Acts 14:5-13: Miracle and Misunderstanding

5] And when a violent attempt was made by both the Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to abuse and stone them, 6] they became aware of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding region.  7] And they were preaching the gospel there.

8] And in Lystra a certain man without strength in his feet was sitting, a cripple from his mother’s womb, who had never walked.  9] This man heard Paul speaking.  Paul, observing him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed, 10] said with a loud voice, “Stand up straight on your feet!”  And he leaped and walked.  11] Now when the people saw what Paul had done, they raised their voices, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!”  12] And Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker.  13] Then the priest of Zeus, whose temple was in front of their city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, intending to sacrifice with the multitudes.

Paul and Barnabas had escaped for their lives from those who were trying to kill them at Iconium and had come to the cities of Lystra and Derbe, where they were preaching the gospel there, v. 7.  Not even the threat of death could deter these men from doing what the Lord had called them to do.

There’s probably a great deal that happened in the lives of the early church that we’re not told.  That’s true of all the narrative portions of Scripture, not just Acts.  For this reason, we ought to pay more attention to what is told us.  It isn’t just words to fill up a quota, like a student who might have to write a paper of so many words.  It’s important.

What is told us in our text is about a man, whose condition was terrible.  And that condition is emphasized.  He was a man without strength in his feet.  He was a cripple from his mother’s womb.  Because of his disability, he had never walked.  In short, he was hopeless and helpless.

Even so, he was not beyond the reach of grace and mercy.

Verse 9 says that Paul saw that he had faith to be healed.  I’m not exactly sure what to make of this.  We’re not told how Peter saw this man’s faith.  It doesn’t really matter.

In some circles much is made of “faith healing,” and it’s said that if a person isn’t healed, it’s because he didn’t have “faith.”  Now, I believe that God heals.  My own mother was told that, because of complications, she wouldn’t walk after she gave birth to me.  Well, she did.  Yet at least once in our Lord’s ministry, He healed a man who was arguing with him about it, John 5:1-8, although “arguing” is perhaps too strong a word.  And in that crowd that surrounded the man, his healing is the only one recorded.

There’s a lot of confusion in current Christianity about this matter of “faith”.  Some people seem to think it’s some sort of cosmic bell you ring so that God will come running to see what you want.  Other’s say it’s believing what you know isn’t true.  Others seem to think it’s some sort of “abracadabra” or “open sesame”.  But it’s really very simple.  According to Hebrews 11, faith is an active, obedient response to God.

Noah built a huge boat to escape a coming flood, v. 7 – when the science of that time might have said, “Noah, what are you talking about?  A flood is impossible.  It doesn’t rain.  It’s never rained.  It can’t rain!”

Abraham packed up and moved a long way simply because God told him He would show him when to stop, v. 8.   Sarah herself was enabled to become a happy mother when she was at an age where she was way beyond such things, v. 11.

The armies of Israel conquered an impregnable city by simply walking around it for seven days, v. 30, Joshua 6.

To return to Acts 14, there might be more to this healing than is seen at first glance.  Luke wrote that he leaped and walked, v. 10.  He went there from a place of inactivity and inability.  A little child has to go through several stages to learn how to walk, let alone leaping. This man made that transition all at once, with all the knowledge and balance needed.

Leaping and walking, the man was probably also exclaiming and shouting for joy, “I can walk!  I can walk!”  A natural response.  This demonstration of power electrified the crowd, who immediately acknowledged what happened as something only the “gods” could do, and they set about to give these two men the proper reception, as they saw it.  They were going to worship them.

Lord willing, we’ll see the response of Paul and Barnabas in our next post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acts 3:1-10, An Incident of Healing.

1] Now Peter and John went up together to the temple at the hour of prayer.  2] And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of those who entered the temple;  3] who seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked for alms.  4]  And fixing his eyes on him, with John, Peter said, “Look at us.”  5] So he gave them his attention, expecting to receive something from them.  6] Then Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you:  In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.”  7] And he took him by the right hand and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength.  8] So he, leaping up, stood and walked and entered the temple with them – walking, leaping, and praising God.  9] And all the people who saw him walking and praising God.  10] Then they knew it was he who sat begging alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. 

