New Jerusalem–Revelation 21-22

April 8, 2021
Revelation 21:22–27 (ESV) - Revelation 21:22–27 ESV - And I saw no temple…  | Biblia

As John’s apocalypse comes to its conclusion, he goes out casting an amazing vision for the ultimate future of God’s people—and speaking as he did originally into the oppressed reality of his readers, what a way to end! For them, this presentation of eternity with God is a total flip of the script. No longer would there be any separation from God; no more tears, suffering, pain, persecution or even death. Their hardscrabble life would be replaced by the incredible, almost indescribable glory of God’s presence in a place where he is making everything new (just this statement alone for the first recipients of this letter had to bolster their faith). They will be completely and totally provided for, perfected and protected. It is the new heaven and new earth, the New Jerusalem, the holy city God has prepared for them. In it are only those who follow the Lamb, all others are excluded. We can only imagine the impact such a vision had for those suffering under the brutal Roman oppression. It is not just a fitting way to finish the story, but contextually, the only way. John has led them through the progressions of God’s assurances, his promises, his judgments against Rome along with the final judgment, now all that is left is the realization of the promises—heaven itself—forever with God, along with a reminder that there is still work to do and an invitation extended for all to do it. As these two final chapters unfold, they are filled with several allusions to Old Testament promises and demonstrate one last time that no Babylon (Rome or any other nation) regardless of how ferocious it seems, is any match for the God of heaven and the Lamb that was slain.

  • New Jerusalem. While this exact phrase is only used within the Revelation, the idea of a new heaven and new earth is found elsewhere in the Bible (Isaiah 65:17-25; 2 Peter 3:10-13). John sees this city descending out of heaven as a bride prepared for her groom. It is a depiction of the sum of God’s people—the church (so-to-speak) of both covenants coming together with Christ to live forever in the presence of God as God brings about a totally new dwelling from the old, wiping away all of the former suffering. Pause just for moment to consider the opening of this chapter—the impact these words would have had on his original audience. Even now, in the absence of that level of persecution, we are encouraged and emboldened by this promised reality. When God stated, “I am making everything new,”—that should be a game changer for all Christians of any generation. No longer will the current rules apply. No longer will Satan have a say. No longer will we be limited in any way. New Jerusalem is just that incredible.
  • It is for those who overcome. John makes sure to convey to his readers that this amazing vision is coming directly from God himself—the Alpha and Omega. This is his domain and it is only reserved for those thirsty for him; those who have overcome the persecution. It is not for the persecutors—the unbelievers and cowardly, etc. Their destiny lies with the dragon who deceived them—the second death—eternal separation outside of the protection of God. They have no power or even presence there. New Jerusalem is only for those who follow the Lamb.
  • The City. Next John describes this Holy City in vivid, brilliant detail. One of the seven angels gives him the grand tour. The city is equated to the bride of the Lamb, and again, represents God’s people from both covenants—with both the names of the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles prominently displayed within. As beautiful and breathtaking this description is, it is all meant to be symbolic. It is pointless to try to take the measuring literally. The use of the precious stones, the measuring, the number of gates—everything here both depicts the majesty of God and the complete way in which all within will be provided for and protected. It is also meant to convey the complete opposite experience from what John’s first readers were experiencing. No longer downtrodden. No longer bound by Roman aggression—in New Jerusalem they would see and experience a reality that even Rome in its prime could not even begin to match or imagine. For instance, the city of Rom had some marvelous architecture and temples, but none could compare to the splendor of what John is describing. Actually, in New Jerusalem there is no temple. None was needed because of the brilliance of the presence of God and the Lamb. They illuminate the city—no temple to a Caesar or any pagan god could ever even come close. And, John reminds once more—it is only reserved for those who the Lamb knows—who are in his book of Life. From all nations those in this book will flow into the city—through the open gates (indicating access—no one will ever be prevented from seeing God—even his face!) praising God through their own particular cultures—a beautiful scene indeed. This is the amazing, breath-taking, perfect city of God, John is shown—reserved for those, like his readers, who been faithful unto death.
  • There is a garden too. It surrounds a river—the river of Life. The earth itself is renewed in New Jerusalem with no more curse to burden it (see Romans 8:20-22). The garden provides all of the provisions needed for the city’s inhabitants—yielding its fruits every month bringing continual healing and blessings. Certainly, this is a call back to Eden (Genesis 3; Ezekiel 47), but it is also so much more. It is a step forward as well (Isaiah 2; Zephaniah 3). Beyond even what Eden offered, it is the place where all nations will live in harmony praising and serving the God who dwells among them—with the throne of God and the Lamb securely in the midst of the city providing all of the light ever needed. Here the Lamb’s followers will reign with him—forever. This is a picture of the new humanity who will be partnered with God to rule over his creation much like he originally desired (Genesis 1:27-28). What an almost unbelievable juxtaposition for those first century Christians in those seven churches to even imagine based upon their circumstances. But yet this was real—the trustworthy and true words of God. It was the culmination of all of God’s promises of hope and victory.  
  • “Soon take place.” This conveys the urgency of the message because of the urgent condition of those who first heard the message. God had heard their cry and was acting upon it. This is why the angel informed John not to seal the book—the time for God to act was near. We must not confuse the language here—the entire Revelation was written in answer to the persecution of these first century Christians. John begins it by stating as much (1:3) and ends it the same way. These statements then speak to how the content of the book was originally and primarily for that generation—that God was bringing about the end of their suffering while also revealing to them the glory that awaited. In this, he declares a blessing on all who heed and keep the words of the Revelation—for all who take to heart the promised deliverance of God and remain faithful while waiting for that day. These are not just the words of John or even an angel, but of God himself and when he does come—when the message of the book is made known it will find people right where they are, which will be revealing in its own right because everyone will then know whose belongs to God and who does not—no more hiding behind the power of the Roman shield. Again, it is Jesus who is speaking to the churches—guaranteeing this as truth.
  • Come! So, the same Spirit that the churches were to hear is now partnered with the Bride compelling all to come—to accept God’s invitation to follow the Lamb, not the beasts nor dragon. Only by doing so could complete fulfilment be found. Rome had nothing like the water of life—only drinking of it could end thirst. No mistake this invitation is here at the end of the book after all had been said—it was God’s appeal to those Christians (and us) to not miss out on the blessings of New Jerusalem.
  • And one last warning. This book was not to be parsed (as was the custom with Jewish apocalyptic literature). Every part of it was essential and if anyone thought otherwise—it was to their peril. This was John’s way of emphasizing the overarching vital nature of the Revelation. Read it all. Believe it all. Find hope in it all. God is coming to the rescue soon!  

