roman Empire in what we know as southwestern Turkey.  It sat between the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea.  The “seven churches” were within a fifty square mile area and are listed in order clockwise from the first to the last.  We’ll have some more to say about each of them when we get there, but it’s important to remember, whatever else might be said about them, that these were seven actual, contemporaneous, churches.

2. the blessing he desired for them.

a. its substance:  grace and peace.

Grace comes first.  Grace must come first – always, because without grace, we’re only under God’s condemnation and judgment.

A common definition of grace is “God’s unmerited favor toward us.”  That’s true, but I like to think of it more as “God’s unmerited favor toward us in spite of our merited disfavor from Him.”  Or just three words, “in spite of….”  You see, for all our supposed goodness and greatness, there’s nothing good in us Godward, Romans 7:18.  We all sin and fall short of His glory, Romans 3:23.  What does that mean: “fall short of His glory”?  I think it means that we fall short – far short, when it comes to glorifying Him, giving Him the honor, respect and worship that He deserves.  Our every breath is in His hand, and yet, like the man to whom that statement was originally made, we have not glorified Him, Daniel 5:23.  All we deserve is His condemnation and judgment.  Without grace, we would all perish in our sins.

Peace.  In John 14:27, our Lord promised the disciples, “Peace I leave with you.  My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.”  What does this mean, “not as the world gives”?  The world’s peace depends on what is happening, on outward things, things going well,  things going “our way.”  The peace Jesus spoke of depends on none of those things.  It rests simply on the fact that God is in control of the “outward things.”  It looks up, not around.

What might this mean in the context of John’s writing, if anything?  I think it could simply mean that, regardless of what happens in much of the rest of the book, chs. 21, 22 will put an end to all of that and usher in, as Peter put it, new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells, or as it could be translated, “is at home,” 2 Peter 3:13.  It certainly isn’t at home in this world.

b. its threefold source:

From Him who is and who was and who is to come.

This refers to God the Father and describes Him as being present right now, as He present was in the past and as He will be present in the future.  In other words, there has never been a time, and never will be a time, when, or where, He “isn’t” and isn’t on the throne of the Universe.

From the seven Spirits who are before His throne.

See also 4:5, which also refers to the seven Spirits of God.  There is some discussion about who these are.  Many expositors look to Isaiah 11:2 and what they say is his seven-fold reference to the Spirit, and, so, John refers to the Holy Spirit.  Thus, it is said, we have a reference to the Trinity:  Father, Spirit and Son.  Others say, “No, it’s a reference to the seven angels (of the seven churches) who stand before God’s throne.”  There were no capital letters in the original language.  Everything was written in lower case letters.  Isaiah 11:2 is a sixfold description of the Spirit of the LORD which rests on the Messiah.

Which view of the “seven Spirits” is correct?  At different times, I’ve held to each of them.  At this time, I don’t really know which view is correct.  So I put forth the discussion, though there is more that could be said, and leave it at that.

From Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

the faithful witness.

This refers to His life and earthly ministry.  At His trial before Pilate, Jesus said, “For this cause I was born, and for this cause I came into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth,” John 18:28.

the firstborn from the dead.

This refers to His resurrection.  “Firstborn” refers to His priority, even in this.  Colossians 1:18, In all things, He may have the preeminence.

the ruler of the kings of the earth.

This refers to His reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  The question is, is that true of Him now?  In the sense that providentially He rules in the everyday affairs even of kings perhaps it is true.  Is that all John meant?  That His rule is unseen and unacknowledged?

Perhaps the majority of Christians believe that, yes, He is ruling right now in His “heavenly session.”  It’s a spiritual rule in the hearts of His people.  Yes, but how many of “His people” are “kings of the earth”?  Where is there, right now, even one world leader who acknowledges and tries to live and govern by His Word?

