25 September 2020

Revelation 6-11

Revelation 6

As the Lamb opens each of the first four seals, a rider appears. The first three riders are not described, but their horses are white, red, and black. The last horse is pale and it's rider is Death, while Hades is following close behind. What is important about these rtiders is what they bring with them.

The first is bent on conquest, he is given a crown, and symbolizes control or authoritarianism. The second has a large sword and makes people kill each other. The author, in his statements, seems to distinguish not at all between war and murder. The third rider holds a pair of scales and brings with him economic oppression. John hears a voice bartering for enough food to feed one person (not a family) for one day, for a day's wages. Not surpizingly, after the first three riders bring such terrible hardships of tyranny, war, and poverty, the fourth rider brings death.

With the opening of the fifth seal, the plight of the martyrs is revealed. They cry out to God for justice. God gives them comfort and assures them that it will only be a little longer until all their brothers and sisters have been slain just as they were, then they will all receive justice. Here, John sides with the martyrs, confirming that their way of laying down their lives in passive resistance is superior to engaging in the violence and death brought by the riders.

When the sixth seal opens, God's wrath is poured out on the earth. Everyone from kings to slaves flees from the coming wrath. It seems no one is spared. They call to the mountains to fall on them to spare them God's wrath.

Revelation 7

After the earthquake, God holds back his wrath until all the faithful are sealed. There are 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes of Israel, 144,000 in all. These numbers are sometimes taken literally, but symbollicaly, these are 12 legions from each of the 12 tribes.

God is gathering his army. Legions are gathered from Israel, all who are willing to stand for their God. Likewise, there is a "great multitude" gathered from all the other nations. When God's army is gathered, they do not go off to kill and destroy, but bow down and worship God.

Revelation 8

The seventh seal is opened and a bowl filled with the prayers of all God's people is brought before the throne. The prayers are given as an offering to God, then the same bowl is filled with fire, wich is thrown to the Earth. More devastation comes to the Earth as the wrath of God is poured out as seven angels ready to sound their seven trumpets.

The first four trumpets call down natural disasters upon the Earth. The first two trumpets call down fire and blood; the third calls bitterness (wormwood), perhaps representing plague, the fourth dims the sun, moon, and stars. The angels then cry out "woe" to the earth, because what the next three trumpets will call down will be worse yet.

Revelation 9

The fifth trumpet opens the Abyss, and locusts pour out from it to torment all of those who were not sealed by God. These people long for death, but are not allowed to die. John describes the locusts with imagry of horses and chariots prepared for battle, and their king is "The Destroyer."

The sixth trumpet releases two hundred million angels ("two times ten thousand times ten thousand") who kill much of humanity.

Finally, John tells us the point of all this wrath in 9:20-21. All of this was to bring mankind to repentance. God wants people to stop worshipping idols, stop murdering, stop deceiving one another with "sorcery," stop harming/abusing one another sexually, and stop stealing from one another. When God answered sin with wrath, it brought no one to repentance.

Revelation 10

John now gives us an interlude from the sounding of the trumpets. He sees a really big angel with a little scroll and when the angel speaks, seven thunders speak as well, but God tells John not to write down what the seven thunders say. Perhaps some things are better left unsaid. John is told to take the little scroll from the angel and eat it. It tastes sweet, but turns his stomach sour. He is then told to prophesy. If the scroll is forshadowing the prophesy, it will start sweet and be well received, but then it will become harsh and painful to bear.

Revelation 11

John starts his prophesy in the past. John measures the Second Temple in Jerusalem, but he is told to not measure the outer court, the Court of the Gentiles, as the Gentiles will trample Jerusalem for 42 months (which is 1,260 days or 3.5 years). There are then two witnesses who prophesy for this whole time. They stop the rain, cause plagues, and fire devours their enemies. When the beast from the Abyss kills them, eveyone is happy, because they had tormented people for over three years.

Who are these witnesses? For one thing, we know that they had to have lived between AD 33-68, because Jesus is in Heaven and the Temple was destroyed in AD 68. This could mean that they are Peter and Paul, both of whom were martyred. Another possibility is that this happened before the time of Jesus, as in 31 BC, there was an earthquake which is said to have killed 30,000 people. The only other earthquake in Jerusalem was when Jesus was crucified in AD 33. I am inclined to think that these prophets came before Jesus, perhaps even at different times, because of what is to come in Revelation 12. There is a little of Revelation 11 left, But that will wait until next week, when the seventh trumpet sounds.

Until then,
Peace be with you.

18 September 2020

Revelation 1-5

Revelation 1:1-3
John establishes that his revelation is from God, who gave it to Jesus, who gave it to an angel, who delivered it to John. John has written, in his own words, what he has seen. John then blesses the reader, and the one who hears the reader, because "the time is near."

Revelation 1:4-6
The book is written to the seven churches (see verse 11) of the Roman province of Asia. These are represented before God's throne by the seven spirits. Seven is an important number as it represents the seven hills of Rome, and thus implies universality. Jesus is called here "the firstborn from the dead" foreshadowing that just as Adam was the first of mankind in the current world, Jesus will be the first of mankind in the world, or kingdom, that God is establishing.

Revelation 1:9-11
John establishes his identity and credentials, then begins narrating his vision. He begins to write on a scroll what the angel shows him.

Revelation 1:12-20
John receives a vision of a glorified Jesus standing before seven golden lampstands. He explains the meaning of this vision in verses 19-20.

