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.

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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.

Revelation 14: The Patience of the Saints

1] Then I looked, and behold, a Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His Father’s name written on their foreheads.  2] And I heard a voice from heaven, like the voice of many waters, and like the voice of loud thunder.  And I heard the sound of harpists playing their harps.  3] They sang as it were a new song before the throne, before the four living creatures, and the elders; and no one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who were redeemed from the earth.  4] These are the one who were no defiled with women, for they are virgins.  These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes.  These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb.  5] And in their mouth was no deceit, for they are without fault before the throne of God.

6] Then I say another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth – to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people – saying with a loud voice, “Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.”

8] And another angel followed, saying, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.”

9] Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and that image, and received his mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10] he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured  out full strength into the cup of His indignation.  He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.  11] And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”

12] Here is the patience of the saints; hear are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.

13] Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”

“Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.”

14] Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and on the cloud sat One like the Son of Man, having on His head a golden crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle.  15] And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, “Thrust in Your sickle and reap, for the time has come for You to reap, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.”  16] So He who sat on the cloud thrust in His sickle on the earth, and the earth was reaped.

17] Then another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle.

18] And another angle came out from the altar, who had power over fire, and he cried with a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, “Thrust in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe.”  19] So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.  20] And the winepress was trampled outside the city, and blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses’ bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs. (NKJV)

After reading the verses for our post, the title seems strange:  patience in the midst of such troubles as will happen in this world.  The fact is that Scripture has a lot to say about patience, or endurance.  It talks about the patience of Christ, 2 Thessalonians 3:5, the patience of God, Romans 15:5, the exercise of patience in God’s people, as in Hebrews 6:12.  The English word occurs 23 times in the New Testament.  Its occurrence in Revelation 14:12 is the last occurrence.  It shows us the ultimate reason for the patience of the saints.

Perhaps it also answers the vexing question of the unfairness and inadequacy of earthly justice to punish crime and sin.

“Punish.”

We don’t even like that word anymore.  We want to “rehabilitate” those who have committed the most heinous or numerous sins.  We want to let them out to wreak havoc again.  They’ve “paid their debt to society.”

What’s forgotten is their debt to God.

I’ve told before of the individual who had been guilty of twelve incidents of rape and assault, and the puzzlement of law enforcement officials as to what to do with him because “at some point you run into the constitutional rights of the offender.”

Sorry, but there is no “constitutional right” to be an offender.  And, yes, I know that’s not what meant by the idea.

What do you do with a man who assaults twelve women?

Human justice in some cases can’t really punish crime.  Only God can.

That’s the reason Scripture says, It is appointed to men to die once, and after this the judgment, Hebrews 9:27.

Revelation 14 gives us some instances of this judgment to come, both as to the individual and to society in general.

Of course, this brings up another difficulty – the whole idea of eternal torment in fire and brimstone, v. 10.

One of the local cults has a series of “Bible studies” at their church next week.  One of the topics listed in the flyer they left in our screen door was titled:  “Is God criminal?”  Then they ask the question, “If God is almighty, then why does He allow evil and then suffering with hell fire?”

Leaving aside the whole problem of a “Christian” implying that God might be a criminal, to say nothing of the existence of evil, why is there a “hell” at all?

Our Lord answered that:  it is “prepared for the devil and his angels,” Matthew 25:41.  Scripture also reveals that it is the final stop for those who die without the Lord Jesus, Revelation 20:5.

The idea of God punishing sin is so far removed from our thinking.  But look at it from this angle.  If someone kills a fly or an insect, few people think anything of it.  if someone kills an ordinary citizen, that’s worse.  However, if someone were to kill a ruler, that would be serious indeed.  Justice is related to the seriousness of the offense.

Sin is an offense against God.  Even if it’s against another person.  Cf. Joseph’s response to Potiphar’s wife:  “How then can I do this great wickedness [by doing what she wanted], and sin against God?” Genesis 39:9.

In all this, we forget God.

Sin against God is sin against an infinite Being.  It requires an infinite, that is, eternal punishment.

