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Archive for the 'Gems in John' Category

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Gems in the book of Revelation
(Authored by Roger Kirby)

Part 147 - Revelation 19:1-10
4 Hallelujahs

We left this remarkable book in chapter 14. We are now at chapter 19, which is the next one that anything encouraging can be found i7. The intervening chapters have given a harsh but accurate view of human nature and how human societies work. Rome has been called Babylon to connect it with the worst city, from a Jewish perspective, of the Old Testament. Only now do we find some ‘hallelujahs’ as John unfolds his vision of the future. To quote just one of them:
“Praise our God, all you his servants,
you who fear him, both great and small!”

Most of the intervening chapters are taken up with the fall and doom of Rome/Babylon. There is a dreadful warning here. Our world could not do without cities. As the number of people in country after country rises the size of cities grows. When I was a boy the population of London was 7 or 8 million, which made it one of the largest cities in the world. Now it is about the same size and a small city by international standards. The way human societies work cities are inevitable. They are necessary concentrations of expertise and workforces. In commercial terms they are therefore a good thing. But in spiritual terms their value is much more suspect. That is what the chapters I am skipping over are all about. The world would surely be a much more spiritual place if it was all small country towns - as it will have been in Old Testament times.

My reason for saying this is largely because we get a newspaper from London, reflecting London values, which are far different from those evident in a small country town. They are more ‘advanced’ in matters of ethics and spirituality. And such is the influence of London on the whole country that those standards will eventually come to us. There is a curious doctrine widely believed and seldom challenged that today’s ideas are always superior to yesterday’s. The world must be progressing. In particular old ethics such as we believe the Bible teaches are considered to be inferior to modern ethics, even when it is very clear that human happiness is not being increased by the changes. It is in cities that the rich dwell. In our world the gap between the rich and the poor or even the only moderately well off, is increasing all the time. This cannot go on forever but it seems to be doing so at the moment. Again, human happiness is not increasing in most of the world we live in.

John gets it right. After all those chapters about the fall of the city we have this chapter with no less than 4 hallelujahs ( = praise the Lord) in it. We live where we live and if that is in a city it is very unlikely that we will be able to do anything about it. What theses chapters bring to our attention, and what we must not overlook, is what is happening. We, the Lord’s people, do not set our standards by the standards around us. We live in the light of Jesus and walk in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5: 25).

March on - with Him.

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Gems in the book of Revelation
(Authored by Roger Kirby)

Part 146 - Revelation 14:1-5
The army of God

The picture of the Lamb standing on Mount Zion takes us straight to Psalm 2:6-11 where we read:


“I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.”
7 I will proclaim the LORD’s decree:
He said to me, “You are my son; today I have become your father.
8 Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.
9 You will break them with a rod of iron; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”
10 Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the LORD with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling.

What John has written here is clearly a pictorial representation of how that prophecy will be fulfilled. Here we have 144,000 marshalled as the army of the Lamb. Not of course an army, which is to go out with Kalashnikovs etc. but one, that is to fight with love and mercy for the glory of the Lord. As before this number is carefully judged so that when it was first written it might not be so big a number that everyone who heard it might presume that they would be included and not so small that they might worry that there was no room for them. Now it has to be several billion to have the same meaning for all the Christians alive today. They are a mighty army heralded with great natural sounds of water and thunder and great human sounds of harps and singing. In the early days when a Jewish army had to go to war they were instructed to abstain from sexual relations so that they might be symbolically as pure as possible. That is what is referred to here in the statement that the Lord’s army were to be virgins. It should not be taken literally. They are to be followers - the word so often used in the Gospels to refer to those who believed in Jesus as the Messiah.


Once again this chapter will be read between by those Christians in countries where faith is a nice comfortable way to live your life and in a very different way by those who live where to believe in Jesus puts them into an unwanted category and possibly constant danger.

Even in the comfortable countries there are points to note here. 14:4b-5 talk about following the Lamb wherever he goes - not just on Sunday mornings! And goes on to remind the followers that they have been purchased - at a terrible price; that they are but part of a mighty army - now found throughout the world in all except its most hidden corners; and that purity expressed as absolute honesty in every word is the mark of the true believer.

For the uncomfortable countries there is the promise of a future judgement when all the greatest citadels of evil will be destroyed and there will be eventually a terrible display of the wrath of God against all the wickedness and failure to worship the true and only God.

Perhaps the most important thing of all to note in this chapter is that after the great description of the Lord’s army we are not told that it was ever used. All the action is carried out by spirit beings. We are not to go to war on behalf of the Lamb.

However those days will call for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who are to keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus.

Dear Lord, please, may we so live that you count us amongst those, we pray.

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Gems in the book of Revelation
(Authored by Roger Kirby)

Part 145 - Revelation 13:1-18
The Christian and the State.

There is another way to look at this chapter 13. It is not particularly encouraging but it is important so we will consider it. It is the contribution of this chapter to what the Bible says about the relationship between Christians and the State. The usual passage to which people turn for comment on this is Romans 13 where the clear teaching is that the Christian is to obey the State even if he or she does not agree with what the State requires.