“Ruler of the kings of the earth” is more than a meaningless title.  It refers to a time when He will be universally and openly acknowledged as “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”  That title is always and only used in connection with His Second Coming.  There is coming a time, believe it or not, when Washington, London, Moscow, all the other capitals of the world, and their leaders, will submit, willingly or not, to the rule of the Lord Jesus.  We’ll have much more to say about this as we get into the book, Lord willing.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

Revelation 1:1-3, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ”

[1]The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants – things which must shortly take place.  And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John, [2]who bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, to all things that he saw.  [3]Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near. (NKJV)

Revelation 1:19 seems to give a natural division of the book:  “Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.”  Many expositors follow this outline.  However, we believe that one purpose of the book is to reveal the Lord Jesus Himself, and so we have the following outline:

1. The revelation of Himself to the reader, ch. 1.
2. The revelation of Himself to the churches, chs. 2, 3.
3. The revelation of Himself to the world, chs. 4-22.

The first 20 verses give us the introduction to the book, telling us its origin and purpose.  We’ll look at the first three verses in this post.  In them, we see:

1. God’s purpose in giving the book, v. 1.

Through the Lord Jesus, the purpose is to show His servants things which must shortly take place.  In the first post, we discussed something of the different ways that men understand what this means.  It seems to me that it refers to verifiable, identifiable things – events – which will clearly demonstrate the knowledge and power of God, not just ongoing processes or principles, not just vague generalities, but real, tangible happenings.  Our Lord did on occasion speak in general terms, as in Matthew 24, where He told of wars and rumors of wars, of strife and violence, of false Messiahs and prophets, but He also gave specific details about some things, things which were to prepare His people to act when they saw them.  For example, in Mark’s account, He said, “But take heed; see, I have told you all things beforehand.”  This isn’t the place really to enter into that discussion, except to say, similarly, that Revelation isn’t about generalities, but about specific things designed to forewarn of and prepare God’s people for that which lies ahead.  I believe that’s as true for today as it was for John’s day.

“shortly”.  What does this word mean?  Some say that it means that the things in the book happened during the early days of the church, that it was designed to encourage and strengthen them during the oncoming trials.  No doubt, the book did encourage those early believers.  But, unless these folks believe that all the book has been fulfilled, even they have to admit that some things still haven’t happened after nearly 2000 years.

The same expression in the original language is translated “speedily” in Luke 18:7, 8.  This is how I think it should be translated in Revelation 1:1.  In other words, I believe that John was saying that when these things began to happen, they would happen very quickly, and not that they would happen very soon.

And come to pass they must.  Ephesians 3:11 refers to the eternal purpose which [God] accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 8:30 says that in the mind and purpose of God, believers are already glorified.  One need only look in the mirror or the medicine cabinet to see that that hasn’t yet happened.  But it must happen, and so must these things in Revelation.

2.  God’s procedure in giving the book.

He sent and signified by His angel to His servant John.

Several years ago, I read a rather odd comment about the word “signified.”  The author maintained that, even though the word was usually pronounced “sig-ni-fied,” in this verse, it’s supposed to be pronounced “sign-i-fied.”  This, he said, is because Revelation is given in “signs.”  As I said, “rather odd.”  However, the word translated “signified” is used five other times in the NT (John 12:33; 18:32; 21:19; Acts 11:28; 25:27) and means “to give a clear record.” I suppose it could be argued that Revelation is given in signs, or symbols, and that’s why it’s so hard to understand.  That’s true, but nearly every symbol is explained somewhere in the book, and so, in spite of our difficulties, it “gives a clear record”.

by His angel.  

This isn’t the first time such a thing has been said.  For example, at Sinai, Exodus 20:1 says that God spoke all these words, referring to the giving of the Ten Commandments.  Yet, in two other places, the Bible says that God spoke through an angel at that time, Acts 7:53; Hebrews 2:2.  There is no contradiction.  God may have spoken through angels, but it was still He Who spoke.  So here.  Even if it were an angel through whom the Lord Jesus spoke to John, it was still the Lord Jesus Who was speaking.

His servant John.