Our post today isn’t so much about this man and his miraculous healing, though we look at it, but about the idea of healing and those who claim to have that gift and ministry.  Before we start, I do believe in divine healing.  God can heal any disease or deformity.  He often does.  I just don’t believe in “divine healers,” for reasons given in the post.

In ch. 2:42-47, we have a general statement about the activity of the early church, as well as the attitude of the people and rulers toward it.  We believe chapters 3 and 4 give only one incident out of many which could have been given.

Some general observations:

1. It is obvious that God can, and does, “heal.”  This isn’t in question at all.  What is questionable is the way some approach it as a “ministry.”

2. Whether in the Gospels or in Acts, healing seem to have been given to those obviously and absolutely without hope, humanly speaking, Luke 8:43; John 5:2-5, etc.  The Lord or the disciples never just cured a cold.

3. Perhaps because of this “selectivity,” as well as their obviousness, these healings were indisputable.  The evidence was open and available to all, cf. Acts 4:14.

4. These healings were almost always public.  In our text, it was right in the temple area, a place thronged with people, v. 1.  Even in the raising of Dorcas, Acts 9:36-42, though the actual miracle was done privately, v. 40, there was a public presentation of her immediately afterward, v. 41.

5. From this incident in Acts 3, we note a certain decorum, if you will.  Even though the healings were public, there was a certain restraint.  There was no sensationalism, no “circus atmosphere.”  The early church did not mount an advertising campaign to capitalize on these marvels.  There were none who wanted to be known as “healers.”

6. In line with the above, these healings were spontaneous.  There was no advance preparation, publicity or promotion by the church.  They did not get together a “healing crusade.”  There seems almost to be an “off-handedness” about the whole things, as if “healing” were not preeminently important.  In the case before us, Peter and John were on their way to worship and, if there had been no commotion, would have  simply continued on their way.

7. The healings were done in order that Christ might be glorified and the Gospel verified, Acts 3:13; Mark 16:18.

8. Perhaps most importantly, these healings were healings.  There was nothing like what I heard about from a preacher friend.  One of his friends, in a wheelchair, was complaining of a certain ache.  He went to a “healing meeting.”  When my friend next saw him, still in the wheelchair, he exclaimed, “I’ve been healed!”
“What do you mean?” questioned my friend.
“I don’t ache any more!” was the reply.
If this gentleman had truly been healed after the New Testament manner, he would not have needed the wheelchair!

Revelation 22:6-21, “Even So, Come, Lord Jesus!”

6] Then he 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.

7] “Behold, I am coming quickly!  Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”

8] Now I, John, saw and heard these things.  And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who showed me these things.

9] Then he said to me, “See that you do not do that.  For I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book.  Worship God.”  10] And he said to me, “Do not seal the words of this prophecy, for the time is at hand.  11] He who is unjust, let him be unjust still;  he who is filthy. let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still.”

12] “And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give every one according to his work.  13] I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.”

14] Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.  But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.

16] “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches.  I am the Root and Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.”

17] And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!”  And let him who hears say, “Come!”  And let him who thirsts come.  Whoever desires, let take of the water of life freely.

18] For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book:  If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; 19] and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.

20] He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming quickly.”

Amen.  Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

21] The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  Amen. (NKJV)

Verse 6 is a witness to the authenticity of Revelation.  It says a lot about the wickedness of human nature that, over and over, God has to assure us that He can be trusted and that His word is true.

The second clause refers to the Lord God of the holy prophets, reminding us of 2 Peter 1:21, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.  That’s why His word is “faithful and true.”  It isn’t just the product of man’s wisdom or imagination.  “Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”

The Lord refers to His coming three times in this chapter, in vs. 7, 12 and 20.  In v. 7, it’s in connection with the prophecy of this book.  This doesn’t mean that prophecy is something to speculate or argue about or to sensationalize or trivialize.  It’s to assure us that the future is in His hands and that He has everything under control.  In v. 12, it’s in connection with His purpose to give everyone according to his work.  It’s too easy for us to seek a reward in the approval and praise of mere men, but the only praise that will amount to anything is the commendation of the One who is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.  The interesting thing is that He says it’s His “Reward.”  Unbelievers and skeptics, those who scorned Him at His First Coming and hanged Him on a Cross, and those down through the ages who have rejected Him or corrupted His teachings will discover that He is the Judge, not them!