I’ve also related the story of the Bible class which was discussing the attributes of God, and the teacher’s discomfort with the idea of the strictness of God’s justice and judgment.  But God’s justice is as real as His love.

We’ve forgotten that.

The time is coming when that won’t be possible.

Revelation 11:3-14, The Two Witnesses.

3] And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.  

4] These are the two olive trees, and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth.  5] And if any anyone wants to hurt them, fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies.  And if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this manner.  6] These have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire.

7] When they finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them.  8] And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.  9] Then those from the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations will see their dead bodies three-and-a-half days, and will not allow their dead bodies to be put into graves.  10] And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.

11] Now after the three-and-a-half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them.  12] And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.”  And they ascended to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies saw them.  13] In the same hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell.  In the earthquake seven thousand people were killed, and the rest were afraid and gave glory to the God of heaven.

14] The second woe is past.  Behold, the third woe is coming quickly.  (NKJV)

There are several things of interest in these verses.

1. The ministry of the witnesses, vs. 3-6.

First, there are two of them.  This is in agreement with Deuteronomy 19:15, which says, by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established.

Second, they have unusual power, being able to bring drought or to turn water into blood.  These abilities have led some to believe that these two witnesses are Moses, cf. Exodus 7:20, 21, and Elijah, cf. 1 Kings 17:1, though they are never actually named.

What these powers do tell us is that this is a different time than the “church age,” that is, our own age or culture.  Cf. Luke 9:51-55, where the Lord rebuked His disciples for wanting to bring such judgment down on a Samaritan village which rejected Him.  Because it failed to make that distinction, history is filled with examples of “the church” doing things it never had the right to do.  The church was never given civil authority, that is, that it was the “power on the throne.”  When it assumed that role, it ceased to be a true church and began to persecute those actually were.  The Reformers could never have envisioned or embraced such a concept as “the separation of church and state.”  To their time and thinking, the church was the state.

Of course, the modern view isn’t any better, where the church is to be completely isolated from the state, and there’s no room in “the state” for “religious” thinking.  What the so-called anti-establishment clause in our Constitution means is that there will never be an “official” Church of the United States, as there is an official or “established” church in other countries.  It does not, repeat, not, mean that there is to be no Christian influence in our government at all.  I know that the Founding Fathers weren’t necessarily “Christian” in a Biblical sense.  Washington was a Unitarian.  Jefferson was a Deist and cut out large portions of the Old Testament which he found offensive.  This is known as “the Jefferson Bible.”  Ben Franklin’s greatest desire was for a society formed on the basis of reason.  I wonder what he would think of our society.  Nevertheless, these men had a respect for the Word of God that is sorely lacking in our culture.  When the Scripture was banned from public life, decay and depravity set it, resulting in what we see all around us today.  Many of these things were unthinkable in my youth.  We are truly reaping what we have sown.

One thing of interest isn’t actually there.  Verse 3 quotes God as saying, “I will give power to My two witnesses.”  In the original language, the verse reads, “and I will give to My two witnesses, and they shall prophesy….”  There is no word for “power”.  So what is it that God is going “to give” to His servants, His “witnesses”?  I think it’s open.  Not to what we want, but what we need to do the job God has for us, whatever that may be.  He will give to the witnesses in Revelation 11 what they need, and He will give to you and me what we need to serve Him.

Finally, we’re told that the witnesses’ ministry will last 1260 days, v. 3.  This comes out to three-and-a-half years.  I believe this will be during the first part of “the seventieth week,” what we know as “The Tribulation Period.”  I believe that it’s the first part because their murder gives rise to a man called “the beast,” and the time of persecution where Jerusalem is trodden underfoot for forty-two months.  Remember the seven-year covenant or treaty we wrote of in an earlier post.  I wouldn’t be surprised if part of the witness’ ministry is to denounce that treaty and to point people to the true God.

2. The martyrdom of the witnesses, vs. 7-10.

Here we’re specifically told that “the beast” kills them.  It’s what clinches his rise to power, cf. Revelation 13:4.  The world rejoices over this murder and now it’s time to celebrate!