Unbelieving scholars maintain that Revelation is simply the delusional ravings of an overworked old man suffering from Roman imprisonment on the Isle of Patmos.  If that’s true, then John isn’t simply deluded, but a liar and a fraud, because he claimed that what he wrote came from God.  And if that’s true, then there’s no reason to study the book, any more than the rest of Scripture, which unbelieving scholars also deny as divinely inspired.

John said that he bore witness to:

1. the word of God.  Again, he states the source of his writing as being from God and not just his own thought.

2. the testimony of Jesus Christ, Who, in just a couple of verses, is called the faithful witness, v. 5.  The rest of the book is His testimony, not only to what was then current in the churches He addressed, but also as to what was coming down the road.

3. to all things that he saw.  John isn’t merely a puppet or a robot, transcribing what he was “programmed” to say.  He, too, was a “witness”.  The doctrine of verbal inspiration doesn’t mean that the writers were mere automatons.  God used men of different abilities, backgrounds, education, even nationality, to write His Word.  Moses wrote differently from Ezekiel, and Paul wrote differently from Matthew or Luke.  It was, and is, still God’s Word.

3. God’s promise in giving the book.

a. He promises blessing for those who read.

Until the invention of the printing press, copies of the Scripture were laboriously copied out by hand, so very few had their own personal copy.  Indeed, one of the instructions for Israel’s king was that he was to write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests, the Levites, Deuteronomy 17:18, a copy he was continually to read and obey.  (Even though most of us have easy access to Scripture, this might be a good idea for us.  The time and effort it would take to write out the Scripture by hand – not on a typewriter or computer, but pen in hand, might help us to do a better job of knowing what it says.)  At meetings or gatherings, one person would read aloud to the others.  There is an excellent example of this in Nehemiah 8:1-11, which describes a service in which the Word was read aloud from morning until midday.

The ESV translates v. 3 this way: Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy….

b. He promises blessing to those who hear.

There is something to be said for hearing someone else read the Word out loud.  I’ve told elsewhere the story of my wife’s and my reading of Genesis 15 and hearing her read v. 12 and me reading v. 17.  Hearing these verses that I had read silently many times gave me a whole different insight into that chapter.  (“Look Now Toward Heaven.”  Sorry, I don’t have the technical savvy to give you the direct link.  You know, “old dog, new tricks.” 🙂 )

c. He promises blessing to those who “keep” what it says.

As we mentioned in the first post, the word translated “keep” is the same word used of the soldiers who “guarded” the tomb of Jesus.  This doesn’t mean that we’re to hide away the Word under lock and key like a valuable treasure, or that we merely have it on display, like a wheel-barrow-sized copy on the coffee table, but that we pay attention to it, honor it, read it, not just because it comes up on some “reading schedule,” but because it’s God’s word to us.

Long ago, I fell for a young woman in a different state.  We wrote.  Oh, how I waited for those letters!  I devoured them when they came in the mail.  I didn’t have to have a “schedule” to read them.  I didn’t have to force myself to read them out of some sense of “duty.”  I didn’t just read here and there in them.  I didn’t have to try to “memorize” them.  I read them.  Over and over.  And over.  I was eager to read them!  I loved the one who wrote them!

It turned out she wasn’t the one God had for me, but I had the same attitude toward the one who was later on.  I couldn’t wait to be with her.  That was more than 45 years ago, and she’s out in the kitchen fixing something delicious to eat while I sit in here trying to write something “delicious to read.”  I can’t imagine her not being here.

I wish that we as individuals, as churches, and as a nation, had that same  intense desire, that same fervent longing, for God and His Word.

4. God’s perspective in giving the book.

the time is near….

Yes, it’s been nearly 2000 years.  Yes, in one way or another, people are saying, “Where is the promise of His coming?” (2 Peter 3:4).  Yes, things are out of control and getting worse.  Jesus said things would be like that before He came.  But, as James said, “Behold, the Judge is standing at the door,” James 5:9, and one of these days, He’s going to open it and step through.  It may be before I finish this post.  It may not be in the lifetimes of our grandchildren.  He doesn’t look at our calendar.