Both the godly and the ungodly will find this to be true.  The godly, those who do His commandments, v. 14, will enter the city.  The wicked, described in v. 15, will never enter that city.  There will be nothing that corrupts or defiles allowed into that eternal paradise.

V. 15 says these things are to be testified in the churches.  Yet how seldom is this true, that churches are given the message in this book.  I know there is a lot of discussion, sometimes heated, about what that message is, but if nothing else, it concerns what is the emphasis in these verses:  that the Lord Jesus will return to this earth, that there is coming a time of reward or punishment, and that the invitation is freely given to “Come.”  I don’t have access to the original language at this time (I’m actually on vacation), but I wouldn’t be surprised if this word isn’t an imperative, that is, a command, for folks to come to the Savior.  This is similar to Acts 17:30, which says, God commands all men everywhere to repent.

There’s some discussion as to whether the Gospel is an offer or an invitation.  I think it’s actually a proclamation from the Court in Heaven that men are under condemnation because of their sin, but God, the High King of Heaven, has made a way of escape through His Son and those who repent of their sins and trust in Him for salvation will receive a full and complete pardon for those sins.

Verse 11 troubles some people:  He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still.  Some might think that the verse means that God is ok with unjust and filthy lives.  Perish the thought.  We think our Lord’s teaching in Matthew 13 is the answer.  In this chapter, He is describing the Kingdom of God using various similes and pictures.  In vs. 24-30 he uses the analogy of a man sowing wheat in his field.  An enemy comes along and sows tares in that same field.  BTW, the NIV version saying “weeds” is terribly inadequate and misleading.  Our Lord isn’t talking about something like dandelions!  No, no, the idea is that tares are almost indistinguishable from true wheat until harvest, hence, the reference to harvest in v. 30.

The meaning is that we can’t infallibly tell the heart condition of anyone.  Some looked down on in “church” might actually be godly individuals, while some who have huge ministries but whose praise is from men might find that that is all the reward they will ever get, and the Lord will tell them to depart from Him, Matthew 25:41.  This does not mean that there can be no church discipline or that we can’t “judge” brethren whose lives don’t measure up to Scripture.  It does mean that we are neither infallible nor omniscient.

There is also a solemn warning against tampering with the contents of this Book.  There’s some discussion about whether this warning is only for Revelation or for the whole Bible.  I think it’s the latter.  This book is God’s Word, and it’s a terrible presumption and a great wickedness for anyone to believe that it can be improved upon.  There has been no revelation since John closed his writing and to say otherwise is a wicked sin.

We can have no better close for this  post and this series than the one John gave to his own writing:

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  Amen.

Revelation 20:1-6, It Can’t Possibly Mean That!

1] Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.  2] He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; 3] and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished.  But after these things he must be released for a little while.

4] And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them.  The I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not receive his mark on their foreheads or on their hands.  And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.  5] But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished.  This is the first resurrection.  6] Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection.  Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.

Revelation 20 continues the events begun by the return of our Lord in ch. 19.  The events in this chapter conclude human history.  They include the binding of Satan, the 1000 year kingdom, the loosing of Satan for the final rebellion, and the Great White Throne judgment.  We’ll look at the first two in this post.

1. The binding of Satan.

We’re not going to spend a lot of time on this, just a couple of things.  Satan will be bound, not just “hindered,” as, say, by the preaching of the Gospel.  Some have the idea that he’s just going to be like a dog on a chain in the backyard, but still have a limited amount of freedom.  Scripture says he will be bound up and put away. Out of sight and out of mind.

Some object to the idea of a “chain” binding a spirit creature like Satan.  However one may choose to look at this, the teaching is plain:  Satan will literally be taken out of the picture, by whatever means God chooses to use.

2. The “1000 years”.

These verses are some of the most controversial in Scripture.  The very idea of “an earthly, carnal, kingdom” where the Lord sits on an actual throne in the actual city of Jerusalem is just too far beyond what some can accept.  According to this mindset, these verses can’t possible refer to an actual 1000 year period, but, as one writer put it, simply refer to our present Gospel dispensation of nearly 2000 years (!)

