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Archive for the 'Gems in Revelation' Category

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

Part 151 - Revelation 22:1-21
Come, Lord Jesus

So we come to the final chapter. The key word of this last chapter is ‘come’ but before we get there, John has some further thoughts on the glories of his vision of the last things. This is where we expect to arrive after the second creation, the recreation of this world of ours. It is the time when it connects with the other world in which the Lord God and Jesus live.


To explain it he borrows the vision of Ezekiel from his 47:1-12. The river in Ezekiel’s vision flows from under the door of the temple, where the Lord was thought to dwell more specially than anywhere else. John changes that to be a direct flow from the throne of God and the Lamb. As with Ezekiel’s river the emphasis is on the fertility that it brings to all on its banks.

We have no cities in this country where water flows down open gutters at the sides of the streets all the time. Yet they are a wonderful feature where they do exist. We have seen them in Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan where they bring a delightful freshness to the feeling of the street. But those gutters are at the side of the street; John’s water flows down the very centre of the main street of the city. This water is more important than anything else. The emphasis is on the fertility flowing from the tree of life for ‘the healing of the nations’ (22:2). That seems to suggest that many will be healed that we might not expect to be. Not everybody will be healed. There is an awful list later in the chapter of “the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” they have to remain outside for ever. But the basic picture does seem to suggest we may get some real surprises when we see who has been healed and is reigning for ever and ever.

We are coming to the end of this strange and wonderful book. There is so much about heaven and the new earth we can never understand however it is explained to us. John has done a wonderful job in showing us as much as he can and challenging our thoughts and imaginations, stretching them to their outer limits. As he says his words are trustworthy and true (22:6). This chapter is a mix of words from John, an angel and then, from 22:12 to the end, actual words of Jesus himself.

Before we get to those final words we have some warnings. 20:11 suggests that there is an eventual cut off point after which no one will be able to change their destiny. If we have set out to follow Jesus there is no moment when we may say ‘I’m done’. We should seek to follow him to the very end of our lives. As an old song says in quite different circumstances ‘keep right on to the end of the road’.

The other warning-which is a rather worrying one for anyone who, like me, sets out to try and help other people to understand this book. Hopefully, as I have not tried to include everything that this book says, I cannot be said to have taken any words away from the scroll (22:19)!

The final message of this book is quite clear-it looks for the final moment when Jesus returns to earth, not quite this earth but the new, restored, redeemed earth. Jesus says he is coming. The Spirit and the bride (all God’s people) and last of all John himself ask him to come. And he will. Be ready. It might be tomorrow!

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

Part 150 - Revelation 21:1-27
Final Destination

Where are we going when we die? The immediate answer is the presence of the Lord. He called it ‘paradise’ to the man crucified with him on the cross. Paul says “to be with Christ is better by far” (Philippians 1:23). But that is not the end of the story. Our final destiny is the resurrection, following Jesus who unexpectedly led the way being resurrected ahead of time. Ezekiel says in his 37:12, 13 “ Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them.”

Or as Jesus said in John 5:28, 29 “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.”

Chapter 21 is John’s picture of what that will be like. We, in our resurrected bodies, will return to earth, a new glorious earth closely linked to heaven. This is what we pray for when we say “your kingdom come … on earth as it is in heaven”. This is John’s picture of the final days of the Kingdom that began in the gospels when Jesus walked this earth for the first time.

The best place John knew on earth was the city of Jerusalem before it was destroyed by the Romans, most probably before he was writing, so he enhances that to the most glorious vision he can think of. It is now a great cube 2200 kilometres in each dimension - a very unlikely shape for a city, but no matter, it is the perfect shape. The walls and streets are all made of gold. The gates were special, made of pearls. The foundations were all of precious stones.

It is brilliant - but totally impractical. It is a vision after all and like almost all the pictures of Revelation meant to convey a meaning rather than a reality. I think that means we can have our own visions of what this final earth and heaven will be like. If, like me, you do not like cities and avoid them if you can, then we can create our own image of the most lovely place on earth where we would like to be for ever. For me that is like a Scottish hilltop in the spring. Blue sky overhead, crisp snow, barely taking a boot mark, underfoot, clear air and a vision of range after range of snow covered hills stretching away into the distance!

That is my vision. What is yours? Let your imagination fly although you know the reality will be even better when you get to it.

Having excited our imaginations with his vision John tells us some important things about it in the final paragraph of the chapter. There will be no temple there (21:22) because there will no longer be any need for any sort of intermediary between us and the Lord. There is no need of the lights in the sky because the Lord God and the Lamb will lavish so much grace upon it, upon us. There is no limit to the access - the gates are not shut at night, as they would have been in the earthly Jerusalem - all those from any nation whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life can enter at will. All that is true, is noble, is right, is pure, is lovely, is admirable, all that is excellent or praiseworthy is welcome there. What a prospect, what a future, and it is ours!