Earlier commentators envisioned people making special trips to see the dead bodies of the witnesses, with special trains and excursions.  The advent of television changed that, so that people around the world could see all this in the comfort of their own living rooms.  Now, of course, with the ubiquitous cellphone, nearly everybody who’s there can take pictures and send them to their friends.

There will be a world-wide sigh of relief and joy that “these two bigots who dared to speak out against our wonderful leader have finally been silenced.”

3. The Miracle of the Witnesses, vs. 11-13.

For three days, the rejoicing and celebrating continues.  I wouldn’t be surprised if there will be vendors selling “I was there” T-shirts and souvenirs.  In the middle of the fourth day, suddenly, the dead bodies come to life and stand up!  Wow!  That’s not supposed to happen!  I can imagine the stunned silence.  Hilarity is replaced by great fear.  Then a voice, a loud voice, saying to the two men, “Come up here,” and the world sees them ascend in a cloud into heaven, like their Master did before them.

That’s not all.  Almost immediately, there is a great earthquake, which kills seven thousand people.  This results in people giving glory to the God of heaven.  This doesn’t mean that they were saved or any such thing.  It simply means that they couldn’t deny what happened.  At the same time, neither would they receive what really happened.  Cf. Acts 3, 4, and the healing of a man born unable to walk.  When Peter and John were arrested and brought before the authorities for this healing, the man standing there with them made it impossible for them to deny that a miracle been performed.  Did this cause them to bow to the Lord Jesus?  Read their own words from Acts 4:14, And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it.  But these leaders, who couldn’t deny the truth, v. 15, would not receive it either, and forbade the disciples from further talking about the Lord Jesus, v. 17.

We have lots of people today talking about and looking for miracles.  Large ministries have been build around the “performing” of them.  But by themselves, miracles mean nothing, especially if those who witness the miracles remain unchanged.  A momentary excitement means nothing by itself.

4. The “Meaning” of the Witnesses, v. 14.

Their ministry is called “the second woe.”  This simply means that one more stroke has been taken toward the ultimate defeat and destruction of evil, and the third and final “woe” is coming quickly.  The seventh angel is about to sound.

Revelation 8:1-6, The Sound of Silence.

1] When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.  2]  And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets.  3] Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar.  He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which is before the throne.  4] And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand.  5] The the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth.  And there were noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake.

6] So the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.  (NKJV)

This title has nothing to do with the song originally put out by Simon and Garfunkel in the 60’s, which I remember, and later versions, which I do not know or remember.  I’d forgotten about the song when I decided on the title for the post.

So, why this title?

How can “silence” have “sound”?  Isn’t silence the absence of sound?

Let me tell you a story.  I had a friend in Bible College whose family I would visit every so often.  One time in particular I remember.  The room they put me up in had the air conditioner in the window.  It gets hot in Tennessee.  Anyway, this one time it was running, very noisily.  As morning drew near, someone turned it off.  That was what woke me up, that sudden, deafening, silence.

As we come to our text in Revelation, remember the scene John has set:  chorus after chorus, anthem after anthem, shout after shout, of praise, adoration and worship continually being voiced by the multitudes gathered around the throne.  Then, suddenly,

there was silence in heaven….

Perhaps for the first time ever.

The sound of silence….

No “background music” to set the scene.

Just utter, complete silence.

Then…

Seven angels are given trumpets.

Another angel holding a golden censer approaches the golden altar in front of the throne.  He’s given “much incense” to offer “with the prayers of all the saints” on the altar.    Then he takes the censer, fills it with fire from the altar and hurls it to the earth, which results in noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake.

The seven angels prepare to sound their trumpets.

We don’t often think of heaven as having an altar or censers, but Hebrews tells us that the OT tabernacle was modeled on things in heaven, Hebrews 9:24.

It’s interesting that the prayers of the saints are mentioned twice.  And by “prayers,” I don’t think John meant those repetitive, formal prayers recited during church services or repeated during quiet times.  To be sure, they can be heart-felt and fervent, but I’m afraid that too often our mouths are saying one thing and our mind is thinking of something else.