I think there’s a reason the Holy Spirit inspired John to use the phrase “1000 years” five times in six verses.  It’s to impress on us that He means 1000 years, not just some indeterminate amount of time!  Besides, isn’t it an insult to our Lord to describe any rule of His, regardless of where it is, as “carnal”?

Revelation doesn’t tell us a great deal of what will happen during these years, but other Scriptures give us some idea.

1. Satan will be bound.

We’ve already seen this.  The chief enemy of God and His people will be taken out of the picture.

2. Israel as a nation will be saved, Zechariah 12:9-14.  They will realize that this One whom they crucified is actually their Redeemer.  Some have objected that their sin shut them out of the possibility of being saved, but, in fact, it will be the means of their eventual conversion.

3. Israel as a nation will be judged, Ezekiel 20:33-38.  When our Lord come back, not every Jew will bow to Him as Lord.  Those refusing to do so will be purged out of the nation.

4. The living Gentile nations will be judged, Matthew 25:31-46, apparently on the basis of how they have treated the Jews.  This might have some reference to the invasion of Israel.

5. The curse will be removed from the earth, Isaiah 65:17-25.  This is the time Paul said that creation was looking forward to, Romans 8:19-21, where creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption.

Some have take Isaiah’s reference in  65:17 to new heavens and a new earth to mean eternity.  Revelation 21:1 also describes such a creation.  However, I don’t think Isaiah and Revelation refer to the same thing.  I may be wrong, but Isaiah says there will still be death in his vision:

“No more shall an infant from there live but a few days,
Nor an old man who has not fulfilled his days’
For the child shall die one hundred years old,
But the sinner being one hundred years old shall be accursed, Isaiah 65:20.

In contrast, John describes a place where “there shall be no more death, no sorrow, nor crying.  There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away,” Revelation 21:4.

Considering the radical changes that will take place when the Lord comes back, I think it can safely be said that things will indeed be “new”.

The beast and his minions had killed those who refuse to bow down before him and receive his mark.  Here we find, though, that these same martyrs are resurrected and share in the millennial glory.  This isn’t simply “conversion,” as some teach, but an actual coming back to life of those who gave their lives for the Lord.

What about OT and church saints?  Paul taught that OT saints will come back with the Lord at His return and NT saints will be resurrected then.  These won’t be left out of the blessings.

Man longs for and dreams of a “utopia” in which everyone lives happily ever after.  That will not be realized in any real sense until our Lord comes back and establishes His kingdom on this earth.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

Revelation 19:11-21, Behold, He Is Coming!

11] Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse.  And he who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war.  12] His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns.  He had a name written that no one knew except Himself.  13] He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God.  14] And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, clean and white, followed Him on white horses.  15] Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations.  And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron.  He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.  16] And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written:

KING OF KINGS AND
LORD OF LORDS.

17] Then I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the birds that fly in the midst of heaven, “Come and gather together for the supper of the great God, 18] that you may eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and those who sit on them, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, both small and great.”

19] And I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army.  20] Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image.  These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone.  21] And the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse.  And all the birds were filled with their flesh.

We’ve arrived back at the narrative interrupted by the description of the great whore and her admirers and of her judgment and destruction.  We pick up from chapter 16:21 and the great earthquake and hail which strikes mankind.

Remember that everything seems hopeless.  The entire world has been engulfed in idolatry, wickedness and immorality.  The Jews have been harassed and tormented in a way which will make the Holocaust seem like a picnic.  Indeed, as we saw, Zechariah 14 indicates that Jerusalem will be taken and great atrocities will be committed against her people.  As we said, we’re not sure of the “time” involved in all this.  Revelation seems to indicate that these things will take place rather quickly; Zechariah indicates some time will elapse.  I will say that the “time” probably doesn’t include the whole church age, as the historicist view requires.  Indeed, at the time spoken of by John, the “church age” is over.  This age, the church age in which we live, is “the day of salvation,” 2 Corinthians 6:2, a time when the heavens are silent and men seem to get away with doing pretty much as they please.  However, Revelation 19 describes the end of “the great day of His wrath mentioned in Revelation 6:17, (emphasis added) and they don’t “get away with it” at all.