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

Part 149 - Revelation 20:1-15
 
Cleansing and Judgment


And so we come to the great but perplexing chapter on judgement. We are glad to read of the final demise of the dragon and the beasts, which reflect all the evil on the earth, but it is difficult to know what to make of some of the circumstances. We have to remember that it has been fairly impossible to take almost anything in this book literally so far. It is strange if we can suddenly start to do so here.

I have neither the space nor the desire to say anything about the possible implications of the thousand years which have caused so much argument over the centuries. There are 3 major approaches known as the pre-millenial (the events described and those possibly discovered elsewhere in the New Testament occur before the thousand years), the post-millenial (the events occur after the millenium, and the a-millenial (the thousand years are not to be taken literally).

There are at least 5 things that follow from what is written in this chapter regardless of which belief (or none!) that you hold as to how it is all going to happen.

1. At some date in the future all evil will be eradicated from this world of ours. (Revelation 20:10)


2. This will not happen all at one clean sweep. There will be many problems before that final, very desirable, event occurs. (Revelation 20:1-9)

3. It will not all happen at the cosmic level. Human beings will be involved at certain stages before the evil is completely eradicated. (Revelation 20:4, 9)

4. Once evil is removed there will be a time of judgement. No one will be exempt from this. (Revelation 20:12, 13) My picture of how this will happen is: arrival at an airport in your home country. First you have to show your passport. If you have the right passport (we are citizens of heaven says Paul in Philippians 3:20) you are immediately welcomed into your home country, but you still have to go through the luggage checkpoint to see that you have no contraband in your cases. So, we too although welcomed because we are justified by faith - we have been promised now that we shall be welcomed by the Lord when we go to meet him - we are still to give account of what we have done in the years allocated to us since we set out to follow Jesus (1 Corinthians 3:12-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 14:10-12). Like all illustrations, that one of mine is not perfect but it should help you to see what the scripture is saying. It is not the case that we are born again and need worry no more that all our future is without concern. That is a popular misunderstanding of the implications of being ‘born again’.

5. Not everybody is guaranteed a comfortable after life. (Revelation 20:15) what exactly will happen to them is much debated. A literal ‘lake of fire’ scarcely seems compatible with a God who is Love.

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

Part 148 - Revelation 19:11-21
The Messiah appears

One of the key words in Revelation is ‘open’. A door was opened (4: 1); the first seal (6: 1); the seventh seal (8:m 1); God’s temple (11: 19); the tabernacle (15: 5); and finally heaven (19: 11). And this is much the most important opening because it reveals the Messiah. So far throughout the book heaven and earth have been somewhat mixed up in the images presented. No more - apart from the short picture of the great white throne (20: 11 - 15) the action from now on is going to be on earth, a renewed, cleansed, revitalised earth to be sure, but definitely this earth on which we live.

The Messiah will come. Jesus will return.

After nearly 2000 years that is a little difficult to really grasp and hold on to. It is all too easy to glibly assert that we believe he will be back, but to really believe it in our heart of hearts is rather more difficult. His name has a very human ring to it - ‘King of kings and Lord of lords’ suggest earth, not heaven. It isn’t made any easier by the description we get here. Here are the first 7 verses of the picture John paints:

All the following verses seem a bit blood thirsty. There are some quite good reasons for that though. The picture is drawn by linking together Biblical references - many of which are rather bloody. The overall picture is drawn from Isaiah 63: 1 -4 of a warrior striding into view with his garments all spattered with blood, though a closer look shows that that was a martyr’s blood. The sword in the Messiah’s mouth is the rod of Isaiah 11: 4. The iron sceptre is from Psalm 2: 9. This is all imagery. It does show very clearly there is a judgement to come; that words are very important; that the judgement will be one based on Truth; that we, dressed in our white garments of purity are but onlookers; that there is such a thing as the wrath of God which is not to be forgotten.

John’s picture is very much in line with what Jesus said “blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6: 20). The whole picture is about the way that the leaders of society are vulnerable when it comes to the day of judgment. They are closely associated with the dragon and the two beasts.

It is all too easy to think of the return of Jesus as a time for celebration with much joy and street parties etc.. Perhaps so, but perhaps not. It is not clear whether that moment will be entirely designed and carried out by the direct hand of God or whether we, humans, will have a hand in it with our nuclear weaponry. If the latter we have clearly moved much closer to the possibility in recent years!

Live as though Christ died and rose yesterday, is walking with us today, and will return tomorrow.

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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 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 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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