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Archive for the 'Gems in Revelation' Category

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Gems in the book of Revelation

Part 141 - Revelation 11:1-18
Persecution is limited

Revelation 11 is yet another one where it is hard to find any very helpful verse. Gems are hard to come by! Yet this is the concluding chapter of the first part of Revelation and will have been designed to encourage the Christians of those days. And that is the problem: what is largely meaningless for us will have been full of meaning for them. We have to remember that this vision was designed to help and encourage the members of the seven churches and they were in a tricky position. It was clear that considerable persecution was likely to affect them very soon. The comments on Smyrna and Pergamum indicate that the problems had already started in those two cities. So we have to try and read this chapter as if we were them. Not easy, it is widely regarded as the most difficult passage to understand in all this difficult book.

There are many references to the Old Testament in these verses, not always from the bits we are likely to know well either. The prophecy of Zechariah provides the main structure for the vision. It is there (Zechariah 2-4) that we find a man measuring Jerusalem, two witnesses: Joshua the High Priest and Zerubbabel the King, two olive trees and two pipes for the oil lamps. There are also many references in these verses to the writings of other prophets, particularly Ezekiel.

The fundamental question is: who are the two witnesses and why are there two of them. General opinion seems to be that they stand for the Christian church and all its members who are likely to be persecuted in the near future. Why two? Probably to allow reference to the two outstanding prophets: Moses and Elijah. Elijah was taken direct to heaven rather than dying. In spite of the account of his burial in Deuteronomy it was also widely thought that Moses went directly to heaven. Moses was the prophet of words above all else (in spite of what happened in Egypt) and Elijah was the great prophet of action. So they were good models of what the infant churches should be.

Seven years represented an ideal length of time so half that, listed here as 42 months or 1260 days, represented a shortened ideal period, a set short period, not a long one. So for a short and defined period of time the churches would have a significant and successful time of witness in which many would come to faith. Then the beast (Rome, through the emperor) would attack them, persecute them, kill many of them until the whole Christian movement would appear to be dead. Usually when you are dead you are dead but this is the book of Revelation where such logic does not operate! But then they would revive, life would come to them as it did the bones of Ezekiel 37, and they could look forward to golden days of life in heaven and, of course, life on earth.

Here is the gem of this chapter. It looks as though we too in many parts of the world may be facing a period of greater persecution and loss of freedom to witness coming from both secularism and Islam. We too can rely on these things not lasting for ever and eventually there being a great revival when the Spirit wind of God comes back and breathes on the bones of the church to make it once again a mighty force in all the world.

It was said a long time ago that the ‘blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church’ and that has proved to be true many times over. It has seldom, or never, been so obvious as what has happened to the Chinese church over the last 70 years. Most onlookers reckoned the communist take over in the 1950s would be the death of the church but when the oppression finally eased in the 1980s it was discovered that the tiny church of the 1950s had grown many times over and was amongst the strongest and most vibrant churches of any country in the world.

How we react to all this will depend very largely on which country we live in. Many of us are fortunate enough to live where these things seem only remotely possible. For a few of us it may well reflect the future for the church in your country, not a prospect to be welcomed, even if the outcome will eventually be good. We are but human and can only reflect the situation we are in and are likely to be in for years ahead.

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Gems in the book of Revelation

Part 140 - Revelation 10:9–11
God is in control

We have to move forward past two complete chapters from the last one to find anything remotely like a gem! The gem I find in chapter 10 could be found in many other chapters in this book. It is the fact that John himself is getting involved in the pageant of the action. He is a human being and we must note that God has chosen to do most of his work through human beings. John it is who has to forewarn everyone about what is about to happen.

For instance God could heal directly without human involvement but he chooses not to do so. Almost all healing is done by human beings; doctors, nurses and paramedics. And it is quite clear from what we read in this wonderful book that that is entirely as it should be.

Here we are told that John is to eat the scroll, probably the same scroll that the Lamb opened in chapter 5 even although it is a different word that is used. He is to take into himself powerful words, which will shape the future when he shares them in prophecy.