When the Lord wanted to convince Ananias that it was safe to go find Saul of Tarsus, He said, [B]ehold, he is praying,”  Acts 9:11.  Now, Saul had been a zealous Pharisee before his conversion and, no doubt, like that Pharisee mentioned in Luke 18:11, had often “stood and prayed…with himself,” telling God what a great guy he, Saul, was.

What was the difference?  Before, he had simply “said” prayers.  Now, he was “praying.”  He wasn’t just going through the motions; he had literally been stopped in his tracks.

“The prayers of the saints.”  Those prayers themselves are described as “incense” in Revelation 5:8.

Without getting into the typology of the Tabernacle and offerings, the incense offered with the prayers of the saints refers to the merit of the Lord Jesus.  It is He who makes them presentable to a holy, righteous and just God.  That’s why, in Colossians 3:17, we’re told, Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

John brings up a subject we don’t really think about, don’t even like to think about, apparently.  Paul mentioned it in Romans 11:22:  consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness.  Otherwise you also will be cut off.

Our society and culture is all over the idea of “the goodness of God.”  “God is love” is apparently all the theology many people have.  And we are thankful that “God is love,” else we’d all be in trouble.

There is more to God than “love.”  That same book that mentioned the love of God also said of God, This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all, 1 John 1:5.  “This is the message” – not that “God is love,” but that “God is light,” that is, that He is holy, righteous and just.  That is the God with whom we have to do, not this sentimental, grandfatherly type that we seem to have today that chuckles over the foibles and folly of His children.  Apart from the Lord Jesus, we ARE NOT His children, in spite of what is commonly believed today.  We are His subjects, He is our God and King, against whom we are traitorous rebels who are doing everything we can to dethrone Him.  We are the subjects of His wrath.  There is coming a time when that will be plain to all, when the inhabitants of the earth will have to acknowledge that wrath, Revelation 6:17.

The truth is, apart from the Lord Jesus there is nothing but wrath and condemnation for the unbeliever:  He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. … He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him, John 3:18, 36, emphases added.

That’s true of nations, as well.  Psalm 9:17 says, The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.  History is littered with the ruins of nations that have come and gone.  This country will not be exempt.  I’m encouraged by recent events that perhaps God has given us a breather, so to speak, but still, there is abundant evidence that the voice of the enemy has not been silenced, only muted a little.  Indeed, those same events may stir the enemy up.

Heaven may seem to be silent for the time being.  Life goes on.  But there is coming a time, sooner or later, when it will speak loudly and clearly, and finally, to the inhabitants of this world.

We do not rejoice in the idea of judgment.  God Himself has no pleasure in judgment.  Ezekiel 33:11 says, “Say to them: ‘As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.’  And Isaiah 28:21 calls judgment, His unusual work.

Indeed, God has gone to great lengths to make a way of escape from the judgment rightfully due us.

Seeing a mankind that would universally reject Him, He chose from among these rebels a vast number to be saved.  For those who object to such an idea, for Him to have chosen only one to be saved would be more than any of us deserve, let alone the countless multitudes that He has chosen.

Having chosen these otherwise condemned sinners to be saved, God sent His Son to take their place under His wrath.  The Lord Jesus suffered what we should suffer, who are by nature children of wrath, just as the others, Ephesians 2:3.  Because He suffered, there is no more wrath for us, those for whom He died, Romans 5:9.

But there was still something that needed to be done.  Because we were dead in trespasses and sins, Ephesians 2:1, because we once were alienated from the life of God, Ephesians 4:18, and were alienated and enemies of God, Colossians 1:21, God sent the Holy Spirit:  God has revealed them to us through his Spirit, 1 Corinthians 2:10.

Our Lord referred to this work of the Spirit in John 3 as the new birth, a birth not of flesh and blood, but of or by the Holy Spirit.  Without this birth, we are unable either to see or to enter into the things of God, John 3:3, 5.  Without His work, there is no understanding at all of spiritual truth.  Religion, yes, spiritual truth, no.