But, one day, He will open it and step through.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

Hebrews 11:39, 40, Faith and Final Things.

[39]And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, [40]God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect without us.

These are tremendously interesting verses.  The writer has listed a whole bunch of “heroes of the faith,” going clear back to Abel, but then he seems to be saying in these verses that we have something to do with them, indeed, that without us, they would be lacking something.

Read the verses again:  And all these [heroes of the faith], having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect [or, “brought to completion”] without us, emphases added.

???

As I’ve thought over these verses, I’ve come to a different view of them than I had originally.  In fact, I had to rewrite most of this post.

There’s a lot of discussion, and has been through church history, about what the church is, her place in God’s redemptive purpose, and, especially, her relationship with Israel .

One view is that God did indeed choose Israel to be His people, and Jesus came to “offer” the kingdom spoken of in the OT to her, but when she rejected and crucified her Messiah, God in effect said, “Oops,” and began the church as sort of a plan B.  This was the view I grew up around and the view of the Bible college which I attended.

As I began to read Puritan and Reformed writers, I came across another view.  This view taught that when Israel rejected and crucified her Messiah, God in effect said, “That’s it!  I’m done!”  The church came in as a replacement to Israel, and all the OT promises became hers.  The church is the goal and fulfillment of all those promises and prophecies.  “The church” is a spiritual kingdom; there is no “literal, earthly” kingdom with Jesus on a throne in Jerusalem.  Believers are “spiritual Israel.”  There is no future for ethnic Israel; God is finished with her.

There is a wide variety of teaching in both of these viewpoints.

I don’t claim to have all the answers or to understand everything in the Scriptures, and I’m sure that this post will not lay the discussion to rest, but I believe both views are wrong.

The church is not “Plan B”!  It seems to me that the very idea that God could be, as it were, caught by surprise and have to come up with “Plan B” doesn’t say very much about our view of Him, to say nothing of what it says about Him!  And I don’t know about you, but if God had to change or rework His plan every time I mess something up, He’d be way beyond Plan B.

It seems to me to be more Scriptural to say that the church is “Part B” in God’s redemptive purpose.  We’ll return to this thought in a minute.

Now, there are a lot of things we could say about and around this topic.  Without going into great detail, suffice it to say that, if words have any meaning at all, the Bible is clear that God is not done with Israel.  True, Scripture says that she had been temporarily (emphasis on “temporarily”) put aside.  Micah 5:1 says they shall strike the judge of Israel on the cheek, as a result of which, therefore He shall give them up, until the time that she who is in labor has given birth, v. 3, emphasis added.  Indeed, the rejection of the Messiah is the means through which Israel will ultimately be redeemed.  Romans 11:25, 26 refers to this.  Paul wrote to the church at Rome, For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.  Israel has been put on the shelf, so to speak, and Gentiles have come into the blessings of the Gospel.  But Paul doesn’t stop there.  He doesn’t say that God is done with Israel.  On the contrary –

 And so all Israel shall be saved, as it is written:  ‘The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob.’

“All Israel shall be saved.”

Not “every Israelite who ever lived will be saved,” as some have said we believe, but rather that every Israelite alive at the time will be saved.  In chs. 9-11, Paul is writing about ethnic Israel, his countrymen according to the flesh, and so, the “Israel” of 9:26 cannot refer to “spiritual Israel,” that is, you and me, as a preacher once claimed in the worst exposition of Romans 9-11 I’ve ever heard.

There is coming a time in which Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit, Isaiah 27:6, a time which Paul refers to as their fullness, Romans 11:12. In vs. 11, 12, Paul wrote I say then, have they stumbled [see 9:23] that they should fall?  Certainly not!  but through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles.  Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for Gentiles, how much more their fullness!