1 Peter 2:
13 teaches the same thing. What happens if the State is teaching things that are completely against scripture? The classic case in the Bible is Acts 5:29 where Peter says: “We must obey God rather than human beings! Another example of this is the apartheid State of South Africa in the second half of the last century. What does this chapter say which might be taken as throwing a different light on how the Christian and the Christian church should react in that sort of situation?

There are several hints here that the Christian church may be colluding with an evil force. In 13:3 we read that the whole world was filled with wonder (at the recovery of the beast from a fatal wound - which is somewhat like what happened to Jesus!). Everyone follows the beast and worships the dragon. As a result it was given ability to promote its beliefs, and authority to oppose the Lord. Then the second beast comes and deceives the inhabitants of the earth (13:14). It deceives them to the point where they are forced to receive a mark (13: 16) on their right hands or their foreheads if they want to continue to trade in the markets.

In other words there was great evil abroad in the world and people were being deceived to the point where they were actually co-operating with the sources of evil. And it is not at all clear that those co-operating were only non-believers in Jesus. Believers may have been actively co-operating with the evil that was going on. Two obvious examples of this in the fairly recent past were the apartheid teachings in South Africa, already mentioned, and the church in Germany co-operating with the Fascists in the 1930s. No doubt there are other less obvious examples going on all the time in lesser countries.

The fundamental teaching of the book of Revelation is that evil is abroad in the world and it is to be resisted at whatever cost, up to and including martyrdom.

This chapter must be placed alongside those others that, speaking to different situations, seem to suggest that the state authorities must always be obeyed. This is a very tricky subject. I can only say I hope that comment may help someone somewhere as they struggle with what they should do when faced with an antagonistic state.

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Gems in the book of Revelation
(Authored by Roger Kirby)

Part 144 - Revelation 13:1-18
The opposition

What a chapter this is! It would seem there is nothing in it to find any sort of comfort from with its two beasts from the sea and the land representing the way mankind finds itself governed, the mark of the beast and the number of the beast, 666. But if you look deeply and carefully there are some comforting lessons to be learnt from it.

The first is the fact that there had to be three symbols of evil, one was not enough, it couldn’t get anywhere by itself. The dragon of chapter 12 thought he could catch and deal with the woman who represented the people of God but he couldn’t. First she was given wings and flew away from him. Then when he hoped to catch her in a flooded river she was saved by the earth swallowing the river. The dragon could not defeat the people of God because the Lord was protecting them, even in their difficulties.

So he called forth a beast from the sea (the sea in Jewish thought in those days was the realm of evil - they didn’t trust it!) and set it to work. In a shortened version of the account of the 4 beasts of Daniel 7 he gets quickly to the fourth, the Roman Empire that had conquered the whole world (that they knew), controlled it, taxed it and boasted of the peace it brought. But even that was only going to last for forty-two months, three and a half years again. So its sway was not going to be forever but only a comparatively short time. And the beast had to be given all the things that it had: authority, power to wage war against the Lord’s people and power to imprison whoever it wished. (The regimes in some countries are seeking just those three things today). But all those did not give it the ability to do what it wanted so another beast came from the earth to help.

That beast, third member of the trinity of evil, had power and authority over all communications. It did not just put a spin on the news it produced fake news! That has rather a contemporary ring to it as I write this. Our world is up to its ears in a gross mud of false information. Everyone thought the power to send communications round the world in no time at all would be a good thing but we are discovering that fake news, porn, commercial interests and personal slander have taken over the Internet. Like the first beast this second one can only proceed when it is ‘given power’.

There is only one God. Many things that happen on earth are much easier to explain if you have two gods, a good god and an evil god. Then if something bad happens you can say the evil god is winning at that moment. But we cannot do that. There is only one God and when evil happens the Bible usually introduces intermediate agents like these here. That is not easy to understand but it seems to be the way things are. This chapter is emphasising that in the end only God has power and authority. Some of the things he does, or rather allows to happen, are very puzzling but that is the way it is.

This book of Revelation is very realistic in the way it deals with the things that happen on earth. We all live in nations that have governments that do not always act the way we would like. Furthermore they always seem to attract undesirable characters to them. The people in government always seem to take a delight in telling other people what to do and in getting as much out of it for themselves as they can. Very few governments can avoid the accusation of corruption. Even as I write more than one ex-president of a country is in court accused of corruption. All that is reflected in the remarkable images in these chapters.

Next to nothing in these chapters is to be taken literally. John did not expect his readers to think that there were real beasts, one with ten horns and seven heads (which heads were the horns on!) and one with two horns like a lamb. These are picture characters to express truths about evil.

The ‘mark’ that people were to receive (13:16, 17) is another picture. People have got all excited about things like credit cards, thinking the numbers on them might have something to do with the mark. John is talking about the way in which Christians were being excluded from some possibilities in the markets of the Empire because they were Christians. And the same goes for that these days wherever Christians are being excluded from some activities because of their faith.