Regardless of the time involved, the rebellion of this world will come to an end and our Lord will return to this world, as promised in Acts 1:11.  Revelation 19 describes some of what will happen when He does.

John sees heaven opened, v. 11.  He had earlier seen a door standing open in heaven, 4:1 (emphasis added).  Now he sees heaven itself opened up.  I don’t know what will happen or how – it doesn’t matter – but men will suddenly see that we are not “alone” in this universe, after all, but it won’t be aliens and spaceships men discover, but the God who created and sustains this world.

Out of this scene, John focuses on a horse and its Rider, who is called Faithful and True, v. 11.  This is in opposition to the deceit and falsehood of an earlier rider on a white horse, the counterfeit rider, the Antichrist, Revelation 6:2.

Further, in righteousness He judges and makes war.  There will be no negotiations, no “diplomacy,” to try to persuade men to do what He wants.  Zechariah 14 describes the strictness with which He will govern this world.  He has many crowns, to go along with the name written on His thigh:  KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.  No longer is He “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” but the absolute sovereign and ruler of this world.

His clothing is bloody, to go along with the idea of “war,” also the last part of v. 15.  This brings to mind Isaiah 63:1-6:

Who is this who comes from Edom,
With dyed garments from Bozrah,

This One who is glorious in His apparel,
Traveling in the greatness of His strength? –

“I who speak in righteousness, mighty to save.”

2] Why is Your apparel red,
And Your garments like one who treads in the winepress?

3] “I have trodden the winepress alone,
And from the peoples no one was with Me.
For I have trodden them in My anger,
And trampled them in My fury;
Their blood is sprinkled upon My garments,
And I have stained all My robes.
4] For the day of vengeance is in My heart,
And the year of My redeemed has come.
5] I looked, but there was no one to help,
And I wondered
That there was no one to uphold;
Therefore My own arm brought salvation for Me;
And My own fury, it sustained Me.
6] I have trodden down the peoples in My anger,
Made them drunk in My fury,
And brought down their strength to the earth” (emphasis added).

His return will not be uncontested, but it will be victorious.

He will not be alone, v. 14, but will be accompanied with the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, clean and white.  There’s some discussion about who these people are.  Some say they are angels.  I think Paul refers to them in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:

13] But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as other who have no hope.  14] For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.

15] For this we say to you by the word of the Lord (that is, he’s not just making it up), that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.  16] For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God.  And the dead in Christ will rise first.  17] Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And thus we shall always be with the Lord.  18] Therefore comfort one another with these words. 

Though Paul seems to refer to New Testament saints, I think Old Testament saints are included, as well.  These all make up “the armies of heaven.”

And notice, they are described with no weapons.  They won’t need them.  Their “warfare,” Ephesians 6:12, is over.

The only “weapon” belongs to the Rider, a sword with which He will strike the nations. Further, John says, He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron.  If, as so many believe, “the kingdom” is simply Christ’s rule over “the church,” why the necessity of a “rod of iron”?  And who are “the nations?”

Vs. 17, 18 paint what many might consider a grotesque picture, an angel crying with a loud voice to all the birds, “come and gather together for the supper of the great God….”  What in the world is this?

Ezekiel 39:17-20 tells us:

17] “And as for you, son of man, thus says the LORD GOD, ‘Speak to every sort of bird and to every beast of the field:

“Assemble yourselves and come;
Gather together from all sides to My sacrificial meal
Which I am sacrificing for you,

A great sacrificial meal on the mountains of Israel,
That you may eat flesh and drink blood.
18] You shall eat the flesh of the mighty,
Drink the blood of the princes of the earth,
Of rams and lambs,
Of goats and bulls,
All of them fatlings of Bashan.
19] You shall eat fat till your are full,
And drink blood till you are drunk,
At My sacrificial meal
Which I am sacrificing for you.
20] You shall be filled at My table
With horses and riders,
With mighty men
And with all the men of war,” says the LORD GOD. 