And so, ends not just the Revelation, but the entire narrative of the Bible. It ends with a message of great assurance—for those living under Roman oppression—and for Christians of every generation. It is the Lamb that was slain that conquers and will always conquer. Every human kingdom can (and likely will) become a corrupted Babylon, but Jesus will not allow any to have the final say. His is the promise of “everything made new,’ which delivers God’s complete justice while offering the Lamb’s followers an eternity of his provision, protection and presence—all we could ever hope for and more!

So, the Bible starts with us in the presence of God—enjoying intimate fellowship and freedom from sin only to be interrupted and corrupted by Satan and his schemes along with the fallout that has and continues to create. But then the Bible ends with the real promise of us being once again fully in God’s presence enjoying an even greater reality in the new heavens and new earth with Satan vanquished forever. It is the story of redemption, which enabled a generation of Christians to stand against the Babylon that was Rome and will continue to enable us and any generation of Christians to be faithful unto death against whatever Babylon comes next. “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.”

*Recourses used in the study include Worthy is the Lamb by Ray Summers; Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary by Homer Hailey; The Apocalypse: A Revelation of Jesus Christ by Donald R. Taylor; The Wonder Book of the Bible by Lee G. Tomlinson; and the Revelation presentations.

Hallelujah and the Thousand Years–Revelation 19-20

April 6, 2021
Jesus Wins! – Part 35: Thousand-Year Reign: Rev. 20:1-10 – Faith  Presbyterian Church PCA

Babylon the Great has fallen! John’s apocalypse has foreseen the downfall of Rome. God’s judgment was coming and no longer would the empire dominate the world and persecute the followers of the Lamb. Indeed, this was reason to celebrate and praise the God who would bring about this deliverance. It is the day of the Lord, only this time, instead of being of coming with judgment, fire, earthquakes—it arrives with rejoicing. It arrives with the promise of a heavenly wedding. It will be time for those martyred to celebrate, not mourn. This is the hallelujah John’s shares with his readers. He also shares—again—the “why” of the celebration as he vividly depicts in this section once more how the dragon, the beast, and all their allies will fall, be punished and ultimately be doomed. It is all the best possible news for his suffering audience. Judgment for their enemies; rescue from their plight; eventual exaltation over their circumstances is promised and coming. Hallelujah for sure. God has heard them; he is acting on their behalf; victory is assured. This is the essence of the Revelation. This is the message to bolster their faith.  

