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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 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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