Just a short note to say I’ll be bowing out for awhile.
I saw her childhood photos-
my wife of thirty years.
That innocent age I never knew-
the guilt my mind now hears.
Were in our twenties when we met-
were free of childish things;
but now would welcome the return-
the innocence childhood brings.
I wonder had I seen those pics
years and years ago,
would I’ve done more to keep in mind
the girl I didn’t know?
I can’t relive those thirty years,
but the next ones are on me.
Layer by layer I’ll strip away
til that little girl I see.
As much as Genesis 1 begins the account of God bringing life to a lifeless earth, so Revelation 6 begins the account of God destroying it. In Genesis, God had been “hovering” as He waited for just the right time to begin His creation. But in Revelation He is “hovering” for another reason. At just the right time He will begin His destruction; and here in this 6th chapter, that time has come. In Genesis He is the Creator; but here in Revelation He is a “conqueror bent on conquest”. And specifically here in chapter 6, He has mounted up and is “riding out”.
These judgments come in waves, with each wave getting worse. The beginning may not necessarily be seen as judgments, even by those who are expecting them. In the early stages, “peace will be taken from the world”. There will be food shortages and natural disasters. Are we there yet? We can’t say for sure, but before these waves are over, there will be no doubt.
The first wave is described as seven seal judgments. The seventh seal ushers in a more intense wave referred to as the seven trumpet judgments. Opening a seal does not make a lot of noise; but it’s hard not to hear a trumpet. As the first wave of seal judgments might not be seen as this beginning of God’s judgment, these trumpet blasts seem to be designed to make it a little clearer. It gets so bad during this time that “men will seek death, but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will flee from them”.
It’s a little hard to imagine all that is supposed to happen. As many today would scoff at the idea that the things we are seeing are a part of these judgments, still, there will be those, even as things get much worse, who won’t believe it. John tells us that “the rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent”.
There is at least one unmistakable event that takes place during these trumpet judgments. God will raise up 2 witnesses that will prophesy for 3 ½ years. They will have miraculous powers “to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want”. At the end of the 3 ½ years, they will be killed. “Their bodies will lie in the street for 3 ½ days and the inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts. But after the 3 ½ days, a breath of life from God enters them and they stand to their feet.”
Like I said, it will get to the point that it will be unmistakable. We obviously are not there yet, but it is at least possible that we are on the front end of it all. Over time, it will become clear. We either are or we are not. There are a lot of details in this account of “what must one day take place” that I do not understand. But the more familiar we are with what can be understood, the easier it will be to recognize these waves as they begin to hit.
These first two waves of judgments – the seven seal and the seven trumpets – end in this 11th chapter. As they could be categorized as judgments on the earth, the last trumpet judgment ushers in a new wave that could be categorized as judgment on the inhabitants. John transitions with, “the time has come”. It is time for the next wave where we will see the Woman, the Dragon and the Beast. It is not good.
In the first 3 chapters of Revelation, John, while he writes the series of letters to the churches, is on the island of Patmos. This 4th chapter begins with John being called up to heaven where he will remain throughout the rest of this book.
The first thing John describes is the throne in heaven. The thing that struck me was his description of the four living creatures around the throne. One was like a lion. One was like an ox. One had a face like a man. One was like a flying eagle. Each of the four creatures “never stopped saying: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.”
I had a thought I had never considered before. By the lion doing what it is created to do, day after day after day, is it not perpetually declaring, “holy, holy, holy”? The eagle, as it does what God created it to do, is it not also declaring . . . and the ox? All three with different design do what they were designed to do.
And then I thought about the one that had a face like a man. Do we do what we were created to do? Do we all work to provide for the betterment of our families? Do we all choose as a mate, a member of the opposite sex that we might produce a family? Do we honor God in and with our lives? It is the only one of the 4 that chooses.
As a side note, I thought of when God created man. If God had intended for man to be with man and woman to be with woman in addition to man being with woman, He would have created 6 people – 3 men and 3 women – but He didn’t.