  • The Hallelujah. The first ten verses of chapter nineteen really belong to the previous section—concluding John’s vision of the final judgement of Rome. These verses compose a song of rejoicing—attributing deliverance and glory and power to God because he has brought justice and judgement upon the evil that was Rome. It is a song of rejoicing over the triumph of truth and righteousness. It takes us back to the throne of God with the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures participating with the great multitude in shouting hallelujah before God. It is a beautiful scene, but even more so, a comforting, promising, encouraging scene for John’s original audience. They needed a reason to shout hallelujah. John is assuring them—it is coming.
  • The promised wedding. John next presents another beautiful and hope-filled reason for a hallelujah. A wedding is promised! Not just any wedding, however, but the wedding of the Lamb, to his bride (which we know is the church—Ephesians 5:25-27). This is the wonderful actualization of all of the promises of deliverance, rescue and salvation. No longer the persecuted, the castoffs, the bloodied, dirty, accused, and oppressed. Instead, dressed in fine linen, clean, bright—representing their faithfulness and righteousness in the face of overwhelming odds—these saints will enjoy the full benefits and abundant joy of being the bride of the Lamb. Blessed indeed are those invited to participate! It is all assured as emphasized as “the true words of God.” This kind of tremendous news in the face of their reality caused John to even fall down to worship the messenger! But he was quickly corrected with a refocus on Jesus. As always—the message is—it will be the Lamb who brings all of this about.
  •  The victorious warrior. But there are different aspects of the Lamb and here John presents another portrait of Christ—the victorious warrior. Contextually, as this follows a presentation of final victory over Rome, it, yet again, it brings assurance to the original recipients of John’s vision. What John describes is amazing. This rider with blazing eyes, many crowns (demonstrating all authority), called “Faithful and True” and “the Word of God” and “King of Kings and Lord of Lords,” with a sword emerging from his mouth while riding on a white horse leading a mighty army and bringing justice and judgement in his war as he rules with an iron scepter sounds like something out of science fiction. In reality it is heaven’s way of conveying not just the ultimate power of God invested in Jesus, but the undeniable truth and reality of his victory. Using language from Isaiah 11:4; 49:2 it is meant to demonstrate the eventual, ultimate triumph of Christ and his followers. The Lamb is a warrior too and Rome will be no match for his power—except and this is significant—notice this warrior is already bloodied before the battle even begins. It is his own blood. In spite of the military-inspired presentation, the victory is assured and delivered, not in the shedding of the enemy’s blood, but through the shedding of the blood of the Lamb that was slain. Nothing changes here from when John first saw the Lion turn into the bloodied Lamb (4:6) or from how the saints were originally described as overcoming Satan (12:11). Yes, there is a war (portrayed again in this text); Yes, the Lamb and his followers will ultimately emerge victorious while the kings, generals, mighty men, etc. will fall and become carrion. But any idea here of an actual military engagement—then or now—between a heavenly army and some kind of opposing military force on earth is simply not supported by this text. It is all symbolic of God hearing and acting upon the plight of the then oppressed Christians—assuring them, that will end, Rome will fall, and they will be delivered by the Lamb that was slain, the warrior whose white robe in dipped in his own bloo
  • The end of the beast. To further illustrate how complete and final this victory will be—the beast which is Rome, the false prophet of the Caesar cults, and all who were dedicated to them with the Beast’s mark are thrown into the “fiery lake of burning sulfur.” All of this together symbolizes how decisive and thorough God’s judgment will be towards Rome. Yes, Jesus is depicted as coming from heaven to accomplish this task, but it is not to be understood as his second coming or, again, a military engagement. The text must remain rooted in its context.
  • The thousand years. Next John details Satan’s (the dragon himself) destiny—and admittedly this text has created all kinds of interpretive challenges. He is a loser in this battle as well and is punished—locked up in the Abyss for one thousand years (during which the martyred saints will reign)—only to be released after that for a time to rage again before once and for all being cast away to join his former allies forever in torment. What to make of this? First, contextually, John is conveying to his readers that the great power behind all of their troubles will be held accountable and will be punished. Satan, too, will not escape judgment. The “thousand year” period of time, like all other numerical references in the apocalypse should not be taken literally, but seen as a complete period of time. It is a time in which the martyrs will be vindicated, enjoy reigning with Christ (that is, enjoy rest without interruption) and realize that Satan really never had any power over them—that even in death they overcame him. This is the “first resurrection”—the triumph of the martyrs.  (The second resurrection which is not mentioned, but implied should be understood as the general resurrection when Christ returns. The first death—again not mentioned but implied should be understood as physical death, while the “second death” here is eternal separation from God—20:14.) And it will be a time when Satan’s attack on Christians is prevented. Then John reveals at some point after the completed prison sentence, Satan will return to create more chaos across the world and gain more allies (Gog and Magog—referenced from Ezekiel 38-39). While numerous attempts have been made to specifically identify who/what Gog and Magog are, Ezekiel seems to identify them as symbols of all the nations opposed to God’s people and kingdom—sort of a conglomeration of gathered, corruptive evil—which would have been true of Rome and also true of evil, oppressive forces at any time in any generation. That Satan would find such partners in further attempts to destroy the work of God on earth is, then, not surprising. But John reassures—this attempt will fail also and finally once and forever Satan will have his own place, alongside his former Roman allies, in the lake of burning sulfur. After this, John sees and shares what appears to be the final, forever judgement of all people from all realms. Those whose name were not in the book of life joined Satan and the others in the lake of fire. This scene—again not only making the statement that God knows whose are his and who are not and will take care of both—from a contextual standpoint, bridges and segues into John’s final visions about being together forever with God. Judgement has happened. Rome has fallen. All of Satan’s attempts to defeat the followers of the Lamb have been thwarted. He no longer represents any threat whatsoever. All who have not followed the Lamb are gone. Now all that is left is eternal glory with God—living in the New Jerusalem in the very presence of the Lamb. Ultimate, complete, forever vindication and victory. This is how John ends the book—and with reason.  What a concluding message for those still dealing with persecution. Their reality was difficult, but their future was heavenly!
  • Questions. As mentioned, this text has created interpretive challenges, but one thing we must remember is that when John wrote this—he had no millennial, pre-millennial, or post-millennial notions, only his message to the suffering saints of the first century. No future Armageddon battle between modern nations would have helped them in their struggle to remain faithful. Trying to pinpoint Gog and Magog as representing specific current people/nations continues to be a futile exercise. All of this should be viewed symbolically, just as the rest of the book. John’s revelation that Satan will be bound and loosed again is in some ways difficult. When? Why? Some see this as happening all within the more immediate context of the Roman empire. Others see the loosening as happening now—or since and after Christians enjoyed relative peace later in that empire. This is based upon the loosening episode being followed by Satan’s final defeat and then the final judgement. (We certainly do know Satan continues to do his work now).  But as we read this—again, we must never stray from the original purpose and intent of the apocalypse. John does not and in so doing offers his original readers a dynamic message of victory, glory, hope and heaven in the face of seeming hopelessness. Just exactly what they needed to survive and endure.