As an example of the difficulty some people have with the idea that God still has plans for the nation of Israel, the preacher whom I mentioned above interpreted v. 12 like this, “Now if their (Israel) fall is riches for the world, and their (Israel) failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness.”  This is how he actually wrote it out.  He simply would not or could not see that if the first two instances of “their” referred to Israel, then the third one has to, as well.  Israel has yet to have, and will have, fullness.

So what does all this have to do with our text?

There are books and books about prophecy, from every viewpoint.  Although, as I’ve said elsewhere, I expect that when it’s all said and done, that all of us will discover that we didn’t have everything figured out.

One thing is certain.  In the final description of the city which has foundations, Hebrews 11:10, the Apostle John wrote that he saw the great city, the holy city, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God.  Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal.  Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel:  three gates on the east, …on the north, …on the south, and…on the west.  Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, Revelation 21:10-14.

Although I’m not sure how it’ll all play out, it seems that Israel and “the church” will never lose their distinctive identities.  Without “the church,” in this sense, it seems to me, Israel would not be “complete.”  This is why the OT saints never “received the [fulfillment of the] promise.”

It wasn’t time yet.

Hebrews: 1:1-2, God Has Spoken….

1] In many portions and in many ways, of old God was speaking to the fathers in the prophets; 2] in the last of these days, He spoke to us in [His] Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the ages

[Please note: the above is my own translation.  I claim no particular scholarship or authority for it.]

In the introduction, we noted that Hebrews is both a defense and a declaration of the position and preeminence of the Lord Jesus.  His position is that of sovereign Lord and Ruler of all, though that has not yet been made fully manifest.  His preeminence, the writer asserts, is that He is superior to everything that the Jews held in high regard:  Moses, the prophets, the priesthood, even Abraham; and that the New Covenant, of which Jesus is the sole Mediator, succeeds and fulfills the First Covenant, of which Moses and Aaron stand as representative mediators.  To a large degree, Hebrews answers the question:  How do men approach God?

The pride of the Jews was that God was their God.  He had spoken to them, cf. Deuteronomy 4:6-8, 2 Samuel 7:23, 24.  This is where it all began with the Jews.  This is where it begins with Hebrews.

1.  God Has Spoken Formerly, 1:1.

He spoke in bits and pieces, as it were, over a period of time through and to many different individuals.  What we know as the Old Testament wasn’t given all at once, but a little bit at a time to Adam, to Noah, to Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David and all the other named and unnamed prophets of the OT period.  Clement of Alexandria associated Hebrews 1:1 with Ephesians 3:10, the many-tinted [polupoikilos] wisdom of God.

Thus, the OT was a progressive revelation, cf. Isaiah 28:10, beginning with the origin and fall of mankind through Adam.    This included the first prophecy in Genesis 2:16, a prophecy of ruin if Adam and Eve disobeyed a simple restriction, then the first redemptive prophecy, Genesis 3:15.  This revelation continued until the final prophecy of the coming of the Sun of righteousness, as well as the ministry of His forerunner, Malachi 4:2-6.

The OT was also a patient revelation, taking nearly 4000 years to complete.  Since God was pleased to take so long a time to reveal Himself to His OT people, perhaps we shouldn’t expect an instant understanding of it.  We must continue to read, to study, and to meditate if we would unlock this treasure.  There are great riches in the OT, but they aren’t uncovered by the casual and occasional glance at a verse or two.

The OT was also a varied revelation.  That is, God didn’t just narrate or dictate His Word one word at a time, but over time used law, prophecy, history, psalm, sign, type or symbol, parable.  Now He spoke through a gatherer of sycamore fruit, now through a shepherd, now in the sunlight of His favor, now in the thunder of His judgment, now as the people were obedient, now as they were rebellious.