Oh, there is so much more we could say about this.  It’s enough for now to say that judgment is coming.

Only those who have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ will be spared that judgment.

Have you believed on Him?

Revelation 4, There Is A God In Heaven

Revelation 4:1-11, After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven.  And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying “Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.”
Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne.  And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne in appearance like an emerald.  Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads.  And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices.  Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.
Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal.  And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back.  The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle.  The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within.  And they do not rest day or night, saying:

“Holy, holy, holy,
Lord God Almighty,
Who was and is and is to come!”

Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying,

“You are worthy, O Lord,
To receive glory and honor and power;
For You created all things,
And by Your will they exist and were created.” (NKJV)

John has given us a view of seven churches of his time.  Perhaps, perhaps not, they also foreshadow the history of the church in general.  Regardless, in the ebb and flow of church or national history, the rise and fall of cities, nations, kingdoms, or empires, he now points us to one throne that is eternal.  We look back on far more history than Daniel did, and see the rise and fall of many nations, kingdoms and empires yet future to his time, yet he, too, saw the rise and fall of nations under Nebuchadnezzar, and he points out the one central fact of existence.  In the words of Daniel 2:28, “There is a God in heaven.”  And, further, Daniel 5:26, “His kingdom is the one which shall not be destroyed.”

As we get into the chapter, note what the “voice” said to John, “I will show you things which must take place after this,” v. 1.  “Things,” not “principles,” not “processes.”  Not even just “generalities.”  Things.  Events.  True, there is a lot of discussion about this, but it’s my view that Revelation is the disclosure of history before it happens.  Actual, verifiable history.  Events future to our time which people will be able to point to in the book and say, “See.  This is what is happening.”  We’ll get into this later, Lord willing.

The first thing John saw was a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne, v. 2.

This is where every worldview, every way of thinking about life, without exception, begins.  What do you think of this One who sits on the throne?  Even those who flatly reject Him, or don’t know of Him at all, or worship other gods, live their lives in view of an answer to this question, though they may never actually come into contact with the question.

There are several such incidents in Scripture, beginning with Genesis where Adam and Eve enjoy fellowship with God in the cool of the day, though this soon came to an end when they concluded they could decide for themselves what was “good” and what was “evil”.  In Exodus 24:9,10, after the giving of the Law and Israel’s agreeing to keep it, though they had no idea what they were getting into, we read that Moses, Aaron and his two sons, Nadab and Abihu, along with seventy elders of the people, climbed Mt. Sinai and they saw the God of Israel.  This, too, never happened again because Israel very quickly broke her promise.

There are other such incidents, but perhaps my favorite is found in Ezekiel 1:25-30, where Ezekiel describes his vision of the likeness of a throne and goes on to describe a little of what he saw, ending with this:  like the appearance of a rainbow in a cloud in a rainy day, so was the appearance of the brightness all around it.  This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.

“Like the appearance of a rainbow in a cloud in a rainy day.”

Have you ever seen a rainbow?

Really seen one?

I used to drive for a living and one of my vehicles was a well-used 1982 Dodge van.  One day, it rained.  As the storm passed and the sun began to break through the clouds, there was a rainbow.  Not like the ones you see on the horizon, this one looked like it came out the hood of that old beater.  It was right there, two feet in front of me.  I can’t even begin to describe it.  It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

That’s how Ezekiel saw the glory of God.

That’s how John saw the glory of God, with a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald.  This is different from the 7-color rainbows we see.  It had just one color, a glorious color “like an emerald.”

As I look out the window, I see the drabness of winter, with just a leaf or two here and there clinging to a branch, defying the pull of gravity.  Soon, though, we’ll begin to see green, just a tinge at first, but it tells us that spring is coming, that life will triumph.

Perhaps John is telling us that here he is seeing life at its most triumphant, in the presence and glory of God.

But he sees something else, as well.  Leaving aside much of the description of what John saw, and the description of the “living creatures,” John tells us of “twenty-four elders” who sit on thrones around the central throne.