Babylon and the Harlot–Revelation 17-18

March 31, 2021
The Harlot, Babylon the Great - YouTube

John’s apocalypse continues to unfold and reveal more about the evil nature of Rome and why God’s judgment would fall upon her. In this section Rome is portrayed as a great harlot and once again compared to the infamous immoral and corruptive Old Testament empire, Babylon.  Through these portrayals John shares how Rome influenced and seduced other nations using that power to harm and oppress followers of the Lamb—and how, this brought upon her God’s wrath and her own fall. “Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!” he records (18:2).  Once more John, through his symbolic rendering is retelling the same story, but only from a different perspective—and it is the story his original audience desperately needed to hear. It is about acknowledgment, assurance and ultimately triumph for the persecuted saints to whom the Harlot was ever an ever-present threat. As we survey what John witnesses in these two chapters, it perhaps presents the most difficult interpretive challenge of the entire letter. As always it remains vital to keep our focus on the original context and purpose of the book.

  • The Harlot on the waters. Very little doubt that this is a reference to the Rome itself. It is actually a common biblical analogy (Nineveh-Nahum 3:1,4; Tyre-Isaiah 23:15-17; Ancient Babylon-Isaiah 47:1-5; and even Jerusalem-Isaiah 1:21; Jeremiah 2:20). It is not a difficult comparison—Rome prostituted itself, guilty of spiritual fornication, while also seducing other nations by intoxicating them with excess and power. Those other nations are represented by the waters she is sitting on—indicative or the vast reach of the Roman empire. But her time is up as is reiterated to John—it is about punishment now.
  • The Harlot and the beast and Babylon the Great. Next John is carried away by the angel to the wilderness and is shown the harlot riding on a scarlet beast with seven heads and ten horns and who is covered with blasphemous names. The prostitute is spectacularly dressed—part of her seductive allure—but underneath that façade is nothing but rank immorality and disgusting practices. She is pictured as literally staying drunk all of the time with the blood of those martyred in Christ’s name. First, we must understand that everything in this vivid portrayal is all about Rome using its immense military and economic power along with its false religion to either seduce others to follow or crush those who oppose. They then were the very architype of humanity’s rebellion against God (just as ancient Babylon was in its day and as other nations have been since John’s Revelation). The beast portrayed here is almost certainly the same as the one that emerged from the sea in 13:1. There are some differences, but the similarities overshadow them. Each one has seven heads and ten horns along with the “names of blasphemy” (their ungodly practices?). This beast represents the Roman world empire that supports the Harlot (the empire’s center, Rome) and her evil agenda, which John once more connects to the corruption of ancient Babylon. Even though “Mystery” is in her name, John is peeling the shock value of that away while exposing her as the true abomination that she is.
  • Explaining the Mysteries. Next, after reacting to what he sees, John is given an explanation as to the nature of the woman and the beast. This section presents several interpretive challenges and has produced numerous different theories as to exactly what all the symbols mean, but we simply cannot lose the intent of the message to John’s first recipients in trying to pinpoint who or what each symbol represents. Being so far removed from the context makes that difficult, so we must trust that John’s readers knew, understood and processed them as they also got the overarching message of Rome’s judgment and fall. With that stated, we can have some confidence in unpacking some of this vision.
  • The beast once was, was not and is again. The most plausible meaning here connects back to the first description of the beast with the deathstroke that was healed in 13:3 represented in Nero, his death and how that weakened the empire, only then to be revived in Domitian, who was considered the reincarnation of Nero (the “Nero redivivus” idea). That the empire recovered was astonishing to the world.