Not all words have the same effect. If a mother says to her husband “Its bed-time” that is a statement of fact. If however she says to her child in a certain tone of voice “Bedtime!” the word has a quite different effect. It is an action word; it is a command; it makes something happen.

A common saying in our school playgrounds is ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me!’ again that is not true. Words can be very powerful things and very hurtful. They have become even more powerful and hurtful in this day of internet chat sites much used by kids. They lack the maturity to ignore comments posted about them and sometimes suffer very considerably as a result. Words can be powerful.

A famous saying, probably wrongly attributed to St Francis of Assissi (AD 1181 – 12 26), is “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” No, that is not right. It seems to suggest that all evangelism, attracting folk to follow Jesus, can be carried out without saying anything. But it cannot; it is necessary to use words as well and attractively as we can to tell the wonderful stories of the King and his Kingdom. After all – Jesus used words to great effect when he could have spent all his energies on healing and helping people. In imitating him we must spend ourselves both healing and helping people and telling them the good news of the Gospel.

What John says here when he tells everyone what was on the scroll is an action word. It is a prophecy but it is a prophecy which has the word of God behind it. It will make things happen. And the amazing thing is that amidst all these terrifying parts of the vision it is a man, a human being, who is to announce the plans of the Lord God for the whole world to all the world. Such is the power of words.

Our task in this Internet site, ‘Partakers’, is the word bit. Please help us on with prayer and words of your own to tell other people about us and thus about the King. As far as you possibly can make your words action words, not just fact words.

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Gems in the book of Revelation

Part 139 - Revelation 7:9-17
The worshipping crowd

John sees a great crowd of the people of God, but he has a problem: are they ordered and countable or are there far too many of them for that? He doesn’t know so he describes them both ways.

If they can be counted how many are there? He chooses a number and since he has to describe them he does it in terms of the ancient people of God: the twelve tribes of Israel though he is no longer really drawing a line between Jew and Gentile. And how many are there? He has to choose a number. So he is careful to pick a number: 144,000, which is neither too many or too few. He will not have known how many followers of Jesus there were as he wrote. So he picks a stylised number made up of products of 10 and 12. Two twelves and three tens multiplied together will give him what he wants. That must have been at least two or three times as many as the number of followers of Jesus there were then. So, allowing for the rapidly increasing churches it is a number that means that no one who heard it would need to despair of being one of the chosen ones. But it is not such as enormous number that his hearers might think that they were automatically alright then and need do no more to get their seal on their forehead. Such a number will not do today; there are far too many of us now. At least one more 12 and 5 more 10s to take it up to over 17 billion would now be needed to get a small multiple of the known number of Christians now in the world.

So perhaps John’s second picture of an uncountable number in a great multitude is the better one. And we, you and I, are somewhere in that throng. If our eyesight in heaven is much the same as it is here on earth we wont even be able to see the throne and the Lamb because as comparatively late comers we shall be so much on the edge of the throng. But we shall still get the white robe that will signify that we are counted as pure, forgiven through the blood of the Lamb and thus partaking in his victory. Even if we are not very good singers here on earth - no matter - this praise and worship is to be spoken! Even if our voices are now old and shaky we shall then have ‘loud voices’ rejoicing in the fact that we have been saved. We shall hear the praises of the elders and the living creatures and, although it does not say this will happen, no doubt picking up the gist of what they are saying and joining in.

When John asks who are eligible to be in this great throng he is told that they are “those who have come out of the great tribulation”. All sorts of fanciful theories about what the great tribulation is, or will be, have been proposed. We don’t need to worry about it; in a throng so big there is bound to be room for little you and little me! WOW and hooray.

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Gems in the book of Revelation

Part 136 - Revelation 5:9 – 15
The great praise and worship

The effect of the death of the Lamb, who came to life again, is clear. It was a huge chorus of praise, described by John in three parts. In the first the symbols of all of creation and especially of all humans prepared to worship the Lamb join together in a rapturous song of praise of the Lamb; the emphasis is on the human aspect of what had happened. A countless number of people had been purchased (who they were bought from is not a question ever considered in scripture). We must simply accept that it is the best way of describing what had happened to all believers - to you and me. We have been purchased, redeemed, ransomed from the natural life that all mankind are born into.