There is a verse in chapter 5; “with your blood you purchased men for God”. Funny, He didn’t have to purchase the other creatures; they do what they were made to do. But man . . . man had to be “purchased”. And then, “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God.”
I’ve wondered more lately than ever if I am doing what I was created to do. I watched Men of Valor a few nights ago. Trained Men of Valor fought against evil to rescue a woman who had been taken hostage and was being tortured. These trained men who rescued her cussed and drank a little, but I couldn’t help but to wonder if maybe they didn’t cause God to stand up and take notice. I wonder if He didn’t stand up and say, “Now that’s what I’m talkin about”.
In both the 4th and 5th chapters, John refers to “the seven spirits of God”. Could these spirits be like facets of a diamond? Isn’t there a part of God that both loves and hates? Is He not both full of mercy and yet He will eventually judge? Is He not both gracious and jealous? Is He not also a God of vengeance?
We are at a critical point in our nation’s history. A couple of states just voted to accept gay marriage. Our government is leaning toward raising taxes so that it does not have to cut its out of control spending. Both financially and morally we are bankrupt. Business as usual is as much out of line for our government as it is for us. Personally I am searching for a better way “to serve our God” in these trying times. I believe the question we should all be asking is, what will we, who have “with blood” been “purchased for God”, do to serve Him? And will it be enough to bring Him to His feet?
In this letter to Sardis I saw a difference in what he wrote to Pergamum. The people of Pergamum, for the most part, “remained true”, but there were some among them “who held to the teaching of Balam”. But with the church of Sardis, they, for the most part, “were dead”, and yet had some who were very much alive. One was a batch of good apples with a few bad ones and the other a batch of bad apples with a few good ones.
How is He described and what are the words He has to say to this predominately bad batch of Christians? First, He is described as the One who is “holding” them. He specifically is “holding” the leaders. He who could have written them off and let them go; instead, He “holds” them.
His word to them . . . “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die. Remember what you have received and heard; obey it and repent.” In the same way that we might hold in our hands an apple with some bad spots in it, deciding whether to pitch it or cut the bad spots out and keep it, similarly He, with this church is in effect holding it and choosing to keep it. He is willing to cut the bad spots out; the question is . . . will they let Him? And His final words: “He who has an ear, let him hear.” We who have the spots . . . will we see it?
To the church of Philadelphia, He is described as, “holy and true”. It is a similar description as to the church of Laodicea – the last of the seven churches. To them He is the “faithful and true witness”.
What’s interesting is that the church of Philadelphia is “holy and true” right along with Him, while the church of Laodicea is not the same “faithful and true witness”. To church of Philadelphia, though they had “little strength, yet they had kept his word and had not denied his name”. While others advanced, they on the other hand remained in relative obscurity. To the so called religious who had looked down on them . . . and worse, “I will make them acknowledge that I have loved you”.
To this group of “holy and true” believers – who probably struggled with whether or not He was even mindful of them – He lets them know that their day is coming. He is encouraging them to “hold on” and to “overcome” – to remain “holy and true”.
To the church of Laodicea though, the “faithful and true witness” has a bone to pick with this group who has not been. They are lukewarm; they have no passion. “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich.”
To this church in particular – but I think really to all – He has these life changing words. And for any “who have an ear to hear them” – for any who will “overcome, just as He overcame, he will give the right to sit with him in heaven”.
It is popular today to think that we are covered by grace regardless of how we live. But when you are really familiar with His words to us, there is a bit of a different picture painted. Jude refers to “godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality”. That is not a popular message today. “Who do you think you are to tell us how to live?” But these are His words . . . not ours.
I have to keep reminding myself . . . write what you see. Part of me, when I decided to read through Revelation again, wanted to figure it all out. But the other part reminds me . . . just write what you see.
First of all, when John addresses each of these letters to “the angel of the church”, it makes sense to me that he is referring to the human leader. I don’t see that there would be any reason for him to write to a literal angel.
Too, I see a clear continuity in each letter. For example, in this first letter to the church of Ephesus, “the words of him who walks among them” and “they have forsaken their first love”. To me, I see the clear image of a couple just enjoying walking together – being together. I see the image of the passion that a young couple has for one another.