The OT was also a partial revelation.  By this, we mean that God didn’t tell Israel everything He ultimately intended that men should know.  He gave them what they needed to know to make them a nation and, as individuals, to be His people.  But there were things that He kept “secret,” as even Moses acknowledged in Deuteronomy 29:29, The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” 

Finally, the OT was a passing revelation.  What does this mean?  In the original language, there are two words translated, “old.”  One is archaios.  We get our word “archaic” from it.  It means “old in point of time,”  The other word is palaios, “old in point of use, worn out, ready to be replaced by something new.”  Perhaps the writer is telling us that the OT, having served its purpose, at least so far as the first coming of Christ was involved, was coming, or had come, to an end.

This does not cancel the prophetic implications for the nation of Israel, cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34; Zechariah 10:6; 12:9-14.  The events recorded by the NT were necessary to lay the groundwork for the fulfillment of those prophecies.  Now isn’t the time to deal with what the OT says about Israel, except to say that it is not “fulfilled in the church.”  Even the OT, as in the verses noted above and many others, tells of a change in the covenantal relationship between Israel and her God.  The OT also prophesies of God’s blessing to the Gentiles.  The NT tells us more about that.

2.  God Has Spoken Finally.

When.  “in the last of these days”.  There are some who try to tell us that this phrase means that revelation is still going on, and they are the recipients of it.  This is not true.  The writer is clear that Jesus Christ is, and brought, the final revelation of God to men.

“These days,” referring to the time of the One through whom God spoke, were “the last days,” not of or during the Church age, as we might understand it, but were the last days of the Old Testament age, Galatians 4:4.  God accurately foretold the time, to the year, of the First Coming of Christ, Daniel 9:24, 25.  Cf. Mark 1:14, 15.  In passing, God also foretold, for that generation that will see it, the very day of the Second Coming, Daniel 12:11, 12.  Cf. Matthew 24:15.  Incidentally, Matthew tells us that the Daniel wasn’t all fulfilled by the First Coming of Christ.  Neither was the rest of the Old Testament.

To whom.  “Us,” that is, believers, in this case, Jewish believers, directly, not through priest or sacrifice.  Although God has been pleased to set the office of “pastor-teacher” in the local assembly, such a one does not speak as the OT prophet did.  Implicit in the OT revelation is the thought of “barrier.”  Men could not come into the presence of God directly, but had to go through the priest.  Cf. Exodus 19:10-13.  In the OT, God spoke to the prophets, and the prophets relayed the message to the people.  In Christ, God has spoken directly to us through His Word.  Cf. Hebrews 9:8; 10:19-20.

Incidentally, this “directness” was a stumblingblock to the early church.  The first believers were all Jews, who had been taught that one could only come to God through the sacrificial system, and that could only be accomplished at Jerusalem.  One had to become a Jew, or at least one of two different kinds of proselytes.

This change was the difficulty of the “Judaizers” who plagued Paul and the early church.  They tried to put believers back under the OT Law, cf. Acts 10:15.  We have a lot of their descendants with us today.  Early believers found it extremely difficult to receive the idea that one no longer came to God indirectly, through a place, that is the Temple, or through a procedure, that is, the sacrifices, or even through the priesthood, but one comes to God directly, through a Person, the Lord Jesus.

Through Whom. “In [His] Son,” literally, “in Son.”  There is no article in the Greek.  This emphasizes the character and nature of the One through Whom God spoke.  The writer expands on this thought, and we will do so in the next post, Lord willing.

“This Is A Faithful Saying”

Perhaps the best known “faithful saying” in Scripture is the one about Christ coming to save sinners, 1 Timothy 1:15, however, there are six such “sayings” in the New Testament.  We’ll start with 1 Timothy and look at all six, which span all our spiritual life, from sin to glory.

  • 1 Timothy 1:15, the saying of Salvation:

This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. 

The Lord Jesus didn’t come just to be a good example or to give us a set of moral sayings.  He wasn’t just another prophet.  He didn’t just come to help us to save ourselves or to make it “possible” for us to be saved.  He came to save sinners; that’s the only kind of people He’s interested in.  Religious people, moral people, “good” people – these have no need of Him, or so they think.