  • The heads and horns. The heads have two-fold symbolism. First, they seem to represent the seven hills upon which the city of Rome is built, but they also represent “seven kings” while the beast represents an eighth one. Here is where interpretations can go off into many trails. Perhaps John did intend for each of the seven to embody a specific Caesar—leading all the way to Domitian and beyond. (One thing is for sure—he was not using these symbols to identify future Popes or world leaders—nothing about that would have benefited his original audience). If they were Caesars—trying to chase down exactly which ones, seems a futile exercise now. Another way though to interpret this (for us) is to again see John’s use of seven as representative of perfection and in this case the perfected use of Rome’s power to execute its will against the followers of the Lamb. The same can be applied to the ten kings represented by the ten horns. Again, it is very plausible that John had in mind ten specific kings (or more likely, nations) that were subjugated to, dependent upon and in league with the Roman empire in carrying out its ungodly plans. They would be the nations also represented by the waters upon which the Harlot sat and who were intoxicated by the power and excess of the Harlot—drunk on that wine with her. John’s pictures them as having very limited power (“one hour”) but never-the-less lending their resources to Rome’s attack on the Lamb. Again—trying to pinpoint each nation could easily became another rabbit hole, which would divert attention away from the message of the text. If these were ten kings/kingdoms John’s original recipients would have correctly interpreted that. Us—not so much. Once more, another way to view this is through the use of the number ten, which represent completeness, making these ten kings symbolic of the totality of all of the forces aligned with the beast against the Lamb and his followers. But John assures—they will still be no match for the Lamb, who John reminds is the true Lord of lords and King of kings (an interesting insertion at this stage of the Revelation, but a needed reminder for the suffering saints).
  • The self-destruction. After his previous portrayals of God’s judgment and wrath falling upon Rome, now a further nuance is revealed in how that will play out—it will fall under its own weight of excess, immorality and corruption. The empire itself will implode upon Rome with the partner nations betraying the Harlot—all as God set in motion in “their hearts to accomplish” (a mystery to be adequately understood). This is not difficult to see from a historical perspective as Rome’s military and economic power waned, other nations abandoned her and her own empire crumbled. This John messages is a part of the fulfilled judgment of God.
  • Babylon is fallen. This section is all about Rome’s fall and views it from different perspectives and repeats for emphasis. Much of the chapter is blending Old Testament language and images in regard to the ancient city of Babylon and applying that to Rome. The first angel simply states that Rome and all the evil embodied within it is quite done—no longer will she be able to intoxicate and enrich. The second angel follows up on that pronouncement by a warning to God’s people to not get caught up in the collateral damage of her fall. It is coming and it will be devastatingly complete—Rome will get what she deserves. Her own evil will consume her as God judges her—so make sure to “not share in her sins.”
  • The Aftermath of the fall. As Rome is destroyed it affects her allies—those partner nations accustomed to getting drunk on her excess. Now they mourn her fall. First, the kings, of course, who shared her adultery and the spoils of excess. No longer having these resources and the reflected power of Rome, they grieve the loss of Babylon. As do those who have shared in the economic resources and profiting of the empire—the merchants. They feel it in the pocketbook and mourn. So too do those who used the empire to expand their territories, who sailed the waters of the kingdom. They lament that there never will be another city such as Rome. But for the saints—there is no mourning, only joy because God heard and acted upon their plight.
  • The boulder. John next witnesses an angel cast a huge boulder down into the sea—representing the graphic description of the destruction of the imperial city of Rome. This is God’s judgment directly upon the city itself. As depicted, it will affect every aspect of life—their entertainment; their economy; and their homes. Rome will be fully exposed and once done, their spell cast over the world will break. It was because of the brutality shown to God’s people this judgment came, but now Rome would no longer spill any more of that blood.