 
Now they were expressing their thanks for that wonderful event. The twenty-four elders that represented them were carrying golden bowls of incense which represented the prayers of God’s people. I don’t know how it is where you are but everywhere I have been and heard the prayers of God’s people they have been too concerned with themselves and not sufficiently with what the Lamb has done for them, oh dear. But we are who we are and fortunately we have the ultimate loving and forgiving God! The other thing the elders were carrying was harps. That surely is to encourage us to sing his praise as often as we gather together. Our songs will not be as full of joy and melody as theirs will have been, but, no matter, the PA systems of heaven will be able to translate them into the most beautiful melodies ever heard.

Not only has the death of the Lamb secured our salvations he has, by that act, established that he is the one who was worthy to open the scroll and thus enable the onward march of the purposes of God to continue. As a result, we, from all round the world, anyone who has access to the Internet, are by reading this brought to the knowledge that we are or can be members of the Kingdom and able to serve the Creator God. That is the significance of when John talks about ‘a kingdom and priests’. In practical terms it means that we are not lacking in anything worth having. We are probably not rich in the financial terms this world craves, not significant as the world counts significance, but content. We have what we need to live a fulfilling life.

The second great swelling surge of praise comes from angels numbering at least one hundred million. John probably did not have any way of easily talking about any other numbers, which will be why ‘billions’ do not come into it. They formed a great crowd circled round the symbols of human and creation praise. And it was the thunderous sound of their praise that so excited all creation that it formed the outer circle of praise and worship. Quite how it is that the creation worships in the super heat of a tropical day in a desert area, or a winter’s day in the arctic regions we will never know. But still the thought serves as a warning for those of us who have to live in great cities and urban conurbations not to get so drawn into the excitements of the human, concrete environment that we lose sight of the countryside where the role of the creation is so much more obvious.

Pray, praise, worship, sing to the Lamb to the summit of your ability. All will be well received in heaven.

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Gems in the book of Revelation

Part 137 - Revelation 6:1–8
The four horsemen of the Apocalypse

From the glories of the last two chapters we come to earth with a bump when we turn to chapter 6. The famous picture of the Four Horseman is a graphic description of the sad way the world of mankind was in as John wrote. And, very sad to say, it is still an incredibly accurate account of where the world still is, now, in 2018. These first 8 verses do not comprise a gem of any kind. I set out, a long time ago, to find and comment upon some of the many marvellous things for our comfort and encouragement that can be found in the writings of the Johns of the New Testament. Nothing here qualifies on that score. But these verses are so famous as ‘The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse’ that I cannot pass them by.

There is no doubt what the second, third and fourth of them mean. But there is some doubt about the first. Because the rider is on a white horse and appears to be in good health (unlike the others) some have thought he must be Jesus since Jesus appears in 19:11 - 16 on a white horse in judgment and thus in a not entirely pleasant aspect. This will not do. These are pictures, and a symbol from one picture cannot necessarily be transported to another. In this particular context Jesus would find himself in some very strange company.

No. The first rider represents all those whose greatest desire is to lord it over other people. Just occasionally a president or a prime minister will appear whose greatest desire is to serve. Even when they do, human nature being what it is, after a while the attractions of power often overtake their initial commendable desires. The English phrase ‘Prime Minister’ means nothing more or less than ‘first servant’! There are many examples in the present day world where those already at the pinnacle of power in their own nation cannot resist the desire for more. It is tempting to list some of them, but I am sure you can fill in the blanks whether of a small nation or a large one.

The second horse is red. Its rider stands for even worse things. The rider of the white horse was at least only trying to establish his position. The rider of the red horse stands for people with an even greater ambition, to establish some different way of organising people that they think are better. So we have had Fascism, communism and Islam each of which in their turn over the last century have attempted, or are attempting, to bend mankind to their way of thinking regardless of how many people they have to kill to do so.