There was a time when Paul was like that.  He thought he was doing God service.  He thought he was blameless as far as the Law was concerned.  I believe it was during the witnessing of Stephen in Acts 7 that the light began to dawn and Paul began to understand how far short he fell of the mark, cf. Romans 3:23.  That his “best” was bogus.  And on his way to Damascus, the Lord stopped him short and turned him around.

  • 1 Timothy 4:9, the saying of Realization:

This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance. 

We might ask, “a saying of what?”  I think it refers to all of vs. 1-11.

In this section, Paul prophesies a time in which “the faith” will be replaced by teachings from deceiving spirits, teachings which are the doctrines of demons, v. 1.  According to Paul, we need to realize that there is an active warfare – in a realm we can’t see, but which greatly impacts the one we can see.  The truth will suffer reproach, but God’s people are called on to both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God.

Verses 1-11 speak of a Christian’s perseverance in times of apostasy.

We certainly live in such a time, when a supposedly Christian college will invite a Muslim scholar to lecture about “the historical Jesus” – as opposed to the Christ of faith. This happened here locally just a few weeks ago.  The religious organization which sponsors this college prides itself that they’re the true one and that their teachings are the true faith, yet they host a man who denies everything they say they believe.  A man who says that the Gospels aren’t to be trusted as accurate history, but were written much later than the events they portray.

  • 2 Timothy 2:11-13, the saying of identification:

This is a faithful saying:  For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him.  If we endure, we shall also reign with Him.  If we deny Him, He also will deny us.  If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.  

Some look at these verses as teaching that a true believer can lose his or her salvation.  If that were the case, then they would contradict all the verses which teach that salvation once entered can never be lost.

I think there’s another thought in these verses.  Many people have just identified with a church or a denomination.  They were sprinkled into it, maybe “confirmed” a few years later, but the Bible may as well still be in the original languages.  They never read it, and have no idea what it says.

This goes for those who don’t accept infant baptism, as well.  My earlier years were spent in fundamentalism, where I was privileged to know and work among many wonderful Christian people.  At the same time, because of the tremendous emphasis on “soul-winning,” there were many who were manipulated into making a “profession of faith” who never seemed ever to be any different.  They never went to church or were baptized.  They seemed no different after than they did before.  I think Paul would say that there’s something wrong with that.

I believe in evangelism; it’s just not about working a particular “method.”

When persecution comes, and we believe it will, we’ll find out who’ve merely identified with some church and who’ve truly identified with Christ.

  • Titus 3:8, the saying of exhortation:

This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works.  These things are good and profitable to men.

There’s a big discussion going on about the relationship of faith and works.  Some vociferously maintain that we’re saved by faith alone.  No works at all.  “Just believe.”  There’s a certain amount of truth to that.  We are saved by faith alone.  The difficulty comes in when one asserts that “faith” is alone.

Paul put it like this in Galatians 5:6, For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything but faith working through love(emphasis added.)  Make no mistake.  Paul isn’t talking about faith AND works, but faith WHICH works.  There’s an eternal difference.

  • Revelation 21:5, the saying of expectation:

Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”  And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”

While the saying is a little different, the thought is the same.  V. 4 speaks of tears, death, sorrow, crying, pain.  These are all common to this life, even for Christians.  I know Christians who suffer terribly physically, or mentally, or emotionally.  Some of the blogs I follow speak eloquently of this, as well.

John assures us these things will soon be over; there is coming a time when they all have passed away.

  • Revelation 22:6, the saying of confirmation:

Then he [one of the seven angels, 21:9] said to me, “These words are faithful and true.”  And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to show His servants the things which must shortly take place.”

There’s a lot of discussion about Revelation:  how to understand and interpret it.  That’s not the point of this post.  The Book of Revelation isn’t just the hallucinations of a tired, overworked old man, as some blasphemously assert, but is the very word of God.  This applies not only to Revelation itself, but to every part of God’s Word; it has all been given to us by divine inspiration.  It is, therefore, to be handled with reverence and respect.  It is the Word of God.