These scavengers will help in cleaning up the mess that’s left from the destruction of those who gather to oppose the Lord at His coming, cf. Ezekiel 39:4.  The beast and the kings of the earth may gather their armies to oppose the return of our Lord, but there is no battle.  It’s no contest, as Ezekiel 38 and 39 clearly show.

Their armies destroyed, the beast and the false prophet are thrown bodily into the lake of fire burning with brimstone, where they will remain forever.

Thus ends the final rebellion before the Lord Jesus returns to this world.

It may be at morn, when the day is awaking,
When sunlight thro’ shadow and darkness is breaking,
That Jesus will come in the fullness of glory,
To receive from the world “His own.”

It may be at midday, it may be at twilight,
It may be, perchance, that the blackness of midnight
Will burst into light in the blaze of His glory,
When Jesus receives “His own.”

O Lord Jesus, how long, how long
Ere we shout the glad song,
Christ returneth!
Hallelujah! hallelujah!
Amen.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

Revelation 12:7-17: Turmoil in Heaven.

7] And war broke out in heaven:  Michael and his angel fought with the devil; and the dragon and his angels fought, 8] but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer.  9] So the great dragon was cast out, the serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.

10] Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before God day and night, has been cast down.  11] And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.  12] Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them!  Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea!  For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time.”

13] Now when the dragon saw that he had been cast to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male Child.  14] But the woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent.  15] So the serpent spewed water out of his mouth like a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away by the flood.  16] But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the flood which the dragon had spewed out of his mouth.  17] And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.

Verses 7-17 give us some details about what verses 1-6 have to say.  For example, this “war” in heaven happens before the woman flees into the wilderness.  They also introduce us to two more of the seven beings in chs. 12 and 13, as well as giving us further information about “the woman.”

They are:

1. Michael, v. 7.

War broke out in heaven:  Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer.

Daniel 12:1 refers to this event.  It says, “At that time Michael shall stand up, the great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time.

Revelation tells us why there will be such a “time of trouble.”

One thing about this “war.”  Daniel 10:13, 20 tell us that Satan and his angels oppose and try to hinder God at every step, but that does not mean that they can in any way alter His purpose or ultimately prevent God from doing what He wants to do.  There is entirely too much of this idea, however veiled it might be, that God and Satan are equals, that the “forces of good and evil” are somehow evenly matched.  Or as one false teacher puts it, if the church doesn’t pray enough, then, in effect, heaven falters.

*sigh*

From the earliest record in Scripture, it’s taught that Satan has access to heaven, Job 1, 2.  And, as we see in the life of Job, he accuses the people of God.  This tells us the significance of 1 John 2:1: we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.  And don’t overlook the significance of the fact that Jesus is called “the righteous.”  He appears before the Father as our Substitute, our Savior.  It’s His righteousness imputed to us through faith that we must have because we have none of our own.  Religion, yes, routine and ritual, bucket loads, righteousness that God will accept, not a bit.

Revelation tells us that there is coming a time when Satan will finally be thrown out of heaven and that will result in a time of trouble on this earth never seen before and never to be seen again, a time referred to in Jeremiah 30:7 as the time of Jacob’s trouble.

Lest there should be any doubt as to who this “dragon” is, he’s clearly identified as the serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, v. 9.  Further, he’s characterized as one who deceives the whole world.  We could do a whole series just on this.  He deceives, he denies, he distorts, he counterfeits.  Do you really think that everything in our time that calls itself “Christian” is of God?  To say nothing of all the other religions in our world, or the cultural chaos that has engulfed society?

Woe is pronounced for the earth, though heaven rejoices that, at long last, this would-be usurper of the Throne, this interloper, is finally banished.  There is one thing these who rejoice say, and that is that, once thrown out of heaven, the devil knows he only has a little while remaining before he himself is judged.  It’s an interesting study in Scripture to see what the devil knows to be true and what he teaches about it, as, for example, the existence of God.