So, John’s vision of Rome’s judgment and fall—repeated several times through differing symbols—is now complete. The message to his readers is clear. God has heard their cries; he knows who they are and is aware of their circumstances; he is active and engaged on their behalf; he is also aware of the enemy; and he will avenge and judge all who opposed his people—ending the persecution. Babylon the Great has fallen! What a tremendous, heartening, encouraging message to convey to those under the brutal boot of Rome—the followers of the Lamb, shedding their blood for him. Victory is coming and it is assured. Hallelujah indeed!

Seven Plagues, Seven Bowls and Armageddon–Revelation 15-16

March 16, 2021
Workforce Management Lessons You Can Learn from Watching "Armageddon"

More signs appear to John as he continues to faithfully record all he witnesses—and he is witnessing much—seven angels; seven plagues; seven bowls of God’s wrath; and a place called Armageddon. Much has been written and speculated about the events in these two chapters. As always, we must keep them tied to context and while we may not be able to completely define down every symbol, we can be assured that those to whom this message was originally intended, did and could. It was spoken into their setting of Roman oppression and it offered tremendous hope—for what John is witnessing in this section is all about a final and complete judgment upon the beast that was Rome. In repeating God’s judgment process towards Rome, John continues to deliver the reassuring word to his audience—God knows those who are his; He will take care of them; And he will also take care of their enemies. Be patient and be faithful because a reckoning is coming. The visions of chapters 15-16 reinforce that message clearly.