The rider of the third, black horse represents famine. The world in which we live is very unevenly balanced. Some countries experience an almost continuous shortage of food while other countries have a super-abundance. The hope is that eventually market forces will bring the world into something nearer equilibrium but there is little sign of that happening as yet.

The fourth horse and its rider are symbols of all the other things that can go wrong in a part of the world. Perhaps particularly it represents disease, which still kills a great many people in many parts of the world. Again, there is a great disparity between those countries where modern medicine can effect minor miracles in healing people and keeping them alive while in other countries people die from easily cured diseases because they cannot afford the cures.

So, we have four causes of death (Revelation 6:8). It will be no accident that two of them refer to the way people die simply because of human behaviour; two die from causes which are non-human but could easily be prevented were the human race better at organising itself and more even-handed in the way it shared its resources.

The world belongs to the God on the throne of Revelation 4 and the Lion/Lamb of Revelation 5 but this chapter reminds us that the devil is still alive and kicking and rampaging through the world. Much of the rest of this remarkable book is devoted to suggesting where it is all going and how eventually the devil will meet his end and mankind enter into better days along with all the rest of creation. The Three in one God will triumph - but not yet.

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Gems in the book of Revelation

Part 135 - Revelation 5:1–8
The Lion/Lamb

John’s chapter 5 is one of the great chapters of the Bible. He has this wonderful picture of the lion that turns out to be a lamb. That says a great deal of what the whole work of Jesus was about. He was the lion of Judah prophesied and therefore promised in Genesis 49:9 in the final blessing of his sons by Jacob. The lion has always been considered the king of the beasts. Not only was he the top predator of that area, all of Africa, and much of Asia, he simply looked majestic. So, when they wanted someone sufficiently strong and majestic to open the great scroll that contained the plan of the future who was more appropriate than the king of the beasts? At one and the same time he was the Root of David, prophesied as the Root of Jesse, David’s father, by Isaiah in 11:10. It was widely accepted at that time that this was a reference to the Messiah, the greatly longed for one who was expected to deliver Israel from all the foreign powers, particularly Rome, who so reduced the nation treating it as a vassal state, little better than a kingdom of slaves.

And so, in his vision, John heard what was said and watched, prepared to be awestruck when he saw the lion. But, in place of a lion, he saw a ‘lamb, looking as if it had been slain’. If you have ever come across a dead lamb lying out on the ground you will know that it is the most pitiful of sights. Most dead animals look like the animals they are but just without life, but a dead lamb becomes just a scrap of wet wool (the ones I have seen have all been in the highlands of Scotland and so inevitably wet!) so the one who was equivalent to the most majestic of all creatures is the one who died on a cross the most abject and painful death. He had 7 horns and 7 eyes. He was all seeing and all powerful - though it was not the sort of power that this world delights in.

This was Jesus, Son of God, Saviour of mankind, king of all creation, lord of the kingdom of God. He set an example to all his followers that few have dared to follow in its entirety. ‘Take up your cross’ he told them. As this goes out to be read over all the world a few of you who hear and read will know that you face the possibility of following Jesus all the way; seeking to follow the lion you may be required to be literally a lamb and a dead one at that. Most of us do not expect that to be the way we shall have to go. If at the last it is demanded of us that we should face martyrdom for him we do not really know what our response will be. Will we boldly or tremblingly, be prepared for the ultimate sacrifice? We do not know. We can only conjecture. And there we must leave it. Making rash boasts is not helpful for us, or anybody. Please Lord in the final trial make us faithful.

There are many ways in which mankind is upsetting what might be the even tenor of the world. We shall come across some vivid pictures of some of these before we are finished with this wonderful book. But all the troubles of mankind are now downstream from the sacrifice of the Lamb. Where ever we are; whatever has been our lot in life; whether we have had it easy or life has been one long struggle, we can look back at the work of the Lamb of God. He has conquered in his strange upside down world where it is better to be a Lamb than a Lion. It is our great privilege to have been told this and, in part at least, to understand it. So it is our great privilege to live as the sons and daughters of the King.

The Lamb has taken the scroll and the plans of God continue to be realized. No wonder that all John sees next is praise and worship.

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