Finally we come to the famous number 666 (13:18). It was widely recognized that this was the number of a man and if you added up the numeric values that letters had in some languages of those days (Greek, Hebrew) you got Nero Caesar. Much more important is the fact that the number is not 777! If it were it would be saying this was complete, consistent, perfect. But it isn’t. 666 is saying all this is incomplete, inconsistent and imperfect because the Lord God reigns. His son defeated all imperfections when he died on the cross. These chapters deal with some pretty awful things that happen on this earth of ours but the Lord God still reigns, our Saviour Jesus is at his right hand. They have the victory and are still in control whatever the appearances.

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Gems in the book of Revelation

Part 143- Revelation 12:7–12
The Kingdom has come

In 12:10-12 there is a quite remarkable statement from heaven. Here it is:
“Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God,
and the authority of his Messiah.
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,
who accuses them before our God day and night,
has been hurled down.
11 They triumphed over him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
as to shrink from death.
12 Therefore rejoice, you heavens
and you who dwell in them!
But woe to the earth and the sea,
because the devil has gone down to you!
He is filled with fury,
because he knows that his time is short.”

It tells how events in heaven have effects on earth. How there is evil in this world and it is not just the individual evil of one person and another but a sort of evil that at times seems to be a general evil affecting communities as it did in Germany during the days of Hitler. How can this be? Many people wish that we lived in a world where nothing ever goes wrong. There are never natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis. Where people never die young because of diseases. There are never accidents on the roads that kill and injure people. Where good people live long and wicked people die young.

They never stop to think what a boring world that would be! If there were no earthquakes there would be no mountains because no part of the world would ever clash against another. If there were no diseases we would all have to know how old we would be when we would die - everyone would have to die on the afternoon of their 70th birthday! No accidents on the roads would only be if no one ever drove at more than 15 miles an hour. Everything would be carefully mapped out so that we would know in advance what was going to happen. What a terrible world to live in. God understood that so he created a world of infinite variety for us to enjoy - and sometimes make a mess of.

That is what is described in these verses. There are rulers and authorities and powers in this dark world and spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms as Paul put it (Ephesians 6:12).


They have all been triumphed over by the blood of the Lamb as our portion puts it but they are not yet all dead and buried. Many of our brothers and sisters have had to die ‘12:11. But God is in control of what happens. He has put us in this sometimes awkward world that we sometimes do not like because it doesn’t quite work the way we wish it did.
 
Thank you Lord for this world in which we live. Thank you for all the bits we do not like. May we ever be faithful as so many of our predecessors have been.

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Gems in the book of Revelation

Part 142 - Revelation 12:1-6
The woman, her child and the dragon.

Chapters 12-14 constitute the central story of the book of Revelation and a mighty strange story it is. More even than the rest of the book, it is concerned with the context to which John was writing. It is about the small fellowships in the Roman Empire either suffering persecution or fearful that they will do so very soon. That means it is difficult for us to understand and get any good teaching out of it unless we too are under persecution or liable to be so soon. Probably the majority of you who read this are not in that situation - but some of you are. So my job is particularly difficult: to find any good things for both sets of you. But let’s see what we can do.

The easiest identification is the boy child who must be Jesus, identified by the reference to Psalm 2: 9. The woman must be those who believed in Israel. She is a sign and the description and subsequent event mean she cannot be Mary the mother of Jesus, although that Mary had the great privilege of representing the holy nation in bearing Jesus. The dragon is also known as Satan. He is cast down from Heaven (12: 10), an event to which Jesus refers when he says

He saw Satan fall like lightening from heaven (Luke 10: 18). (There are an amazing number of references to the Old Testament and the Gospels in these chapters. We will look at just some of them.)

We are seeing again, as we have done many times in this book, that all the problems of earth, particularly those affecting whole nations, are but pale reflections of the troubles there are in heaven. We see nation colliding with nation driven on by leaders who think theirs should be the greatest so that they are the greatest. It all looks very earthy. Revelation teaches us that there is another higher realm in which such things also happen.

The church was under attack from the Roman authorities and the future would probably be even worse. But the church would find refuge in the wilderness, not the real wilderness, as Israel had done centuries earlier when they fled from Egypt and Pharaoh. It had been an ordeal then and it would be in the next few years but as Israel for all its struggles and weaknesses had successfully come through the wilderness to reach the Promised Land so the people of God that John was writing to would come through all their difficulties to be with the Lord eventually.

And how long would it take? 1,260 days is three and a half years (with 360 days in a year - oops!). A complete period of time was seven years so this was a shortened version of what it might have been. This was an encouragement, for them, for us. Persecutions never last forever and the church often emerges from them stronger than it was when they started.

That is the encouragement that you must take from these verses if you are in a part of the world where there is persecution now. If you are in a part of the world where there is no serious persecution you must pray for your brothers and sisters where there is and be prepared to give them practical aid whenever possible.

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