  • Seven plagues. John again sees seven angels doing God’s bidding this time possessing seven plagues. These seven plagues represent a different aspect of God’s judgment upon Rome and will be unleashed in the form of seven bowls of God’s wrath. They will also mirror to some extent both the plagues of Egypt and the consequences of the earlier seven trumpets (chapters 8-12—more on this later).
  • Sea of glass mixed with fire. John again references this throne image (4:6), but this time its tranquility is now mingled with fire. Two ideas about this: Perhaps it could represent the shed blood of the nearby martyrs who already had overcome the Roman persecution or maybe it represented the fire of God’s judgment as he was now acting on the “how long” question of these martyrs (6:10).
  • The Song of Moses and the Lamb. Before the actual execution of the plagues/bowls of wrath John is witnessing an interlude, which includes those martyred singing a praise to God (perhaps the “new song” from 14:3), which was reminiscent of the song sung by Moses and Israel after crossing the Red Sea (Exodus 15). Like then it is a song of deliverance and recognition—a combination of praise from the Psalms, Moses and the prophets—of who God is and how all nations (including Rome like Egypt before) will submit to him.
  • Tent of the tabernacle. Again, John’s attention is drawn here (11:9) representing where God dwells. Out of it emerge the angels in priestly garbs indicating that their mission emanates directly from God and they serve as his servant messengers. As they are given the bowls filled with God’s wrath/the seven plagues God’s power and presence is everywhere evident. It is about to be on—God’s full and complete (represented again in all of the latest sets of sevens) reckoning on Rome.
  • The seven bowls. One important point to note is—while God’s judgement has been previously conveyed by John through different symbolism, the judgment depicted here is more thorough in design. Recall before in the trumpet judgements, they were portrayed as only affecting a segment of the people (one-third) and stood more as calls to repentance. Here the bowl judgments seem to represent the time when all hope of any repentance is passed and God’s full and final wrath is poured out upon Rome. Also, as previously mentioned, there are similarities to both those trumpet judgments and especially the Egyptian plagues in that every aspect of Roman life will be touched—the spiritual, political, physical and the moral.
  • First bowl. Immediately God’s wrath is felt personally upon all who have the beast’s mark. No mistake that the first plague (unlike those of Egypt—6th plague or the trumpets—5th) fell directly upon people. They had sown corruption in the flesh and now flesh was being corrupted. Of course, this is not to be taken literally, but very much is a statement about how the corruption that was Rome would eventually consume her.
  • Second bowl. The sea does not escape—turns into blood (parallels Exodus 7:20-24 and the second trumpet—8:8-9). Whatever touches/depends upon the sea is destroyed.
  • Third bowl. All water/the fresh water is also touched and became blood. This carries the idea that those who had the beast’s mark; those who had shed the blood of God’s people now could not escape it. This represented God’s “true and just” judgments.
  • Fourth bowl. With no more water to drink, the scorching intensity of the sun next was poured out upon them—carrying with it the familiar image of fiery judgment. Significantly here—these judgments do not result in repentance—only doubling-down of resistance (again reflective of Egypt).
  • Fifth bowl. So, the next bowl is directed to the very center of power—the throne of the beast (God’s power is far greater even than the beast’s), which resulted in total darkness across the kingdom, but even so, while still being afflicted by the very first plague of sores and in agony—no repentance happens.
  • Sixth bowl. It is poured out upon the Euphrates River, which dries up, opening up a path for “the kings of the East.” Could be an illusion to the capture of Babylon by the Mede king Darius (Daniel 5:24-30) after he diverted the waters of the Euphrates and then invaded through it. Does this indicate perhaps that Rome will also eventually likewise fall to invading enemies from the east as a part of God’s judgment. Or is it’s symbolic of sunrising Christ and his army invading and conquering at Armageddon?
  • Three frogs. Or evil spirits accompany the sixth bowl. They emerged from (vomited by is the best rendering) the dragon (Satan), the beast (Rome) and the false prophet (perhaps here, the emperor). Perhaps the best way to understand this vision is to see the frogs as manifestations of all of the combined demonic power, deception, propaganda and lies that Rome had mustered up in opposition to God and his people. They gather all of their combined forces together, call upon all of their allies in preparation to once more attempt to defeat God and his kingdom—to which Christ responds that he will come when and in ways they do not expect to answer their challenge—so to his followers he urges constant alertness and readiness.
  • Armageddon. Here it is—the final battle between the evil forces of Rome and the righteous forces of God and at long last God’s people will be completely and fully avenged and vindicated. It will happen at a place called Armageddon (Har meaning mountain and magedo meaning the name Megiddo). This is a reference to the ancient site of Megiddo where many Hebrew battles were fought (Judges 4-5; 7:1; 1 Samuel 31:1-6; 2 Kings 9:27; 23:29, etc.) Much speculation then has been made as to its meaning including a futurist rendering that sees a final climatic battle yet to take place there between the various (and changing) forces of good and evil embodied by Gog. While John does borrow images from Ezekiel’s portrayal of God’s battle with an enemy then identified as Gog (38-39), nowhere in this text is the idea of a battle occurring beyond the immediate context of this letter—and the battle here in the text is certainly symbolic. The use of Megiddo was a fitting symbol for John to represent “the worldwide distress of righteousness and evil engaged in deadly combat.” Armageddon then is only symbolic of the final battle portrayed by John that ultimately results in the complete fall and ultimate end of the Roman oppression for Christians. Any other way of considering this—especially that of an actual physical battle would be wildly inconsistent with not just their immediate circumstances but also of the way of the slain Lamb. His army simply did not respond that way.
  • Seventh bowl. “It is done.” No better way to phrase it. The last plague drops and its destruction is so complete and it demolishes what is left of Babylon into three parts—even touching the outlying areas (islands) of the empire—bringing more misery and death upon the unrepentant followers of the beast in the form of hail. Perhaps only the final judgment of all of mankind will surpass this judgment in intensity. All together the plagues/bowls/Armageddon represented the same thing—God bringing an end to the suffering of his people by destroying Satan’s alliance with the Rome.

The Wokeness of the Gospel

March 12, 2021
The unnecessary battle over wokeness - Eternity News

Theologian N.T. Wright has an enlightening statement about our current “woke” culture. He observed that it is trying to produce the gospel multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, socially just community only without the gospel. To me this is exactly it. It is not difficult to observe that some of the woke agenda has a kingdom of God element to it. Eradicate racism; sexism; poverty; in order to create a more just and equal community? Sure thing. Scripture has long been advocating for just that (Proverbs 31:8-9; Isaiah 1:17; Amos 5:24; Micah 6:8; Zechariah 7:9-10; Matthew 7:12; James 1:27 to name just a few). But without the gospel (Christ) at the center, it has and always will fail. Too many self-serving agendas interfere; noble ideas become corrupted by power; injustice actually happens, incredibly enough, in the name of justice. We may be witnessing some of that even now. So, I believe, the answer is not going to be found in more laws or politicians or advocacy groups or God forbid, violence. (It certainly has not been found here so far—instead these only seems to produce more of it).