In spite of the fact that they were doing some things right – working hard and enduring hardships together – they had lost this passion they had at first. His words to them, shows a side of Himself that longs for us to have that. A couple can get so mechanical – so taking care of business – and yet ending up losing the passion they once had. We can get that way with Him.
Contrast that with His words to the church of Smyrna. To them, He was the one “who is the First and Last, who died and came to life again”. This church was facing persecution – persecution “even to the point of death”. His words to them were assuring words. From His words to them, they could have the assurance, if indeed they did face death, that they had a “crown of life” on the other side of it. They could have firmly fixed in their minds that the One who died for and before them, came to life again. They could know that they would do the same.
His words to us are fitting. He knows what we need to hear. To the church at Pergamum, who had among them those “who held to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality”, to them He was “the sharp, double edged sword”. His word to them . . . “Repent”.
Similarly with Thyatira, they “tolerated that woman Jezebel”. “By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality”. His word to them was the same, “Repent”. And how is He described for them? Very similar to the way He was for the church of Pergamum. He was “the Son of God, whose eyes were like blazing fire”. Isn’t this the perfect image for a group of believers, many of whom had been enticed and misled. No matter how distant from Him we get, He is still able to pierce into our distracted hearts and minds and whisper steadily the words we desperately need to hear; “Repent . . . before it is too late”.
This call to repentance is in spite of the good. To Pergamum He acknowledged that “they remained true to his name”. And, when someone close to them had been killed for not renouncing their faith, “they did not renounce theirs”. They took their Christianity seriously. Nevertheless . . . He had these things against them and they needed to hear it. Similarly with Thyatira, “I know your deeds, that you are now doing more than you did at first”. Nevertheless . . .
I believe it is time we take a fresh look at the words He has for us today. It is time that we take inventory and realize that “He has a few things against us”. “We’re not as good as we once were.” But if we will hear His words, I believe “we can be as good again as we ever were.”
“He who has an ear, let him hear” the words He has for us today.
I have put off reading John’s account of the Revelation, because quite frankly, there is just so much that I have never been able to understand. He is writing to show us “what must soon take place”, and with all that is taking place today, I thought it would be good to give it another try. I had hoped this time, I would understand more.
Well, after reading through it twice and now beginning my third time, I have concluded that there is still a lot that I may never understand, and I’ve had to adjust my thinking. Jesus told John to “write what he saw”, so I have decided to do the same – to not worry about what I don’t see – to write about what I do see.
Though John is writing this to the ‘seven churches’, we can read it today as it is to us. I like one of his introductory comments; “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins”. In times past, I would have interpreted the word “freed” as forgiven. It is one thing to believe that we have and will be forgiven for conduct that stems from our sin nature – quite another to understand that he has freed us from the power of that nature.
That is not to say that there will never be a slip now and then . . . but slipping now and then is a far cry from being bound. When Jesus cursed the fig tree . . . was that not a bit of a slip? He was hungry. The tree had no fruit. It wasn’t supposed to have fruit because it wasn’t the time of year for it to have fruit. Nevertheless He got agitated and cursed it.
When you’ve been bound by evil desires as long as I was bound by them, it is not a stretch for me to see that Jesus could have a flicker of anger without losing His sinless status. But that is just me. You may disagree; and that is fine. But like I said earlier, I will write what I see.
I had one other thought from this first chapter. John referred to himself as a “companion” to those to whom he was writing. He was a “companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus”. He was stuck on the island of Patmos. No tropical drinks by the beach there; it was a desolate, rocky place. And yet somehow, while he was suffering in this hard place, we find him “in the spirit”.
As I write this, Israel is in the beginning stages of what could escalate into an all out war. In our own nation, we are wrestling out our differences. Hard places are plentiful these days. It is more important than ever that we make sure that we are “in the spirit” as John was.
In this kingdom that is ours, we shouldn’t have the misconception that we are promised protection from suffering. We are promised the gift of patient endurance in our suffering. There is no promise of protection from the hard places in life; just the promise of peace in them. Lord give us peace in these hard places.