Who are these “elders”?  There’s a lot of discussion about this.  My own view is that they represent the redeemed of Israel and the church.  I believe this is borne out by the description of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21, which has twelve gates, named after the tribes of Israel, and twelve foundations, named after the twelve apostles.  This tells me that, no matter how they may be united in the future, Israel and the church will never lose their distinct and separate identities.

What are these elders doing?  Vs, 10, 11 tell us:

…the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying,  

“You are worthy, O Lord,
To receive glory and honor and power;
For You created all things,
And by Your will they exist and were created.”

This is probably as good a place to end this year as chapter 5 is to start the new year.  It takes us back to the beginning and tells us that we’re not here just as the result of some mindless, random, meaningless cosmic explosion.  Strange, isn’t it, that “science” is willing to believe that that’s how it all started, in spite of the fact that no one has ever been able to create anything by blowing nothing up and making something out of it.  They do tell us that there was this tiny amount of matter, and that’s what blew up, but they never really deal with where that came from.  They never really deal with “origins.”   It seems to me that it takes a great deal more “faith,” though of a different kind, to believe as they do than it does to believe –

In the beginning God created…. 

So, as we ring out the old year in a few days and bring in the new, let this be the confidence in which we rest, the hope that we cling to.  Regardless of what the new year brings, let this be our firm foundation:

There is a God in heaven.

Revelation 3:21, A Tale of Two Thrones.

“To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.”  (NKJV)

I really hadn’t meant to have so many posts on these last few verses, but there’s just so much in them.

The idea of “thrones” brings up the subject of “kings” and “kingdoms.”  There is a great deal of discussion about “the kingdom,” and it’s not our purpose, at least as we start, to get into all that.

A Study Bible that I’ve used has a note on our verse, which it quotes like this:  the Lord Jesus…sat down on His throne (Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible, p. 2172.)  Even though the note goes on to say that our Lord “will be highly exalted,” I fear it misses the point of the verse.  It’s true that the Lord Jesus will indeed sit on His own throne, and be highly exalted, as the note quotes from Philippians 2:9-11, but that’s not what this verse says.  It says that right now He’s seated on, or at the right hand of, the Father’s throne.  This is in agreement with several other Scriptures.

The first verse is found in Psalm 110:1, The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”  This is the only reference to this in the Old Testament, so far as I know.  Our Lord quotes this in Matthew 22:44, one of many confrontations with His enemies, who contested His every statement.  Without getting into the entire discussion between them, He uses this verse to ask them, “How can David’s son be David’s God?”

Just in passing, with regard to the phrase in Psalm 110:1, “Rule in the midst of Your enemies,” since many believe that “the kingdom” only involves Christ’s headship over His church, how does that fit in with His ruling in the midst of His enemies?

Psalm 110:1 is the foundational verse.  It’s quoted several times in the NT and more than 15 other verses refer to our Lord as being at the right hand of the Father.  The point is, what is He doing there?  Not in the sense of “deserving” to be there, but what is He doing as He sits there?  Scripture tells us.

Perhaps the main thing is that He is sitting at the right hand of the Father because His work is done.  Hebrews 1:3 says, When He had by Himself purged our sins, [He] sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.  The Book of Hebrews spends a lot of time talking about OT things the reader would have been familiar with, and showing how the Lord Jesus fulfills or is superior to those things.  For example, in the Mosaic Tabernacle, there was no seat, no place to sit down, for the officiating priest.  That’s because his work was never done.

There is one exception to the verses saying that He sits.  Acts 7:56 tells us that, as he was finishing his testimony before the Sanhedrin, Stephen told them that he saw the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.  To these Jewish leaders, this was blasphemy, and, enraged, they killed him.  No reason is given as to why the Lord Jesus was standing.  Someone has suggested that it was to welcome home this first martyr of the church.

Our Lord sat down.  His work was done.  He had by himself purged our sins.  Notice that the writer did not say, “He died for our sins.”  “He made it possible for our sins to be purged.”

No. No.

He purged –

purged

our sins.  He got rid of them on the Cross, and then went home to heaven and sat down.  He was done.  And so were our sins.