The answer, I believe, has and always will be Christ. Now, I realize to many this either sounds completely naïve or totally out of touch with any reality they have experienced with church and Christians. And I will admit that so often the church has failed to live up to our calling in this regard, but that has never been Christ’s fault. (Again, our own self-serving tendencies get in our way—no one is immune to that.)  Why Christ is the true answer is that his agenda is fully others-serving. It is fueled by a truly unconditional love that even has enough space to love (not eviscerate) enemies. It is an approach of respect not condescension. It turns the other cheek, not striking back harder and faster. Christ’s agenda is not to cancel anyone (even if there may be reasons), but to redeem (Bible word for reclaim, help, seek mutually beneficial solutions, etc.) everyone. The community he desires is the design of heaven. One in which all nations, tribes, peoples, languages come together in mutual respect adopting that agenda as the kingdom of God (Isaiah 2:2-4; Daniel 7:14; Micah 4:1-3; Revelation 5:9; 7:4).

The Apostle Paul writing to one of the very first churches, struggling to implement such a kingdom approach in the face of racism, sexism and injustice (slavery) informed them, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). This idea of oneness is essential to creating this kind of community (and honestly why churches have failed to consistently do so). Out of diversity, Christ calls us to unite. But how? How could first century Jews and non-Jews after centuries of hostility born out of vast cultural differences and embedded suspicion lay that aside and actually find oneness? Again, the answer was Christ. Admittedly this is not an easy answer because it involves surrendering and very few of us enjoy that. But Christ isn’t asking us to surrender our individuality or the rich diversity that formed us, as much as he is asking that we rearrange all of that in order to “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33). So, what we surrender is what hurts us most–like our prejudices, our pride, our anger, our bitterness, our self-serving agendas, our destructive behaviors, our haterd, our cynicism, our narcissism, etc. and replace that with his values of love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, selflessness, kindness, compassion, gentleness, goodness, joy, peacefulness and hopefulness. This does reshape and redefine, first exposing to us our own contributions to the problems, while then, offering us a way to emerge from them as a better person—because of Jesus. But never does Christ ask us to deny our heritage, our ethnicity, our culturally unique diversity. Rather that is part of the beauty of his community—we become one together within that diversity and even celebrate aspects of it, while we celebrate him as the reason why it can even happen. (Another early church struggled in this journey and again it was the Apostle Paul who wrote to encourage them in the pursuit, while recognizing the difficulties of merging cultures—see Romans 14, It is fascinating read outlining how unity in diversity can co-exist). This community can then serve as a witness to the world; a place where folks of all nations with diverse customs and backgrounds can be accepted; a place where people of all color and language can find common ground, mutual respect, and justice; all because we follow the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. It is a true alternative community devoted to each other, seeking to “honor one another above ourselves” (see Romans 12:10).

Significantly central to this happening is—it is not our own self-will or determination that will drive this (because as noted—this always goes sideways and not occasionally, but every time), but his will—and that is what makes all of the difference (Matthew 6:10). The tricky part is actually surrendering to it as we redefine our primary identity in Jesus. We constantly have to work at that—and it is the reason why this community will not be perfected and fully functioning until Christ’s returns and makes it so (Revelation 21:1-5), but in the interim we can try, can’t we? We can let Christ lead us to become more mature, better reflecting his will. We can strive for our churches to more fully embrace and model the biblical ideal of community. We can create welcoming places in the name of Jesus that offer a glimpse of what a true multi-racial, multi-cultural, socially just community feels like absent of political and other self-serving agendas. We can push back against the divisive, anger-inducing narratives currently driving the hatred and suspicion, with a message of acceptance and hope in Christ Jesus. Why not? What do we have to lose? What are we gaining by holding on to grievances; targeting others who do not look or think like us as enemies—weaponizing social media and other outlets to strike our blows? We are only doubling-down on our collective grief and failures. Instead, it is time for us to “speak a better word” (Hebrews 12:24) and double-down on Jesus. Unless I am misreading—it appears our culture is screaming out for much of what he stands for. They just do not know which way to look. How about truly surrendering our self-will to him for once and moving aside a bit to allow his light an opening to illuminate his Way? Wokeness could take on an entirely new kingdom meaning.