Revelation 2-3
John gives instructions to each of the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3. This is John's theology, which at times stands in stark contrast to the theology of Paul. To those who hold fast to this theology, he promises certain blessings, such as eating from the tree of life and not being harmed by the second death.

Revelation 4
Chapter 4 starts with a vision of what is to come. Surrounding God's throne are 24 other thrones with 24 elders seated on the thrones. This gives us two sets of twelve. One set of twelve represents the Twelve Tribes of Israel. The other set of twelve represent the nations of the world.

Elders (sometimes translated as bishops, pastors, or presbyters), in John's time, were leaders of the people. Some were elders of a congregation, a town, a tribe, or of all of Israel. In 4:5 John refers to the "seven spirits of God;" these may be angels or it may refer to the Holy Spirit being present in all of the world. John then describes four flying creatures covered in eyes all around. These creatures may represent the natural world, their eyes constantly beholding the glory of God as they give him praise in verse 8.

Revelation 5
John sees a scroll with seven seals being held by God and an angel asks who is worthy to open it. John weeps because none are found in heaven, on earth, or beneath the earth (in death) who are worthy to open the scroll. As Christians, it is easy to miss the provocation of this statement. The Caesars had considered themselves god-emperors, the most worthy among all mankind, yet even they were found unworthy to open the scroll. Only one is found worthy, the lion of Judah, the lamb that was slain. Jesus is worthy because of power, purity, and sacrifice.

As the lamb is found worthy, all of creation worships God and the lamb.

Next week, chapter 6, the lamb will open the scroll, and we will see what God has planned for Rome.

Until then,
Peace be with you.

11 September 2020

Introduction to Revelation

The Book of Revelation was written by John of Patmos (Patmos is an island in the Aegean Sea in modern-day Turkey). Modern scholars date the book to around AD 90, but more traditional views hold that it may have been written as early as AD 60. The author is almost certainly not the disciple of Jesus, nor the author of the epistles 1-3 John, nor the author of the Gospel of John.

The Revelation of John is written to a church experiencing persecution by the Roman Empire. Christians were being exiled or even executed for their faith. John, himself, having been exiled to the isle of Patmos. What the Roman emperors seemed to find most disturbing about the Christian faith was that they avoided paying taxes by not venerating the Roman gods or eating meat sacrificed to idols, that they followed Roman law only because Paul told them they should do so (Romans 6), and that they only paid taxes at all because Jesus told them they should do so (Matthew).

Emperor Augustus had established himself as god-emperor before the birth of Jesus and the deification of Roman rulers had continued to the time of John (during the reign of Emperor Domitian). That Christians recognized any power above the Emperor was considered blasphemous to imperial sensibilities.

John addresses the imposition of Roman beliefs and practices upon Christians directly. Much of the book is focused on idolatry and how to resist its lure. John establishes through his Revelation that no matter how powerful Rome (indeed the entire world from the point of view of any Roman) seemed to be, whether it could establish gods of its own and held power of life and death over its subjects, God was greater still. Unlike Rome, which held temporal power, God alone has the power to make edicts that are eternal (or permanent). Rome might kill its enemies and have the power to survive being "mortally wounded" but God alone holds the power of resurrection.

John's cryptic form of communicating his thoughts may seem strange, but it is quite intentional. His revelation was dangerous and could have gotten both him and his readers killed. John makes numerous references to the Torah and to the Prophets. He encodes meaning in numbers.

Take for example the 144,000 gathered from the Tribes of Israel, 12,000 from each of the Twelve tribes. These are military units; God gathers his army and then God fights for them. Another important number in Revelation is seven. This could be a reference to the Sabbath Day (the seventh day of the week, Saturday) being holy and a day of rest, but it is more likely that it is a reference to the seven hills of Rome (the Whore of Babylon sits atop seven mountains).

When we see the number seven as referring to Rome, it gives the scope of Revelation. God stands against the power of Rome (sometimes referred to a the World at that time). So when John sends his letter to "seven churches" these are not only literally seven churches but symbolically all churches. So seven refers to Rome specifically, but also the whole world symbolically.

John references Babylon in reference to Rome. Babylon had been conquered by Persia, which was conquered by Greece, which was conquered by Rome. John references this ancient empire not only to mask his message to the Roman authorities, but also to point out the cyclical nature of imperial power. Empires come and go, some support God's people, but all eventually make themselves God's enemies. When they do, God brings an end to their dominion. This is not only something that has happened, but when John was writing, it was not even the first time it had happened, and it wouldn't be the last. John establishes a cycle which will carry through all the way to the end of the world, but he gives us an assurance, that God will support his people, he will fight for those who stand up for him, and he will never forget us.

Next week, we'll look at chapters 1-5.

Until then,
Peace be with you.

04 September 2020

One More Week

I find, as my time of reflection, study, and prayer draws to a close that I have found far more questions than answers. I will need an additional week to start my study of Revelation. I have read through the book twice, have read several books written about it, and numerous essays. However, I intend to study the book with my local congregation, and that study does not begin for another week.

For this week, I'd like to suggest the following relection. In John's Revelation, numbers are used symbolically to refer to various connected ideas. Often when there is the same number of something, the two things are connected (like the seven lampstands, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven signs, seven bowls, seven heads, and seven hills). What do the following nine numbers mean to you (1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 10, 12, 40)? What would these numbers be associated with in the Bible? Where might you find them in the Old Testament? What do you think they meant to John? Let me know in the comments what you think.

Until next week,
Peace be with you.