This is a tough nut to crack.  We’re so inundated with the idea that there must be something that we have to do in order to make what He did effective.  We have to “validate,” as it were, by accepting Him, what He did on the Cross.  We’re told sin isn’t really paid for until we do that.  And, yes, without doubt, we are told to believe on Him to be saved.  There is no salvation apart from faith in Him.  But that faith rests on His finished, completed work – or there is no salvation, either.  He sat down because sin has been taken care of, taken away.

But He’s doing something else, as well.  In the words of the KJV, But this man after he had offered one sacrifice forever, sat down on the right hand of God, from henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool, Hebrews 10:12, 13, emphasis added.  Newer versions translating “expecting” as “waiting,” and though accurate, it’s incomplete.  The word means “to wait expectantly.”

What did the Father say to the Son?  “Sit at My right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”  Our Lord is waiting for, expecting, His Father to fulfill that promise.  Has that happened?  Or is He just talking about some “spiritual” victory, in which the great majority of the world continues to ignore, reject, or violently oppose His rule?  Follow some false religion?

Christmas is 4 days away as I write this.  Who’s the most prominent figure at this time?  Who are little children told to expect?  Not our Lord.  Oh, He might get an “honorable mention,” so to speak, with a nativity scene tucked away among the ornaments and decorations, but He’s not really the center of attention, is He?

When the Father fulfills His promise to the Son, such treatment will not be the case, or even possible.  God made a second promise which goes along with this.  In Psalm 2:9, 10, He told the Son, “Ask of Me, and I will give you the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron; you shall dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

Revelation 19:11 tells us this will happen when the Lord returns to earth, not before.  Verse 15 says, He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron.  The word translated “rule” means “to shepherd”:  “He Himself will shepherd them with a rod of iron.”  This gives quite a different picture than the idea that He’ll return, there will be the final judgment, and then eternity.  Zechariah 14:12-21 gives us further details of events at and following His return.  These indeed portray a “rod of iron.”

But there’s more.  As our Lord sits there waiting, He’s not inactive.  I believe that He is calling His sheep.  In John 10:14-16, our Lord says, “I am the good shepherd; and know My sheep, and am known by My own.  As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.  And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they well hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one Shepherd.” 

“Other sheep I have…, them also I must bring.”

Those for whom He died must be brought home.

Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, He’s calling His sheep to Himself.  We can only know them because they follow the Shepherd.  Not just “religion,” not just some religious figure or authority, but the Lord Jesus.  He is their Lord and Savior.  There is some discussion, sometimes heated, about this idea of Lord and Savior, but we can’t cut the Lord Jesus into two parts, only accepting Him as “Savior” and leaving behind the idea that He’s Lord, or that He has any claim on us.  We seem to think He has to save us if we “accept” Him, but that He’s not supposed to tell us what to do until we decide that He can.  That may be a lot of fundamental or evangelical Christianity, but I don’t believe that it’s true.  It certainly isn’t Biblical.

He is Lord, and He has willing subjects.  Are we among them?

There is one final thing.  He intercedes for us.  Hebrews 9:24 says, For Christ has not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, to appear in the presence of God for us. 

“To appear in the presence of God for us”….

I don’t even know how to begin with this.  This whole truth of the Incarnation, the death, the resurrection, the return, of our Lord….  Who can really describe what these things mean?  The God of the Universe, who spoke and it was done, that One who upholds the stars in their courses and calls them all by name, that One who has numbered – not counted, numbered the hairs on our head, that One who holds every breath of ours in His hand, that One whom we continually rebel against,…that One.

That One came and lived the life we could never live, died a death we can’t even begin to imagine, with our sanitized pictures and crucifixes, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven and now prays for the very ones who put Him on the cross.  The Romans might have physically nailed Him to it, but you and I, if we’re believers, we were there, too.

Matthew 25:31 says that the Lord Jesus will not sit on His own throne until He returns to this earth.  Other Scriptures tell us that He will do so at Jerusalem, where He will assume His rightful place as Lord and Ruler of this world.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.