There are some things said about our brethren that we could spend a lot of time on, as well.  We’ll just touch on them.  Even though they possibly die, they are still called “overcomers.”  Three things about this in v. 11:

a. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb. Remember that John saw a Lamb as though it had been slain, Revelation 5:6.  This is where it all starts, because without shedding of blood there is no remission, no forgiveness of sins.

b. and by the word of their testimony.  We have a lot of misconceptions about the Devil in our culture.  Some people deny his existence altogether, some people run around rebuking him, other spend all their time worrying about him.  1 Corinthians 6:20, You were bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.  What price?  This gets us back to the first point:  knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct…, but with the precious blood of Christ, 1 Peter 1:18-19.  We don’t overcome the Devil by “rebuking” him, but by living for God and eternity.

c. and they loved not their lives to the death.  Our Lord makes a promise to such:  “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life,” Revelation 2:10.  While that promise was given to a specific church, don’t you think it applies to those who were hunted and killed in their thousands by Rome and the Reformers and by groups like ISIS in our time?  Jim Elliot, who himself gave his life serving our Lord, said, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot lose.”

2. The woman, vs. 14-16.

These verses amplify what’s already been told of this woman’s plight and persecution.  For example, she is given some sort of assistance in her flight.  John describes this as wings of a great eagle, v. 14.  By some means, she is enabled to flee quickly from her persecutor.  Again, her place is mentioned , vs. 6, 14, and a specific period, time and times and half a time.  This corresponds to the one thousand two hundred and sixty days, or three and a half years, mentioned in v. 6.  The devil sends a flood after her.  Ezekiel 38 describes an invasion of Israel from the north by many armies.  See also Zechariah 14:2.  Perhaps this is a contingent from that army pursuing the fleeing Jews.

The references to “her place,” the assistance given her when fleeing, the fact that she is nourished during her time of isolation, these all remind us of what Zechariah 14:2 tells us.  God says, “I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem.”  In all this God is in control of events.  He’s not sitting up there on His throne anxiously waiting for someone to take the first step so He can step in Himself.  That’s the only real hope any of us have as we see our world, perhaps maybe even our lives in one way or another, circling the drain – that there’s a reason, a purpose, for what’s going on around us.

The enemy sends a flood to destroy the woman, but, again, she is delivered:  the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the flood, v. 16.  If necessary, God can even marshal “the forces of nature” to aid His people.  Now, we’re not told exactly what this intervention is, perhaps an earthquake, as in Exodus 15:12, Numbers 16:31.  Perhaps it’s the result of the earthquake which accompanies the Lord’s invasion, Ezekiel 38:19, 20; Zechariah 14:4.  There are historical references of sandstorms burying armies.

Whatever this deliverance is, it introduces the last of the five beings or groups:

3. the remnant, vs. 17.

And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.

Jews are spread all over the world and even in the time of temporary peace for the nation that Daniel speaks of, not all of them will come back to the land.  Those who do not become fair game for the anger of the devil as he finds himself backed into a corner, as it were, knowing he has only a short time to do damage to Israel.  But it isn’t simply that the objects of his persecution are simply ethnic Jews; they are describes as those who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.

In short, they receive both halves of Scripture.

Some folks have difficulty with the idea that saved people, in this case, Jews, “keep the commandments of God.”  The whole subject of the Law is well beyond the scope of this post.  Just let me say that the Mosaic Law wasn’t simply the Jew’s “religion.”  It was his culture, his life.  True, if he “kept” it, it became a means of “righteousness” for him, but even after a Jew “knew the Lord,” like Paul, the Law was his culture.  It defined what he was.   He didn’t throw it out simply because he had found the One to whom it pointed.  He DID NOT look to the Law for his salvation, but then, neither did he abandon living by its principles.

We see an example of this in Acts 21.  Paul had returned to Jerusalem.  While he was there, he was told that his enemies had circulated rumors that he had been teaching “all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses,”  v. 21.  To counter this, he was advised, “therefore do what we tell you:  We have four men who have taken a vow,  Take them and be purified with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads, and that all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing, but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law,” vs. 22-24, emphasis added.

But pay attention to the rest of what it said!  But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols,” etc, v. 25, emphasis added.  The whole story of this edict is found in Acts 15.

Once again, let me repeat, it was not a matter of salvation for the early church, which was, after all, composed almost entirely of Jews.  It was a matter of simply continuing to be who they were.

In the same way, this remnant is defined as made up of those who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.